The legacy of the Vikings in East Yorkshire

hull-museums-viking-sword

Published: Wednesday 23rd November 2016 by Rich Sutherland

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We’ve teamed up with Hull Museums to bring you a weekly series of historical facts and tales. This week we were sent information on a beautiful Viking sword.

First arriving in 793AD, the Vikings are well known figures in British history, often presented as angry pirates who pillaged the north of England in the 8th century.

Despite the bearded trend having a bit of a revival, Vikings are no longer among us, yet their Scandinavian influences certainly are. We have the Vikings to thank for the names of the days of the week, the names of many towns and villages in the region, and even the word ‘happy’. Most place names that end in –by or –thorpe­ have their origins in the Viking Age, of which there are 365 in Yorkshire alone.

Vikings in Yorkshire

It may very well be that you are an ancestor of a ransacking Viking!

The Viking kingdom, Danelaw, covered almost the whole of the north and east of England, with three main areas: Northumbria (which included modern-day Yorkshire), East Anglia, and the Five Boroughs of Leicester, Nottingham, Derby, Stamford and Lincoln.

The most important city in Danelaw was York, or Jorvik (pronounced “your-vick”). Jorvik was a hub for trade and commerce, with over 10,000 people living there. Back then, there was no St Stephen’s, Prospect Centre or Princes Quay, you had to travel to York if you were a shopper or trader!

Viking legacy in East Yorkshire

This striking Viking Age sword was found at Skerne (near Driffield) during an excavation in the 1980s. It is thought that the heavily decorated weapon, with silver and copper geometric details, would have been very expensive and precious to its owner.

Interestingly, the way in which it was dropped into the river has preserved the fine silver and copper wires, which form the pattern. What makes the object even rarer is the fact that its wooden scabbard still encases the sword – without the waterlogged conditions at Skerne, this would have surely decayed a long time ago.

Found amongst the remains of an oak bridge or jetty, it is thought that the blade could have been dropped during renovation and repair works. The drill bits, woodchips and knives located nearby also point towards this theory.

You may be thinking that surely such an attractive sword would not be carelessly cast aside in this way. Well, another theory is that the action of placing or throwing a sword into water was part of a religious ritual. The skeletons of animals and a spearhead were also found close by, further supporting the argument that this blade was an offering to the gods.

This act is not completely unique to Skerne. A sword of similar design was found in the River Frome in the south. Two swords are also currently on display in the British Museum: one found in the River Lea at Edmonton and the other in the River Witham in Lincolnshire.

Intriguingly, the custom of throwing or placing offerings in water was common during the Iron Age, many years before the Vikings landed in Britain. It seems that the ritual may have had a bit of a revival during this time, just as Viking beards have made a comeback today.

If you would like to see this sword with your own eyes, you can find it at the Hull and East Riding Museum on Hull’s High Street.

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Published: Wednesday 23rd November 2016 by Rich Sutherland

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