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Eric Bloodaxe and the Northumbrian Vikings


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The northern Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria was conquered by a massive invading army in 867, leading to the deaths of two Northumbrian kings- Osberht and Aella, and the conquest of York.  York, called Jorvik, remained in Viking hands for nearly 100 years.  During that time, a series of Norwegian and Irish Scandinavian kings held power, raided, traded, feuded, and fought against England and Scotland.

These Anglo-Viking rulers are true historic figures, but are also legendary.  They did exist.  Their successes and defeats, and their deaths, are recorded in English chronicles.  Many, if not most of them issued coins that survive to today.  But the sagas are where these characters get fleshed out, in probably apocryphal stories of Eric involving fratricide, betrayal, witchcraft, and Odin's hall at Valhalla.

Eric the historic figure was probably a son of Harald, first king of Norway.  Eric would ultimately succeed his father in 932, possibly after killing his half-brothers, but was unpopular in Norway and was run out of town after a short time.  Eric's half-brother Haakon would succeed him in Norway.

Eric went on to live the life of a Viking for some time, raiding in the North Sea.  The sagas have him going everywhere, from Norway to Spain and much in between.  But other than these stories, Eric disappears from history for a time.

During this time the northern English kingdom of Northumbria was being ruled by a series of Viking warlords whose power base was in Ireland.  Many of these were like Eric, who essentially had no political prospects in Scandinavia.  These Vikings, the Ui Imair, who were supposedly descendants of Ivar the Boneless (probably more of spiritual rather than bloodline successors), ruled over territories in England, Ireland, and Scotland for the better part of a century.

Eric eventually became associated with these Norse-Gaels, and seems to have been living in Northumbria.  The political winds of Northumbria had been shifting in the early 10th century, and defeats in battle had greatly weakened the power of the king Anlaf Guthfrithsson.  After his death, another similarly named king, Anlaf Sihtricsson, took over.  The English king, Eadmund, somewhat weak in his position at first, took to recognizing Anlaf as king of York, but with renewed Saxon fortunes these niceties were discarded.  Eadmund was able to bring in an ally in Malcolm of Scotland, and Anlaf was given the boot.

However, rather than submit to West Saxon control, the Northumbrians "chose Eric for their king".  This suggests West Saxon control was still very shaky and given the distances, most northern English weren't that worried about invasion and conquest.  Now Eric was king of Northumbria.  At first things went ok.  The Scots seems to have decided not to get involved.  However, Eadmund was not ok with this situation.  He ultimately gathered an army and headed north.  The Northumbrians kicked out Eric less than a year after he became king, and made nice with Eadmund.

But Eric was nothing if not tenacious.   After his removal, the Saxons lost interest and things in York started to break down. Anlaf Sihtricsson, came back from Ireland to take charge again. Eric subsequently returned to the scene, defeated the Scots, kicked out Anlaf (again), and became king of York a second time in 952.

Eric's time was finally running out though. In 954 he was killed, likely in battle against England. Ultimately, he was the last of the Viking kings of York. Northumbria was finally absorbed into the English realm.

Eric's story is well recorded in the sagas, and there are a number of colorful details that are probably apocryphal. Eric might have been betrayed by a retainer, who had him assassinated. Eric's nickname "bloodaxe" is a colorful nickname that has survived, and presumably had to do with either his prowess in battle, or his murder of his family.  Eric's wife, Gunhilde, is depicted as a sorceress.

Coins of Eric are very rare, due to the brevity of his reigns, but are known from at least 30 examples.  These are generally divided into first and second reign, depending on the presence of a sword on the obverse.  Generally the sword coins are assigned to Eric's second reign, and those without the sword to his first.  They are similarly rare.  Known from some early finds, including a few hoards, very few recent single finds have turned up.  It is thought that the sword coinage is from Eric's second reign, and hearkens back to earlier Viking Northumbrian coinage in the name of Sihtric and St. Peter that also features the sword.

 

 

I hope the story was enjoyable, because unfortunately the coin will not be 🙂

This is the poorest coin I have ever bought, it is horribly fragmented representing maybe 40% of the coin, barely legible, bent, dirty, porous.  Quite abysmal.  But it is a sword type of Eric Bloodaxe, a coin I never thought I would obtain.  Less than 20 are known, with the majority being in museums, and at least somewhat damaged,

 

eric-1-i.jpg.05c9f29ca6312c834de9125ec2b396e4.jpg

Penny of Eric "Bloodaxe", king of Northumbria
Second reign (952-954)
Moneyer: Ingelgar
Mint: York
S. 1030
O: [E]RI[C] // REX (sword dividing)
R: [INGEL]GA[R]
Found Driffield, East Yorkshire.  EMC 2022.0390

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12 minutes ago, Nap said:

The northern Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria was conquered by a massive invading army in 867, leading to the deaths of two Northumbrian kings- Osberht and Aella, and the conquest of York.  York, called Jorvik, remained in Viking hands for nearly 100 years.  During that time, a series of Norwegian and Irish Scandinavian kings held power, raided, traded, feuded, and fought against England and Scotland.

These Anglo-Viking rulers are true historic figures, but are also legendary.  They did exist.  Their successes and defeats, and their deaths, are recorded in English chronicles.  Many, if not most of them issued coins that survive to today.  But the sagas are where these characters get fleshed out, in probably apocryphal stories of Eric involving fratricide, betrayal, witchcraft, and Odin's hall at Valhalla.

Eric the historic figure was probably a son of Harald, first king of Norway.  Eric would ultimately succeed his father in 932, possibly after killing his half-brothers, but was unpopular in Norway and was run out of town after a short time.  Eric's half-brother Haakon would succeed him in Norway.

Eric went on to live the life of a Viking for some time, raiding in the North Sea.  The sagas have him going everywhere, from Norway to Spain and much in between.  But other than these stories, Eric disappears from history for a time.

During this time the northern English kingdom of Northumbria was being ruled by a series of Viking warlords whose power base was in Ireland.  Many of these were like Eric, who essentially had no political prospects in Scandinavia.  These Vikings, the Ui Imair, who were supposedly descendants of Ivar the Boneless (probably more of spiritual rather than bloodline successors), ruled over territories in England, Ireland, and Scotland for the better part of a century.

Eric eventually became associated with these Norse-Gaels, and seems to have been living in Northumbria.  The political winds of Northumbria had been shifting in the early 10th century, and defeats in battle had greatly weakened the power of the king Anlaf Guthfrithsson.  After his death, another similarly named king, Anlaf Sihtricsson, took over.  The English king, Eadmund, somewhat weak in his position at first, took to recognizing Anlaf as king of York, but with renewed Saxon fortunes these niceties were discarded.  Eadmund was able to bring in an ally in Malcolm of Scotland, and Anlaf was given the boot.

However, rather than submit to West Saxon control, the Northumbrians "chose Eric for their king".  This suggests West Saxon control was still very shaky and given the distances, most northern English weren't that worried about invasion and conquest.  Now Eric was king of Northumbria.  At first things went ok.  The Scots seems to have decided not to get involved.  However, Eadmund was not ok with this situation.  He ultimately gathered an army and headed north.  The Northumbrians kicked out Eric less than a year after he became king, and made nice with Eadmund.

But Eric was nothing if not tenacious.   After his removal, the Saxons lost interest and things in York started to break down. Anlaf Sihtricsson, came back from Ireland to take charge again. Eric subsequently returned to the scene, defeated the Scots, kicked out Anlaf (again), and became king of York a second time in 952.

Eric's time was finally running out though. In 954 he was killed, likely in battle against England. Ultimately, he was the last of the Viking kings of York. Northumbria was finally absorbed into the English realm.

Eric's story is well recorded in the sagas, and there are a number of colorful details that are probably apocryphal. Eric might have been betrayed by a retainer, who had him assassinated. Eric's nickname "bloodaxe" is a colorful nickname that has survived, and presumably had to do with either his prowess in battle, or his murder of his family.  Eric's wife, Gunhilde, is depicted as a sorceress.

Coins of Eric are very rare, due to the brevity of his reigns, but are known from at least 30 examples.  These are generally divided into first and second reign, depending on the presence of a sword on the obverse.  Generally the sword coins are assigned to Eric's second reign, and those without the sword to his first.  They are similarly rare.  Known from some early finds, including a few hoards, very few recent single finds have turned up.  It is thought that the sword coinage is from Eric's second reign, and hearkens back to earlier Viking Northumbrian coinage in the name of Sihtric and St. Peter that also features the sword.

 

 

I hope the story was enjoyable, because unfortunately the coin will not be 🙂

This is the poorest coin I have ever bought, it is horribly fragmented representing maybe 40% of the coin, barely legible, bent, dirty, porous.  Quite abysmal.  But it is a sword type of Eric Bloodaxe, a coin I never thought I would obtain.  Less than 20 are known, with the majority being in museums, and at least somewhat damaged,

 

eric-1-i.jpg.05c9f29ca6312c834de9125ec2b396e4.jpg

Penny of Eric "Bloodaxe", king of Northumbria
Second reign (952-954)
Moneyer: Ingelgar
Mint: York
S. 1030
O: [E]RI[C] // REX (sword dividing)
R: [INGEL]GA[R]
Found Driffield, East Yorkshire.  EMC 2022.0390

Nap, Excellent article & fascinating coin ☺️! The name Bloodaxe is frightening 😟.

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Great coin. The sort where history is more important than looks. Just his name and the sword are enough.

I can’t go that far north very often, because so much is rare and expensive. Coins of poor Osberht aren’t, though.

Osberht Phase IIc Styca, 849-867

image.jpeg.7fdfa7efa17c2a0a8e505064d6661b56.jpeg

Northumbria. Copper, 0.83g. +OSBERCHT REX outward and partially retrograde. +EANNLE (moneyer Eanwulf) (SCBI 69, 1015 this coin; S 869). Ex Tony Abramson. Found at Thirkleby, North Yorkshire.

Edited by John Conduitt
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Congratulations on such a nice coin! I like it in all its ugliness 🙂 I think I remember a thread on this type by you(?) earlier on CT, and added the type to my ever expanding wish list.

Was this coin recognised by the finder? It makes you wonder what kind of battered rarities exist in the ‘to identify’ heaps of coins…

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1 hour ago, Roerbakmix said:

Was this coin recognised by the finder? It makes you wonder what kind of battered rarities exist in the ‘to identify’ heaps of coins…

The coin was not recognized for what it was.  It was misidentified initially on a Facebook group before I noticed it for what it was.  I encouraged the finder to record the find with the Early Medieval Corpus, which confirmed the identification.  The finder was not expecting it to be rare or have much value, and he offered me first dibs if/when he decided to sell, which he recently did.

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Absolutely brilliant, @Nap.  As is the story of how you happened across it --admirable in every respect.  Hearty congratulations!!!

That penny is on the cover of an old BM monograph on Viking coins, by Michael Dolley.  I've lived with that since I was a kid.  Never seriously thought in terms of finding one.  --You're just That Good!!!!

I could recommend a couple of solid books, mainly on Norse Dublin, but their treatment of York is relatively peripheral --not much on Eric Bloodaxe in either one.  ...It would be great to find a study of York during the Viking Age ...I'd be fine if it went down to last Danish invasions and revolts, down to the 1070's.

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