Silver penny of Anlaf Guthfrithsson

British Museum

British Museum
London, United Kingdom

Although this coin was made in England, it was made for a Viking ruler. From the mid-860s, much of northern and eastern England fell under the control of the Vikings. This area was later known as the Danelaw, and included the kingdoms of Northumbria and East Anglia, as well as large parts of the East Midlands, which had previously formed part of the kingdom of Mercia. Throughout the period of their control, Viking rulers issued their own coins. In each part of Viking England, Viking rulers seem to have begun issuing coins after converting to Christianity. Some of the Viking coins were closely copied from Anglo-Saxon designs, but others were more distinctive.

Some of the most remarkable coins are those of Olaf (Anlaf) Guthfrithsson who ruled in Northumbria and also parts of the East Midlands. He reconquered these areas in 939 after the death of the Anglo-Saxon king Athelstan (924-39), who had seized them in 927 following the death of Olaf’s uncle Sihtric.

Olaf’s most famous coins show a bird of prey, probably an eagle or a raven. Both birds were associated with the Norse god Odin, so these coins are sometimes seen as a symbol of Viking paganism. However, the eagle is also associated with St John the Evangelist, and the raven with St Oswald, so the religious message of the coins is uncertain. It could be a deliberately pagan symbol, or one which both pagans and Christians could accept. The design on the back is a simple cross, so more obviously Christian.

The inscription ANLAF CVNVNC ('King Olaf') is also interesting. ‘Anlaf’ is the Anglo-Saxon way of writing Olaf, but ‘cununc’ is a version of the Old Norse word for ‘king’. Most Viking coins had Latin inscriptions, like Anglo-Saxon coins, and the use of the Scandinavian language of Old Norse seems to be a clear indication of Viking independence.


  • Title: Silver penny of Anlaf Guthfrithsson
  • Physical Dimensions: Weight: 1.260g
  • External Link: British Museum collection online
  • Registration number: 1862,0930.1
  • Production place: Minted in York
  • Period/culture: Viking
  • Material: silver
  • Copyright: Photo: © Trustees of the British Museum
  • Authority: Ruler Anlaf Guthfrithsson
  • Acquisition: Purchased from Evans, John

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