The Vikings – raid or trade?

Viking Strap End

This 9th century strap-end (pictured), now housed in Congleton Museum, was recently found in Church Lawton and has raised questions about the Vikings in Cheshire. Made from copper alloy, it is decorated with an intertwined animal design, originally inlaid with a black metal alloy to highlight it. With an animal head terminus, the strap-end would have been used as a metal piece holding the end of a leather strap such as a belt.

Analysis of the piece shows that the owners were the Vikings. The common view of the Vikings today is as a single horde invading Britain, raiding monasteries and slaughtering the inhabitants, but the Vikings were actually various groups of Danes, Swedes, and Norwegians who came to England over a period of 300 years.

The Vikings believed that the loyalty and service of fighting men could only be bought with gifts. This meant that the Viking leaders needed access to large amounts of wealth, be it the gold of England or the silver of Byzantium.

The Danes were the first Vikings to arrive in England, attacking the rich settlements of the coastal regions and finding great riches. By the 9th century the ‘Danelaw’ of the north was fully established. At this time the border with Mercia was a mere 25 miles away from Congleton, near Runcorn. There seems to be little evidence that the Vikings ever raided this region, with this strap-end being the first Viking artefact found in the county.

A more likely possibility is that the strap-end was traded. Across the Norse world, which stretched at one time from Iceland to Constantinople, trade was the other main method of acquiring wealth. Furs, skins, and amber were all traded for silver, gold and other precious items.

Even on a local scale the Viking traders would have been looking to turn a profit. It is possible that a Mercian merchant liked the different style of Viking goods and acquired, but subsequently lost, the strap-end.

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