The Watlington Hoard: coinage, kings, and the Viking Great Army in Oxfordshire, AD 875-880

Review by Murray Andrews

This exciting new book is the definitive publication of the Watlington Hoard, a remarkable find of precious metal coins, ingots, and jewellery hidden in Oxfordshire in the late 870s AD and rediscovered in October 2015. Richly illustrated in full colour, it blends sophisticated numismatic, archaeological, and historical research to place the hoard in its 9th-century context, casting new light on the fate of the English kingdoms as they confronted the Viking Great Army.

Chapters 1 and 2 provide a fascinating account of the hoard’s discovery, conservation, and acquisition – a two-year process involving metal-detectorists, archaeologists, museum professionals, and more than 150,000 members of the public. This impressive effort raised £1.35m to secure the hoard for the Ashmolean Museum, and underpins the high-quality research at the core of the book.

Chapters 3 to 9 contain a meticulous examination of the hoard by expert contributors. John Naylor and Ryan Lavelle explore the hoard’s archaeological and historical setting (Chapters 3-4), emphasising its liminal position at the frontier of Mercia and Wessex, traversed by Viking raiders in AD 878-879. The 203 coins in the hoard are discussed by John Naylor and Simon Coupland (Chapters 5-6), and prompt a major reassessment of the coinage of Alfred the Great and Ceolwulf II of Mercia. The historical implications are significant: while the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle praises Alfred but condemns Ceolwulf as a ‘foolish king’s thegn’, the coinage gives the impression of rulers of equal status, issuing money at common standards and often from the same mints.

Jane Kershaw (Chapter 7) reviews the 23 gold and silver ingots and jewellery fragments from the hoard, many with the tell-tale chops and test-marks of Viking ownership. Two further contributions from Julian Baker and John Naylor (Chapters 8-9) place the find in its economic and political contexts, and suggest that the hoard might contain Viking wealth hidden after the defeat at Edington in AD 878. The book closes with a detailed catalogue of the hoard and appendices on relevant numismatic material.

This is an impressive volume, which demonstrates the value of collaboration between archaeologists, heritage professionals, and responsible metal-detectorists.

The Watlington Hoard: coinage, kings, and the Viking Great Army in Oxfordshire, AD 875-880
John Naylor and Eleanor Standley
Archaeopress, £49
ISBN 978-1789698299