Vikings: Life and Legend
6 March – 22 June 2014
Developed with the National Museum of Denmark and the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, the exhibition focuses on the core period of the Viking Age from the late 8th to the early 11th century.
Take a look at our video-tour, presented by historian Bettany Hughes.
The Vikings' bloodthirsty reputation precedes them, known as raiders, plunderers and pillagers who waged an unrelenting war on the rest of Europe. But revealing new archaeological discoveries present a more complex picture of the seafaring Scandinavians, the subject of this exhibition.
In fact, the Vikings were prolific traders, creating a global network that spanned the Caspian Sea to the North Atlantic, the Arctic Circle to the Mediterranean. It was this exposure to other cultures that played a key role in shaping the Viking identity, from the religious beliefs they held to the development of their practical skills.
The extent of their travel is revealed in a series of recent finds, such as The Vale of York Hoard, which was discovered in 2007 by metal detectorists near Harrogate and contains coins and silver from places as far removed as Afghanistan, Ireland, Russia and Uzbekistan.
Represented are three belief systems – Islam, Christianity and the worship of Thor – and examples of peoples who spoke more than seven different languages. Key items include a silver cup predating the burial by more than a century and probably made for a Frankish Church, as well as a silver hoard from Gnezdovo in Russia that highlights a combination of Scandinavian, Slavic and Middle Eastern influences.
Meanwhile, skeletons from a recently excavated mass grave near Weymouth in Dorset, reveal what happened when things went wrong for Viking warriors, here on British soil.
The remains of a 37-metre-long Viking warship are on display for the first time in the UK. Known as Roskilde 6, it was excavated from the banks of Roskilde fjord and the surviving timbers – approximately 20% of the original ship – have been re-assembled in a specially made stainless steel frame that reconstructs the full size and shape of the original vessel.
It is thought to date to around AD 1025, the high point of the Viking Age when England, Denmark, Norway and possibly parts of Sweden were united under the rule of Cnut the Great. The size and amount of resources required to build it suggest that it was almost certainly a royal warship, possibly connected with the wars fought by Cnut to assert his authority over this short-lived North Sea Empire.