Multicultural York: The Vikings

Clues on Viking coins

After the Vikings settled in York different leaders fought each other, trying to take power. There were more than ten different kings between 900-950.

Money and power:

As a sign that they were in control, kings made coins stamped with their names. Coins from this period hold useful clues but were very different from modern examples. Kings and queens' heads were used on coins in Roman Britain, then not again until much later.

Coins did not need to be stamped with their values either, as they were made of precious metal, like silver, and could be weighed to check their worth. It was a good idea to do this, as sometimes people clipped bits of silver off the edges of coins.

Two coins, two kings:

The coins of two rulers of York are especially interesting. Olaf Guthfrisson (939-941) and Olaf Sihtricsson (941-944/5) both came to York from the Viking kingdom of Dublin in Ireland.


The two kings used symbols on their coins. If a king wanted a long reign he needed to make sure he had the support of the Christian Anglo-Saxons and pagan Vikings.

Symbols with double-meanings:

Some Viking coins cleverly use symbols that meant something to both groups. Can you find any of these symbols on the coins pictured on this page?


  • The raven - a symbol of the Viking god Odin but also of St Oswald, a Northumbrian royal saint.

  • A linked triquetra pattern of three symbols is common in Viking designs but can also symbolise the Christian Holy Trinity.

  • A third coin shows a triangular banner common in Viking designs but in this case with a cross symbol added to it.


Holy Trinity - In Christianity, God seen in three ways
Pagan - Someone who follows an ancient religion linked to nature
Reign - The time during which someone is a ruler
Ruler - A leader of a country or place
Saint - Someone who is celebrated after their death for being holy
Symbol - Something that has another meaning


View other relevant My Learning resources or see the teachers' notes page for discussion and activity ideas.

Scroll down for a list of links and resources on this topic.

Document icon Learning article provided by: Yorkshire Museum and Gardens |  York Archaeological Trust |  The British Museum | 
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