Scholars have dated the depositing of the fabulous wealth of Viking treasure known as the Cuerdale Hoard to c.905. The purpose of this blog is to question this assumption by moving the date of the deposition to a very possible later year. The horde is the most significant find of Viking silver ever to have been unearthed in the British Isles. It was discovered in May, 1840, by workmen digging in the banks of the River Ribble, & it is these same workmen who shed the initial doubt on the academic dating of the hoard. The hoard itself is made up a thousand pieces of silver bullion, & parcels of coins minted from as far away as the Hindu Kush, & had been assembled piecemeal. A thousand or so coins were minted during the reign of Alfred the Great (d.899), while a number of the other coins, such as the Carolingian & Kufic pieces, have a terminus ante quem of between 895 & 910 AD. In light of this, the hoard has been tentatively dated at 905.AD.
The thing is, we can never know the true dating of the Curedale hoard for the simple fact that not long after the discovery, about fifteen percent of the coins were syphoned away by anonymous private collectors or melted down by the workmen who found the hoard in the 19th century. One workman was found with 26 secreted in his boots & was allowed to keep them! Elsewhere, even the 149 coins selected for Queen Victoria largely vanished without trace.
There was no unifying mind behind such a random & disparate collection, & the normal rules of dating such hoards may not be applied with confidence. It has been over a millennium since the deposition, & Viking banking habits are unknown to posterity. The owner of the treasure was evidently a rich man, & also a collector as attested by a coin at Curedale dated to the seventh century. He could well have hung onto certain parcels of coins for years. In light of this, I shall now present a number reasons why the traditional dating of the Cuerdale horde is incorrect;
Of the 8,000-10,000 coins reported early on, only 6700 coins were ever officially recorded. This means fifteen percent of the find went missing, & if a single coin in that 15 percent was minted after 905, the whole assumption would be wrong
Of the 1000 or so Anglo-Saxon coins in the hoard, most were minted during the reign of Alfred the Great (d.899), but over a hundred belong to the flourits of his successor, Edward, & Archbishop Plegmund. With Edward dying in 924 & Plegmund dying in 923, the coins in their name could well have been minted after 920. Indeed, modern scholarship (Graham-Campbell) has stated that, ‘there is no way of putting a precise date on the latest west saxon coins in Cuerdale.’
1,800 coins belong to the type known as the St Edmund memorial issue. These are all undated, however, CE Blunt suggests a later date than Cuerdale; ‘The late coins on small flans with increasingly & illiterate & curtaile legends, some of which are present at Cuerdale, continued to be issued for a short-time into the post-Cuerdale period.’
The likeliest date for the minting of the coins is c.925, when King Athelstan founded the abbey of Bury St Edmunds around the shrine of St Edmund, as suggested by WA Abram; “The type consists of the letter A on the obverse, with the name of the sainted king as legend ; on the reverse is a small cross, with the name of the moneyer. It has generally been supposed that the coins of St. Eadmund were struck at the mint of the abbots of St. Edmundsbury, the earliest notice of which is a grant made to them by Edward the Confessor, in 1066. The name of the place does not occur upon the coins, but has been supposed to be intimated by the name of the mint.‘ Here, the ‘A’ on the coins should represent Athelstan, & it is his founding of the burh (Bury) of St Edmunds that created the mint which struck the coins.
Of the Carolingian coins, some are minted in the name of King Charles (the Simple), who ruled France from 898 to 922. Hawkins adds that the latest possible date of the French coins is 928.
An arm ring found at Cuerdale is identical to ones found at Lough Ree in Ireland, & Deptford in England, with both hoards being dated to the 930s.
There were many coins found at Cuerdale minted with the name Cunnetti. Michael Dolley tells us; A further specimen has come from the Morley St Peter hoard of 1958 which is of good Cuerdale style… The latest coin in this hoard carries the name & portrait of an Athelstan.’ This links the Cunnetti coins with Athelstan, who died in 939.
Hawkins refers to finds at Vaalse Island, dated to the late tenth century, which resemble objects found at Cuerdale
Four of the Cuerdale coins were minted in Scandinavia, one of these is suspected to be of a later date. Archibald shows his surprise at being found so early (c.905); ‘The final Scandinavian coin in the hoard is another Danish issue, of Malmers KG7, which imitates a Carolingian type. According to Malmer, KG7 commenced c.900, making the Cuerdale example the earliest dated deposit of the type, with its occurence in graves & hoards continuing into the third quater of the tenth century.’
An examination of the coin shows that it had not been freshly issued. With almost all of these coins being minted later in the ninth century, a pre-905 minting of the coin seems difficult to accept.
Nicholas Lowick identifies Coin 17 of the Kufic coins as being minted at Urmiyah al-salam, with the Salam element meaning’ peace.’ He states, ‘The earliest recorded coins of Urmiyah were recorded in 902 & 903, too late to have served as models for this imitation,‘ adding, ‘the coins must have travelled from the caliphate to Lancashire in no more than 8 years, a fairly short interval bearing in mind that they probably did not come directly but passed through various hands en route. Richard Vasmer, in his important analyses of north european hoards containing islamic coins, lists only two that exhibit a shorter interval between their latest kufi coin & their presumed date of burial.”
According to Herbert Grueber, The St Edmund coinage is ‘very similar in character‘ to what is known as the St Peter Coin, which was ‘assigned to a period extending from about 920-940.‘ Grueber also tells us that ‘several types of the Regnald’s coins are met with on the St Peter money.‘ Regnald ruled & minted at York in the early 920’s, which indirectly suggests the St Edmund coinage was minted at about the same time. In addition, Grueber also tells us these coins struck at Lincoln, in the name of St Martin, ‘in type & fabric somewhat approaches the St Peter money struck at York.’ The terminus ante quem of the St Martin coins is 943, when Eadmund took Lincoln from the Danes, which matches the dates of the St Peter Coin.
Two of the coins found at Cuerdale have the words SIHTRIC COMES inscribed on them. They have all the hallmarks of the Viking imitation coins, & with ‘Comes’ meaning earl, we are looking for an Earl Sihtric. This could well be Sihtric Ceach of the House of Ivar, who ruled Northumbria between the years 921 & 927. His status as an earl is confirmed by a passage in the Icelandic Egil’s Saga, which says, ‘Alfred the Great had deprived all tributary kings of name and power. they were now called earls, who had before been kings or princes. This was maintained throughout his lifetime and his son Edward’s.’ The coins were struck by a moneyer named Gundibert, who also minted some of the St Edmund coins discovered at Curedale, confirming the date given them in section 3 above.
I believe there is now enough evidence to doubt the 905 dating of the Cuerdale hoard & move it forward by at least two decades. As stated in the introduction, it is impossible to say how the Cuerdale collection was put together. The regal instinct is to hoard ones riches & it is possible that parts of it were collected during the raids by Analf in Ireland during the raids of the 930s as recorded by the Irish chronicle, ‘The Annals of the Four Masters;
934AD Amhlaibh Ceannchairech, with the foreigners, came from Loch Eirne across Breifne to Loch Ribh. On the night of Great Christmas they reached the Sinainn, and they remained seven months there; and Magh-Aei was spoiled and plundered by them.
Was the Cuerdale hoard deposited by by Analf during his flight from Brunanburh? In the next blog I shall show you how this took place at Burnley, from where he fled to Dublin. Directly inbetween lies the mouth of the River Ribble. His main fleet, according to Florence of Worcester, was at the Humber estuary. Did Analf, in the mad rush for safety, bury his treasure while searching for a boat. The Anglo-Saxon chronicle tells us that he escaped with only a few followers, which strongly supports the notion. One can imagine Analf burying the hoard at night & returning at some point in the future unable to find the spot where he left his wealth. This in turn led to the antique local tradition recorded by WJ Andrew that, ‘If one stood upon the hill at Walton-le-Dale on the south bank opposite Preston, & looked up river towards Ribchester, ones gaze would pass over the greatest treasure in Christendom..’
Abram - A history of the Parish of Blackburn, county of Lancaster (1877)
Andrew – British Numismatic Journal vol.1 (1904)
Archibald – A Scandinavian coin of Carolingian type from the
Cuerdale hoard’ – Hikuin II 79-82 (1985)
Blunt – The St Edmund Memorial coinage – Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of. Archaeology, xxxi (1969)
Dolley - Anglo-Saxon Coins (1961)
Graham-Campbell – Viking treasure from the North West – The Cuerdale horde in its context (1992 – ed. james graham-campbell)
Grueber – Handbook of the Coins of Great Britain and Ireland in the British Museum (1899)
Hawkins – Account of coins & treasure found at Cuerdale - Archeological Journal (1847)
Lowick – Kufic coins from Cuerdale – British Numistatic Journal ( 1976)