Friday, December 11, 2015

Viking hoard from the time of Alfred of Wessex and the Great Viking Heathen Army found in England.

Exactly the same historical time frame as the BBC series now just finishing it's first season called The Last Kingdom, so the timing couldn't be any better.

What are thought to be silver Viking armbands

The hoard, described when it arrived at the British Museum as “a greasy haggis with bits of treasure sticking out at the corners”, was buried in the late 870s, the period in which the hit television series Last Kingdom is set. It may have been the hastily concealed wealth of a Viking conscious of imminent regime change after the defeat of the invaders by Alfred the Great at the battle of Edington in 878.
The conservator Pippa Pearce said working on the hoard, including coins so wafer thin they could not be handled by the edges, had been such a joy that it seemed a shame to be paid for it.

The coins show an emperor’s head on one side and two emperors seated side by side on the other. They were jointly issued by King Alfred the Great of Wessex and King Ceolwulf II of Mercia when they were allies despite the traditional rivalry of their kingdoms.
Alfred the cake burner and Viking beater is one of the most famous kings in British history, but poor Ceolwulf is only known from a list that says he reigned for five years. His fate is unknown, and the only accounts of his character come from Alfred’s side – after the victorious Alfred also annexed Mercia – describing him as foolish and a puppet of the Vikings.
The newly found coins cover several years and were struck in different mints, demolishing the earlier belief that the two kings issued coins in only one year, marking a very short-lived alliance.

Speaking of the Vikings, the leader of the Great Heathen Army at Edington was Guthrum,  and played by Thomas Gabrielsson in The Last Kingdom, had a story that's impressive in how astute and nimble a leader he was.

Guthrum's hopes of conquering all of Wessex with his Viking army came to an end with his defeat at the hands of Alfred at the Battle of Edington in 878. At Edington, Guthrum’s entire army was routed by Alfred's and fled to their encampment where they were besieged by Alfred's fyrd for two weeks. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Guthrum’s army was able to negotiate a peace treaty known as the Treaty of Wedmore.  The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle recorded the event:
“Then the raiding army granted him (Alfred) hostages and great oaths that they would leave his kingdom and also promised him that their king (Guthrum) would receive baptism; and they fulfilled it. And three weeks later the king Guthrum came to him, one of thirty of the most honourable men who were in the raiding army, at Aller - and that is near Athelney - and the king received him at baptism; and his chrism loosing was at Wedmore.” 
Under the Treaty of Wedmore the borders dividing the lands of Alfred and Guthrum were established, and perhaps more importantly, Guthrum converted to Christianity and took on the Christian name Æthelstan with Alfred as his godfather. Guthrum's conversion to Christianity served as an oath or legal binding to the treaty, making its significance more political than religious.
Politically, of course, Guthrum’s conversion to Christianity did nothing to loosen the Danish hold on the lands that Guthrum had already acquired via conquest.  Instead it not only garnered Guthrum recognition among Christian communities he ruled, but also legitimized his own authority and claims. By adopting the Christian name of Æthelstan, which was also the name of Alfred’s eldest brother, Guthrum’s conversion reassured his newly acquired subjects that they would continue to be ruled by a Christian king rather than a heathen chieftain.
Guthrum upheld his end of the treaty and left the boundary that separated the Danelaw from English England unmolested. Guthrum, although failing to conquer Wessex, turned towards the lands to the east that the treaty had allotted under his control free of interference by Alfred. Guthrum withdrew his army from the western borders facing Alfred's territory and moved eastward before eventually settling in the Kingdom of Guthrum in East Anglia in 879. He lived out the remainder of his life there until his death in 890. According to the Annals of St Neots (ed. D. Dumville and M. Lapidge, Cambridge 1984), a Bury St Edmunds compilation, Guthrum was buried at Headleage, usually identified as Hadleigh, Suffolk.
From wild Viking raider to the respectable ruler of a Saxon kingdom in one lifetime.  Amazing!
The hoard dug up in Oxfordshire could have been owned by a man who knew both Guthrum/Aethelstan and Alfred.  Maybe it was this guy!


  1. Good TV series - and an even better series of books.

  2. It's still out to the jury. There may or may not be a Season Two. (Bastard Executioner was canceled after one season)