The Lewis Chessmen, berserkers. Late 12th century, Uig, Lewis, Scotland. Walrus ivory. Copyright of The Trustees of the British Museum.
Europe,  UK

Vikings: life and legend at the British Museum

british museum

I recently headed into London to check out the British Museum’s Viking exhibition, entitled Vikings: life and legend, the first of its kind at the museum for over 30 years.

As exhibitions go this one is pretty vast, with room after room of Viking artefacts ranging from the late 8th through to the early 11th century. These items are used to tell the tale of the Vikings, highlighting what life was like, how they travelled and how far.

I was surprised by just how far the Vikings travelled. I’d always (wrongly) presumed that they’d basically travelled west from the chilly north of mainland Europe reaching as far as the UK, however, artefacts found across north Africa and also Russia tell a very different story about how far their power spread and who they traded with.

Hunterston Brooch - clearly owned by Maelbrigda! 700, Hunterston, Ayrshire, Scotland. Gold, silver, amber. Diam. 12.2cm. © National Museums Scotland
Hunterston Brooch – clearly owned by Maelbrigda! 700, Hunterston, Ayrshire, Scotland. Gold, silver, amber. Diam. 12.2cm. © National Museums Scotland

Viking bling

It was really interesting to learn so much more about their lifestyle, trade, beliefs and religion, and it was quite entertaining to discover how much they liked to show of their wealth. It appears that they really did like to wear a lot of bling and some of the golden broaches and necklaces were a real sight to see!

They also liked to mark their valuables so that people would know who they belonged to. For example, one beautifully extravagant brooch had ‘Maelbrigda owns this brooch’ scratched on its back, which made me chuckle.

It’s also worth noting that at the side of the entrance hall they often have a chance for you to go hands on with several Viking artefacts, which of course I couldn’t pass by. When I wandered over I was able to handle a male and female brooch and was also able to feel the weight of an ancient viking axe head.

The Vale of York hoard, AD 900s. North Yorkshire, England. Silver-gilt, gold, silver. British Museum, London/Yorkshire Museum, York. Copyright of he Trustees of the British Museum.
The Vale of York hoard, AD 900s. North Yorkshire, England. Silver-gilt, gold, silver.
British Museum, London/Yorkshire Museum, York. Copyright of he Trustees of the British Museum.

The Vale of York Hoard

Also on display are other signs of wealth and ancient money, including the entire Vale of York Hoard, which was discovered by metal dectorists back in 2007. This is the largest and most important Viking hoard found since 1840, with over 600 coins.

The installation of Roskilde 6 at the British Museum in the Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery, January 2014 © Paul Raftery
The installation of Roskilde 6 at the British Museum in the Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery, January 2014 © Paul Raftery

 

The Roskilde 6 viking warship

The highlight of the exhibition hits you when you turn a corner, walking into a large hall that houses a reconstruction of a 37 metre long Viking warship – the longest ever found and never before seen in the UK. Mainly created from stainless steel, it also includes the few surviving timbers from the original ship.

Known as the Roskilde 6, it was excavated from the banks of the Roskilde fjord and its size implies that it was a royal warship, one that King Cnut may well have sailed in. Its scale is pretty impressive and really highlights the maritime capabilities that the Vikings possessed.

A great exhibition, Vikings: life and legend was well worth a visit, shame I didn’t get round to visiting until right before it closes on June 22nd. It’s now on the move again, and the exhibition will reopen to the public on 10 September at the Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin, where it will run until January 2015.

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Featured image is of the Lewis Chessmen, berserkers. Late 12th century, Uig, Lewis, Scotland. Walrus ivory © The Trustees of the British Museum.

By day Co-Editor Keri is a freelance journalist and copywriter, but spends most of her free time either travelling or planning her next trip!  A complete travel fanatic, she has a love of tropical climates, wildlife and afternoon tea (hence the creation of her Global Afternoon Tea Challenge!)

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