Gilded horse bridle fittings found in Viking grave

Site cleared in preliminary excavation, 2012. Photo courtesy the Museum of Skanderborg.Archaeologists have discovered the grave of a Viking man containing gilded bronze and silver-plated mounts from a horse bridle in the town of Hørning near Skanderborg in Jutland, Denmark. The large grave complex consisting of multiple contiguous chambers was discovered in 2012, but only a very small section of it has been excavated. After the site was cleared, a small test pit dug in one of the chambers revealed the bridle fittings. The bridle area was raised in a soil block and excavated in the laboratory. Archaeologists have dubbed the grave’s occupant the Fregerslev Viking, the name of the spot where the burial was found.

Two cross-shaped fittings and a rectangular buckle. Photo courtesy the Museum of Skanderborg.“The artefacts that we’ve already found are exquisite gilded fittings from a horse bridle. This type of bridle would only be available to the most powerful of people in the Viking Age, and we believe it might have been a gift of alliance from the king,” said Merethe Schifter Bagge, a project manager and archaeologist at the Museum of Skanderborg [sic]

“The fittings date to circa 950 AD, which means that the Fregerslev Viking could have been the confidant of the king, Gorm the Old – or alternatively a rival.”

Gilded bridle fitting. Photo courtesy the Museum of Skanderborg.The bridle artifacts are such a rare find and indicate such high status that the find is being compared to two of the greatest archaeological discoveries in Danish history, the impossibly life-like bog body Tollund Man and the fantastically stylish immigrant teenager Egtved Girl.

The discovery has been announced now, more than four years after it was made, because the team led by Museum of Skanderborg archaeologists has finally secured funding for a full excavation of Soil block raised, 2012. Photo courtesy the Museum of Skanderborg.the site. The grave complex is unusually large for the period, so there may be as many as three chambers. Archaeologists hope the excavation will reveal more about the Fregerslev Viking, perhaps additional grave goods, maybe even a horse sacrifice. There’s also the chance there are other people buried in the complex, possibly family members or servants. The wider goal of the project is to gain new insight into the power elite, trade and commerce of 10th century Viking society.

Cross-shaped bridle fitting. Photo courtesy the Museum of Skanderborg.The excavation begins on April 18th, and best of all, the site is open to the public. There will be daily tours guided by a team member so visitors can get the full picture of the site while they watch the archaeologists at work. Meanwhile, the fittings that have already been excavated will be on display at the Museum of Skanderborg.

Reconstruction of the bridle showing placement of the fittings. Image courtesy the Museum of Skanderborg.The museum has created a website dedicated to the Fregerslev Viking excavation. (It’s in Danish only, so you may have to deploy an online translator.) Follow it to keep updated on new developments.

This very brief teaser video from the museum shows aerial shots of the find spot and X-rays of the fittings in the soil block.



5 thoughts on “Gilded horse bridle fittings found in Viking grave

  1. YƸƸ-HÅW !!! ..Elaborate, more or less ‘viking’, burials are on record.

    There is, for example, the much earlier ship burial from Sutton Hoo and the one that Ahmad ibn Fadlan described in 921AD, when he traveled from Baghdad to visit the Volga Bulgars and Rūs or Rūsiyyah.

    Thus, to see if anything similar might have happened here, would possibly be of great interest.

    PS: May I humbly ask, who Gorm the Old is, and which king Merethe is referring to ?


  2. Mea culpa :blush: – Turns out, ‘Gorm’ is in fact one of their most important kings himself. Adam of Bremen in ‘Gesta Hammaburgensis ecclesiae pontificum’: Abud Danos eo tempore Hardecnudth Vurm [filius Hardewigh] regnavit’.

  3. Deareme, there might indeed be a certain relation here, i.e. with a certain uncertainty:

    ‘Gorm’ seems to be related to go(u)rmand, and in Old Norse, ‘gor’ seems to be the term for ‘the cud in animals’ (cows, presumably). There is also a connotation to excessively ‘wolf down’ large quantities of food, but maybe also to the king’s ‘absolute’ dominion. To be ‘gormless’, in return, would then to be ‘vain’ (cf. ‘vanitas’).

    Maybe Adam of Bremen had a reason, when he wrote that Gorm’s father ‘Harthacnut’ came from ‘Nortmannia’ to Denmark. Just noticing, I have no idea why Adam of Bremen spelled ‘apud’ with a ‘b’ – maybe the stuff was scanned improperly. Note, however, that my first language is not English nor any of those languages, and I had so far no idea that ‘gormless’ even existed.

  4. Gorm means the “God-Worm”, see:
    Fda. Gorm , fvn. Gormr < *Goð ormR or *Goð-þormR < urnord. *Guða – ’gud’ + *wurmaR ’orm’ resp. en bildning till vb. fvn. þyrma ’vörda’. Jfr fda. Guththorm, fsv. Gudhthorm , fvn. Guðormr Guðþormr (See: Nordiskt runnamnslexikon. Those of you who are familiar with Anglo-Saxon history will know of itfrom the battles between Alfred and Guthorm.
    There is additional info here about the find and its wider context:

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