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silver Viking coin

Silver Viking coin
(©The Trustees of the British Museum)


ca. A.D. 900


Silverdale, Lancashire, northwest England, September 2011

Roughly an inch in diameter

Part of a hoard of more than 200 silver artifacts, this coin tells a surprisingly complete story about kingship at a time when Vikings from Scandinavia vied with the resident Anglo-Saxons for control of northwest England. The coin's obverse (front) bears the inscription AIRDECONUT, which scholars believe is an Anglo-Saxon translation of the Scandinavian name "Harthacnut," a previously unknown Viking ruler. He is the first new Viking monarch identified since 1840. The reverse has the letters DNS, an abbreviation of the Latin word dominus ("ruler"), and REX, Latin for "king." The use of Latin and the words' cross-like arrangement is evidence that, by only a few decades after the Vikings began settling in Britain in the midninth century, they had converted to Christianity.

Despite the Viking ruler's adoption of the Anglo-Saxon's religion, the hoard— a collection of jewelry, ingots (molds for metal casting), and coins, all weighing more than two pounds and constituting the fourth largest Viking hoard ever found—indicates that territorial clashes had not ended. The collection, which would have been valuable enough to buy a herd of cattle or sheep, was likely buried for safekeeping. It was not retrieved until last year, when a metal detectorist discovered the hoard in a lead container lying slightly more than one foot underground. He reported the find to local archaeological authorities, and the artifacts were taken to the British Museum to be cleaned, analyzed, and conserved.