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Finds from Ireland and Britain in Viking Age Scandinavia

Egon Wamers examined about five hundred finds in Scandinavia of objects from Ireland and the British Isles (Insular finds) for the period from the ninth to the eleventh centuries. Most were discovered in Norway and Denmark and they are similar to finds in areas of Ireland and Britain which were settled by Scandinavians.

Insular Imports in Scandinavia.

Dress Jewellery:
Large amount of penannular brooches, ringed pins and belt mounts. The brooches and pins were copied in Scandinavia. These were not a feature of Norse male attire before this time.

Harness Mounts:
Most were reused as brooches for female dress - usually found in rich ladies' graves.

Bronze Vessels:
Vessels such as hanging bowls, bronze bowls, strainers, buckets, ladles and drinking horns. Most had been used in religious ceremonies. Many bear Christian iconography and were probably pillaged. The secular vessels were probably traded.

Balance Scales:
Only a few but these add to the evidence of trade with the west.

Metal Ornaments:
More than 150 finds containing more than 300 individual pieces. Eighty per cent are grave finds. Only a few were deposited as complete objects and almost all came from ecclesiastical contexts. Most probably were loot from Irish churches and monasteries. Recently a hoard was found at Shanmullagh in Northern Ireland which resembled the finds from Norway. It contained more than 100 pieces, most fragments of ecclesiastical objects. It has been dated to the end of the ninth century. Many of the objects were altered in Scandinavia into female jewellery.

Distribution and Dating

The majority of these finds come from Norway and correspond well to the areas of Viking Age settlement in coastal districts. In Sweden and Denmark these items are found almost exclusively in the trading centres of Helgo/Birka and Hedeby.

Three quarters of the burials can be dated to the ninth century, most of the rest belong to the first half of the tenth century. There is a group of early graves with Insular loot dating to around 800 AD concentrated in central western Norway. This may indicate that this was the area from which the early Viking raiders left for Ireland.

Rogaland in south west Norway has a dense concentration of "Irish" metalwork but none of tenth century date. It has been suggested that Rogaland was an independent district of great economic and political importance at the time. The Irish metalwork may indicate numerous profitable campaigns in the west. If so these campaigns must have ceased around 900 AD. There may have been a political political cause for this.

Historical Speculations

In 853 Amláib (Norse Óláfr) re-established Norwegian power in Dublin in alliance with another Norse leader Ímar (Norse Ívarr). In the 860s the Dublin Norse under Amláib extended their power over parts of Scotland and the west coast of northern England. Amláib is not mentioned after 871 and there were divisions among the Norse of Dublin during the next few decades which led to their final defeat in 902. In some Irish annals Amláib is called the son of the king of Laithlind (later Lochlainn/lochlann). Though the exact information given is not trustworthy it may be based on earlier oral evidence which may be.

There is mention of an alleged journey back to Laithlind to help his father in war and it is suggested that this is connected with the battle in Hafrsfjord in which Harald Finehair gained the overlordship of Norway in 872. There may be a connection between this battle in Rogaland and the end of Irish loot there in graves? Laithlind must have been a powerful kingdom in western Norway - the word became the term for Norway later. Harald Finehair was able to become powerful and break the power of Danish superiority in south-east Norway because of the economic and military successes in the west.

The stoppage of Rogaland's Irish loot may also be connected with the expulsion of the Dublin Vikings in 902.


Egon Wamers, "Some ecclesiastical and secular Insular metalwork found in Norwegian Viking graves", Peritia, 2 (1983).

Egon Wamers, Insular Finds in Viking Age Scandinavia and the State Formation of Norway in H.B. Clarke, M. Ní Mhaonaigh and R Ó Floinn (eds), Ireland and Scandinavia in the Early Viking Age, (Dublin, 1998).

Updated July 2000 by the Viking Network

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