Archaeological experts at Innlandet County are currently analyzing an extremely rare Byzantine gold coin in near-pristine condition, recently discovered by a metal detectorist in the mountains around Vestre Slidre municipality.
The coin was introduced into Byzantium, the Orthodox Christian empire centered on Constantinople, around the late 10th to early 11th century.
On the side depicting Christ, the coin, estimated to be minted between 977 and 1025, bears the Latin inscription "Jesus Christ, King of those who reign." Photo: Martine Kaspersen / Innlandet County Municipality
Did the coin belong to Harald Hardrada?
There's now great excitement around the find, as some are thinking the coin must have been brought to this part of Norway, northwest of Oslo, by Hardrada himself in the mid-11th century.
The coin has held up remarkably well over the course of a millennium, appearing largely unchanged from when it was lost.
On one side of the coin, there is an image of Christ holding the Bible, while the other side depicts Emperors Basil II and Constantine VIII. These two were brothers who jointly ruled the empire.
The coin was struck sometime between 977 and 1025, late in the reigns of Basil II and Constantine VIII, as indicated by its jagged, triple-edged design.
It features two inscriptions: one in Latin, reading "Jesus Christ, King of those who reign," and another in Greek, stating "Basil and Constantine, emperors of the Romans."
There is speculation that this coin could have been part of Harald Hardrada's earnings brought back to Norway.
During his tenure in the Byzantine imperial guard in Constantinople, Hardrada sent his accumulated wealth to Prince Yaroslav in Kiev.
The arrangement aimed partly to secure a dowry for Hardrada's marriage to Yaroslav's daughter, Elisiv of Kiev.
Dan Hollway's excellent biography of Harald Hardrada, The Last Viking, details this narrative.
The familial ties between the Kievan princes and the Byzantine emperors were significant. For instance, Basil II, depicted on the coin, was Elisiv's great-uncle, linking her directly to the Byzantine imperial lineage.
On its reverse, the coin, minted in the late reigns of Basil II and Constantine VIII, showcases the emperors' images with the Greek inscription "Basil and Constantine, emperors of the Romans." Photo: Martine Kaspersen / Innlandet County Municipality
Laden with gold
Norse sagas relate that Harald and his men were rich beyond compare when they finally returned home to Norway in 1046, their ships laden with gold and other valuables.
Hardrada then accepted the role as co-regent, making him Harald III of Norway. The question remains: how and why did the coin end up in Vestre Slidre?
Within the historic area of Valdres, Vestre Slidre was part of the Bjørgvin diocese until 1125.
It was also on one of the older transport routes called Bispevegen, "Bishop's Way." It is not impossible that the coin was lost by one of the clergy on their travels.
The old transport routes, the salt roads, were based on trade in salt from Western Norway, so it is also possible that the coin entered into a goods trade between salt and herring from the west, and iron ingots, reindeer skins, and antlers from the east.
The coin was discovered so late in the autumn that the experts at Innlandet County have not yet had time to examine the find site.
This will be done when the field season starts again in 2024.
The authorities are reluctant to release more specific details for fear of it being disturbed – those protecting the considerable cultural heritage of Innlandet County do not recommend detector searches in outlying areas.
Strict guidelines surround the protocol of such finds, as illustrated by Jørgen Strande's recent discovery of Viking silver.
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