Gareth Williams

Curator of early Medieval coinage
Coinage of early Medieval Britain and Europe

Department: Coins and Medals 


+44 (0)20 7323 8257

Gareth Williams has been a curator at the Museum since 1996, with responsibility for British and European coinage, about AD 500 to about 1180. Within this area he specialises in Anglo-Saxon and Viking coinage. Much of his work focuses on the use of coinage as evidence within broader historical and archaeological studies.

His wider research includes the history of the British Isles and Scandinavia in the early Middle Ages, with particular interests in different types of economy, medieval warfare and military organization and the history and archaeology of the Vikings. He also works on the history of cultural identities, with a particular focus on the changing nature of British identity. A recent direction in his research has been a focus on Viking camps in England and Ireland in the late 9th century, and their role in the development of towns in both countries.

He has strong interests in experimental archaeology, and has been actively involved in historical re-enactment and historical interpretation in character for several years. From 2002 to 2011 he also directed a collaborative research project on the history of Tutbury Castle in Staffordshire.

He is currently acting as guest curator for the exhibition Viking Voyagers at the National Maritime Museum Cornwall in Falmouth, 20 March 2015 to 22 February 2017.  

Current projects

Viking Voyages

This exhibition has been developed by the National Maritime Museum Cornwall, and includes objects from the collections of the British Museum, the National Museum of Ireland, the National Museum of Denmark and the Manx Museum, and will be open 20 March 2015 to 22 February 2017. The development of the exhibition has been supported in part by the British Museum through the UK Partnerships programme. The exhibition focuses on the maritime achievements of the Vikings, which underpinned their extraordinary combination of international conquest, trade and settlement. A secondary theme is the interaction between the Vikings and different Celtic peoples, from Scotland to Brittany via the Irish Sea and Cornwall

Viking Warfare and Military Organisation

This book will provide a general introduction to the history of warfare in the Viking age, together with a detailed study of the underlying systems of military organization and their broader links to Viking society. The book will be completed in 2015.

The Vale of York Hoard and other Viking hoards in Britain and Ireland

The Vale of York hoard, found in 2007, is the most important Viking hoard found in Britain since 1840, with a mixture of coins, ingots, intact ornaments and hack-silver (silver cut up for bullion) all contained in a beautiful gilt-silver cup. A short book for the non-specialist (co-authored with Barry Ager) has already been published, and the hoard will also form the focus of a more extensive research project and publication on Viking hoards from Britain and Ireland.

Anglo-Saxon gold

This project looks at the use of coins in Anglo-Saxon England from the 5th to the 7th centuries, against the background of a wider study of the use of gold, and the nature of wealth in the same period. This period is one in which coin use has traditionally been seen as minimal, but this view has to be revised in the light of steadily increasing numbers of both Anglo-Saxon and imported gold coins uncovered through metal detecting. At the same time, major discoveries such as the Staffordshire hoard and the elite burial from Prittlewell, Essex raise important questions about existing conceptions of wealth and status in the early Anglo-Saxon period

Lenborough hoard  

In December 2014, around 5,200 Anglo-Saxon silver pennies were discovered, wrapped in lead, in a field near Lenborough in Buckhinghamshire. The hoard was buried towards the end of the reign of Cnut (1016-35), and is one of the largest hoards of Anglo-Saxon coins ever found. The hoard is currently being recorded and assessed as possible Treasure under the terms of the Treasure Act (1996), and it is hoped that the hoard will eventually be acquired by the Buckinghamshire County Museum.


Previous projects

World of Money CD-Rom, 1998

This CD provided an interactive guide to the history of money throughout the world, and explored the nature of money as well as how it has been made, saved, and used.

Paid in Burnt Silver: Wealth and Power in the Viking Age, 2000

Temporary exhibition exploring the changing nature of wealth, power and society in the Viking Age.

Coenwulf gold coin touring exhibition

The unique gold mancus of Coenwulf of Mercia was acquired by the British Museum in 2006, and has featured in an extensive programme of temporary exhibitions. Venues so far include the British Museum, Norwich Castle Museum and the British Library, and the coin formed the centrepiece of the collaborative exhibition Gold, Gods and Kings: The Anglo-Saxons in Bedfordshire at Bedford Museum in 2007.

Tutbury Castle research project

This is a collaborative project with Tutbury Castle in Staffordshire and the University of Birmingham, and covers the history and archaeology of Tutbury Castle and the surrounding area, including the Tutbury Hoard of 1831, the largest coin hoard ever discovered in Britain. The project formed the subject of the exhibition Ruin and rebellion: uncovering the past at Tutbury Castle in Room 69a at the British Museum from July 2009 to March 2010. Elements of this exhibition are now on display at Tutbury Castle. The results of the research project were  published as a monograph in  2011.

Portraits in Gold and Silver

The exhibition Portraits in Gold and Silver: Coins and Medals of the Tudors and Stuarts looks at the way that coins and medals were used to present public images of English and Scottish rulers from the l480s to the 1660s. The exhibition at Tutbury Castle in Staffordshire is based around electrotype copies of objects in the British Museum collection, and opened on April 13, 2009.

A Riverine Site in North Yorkshire

This site (the precise location of which remains a secret) came to light in 2004 as a result of the discovery of a Viking hoard by metal detectorists. It was subsequently investigated by the York Archaeological Trust, and metal detecting has also revealed a large assemblage of other objects, mostly dating from the Viking Age. The site throws new light on exchange and bullion-economies at the very beginning of the Viking settlement of England in the mid 870s. A report on the site and finds was completed in February 2012, produced in collaboration by the British Musuem and the York Archaeological Trust, and a more extended monograph on the subject will go to press in early 2015.

External fellowships/ honorary positions/ membership of professional bodies

Director of Research, Tutbury Castle:

Honorary Lecturer, Institute of Archaeology, UCL

Recent publications

G. Williams, The Viking Ship, (London, British Museum Press 2014)

G. Williams, Vikings: Life and Legend, edited with P. Pentz and M. Wemhoff (London: British Museum Press 2014)

G. Williams, The Vikings in Britain and Ireland, with J. Carroll and S. Harrison (London: British Museum Press 2014)

G. Williams, Tutbury: ‘A Castle Firmly Built’. Archaeological and Historical Investigation at Tutbury Castle Staffordshire, edited with M. Hislop and M. Kinsey, BAR British Series 546 (Oxford: Archaeopress 2011)

G. Williams, Silver Economies, Monetisation and Society in the Viking Age, AD 800-1100, edited with J. Graham-Campbell and S. Sindbæk (Aarhus: Aarhus University Press, 2011)

G. Williams, Treasures of Sutton Hoo, (London: British Museum Press, 2011)

G. Williams, Eirik Bloodaxe, (Kernavik: Saga Bok, 2010)

G. Williams and B.Ager, Objects in Focus: the Vale of York Hoard, (London: British Musuem Press, 2010)

G. Williams, Early Anglo-Saxon Coins, (Oxford: Shire Books 2008)

G. Williams, Silver Economy in the Viking Age, edited with J. Graham-Campbell (Walnut Creek: Left Coast Press, 2007)

G. Williams, West Over Sea, edited with B. Ballin Smith and S. Taylor, (Leiden: Brill, 2007)

G. Williams, Coinage and History in the North Sea World, c. 500-1250, edited with B. Cook, (Leiden: Brill, 2006)

G. Williams, Sagas, Saints and Settlements, edited with P. Bibire (Leiden: Brill, 2004)

G. Williams, World of Money CD-ROM, (London: British Museum Multimedia, 1998)