1. The Hingham silver hoard buried in the 860s.

Vikings invade East Anglia

The fearsome Great Viking Army arrived in East Anglia in AD 865; now they have taken up residence again in Norwich Castle Musuem in an exhibition entitled Viking: Rediscover the Legend, which includes some of the most significant Anglo-Saxon and Viking treasures discovered in Britain.

Star objects from the British Museum and Yorkshire Museum include the Anglo-Saxon York Helmet, and the Vale of York, Cuerdale and Bedale Viking Hoards. These are displayed alongside highlights from Norwich Castle's own extensive collections, including many items on display for the first time, which help to tell the distinctive regional story of the Viking presence in East Anglia.


2. Viking lead weight reusing a piece of chopped-up Anglo-Saxon silver sheet, from Great Ryburgh.

A series of themed sections takes the visitor through the story of the Viking presence in England over 200 years, from the first contact with their raiding parties in the 8th century, through invasion and settlement to the arrival of a new power in the land in the figure of William the Conqueror in 1066. Throughout this period, the Vikings had a major impact on Britain, re-shaping every aspect of the political, economic, religious, social and artistic life here, while their own culture was itself transformed by 200 years of British contact. It is a story that is both more complex and fascinating than the popular image of the pillaging marauder.

Nearly 50 objects illustrate the East Anglian Viking context, pointing to the scale of discoveries in the region. Norfolk has some 16,000 archaeological finds unearthed each year, including around 10 percent of the annual total of official treasure finds in the UK. Finds on show for the first time include: the Hingham Hoard (1) buried in the 860s when the Vikings were invading; a Viking lead weight reusing chopped-up Anglo-Saxon silver sheet (2); a Viking lozenge-shaped gold brooch (3) from Attleborough, the first of its kind to be unearthed in the country; a Ringerike Style (Scandinavian animal) horse bridle cheek-piece (4).


3. Viking gold lozenge brooch from Attleborough.

While the Viking presence in the north of England had more of a Norwegian flavour, East Anglian Vikings seem to have been drawn principally from Denmark. The north was also distinct in forming a separate Viking kingdom, which centred on York. The picture in East Anglia was more fluid. The Great Viking Army invasion of 865 saw the defeat of King Edmund, and his martyrdom in 869, and the end of the independent Anglo-Saxon kingdom. But, less than a decade later, the Vikings themselves were defeated by the king of Wessex, King Alfred, in 878 at the Battle of Edington.

At this point, the Viking army split up, and although the region was ruled by a Viking king, Guthram, he took the English name 'Athelstan' when he was baptised, an indication of some form of submission to Alfred following his defeat in battle. Evidence suggests a process of assimilation with the local population as the Vikings moved from being invaders – in 869 their army overwintered in Thetford – to being part of the settled population. Proof of this is that there is little evidence of pagan Viking burials in East Anglia, suggesting that they soon converted to Christianity.


4. Part of an 11th-century Ringerike Style horse bridle cheek-piece from Great Witchingham that shows Viking style in the Anglo-Saxon period.

In fact, the Danes came to venerate Edmund as a saint to such an extent that the Danish king Cnut turned his shrine into an abbey, which gave its name to the town of Bury St Edmund's, and became one of the most powerful monastic houses in England. Not that the path to peaceful co-existence always ran smoothly; as late as 1010 during the Viking's resurgence in England, the army of Thorkel the Tall burnt down the town of Thetford.
Today, Viking influence in East Anglia can still be traced in place-names. For example, village names ending in '-by'
and '-thorpe'. The greatest concentration of these in the region are the 13 '-by' settlements – including Hemsby, Scratby and Ormsby. The fact that these names are recorded in the Domesday Book suggests that a Norse language was spoken not only by the local Viking population but by English people in the area as well.

Norwich, too, shows traces of its time as an Anglo-Scandinavian city: evidence for Danish influence comes from street names with '-gate' endings ('gate' is from Old Norse gata, 'street') such as Colegate. • Viking: Rediscover the Legend is on show in Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery (www.museums.norfolk.gov.uk) until 8 September 2019.

Lindsay Fulcher

 
 
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