The Vikings of 8th - 11th century Scandinavia were incredibly successful warrior-farmers who raided, traded and settled their way across much of the western world, from the Arctic in the north, to North America in the west to Russia and Sicily in the east.
While not known as master-producers, the Vikings left behind some beautiful and enigmatic relics, many of which have passed through our hands.
This page is intended as a brief guide to some of the Viking artefact types that often become available on the U.K. antiquities market, and an indication of their price ranges.
The Battle Axe
The instantly recognisable and formidable Battle Axe was the terror-weapon of the early Medieval battlefields. Sometimes called a Dane Axe or Flared Axe, their massive size and extended cutting edge meant that nothing less than a shield could withstand a two-handed swing from this weapon. Without a shield, if the leather or mail armour of the period survived the strike, the bones beneath would not.
Dane axes do occasionally make their way onto the antiquities market, typically selling for over £1500
The Bearded Axe
This is the axe of Viking legend. Sometimes called a Skeggøx (Skegg being Old Norse for beard), the Bearded Axe was a single-handed weapon worn at the belt, much like a Roman Legionary would wear their Puggio daggers a thousand years earlier.
No Viking warrior or farmer would be without a Bearded Axe. In battle, they could be thrown or swung, and the deep 'beard' would allow the warrior to pull down the shield of the enemy.
Back home on the farm, the axe would become a useful tool. The blade is long and made for cutting, while the hand gripping the haft could sit comfortably behind the blade, perfect if you want to use the axe as a scraper, or to shave wood.
Bearded Axes regularly appear on the European antiquities market, and range in price from around £75 - £700 depending on their size and preservation
Viking Bearded Axe. 9th - 11th Century A.D.
Part of the Timeless Galleries Collection
The Socketed Axe
The socketed axe was the workhorse of Viking life. Used domestically rather than in battle, the axe was little changed from its Iron Age forebears. They rarely appear on the antiquities markets, however, when they do, they tend to be quite affordable, ranging between £30 and £80
The iron spear in the Viking Period was the weapon of the freeman, and as such provided him with a status symbol, whatever his rank. This, and the pagan practice of burying their dead with weapons, have resulted in a large number of spearheads being discovered and a dizzying array of types and morphology.
However, for simplicity’s sake, spears of this period fall roughly into five types:
Javelins - Light throwing spears with narrow diameter sockets (less than 17mm). They were often carried into battle in pairs or threes, and held in the left hand behind the shield.
Gar or Spere – The most common spear type, which could either be used as a hand-held thrusting weapon, or thrown at close quarters. Socket diameters were around 22mm, and the blades were typically willow-leaf, lanceolate or ‘pinch-bladed’ as in the example shown here.
Long Thrusting Spears – Handheld spears probably developed from the long boar spear, these were also called the ‘aesc’ (pronounced ‘ash’), often associated with a wealthy owner, such as a thegn, eldorman or earl.
Heavy Spears – Similar to the Long Thrusting Spear, but much heavier (weighing over half a kilogram)
Winged Spears – Viking in origin, the wings were welded to the socket ferrule as seen here. The Winged Spears were used in a similar fashion to the Long Thrusting Spear, wielded by noble retainers in the shield wall.
The price of Viking spearheads varies widely. Small throwing spears and javelin-heads are sometimes available for as little as £65 - £80, whereas a large, well-preserved Winged spear or Heavy Thrusting spear can easily exceed £2000 in value.
A mid-range price for a reasonably well-preserved Viking Gar or Aesc spearhead around 18cm - 30cm in length should be in the region of £150 - £300
The Viking Arrowhead was little different to the arrowheads of other European cultures of the period, and we have written about them in some details on our Medieval Weapons page.
However, there is one type of arrowhead that is considered to be exclusively Viking, and that is the Chisel-Bladed Arrowhead which was used for both hunting and warfare in the 9th and 10th centuries A.D.
The arrowheads are easily recognised due to their distinctive triangular blades, typically ranging in price from £30 - £70
10th Century Viking Arrowhead
Adornment & Ornamentation
Despite their militaristic-agrarian culture, the Vikings produced some of the most beautiful jewellery in the early Middle Ages. Their finely decorated pendants are particularly sought after, being typically discoid in form with wide, integral hanging loops, they are often bought to be worn.
Prices for Viking silver pendants are normally quite high, ranging between £500 - £1200
9th - 11th Century discoid pendant with applied filigree border and radiating sun
The Vikings loved to adorn their jewellery with zoomorphic imagery, and many of their pendants that have now made their way onto today's arts and antiquities markets are decorated with ravens, wolves, snakes and various other real and mythological creatures.
They also produced many pendants in the shapes of spiritually or culturally significant objects, such as Thor's hammer, Odin's ravens, Yggdrasil the tree of life, daggers, swords and axeheads. Such is the appeal of these pieces that popular auction sites are awash with fakes, and the buyer should exercise extreme caution when considering a purchase.
Authentic Viking votive and figural pendants range in price from £150 to around £800
9th - 12th Century Viking silver axe pendant with ring and dot motif
8th - 12th Century Viking Gold Finger Ring
Compared with their contemporaries, the Vikings wore very little gold jewellery. However, Viking twisted gold rings grew in popularity towards the end of the Early Medieval period, and represent some of the most beautiful and enigmatic of all ancient jewellery. The rings are typically formed of two or more twisted strands that are either open-ended or forged into a single band. They are extremely sought-after pieces and often command prices of several thousand pounds.
Bronze and silver Viking rings are much more accessible and typically priced around £50 - £250. They were produced in a wide variety of forms, but the most common are faux-twisted rings (where the twists were cast rather than being formed from separate strands), and decorated silver plate rings.
We at Timeless love to buy Viking silver plate rings, as they are often beautifully decorated like the example below.
Viking Silver Decorated Plate Ring - 9th - 12th Century A.D.
Arm rings, sometimes called armbands or torques, are quintessentially Viking, and were much more than mere ornaments. Arm rings were often used to cement bonds of loyalty between a lord and his warriors in a society where men lived and died by their honour. They were often bestowed upon young adult males to symbolize their coming of age.
In addition, some groups used the rings—which were made of precious metals—as a form of, easily transportable (and protectable) currency, in a time before paper money. The owner of an arm0ring might break off pieces of silver from it to pay for goods, from which we derive the term 'hack silver' (often found in Viking hoards).
While gold arm rings are occasionally found, these are excessively rare. Intact silver arm-rings will typically command several hundred pounds in price, while bronze arm-rings can often be purchased for £70 - £100
10th - 11th Century Viking Twisted Silver Arm-Rings
By far the most common form of Viking brooch available on the European antiquities market is the Omega Brooch.
With its flared legs and beautiful decoration, the Viking Omega Brooch is unmistakable. They are actually a form of penannular brooch (a type extremely common in the early to high medieval period), where the hoop of the brooch contains a gap. (If the brooch formed a complete circle, it would be termed annular).
!2-th - 14th Century Viking-Mordvinian Type Omega Brooches, two with attachment lugs
Not only did the flared legs provide space for decoration, the Viking smiths would sometimes cast the brooches with pierced lugs to the outer edges, which would then be used to suspend pendants.
For basic Omega Brooches, expect to pay around £30 - £50. More intricately decorated brooches with surviving ornamentation may command in the region of £100 - £150
Like all historical cultures, the Vikings were deeply superstitious. They believed that their lives, their fates and fortunes were influenced by their Gods, their ancestors, spirits, demons, and all sorts of supernatural entities — and just like the cultures that came before them, they would attempt to ward off ill-luck with signs, sigals and amulets.
The many-varied types of Viking amulet (and their intended meaning) is far too large a scope for this website. However, we will briefly describe one type of Viking amulet which we love to see on the UK antiquities market, and that's the Viking Elf-Shot Amulet.
Just like us, the Vikings were often subjected to seemingly-random aches and pains. However, unlike us, they had little understanding of the causes of cramp, or arthritis, or carpal tunnels syndrome, and believed that something much more sinister was causing the pains.
In short, they were convinced that the cause of these sudden twinges was that they were being fired upon by invisible elves!
9th - 12th Century Gold 'Elf Shot' Protective Amulet
One reason that they came to this extraordinary conclusion is that they would often find, in their fields, tiny little flint arrowheads, and it was these that they believed were causing their mysterious pains. Of course, today we would recognise these arrowheads as being Neolithic or Bronze Age, predating the Vikings by two thousand years!
In order to protect themselves against the invisible elves, the Vikings would set these little flint arrowheads into silver or gold caps and wear them around their necks as amulets.
Today, we call them 'Elf Shot Protective Amulets'. The silver amulets can range between £200 - £300 in price, while the gold cap versions can easily exceed £500 at auction.