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Scandinavian York

Background Information

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Scandinavian York is a term, like the terms Kingdom of Jórvík or Kingdom of York, used by historians for the kingdom of Northumbria in the late 9th century and first half of the 10th century, when it was dominated by Norse and Hiberno-Norse warrior-kings; in particular, it is used to refer to the city controlled by these kings. The name Jórvík is the Scandinavianisation of Eoforwic, the native name for 10th century Northumbria's capital, now known as York. The kingdom's territory encompassed a large part of what is now northern England, and also parts of what is now southern Scotland. With a few interruptions due to wars with Wessex, the Anglo- and Hiberno-Norse monarchy lasted from 876 to 954.

During part of its existence, Northumbria had a very strong relationship with the Norse Kingdom of Dublin in Ireland. Though the two never merged, they did share four of the same kings in the form of Sigtrygg Caech, Guthfrith, Olaf and Olaf Cuaran. Also from 902 until 921, the Kingdom of Mann and the Isles was under direct Jórvík rule.


York had been founded as the Roman legionary fortress of Eboracum and revived as the Anglo-Saxon trading port of Eoforwic. It was first captured in November, 866 by a large army of Danish Vikings, called the " Great Heathen Army" by Anglo-Saxon chroniclers, which had landed in East Anglia and made their way north, aided by a supply of horses with which King Edmund of East Anglia bought them off and by civil in-fighting between royal candidates in the Anglian Kingdom of Northumbria between the leaders of its two sub-kingdoms; Bernicia and Deira. Declaring a truce, the rivals for the throne of Northumbria joined forces but failed to retake the city in March, 867, and with their deaths Deira came under Danish control as the Kingdom of Northumbria and the Northumbrian royal court fled north to refuge in Bernicia. A Viking attempt against Mercia the same season failed and in 869 their efforts against Wessex were fruitless in the face of opposition from Kings Ethelred and Alfred the Great.

York's importance as the seat of Northumbria increased when the Scandinavian warlord, Guthrum, headed for East Anglia, while Prince Halfdan of Sjaelland seized power in AD 876. While the Danish army was busy in Britain, the Isle of Man and Ireland, the Swedish army was occupied with defending the Danish and Swedish homelands where Halfdan's brothers were in control.

Seated Eric Bloodaxe and Gunnhild are confronted by Egill Skallagrímsson.

Native Danish rulers who eventually made Jelling in Jutland the site of Gorm the Old's kingdom, were in the East Anglian Kingdom. The Five Burghs/Jarldoms were based upon the Kingdom of Lindsey and were a sort of frontier between each kingdom. King Canute the Great would later "reinstall" a Norwegian dynasty of jarls in Northumbria ( Eric of Hlathir), with a Danish dynasty of jarls in East Anglia ( Thorkel). Northern England would continue to be a source of intrigue for the Norwegians until Harald III of Norway's death at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066 just prior to the Battle of Hastings and the Norman conquest.

The area of the palace built by the Viking rulers in what is now York was known as the Konungsgarðr and is today known as King's Square, which nucleates the Ainsty. New streets, lined by regular building fronts for timber houses were added to an enlarging city between AD 900 and 935, dates arrived at by tree-ring chronology carried out on remaining posts preserved in anaerobic clay subsoil.

The Viking kingdom was absorbed into England in 954, without cramping its economic success: by ca 1000, the urban boom brought the Viking city of Jórvík to a population total second only to that of London within the Britain. William the Conqueror brought the independence of Jórvík to an end and established garrisoned castles in the city.


Between 1070 and 1085 there were occasional attempts by the Danish Vikings to recapture their Kingdom of Jórvík, however these attempts did not materialise into the return of the kingdom.

After the Kingdom of Jórvík was merged with Northumbria (by now an Earldom of England under the House of Wessex) the title King of Jórvík became redundant, and was succeeded by the title Earl of York, created in 960. Although some of the early Earls of York were Nordic like the Jórvík Kings, they were succeeded by Normans after the Norman conquest, until the title was abolished by King Henry II. The title Duke of York, a title of nobility in British peerage, was created in 1341, but was merged with the Crown when the 4th Duke became King Edward IV. Subsequently, the title of Duke of York has usually been given to the second son of the King or Queen.

Kings of Jórvík

Archaeological findings

From 1976 to 1981, the York Archaeological Trust conducted a five-year excavation in and around the street of Coppergate in central York. This demonstrated that, in the 10th century, Jórvík's trading connections reached to the Byzantine Empire and beyond: a cap made of silk survives, and coins from Samarkand were familiar enough and respected enough for a counterfeit to have passed in trade. Both these items, as well as a large human coprolite known as the Lloyds Bank coprolite, were famously recovered in York a millennium later. Amber from the Baltic is often expected at a Viking site and at Jórvík an impractical and presumably symbolic axehead of amber was found. A cowrie shell indicates contact with the Red Sea or the Persian Gulf. Christian and pagan objects have survived side-by-side, usually taken as a sign that Christians were not in positions of authority.

After the excavation, the York Archaeological Trust took the decision to recreate the excavated part of Jórvík on the Coppergate site, and this is now the Jorvik Viking Centre.

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