From the fury of the Northmen O Lord deliver us!
Elinor and I went to an exhibition at the Castle Museum in Norwich during May this year. The subject of the exhibition was ‘The Vikings’ and the items displayed were objects discovered mainly in Britain. There were treasures on loan from the British Museum in London and from The Yorkshire Museum in York as well as things found here in East Anglia. East Anglia was part of the Danelaw in the 9th Century.
The first exhibits we looked at were items found from when the Vikings first invaded Britain; things they had brought with them on their journey across the North Sea. We saw some of the weapons used by them and also by the Anglo Saxons in their battles for land and supremacy. We then saw artefacts made and used by the Viking settlers once they had made their home here. They were wonderful traders, with routes across the Irish Sea to Ireland, up to the Arctic Circle, across the Atlantic to America and all over Europe and into Asia, Russia, Turkey and India. They brought some of the goods they found abroad, home to Britain. The exhibition also showed how the Vikings assimilated some of the fashions and crafting techniques they found here in Britain and eventually became British themselves. If you wish to read further details of the Viking invasion of Britain this is a fairly good account.
I know I have included too many photos here! I am sorry for the poor quality of several of them – I had a lot of trouble with reflections off the glass cases.
The Gilling Sword – made from iron and silver with an ornate silver gilt handle. Probably owned by a powerful Saxon earl in the service of Northumbrian King Oswiu.
The York Helmet – made from iron and brass by Anglo-Saxon craftsmen. It has a beautifully decorated nosepiece and there is a Latin inscription across the top which dedicates the helmet to God.
An Iron Axehead with arm and neck rings. The rings were symbols of Viking status, power and wealth. These would often be given as gifts to reward followers and faithful retainers.
A double-edged Sword, which would have been used by one of the wealthiest Vikings. Also, rivets from a clinker-built ship, an iron axe head, an iron spear head, an iron shield boss and a gold arm ring.
This is a re-used Christian cross showing a warrior with a female hostage.
There were a number of information boards in the exhibition and a large area was taken up as an activity room for children. A recording of a man and a woman talking quietly together in Old Norse with the sound of wind blowing and seagulls crying in the background was playing all the time we were there. I found this extremely atmospheric and not at all irritating.
The Ormside Bowl – made in AD 750, the outer skin produced AD 850-900. It is decorated with religious scenes, the work of monks in a Northumbrian monastery. It was discovered in the grave of a Viking man and it had been transformed into a drinking cup.
A bone plaque made by a Viking in the image of a Viking.
This is a rare find, there not being many likenesses of Vikings especially ones done by themselves. The only written accounts of them are made by others.
The object on the left is an iron rangel or rattle which may have been used during ceremonies. On the right are two Islamic coins (probably traded for fur and slaves), four silver pennies and some ‘hacksilver’; part of some beautiful silver jewellery. The Vikings traded with bullion and goods and didn’t use coins at first. They would cut up (hack) any treasure or jewellery they had and use it as payment for goods.
Leather shoe with a toggle found in York – This is of turnshoe construction. The leather is cut to shape, moulded and stitched together and then turned inside-out so the seams are on the inside. A method used in Scandinavia and Britain.
A silver neckring from Russia. These became very popular with well-to-do Viking ladies and sources record that men would have had to collect and melt down 10,000 silver coins to obtain enough silver to have one of these made!
A carved walrus-tooth gaming piece owned by a merchant who travelled along the trade routes from Norway to Ireland. This piece (a knight) is part of a complete chess set probably made in Norway and found in the Western Isles of Scotland.
When this set was made the Western Isles were part of the Kingdom of Norway. The set includes kings, queens, bishops, knights and warriors. The warriors are carved as berserkers, fierce men described in sagas as biting their shields in frenzy before battle. Scary!
Here is Elinor in the model of a viking boat.
At the time of our visit, Elinor was doing research for her final project in her Level Three Art and Design course at college. She produced a graphic story book and her character’s clothes and belongings were loosely based on Celtic, Saxon and Viking designs.
A seal made from walrus ivory depicts a man called Sharrus who worked as a tax and toll collector in York during the 12th century. Sharrus (the name can be seen on the perimeter of the seal) is the Latin form of his name, Snaresnorri, meaning ‘shrewd’.
A balance and sets of weights. This is a portable balance and would have been the property of a Viking trader dealing in bullion. This method had long been replaced in England by the use of coins. There were still other areas where commodities were traded directly without the use of silver.
This image of two men carved on a gritstone cross comes from York. One man carries a sword and the other a horn and they are grasping hands in greeting. Another very rare image of Viking people, this cross would have been commissioned and financed by them as a public demonstration of their status and Christian piety.
These two discs are fairly small and the detailed work on them is extremely fine. They are both pendants and would have been worn by a wealthy pagan woman.
A comb case
Deer antler blank (unused antler) and roughouts (pieces of horn used to try out designs before including them in the finished article) with a finished comb and cases.
A phyllite whetstone and a gold finger ring. These belonged to a wealthy woman called Egwen who lived in Scotland. The ring is dedicated to St Peter and that saint may also be the image shown on the whetstone.
Torc from the Bedale Hoard
A tiny gold socketed terminal made from gold sheet and decorated with filigree wire depicting an animal’s head. It is probably the terminal of a pointer or aestel.
This object is a similar shape, though much smaller, to the Alfred Jewel which is believed to be an aestel.
Socketed object made of gilded copper alloy in the 8th/9th century. Probably another aestel.
Two silver pennies of King Aethelred of East Anglia. These are immensely important as only seven coins of this obscure king have been found. They show that after Edmund was killed he was succeeded by another East Anglian ruler not recorded in any historical documents.
A collection of strap ends (decorated metal ornament added to the end of straps) made from silver and niello, a copper alloy tulip mount and a silver (gilt?) disc brooch
Three coins, part of the Bishopshill hoard l. to r. Silver of Aethelred II; Silver of Cnut; Silver of Harthacnut.
A whalebone handle
The following are photographs of several hoards that have been discovered all over Britain.
I hope you enjoyed seeing some of these wonderful things.
I am very grateful to the curators of the Norwich Castle Museum for this exhibition and for all the information they imparted.