These famous hordes have helped us illuminate not only what was valuable and consumed conspicuously by people in Viking-era societies but also helped give us insight into the mindsight of these people and why they squirreled away their wealth for better days.

Just dig it up

Ever since the first Viking buried something valuable, there has been another person digging it up – sometimes intentionally, sometimes not – and gazing in astonishment at what lay beneath. 

Viking hordes, buried collections of shiny, sparkly treasure, and artifacts, are some of the most important archaeological finds that these early medieval warriors have left us. 

It has only been since the turn of the 20th century CE, however, that archaeology has evolved into the modern ethical and scientific vocation, meaning that there were hundreds of Viking hordes discovered in earlier times that have ended up in the pockets, or homes, of their discoverers.

Archaeologists love a good dig, and discovering a Viking-era horde can be extremely useful. The contents of the horde, as well as its location, can reveal a wide range of economic, political, religious, and social information. 

On a more micro level, they can reveal much about the local community and rulers and even what the fashion trends were at the time of burial. 

Viking hordes have been discovered throughout mainly Europe and Asia; these are some of the most important yet uncovered:

A part of a cache of the Spillings hoard, photographed at the Gotland Museum. Source: W.carter / Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International

Made for TV: The Spillings hoard

This is the big one. The largest (by weight) horde ever discovered on the Swedish island of Gotland near the town of Slite. A gigantic collection of silver was uncovered, weighing almost 67 kilograms / 147 pounds. 

The horde contained over 14,000 coins, mostly minted in the Islamic world from the 9th century CE.

What makes the story of this horde so remarkable is how it was found. In 1999, a Swedish television crew from TV4 was on the island, making a documentary about a local cultural event. One of the segments involved the issue of the looting of archaeological sites. 

Some 150 silver coins had been uncovered on a nearby farm, and the television crew decided to shoot a segment there. Whilst filming, a metal detector was procured, and the field where the original coins were found was surveyed. 

The filming wrapped up the day; however, the local guide and archaeologist had a bit of a hunch that they may find something and decided to continue.

After 20 minutes, the metal detector almost exploded with beeps. They had unearthed what became the largest Viking hoard ever discovered. 

They rushed to find a renowned professor of numismatics (an expert on coins) who confirmed the Viking-era origins of the find. The television crew had permission to film, and the rest, they say, is history.

The island of Gotland itself is no stranger to hordes, with over 700 Viking-era caches uncovered since the Spillings hoard.

The Vale of York hoard on display. Photo: Portable Antiquities Scheme / CC BY 2.0

Expelled from Jórvik: The Vale of York hoard

One of the more recent discoveries was unearthed just over a decade over, in 2007, near the town of Harrogate, England. 

Not only was there a plethora of treasure – including 617 coins and 65 silver artifacts – but the container itself was a piece of art, lined with gold and silver gilding. 

Archaeologists have found that the elaborate decoration and artwork matched 9th century CE Carolingian styles, whilst the coins range from a variety of cultures and civilizations, minted in the British Isles, the Abbasid Caliphate, the Frankish Empire and even as far away as Afghanistan.

The British Museum believes this hoard was buried when the Vikings were expelled from York. What is now York, called Jorvik by these invaders, was the preeminent Viking town during their occupation of the British Isles. 

The Anglo-Saxon resistance, for a time led by King Alfred the Great of Wessex, would eventually see the Vikings booted out from Jorvik in about 928 CE. Lucky for us, whoever buried it was unable to come back and reclaim it.

The Molnby hoard was found in Molnby, Vallentuna, in Sweden. Pictured is Lake Vallentuna. Photo: Martin of Sweden / Shutterstock

From the Silk Road to Sweden: The Molnby hoard

The traditional view of the Vikings is that their gaze was always westward, to the British Isles and the Frankish realms. However, many people from Viking societies pillaged, plundered, conquered, and settled eastward. 

Journeying across the Baltic Sea, they entered the many river systems of Eastern Europe, which took them as far away as the Black Sea. From here, two great civilizations were close by - the Byzantine Empire and the Islamic world. 

These civilizations had great trade networks and contacts with Asia, especially on what has been dubbed "The Silk Road," which connected Europe with Central, Southern, and Eastern Asia.

The interconnectedness of the Viking world with these vast Eurasian trade networks was exemplified by the unearthing of a cache of silver coins in Molby, Sweden, back in 2016. 

The deposit of silver coins was made up of 113 "clipped" with 50 more left untouched. Most of the coins carried an Arabic inscription and were minted in Samarkand, a great trading entrepot on the Silk Road in what is now Uzbekistan. 

A few of the coins were found to be imitations of the Arabic coins minted along the Volga River, one of the major Viking arterial trade networks. 

The age range of the early 10th century, sometime in the 930s CE, has been estimated for the hoard, and it provides us with a fascinating glimpse into the interconnectedness of culture, civilizations, and trade during the early medieval period.

In 2021, an exhibition called "Vikings before Vikings" took place in the Saaremaa Museum in Estonia, featuring 150 original objects which were placed in graves along with the Viking warriors. Photo: Saaremaa Museum

Estonian excitement: The Essu hoard

We don't often associate Estonia with Vikings. Yet, in recent times, Estonia has played a pivotal role in our understanding of the very beginnings of the Viking Age. 

Traditionally, the start of this age has been credited with a Viking raid on a monastery on the island of Lindisfarne, off the northeast coast of England. 

Between 2008 and 2010, however, an archaeological dig on the Estonian island of Salme shattered this entrenched historical view

Two clinker-built ships, along with the remains of 41 warriors, dogs, hawks, and weapons, were unearthed, believed to have been buried sometime in the early 8th century CE. 

The dead were of Scandinavian origin, and it is believed that these warriors were part of a Viking raid, pushing the start of this age back more than half a century CE.

Over a millennium ago, what is now Estonia was very much a part of the Viking world. It should be no surprise that there has been a wealth of hidden Viking treasures uncovered. 

Back in the 19th century, some farmers were digging around a peat bog in a field near the village of Essu. 

Uncovering more than six golden pendants, dating to the last two decades of the 9th century CE, recent scientific scanning has revealed that most of them were formed as part of an elaborate female necklace, manufactured in Scandinavia, so-called "themed deposits." 

The Essu hoard has helped challenged our preconceived notions about the sphere of Viking influence in Northern Europe.

A photo of the rare rock crystal jar issued by National Museums Scotland. Source: National Museum of Scotland / Press

Scotland's finest: The Galloway hoard

"Nothing like this has ever been found in Scotland . . . research so far is pointing to a new understanding of Scotland in the international context of the earliest Viking Age..."

These were the words of the Principal Curator of Medieval Archaeology and History at the Scottish National Museums, Dr. Martin Golberg, when this hoard was uncovered back in 2014. 

The discovery of more than 100 gold, silver, glass, and pottery artifacts near Galloway, in Kirkcudbrightshire, helps illustrate the synthesis of two cultures – Anglo-Saxon and Viking – in this area of Scotland. 

This area of Scotland was at a cultural crossroads where these two cultures would often clash as well as conduct commerce.

The discovery, like so many similar hoards, was made by a metal detector enthusiast who, upon discovery, contacted the local authorities. 

The hoard contains a plethora of items – including armbands, a Christian cross, glass beads, and ingots in a silver vessel said to be one of the most diverse yet uncovered from the Viking Age. 

An estimate of the very early 10th century CE has been given for its burial. Recent research has revealed that some of the items may have been manufactured in the Sasanian Empire and have not Chrisitan but Zoroastrian symbols and motifs. 

Silk manufactured in Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire, was also uncovered in this hoard.

Watch this space because as with ever greater scientific and technological advances, more Vikings treasures will surely be uncovered soon...

For more information on the Galloway Hoard, visit the National Museums Scotland website here

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