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The British Museum presents its first major exhibition on Vikings in over 30 years, supported by BP
6 March – 22 June 2014
The Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery
The British Museum presents its first major exhibition on Vikings in over 30 years, supported by BP, which will open the Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery. The exhibition has been developed with the National Museum of Denmark and the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (National Museums in Berlin) and focuses on the core period of the Viking Age from the late 8th century to the early 11th century.
Image:Sword, late 8th–early 9th century. Kalundborg or Holbæk, Zealand, Denmark. Photo: John Lee. © The National Museum of Denmark. Background: Kim Westerskov/Getty Images.
The extraordinary Viking expansion from the Scandinavian homelands during this era created a cultural network with contacts from the Caspian Sea to the North Atlantic, and from the Arctic Circle to the Mediterranean. The Vikings are viewed in a global context that highlights the multi-faceted influences arising from extensive cultural contacts. The exhibition will be the subject of an exclusive live broadcast Vikings Live from the British Museum also supported by BP to UK cinemas on 24 April.
The exhibition features many new archaeological discoveries and objects never seen before in the UK alongside important Viking Age artefacts from the British Museum’s own collection and elsewhere in Britain and Ireland. It capitalises on new research and thousands of recent discoveries by both archaeologists and metal-detectorists, to set the developments of the Viking Age in context. These new finds have changed our understanding of the nature of Viking identity, trade, magic and belief and the role of the warrior in Viking society. Above all, it was the maritime character of Viking society and their extraordinary shipbuilding skills that were key to their achievements. At the centre of the exhibition are the surviving timbers of a 37-metre-long Viking warship, the longest ever found and never seen before in the UK. Due to its scale and fragility it would not have been possible to display this ship at the British Museum without the new facilities of the Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery.
The ship, known as Roskilde 6, was excavated from the banks of Roskilde fjord in Denmark during the course of work undertaken to develop the Roskilde Viking Ship Museum in 1997. Since the excavation, the timbers have been painstakingly conserved and analysed by the National Museum of Denmark. The surviving timbers – approximately 20% of the original ship - have now been re-assembled for display in a specially made stainless steel frame that reconstructs the full size and shape of the original ship. The construction of the ship has been dated to around AD 1025, the high point of the Viking Age when England, Denmark, Norway and possibly parts of Sweden were united under the rule of Cnut the Great. The size of the ship and the amount of resources required to build it suggest that it was almost certainly a royal warship, possibly connected with the wars fought by Cnut to assert his authority over this short-lived North Sea Empire.
New interpretations place warfare and warrior identity at the centre of what it meant to be a Viking; cultural contact was often violent, and the transportation of looted goods and slaves reflects the role of Vikings as both raiders and traders. Recently excavated skeletons from a mass grave of executed Vikings near Weymouth in Dorset, provides a close-up encounter with ‘real’ Vikings and illustrate what happened when things went wrong for Viking warriors on British soil.
The Vale of York Hoard is displayed in its entirety at the British Museum for the first time since it was discovered by metal detectorists near Harrogate in 2007 and jointly acquired by the British Museum and York Museums Trust. Consisting of 617 coins, 6 arm rings and a quantity of bullion and hack-silver the Vale of York Hoard is the largest and most important Viking hoard since the Cuerdale Hoard was found in Lancashire in 1840, part of which is also included in the exhibition. With coins and silver from places as far removed as Ireland and Uzbekistan, the hoards reveal the true extent of the Viking global network. The silver cup in which the Vale of York Hoard was buried pre-dates the burial by a century and was probably made for use in a Frankish church. It may well represent treasure stolen in a Viking raid. The Vale of York hoard includes objects coming from as far apart as Afghanistan in the East and Ireland in the West, as well as Russia, Scandinavia and continental Europe. Represented in the hoard are three belief systems (Islam, Christianity and the worship of Thor) and peoples who spoke at least seven languages.
Ostentatious jewellery of gold and silver demonstrates how status was vividly displayed by Viking men and women. These include a stunning silver hoard from Gnezdovo in Russia, never previously seen in the UK, which highlights the combination of Scandinavian, Slavic and Middle Eastern influences which contributed to the development of the early Russian state in the Viking Age.
The Museum will broadcast an exclusive private view of the BP exhibition Vikings: life and legend on 24 April 2014. Vikings Live from the British Museum will be presented by historian Michael Wood, accompanied by broadcaster Bettany Hughes, British Museum director Neil MacGregor and exhibition curator Gareth Williams, who will take cinema audiences through the exhibition getting up close to objects and exploring the archaeology and stories of the Viking Age. The broadcast will be followed by a pre-recorded cinema event for schools and families, Viking Adventures from the British Museum in June.
The BP exhibition Vikings: life and legend will be the first in the Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery, part of the new World Conservation and Exhibitions Centre that opens later in 2014. The Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery is the British Museum’s first purpose built space for temporary exhibitions.
Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum said “The reach and cultural connections of the Viking Age make it a remarkable story shared by many countries, not least here in the British Isles. New discoveries and research have led to a wealth of new information about the Vikings so it is a perfect moment to look again at this critical era. Temporary exhibitions of this nature are only possible thanks to external support so I am hugely grateful to BP for their longstanding and ongoing commitment to the British Museum.”
“BP is extremely pleased to support ‘Vikings: life and legend’, the first exhibition of the new five year partnership between the British Museum and BP. Our support for the British Museum is part of BP’s wider contribution to British life, connecting people and communities across the UK. We are delighted to help bring this major exhibition to the British Museum.” Peter J Mather, Group Regional Vice President, Europe and Head of Country, UK, BP.
Supported by BP.
Organised by the British Museum, National Museum of Denmark and the Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte – Staatliche Museen zu Berlin.
Notes to editors:
Admission charge £16.50 plus a range of concessions. Tickets can be booked online at britishmuseum.org or on 020 7323 8181.
Opening hours 10.00–17.30 Saturday to Thursday and 10.00–20.30 Fridays.
Follow updates on the exhibition via Twitter on #VikingsExhibition and the Museum’s Twitter account @britishmuseum
Vikings Live from the British Museum
Supported by BP
A unique live broadcast event presented by historian Michael Wood, that will take cinema audiences round the BP exhibition Vikings: life and legend 6 March – 22 June. Michael Wood will be joined by British Museum director, Neil MacGregor, curator Gareth Williams, broadcaster Bettany Hughes and other experts to explore the global contacts of the Viking Age through new and famous treasures spanning four continents including the remains of longest Viking ship ever found. The broadcast will be shown in over 380 cinemas through all the major UK cinema groups including Vue, Cineworld, Odeon, Picturehouse, Empire and Curzon as well as independent venues. The broadcast will be followed by a pre-recorded cinema event for schools and families, Viking Adventures from the British Museum in June. Tickets available directly from cinemas nationwide.
Mumsnet event (Tuesday 20 May, 10.00 – 12.00) – In partnership with Mumsnet the British Museum is running a dedicated morning especially for parents, babies and very young children. Family groups are welcome at any time but this slot will be exclusively allocated to this audience to enjoy the exhibition alongside other young families without worrying about disturbing visitors.
A full public programme accompanies the exhibition. More information is available from the press office.
The exhibition catalogue is available from February 2014 by British Museum Press: Vikings: life and legend, edited by Gareth Williams, Peter Pentz and Matthias Wemhoff. A rich and vivid account of the Vikings and their cultural interactions from Asia to the Atlantic. Hardback, £45, paperback £25. A gift book, The Viking Ship by Gareth Williams, is also available from February 2014. Paperback, £9.99.
Also available from British Museum Press, published March 2013, Viking Poetry of Love and War, by Judith Jesch. An accessible introduction to the broad poetry ranges of the Vikings, from the highly formal to the light-hearted. Paperback, £9.99.
Vikings in Britain and Ireland by Jayne Carroll, Stephen Harrison and Gareth Williams, a fascinating illustrated introduction to the cultural influence of the Vikings in Britain and Ireland. Paperback, £10.99. A children’s book, The Adventures of Harald: Last king of the Vikings, by Thomas Williams, is an illustrated adventure telling the story of King Harald Sigurdsson, the last King of the Vikings. Paperback £7.99.
The exhibition was on display as VIKING at the National Museum of Denmark, Copenhagen, 22 June – 17 November 2013. The BP exhibition Vikings: life and legend is at the British Museum, 6 March – 22 June 2014, then at the Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin, 10 September 2014 – 4 January 2015.
BP support for UK Arts & Culture
As a major international company based in the UK, BP is delighted to support the British Museum, an institution with global reputation for excellence. We are a major supporter of UK arts with a programme that spans over 35 years, during which time millions of people have engaged with BP-sponsored activities.
BP’s investment of almost £10 million in extending its long term partnerships with the British Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, the Royal Opera House and Tate Britain until 2017, represents one of the most significant long-term corporate investments in UK arts and culture.
BP’s support for the British Museum began in 1996. Since then the company has partnered with the museum on a diverse range of initiatives including the creation of the BP Lecture Theatre in the Great Court and international adventures such as the incredibly successful Mummy Exhibition in Mumbai, which attracted an audience of over 300,000 including over 65,000 school children.
Today BP focuses its support on the museum’s special exhibitions programme.
For further information
Please contact the Press Office on 020 7323 8583 / 8394 or firstname.lastname@example.org
High resolution images and caption sheet available at
For public information please print britishmuseum.org
or 020 7323 8181