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Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Alfred the Great’s Forgotten Ally

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Trenches England Watlington Hoard Researchers from the British Museum recently unveiled a Viking hoard of silver that may rewrite early English history. An amateur discovered the treasure in a field in Watlington, Oxfordshire, around 40 miles west of London. The collection of more than 200 items, which includes silver coins, jewelry, and ingots, was intentionally buried in the late 870s A.D., during a tumultuous period when Anglo-Saxon armies fought to repel conquering Viking forces. In 878, King Alfred the Great of Wessex, the last independent Anglo-Saxon kingdom, finally halted the Viking invasion at the Battle of Edington. While English history portrays Alfred as one of the first great English heroes, the Watlington hoard suggests that one of Alfred’s rivals, King Ceolwulf II of Mercia, may also have played a hero’s role. Ceolwulf II is hardly mentioned in English historical accounts—and unflatteringly when he is—yet several of the recently discovered coins prominently depict Alfred and Ceolwulf II together. While a few examples of this minting have previously been found, this new discovery indicates that this coin was more widely produced than previously thought, and attests to a strong political alliance between the two kings. Experts now believe that Ceolwulf II may have played a significant role alongside Alfred in defending England, yet was posthumously “erased” from history by Alfred’s chroniclers.

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