The Horn of Ulf
Drinking Horn, among the treasures of York Minster, England.
Writing in 1586, William Camden, said Ulf was a great landowner in the west of Deira (the Southern province of the old Kingdom of Northumbria, approximating to Yorkshire today). It is probable that he was one of the Danish Jarls who came to England with Cnut and became a royal favourite. Before his death, in about 1029, Ulf wanted to hand over his land to York Minster. The story goes that he rode to York with his drinking horn and after filling it with wine knelt before the altar and bestowed upon “God and the blessed St. Peter, Prince of the Apostles, all his lands and tenements”. To convey property by handing over a drinking horn was a custom of long standing among the Danes.
The origin of Ulf’s horn lies well beyond Denmark, however. The ornamental band engraved upon it is believed to be Persian in origin. This is due to the gryphons and other winged animals facing it; as well as the unicorn and lion facing one another with a three-branched tree between them. These figures have led scholars to conclude the Horn was made for use at the Feast of Narwruz or other Mithraic festivals. Cyril Bunt, who wrote a monograph about the Horn, believed it to be not earlier in date than the 10th Century and was likely “battered for good Danish gold or Anglo-Saxon slaves at Derbend, [a city now in the Republic of Dagestan, Russia] the entreport of the overland route from the Caspian littoral to the Baltic Sea”.
Drawing is taken from York Minster by Gordon Home, JM Dent and Sons Ltd, London 1936.