Did the Vikings really hand out oath rings, as depicted on the hit tv show, Vikings? It was previously believed that oath rings were connected to the Icelandic sagas and were used for paying fealty in court (National Museum of Denmark).
Viking age and Medieval ring pins made from copper alloy have been found all over the world from Novgorod to Newfoundland; over a third of these were found in Ireland (McEneaney & Ryan, 2004, pp. 24). The pins were used as fastenings for cloaks and dresses. Finds of these pins predating the Viking age in Ireland suggest that the pins originated in Ireland and highlight the ties between the ‘Celtic West’ and ‘Sub-Roman Britain’ (Fanning, 1994, pp.1). Vikings first appeared in Ireland in 795 and in the subsequent years settled throughout country establishing its oldest towns and cities (McEneaney et al, 2004, pp. 18).
The Cuerdale hoard was found in 1840 during work to the banks of the River Ribble in Lancashire. The initial find weighed approximately 42.5kg and contained over 7,500 coins.[i] Thanks to the high number of coins, the hoard can be dated quite accurately, being deposited around 905-910 A.D.
The hoard is one of the largest found to date, though the British Museum does not hold the complete collection. After an inquisition in Preston in August 1840, the hoard was ‘seized into the Hands of Her Majesty in right of Her Duchy and County Palatine of Lancaster.’ Nearly 150 individuals were gifted coins and other trinkets from the hoard, and the whereabouts of all of these is not certain in 2018. James Graham-Campbell, who tried to track down the missing pieces, also theorised in his 2011 book that a number of the rarer coins went missing before the hoard made it to the inquisition, taken by the coin experts who were called in to initially assess the hoard.
The hoard contained lots of hack silver and ingots, but it also contained complete bracelets, neck rings, and rings. This week we’re going to take a quick look at the neck rings.
Neck rings from the hoard were made from twin strands of silver wire twisted together, paired with 2 or 3 more of the same, and then twisted around each other once more. These rods were then joined to the smooth rods that formed the terminals. There are other types found in the UK, but this is the most common, and makes up the majority of the Cuerdale pieces. The examples from Cuerdale tend to fasten with a simple hook and a loop, and this way of fastening is also the most common type found in Norway, Sweden, and Denmark[i].The hook and loop fastening, instead of two hooks, is clustered in the south of Norway, the east of Denmark, and the U.K. An example of the two hook fastening method was found at Halton Moor.
The complete neck ring examples from the Cuerdale hoard weigh 173g, and 188g, which is just under a mark’s worth of silver (200g).The hoard also contains a number of fragments that were originally part of complete neck rings.
There are no gold neck rings in the hoard. In fact, the only example of a gold neck ring in the UK and Ireland was found in Midlothian, Scotland, and has since vanished[ii]
Neck rings were not an easy item to make, so it is interesting to see that there are fragments of neckrings in the collection that have been cut down into smaller values of silver. Neck rings may not have been the first piece of silver a Viking would use for a financial transaction, but the evidence of portions of neck rings tells us that these pieces of jewellery were still cold, hard, bullion at the end of the day. We can draw a parallel with the long standing tradition of people pawning their jewellery to pay bills and debts.
Here’s a very condensed look at how neck rings are constructed. It’s a long and laborious process that would have taken considerably longer in the Viking period, as they would not have access to wire like we have. The first step for a silver smith would have been to draw out the wire.
We have plenty more research to undertake on the bullion economy of the Viking age, and hopefully we can talk more about that over the coming weeks. Next week we’re looking at the sagas again, and a story about Thor.
Today we want to tell you a bit more about the story behind our newest T-shirt, Odin and the Runes:
In Norse mythology, it is told that Yggdrasil, the world-tree that holds all known nine worlds, grows out of the Well of Urd, often referred to as the Well of Destiny. In this well live three norns (Urðr, Verðandi, and Skuld), who carve the destiny of all people into the base of the tree. These carvings are the first account of the use of runes.
We first saw the massive Hiddensee hoard pendants in 2013 at the Vikings exhibition in the National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen, and nothing can prepare you for seeing just how big these pieces of gold jewellery really are! Of course, we were already familiar with the hoard, and the style of pendant is well known from the Viking era, but these individual pieces are just so big, that they were instantly added to the list of designs we wanted to make.
The grand reopening of the Jorvik Viking Centre in York, took place this year, on April 8th and Asgard are proud to have played a small part in the re-imagining of this world class display of Viking archaeology. We reproduced several Viking bone, antler, and metal objects from the Jorvik collection. Some will go on sale in the shop, and others will be used by staff to demonstrate the Viking way of life including an intricate, thousand year old, working padlock.
I graduated from the University of York with a degree in Archaeology in 1994, and an interest in Viking culture that was expressed through Viking re-enactment. Involving fighting, re-creating some Viking age objects for personal use, and, what I later came to realise was, interpreting Viking age history and archaeology for the general public at events up and down the British Isles.