Friday 28 July 2017

Talavera - Two-Hundred and Eighth Anniversary Game

Today is the two-hundred and eighth anniversary of the Battle of Talavera and as part of the project to raise funds in support of  'Combat Stress' we will be playing the second game this weekend when five friends from the Devon Wargames Group will be joining Tom and myself to spend two days seeing if we can perform better than our historical counterparts.

The table reset ready for tomorrows anniversary game looking from the Allied lines in the Northern Valley 

The table has been reset following the game from last month, and I hadn't realised what a task it was to find units and reposition them until having done it now.

As you can see the formation cards on the table came in really handy and by placing them in or on the set up locations made the task much simpler in finding units and bringing them back to their 'jump off' positions.

The view from the southern end of the table and French lines, all set to go

This weekend will be the clash of Titans as two old hands go head to head with no quarter asked or given

The Senior ADC for this weekend's set piece will be Tom who will be taking over duties on the computer and overseeing the magic that is Carnage & Glory II.

We will be supported by Messrs Steve M, Mr Steve, Steve L and Vince so we will have to be careful when issuing orders that one of us gets the right 'Steve'.

There is now a ban on anyone else joining the Devon Wargames Group with the name 'Steve'

As always there will be a full after action report to follow the weekend's fun with a full breakdown of casualties together with amazing feats of heroism in the face of the enemy.

Please don't forget that the serious part of our weekend is promoting support for the amazing work done by the people at 'Combat Stress' and if you would like to make a contribution you can find the page by following the link below.

I am delighted to announce that on the anniversary of the battle, thanks to all the people who have contributed to the Talavera 208 Just Giving Page plus a further £150 match funding, gifted by my employer today and the additional 'Gift Aid' the pot stands at


So we are well on course to raising £1,000 but your support would be gratefully appreciated so if you are enjoying all the fun please add to the fund.

When the project finishes this autumn I will be producing a photo book available to the players and all the people who have supported the game will be listed in the book as a keepsake for all involved.

The 60th (Royal American) Regiment of Foot - French Indian War

Well things have been happening here at 'Chez JJ' with most of the decorating pretty much done I have got my painting desk back, and to make up for all the time away from the brush Carolyn let me invest in a new daylight angle poise strip light and a new paint rack to go with it.

So to christen the new table and to get my eye in to working in 28mm for the foreseeable, I got down to getting these Galloping Major figures that I have been promising Steve M. I would do for him once the Talavera stuff was completed and the desk was back up and running.

Steve and I like to dabble in the odd game of Sharp Practice II, or even Muskets and Tomahawks as we did at Wargames Foundry a few weeks ago, and you will have seen his collection of French Indian Wars figures and terrain growing over time and so these chaps representing a very famous British and American regiment, the 60th Foot should add to our games going forward.

I was under very strict instructions to base these figures so that they could as required form up into neat British platoon groups ready to pour on that volley fire to anyone unlucky enough to find themselves in front of them at the time.

I have a feeling Steve is working on a 'Plains of Abraham' scenario so if I am playing French I must try and make sure I fire first.

I have mentioned it before when painting Galloping Major figures for Steve, which includes some Rangers and Virginia Militia that these chaps are a large 'heroic' 28mm style of figure with bag loads of character and detail just asking to be painted and highlighted.

Virginia Regiment - French Indian War
Muskets and Tomahawks
Rogers Rangers

The 'platoon volley' group

You have to work out the level of detail on each figure with some carrying hatchets under the turn-back coats alongside the normal bayonet frog.

The 'fire at will' group

The officer figures are simply stunning in the amount of detail applied and I had to flick through a few references to remind myself quite how much lace they wore and where these men would carry it.

The mounted colonel makes a nice centre piece and will do as a senior army commander leaving the on foot version to take command of the infantry which was more likely for fighting in the close country of North America.

Ready, aim, fire!

I have given these figures a bit of a parade ground appearance, conscious of  the references showing, brown grey and black leggings. Lets just say this batch of conscripts were all in the same queue for their kit issue and are new in theatre.

For the pictures I have grouped them into three particular platoons with two commanded by officers, one group which I think of as the bayonet group as per Zulu has an armed officer in the ranks together with a few NCO's.

Then there is the 'fire at will' group who have half the platoon pouring it on and the others choosing their targets and finally under the senior sergeant armed with his personal carbine, the 'platoon volley' group all ready to present and pour it on on the command.

The 'bayonet group'

So there we are, with the first unit post Talavera 208 which we have the second game coming up this weekend in time for the two-hundred and eighth anniversary this Friday and a special dispensation from Carolyn to allow me to invite the chaps over to play it all weekend as it also my wedding anniversary this weekend also.

So what about the desk and your fancy new light and extra storage space, I hear you ask.

This is my desk back in the newly decorated spot with my new 'LightCraft' triple tube professional task lamp giving me shadow free day light with low heat emission and I am in love with this bit of kit.

I first heard it talked about on the Meeples Podcast and made a note to look into it once our decorating work was done and I am really pleased with the ability to paint with it any time of day.

The amazing bit about that fancy grid over the strip lights is that you do not get any shadow which really allows you to find all the detail on a figure.

The larger paint rack is from Wargame Model Mods who have an extensive, well priced range of mdf storage units, this being the 52 paint rack model with little draws for things like tweezers and metal files etc.

It isn't full yet because Tom is going to fit some new back boards to my desk to prevent any paint splatter going on our newly decorated walls, so I am travelling light so we can get at the desk when he is ready.

Finally a lot of Steve's figures under work beneath all that lovely light.

References to the 60th Foot I looked at for this post:

Tuesday 25 July 2017

The Yorkshire Museum - York

The York Helmet c750- 775 AD

The historic walled city of York lies at the confluence of the Rivers Ouse and Foss in North Yorkshire and was founded by the Romans in 71 AD when the Ninth Legion set up home during the battles with the local tribe, the Brigantes. The Roman name for York was Eboracum possibly originating from a Celtic name Eborakon or "Place of the Yew Trees"

So the history of the city and the area goes back a long way and as well as a strong Roman heritage, the city was at the centre of northern Britain's dark age and early medieval history as the area fell out of control of the Anglo-Saxons and under the rule of the Vikings as this part of Britain became part of the "Danelaw", as part of the settlement between Alfred the Great of Wessex in his deal to cohabit the island with the Scandanavian tribes. 

In fact York or, as it became known under the Vikings "Jorvik", was under Norse rule from 866 AD when the city was captured from the Northumbrian Saxons, until Eric Bloodaxe, a rather unpleasant chap by most accounts, was driven from the city in 954 AD by King Eadred as he moved to complete the unification of England.

Needless to say I was keen to see what treasures the Yorkshire Museum held particularly in relation to these two really interesting periods in British history and it just so happened that on the day Carolyn and I visited the museum it was hosting a display of items specifically covering the Viking history, with the collection from the British Museum brought in to help illustrate the period.

The Roman base of the multiangular tower, the oldest part of the walls of York
The thing you soon realise when visiting York is that the history is all around you wherever you look which for someone like me was very distracting.

On our way over to the entrance to the museum our route took us through the park leading up to it, which meant that we passed the oldest part of the city wall with the multi-angular tower seen in these pictures.

The tower with its straight sided facings angling around ninety degrees is Roman at the base and was the north-west corner of the Legionary Fort, probably built around 300 AD on the site of the older and simpler tower.

The Roman stonework was later added to by the medieval top layer with its cross shaped arrow slits.

Just a bit further along the path we came across these Roman sarcophagi or stone coffins lying around in the flower beds like a group of disused horse troughs.

One of two still had the lid on, so might have been in use.

Then our walk through history culminated in the ruins of the Benedictine Abbey of St Mary's founded in 1088 on the site of an original church dating back to 1055 and with the grounds originally belonging to what was one of the wealthiest abbey's in the north of England.

That wealth wouldn't have escaped the notice of King Henry VIII and like so many other ruined abbeys around England was taken in under new management during the dissolution of the monasteries and, when it was valued in 1539, was bringing in over £2,000 a year equivalent to about £1,210,000 in today's money.

The ruins of St Mary's Abbey, York

The ruins bear mute testimony to the wealth and power accumulated by the church prior to its falling from grace with Henry, the new "Defender of the Faith".

As I mentioned, you almost trip over the history in York even in the most unexpected places.

I am of that age that regular toilet breaks are an important part of the day, so it was slightly surprising to find yet more parts of St Mary's Abbey close by the front door of the 'Gents' in the basement floor of the museum.

That was only part of the surprise as my eye was drawn to the little sign by the plug socket in the picture below outside the door of the 'Gents' announcing the discovery of a gladiator's skeleton under the floor of the toilet area, I guess when the nice new toilets were being put in.

More about our interesting toilet companion later!

So for regular followers of JJ's, you will know, I like to put together the stuff that grabbed my attention and what follows is a collection of the items that did just that.

So I have started with some pre-Roman artefacts, before the Roman stuff and finished off with the Viking exhibition.


As in my own neck of the woods down in Devon there was a thriving native population before the arrival of the Romans. In Devon it was the Dumnonii, in this part of modern day Yorkshire it was the Brigantes. Both cultures evolved around the working of iron as displayed in the early weaponry pictured here and in my visit to the Exeter museum (see the links in the right column).

However unlike the Dumnonii who were generally a peaceable lot and seemed to take to the Roman way of life, the Brigantes proved a much more troublesome bunch despite a promising start.

The Queen of the Brigantes, Cartimandua was a Roman ally and responsible for handing over the guerrilla fighter Caractacus who had fought the Roman invasion in 43 AD right from the start and now forced north, sought sanctuary with the Brigantes.

The Roman invasion of Britain and subsequent campaigns of expansion

Iron sword 400 - 100 BC

However the Brigantes were not easy Roman allies and when Venutius, Cartimandua's estranged other half took up arms against her in 69 AD, his rebellion forced her to flee to the Romans and, taking advantage of the tumultuous year of the four emperors, kept control of the region during hers and the Romans absence.

Iron sword with copper alloy scabbard 300-100 BC

Once Vespasian had grabbed the reins of power, the Romans were back and the crushing of the Brigantes began. However the locals put up stiff resistance and rebellions were occurring up to the time of Hadrian.

One theory is that Hadrian's Wall was as much about seperating the Brigantes from the northern tribes as it was about keeping the latter out. This ongoing instability in the area is even part of the disappearing Ninth Legion story, being sent off to deal with a Brigantes up-rising, never to be seen again!

Copper alloy harness fitting

With this background of resistance to the invader the local weaponry and other items displayed here carry even more of a back story.

Iron age swords and spear heads c1500 - 800 BC

Eboracum became the main base of Roman operations in the north of Britain and the fortress established by the IX Legion in 71 AD soon grew into a major Roman settlement just as Exeter grew out of the fortress established by the II Augusta Legion, who would later move into modern day South Wales as the Romans fought to establish yet wider control.

Mars was the Roman God of War and to the soldiers was second in importance only to Jupiter, father of the Gods. It is not surprising to find his statue in the principle Roman army base in the north of Britain.

Dating from the 4th Century AD the statue of Mars seen below is the single largest Roman statue found in York and would have been even more impressive with his legs, standing two metres tall and painted, together with added gold leaf and holding a spear.

The statue was discovered in 1880 along side an alter in what is thought to have been a temple dedicated to the Roman God of war and would have been a popular figurehead to the soldiers.

Mars the God of War and Soldiers deity

Keeping on the right side of the gods was very important to the superstitious Romans and the following items display that concern.

The roof fitting seen below appeals to the protection of the Lares a kind of Roman fairy godmother, all about protection of the home and hearth.


Male phallic depiction is a favourite Roman good luck/fertility symbol and I seem to remember seeing them all over the place whilst wondering around the streets of Pompeii.

This bowl, pictured below, must have raised the odd smile or two whilst passing round the olives!

The decoration on this bowl had serious meaning. The phallus was particularly effective at warding off the evil eye

Of course prayer and sacrifice were important rituals to be carried out regularly and in a strictly precise way indicated here by this depiction of a ritual offering at an altar. I do hope that snake is tame!

Rome was all about grandeur, and imposing buildings fell right into that style, as evidenced by this example of the classic Corinthian style column top, still in vogue today on national buildings trying to grab a bit of that Roman glory.

Corinthian style column top with ancanthus leaves, scrolls and faces. These would have originally been painted

This carving of the eagle fits very much at home in a Roman army base with every legion carrying its own version.

The eagle or aquila was known to the Romans as the messenger of the Greek God Zeus.

Eagle of the IXth

The Roman poet Ovid describes a shocking monster born of mother earth, a bull whose back was half serpent, an Ophiotaurus seen here depicted in this floor mosaic.


As Eboracum grew  in importance as the centre of operations on Rome's northern frontier, it is not surprising to find the odd Roman emperor or two turning up in its long history.

Severus' Campaign into Caledonia

In 208 AD Septimus Severus came to Britiain with an army estimated at about 40,000 men to conduct operations into Caledonia, modern day Scotland, strengthening Hadrian's Wall, reconquering the southern uplands up to the Antonine Wall  and then thrusting deep into the north rebuilding and garrisoning Roman forts on his progress.

Emperor Caracalla

In 210 AD after a protracted guerrilla war with the Caledonians refusing to meet the Romans in open battle, Severus fell ill. Withdrawing to Eboracum in 211 AD he died, leaving the campaign and the empire in the hands of his two feuding sons, Caracalla (seen above) and Geta who carried on in the north for another year but then ending operations and settling for peace.

Within the year Caracalla had murdered his brother, heralding a new period of internal and external instability into the empire coupled with terror and brutality, thankfully cut short when he in turn was murdered by a disaffected soldier in 217 AD.

His rule is remembered as one of the most tyrannical of emperors, which is saying something when it comes to Rome and its rulers.

The history of places is all about the people that have lived there and died there over the centuries. I think one of the most fascinating aspects of history is being able to look back into time and recreate and understand a little more about the lives of those people based on what has been left to posterity.

The Yorkshire Museum has a great collection of such items from the Roman period that adds to that understanding and appreciation.

The IX Hispana Legion founded Eboracum in 71 AD and are last recorded in the fortress in 108 AD from a stone found in the city inscribed with the legions mark and recording their rebuilding of the fortress. Stamped tiles have been identified showing the IXth possibly having a presence on the lower Rhine in Noviomagus, modern day Nijmegan with dates claimed for these ranging from the 80's to 120  AD.

After that period the IXth disappear from the lists of the legions and are not in existence after 197 AD.

The IXth had suffered an annihilation during the Boudican revolt in 61AD at Camulodunum, modern day Colchester and according to Tacitus narrowly escaped a similar fate during Agricola's invasion of Caledonia in 81-82 AD, later taking part in the Battle of Mons Graupius.

The principle theory seems to be that the IXth Legion may well have been destroyed in northern Britain during a popular uprising and is still a great subject of debate among scholars.

The monument seen below is to Lucius Duccius Rufinus who was a standard bearer (Signifer) in the IXth Legion and hailed from Viennes in France. He died aged 28 in Eboracum.

Memorial to Lucius Duccius Rufinus - Signifer in the IXth Legion

It is during Trajan's war against the Dacian's that we see mention of the special armour adaptations the soldiers incorporated prior to that campaign to protect arms and heads against the formidable falx, two handed sythe like cutting weapon, wielded by the Dacian tribesmen.

Illustration showing the fitting of  helmet reinforcers and the
ornate mounts to the cheek guard

However there is probably little doubt that the legions throughout the empire adapted their equipment to best suit local needs, so it was interesting seeing below the helmet reinforcer alongside a rather intricate enamelled mount.

Helmet reinforcer and enamelled mount

The Legions were known for their incorporation of different types of artillery into their order of battle.

Roman soldiers operating the Ballista - Mariusz Kozik

The ammunition these weapons used is terrifying when seen up close as the stone ball and iron headed bolt illustrate below and must have had a morale sapping effect on the tribesmen it would have been used against, probably not killing huge numbers, but in the devastating way these rounds would have killed those they hit, and at ranges where the infantry missile weapons would have been useless for any return fire.

Stone ballista ball and iron bolt

Leather was a common material used by ancient peoples including the Romans, but a material that doesn't do well over time, so seeing the piece of a Roman tent together with the sole from a hob-nailed military boot or caligae are really special, both discovered near Catterick where the Roman army has been replaced by the British army.

Leather tent fragment and shoe with hobnails

As with leather, clothing is an unusual find so this woollen stocking discovered in 1850 is in amazingly good condition considering its age.

Woollen Stocking

The Roman army was primarily an infantry based organisation, very often relying on foreign auxiliary cavalry units to supplement and compliment its smaller home raised units.

As in Exeter where ever you have a major Roman army base, you find evidence of these cavalry contingents with finds such as these ornate horse fittings as seen below and in the picture above.

Silver Harness Mounts
As in Exeter, the Roman base encouraged the development of the city and brought with it civilian populations who lived and died their and the tombstones recovered in the area shed light on their lives.


Julia Velva lived a long life in Roman standards, dying aged 50. Her heir, Aurelius Mercurialis  and his family would gather at the tombstone to celebrate her life on the anniversary of her death, believing she could take part in the occasion.

Memorial to Julia Velva

The tragic circumstances of ex-soldier Caeresius Augustinus are related on the stone below commemorating, not only the loss of wife Flavia, but also their two infant children, shown in the relief much older and perhaps portraying the life together the family never had.

Flavia Augustina's tombstone

Inevitably many Roman burials have been uncovered in York over the years as the city has developed, and the remains, particularly with modern methods of analysis, have revealed a great deal about the people that came to York from around the empire.

The skeleton of the 'wealthy lady' discovered in 1901
revealing a woman of north African origin

The skull below is that of Aurelius Super a centurion in the Sixth Legion that replaced the Ninth in Eboracum in 122 AD on the orders of Emperor Hadrian and were involved in the building of the Hadrian and Antonine Walls.

Aurelius was 38 years old when he died and was laid to rest in a large gritstone sarcophagus by his wife Aurelia Censorina, with an inscription revealing the details of his life.

Aurelius Super, centurion in the VI Victrix Legion

The skeleton below is of the gladiator or soldier discovered in the basement of the museum in 2010, surrounded with Roman pottery and animal bone.

The bones reveal an unusually tall man between the ages of 36-45 years old. He was muscular and physically fit when he died. His left arm was very well developed indicating repetitive use of this arm, perhaps from training with a sword.

His bones bear the signs of trauma, suggesting he was savagely attacked from behind. He suffered six brutal blade injuries to his ribs, spine, jaw and skull. Since none of these wounds had healed it would indicate they were inflicted at the time of death.

Injury to the vertebra and rib bones indicates that the very tip of a blade entered the lower spine from behind at the right side of the body, moving upwards to the left before withdrawing. This was a superficial wound suggesting the man dodged his attacker.

Thus the thinking is is that this man was either a soldier or a gladiator and very similar to another group of skeletons from Roman York bearing similar indications and are also thought to have been gladiators.

The mandible suffered two blade injuries. One came from behind, moving downwards and inwards and severing the jaw completely. The second was completely horizontal, cutting through the jaw bone on the right side. The blows were not fatal but would have caused excruciating pain. 

The skull received three wounds; one of which was fatal. A blow from behind sliced across the top of the skull. A second, administered in a powerful downward slicing action, removed part of the skull on the right side. Both of these wounds were superficial. A final blow was delivered from behind with great force at the centre of the back of the head, effectively shattering the skull.

Legate and Primus Pilus - R Embleton

The stone below commemorates Claudius Hieronymianus, Legate of the VIth Legion who paid for the construction of a temple to Serapis. This god was originally from Egypt and was much favoured by the emperor Septimus Severus.

Considering how old the bucket is seen below, it is in a remarkable state of preservation.

It was found in a six metre/twenty foot deep timber lined well in Skeldergate, York

Coin hoards are a common find from Roman Britain and I have seen a few on my trips to museums around the country.

They can reveal as many interesting facts as those they conceal and this particular hoard grabbed my attention more about the revealed information.

These coins were discovered in 1858 all together in a pot and show that they were gradually added to over the years so that you find newer coins appearing at the top. The hoard was buried soon after 308 AD as evidenced by two coins in particular that describe Constantine as 'Augustus' a title he claimed in late 307 AD. This is the same Constantine the Great that changed the empire and the world by his toleration of Christianity.

Alongside the coins mentioned were others in the top layer commemorating Emperor Constantius who in 305 AD came to Britain to launch a campaign into Scotland and based himself in Eboracum, but died suddenly in July 306 AD and the coins in the pot were struck soon after

Wold Newton Hoard discovered in 1858 and providing an insight into late Roman York
The hoard is a fortune, equalling many years wages for an ordinary person and would have bought over 700 chickens or 2,000 fish.

The four seasons as a theme for floor mosaics seems to be a common one for Roman floor design as I seem to remember seeing an older version at the Roman Villa in Bignor I reported on last year.

This floor was discovered in 1853 during drainage works in the city and was one of three, suggesting the house of a wealthy citizen of Eboracum.

The Four Seasons floor mosaic 
The large square in the centre would have had the head of Medusa, another common theme. The precise age of the floor is unknown but thought to be about 268 to 270 AD given that a large coin with the Emperor Claudius Gothicus was discovered underneath it.


I was immediately attracted to the piece below when I read the interpretation of the inscription

The wife of the Imperial Legate, the most senior officer in Eboracum, had a statue erected in honour of Fortuna, in what may have been their official residence.


As we all know Fortuna is the Goddess of Wargamers with the prayer, "may your ones be few and may your sixes be bountiful"

To the honour of Fortuna
Another commemorative stone below reads;
"To the mother goddesses of Africa, Italy and Gaul, Marcus Minuciius Mudenus, soldier of the Sixth Legion Victorious, pilot of the Sixth Legion, paid his vow joyfully, willingly and deservedly".

I wasn't sure what a 'pilot' was in the Roman army and the only references I have found were suggesting its modern day meaning, namely a soldier responsible for piloting vessels up the Rivers Ouse and Foss in York.

A joyful vow from a Roman Pilot
 Alongside the pilum it is perhaps the gladius short sword that is most associated with the Roman soldier.

This is an example of the iron gladius with bone pommel the classic Roman soldiers weapon discovered in York.

Gladius with bone pommel
Post Roman York and the coming of the Vikings

Viking raids on Britain started, as far as we can tell, in the late 8th century with raids on easy coastal targets such as the monastery at Lindisfarne attacked in 793.

Raiding of the British shore had been going on for a long time before then but it seems it was the ferocity and extreme violence used in these raids that captured the imagination of the chroniclers and caused such fear among the inhabitants of the British isles.

At some stage in the 9th century Viking incursions changed from simple raiding and departing, to an invasion with a subsequent occupation of land that was to be defended and if possible expanded at the expense of the neighbours, which saw significant parts of Anglo-Saxon Britain particularly in the north fall to these occupations; and York, or as the Vikings renamed it, Jorvik, became the city at the very heart of that settlement.

The struggle between Anglo-Saxon and Viking Britain would be taken up by the last remaining kingdom to oppose Viking expansion, Wessex under Alfred the Great and it would be him and his successors that would see the overthrow of the Danelaw territory as England was created under one King.

However in the time taken to unite the north and south of England as one nation, the north had developed a very distinctive Nordic culture and language still very evident today with the names of places and everyday words in this part of Yorkshire reflecting that different heritage.

As well as the culture, the archaeology is very unique to the Danelaw lands and the Yorkshire Museum holds some amazing artefacts illustrating the period as well as having the Viking exhibition on at the moment, until the 5th November, so well worth a visit if you get the chance.

As with the Roman era I was interested to see what was in the collection pre the arrival of the Vikings and the time leading up to it.

The group of objects pictured below are from a grave site discovered in Middleham, North Yorkshire and date to about 575 - 700 AD and were likely buried alongside a man of great wealth and status.

The sword is topped by a gold pommel indicating his military status and the bird shaped fittings are from a hanging bowl, suggesting he may have been Christian. Finally this man was buried with a gold shilling, which is the earliest coin struck in York and is the first coin from England to be placed in a burial, revealing his likely wealth to be able to do this.

The dates suggested for this burial indicates a man living through very turbulent times in this part of Britain with wars between the Kingdoms of Bernicia and Deira and the rise of the Northumbrian King Oswiu after his victory over the Mercian and last Pagan King Penda of Mercia at the Battle of Winwead in 654 or 655 AD. The victory left King Oswiu the Bretwalda or King of kings in Anglo-Saxon Britain.

Gold shilling struck in York and buried with our well heeled Yorkshireman
It was Anglian people from Northern Germany that established the settlement of Eoforwic (Anglian York) on the south bank of the River Ouse and weapons, jewellery and tools were buried alongside cremated remains placed in ceramic pots.

Grave items from some of Anglian York's earliest inhabitants
The word Viking is used to describe people who lived in Scandinavia between 800 to about 1050 AD, in a period known as the Viking age. The word 'viking' is found in both Old Norse as 'vinkingr' and Old English as 'wicing' where it means 'raider' or 'pirate'.

The people termed as Vikings came from Denmark, Norway and Sweden and were by no means united having many small kingdoms under different rulers and varied customs.

The terrain of Scandinavia, lands of rivers, lakes, forests, mountains and fjords made overland travel difficult and thus these people excelled in their use of boats and their skill at shipbuilding and navigation to travel around their homeland and beyond.

The items displayed in these pictures really capture what going 'vikingr' was all about with examples of sword, spear, axe, shield boss and and the large iron nails needed to hold a sea going ships hull together for crossing the North Sea.

However it would be wrong to just see the military aspects of the culture without appreciating the art displayed in the gold rope seen below.

The fragment of a stone cross from All Saints Church in Weston, North Yorkshire dated to 800 - 900 AD illustrates the fearsome impression the locals had of Vikings with this depiction of a warrior dragging off a female captive.

Viking ferocity illustrated on this fragment of a re-used Christian stone cross
The next item up is the one that heads the post and was one I was particularly excited to see.

There are only three surviving helmets from the Anglo-Saxon era, one from the Sutton Hoo burial mound which I featured in my trip to the British Museum last year, the other, known as the Bently Grange Helmet is held in the Sheffield Museum  and then there is this stunning example, the York Helmet, which bears the name of its owner.

Discovered in a wood lined pit during the Jorvik excavations at Coppergate in York on the 12th May 1982 when the bucket on a mechanical digger struck a solid object, the helmet was found with other small objects deliberately buried and partly disassembled.

Conservators at the British Museum reconstructed the pieces back to its original condition restoring the mail at the back.

The helmet is composed of four main elements, a composite cap, two cheek guards and a curtain of ring mail. Behind each eye-opening is a hinge attaching the cheek guards to the cap of the helmet as is the ring-mail neck guard.

The helmet is described as stylistically Northumbrian and has many unique details. These include the nose-guard, covered in intricate interlaced animals, brass eyebrows with animal head terminals and an inscribed copper alloy band that runs over and across the crest of the helmet.

Between the eyebrows and facing downward is a larger animal head with a rounded snout and comma shaped eyes as on the nose guard. The animal has ears on either side of its head that merge with the inscribed copper.

The inscription reads;

The abbreviated Latin translates as;
"In the name of our Lord Jesus, the Holy Spirit, God with all we pray, Amen Oshere Christ"

The inscription on the helmet records a name that has become associated with its owner - Oshere. This Anglian name may mean 'warrior of the Royal House of Os'. Whoever Oshere was, he was an important and powerful individual.


One aspect that I think is easily associated with this period in history be it Viking or Anglo-Saxon was the social bonding over feasts that tied the leader to his warriors with the giving of gifts and rings to keep those warriors on side.

A big aspect of the feasting was the drinking that accompanied such gatherings and can still be seen today in most Anglo-Saxon nations where the drinking aspect of socialising lives on in modern society, very often quite distinctive in its excess to other cultures drinking habits.

The piece below captures that social aspect, A silver mount from a drinking horn c 800-900 AD from Trewhiddle in Cornwall.

Silver mount from a drinking horn
Another unique treasure that was high on my list of 'must see' was The Gilling Sword discovered by nine year old Gary Fridd in April 1976 in Gilling Beck in the village of Gilling West in North Yorkshire.

The Gilling Sword c800 - 900 AD

This stunning sword is dated c800 - 900 AD  andwas designed to be admired for its beauty as much as its lethal killing ability and was obviously constructed for a very wealthy warrior or king.

Anglo-Saxon and Viking warriors were very often buried with their swords. However many Anglo-Saxon swords like Cetic ones before them, have been found in rivers or in other bodies of water rather than in graves and it is thought this had some form of sacrificial aspect to it with some swords perhaps being created for this purpose rather than to be used in battle.

The Coroners inquest into Treasure Trove which determines ownership of artifacts discovered in Britain and any rewards to be paid determined in 1977 that it was not Treasure Trove and the sword belonged to Gary.

In the subsequent auction the sword was bought by the Yorkshire Museum and was cleaned and fully restored by the British Museum to be held on permanent display here in York.

Recognisable to many of us who grew up watching the BBC children TV show 'Blue Peter' is the badge awarded for exceptional contributions and work by children and when Gary let them know about his find the show awarded a badge to both Gary and the sword, with the sword's badge on permanent display with it.

The Gilling Sword Blue Peter Badge
The silver hoard below was found in Gravesend, Kent and was probably hidden in 871 - 872 AD when the Viking Great Heathen Army had moved into the London area after conquering East Anglia and killing the local king.

In 871 the Viking Great Army turned its attention to Wessex, until Alfred the Great paid them to go away and by 872 they were wintering in London before moving up to Northumbria in the following year.

It's not known if this little treasure was hidden by a Viking or someone fleeing them, but either way the person never returned to reclaim their treasure.

Silver hoard from the era of the Great Heathen Army's occupation of London in 871-82 AD

The Vikings found in Britain a land of opportunity in terms of getting rich quick and initially a land badly unprepared to be able to defend itself against their rapacious raiding.

Trewhiddle style sword pommel - looted treasure
Over time they gained land and spoils of conquest and items such as these displayed from the Bedale Hoard dated to between 875-910 AD are the savings of an extremely wealthy man.

The video clip in the link below explains what a remarkable find the Bedale Hoard is and the secrets it has revealed about the jewellery designs seen in the pictures.

Gold rings that have possibly been removed from the sword handle that had the pommel on it, as seen above
The silver ingots were used as bullion to pay for other materials and display nick marks among others where the purity has been tested by cutting into the silver.

The silver was also turned into 'Viking bling', status symbol jewellery that not only shows off the wearers great wealth but also the Viking style of design with items here similar to other pieces from as far a part as Russia and Ireland.

Viking braided silver neck band - which basically says "I have more money and power than you!"

The work on these silver braided ropes is absolutely stunning and a revalation when compared with how they looked when first discovered back in 2012.

A boss broach  and wrist band display Irish connections in their design whilst the silver rope is more Russian in style
The display cabinet for these items had a great quote to go with these finds.

Bjorn, aged 71, Orkney

"I love this land! I've gown so rich here! I'm wealthier than I could have ever of dreamed of being back home. It would have taken so many years of hard toil to gain even half of this fortune. My future is set. It makes the fighting life on the road and the years away from friends and families all seem worthwhile." 

The manufacturing of swords was an expensive process and there is little evidence of manufacture in Britain's urban centres.

Swords were instilled with a mystic personality and given names that referred to their heritage and great deeds from the past, very often being passed down in families or from a king to a favoured warrior.

The examples below  show an inscribed sword found in the River Thames and dated to 900-1000 AD.

Detail of the inscription found on the Thames sword

The smaller less complete example was discovered in Coppergate, York and dated to 866-1000 AD and also discovered close by was the whalebone sword pommel and guard dated to a similar time frame.

The silver coins below date from the period when Alfred's successor King Athelstan created a united England when he defeated the northern Vikings in 927 AD.

The Vikings would return but their success would be short-lived and England would remain united as one kingdom.

Silver coins of Athelstan 927-939 AD, Eric Bloodaxe (what a great name) 952-954 AD and Eadred 946-955 AD

The common presumption is that Vikings used horses as a mode of transport rather than as a weapon of war. Interestingly it was the Normans who were originally Vikings who invaded and occupied Normandy in northern France who, taking advantage of the larger European war horse compared to the smaller British ponies, developed into mounted warriors.

This oak saddle bow is a rare find and would have originally been covered in patterned and coloured leather.

Oak saddle bow, Coppergate, York, 900-1100 AD

The Viking love of silver is classically illustrated by the coin and ingot hoard displayed below.

Items of clothing are always very interesting finds and helps to give a more defined picture of what these people would have looked like.

In both Scandinavia and Britain people wore shoes and boots of turnshoe construction. The leather was cut to shape, moulded and stitched together inside out, and then turned rightways out so that the seams were on the inside.

Evidence suggests that both Dublin and York were centres of shoe production.

Leather hood and boot with a bone toggle

The Vikings who settled in Britain were inspired by the local carvings they found and would carve stone using their own Scandinavian motifs often alongside the local ones.

York became the largest Viking town in Britain. As it grew so did the trade as people moved into the area to buy and sell. This trade was profitable business for the ruler and the king made sure that business paid him with taxes taken from the coinage used to conduct it.

To meet the demand for that coinage, York soon became one of the largest town mints in England, producing millions of coins including these silver pennies of King Cnut 1016-1035 AD.

Silver Pennies from the reign of King Cnut 1016-1035 AD
So that concludes my pick of the amazing items that were on display at the Yorkshire Museum. Another good reason to take some time to visit York.

Next up, more from York, Mr Steve has been on his travels again and the second game of Talavera 208 is to be played this weekend in commemoration of the two-hundred and eighth anniversary of the battle; not only that but my new painting desk has been getting some action.