A metal detector discovered a small silver coin marked with the name of a famous Viking king. However, it was not discovered in Scandinavia, but in southern Hungary, where it was lost almost 1,000 years ago.
The find has baffled archaeologists, who have struggled to explain how the piece could have ended up there – it’s even possible that it arrived with the traveling court of a medieval Hungarian king.
The first Norwegian coin, referred to as the “enclosure”, was not particularly valuable at the time, even though it was silver, and was worth the equivalent of about $20 in today’s currency.
“That penning was equivalent to the denar used in Hungary at the time,” Máté Varga, an archaeologist at the Rippl-Rónai Museum in the southern Hungarian town of Kaposvár and doctoral student at the Hungarian University of Szeged, told Live Science in an email. . “It wasn’t worth much – maybe enough to feed a family for a day.”
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Metal detectorist Zoltán Csikós found the silver coin earlier this year at an archaeological site on the outskirts of the village of Várdomb and handed it over to archaeologist András Németh at the Wosinsky Mór County Museum in the nearby town of Szekszard.
The site of Várdomb contains the remains of the medieval settlement of Kesztölc, one of the most important trading towns in the region at that time. Archaeologists have made hundreds of finds there, including clothing ornaments and coins, Varga said.
There is ample evidence of contact between medieval Hungary and Scandinavia, including Scandinavian artifacts found in Hungary and Hungarian artifacts found in Scandinavia that may have been brought there by trade or itinerant craftsmen, Varga said.
But this is the first time a Scandinavian coin has been found in Hungary, he said.
Who was Harald Hardrada?
The coin found at the Várdomb site is in poor condition, but is recognizable as a Norwegian penning minted between 1046 and 1066 for King Harald Sigurdsson III – also known as Harald Hardrada – at Nidarnes or Nidaros (opens in a new tab)a medieval mint in Trondheim in central Norway.
The description of a similar part (opens in a new tab) notes that the front bears the king’s name “HARALD REX NO” – meaning Harald, King of Norway – and is decorated with a “triquetra”, a three-sided symbol representing the Holy Trinity of Christianity.
The other side is marked with a Christian cross in double lines, two sets of ornamental dots and another inscription naming the master of the Mint of Nidarnes.
Harald Hardrada (“Hardrada” translates to “hard ruler” in Norwegian) was the son of a Norwegian chieftain and half-brother of Norwegian King Olaf II, according to Britannica (opens in a new tab). He lived at the end of the Viking Age and is sometimes considered the last of the great Viking warrior-kings.
Traditional stories relate that Harald fought alongside his half-brother at the Battle of Stiklestad in 1030, where Olaf was defeated and killed by the forces of an alliance between Norwegian rebels and Danes; Harald then went into exile, first in Russia, then in Byzantine Empirewhere he became a prominent military leader.
He returned to Norway in 1045 and became co-king with his nephew, Magnus I Olafsson; and he became sole king when Magnus died in battle against Denmark in 1047.
Harald then spent many years trying to secure the throne of Denmark, and in 1066 he attempted to conquer England by allying himself with the rebel forces of Tostig Godwinson, who were trying to take the kingdom from his brother, King Harold Godwinson.
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But Harald and Tostig were killed by Harold Godwinson’s forces at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in northern England in 1066; whereupon the victor and his armies were to cross the country in just a few weeks before the battle of Hastings against William of Normandy – which Harold Godwinson lost, and with it the kingdom of England.
The inking found at Várdomb could have been lost more than 100 years after it was minted, but it is more likely to have been in circulation between 10 and 20 years, Varga and Németh said.
This dating gives rise to a possible connection with a medieval Hungarian king named Solomon, who reigned from 1063 to 1087.
According to a medieval Hungarian illuminated manuscript known as “Képes Krónika” (or “Chronicon Pictum” in Latin), Solomon and his retinue (a group of advisers and important personages) encamped in 1074 “above the place called Kesztölc – and so archaeologists believe that one of Solomon’s courtiers at this time may have worn, and then lost, the exotic coin.
“The king’s court could have included people from all over the world, whether diplomatic or military leaders, who could have had such coins,” Varga and Németh said in a statement.
Another possibility is that the silver coin was brought to medieval Kesztölc by a simple traveller: the trading town “was crossed by a main road with international traffic, the predecessor of which was a road built in Roman times along the Danube,” the researchers said in the statement.
“This road was used not only by kings, but also by merchants, pilgrims and soldiers from afar, each of whom might have lost the rare piece of silver,” they write.
Further research could clarify the origins of the piece and its connection to the site; although no excavation is planned, Varga said, field investigations and other metal detection will be carried out at the site in the future.
Originally posted on Live Science.