Silverdale-Hoard © British Museum

Unknown viking “king” called Airdeconut from 10th century

Recently a 10th century hoard was discovered in England with a singularly interesting piece: a coin with the inscription Airdeconut

Silverdale coin 544 airdeconut harthacnut hardeknud © British Museum
Silverdale coin 544 with inscription Airdeconut © British Museum

Around 1072 – 74 Adamus Bremensis wrote his famous chronicle in order to magnify the reputation of the Archbishopric of Bremen, located west of Hamburg in Northern Germany. According to his writing, he partly based his story on interviews with the Danish king, Svend Estridsøn, who was a nephew of King Canute and thus great grandson of Harold Bluetooth, renowned for the Runic stones at Jelling. According to the chronicle we are told that the Swede Olaf and his sons ruled Denmark until “Sigerich (Sigtrygg) took his place. He had not governed for long, before the son of King Svend, Hardegon (= Harthacnut), who came from the land of the Northmanni, robbed him of his Throne.” (1:52).

It is a puzzling story; not least because we possess two runic stones from Haithabau according to which Siggtryg was the son of Osfrieth and Knubu; plus we learn in Widukinds chronicle (from before 973), that Gnuba (Knubu) lost in a battle in 934 and was forced to be baptized and pay tribute to the Germans. Most historians believe, that Siggtryg died in the battle in 934 and that it was Knubu, who was superseded by Harthacnut or that Harthacnut and Knubu were one and the same. This would make the chronology less challenging, as we are later told by Adam (1:55) that Harthacnut was followed by Wurm (presumably Gorm, father of Harold Bluetooth).

The reason to dig this story up is the very recent find of a hoard of silver in Lancashire, which amongst other things included a unique coin with the inscription “Airdeconut” or Harthacnut. Dr. Gareth Williams (head of Department of Coins and Medals at the British Museum) is of the opinion that the Anglo-Saxon minter of the coin struggled to get the viking-name of this hitherto unknown Northumbrian king right while at the same time producing a coin with a clear Christian inscription on the reverse: DNS (Dominus) REX with the letters arranged in the form of a cross. The obverse with the name of the king also shows a cross. Another coin of Northhumbrian issue minted for CVN NET TI has been dated to app. 895 -902. Presumably the new find is dated around the same time.

Might the “new” Harthacnut” be linked to the Hardegon/Harthacnut, which Svend Estridssøn recollected? Did this king rule in Northumbria and then later – after the battle of Brunanburh in 937 – return to Denmark in order to capture the kingdom, which had been subsumed by the Germans? Maybe he even sojourned for some time in Normandy during 920 – 940, while Rollo and his son William Longsword were trying to consolidate the trading emporium linking Dublin, York and Rouen? Thus explaining the connection to “The Normans” in Adams text. Intriguing questions, which might never be answered fully. What the new coin, however, might tell us, is that the Danish Royal family descending from Gorm the Old may have been more than peripherally connected to the Viking chieftains, who – starting with another Gorm = Guthrum, ruled the Danelaw in the 9th and 10th century.

By the way, the find, which has now been declared treasure, also contained a number of armrings, other coins plus some broken silver; one of the arm rings – usually given by leaders to their warriors in return for services rendered and expected – is particularly unusual, combining Irish, Anglo Saxon and Carolingian style ornament.

Read more about the new hoard