In February, Norsemen strode the streets of York once more in the city’s annual Viking Festival. Carly Hilts went along to see for herself.
This year marked the 34th incarnation of the annual Jorvik Viking Festival – a city-wide celebration of York’s famed Anglo-Scandinavian past, and the largest Norse-themed festival in Europe – as well as the first since the Jorvik Viking Centre reopened last April (see CA 327).
Organised by York Archaeological Trust, each week-long early medieval extravaganza sees the city centre transformed into bustling living history encampments and Viking-themed markets, while many of York’s public squares and buildings host family-friendly activities and competitions to find the ‘Strongest Viking’ and ‘Best Beard’. On the final Saturday, there is also a grand parade of re-enactors marching through the streets in full battle regalia to stage fierce battles before a cheering crowd at the Eye of York, and the Sunday features the Richard Hall Symposium, where leading academics present some of the latest research on the Viking Age.
This year, the festival’s theme was ‘Invasion: Dawn of Viking York’, exploring how the Vikings first arrived in Anglian Eoforwic, before settling and creating the thriving Anglo-Scandinavian city of Jorvik whose well-preserved remains have been excavated to international acclaim (CA 76). In the festival’s spectacular finale, hordes of warriors, music, sound and light effects, and pyrotechnics came together to bring this story to vivid life.
Drawing on narratives from the Old Norse sagas, the performance depicted the colourful life of Ragnar Lothbrok and his capture and brutal death on the orders of the Northumbrian king Aella; the subsequent invasion by Ragnar’s sons, bent on vengeance; and Aella’s own bloody end at their hands. Featuring colossal choreographed battles between Anglian and Viking armies, and culminating in a stunning display of fireworks set to music, it was a fitting end to an exciting and informative few days.
The Watlington Hoard
While in York, CA also visited the Jorvik Viking Centre to see its temporary display on the Watlington Hoard. This 9th-century collection of coins, jewellery, and hacksilver was found by a metal-detectorist in Oxfordshire in 2015, and was purchased by the Ashmolean Museum (from whom the cache is on loan) with the help of an HLF grant the following year. It includes coins of Alfred the Great of Wessex (r.871-899) and Ceolwulf II of Mercia (r.874-879), and has been hailed as ‘nationally significant’ for the insights it grants into relations between these kingdoms (CA 311). Some 55 items will be on display until 21 May.
Next year, the Jorvik Viking Festival will run for eight days across two calendar weeks, following feedback about varying half-term dates across the country. The 2019 celebrations will span 20-27 February, with an Epic Weekend of Vikings in the middle. For more information, see www.jorvikvikingfestival.co.uk.
This article appeared in CA 338.