Hoard of Viking coins seized during police raid could ‘change British history’

Chiara Giordano

A haul of Viking coins worth £500,000 uncovered during a police raid could “change British history”, according to a leading historian.

Police seized the hoard of coins and a solid silver bar from properties in County Durham and Lancashire during an investigation.

The items, believed to be of major historical significance, include coins from the reign of Alfred the Great, King of Wessex, and his less well-known contemporary Ceolwulf II of Mercia.

King Alfred inflicted a major defeat on the Vikings in AD 878 and experts from the British Museum believe the coins belong to an undeclared hoard consistent with the location of the Viking army at that time.

The hoard is important because it fills a gap in the understanding of history at that time.

Until now, accounts have suggested Ceolwulf of Mercia was a puppet of the Vikings and a minor nobleman rather than a proper king.

However, the coins tell a different story and show two rulers standing side by side as allies.

DI Lee Gosling, senior investigating officer for Operation Fantail at Durham Constabulary, said: “We are in the very early stages of what is going to be a very long and complex investigation.

“We believe the material recovered comes from a hoard of immense historical significance relating to the Vikings and we are delighted to have been able to hand it over to the British Museum.

“This is an extremely unusual case and it is not every day we get the chance to shape British history.

“It is the legal responsibility of the finder of any precious metal objects that are over 300 years old to report them to the local coroner as possible treasure under the terms of the Treasure Act 1996.”

Dr Gareth Williams, curator of early medieval coins and Viking collections at the British Museum, described the coins as a “nationally important hoard”.

He said: “The coins I have seen so far add significantly to our understanding of the political history of England in the AD 870s.

“This is the period in which Alfred the Great was fighting the Vikings, but which also led to the creation of a unified kingdom of England under Alfred and his successors.

“Ceolwulf is described in unflattering terms in surviving sources written at Alfred’s court some years later, but around the time the hoard was buried, probably in AD 879, Ceolwulf mysteriously disappeared, and Alfred then took over Ceolwulf’s kingdom as well as his own.

“The coins point to an alliance between the two which the later sources from Alfred’s court ‘forgot’ to mention, while at the same time stressing Alfred’s new alliance with his former enemy, the Viking leader Guthrum.”

Police said the investigation was ongoing and that a “number of people” were arrested on suspicion of dealing in “culturally tainted objects”.