Rare Viking Coin Found In Hungary

Finding a very small coin over the expanse of an archaeological dig is like finding a needle in a haystack. But with the help of a metal detector, one was indeed discovered at a site in Hungary earlier this year.

The tiny Viking silver coin was called a “penning,” and it was found by one Zoltan Csikos, working at the excavation site near the village of Vardomb, in southern Hungary. The coin, experts say, is worth approximately $20 (USD) in modern currency.

At the time the penning was  commonplace, says one expert.  Just one of these small coins would have been of enough value to pay for a family’s groceries for one day. Its value today lies not in the monetary realm, but in the historic one.

Other artifacts illuminating the links between Scandinavia and Hungary have been found, but no coin of this vintage has ever been uncovered before. Because of this it  has been heralded by experts for its archaeological significance.

The small silver coin was found near the Hungarian village of Várdomb. It dates to between 1046 and 1066 and is inscribed with the name of the Norwegian king. (Image credit: Tamás Retkes)

The coin is dated to sometime between 1046 and 1066. It has inscribed on it the name and face of the Viking King Harald Sigurdsson III, or king Harald Hardrada, which translates from Norwegian to “hard ruler.” King Harald was, according to historians, probably the last of the great Viking warrior kings.

On its reverse, the coin has a two-lined Christian cross symbol. There are also a series of decorative dots inscribed by the cross, and the name of the mint master who made it. In those days, the mint was located in central Norway.

Archaeologists are uncertain how the coin ended up in Hungary. Some speculate it was in the possession of a military man or royal court member who unknowingly dropped it.  It is equally possible that the coin was simply lost by a tradesman or merchant; it is impossible to be sure.

And though the excavation has turned up hundreds of artifacts, this is so far the only silver Viking coin found at this dig, or anywhere else in Hungary.

An 1865 engraving of the Harald Hardrada penning coin. (Image credit: By Zeichner: C. I. Schive, Lithograf Bucher in Bergen – C. I. Schive: Norges Mynter i Middelalderen. Christiania 1865., Public Domain,

It may seem odd for a Scandinavian coin to be discovered in Hungary. However, unusual though it is, it is not the first time a rare coin from faraway shores has been found in the country. It’s not even the first time this year.

In February, a centuries-old Roman coin was found in southwest Hungary. This one, unlike the Norwegian coin, was in excellent condition. It has the image of Roman emperor Volusianus etched on one side.

It isn’t rare solely because it’s ancient. It is rare because little money with this ruler’s likeness were made. He was assassinated at just 22 years of age, by his own soldiers. Consequently, a relatively small number of coins were minted with his image. This coin is now in the permanent collection of the Rippi-Ronai Museum of Kaposvar.

A curious footnote in that finding is the archaeologists’ decision to keep the find’s location secret. Apparently, theft of  valuable artifacts found with metal detectors is a serious problem in Hungary.

Therefore, where the dig was occurring was not announced to the public until well after the discoveries were shipped away for testing, cleaning and placement in museums.

Large modern day archaeological dig.

But trying to keep quiet where a massive excavation is happening is difficult. Hence, the dig in Vardomb has been well publicized for months now.

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And while indeed Csikos was using a metal detector, he quickly turned the coin over to archaeologists at the excavation. Clearly, not all hobbyists want to keep these discoveries in their possession.

Some, like Csikos, happily help the professionals, making their contribution to history in whatever way they can. Now, the Norwegian coin he found is safe and secure, and is part of the collection of the Wosinsky Mor County Museum.