Silver hoard in Gotland

During Easter a spectacular silver hoard was uncovered

Gotland is famous for its silver hoards. All in all more than 700 have been archaeologically registered. To this should be added any number of illegal finds, like for instance the 2000 silver coins dated from around 1000, which were recovered from looters in 2009. The five men – one of whom was a licensed coin dealer from Stockholm – were later sentenced up to one year in prison for their illegal digging.

The new hoard consists of an intact copper barrel filled with a leather purse, which probably contains more than 6000 silver coins. One of them has already been cleaned and is a coin from Köln dated 1043. Currently the treasure, which was lying deep in a field near Stale, is being x-rayed, while archaeologists are trying to discover whether the fortune was originally hidden under a floor of a building or dug directly into the field. Later the cleaning and registration will take place, before the new treasure will be shown to the public some time this summer. The new find is especially interesting because it complements an old hoard, which was found around 1838 in the same field. This consisted of 5922 coins. Such collections give a snapshot of trading routes and networks, which can be precisely dated. As such they present the archaeologists and historians with very valuable information. All in all more than 170.000 coins have been found either in hoards or as loose finds in Gotland.

Silver Hoard from Spillinge

Nobody really knows why the Vikings in the Early Middle Ages hid such huge fortunes at Gotland and never recovered them. However, some patterns seem to be discernible. The treasures or hoards can be dated from around 800 – 1140, a period covering app. 10 generations. With 1500 farms on the island, this means that at least 4 -5% of all generationally defined households “forgot” the whereabouts of a hoard.

About 64 of them contained gold. The rest consisted only of silver or copper. The silver has either been found in the form of bracelets, jewellery or broken silver or as collections of coins, which for most of the period in question must have been used as payment in kind; that is weighted and valued before used as part of a payment. While Viking minting was taking place in e.g. York around 890, it took until 1140 before the people in Gotland started their own mint; until then coins were simply imported and reused as silver.

Further, analysing the origin of the coins, it appears that most of them were either of Arabic, German or English origin. Nearly 90% of the coins from Stale, which were found in 1838, were of German origin (the youngest from 1084 AD). Because of the low percentage of English (or Frankish) coins it is generally believed that the hoarded wealth represents the surplus of trade as opposed to income from raids. This fits with the fact that the Vikings in Gotland were key partners in the trade between the Viking Emporiums along the Northern coast of Germany and the Russian trading stations in Novgorod and further South to the Caliphate along the so-called Silver-Fur Road.

The largest hoard of them all – the Spillings Hoard – is currently exhibited at the Museum in Visby. It weighed 67 kilograms or 335 mark silver and has been dated to 870 – 71. The weight can be compared to the fact that the 1500 farms of Gotland according to Gutasagan at some point were obliged to pay the king of Sweden around 60 mark silver each year, the equivalent of 7,5 pennies or 0.04 % of a mark silver each in order to be able to trade freely at the Swedish markets.

However, in what way the famous hoards will be exhibited in Gotland in the future is as yet not known. Come June a new permanent medieval exhibition will be unveiled. According to the pre-notice the exhibition will be dedicated to catering primarily for families and tell the story of how Gotland was central to the Baltic area in terms of trade, politics and culture. Whether the treasures will be weaved into this exhibition or as now, shown apart, is as yet not known.

The new exhibition will open on the 6th of June.

Read more about the Museum of Gotland and the silver hoard

Read more about the Silver Hoards in:

Gotland. Vikingaön. Gotländskt Arkiv 2004. Ed: Gun Westholm.

The Spillings Hoard – Gotland’s Role in Viking Age World Trade. Fornsalens Förlag 2009