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Silver and the Origins of the Viking Age

Project description

Numismatic study on the expansion of Scandinavian warriors

In the Viking Age (750-1050), Scandinavian seafaring warriors started to raid and settle over much of Eurasia. But where, when and why did the Viking Age begin? The EU-funded SILVER project will carry out the first large-scale systematic and empirically based research on silver from early Viking-Age Scandinavia. As the main documented material of Viking spoils, silver can teach us about the early development of the Viking Age. Since silver has never been studied before to assess the origins of the Viking Age, the project will build a new data set of 9th century ‘silver records’ from a combination of sources. To carry out a first-hand archaeological and numismatic study, SILVER will use pioneering methods in archaeometric analysis.


This project will address one of the enduring questions of medieval studies - the origins of the Viking Age (c. 750-1050 AD) - through an interdisciplinary (archaeological, archaeometric and numismatic) study of silver from early Viking-Age Scandinavia.  In doing so, it will provide the first large-scale, systematic and empirically-based answers to the outstanding questions of where, when and why the Viking Age began, casting vital new light on what is widely recognised to be a pivotal episode of cultural expansion in Eurasia.

As the only surviving physical evidence from the spoils of Viking expansion, silver has unique potential to elucidate the early development of the Viking Age. Its geographic origins can reveal where Viking activity was concentrated (Western Europe vs. Baltic/ Russia); its uses can indicate why the Vikings were prepared to risk their lives acquiring it (social vs. monetary function); and its chronology can unlock the timings of the main periods of expansion (ninth century, as widely believed, vs. a century earlier). Yet, due to its poor characterisation and the lack of scientific approaches to its study, silver has never before been harnessed to address these fundamental topics.

This project will build an entirely new dataset of the ninth-century ‘silver record’ from a combination of access to museum collections and fresh artefact and coin identifications made by the project team. We will analyse this material in new ways. First-hand archaeological and numismatic study will be combined with pioneering methods in archaeometric analysis, the enormous potential of which for revealing Viking silver sources has recently been demonstrated by the PI. The PI has negotiated unprecedented permissions from national museums to extend scientific analyses to early Viking silver objects from across Northern Europe. There is now a tremendous opportunity to transform understanding of one of Europe’s most significant cultural movements.

Host institution

Net EU contribution
€ 1 068 115,12
OX1 2JD Oxford
United Kingdom

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South East (England) Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Oxfordshire
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 1 068 115,12

Beneficiaries (3)