Exhibitions Museums Antiquities and Archaeology United Kingdom

The Vikings are coming to London—from Russia

While East-West relations are strained by the crisis in Crimea, loans go ahead for British Museum show

An Eastern-style axe-head on loan to the British museum from the State Historical Museum, Moscow. It was found in Russia’s Kazan region on the Volga river, but is decorated in a Scandinavian style with gold inlay that depicts a sword piercing a serpent from below—possibly a reference to the legend of Sigurd the dragon-slayer

The timbers of a 37m-long warship from Denmark might be the biggest object in “Vikings: Life and Legend”, the first show in the British Museum’s Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery, but in terms of cultural diplomacy, two hoards of silver stand out among the many international loans. The works in question come from Russia, lent by the State Historical Museum, Moscow, and the Novgorod Museum.

The exhibition, which opens on Thursday (until 22 June), aims to show that the Vikings didn’t just raid and pillage, they traded and settled far and wide. The Russian loans, which would have been impossible 30 years ago during the Cold War when the British Museum last organised a big Viking show, receive a special mention in the press release accompanying the show. The Novgorod Museum’s hoard from Gnezdovo, a Viking settlement on the Dnieper, “highlights the combination of Scandinavian, Slavic and Middle Eastern influence that contributed to the development of the early Russian state in the Viking age”, it says.

These objects join another notable Viking hoard. Discovered in 2007 by metal detectorists near Harrogate in Yorkshire, the Vale of York Hoard is jointly owned by the British Museum and York Museums Trust. The collection includes coins from Afghanistan, Uzbekistan as well as Russia, Scandinavia and Europe.

Sponsored in London by the energy company BP, the exhibition is co-organised by the British Museum and the National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen, where it opened this summer, along with the State Museums of Berlin. It is due to travel to the Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin, and open on 10 September (until 15 January 2015).

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