Previously, we had talked at length about the surprising stuff regarding Viking warfare. And beyond their warrior culture, it is the ambit of raiding and plundering that is often popularly associated with the Norsemen. Pertaining to the latter part, an amateur treasure hunter named James Mather (who is a retired advertising manager) fortuitously unearthed a treasure hoard with his trusty metal detector on a farm near Watlington. The stash was hence given the moniker of the Watlington Hoard, and it was found to have more than 200 objects comprising gold and silver rings, ingots and Anglo-Saxon minted coins. Among them the coins alone are worth $3,788 apiece, thus bringing their total value at an enviable $947,000.
In terms of history, the experts have hypothesized that the hoard probably belonged to a Viking, who had accumulated the stash after years of plundering. But the socio-political situation of England in the later part of 9th century AD took a turn for the worse for the Vikings, mostly due to the reemergence of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms and their organized military prowess. The situation culminated in a decisive victory won by the forces of Wessex (under Alfred the Great) at the Battle of Edington in 878, which resulted in the banishment of most of the Viking army from southern England. So the treasure in question here might have been buried by a fleeing Viking who was making his way to the north, via the ancient road from East Anglia to Wiltshire and Dorset.
Interestingly, the coins present inside the hoard allude to a complex scenario which went beyond just the scope of the Anglo-Saxons versus the Vikings. For example, many of the coins depict King Alfred the Great of Wessex and King Ceolwulf II of Mercia seated cordially side by side. While these kingdoms were traditional enemies of each other, the artifacts stand as a testament to the incredible diplomacy inculcated during the times, so as to face the common threat of the Vikings. However things ultimately didn’t pan out too well between these Anglo-Saxon monarchs, with Alfred the Great later insulting Ceolwulf and then even proceeding to annex his Mercian lands.
As for the extant treasure hoard itself, the British Museum is currently displaying its contents, and is also planning (in collaboration with the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford) to purchase the entire stash. And the good news for Mr. Mather is that he will get some portion of the hoard’s valuation, which he has to share with the landowner of the location where the treasure was identified.