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Coin of King Alfred and King Ceolwulf II. Source: anglosaxon.archeurope

Stolen Viking Coin Hoard Worth £800,000 Sold to Undercover Police Officers in Britain


Real-life events can be just as dramatic as any fiction, as evidenced by the tale of stolen Viking coins, an undercover sting, and two men protesting their innocence. Collectors Craig Best and Roger Pilling have denied that they were trying to profit from selling 9th century Anglo-Saxon minted coins for almost £800,000 to an American buyer, despite knowing that the “ancient and extremely valuable” silver coins had to be declared to the Crown.

The Emperor Coin: Subverting Established Narratives

From the reign of King Alfred (reigned 871-899), the collection of 46 coins contained an extremely rare ‘Two Emperor’ coin, one of 13 ever recorded in history, which is worth £70,000 alone. The two amateur enthusiasts, who were dealing with the mystery representatives of this allegedly American buyer, found out that these representatives were, in fact, undercover police offers, reports The Guardian.

The coins are believed to be from a find known as the “Herefordshire Hoard”, produced between 874 and 879 AD, and were later buried by a Viking. The Herefordshire Hoard had been discovered in 2015 by two detectorists, who did not declare the ‘treasure’ and instead sold the items to dealers. All in all, the hoard consists of 186 silver coins, 1 item of gold jewellery, 6 items of silver jewellery and 15 silver ingots.

This may be one of the pieces of jewelry hoard objects: also found.  (Portable Antiquities Scheme/CC BY 3.0)

The coins, which date back to Viking times, were minted during "a violent and insecure period of history when the Vikings were crossing and conquering the land". They were described as being of immense historical significance because they were said to "represent an apparent monetary alliance between Wessex and Mercia”.

Historically, the other ruler on this Two Emperor coin, Ceolwulf II, has been portrayed in a negative light by the Saxons, as observed in the Anglo-Saxon chronicle, which described him as an ‘unwise thegn’. The chronicle further went on to further allege that he was put in place by the Viking army, and hold their kingdom for them until they needed it.

This propounded the myth that he was a puppet ruler of the Vikings, but these coins demonstrate something else altogether. What is indicated is a monetary alliance between Alfred and Ceolwulf, following a political alliance between the two rulers and the two kingdoms of Wessex and Mercia. As a result, the airbrushing of Ceolwulf II from history is finally being revisited and corrected by revisionist historians.

Criminal Charges and Concealing Vital Historical Information

A joint charge of conspiring to convert criminal property, and separate charges of possessing criminal property are being denied by the 46- and 73-year-old respectively. The coins are said to be of “enormous historical significance” and shed new light on the relationship between King Alfred of Wessex and Ceolwulf II of Mercia, who reigned between 874 and 879, reports The BBC.

The men were aware of the coins’ cultural and monetary value. The meeting took place at a hotel in Durham in May 2019, after which Mr. Best was arrested following the undercover operation. In the larger context, "the coins in this case are extremely significant for our understanding of the history of the unification of England".

Appearing for the Crown and chief prosecutor Matthew Donkin, told the court that, "The defendants have a history of searching for and acquiring ancient items, although it is no part of the prosecution case against them that they discovered the coins we are concerned about in this case. But someone discovered them. They are extremely rare ancient coins, and they have been dug up or unearthed by someone who chose not to declare them and allow for them to be vested in the Crown.”

He further elaborated that the Crown has proof that the two were plotting to sell the treasure, knew of its intrinsic and cultural value, and that they were not the true owners of said bounty. Pilling accepted possession of the coins, but denied he knew that they were criminal property, claiming that he had a long-standing history and interest in collecting historical coins and artefacts, reports The Telegraph. For the meanwhile, the trial continues.

Top image: Coin of King Alfred and King Ceolwulf II. Source: anglosaxon.archeurope

By Sahir Pandey


BBC. 2023. Men selling Anglo-Saxon haul arrested in sting, court told. Available at:

Brown, M. 2023. Two men accused of trying to sell rare Anglo-Saxon coins to undercover police. Available at:

Evans, M. 2023. Collectors tried to sell £800k hoard of ancient coins to undercover officers, court told. Available at:

Lawton, K. 2023. Two men conspired to sell hoard of Viking-era silver coins worth £760,000 before one was snared in undercover sting operation, court hears. Available at:

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I am a graduate of History from the University of Delhi, and a graduate of Law, from Jindal University, Sonepat. During my study of history, I developed a great interest in post-colonial studies, with a focus on Latin America. I... Read More

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