Ásbjôrn cut the stone

3 August, 2015

With this entry I collapse OtRR and let it rest for good.

Last week I read a rune stone text, 28 words or 122 runes. The lix number was 4.37 – how hard can it be? In the two preceding sentences there were 23 words and 81 characters.


Sö 213. Södermanlands runstenar, Sveriges runinskrifter Nybble, Överselö sn. The style is Pr3 – Pr4 (and the stones thus produced in the later part of the 11th century CE).

Runic inscription: s^tain : hiuk : esbern : stintn : at : uitum : bat miþ : runum : raisti : kyla : at : gaiRbern : boanta : sin :· auk · kofriþ : at : faþur : sin : han uaR : boanti : bestr i : kili : raþi : saR : kuni :

 In Old Norse: Stein hjó Ásbjôrn, steindan at vitum, batt með rúnum, reisti Gylla at Geirbjôrn, bónda sinn, ok Guðfríðr at fôður sinn. Hann var bóndi beztr í Kíli. Ráði sá kunni.

 In Modern English: Ásbjôrn cut the stone, painted as a marker, bound with runes. Gylla raised (it) in memory of Geirbjôrn, her husbandman; and Guðfríðr in memory of her father. He was the best husbandman in Kíll. Interpret, he who can!

For this, and much more information, see Samnordisk runtextdatabas http://www.nordiska.uu.se/forskn/samnord.htm

Relevant parts of Södermandlands runinskrifter, which is an old publication in Swedish, can be found at:



In this master thesis Þórhallur Þráinsson demonstrated that if one wished to design a rune stone arranging the layout in relation to a small number of proportionate circles that also helped the artist draw the contour lines would make it easy to paraphrase a Late Carolingian Iron Age, LCIA, rune stone. The principles were published in a small exhibition catalogue from Museum Gustavianum in 1999 (01). As an experiment a rune stone was produced, painted in the most common CIA colours and put in the university park face up to see what Scandinavian weather in the age of global warming would do to it. This is what it looks like today – the maintenance of rune stones must be included in the commemoration of the diseased.


Since we know about the design methods we shouldn’t read a completely preserved stone like Nybble until its layout has been understood. In this case we must take a small shortcut to understanding by accepting that someone other than the carver had perhaps chosen the stone. What then did it look like to begin with? We don’t precisely know that either because today the stone stands in a private garden partly buried in the ground and not in its original place and position, which was on the nearby Iron Age cemetery.



But if we lift it up and put it down on the ground by means of computer programmes we can make it a blank sheet shadowing its small uneven parts and start the planning:


We know the name of the man who ‘cut’ the stone and this verb is taken to mean ‘designed and cut or carved’. He was called Ásbjôrn or Aesbjorn to OtRR. Aesbjorn would have had in mind the text that was supposed eventually to be fitted into the decoration, and this text was divided into two parts as the Runtextdatabase has it:

A-text: Ásbjôrn cut the stone, painted as a marker, bound with runes. Gylla raised (it) in memory of Geirbjôrn, her husbandman; B-text: and Guðfríðr in memory of her father. He was the best husbandman in Kíll. Interpret, he who can!

Aesbjorn chose a quite common design that would allow these two texts more or less to form a circle, and thus first of all he had to find a centre and a circle to go with them. He gave this main circle a diameter of 48 units (02).

The planning starts in the prime centre (PC) and the carver intends to divide the decoration into an A- and a B-part related to the future inscription. Moreover, he wants there to be an upper, a central and a lower ornamental focus (uf, cf and lf) of the A-part. These three elements are to be based on each their 12-units circles.

The centre of the upper focus, the secondary centre (SC) is situated 17 units above PC. From SC a secondary line defined by a point (SP) 4 units to the right of PC on the horizontal diameter slopes into the A-part of the stone. The upper focus (uf) is the same point as SC and Aesbjorn defines the central focus (cf) as 16 units below uf and defines the lower focus (lf) as an additional 17 units further below uf on the secondary line. This means that the distance between the upper and the central circle is 4 units. Between the central and the lower circle there are 5 units.


The three 12-unit circles aim at balancing the composition and in addition following part of their periphery helps to outline the contours of the key decorative elements. To facilitate the drawing of these elements a number of smaller circles are used, and although some of these may have been fixed by coordinates in the layout there seems to be no point in trying to figure out how.

The smaller inner and outer contour circles in the B-part are there to make the serpent in this part smaller than the A-part animal with its larger circles. The larger circles in the upper part of the stone make the overlapping ‘head bends’ larger than the separated ‘tail bends’, which are kept together by a leash that binds together text and decoration.

The central four-footed animal with its 12/6-unit circle combination is the most impressive of the three key elements and if we think that is body is a bit narrow it is because its breadth equals 4 units.

Finally, the construction of an 8/7-unit pair of circles guiding the small animal’s long ‘crest’ has resulted in ‘constructed’ irregularities.


The composition is based on two united serpent-like animals. Between them and probably bridging them stands the large four-footed animal, which is usually considered to be the Lion of Judah or Christ from the Book of Revelation, 5:5.

If we look at the A- and B-text they are different in a way that matches the decoration. The A-text is the important one, B is more straightforward and dependant on A. The widowed Gylle, the deceased Geirbjorn and Aesbjorn crowd the A-text and they have the lion’s powerful front among them. The B-text relates to Guðfríðr who commemorates her father repeating Gylle’s statement adding that her father was the best of Kil men. In the end she asks the reader to interpret the monument. This last sentence refers back to the beginning of the text since that is where the monument is described by Aesbjorn. Most often carvers mention themselves in the very end of a text – not so Aesbjorn, who proudly declares: Stein hjó Ásbjôrn, steindan at vitum, batt með rúnum … . The database has is:’Ásbjôrn cut the stone, painted as a marker, bound with runes ‘. The transation is correct, but not so faithful to the poet who wrote this part of the inscription as of a strophe. Viti means ‘a marker’, but so does the more frequent word mark and there is more to the word viti. Choosing viti, which is the same word as wit, Aesbjorn wants to make something known in a more manifest or extrovert way and at vitum could be translated ‘to witting’ in the dialectic sense: knowledge or awareness of something. That is why he also uses the verb steinda which means paint, but so does the more common word faði. Aesbjorn chose steinda because he needed an alliteration on stein, but steinda nevertheless has an emphasized element of adding something to something enhancing it as in the term stained glass – to colour, therefore, is a better choice than to paint if we think that stained is too negative. Batt með rúnum means bound with runes referring no doubt to the two-serpent layout carrying the runes. Thus the two first lines of the strophe run:

Stein hjó Ásbjôrn, steindan at vitum,
batt með rúnum, reisti Gylla

Aesbjorn cut the stone coloured (stained) to witting
Bound with runes Gylle raised it

Grammatically, with their insertions these two lines are but an unfinished statement waiting for

at Geirbjôrn, bónda sinn —‘after Geibjorn her husband’ to conclude the strophe.

The whole strophe therefore amounts to:


The first two lines are emphatic and repetitive, but that of course is meant to be contrasted by the less rigid concluding line that includes the strophe’s only anacrusis. From a rhythmic point of view the translation would be better if Geirbjorn was Gylle’s ‘lord’:

Aesbjorn cut the stone, stained to witting,
bound with runes, Gylle raised it
after Geirbjorn her lord.

It’s a Ljóðaháttr statement and the A-text therefore is poetry, the B-text (just) prose, albeit divided into three distinct parts: … and Guðfríðr in memory of her father.| He was the best husband in Kil. | Interpret, he who can!

The database has ‘husbandman’ for bónda, but why Geirbjorn should be a small landower or tenant rather than a yeoman is difficult to say. Bónda would seem to allude to the master of a household. Geirbjorn in his social capacity as a bónda unites the two different texts, the commemorators and the two serpents, which represent a basic divide and unity among those left behind.

I think it is fair to suggest that Ráði sá kunni—‘Interpret, he who can’ alludes to the text :: design relation, that is, ‘the text in interacting tandem with the design’. There are obviously interpretations that we can defend: the two serpents represent Miðgard and its people, among whom there are greater and smaller ones. The Lion of Judah, nevertheless, is there for everybody. So far so good, but when we read the text this ‘decorative’ meaning is not the only truth. Kil stands out as a miniature Miðgard and when a person dies the diseased belongs to the whole of Kil/Miðgard, the A- and B-text respectively, protected by Christ on doomsday. This kind of interactive interpretation will soon become guesswork only, albeit perhaps true, and that I think is the reason why ráði sá kunni—‘Interpret, he who can’ has been chosen as a conclusion. Checking the number of syllables and the meaning of words as well as the size and position of circles is not enough

Before we conclude that every one of us thinks the artist does construct too much, we shouldn’t forget that Aesbjorn added a new kind of metaphor to his verse: (the stone is) steindan at vitum—‘stained to witting’, perhaps it meant something even to the stone – perhaps Aesbjorn had true north on his poetic compass. This is not quite unbelievable since on Selaön of all places the text on a contemporary rune stone Sö 197 ends with a quite common prayer, which nevertheless stands out as singular because it is grammatically transformed and reformulated as the first rhyming pair of qualitative iambic trimeters in Swedish poetry. There’s a new one:


Metaphors and iambic verse – something happened to the poetry on Selaön in the 11th century. ráði sá kunni!



(01) See Þórhallur Þráinsson. 1999. The exhibition sketches. In Eija Lietoff (ed.). Rune stonesa colourful memory, pp. 21–21. Museum Gustavianum. Uppsala as well as, Þórhallur Þráinsson. 1999. Traces of Colour. In Eija Lietoff (ed.). Runestonesa Colourful Memory, pp. 21–30. Museum Gustavianum. Uppsala.

(02) Since the greatest height of the carving was 1.36 m and the breadth 1.38 m it stands to reason that the circle was 4.5 foot in diameter and the foot thus ((136+138)/2)/4.5=30.44 cm. The unit Aesbjorn used was 1½ inch.



This week on the Reading Rest I have a short text by Hotrsvit of Gandersheim (cf. OtRR 9 juni 2014): Her 35 hexameters describing scenes related to the Apocalypse of St John.


Research concerning Hrotsvit and her plays is characterized by a remarkable reluctance to make head and tails of the 10th century dramatic texts that Hrotsvit included in the manuscript called Clm 14885 (1). Originally Codices latini monacenses 14885 was a book produced at the Gandersheim canoness abbey where Hrotsvit lived. The book was sent to St. Emmeram’s in Regensburg some time between 968 and 993 ce and sent to Regensburg where it is known to have been 993. Originally the book comprising 346 pages. It was divided into three parts, and it was a purposeful collection composed by the author. The first part of the book consists of eight saints’ legends, the second of eight dramatic texts and the last one is a long poem Gesta Ottonis describing the life of Otto the Great until 965 CE.

The origin of the scholarly ‘Hrotsvit problem’ is rooted in the question: how can a nun in a cloister write plays? And if she did how could they be staged in a nunnery, not least when prostitutes and their clients figure in the plays with very realistic and even ironic lines?

Today, seven of the plays are accepted as indeed plays and Hrotsvit’s very existence is no longer doubted, but most researches aren’t sure that the plays were ever staged. Some, moreover, are convinced that Hrotsvit never expected them to be staged because it would be technically impossible especially in a nunnery. During the last 150 years scholars have asymptotically resisted accepting her plays. Nevertheless, as Katherina Wilson pointed out in the introduction to her translation of the second part of Clm 14885: most Hrotsvit scholars now agree that they [i.e. the plays] were eminently performable. (2)

Performable or performed? One wonders, because looking into the research history from the mid-19th century and onwards, it stands to reason that this question – performed or performable? – would not have been an issue had Hrotsvit been a man. Typical of the Hrotsvit research, her works are dismissed as not being actual theatre if one can suspect that they do not fit or influence a common-place understanding of the development of drama or a common-place understanding of religious institution.

To complicate matters there is the Apocalypse of St John, which Hrotsvit included among the plays. Actually, the last of the seven dialogical plays comes to an end on folio 129 recto leaving the next page, folio 129 verso, empty before the Apocalypse of John commences at the top of folio 130 recto with a first line that is also a revealing title:

John, the male virgin, saw the Heavens disclosed


Instead of letting folio 129 verso be an empty page, a quotation from Bede, four elegiac distics, the very end of a hymn in which the first letters forms the word AMEN, has been inserted to fill the blank and otherwise wasted page. The hymn, moreover, points out female chastity which is a central theme in the plays. The added comment about those who walk the road to salvation points in the same direction – perhaps too pedagogically. As a way of making use of a superfluous page of parchment the solution and is nevertheless relatively elegant since someone – probably with an alert feminine mind – must immediately have understood what to do and advised the a canoness Gandersheim scribe to continue with ‘John’ on top of folio 130 recto – and something dramatic, albeit completely different.

The hexameters concerning the Apocalypse of St John stand out as comments that someone guiding a group of people could read aloud while pointing at a number of pictures with motives from the Book of Revelation. This text, therefore, is not an obvous play – for instance, there is not dialogue – and so one may wonder why it was included among the plays, i.e. the drama section. Guided by Helene Homeyer’s edition (3) and Katherina Wilson translation one could begin with establishing a text and its structure:

1 The virgin John saw the heavens openILLU00
and beheld the Father of all on His resplendent throne,
Surrounded by a row of twice twelve elder
Who glittered with gleaming crowns,
5 All dressed in robes of gleaming white;
He also saw at the enthroned King’s right hand
A book whose secret no man can learn.
This angel here, seeking a worthy man, finds none
Who could solve the seal of the secret book.
10 He consoles John who is weeping
As he explains that the lamb can solve the seals.
Behold the secrets of the book lay open for the slain lamb
Whose praise Heaven’s citizens soon sing;
Behold the Faith’s martyrs bearing witness near the altar with clear voices.
15  They receive robes glittering with gleaming whiteness.
The angel, arriving from the direction of the rosy sunrise,
Marks the Eternal King’s servants on their foreheads
Afterwards John beheld many standing there in white,
Praising the lamb, and carrying palm leaves in hand.
20 Behold Heaven’s citizens are silent for half an hour.
He stood at the sacred altar with a censer
And carried incense, symbolizing the faithful’s holy prayers.
Behold, a woman glitters surrounded by the splendid sun.
Adorned with a gleaming crown of twice twelve stars
25  A snake wants to devour her tender young son,
But the dragon is defeated, the boy is lifted to the Lord*
And the dragon has fallen from Heaven and is cast to earth.
Behold the lamb standing here on the Mount the Zion,
And the company of virgins singing new songs.
30  The beast attacks the saint with all the dragon’s might;
But Truth† has laid him low; arriving on a white steed,
He whips the ancient snake to savage Tartarus
Behold the books of life are held open to the dead
And alive they rise freed from the chains of death
35  Soon all receive their due according to their merits.

* I have supplied this line since it was lost in Wilson 1989:152.
† Actually Verax – i.e. truth personified.
‡ The line Iste ligat veterem sub Tartara saeva draconem or in plain
prose: Iste ligat sub Tartara veterem saeva draconem means:
‘He binds under Tartarus the ancient furious dragon’. As it says in
Relevation 20:2-3: ‘[2] And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent,
which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years,
[3] And cast him into the bottomless pit, ….’ Tartarus is a deep
mythological ancient Greek abyss.


The hexameters are a kind of stage directions and pedagogical information pointed out to listeners and spectators, descriptions and information that a guide will tell an audience when guiding it through a series of tableaus illustrating parts of the Apocalypse of John.

There are two elements in these hexameters: the tableaus and the action and movements referred to as happening in them. But there is one tableau without action and some action that doesn’t take place in a scene. These element constitute the beginning of the text – that is the first 11 hexameters. To begin with we see a tableau with no movement, then an angel walks out of it with a book looking for someone. The angel finds John who leads her to next tableau which consequently is a tableau more vivant.


The second tableau or scene is built around an altar in a church.


In the end of the second scene there is the 30 minute intermission, after the opening of the seventh seal, which in practice will allow the audience to leave the church while John is symbolizing payers.

The third scene is outdoors, but before we leave the church there is a point in imagining how the church scenes could be realized. If we look at the plan of a 9/10th c. church, these revelation will make sense.


What happens in the first 22 Hexameters is tied together by bringing a book from the throne of the Lord to a crucifix – or a representation of Christ – at the altar in the other end of the church and later to create a pause in which the audience can leave the church and go outside to the next tableau-vivant, which is a performance divided into two scenes. One is an ascension the other Judgement day.



It is the beast that binds together the last scenes. It may seem difficult to arrange these tableaus, such as illustrating the dead who rise on Judgement Day, but given that there are quite a number of prehistoric inhumation cemeteries next to settlements, it is not impossible to let the dead rise as individuated human being – and that would make quite an impression. Complications such as Christ standing at Mount Zion and at the same time slaying the beast are solved by introducing Verax on the white steed. The beast of course shall have to be masked and dressed up like a beast/dragon/snake and eventually thrown into a pit in order to disappear.

The Ganderheim Abbey, which was a very large estate and engaged in high-quality education of upper-class girls, would not have had any economic problems creating the tableaus. White, symbolically important in the tableaus, was the favourite colour of the church clothes in Gandersheim and a very good contrast to the beast.

The Apocalypse of John is not a theatre play. Instead its affinities with passion plays is obvious. The second part of Clm 14485 therefore blends plays with an affinity to pre-Christian Rome, the first 7 plays, with an example of the more orthodox performances usually seen as typically Medieval. Although the Apocalypse of John is extravagant, it may nevertheless have entertained the Imperial court on its visits to Gandersheim. A central educational institution in the Holy Roman Empire could very well afford the installation, not least why there was quite a lot of singing in the scenes and song education was central to the canoness abbeys.

There is absolutely no reason why these tableaus and small scenes should not have be staged and performed. The poetical value of these matter-of-fact hexameters is negligible since they have no other purpose than guiding and informing someone looking at the tableaus or wanting to build them. Because the performance puts the two sides of Christ – the valiant dragon slayed and the slain lamb – into a meaningful context, they are pedagogically essential in a transitional religious phase. The last scene, to which the others built up, starting with a visions in the church ending with the dead actually rising in the open on Judgement day, is genuinely theatrical and dramatic – that’s Hrotsvit for you, always acutely aware of a dramatic situation and its climax. The monster slayer arriving on the white horse is spectacular, and the idea of ‘holding the books of life open to the dead’, that is above their graves for them to see, rather than just opening them as it says in the Apocalypse (Rev 20:12) is a significant example, since it creates something as mundane a cause and effect situation to the belief that the dead will rise to receive their due. The emphasis on what it says in books — on knowledge and the reproduction of correct knowledge is central to the Apocalypse of John (4).

Even today, similarly to what Chasles did in the 1870s, one finds some very conscious compositions when studying Hrotsvit. Her consciousness must not be overlooked and she must be taken serious, since it is unlikely that we have detected structures and meanings that she never thought of.

Hrotsvit research has for quite a while managed to overlook significant details, and chosen actively to hide behind some suitable kind of doubt rather than accepting the greater pattern of her work and writings. The Apocalypse of St. John, therefore, is seldom mentioned or analyzed in an unprejudiced way. Nobody has though that Bede’s AMEN was a conscious part of the composition of Clm 14485. That book in its turn was not considered a literary work in its own right.

The scholarly treatment of Hrotsvit is one of a most impressive and naïvely unconscious downgrades of a very structured female authorship – even by most of those who see themselves as her advocates.


(0) This is an old quotation from Chasles (1876:306), who after having understood that Hrotsvit’s plays were rhymed concluded: Peut-on nommer cela de la prose? Evidemment la religieuse a écrit en vers sans le savoir—‘Can one call this prose? Apparently the religious (fem.) has written in verse without knowing it’. Evidently, Chasles was puzzled by the chimera that emerged when something, which he himself had cleverly figured out, albeit with some difficulty, might perhaps have been intended by a nun 900 years earlier. Chasles, Philarète 1876. Le Moyen Age. Paris. Charpentier et Cie.

(1) Today at WWW one can look at this manuscript from St. Emmeram’s monastery in Regensburg, kept in the collections of the Bayerischen Staatsbibliothek München
on the web at this address:

(2) See Wilson (1989:xxx) in Wilson, Katherina M. 1989. The plays of Hrotsvit of Gandersheim. New York. Garland Publishing.

(3) Homeyer (1970:376-80) is indispensable. See Homeyer, Helene. 1970. Hrotsvithae Opera. Mit Einleitung und Kommentar. München, Paderborn, Wien. Ferdinand Schöningh.

(4) Lately Julia Becker has discussed the importance of precise knowledge and its transfer in the 9th century – the library at Lorsch being her example.  Becker, Julia. 2015. Präsenz, Normierung und Transfer von Wissen: Lorsch als „patristische Zentralbibliothek“. In: Julia Becker, Tino Licht, and Stefan Weinfurter (eds). Karolingische Klöster: Wissenstransfer und Kulturelle Innovation. Walter De Gruyter. Berlin. Pp. 71-87.

This week On the Reading Rest I have a small report in Danish from an excavation in Jutland. This kind of report is called a developer’s report. It is a short description of an excavation partly paid for by the developer because prehistoric remains would have been damaged by the planned construction work. In this case the archaeologists responsible for the excavation and the report have chosen among other things to present a house from the period 400 to 550 CE, that is the Early Pre Carolingian Iron Age. The site is called ‘Domdalsgård’ or ‘Dooms dale Farm’ and although this direct translation is probably not correct I shall comment upon the house calling it Doomsdale.

Illu 00

Terkildsen, Kamilla Fiedler and Boddum, Sanne 2011.Domdalsgård: gravplads fra ældre romersk jernalder, landsby fra ældre og yngre germansk jernalder (Domdalsgård: Cemetery from Early Roman Iron Age, Village from Early and Late Germanic Iron Age). Bygherrerapport nr. 61. Viborg Museum. ISBN 978-87-92778-11-6  http://www.viborgstiftsmuseum.dk/data/imagemanager/pdf/61_domdalsgaard.pdf


Illu02On today’s farm the dwelling houses are small in comparison with dairy barns and manure basins because milk production at an industrious scale shapes the farm and its farmland, as well as and the agricultural firm called I/S Søndergaard that runs the estate. The relation employee:milk-cow is c. 1:75. It’s modern market-sensitive Denmark.


In the 5th century when Doomsdale was built, times were different and for the first time in centuries the byre or ‘the dairy barn’, in those days part of a main house, stated to become shorter than the dwelling quarters. This change was pointed out OtRR: 16 April, 2012, and exemplified by the St Darum village. In this regulated village the change was more marked and probably the result of a change in the agricultural economy favouring crops over cattle. The byres shrank and the dwelling quarters grew – the cattle became fewer and there were more people in the household. The number of heads would have balanced each other.

At Doomsdale which might be a somewhat earlier farm the proportions dwelling:byre are a little more balanced, but Doomsdale is still a typical EPCIA building because of its formalized planning, but also a little odd.


Usually in the PCIA the proportions between the lengths of the rooms were expressed in even numbers of feet. The central main room with the hearth was the largest room. The private quarters above the heath room were larger but divided into the gable room and the chamber. In most PCIA farms the outer room was not smaller than the chamber and frequently larger probably as a reflection of the number of farm hands in the household. In Doomsdale this is not the case although a minimal change from the proportions 8-12-17-11, 5 to 8-12-17-12 would have been a natural solution if proportions mattered as much as they usually did.

Other proportional solution such as:

A four room residence with lovely chambers and a capacious central room featuring 8-12-18-10 ft. proportions …


The classical balanced 48 ft. room solution: 8-12-16-12 ft., often favoured on better farms in Southern Jutland …

simply didn’t fit Doomsdale.

The size of the gable room is a consequence of the roof construction, but the three other rooms are there to express a social and practical balance. When we visit one of the evenly proportioned farm we understand that there are quite a number of farmhand and that the private quarters in the upper end of the house are capacious. The central room, therefore, may be a bit crowded, but that was probably just as it ought to be on a busy modern farm. Visiting Doomsdale, on the other hand, would give the impression that the farm hands were few or their living quarters crammed, the central room was large and the chambers capacious. This would have reminded one of a Late Roman Iron Age situation being an echo of the time when cattle were more important, and large farm owners larger.


In the byre part of the house there are no simple proportions other than the ones that were dependent upon the construction of the house. This is quite a modern trait compared to Southern Jutland where the post setting in this part of the house was functional, mirroring the construction of the cow’s compartments, dividing this part of the main farm house into byre and barn. At Doomsdale the post pairs were probably spread out evenly east of the entrance room in order to support the roof in a rational way. This solution probably involved measuring, but also small factions of the foot which cannot be measured on an excavation plan. The general impression of the main house would thus have been a mixture of rooms mirroring the social order of the household as well as rational and practical solutions to house construction. Compared to the RIA the byre part of the house would have lost a little of its ideologically inspired Early Iron Age design.


As mentioned, the technical construction of the building shows in the distance between the short end of the house and the nearest post pair – eight feet. In reality, however, this distance is linked to a relation between the wall plate in the corner of the house and the first roof-supporting trestle. Doomsdale was built according to a proportional system which starts with a rule of the thumb stating that if the distance from the short end to the first trestle is equal to 2 and the distance from the wall plate to the side ridge equals 1, then all the roof angles in the house will fit a thatch roof, if the height of the post in the trestle is 4, given that 2 equals the wall height. In this case the central ridge will be 5 units above the ground. Moreover, owing to the rounded corners, and supported by the first trestle and the side ridges, the rafters from the short end will meet with the rafters from the side roofs in one and the same point at the central top ridge. This will not happen if the wall height isn’t equal to the distance from the short end to the first trestle. Consequently, wall height at Doomsdale equals 8 feet, i.e. 2×4 feet. The total height of the house was thus 4×5 = 20 feet, i.e. 0.312×20 = 6.24 meter.

In the ever more open Early Iron Age landscape finding the necessary timber in order to build a house gets more and more difficult and there is thus a great point in being able beforehand to figure out the dimensions needed to build the house. In tandem it becomes all the more important to build large main houses as a symbol of the status of the owner. Social competition is in other words important and little by little architecture turns away from the functionalism of the Pre Roman Iron Age to the formality and rational technique of the Early Pre Carolingian Iron Age. There is a short revival of the functional ideal in the beginning of the Late Carolingian Iron Age, but Harold Bluetooth, who else, sees to it that formalism gets back in business (cf. OtRR 11 August, 2014).

This week On the Reading Rest I have a report in Swedish from a rescue excavation in an urban exploitation area. During the last 10-15 years archaeologists from UV Syd have pieced together the history of a number of Early Iron Age (EIA) villages and farms in the hinterland of historical Helsingborg, One of these is Gustavslund.

ILLU 00Aspeborg, Håkan & Strömberg, Bo. 2014. H. Aspeborg (red.) Gustavslund – en by från äldre järnålder. Skåne, Helsingborgs stad Husensjö 9:25 (Gustavslund), RAÄ 184. UV Rapport 2014:132. Riksantikvarieämbetet. http://samla.raa.se/xmlui/handle/raa/7729?show=full Acronym: HASB

Today, an area in the outskirts of the town. The present Gustavslund farm (18th c. Mårtenstorp – Martin’s thorp) was founded in 1792 when surveyors established the boundaries of the property and eventually, in 1810, carried out a land consolidation.

ILLU 01By 1810 the EIA settlement area was situated in the grassland at the eastern border of the estate and the westerns border of neighbouring farms. Probably the settlement remains had been invisible and forgotten for more than a millennium. Protected by its peripheral situation in the historical landscape, in itself typical EIA situation, the location of the prehistoric settlement was model – homesteads sitting between two water causes, c. 3 km from Öresund, a little below a flat hilltop, on a slope facing the SW, above a small wetland and brooks suitable for water-meadows – model, but not exceptional. Today, large parts of the settlement area have been excavated accommodating infrastructure, housing and private company offices along a road. This road follows an old N-S divide in the landscape, a parish border as well as the border of Gustavslund. When this zone was made a ring road, Österleden, in the late 20th century no excavations took place at Gustavslund and some parts of the settlement area were damaged prior to the investigations in the early 2000s. The southwestern parts of the settlement have not yet been excavated probably because they are not yet threatened by the growing town.

ILLU 02 Similar to the excavations at Västerås – the focus of OtRR 6 October 2014, 1 December, 2014 and 3 November, 2014 – once begun by Håkan Aspeborg, HA in the above acronym, the excavations in the outskirts of Helsingborg have been archaeologically most rewarding. And the present report adds considerably to the overall picture.

HASB has identified four settlement sites – three in the present report and one in an earlier publication (1). They conclude that in the centuries around the beginning of the Common Era the settlement area was a small village consisting of (at least?) four farms and covering c. 400×200 m or 8 ha. This village may be described as a settlement phase in which suitable, but spatially loosely defined sites, which had been used sporadically in the preceding centuries, were now permanently settled for a longer period.

The 14C-dates give a general picture of the chronology of settlement in the area with a strong emphasis on the centuries around the beginning of the Common Era. Precisely dating the beginning of this village period is difficult, owing to the flat calibration curve, but the end of the village phase is less difficult to pinpoint.

ILLU 03Because of the general character of the 14C-dates we may add the ones from the earlier excavations in the eastern part of the village and look at the chronology of the 4-farm village, as HASB do when they sum up Gustavslund (HASB:73-88). The site was used sporadically for hundreds of years before the village was established in the late PRIA and given up in the ERIA. Nevertheless, the area that was once the central part of the village saw stray presence as late as the 5th century CE.


Analyzing the 14C-tests in Bcal (2), we can date the end of the village relatively sharply, modelling it in three ways. First (A) we may consider that the tests that belong to the last 20 14C-years of the village period represent the end of the settlement. There are six tests dated between 1953 and 1933 bc. Modelling the end of this phase returns the period 31 to 137 CE with a 95% probability and 56 to 94 CE with a 68% probability.

We may also (B) consider that these last six dates represent the same end date and pool them. In that case the pooled date is somewhere between 22 to 85 CE with a 95% probability and 52 to 75 CE with a 68% probability. This analysis neutralizes the probabilities stretching into the 2nd c. CE, induced by the calibration curve, but the basic hypothesis is nevertheless questionable.

Lastly (C), we may ask what the probability is that a certain year is older than the end of the village phase. This analysis returns the most reasonable understanding of the end date – a date in the last half of the first century CE. Method one and two match each other supporting the interpretation that the village was abandoned in the later part of the 1st c. CE. When we know this we may start wondering why it existed for c. 200 years.


One of the main topics discussed by HASB in connection with the EIA settlements around Helsingborg is the production of ceramics during the LPR- and ERIA – the centuries around the beginning of the Common Era (3). Potsherds are abundant on these sites and together with several ovens at Gustavslund as well as nearby Backen and Ramlösagården, they indicate a production in excess of household needs. On the two former sites there was probably no, or very limited, iron production, which means that hearth areas, wells, pit shelters/houses and the odd lump of fine clay are more clearly linked to pottery production.

Since most people made their own, selling ceramics (or for that matter iron tools) in the PRIA was probably not big business. The production therefore begs the question: to whom would the potters at Backen, Gustavslund and Ramlösagården have sold their pots with a profit? And: could the people at Gustavslund pack their wagons and set out on a tour selling ceramics to the coastal population between Halmstad and Malmö competing with their neighbours from Ramlösagården?

The answer is: No! In order for producers or traders to distribute household ware it takes a regionally developed infrastructure, suitable wagons, large scale pottery firing and not least market places where people would buy all kinds of commodities. There is no archaeological evidence for such a complex economic system, investments or power-structured society in the PRIA. Alternatively, bearing in mind the settlement expansion east of today’s Helsingborg, we may argue that in the end of the PRIA pottery production and settlement, such as the 4-farm village Gustavslund, were two sides of the same coin.

The chronological settlement pattern of Gustavslund as well as that of the Backen settlement, 1.5 km North of Gustavslund, are typical: sporadic – concentrated – stray, but also characterized by pottery production in excess of household needs (4).

ILLU 07Nevertheless, Backen and perhaps also Filborna and Påarp (5) were closed down in the first part of the EIA expansion. However, 14C-wise, it would seem that Backen could have been moved to become the North farm in Gustavslund when settlements were concentrated to the village. This is obviously difficult to prove, but is it likely that the seemingly instant foundation of the 4-farm village was not the result of a growth of population, but rather the result of farms (and people) moving to a certain location at a certain point in time. The village was founded and four settlement sites that had been used now and again over the years were permanently settled.

ILLU 06This patterns implies a clue to answering the question: to whom did the potters sell their pots? Instead of thinking up an anachronistic economy with markets, transportation and exchange of simple commodities such as pots, it is more rewarding to understand villages such as Gustavslund to be markets in themselves or trade stations where good quality pots are produced and bartered or sold to people who arrive there from the inland to sell their products and as a fringe benefit buy good quality pots difficult to produce in the woodlands. What the trappers would sell is not necessarily sold to the people of Gustavslund, but rather to people who would move valuable the goods out of Scania. Villages such as Gustavslund and Ramlösagården are attractive to trappers, locals and traders, since villages facilitate transhipment and trade as well as the production of pots.

But is there any indications of inland Scania and Småland being exploited by trappers settled in the inland at this early date? Indirectly there is a find pattern suggesting this.

ILLU 08The low value Roman coins minted in the centuries around the beginning of the Common Era are typical in their distribution (1) in the coastland, (2) the inland and (3) possibly along routes of communication between inland and coastland (cf. OnRR 23 January, 2012). The presence of these coins and their distribution can be explained if we look at them as counters, tokens or IOUs in transactions between, a trader, a trapper and a middlemen. Limited and controlled, as such a system needs to be in order to be fair, it is nevertheless, a system that could turn products such as good quality ceramics (as well as iron tools) into a commodity. In such a system there is a point in concentrating potters and craftsmen in a village, because it will make the village more interesting to those involved in the system. The low-value or, in terms of real metal value, almost worthless Roman coins, have the advantage of being difficult to counterfeit. On the other hand: the closer South Scandinavia gets to Roman economy, the easier the access to low value coins. However, if the introduction of this coinage into the system cannot be controlled, then the system will probably collapse after having been sabotaged by coins that have not been introduced as payment for commodities traded within the system. If this happens, that is, if stakeholders get the feeling that there are more coins in the system than they have agreed, then Roman coins will tend to cause distrust within the systems. Thus enhanced economic activity in EIA society will probably lead to the introduction of weighed bullion as payment, as indeed it does in the LRIA.

A similar development can be seen in the transition from E- to LCIA. In the 8th century low value coins (sceattas) were minted in Ribe and used with a nominal value on the market – being the coins of this market, which was under some sort of control (6). Nevertheless, in the economic boom of the 9th and 10th c. silver weight economy carried the day in South Scandinavia. In most of the 10th c. Arabic dirhams and fragments down to a quarter were used in market places in order to speed up transaction time without losing track of their real value. They were thought of and represent a certain, small, amount of pure silver. In the end of the 10th c. coins with a nominal value are reintroduced as a royal coinage sometimes strongly linked to a market as in the Swedish case of King Olof Skötkonung and Sigtuna (7) .

To sum up: in a fairly low structured society with a limited power control and little spatial authority, booming economies make it difficult to handle economically sound notions such as nominal values. The reason for this is simple: during a boom transactions cannot be confined to organized markets and production places large enough to create and sustain their own coinage. Instead prices can be negotiated everywhere – not in relation to the commodities of a controlled market, but in relation to the value of a precious metal such as silver.

Owing to initial contacts with the Roman world economy, the economic raison d’être of a potters’ villages as an embryonic production and market place or trade station may well have become a fact. If so access to good clays, skills and local control of power were behind this possibility to satisfy a demand. When these contacts boomed local economic raison d’être disappeared. This change could be expressed in many very different way. That is why we may describe it as the end of the village as well as the ability of trappers, potters and middlemen to organize themselves in inland settlement areas during the prosperous RIA.



(1) Aspeborg, Håkan. 2012. Österleden vatten, etapp 2 Skåne, Helsingborgs kommun, Helsingborgs stad, Husensjö 9:25, RAÄ 261. Arkeologisk förundersökning 2011. Uv rapport 2012:31. http://samla.raa.se/xmlui/bitstream/handle/raa/5305/uvr2012_031.pdf?sequence=1

(2) The BCal team comprises Caitlin Buck, Geoff Boden, Andrés Christen, Gary James and Fred Sonnenwald. The URL for the service (http://bcal.sheffield.ac.uk). The paper that launched it was Buck C.E., Christen J.A. and James G.N. 1999. BCal: an on-line Bayesian radiocarbon calibration tool. Internet Archaeology, 7. (http://intarch.ac.uk/journal/issue7/buck/).

(3) There is a thorough formal analysis of the ceramic from Gustavslund by Thorbjörn Brorsson that analysis adds significantly to the value of the material.
(Brorsson, T. 2014. Den förromerska och romerska keramikens kronologi och funktion – exempel från Gustavslund I Helsingborg. Appendix 8 in HASB:190-222).

In view what will probably be included of her PhD. dissertation, Katarina Botwid has written an innovative preliminary assessment of the ceramic craftsmanship in EIA Gustavslund, with but a short discussion of the empirical basis for the qualitative categorizations of the craft.
(Botwid, K. 2014. Hantverkstolkning av keramik – en undersökning av forntida keramikers hantverksskicklighet, Appendix 9 in HASB:223-246).

(4) Strömberg, Bo. 2011. Österleden etapp 3, Helsingborg. En hantverksgård från äldre järnålder vid Backen, Helsingborg. Fördjupad förundersökning. Skåne, Helsingborgs stad, Husensjö, fornlämning 265. Uv rapport 2011:138.

(5) Larsson, Rolf and Söderberg, Bengt. 2004. Filborna by – Gård och by i ett långt tidsperspektiv. UV SYD Arkeologiska för- och slutundersökningar Rapport 2004:26. http://samla.raa.se/xmlui/handle/raa/3884

Aspeborg, Håkan. 2012. In: H. Aspeborg med bidrag av Nathalie Becker (red). Arkeologisk undersökning. En storgård i Påarp. Skåne, Välluv socken, Påarp 1:12, RAÄ 22 och 43. UV Syd, dokumentation av fältarbetsfasen 2002:1. http://samla.raa.se/xmlui/handle/raa/6217 .

(6) Feveile, Claus. 2008. Series X and coin circulation in Ribe. In: Tony Abramson (ed.) Two Decades of Discovery. Studies in Early Medieval coinage. Vol. 1. Woodbridge. The Boydell Press. Pp 53-66.

(7) Herschend, Frands. 1992. What Olof had in mind. Fornvännen vol. 87. Stockholm. Pp. 19-31.

This week On the Reading Rest I have an article from Antiquity. It concerns strontium 87Sr/86Sr values in human skeletons from the Carolingian Iron Age. Measuring 87Sr/86Sr values in tooth enamel will disclose the strontium bioavailability in the environment where the human being lived when the tooth enamel was formed, i.e. where the person grew up. If these values are compared to the baseline values in a certain environment we may speak of a possible match or mismatch between the values of a tested person and the baseline values – most often a spectrum – characterizing the area where this person’s skeleton was found. A match indicates that the test person grew up in the area in question and died there, while a mismatch suggests that the person at some stage in life moved into the area perhaps only to die there.

Since some areas are more uniquely defined than others and since areas may vary in size, the analysis and interpretation may be more or less rewarding. However, if we want to check prehistoric migration 87Sr/86Sr values may be surprisingly revealing not least owing to our present-day reluctance to believe in prehistoric migration without manifest proof, which in practice rather than formally there might be in 87Sr/86Sr values.


fig 00Price et al. 2011. Douglas T. Price, Karin Margarita Frei, Andres Siegfried Dobat, Niels Lynnerup and Pia Bennike. Who was in Harold Bluetooth’s army? Strontium isotope investigation of the cemetery at the Viking Age fortress at Trelleborg, Zeeland. Antiquity; Jun 2011; 85. Pp. 476-89. Acronym: WiHaBa.

In Viking Age research, Harold Bluetooth is usually considered a very Danish political player and an emblem of state formation. His nationalistic centrepiece as we know it, is nevertheless an odd one on several legs: his equation: Christianity = The Church, his building projects, his quest for formal geometrical architecture, his ahistorical modernity in which he cunningly incorporates the past, as well as his use of text and rune stone ornament as propaganda. This make him stand out as outlandish – introducing all kinds of European novelties and uniformities that today’s neo-nationalists/fascists in Denmark would have frown at and compared to intolerable EU directives, had they been able to draw historical parallels. Many academics on the other hand, think that Harold is interesting because to their mind his measures look like steps towards the foundation of the Christian Medieval Kingdom, the future ‘Nation State’ and eventually even ‘The Viking’ – once signs of civilisation, nowadays tarnished phenomena reduced to the mantras of neo-nationalists – but nevertheless part of Danish history.

Despite his endeavour, one may question Harold’s success as the king who reigned for decades changing country and society. Although he may have been king for several years (‘fifty’ his grandson Sweyn Estridsson thought when (c. 970) he wanted to please Adam of Bremen) it is unlikely that Harold gained supreme power until a couple of years after the death of his father, that is, c. 965 CE. By c. 985 his rule was over after the war with Otto II (974) and a power struggle, started c. 980 by his son Sweyn Forkbeard. Harold-Bluetooth’s rule, as demonstrated by his building activities, might thus have been short and unsuccessful inasmuch as it aimed at transforming and reorganizing society.

Analyses and interpretation in WiHaBa fit the general academic understanding of Harold. Therefore, the answer to the question of the title – Who was in Harold Bluetooth’s army? – is: foreigners! or, in the eloquent last sentence of the abstract: Trelleborg, home of Harold Bluetooth’s army, was a fortress of foreigners with vivid implications for the nature of his political mission (WiHaBa:476).

Foreign and non-foreign among the buried

How foreign were they when they died? How vivid their implications? When we look at WiHaBa:Fig. 2, and that happens well before we know anything about the actual 87Sr/86Sr values, it seems that the proportion between non-local and possible local values is more or less 50-50 outside the mass graves. Although there are baseline foreigners in the graves there seems to be equally many locals interred on the cemetery.

baseline values in Denmark

Fig 4, WiHaBa:483, presents the South Scandinavian baseline values and the authors draw the conclusion that values outside the range 0.709-0.7108 indicate a non-South Scandinavian or non-Northwest German human being. This conclusion, nevertheless, doesn’t match the map presented in Fig 4. In fact, there are several values between 0.7073 and 0.709 in Denmark not least in Jutland something one should not forget when discussing matters related to Harold Bluetooth. To the East, in Scania, there are few reference values, but in northern Scania there is a baseline value of 0.7160. Colours will help us see the pattern of the 87Sr/86Sr values.

fig 05In the end the most striking pattern is that of the difference between the mass graves and the single or double common graves. Interpreting this pattern is difficult owing to the lack of baseline data from Halland and Scania (where 87Sr/86Sr values above 0.711 are possible). If that is indeed the case some of the ‘foreigners’ in Trelleborg would be ‘less foreign’ and based perhaps in a Scanian trelleborg before they died. Some, moreover, could have been children on Bornholm, or on  Öland and Gotland. Be this as it may, those interred in mass graves were a more varied group of people and more baseline-foreign than those buried in traditional graves. This indicates that those who seem to have been living more permanently in the garrison had a more homogenous regional background – albeit with a marked non-Zealand foreign component – than the mass grave population. Indirectly, since there are far too few values below 0.708 to reflect a ‘Danish’ population, there is an emphasis on a regional component and we can conclude that those who lived and died at Trelleborg were not predominantly from Jutland let alone Jelling men.

If Harold’s army had consisted of foreigners it would have been noteworthy, not least because it is difficult in a country with a weak monetary system, to build an army of mercenaries, who must be paid inasmuch as looting is not a permanent option. On the other hand it is a great advantage to have a number of loyal mercenaries, perhaps with a background in Scania, if controlling Zeeland is an option in a civil war. It is much more likely therefore, that Trelleborg was manned by a mixture of Zealanders and non-Zealand non-Jutland foreigners. WiHaBa suggests that it is significant that the mass graves were probably reserved for groups who didn’t live permanently in the fortress. Had they been part of the ordinary crew they ought to have been buried individually, even if their death was traumatic.

WiHaBa is an article that jumps to conclusions – hopefully for no apparent reason, such as campaigning for Sweyn Forkbeard’s true Danish values or any other involuntary agenda. The article simplifies and inflates ‘the foreign’, the legacy of Harold Bluetooth and the history of the Carolingian Iron Age forcing its readers to scrutinize its arguments as well as its number foundation. There is nothing wrong with applied natural sciences, in this case recording the measurements of a multicollector VG Sector 54 IT mass spectrometer (Institute of Geography and Geology, University of Copenhagen). It is reassuring that this instrument works so well that five ng loads of the NBS 987 Sr standard gave 87Sr/86Sr = 0.710236-0.000010 (n = 10, 2s). Obviously one needs craftsmanship and critical sense to handle the material and its preparation. But that must not obscure the fact that until the scientist starts interpreting the stable isotope values, analysis is essentially a systematic craft. In this case the interpretations demonstrates a considerable gap between material and conclusion in tandem with a historical interpretation that borders on the naïve.

This week On the Reading Rest have the new Aggersborg publication

Illu00Roesdahl, Else et al. 2014. Else Roesdahl, Søren Michael Sindbæk, Anne Pedersen and David M. Wilson (eds). Aggersborg: The Viking-Age Settlement & Fortress. Jutland Archaeological Society Publications vol 82. Århus. Acronym A-SaF.

All Aggerborg illustrations in this entry are based on A-SaF.

I read the book not primarily because of the famous late 10th c. fortress, rather I want to learn more about the village demolished in the 970s in order to give room for one of Harold Bluetooth’s uniform ring forts. The fortress turned out to be short-lived and the village was reestablished presumably already in the 11th century. It is conceivable, therefore, that historical or post-fortress Aggerborg had its roots in the LIA settlement. The editors and the highly qualified research group behind the book have done a splendid job summarizing the essential facts concerning a material that lay dormant for half a century in the archives of the National Museum in Copenhagen. During recent years, metal detector surveys, limited new excavations and successful geophysical measurements have enhance the original excavation results. In a series of chapters, members of the research group contextualize the investigations in relation especially the fortress, to the Limfjord and to the other Harold Bluetooth fortresses.


Illu02If we paste an overview of the excavations at Aggersborg on the first cadastral map of the modern village, it appears that the ‘Aggersborg’, although we do not know its original name, was founded in the LIA and thrived at least from the 8th century CE and onwards. Its east-west layout suggests a social structure reminiscent the EIA – a number of smaller dependent farms in one end and a large dominant one in the other.

Illu03In this 8-10th century version, the large farm in the west-end stands out as a manor, unrestricted by boundaries and characterized by large buildings (House A, D and GS) as well as pit houses. By contrast, the smaller farms in the east-end seem regulated and crammed on their plots. The parallels to continental situations with farms and pit houses were exemplified OtRR 14 April, 2014 referring to the Gladbach excavations.

Historical Aggersborg is also characterized by this manor-and-farm structure.

Illu04Although the Aggersborg fortress looks like a rigid layout of barracks, the few artefacts contemporary with the fortress show that of the buildings were also the abode of rural households. Only a limited part of the settlement area has been excavated, but the artefact distribution nevertheless reveals the typical east-west pattern, albeit within the confines of the fortress – its courtyards squared off by Haroldian halls in quarters defined by axial streets and the circular rampart. In the west the artefacts are dispersed inside the West Gate and in the east condensed inside the East Gate. Despite the village being haussmannized by Harold’s planners and builders, the spatial division of its settlement seems intact if we focus on the permanent fortress households. Given the short fortress period, it stands to reason that owing to the necessity to look after a fortress presumably most often empty, rural production and maintenance were outsourced to local entrepreneurs, their agro-consultants and household technicians. When, and there are few clues as to exactly when, the village was reestablished this structure was retained in the historical village. The Royal manor was first mentioned in relation to events in 1086, long after the fortress period, and there was hardly a manor without a village. Despite the autocratic planning of the fortress there was in other word a kind of continuity in the social structure of the community. If the fortress had become a long-term royal success with a permanent garrison in the barracks, the traditional social structure would not have been visible as an artefact pattern mirroring densely and sparsely settled areas.

It may well have been traumatic when manor and village were pulled and perhaps burnt down in the 970s CE, but it is hard to imagine that the estate, the community’s economic base: fields, meadows and grassland, would not have been maintained and perhaps expanded when the fortress was built. Moreover, the social continuity suggests that the King controlled Aggersborg before the construction of the fortress in such a way that to his order he could settle the locals in his model architecture. This form of royal power need not exclude the unpopular King’s unfriendly takeover ousting his steward by force. Be this as it may, the basic social structure of the local society was maintained from the LIA and until today because it continued to be economically reasonable.

Illu05Belonging to the 8th – 11th century, the pit houses are an added settlement component, and they seem to cluster around the settlement’s main houses except the pre-fortress hall (Building D). There are two kinds of pit houses: the excavated ones and the ones detected by the geophysical survey. Both categories are described and discussed by Søren Sindbæk. The geophysical surveys were undertaken in order to compensate for the limited excavation areas and aimed at getting an overview of the whole settlement. The measurements were interpreted in a plan and pit houses were relatively easy to see not least while they are large enough not to fall between measuring points. The plan maps probable and possible pit houses and I have chosen to add ‘the probable’ to the excavated ones. ‘The possible’ ones are indeed possible, but I see them more as indications as to where future excavations should perhaps take place. Their distribution differs from that of the probable houses inasmuch as the easternmost part of southernmost cluster, which is made up of several ‘probable’ and two excavated houses, may well have been the western end of a row stretching east-west.

In the west-end of the settlement the pit houses have a north-south distribution probably linked to fewer and larger east-west orientated houses west of the manor building. The western pit houses dates to the whole of the Carolingian Iron Age. Some are earlier than, some contemporary with, and some later than the fortress.

Illu06The eastern part of the settlement is organized in rows of three-aisled houses seemingly surrounded by pit houses. If we check the way the pit houses overlap, the direction in which they move is southwards except in one or perhaps two cases. This indicated that the position of a pit houses is determined by a building situated north of the primary house. If we take this trait as significant of the settlement at large, then there may be a development from the north to the south in three rows. The northern one with few pit houses and two southern ones with many.

Illu07The constellation main house/pit house represents a production site linked to and protected by farms, situated on the shores of the Limfjord at a suitable landing site. Production was depended on a manor-and-farm based rural economy to provide for its workers. Few crafts except textile production can be traced in the floor layers of the pit houses. Farm hands, and fishermen perhaps engaged in herring fishery, may nevertheless have been an important workforce settled in the pit houses – permanently and seasonally. The excavations plans therefore seems to show us a socially stratified society with manor, farms and cabins. In this structure the dominant landowner, the dependent farmers and the free or unfree workforce, subsisted and produced goods that could be exported to urban communities.


Aggersborg was never a town, but opposite the village, the town of Løgstør became a fact in the early 16th century probably after the King had given up his estate at Aggersborg (1). It may be argued that the southern shore of the Limfjord was the more optimal if we wished to found a town, but in that case one may wonder why such a town didn’t exist until the 16th century. Given the way the private Aggersborg manor (Aggersborggård) tried to prevent the town from profiting from the local fishing waters, which were important to the town’s economy, it is conceivable that the interests of a manor, its farms and pit house production settlement tended to prevent the foundation of towns or at least the success of actual towns. All Haroldian fortresses on the other hand are town-situated and most of them in the vicinity of a rather insignificant modern towns except for Odense and the not impossible fortress in Helsingborg (2). This indicates that Harold in addition to his political ambitions viewed his strategic measures in the light of the communicative and demographic parameters of a densely settled place – in this case a garrison with access to water. In order to create his network of fortresses Harold seems nevertheless to need access to land, which in some cases meant that the Place he chose had historical roots. This is typical not least of the fortresses in Scania, but also of Trelleborg on Zealand and Aggersborg in Jutland. We knows little about the environment of Fyrkat and Nonnebakken, but the new site, Borgring, next to Køge, is situated only 500m from the village Lille Salby and the manor Lellingegård. This place-name situation indicates that Borgring was founded on the land of an existing manor (a sal) (3). Since a number of towns were also founded or recreated in the days of Harold Bluetooth we can defend the hypothesis that Harold, engaged in his nation-building, wanted to establish an urbanized as well as a fortified nation held together in a coastal network of urban and military nodes. Towns are characterized by their harbour situation, garrisons most often situated a little more inland no more than a few kilometres form a temporary landing site. Ribe is the exception among the towns since it is situated by a river slightly inland, i.e. like a fortress. Aggersborg is the fortress exception situated directly by the water, albeit without a harbour

In southern Denmark, in Hedeby, at Ravningenge, in Jelling and indirectly, be means of the rune stone DR 55 at Sønder Vissing, Harold didn’t forget inland manifestations.


(1) Painting by R.H. Kruse, Rasmus Henrik Kruse,  7.8.1796-30.5.1877, maler, antikvar. Født i Navtrup, Salling, begravet på Fur

(2) A number of facts about the early history of Løgstør, in Danish, can be found at http://www.logstor.lokalarkiver.dk/loegstoers_aeldre_historie.htm Løgstørs ældre historie

(3) see http://nfi.ku.dk/nyheder/navnet-paa-vikingeborgen/



This week On the Reading Rest I have three reports from the excavations at Skälby, the last of the three Västerås settlements to merit a Bayesian chronological analysis. All three reports have an English summary. The two first reports concerns the Skälby village, the last one deals with excavations in the outskirts west of the village. I read these reports mostly to understand how the 14C -dates mirror the chronology of the settlement.

OmslagenAspeborg, Håkan. 1999. Västra Skälby – en by från äldre järnålder. Riksantikvarieämbetet UV-Uppsala, Rapport 1997:56. Stockholm 1999. Acronym Asp.

Onsten-Molander, Anna. 2008. A. Onsten-Molander (red) Skälby. Bilden av byn växer fram. Fortsatta undersökningar av boplatslämningar från äldre järnålder. Med bidrag av Ylva Bäckström, Tony Engström, Susanna Eklund, Helena Hulth & Ann Lindkvist. SAU Rapport 14. Uppsala 2008. http://www.sau.se/filarkiv/rapporter/saurapport_2008_14.pdf Acronym OnMo.

Korpås, Ola & Wikborg, Jonas. 2102. Skälby. Bebyggelselämningar från järnåldern. Med bidrag av Elisabet Pettersson (Skälby. Settlement remains from the Iron Age (with contributions from Elisabet Petterson). SAU rapport 2012:13. http://www.sau.se/2012_13_skalby_a661_s198.html Acronym KoWi.


There are c. 120 14C-dates related to the greater Skälby settlement area collected between 1992 and 2009. They describe a settlement period with varying intensity. The most common 14C-dates belong to the PRIA. In the LPR- and ERIA the settlement consisted of a village just south of a small impediment where the remains of an IA cemetery are still visible. West of this EIA village there are some small settlement areas on the fringe of a small forest growing on moraine partly covering a very small mountain. It has been suggested that there was a small prehistoric ring fort on the mountain (KoWi:10). Village and outskirts shared an agricultural area between them with small heavily fertilized fields and water meadows (Asp:71f.). The arable land is often wet and dominated by a clayey raised seabed. To the north these fields meet slightly higher woodlands on moraine. The arable land stretches out towards the south and the small stream between Skälby and West Hacksta.

Overview 00Historical and modern Skälby is situated just east of the Early Iron Age village. Today, the area around the modern village is surrounded by the suburb Skälby, but it stands to reason that the LIA settlement lies under the modern village or north of this village next to the remains of the cemetery. Since the latter alternative creates a connection between excavated settlement remains and the cemetery, this might well be where the LRIA village was situated.

The distribution of the 14C-dates has a strong emphasis on dates belonging to the period bp 2150–1950, i.e. a c. 200 year phase commencing in the early 2nd c. BCE and coming to an end in the 1st c. CE. All periods from the Late Bronze Age (LBA) to the Late Carolingian Iron Age (LCIA) are represented in the area, but this cannot hide the fact that from the 4th century and onwards dates become scanty. The emphasis in the village on the LPRIA is enhanced if we take the dates from the peripheral settlement area into consideration. No less than forty tests, a third of the total number, are dated bp2100–2000 (2nd–1st c. BCE).

Slightly later, between bp 1960 and 1880 there is a possible gap in the 14C-distribution and it is worth testing whether this gap in the village settlement actually existed. The models used to test this will be returned by the BCal – an on-line Bayesian radiocarbon calibration tool (1). 14C dates SkälbyThe solitary 14C-date (bp 1920) in the middle of the gap actually doesn’t represent the settlement inasmuch as it belongs to a peripheral well. It testifies to the fact that the area, whether settled or not, was continuously used, albeit with varying intensity.

The Skälby 14C-dates from the LPR- and RIA are not easy to model. They are many and since most of them were measured in early 1990s several average values are afflicted with standard deviations twice or thrice as large as the present standard. This makes modelling a possible gap or hiatus difficult. If we look at the end of the long, mainly LPRIA, settlement period and the beginning of the short RIA settlement (cf. the green circle in the above illustration), then the gap is hard to prove because the limits of a short period are more difficult to define than the borders of a long one. If we check the gap only in relation to the nearest 9 tests on each side of it, the gap is not like to have existed. Moreover, if we try to compare the 45 often clustering tests of the whole LPRIA period to the 12 tests representing the short RIA period, BCal will fail to calibrate the sample. However, if we delete every second test from the sample of the long period, then modelling becomes possible because the length and character of the period is retained while in the process the number and complexity of the tests have become manageable. When BCal is asked to calculate the gap between the event that signifies the end of the long period and the event that signifies the beginning of the short period, then the tool returns the interval 2 to 181 years if the probability is set at 95% and 52 to 138 if it is set at 68%. The fifty-fifty length is 65 to 120 years. An interval of c. 65 years is thus not unlikely although the gap may have been longer as well as shorter.

By checking the possibility that the long Phase A had come to an end and the short Phase B commenced, in relation to given calendar years, we may illustrate when the gap was likely to have been a fact. The RIA GapIt would seem that at least in the later years of the 1st century CE there was a gap in the Skälby settlement. A comparison between the posteriority distributions of the end of the long settlement period, Phase A, and the beginning of the short, Phase B, give the same impression. This, obviously, is a result that ought to be reviewed in relation to the spatial contexts of the dates.

Posteriority analys RIAfirst two phaseslast two phasesIf we look at this distribution of the 14C-dates sorted in 50-year long 14C-year periods,  the development of the village stands out. The same is true of peripheral wells and a tendency for the settlement to form phases which probably has to do with digging or repairing wells close to the farm houses and the rebuilding of farm the houses themselves. Generally speaking Skälby is not a very dynamic settlement since renews itself in phases rather than continuously; but it accords with a situation in which a settlement is abandoned in the late 1st century CE and eventually reestablished as a number of well-separated homesteads. A settlement that can be switched off and on—abandoned and reestablished – doesn’t stand out as autonomous. In the second century CE, not surprisingly, the distribution of the farmsteads is very different from that of the early LPRIA settlement, which had central and peripheral parts.End of settlementThe short RIA phase is a transition to a long period (10 14C-dates bp 1790-1600) of limited usage of the settlement site. An intuitive analysis of the dates makes it likely that among four farmsteads, crofts or cottages, only one exists in the settlement area c. 1650bp when the settlement was finally abandoned. For more than a century, this farm or croft had been situated in the northern end of the area next to cemetery. With a series of main houses c. 15 m long, this farm seems to have been established c. 1775bp and abandoned c. 1650bp, that is, c. 400 CE. During the settlement period bp 1790-1650 there seems never to have been more than two households in the area. Owing to the calibration curve the oldest dates in the period may well be more or less contemporary with the latest dates in Phase B in the northwestern corner of the excavation. This indicates that in the end phase (bp 1790-1600) there was one, two and eventually one continuously settled abodes in the northernmost part of the settlement area — on slightly higher grounds next to the cemetery. It is possible therefore that the end of the Skälby settlement is actually the end of the outskirts of a village situated north of the excavated area. If so, the village might well have looked like the last phase in West Hacksta, Village E (cf. OtRR 3 Nov 2014).


An Outline of the settlement history in the Gilltuna-Hacksta-Skälby triangle

In order to summarize the development in the settlement area I will interpret the chronological events as typical general events. This need not be the case, but it is a reasonable way of creating a model that may be falsified by new excavations.

In a long-term structural perspective, the settlement area develops from the PRIA and onwards with the isostatic uplift, expanding in terms of settlement units until the RIA, seemingly starting to  disappear in the 4th century CE. The development in Gilltuna gives us a glimpse of the LIA organization of a settlement. Most importantly, the densely settled ‘tun’ illustrates the concentration of buildings on a LIA plot. On the tun in Gilltuna the remains of 17 houses covering c. 500 years, could be defined on 5,000 sqm. At Skälby, 39 houses were found on 70,000 sqm during an equally long period. This means that there was one house per 1800 sqm at Skälby. At Gilltuna during a similar time span there was one per 300 sqm. The relative density of houses on the tun was thus six times higher at Gilltuna. To this one must add that it is much more difficult at Gilltuna than at Skälby to link all large postholes to houses. Thus there are probably more unknown buildings at Gilltuna that at Skälby. Structurally, the organization of the settlement in the middle of the first millennium is thus a matter of confining farms to stable regulated narrow plots. The sites chosen to become dense regulated plots, and thus probably a ‘tun’, were used already in the EIA when it seems that most of the suitable settlements sites had already been recognized.

Moving a settlement, was part of the cultural identity of the EIA, the restricted and permanent plot on the other hand was novel and probably introduced in some places already in the LRIA, for instance in Village D162 in Säby, Uppland (cf. OtRR 13 March 2013).

Between the end of the 10th century and the 15th, when historical Gilltuna disappears, there is only one date of interest, an oven dated bp 486±30, i.e. cal CE 1407-50 (with ±2σ). This indicates that the remains of Early Medieval Gilltuna with most of its buildings standing on the ground was ploughed away from the 1400s and onwards. The dates from the excavations of the peripheral sites west of Skälby suggests that in the CIA peripheral activities were to some extent revived. sammanfattande analysIf we summarize the analysis as a matter of structure and chronology, as in the above illustration, we can describe a generalized development with rotating farms in the PRIA. This period of expansion leads to the first small villages in the end of the PRIA. In the ERIA villages are sometimes reorganized and a clear divide between central and peripheral farms, as well as crofts, becomes a reality. In the LRIA some villages become a little more regulated and in the end of the RIA and in the 4-5th century many villages disappear, but not all. Many peripheral settlements, moreover, continue to be inhabited before they finally disappear c. 500 CE. It seems reasonable to suggest that Gilltuna continues to be Gilltuna although it may have changed its name after the settlement hiatus. IA Skälby lives on in historical Skälby and West Hacksta may eventually have become Igelsta.

Settlement concentration and reorganization starts already in the RIA and it is an ongoing process which deprive us of small settlement units. Eventually the settlement contracts to a few densely settled village sites. Since we can see that this village development starts already in the ERIA, we might have expected it to be a gradual process, but the abandonment of a large number of farm units in the late 4th early 5th century might well represent an agricultural crisis speeding up the development. The Cold Decade didn’t stop the development although one might have thought that a period, starting with a drop in the population, would lead to the foundation of new farms when the population began to grow again. If so, these new villages were successful and invisible to constract archaeology, with a few cases such Gilltuna to prove the rule. The Klondyke situation characterizing the PRIA was not repeated in the LIA and not until the CIA do we see signs of expansion.

SlutfigIf we summarize the analysis as a matter of economy and chronology, then we must first acknowledge that in the long run farms become fewer, larger and more stable. Some farms, moreover, become larger than others. During the PRIA, husbandry is important, and fields are small and over-fertilized. When the households become larger it stands to reason that the fields grow too and the divide between fields and grassland more marked. Owing to larger fields and denser settlements, the balance between fields, grass- and woodland becomes stable and more prolific. The nucleated villages will benefit from larger fields and roads from the villages through infields to meadows and woods.

The social implication of the development stands out as social segregation and the transition from a flat to a more pointed social pyramid. The introduction of larger farms, dominating a village, and the ability to prevent peripheral settlements and settlers estabishing themselves outside the villages is a major social achievement that probably reflects the power of those who think the land belongs to them. They, who in the LIA live in pit houses outside the Gill-tun, either permanently or seasonally, are probably less socially important than those who live in halls. The former represent a growing population with no common right to settle and farm a suitable unoccupied land.

Owing to possible subsistence problems, the closing down of autonomous households in the 4th and 5th century, and the possibly famine in The Cold Decade, there are also demographic implications in the changing landscape. Migration from the area and trying one’s hand at external acquisition, as well as power struggle may have been seen as ways of coping with crisis, at the same time limiting the growth of the population. The Cold Decade, although a purely natural phenomenon may thus have hit a population that was badly prepared to resist it when crops failed and grasslands and meadows became low-productive.


(1) The BCal team comprises Caitlin Buck, Geoff Boden, Andrés Christen, Gary James and Fred Sonnenwald. The URL for the service (http://bcal.sheffield.ac.uk). The paper that launched it was Buck C.E., Christen J.A. and James G.N. 1999. BCal: an on-line Bayesian radiocarbon calibration tool. Internet Archaeology, 7. (http://intarch.ac.uk/journal/issue7/buck/).

Gilltuna omslagThis week On the Reading Rest I have a report in Swedish from the excavation of a small village in Västmanland, Gilltuna, in the western outskirts of today’s Västerås. It is the westernmost of three Iron Age settlements, situated east, south and west of an open area of meadows and grassland. Skälby, Väster Hacksta and Gilltuna have been excavated during the last 20 years because the Västerås has grown. The area was colonized in the Late Bronze Age and settlements expanded during the centuries around the beginning of the Common Era.

Sundkvist, A. and Eklund, S. 2014. Gilltuna – där man följde traditionen. Den första storskaligt undersökta tuna-gården. SAU rapport 2014:4. Acronym: ASuSEk.

Gilltuna fig 00

Since the whole Gilltuna settlement area has been excavated, archaeological and historical source materials can be brought together allowing us to follow the development of the area and its settlements during 2300 years up and until today.

From Maja Eriksson’s chapter on the historical maps we learn that today’s Gilltuna is a small farm established in 1628 (ASuSEk, Eriksson:14 ff.). It was called Gilltuna because it was situated on or adjacent to farmlands that were called ‘Gilltuna’. This estate was first mentioned 1384 when it was still relatively large. Gilltuna might have been an estate without farm houses already then and soon it was split-up and farmed by neighbouring landowners and tennants. On the cadastral maps from the early 18th century, nevertheless, ‘The Gilltuna fields’ have been marked out exactly where the archaeological excavations found the remains of farm houses that had been used until the Late Carolingian Iron Age (LCIA, late 10th century). Remains of the Early Medieval farm houses have not been found, and they might very well have been destroyed by ploughing, but the excavations showed that there were still two farms in the village in the 10th century. In 1384 there was obviously just one estate. The two CIA farms go back to what was originally a single Pre Carolingian Iron Age (PCIA) farm situated inside a stout enclosure, i.e. a ‘tun’ in Swedish (ASuSEk:135). The suffix ‘-tun’ is similar to the suffix ‘-ton’ in Anglo-Saxon place names such as Brighton – Beorhthelmes tūn in Old English. There are many kinds of enclosures and as a place name ‘Tuna’ (plural of ‘tun’) may stand alone. Moreover, when combined, the meaning of the first part of the names varies considerably.

Gilltuna fig 04In Gilltuna, the enclosure is a prominent feature measuring c. 44×44 metres or 144×144 feet. It is a formal enclosure and a plot respected and maintained during hundreds of years. From a purely practical point of view it is a rather pointless restriction, which makes the manifest significance of the enclosure all the more important. This enclosure is connected with the revival in the Late Iron Age (LIA) of the Early Iron Age (EIA) village. This latter village was replaced by a rather large farm, which in its turn was accompanied by a small croft 40m south of the enclosure close to the brook. It seems reasonable to suggest that something radical happened in the settlement and this event in all probability resulted in a farm called Tuna or perhaps Gilltuna. The first part Gill- may refer to people feasting together (ASuSEk, Engström:200). In that case they would have been doing it in the large house behind the enclosure rather than on a farm marked by subsistence economy.

Based on 51 14C-dates ASuSEk divide the settlement into eight phases. The settlement starts with one or two farms spread out in the area. There is a time gap between the first and the second farm in the area and that suggests that to begin with, when it came to farm houses, there was no continuous presence in the area. But already in the Late Pre Roman Iron Age (LPRIA) there were several contemporary farms in the area. By then the settlement had become a small village with an ad hoc structure visible as a number of farm sites not always boasting a farm. This is the expected settlement development.

Around 500 CE the 14C-dates indicate that there was a hiatus in the central part of the settlement and after this break the -tuna farm was erected. ASuSEk discuss the 14C-dates, and find that the hiatus in the central part of the settlement is a plausible interpretation. Nevertheless, the Gilltuna area as such was not completely abandoned. In the easternmost part of the settlement in an area mostly used for outdoor purposes there was a small cottage with a fire place dated 1531 bp +/- 30 and a date, 1574 bp +/-30, from the well just outside the house. The size of this cottage is c. 60m2, with a 24 m2 dwelling room, a small central entrance room and perhaps a cowshed similar to the size of the dwelling. This is quite possibly a small croft and at the time the only inhabited building at Gilltuna.

Gilltuna fig 01When we look at the remaining 49 14C-dates as a general probability distribution they seem to fall on three parts. An intuitive analysis of 14C-dates from Gilltuna, therefore, suggests that there was an initial presence in the PRIA (Phase 0), a permanent phase from the end of the LPRIA to the EPCIA (Phase1) and a third Phase commencing in the LPCIA and coming to an end in the LCIA (Phase 2).


The possible time gap between Phase 1 and Phase 2 merits a more formal analysis because this break seems to fall in the middle of the 1st millennium CE, and a period characterized by radical change also in Scandinavia. Usually we do not see this kind of hiatus and re-settlement in excavations, because generally speaking a settlement given up in the middle of the 1st millennium was demolished and/or incorporated into more prosperous villages in the given settlement area. Usually these villages survived into historical times. Since Gilltuna is an exception to this rule, it would be interesting to know more precisely when the re-settlement took place.

Consequently, if we turn to the representation of the phases in the central part of the settlement, as singled out by ASuSEk, it becomes natural to ask when Phase 2 commenced and when Phase 1 came to an end. There is in other words good reasons in the archaeological context and its 14C dates to consider it a fact that in the first part of the first millennium CE there were two different settlement phases at Gilltuna – a 1st phase followed by a 2nd phase.

Thus the first question to be asked is whether there was a hiatus between the two phases? To answer this question I will use BCal – an on-line Baysian radiocarbon calibration tool (1).

To begin with we want to know the probability that the data set, which dates Phase 1, is indeed earlier than the corresponding data in Phase 2. What BCal returns is an estimate of the probability that the event represented by beta 1 (i.e. the modelled end of Phase 1 consisting of 30 14C-tests) is earlier than the event represented by alpha 2 (i.e. the modelled beginning of Phase 2 consisting of 19 14C-tests). The probability is 0.968313. We can in other words safely conclude that Phase 1 came to an end before Phase 2 commenced.

Including this as a fact in our modelling we will re-define Phase 1 as definitely earlier than Phase 2. Since this is now true the query: An estimate of the probability that the event represented by beta 1 is earlier than the event represented by alpha 2 returns the probability 0.9995472.

Gilltuna fig 02Based on this model we can proceed and ask ourselves what ‘earlier than’ will mean in terms of a time gap or hiatus. BCal will model the ‘posterior probability distributions for an estimate of the time elapsed between the events represented by two parameters’. In our case these parameters are once again Beta 1 (the end of Phase 1) and Alpha 2 (the beginning of Phase 2). We will set the significance level to 0.95 and ask BCal to estimate the lapsed time between highest posterior density intervals (HPD intervals in years) for Alpha 2 and Beta 1. The estimate is 25 to 182 years. This means that we must think of a hiatus of 25 years and probably more.

Having drawn this conclusion we can proceed and try to relate the settlement phases to The Cold Decade 536-545 CE (TCD). This decade is important because it could have caused the death of a large part of the population (cf. OtRR 18 mar 2013). We ask: what is the probability that the event Beta 1, i.e. the end of Phase 1, took place before the year 536 CE and the volcanic eruption that is supposed to have resulted in a cold decade?

The probability for that is 0.9795934 and we must thus conclude that Phase 1 came to an end before 536 CE. Actually it is very likely (probability 0.90254027) that the hiatus started before the 500 CE.

What then is the probability that Phase 2 commenced after TCD, i.e. after the year 545 CE?

The probability for that is relatively low, 0.756811, but it is nevertheless more likely that the new settlement commenced after 545 CE than before. Bearing this in mind we can ask BCal to return the possibility that that Phase 2 had not commenced 600 CE. That probability is as low as 0.061325524.

If we sum up the modelling so far we have established (1) that there was indeed a gap between Phase 1 and Phase 2 and (2) that Phase 1 came to an end well before 536 CE. It seems that Phase 2 commenced after 545 CE, but it is not obvious. It is much more likely, however, (3) that Phase 2 commenced before 600 CE. In the next step in the modelling we will take this latter possibility for granted and introduce what BCal calls ‘a floating parameter, Phi 1’. In this case Phi 1 is the year 600 CE. In the model, therefore, it becomes a fact that the calendar year 600 CE is absolutely posterior to the beginning of Phase 2 – the event Alpha 2 modelled by BCal.

Adding this parameter to the model, we may once again ask about the probability that Phase 2 had commenced a certain year CE. The effect of the floating parameter can be seen in a diagram.

Gilltuna fig 03

Comparing the two models (with or without a floating parameter) to each other it becomes plausible that the large farm characterizing the beginning of settlement Phase 2 was established within a generation after TCD. It may have happened earlier, but that is not likely. The growth in probability 550 to 570 is probably indicative of the beginning of Phase 2 and dates prior to 530 have low probabilities.

It seems reasonable, therefore, to conclude that in the EIA ‘Gilltuna’ settlement, whose real name we don’t know, crisis became a fact in the EPCIA well before TCD. This amount to saying that the first stable settlement period (Phase 1) with several contemporary farms probably came to an end before 500 CE. Around 500 CE, a period in which the calibration curve is more or less horizontal, a small peripheral cottage, c. 60m2, with a 24 m2 dwelling room was the only standing building in the area (cf. ASuSEk:68-69). After this abode and TCD had disappeared, i.e. some time between 550 and 580 CE, the ‘tuna’ farm, perhaps Gilltuna, had become a fact. It might well be that events in TCD triggered the foundation of the ‘tuna’ farm, but in that case, crisis prior to this decade had already emptied the settlement paving the way for the takeover, which might or might not have been unfriendly to the crofter in the eastern outskirts,

Gilltuna is interesting because it is a god example of an excavated place name. The ‘tun’, the enclosure, is difficult to miss and owing to the hiatus it is fair to suggest that the ‘tun’ at Gilltuna was a mid-millennium invention organized as a takeover of an abandoned or almost abandoned agricultural area. The enclosure marks a new regime. This kind of takeover or re-establishment of a settlement is not unique. On the contrary, seen in relation to the many abandoned RIA and EPCIA settlements, this was probably what happened in most of the settlement areas. The vast majority of the settlements were abandoned, but the better ones were successfully re-established and contract archaeology has had no reason to excavate them because they are easy to avoid when exploiting a landscape creating industrial areas and suburbs. The specific character of Gilltuna is thus not the EPCIA abandonment. Instead, it is the abandonment during the Early Middle Ages (EMA) – that which robbed us of a village rooted in the LIA – that is noteworthy. This abandonment and urban expansion combined 2010 giving contract archaeology an extraordinary possibility to excavate a relatively large settlement that was given up in the Middle Ages. Contract archaeology brought the excavations to a successful conclusion.


The BCal team comprises Caitlin Buck, Geoff Boden, Andrés Christen, Gary James and Fred Sonnenwald. The URL for the service (http://bcal.sheffield.ac.uk). The paper that launched it was Buck C.E., Christen J.A. and James G.N. 1999. BCal: an on-line Bayesian radiocarbon calibration tool. Internet Archaeology, 7. (http://intarch.ac.uk/journal/issue7/buck/).




Bild0This week On the Reading Rest I have an article about the large 10th c. royal monument in Jelling, Denmark and its enclosure. Speaking of its dimensions and the fact that the palisade surrounds a number of religious monuments there is something almost Pharaonic about it. But instead of dressed stones Harold used wattle and daub, wooden structures, earthen mounds and natural boulders to construct his monument.

Dengsø Jessen et al. 2014. Mads Dengsø Jessen, Mads Kähler Holst, Charlotta Lindblom,Niels Bonde and Anne Pedersen. A Palisade Fit for a King: Ideal Architecture in King Harold Bluetooth’s Jelling. Norwegian Archaeological Review, 2014 Vol. 47, No. 1, 42–64.

Acnonymized: DJal.

DJal sum up the excavations at Jelling and put the site into a larger chronological, archaeological and political perspective. The short-lived but gigantic enclosure, covering c. 12.5 ha, was built in the 960s and early 70s. It may be that (1) building the enclosure and the houses within it, as well as (2) the opening of King Gorm’s mound and grave, (3) his reburial in the new church tagged by (4) the erection of the large rune stone advertising Harold’s good work and finally, perhaps (5) the relocation(?) to Jelling of the c. 20 year old stone commissioned in memory of Gorm’s queen Thyra, Harold’s mother, who died before Gorm – all this took place in the decade around 965 CE. The enclosed Jelling monuments were short-lived, but grand enough to match Harold – ‘the continental-style ruler’ (DJal:59). Jelling’s Pfalz-character or function as a royal assembly place is not a farfetched interpretation and its stress on formalism and geometrical planning catches the eye. Moreover, the fact that the Jelling monument is older than Harold’s rigidly planned circular ring forts, suggests that Jelling was the start of something great – significant and sufficiently provocative to be short-lived and destroyed in an arson attack.

Bild1Bandholm (2013) (1) has shown that the lozenge-shaped palisade in Jelling is a rhombus with sides c. 360 m long comprising four large identical Pythagorean triangles with sides equaling 3, 4 and 5 units. Five units equal 360m and the four right angels are situated in the center of the rhombus. For what it is worth, there are geometrical coincidences with the great pyramid at Giza or vice versa – at least in principle. With a ruler, a setsquare and a pair of compasses this quadrilateral can easily be constructed on the drawing board. In principle, therefore, it can also be illustrated on a computer screen.

DJal shows that in the Jelling topography, materializing the theoretical ideal was not straightforward and they point out that the observed measures do not always fit the theoretical model – but then again why should they when close enough in Jelling is most impressive.


Further excavations may give us more clarity in these matters and DJal, representing the Jelling Project, are cautious in their discussions, as indeed they should be. On the Reading Rest is less committed and free to wonder how the architect(s) and/or surveyors went about plotting out the enclosure – not least its corners. Since ideologically inspired formalism in the construction of past-and-present as lavish monuments, is still with us, one may argue that Jelling was once a significant manifestation. Consequently, ruining the monument by setting fire to it reflected its importance and appalling, in effect, significant character. Since it is not self-evident how the monument was constructed, its construction itself might be outlandish.

In Jelling, the main problem when it comes to setting out the rhombus is contextual, caused by the monuments that occupied the site before the construction of the palisade. There are four musts to the initial construction work:

1) The center of the large mound predating the enclosure, must also be the centre of the rhombus. Since the centre is situated on top of a mound above the surroundings it is difficult to measure directly from it.

2) This centre must be aligned to an axis that is also the axis of the ship setting, which predates the mound. It is not given that the endpoints of the ship setting are aligned to the actual centre of the mound. Centre and endpoints must in other words be aligned in a best fit.

3) The distance between the centre and the endpoints of the axis must be defined as a fixed number of feet. In some way or other the precise distance from the center to a given point on the axis must be measured, preferably with some sort of triangulation.

4) North and south of the mound this axis must be level. This is because the distance to the points where the axis intercepts the palisade of the enclosure, that is, the northern and southern sides of the rhombus, must be measured directly on the ground, that is, by some sort of trilateration.

The mound is situated more or less at the centre of a ship setting as if the monument was a ship grave with a central chamber more or less where the mast would have stood. In this way, the monument is similar to ship graves such as Oseberg or Gokstad. The chamber represents the mast and somewhere above the chamber, the centre of the Central axis should be situated. The ship may have been ‘sailing’ towards the NNE or the SSW diverging c. 22.5° from North towards the East. Together the ship setting and the mound make up King Gorm’s grave monument. Gorm and his Queen Thyra, Harold’s parents, were to be commemorated in the enclosure, while at the same time Harold made a point of displaying his power, his Christian inclination and indeed his master builder capacity. The latter was a crucial part of his royal image and to less lavish-minded citizens, as well as the odd modern researcher, it borders on obsession (cf. OtRR 15 October, 2012). Since Harold wanted to reshape Jelling, there was a point in letting Gorm’s mound in the ship setting become the centre – the original root of the monument – after Harold had excavated it and moved his father to Harold’s new the Church where once a hall stood (2). Acculturating Pagan and Christian traits it was probably respectful to let the enclosure of old and new monuments proceed from the axis and centre of the first monuments. The cultural trait that would eventually combine the old and the new ideology was a hetero-normative elementary family – the married couple and their successful son. Talking to his architects, we can imagine that Harold would have listed the following operative paragraphs having said

King Harold:

A) Protects the old monument and incorporate it in the new as central historical objects, that is, heritage and origin.

B) Encloses them in the new monument thus exemplifying how the past corresponds to the present.

C) Builds a cenotaph, a mound commemorating his parents, his mother south of his father’s mound.

D) Builds a church between the mounds where the hall stood and moves the remains of his parents into a grave in the church.

E) Moves the old rune stone commemorating his mother to Jelling.

F) Erects a rune stone commemorating himself next to the church and his mother’s rune stone.

And the architect team came back with the idea of the lozenge-shaped enclosure. The head architect pointed to Bandholm’s theoretical construction, or a similar formulation of it, and its beauty, as a satisfying model. The King gave his consent, but pointed out once again that they were not to tamper with Gorm’s mound. The architect, reassuring and convincing as always, answered that there was no need to do so, because he had another triangle up his sleeve if needs be. The mound would not be damaged.


OFF THE TEAM went to establish the axis of the ship setting as the historical roots of the monument constructing the new monument on the basis of the axis of the old one – a theoretically simple, but practically difficult task. They started by establishing the axis as a line-of-sight between two points on the flat top of the mound. They define this line with two gormas and then they aligned arbitrary points to the North and the South and marked out the Central point, Cp.

Bild4Bild5Having created the centre of the mound as well as the axis, they defined the fixed the points N’ and N as well as their distance to the Central point (Cp) by means of measurement (trilateration) and triangulation. Then they decide upon the length of the central axis making it longer than the ship setting.

Since this length was crucial to the construction of the outline of the palisade they sought a specific length long enough to enclose the ship setting and definable as a specific number of modules befitting their geometrical model. In some way or other they must have studied geometry and in all probability they had a book where they could look up different geometrical solutions to architectural problems. Rough measurement in the field and their model would tell them that if the sides of their rhombus were c. 1152 feet, then the palisade would be large enough to enclose the ship setting. Having done their calculations in advance they let the endpoints of the central axis be 1237 feet apart. This meant that the distance N’ – N must became 309 ¼ ft. They constructed S’ and S in the same way as they constructed N’ and N. In points N and S the Central axis intercepted the palisade line.

Bild6In our measuring system 309 ¼ ft is slightly less than 100 m and that is a distance possible to measure directly. Nevertheless, creating the Central axis and the Cp is probably difficult and it is a great advantage if the ground is level around the mound – not least since points N’ and S’ must be level. To solve these problems they would probably have used some sort of chorobates or large scales or a device with water or whatever (2).

With their 5 points on the central axis they bring in a new triangle (sides 1 – 2 – sqrt 5) and define the Northwest corner (NW) of the enclosure along a line that is perpendicular to the central line in N’.


Having defined the NW corner they can make two lines of sight – the northern side of the rhombus, NW → NE, and its NW → SE diagonal.


The Northwest point, NW, is situated 618½ feet from N’, that is twice the distance between N and N’. Theoretically the hypotenuse of this triangle is sqrt(12 + 22), that is, the square root of 5. The present case is a practical application of this quasi-Pythagorean triangle:

sqrt (309.252 + 618.502) = sqrt 691,5040 … or ≈ 691,5 ft

The difference between 619,5040 and 691,5 ft is c. 0.1 cm. The architect must have had some practical knowledge about the proportions of the 1 – 2 – sqrt 5 triangle and understood that in some situations it could be useful.

Creating the sixth point, NW, implies in the following: The 619½ ft between NW and N equals 3 in a Pythagorean triangle with sides: 3 – 4 – 5 and its right angle in the Centre on the mound (Cp). Both NW and N are situated on the northern line of the enclosure. A line-of-sight from NW over N will reach the point NE 461 ft behind N (619,5/3 * 2 = 461) because NW-NE equals 5 in the Pythagorean tringle. This is a long distance, difficult to measure directly. The architect, therefore, anchored the 1 – 2 – sqrt 5 triangle in the points N’ and N (see above) and that enabled them directly to measure a point, NE’, situated close to N’, but also between Cp and NE. This means that a sight line from NW over N and from Cp over NE’ will meet in NE – the northeastern corner of the enclosure. In this way the architect has created the Pythagorean 3 – 4 – 5 triangle with the points NW-Cp -NE. This is the triangle which Bandholm (2012) refers to.

In this construction, the distances that must be measured directly are relatively short, c. 97 and 48 m respectively. They combine four level points: NW’, N’, N and NE’.

Bild9To complete the rhombus the corresponding level points and triangles SE, S’, S and SW’ must be constructed and that turns out to be virtually impossible if the South mound had already been built. The mound is in the way for those who want to measure the distance between S’ and S

As long as the corners SW and SE have not been excavated it is difficult to know what’s right or wrong when it comes to these points – and even after an excavation it may be impossible to know. Archaeologically speaking, nevertheless, it seems that the South mound had not yet been built when the palisade was laid out (DJal:62:Fig. 11). The archaeological context makes the present model possible, but there are many ways of construction the rhombus. In the 10th c. the best models ought to have been inspired by Ockham’s razor inasmuch as they should involve little direct measurement between few level points and sight lines over points that are relatively far apart.

Bild10Moreover, it should have been possible to check points in the way points Cp and NW could have been checked from N when NE’ had been defined.

There is another consequence of the model that might be interesting. The hall building, which ante-dated Gorm and Thyra’s(?) grave church, could be seen as parallel to the northern or southern side of the palisade. The alignment is not perfect, but possible. If so, then the house was probably built after the lozenge was laid out, and after the North mound was built.

Bild11This would mean that some time, say 965 CE, the enclosure was planned and the hall south of the North mound erected and the palisade about to be built. The whole monument was thus a non-Christian environment – a classical scene: the hall next to the mound, in the ship setting enclosed by a palisade. Then – and that must have been quite suddenly comes Harold’s conversion to Christianity and the need to make the monument a Christian one with parents seemingly moved from their mounds to the new grave church built upon the hall – another classical scene!

Or the hall, a more or less East-West orientated building stood there before the enclosure was contemplated and Harold wanted its axis to be reflected in the new monument. In that case this turned out to be only not quite possible because the surveyors could not measure arbitrary angels.

Or the present geometrical model is wrong!


WHEN THE SOUTH mound was built is must have stood out as an echo of the past – a monuments from the 950s when Queen Thyra died and thus older than Harold’s monumental enclosure. If the mound was accepted as old it would have made the layout and construction of the enclosure enigmatic and perhaps wonderful, because it would have seemed that Harold’s surveyors in the late 960s could see through mounds.

It stands to reason that any charismatic ruler opposed to his father and his father’s quest for systematic and enigmatic formalism as well as show-off dressed up as Christianity, such as Svein Forkbeard, would burn down the palisade.

How many of the above boxes were ticked by the architect(s?)? four – perhaps all six:

√   A) They protected the old monument and incorporate it in the new as central historical objects, that is, heritage and origin (Perhaps they started to do this already when the hall under the church was built).

√   B) They enclosed them in the new monument as an example of how the past corresponds to the present.

? √ C) They built a cenotaph, a mound commemorating Harold’s parents, his mother south of his father’s mound.

√  D) They built a church between the mounds where the hall stood and move the remains of my parents into a grave in the (grave-)church.

?√ E) They moved the old rune stone commemorating Harold’s mother to Jelling.

√   F) They erected the rune stone commemorating Harold next to the church and his mother’s rune stone.

DJal’s article and the lozenge tag a new Jelling research and the role of Harold Bluetooth, the successful son, in the transformation of South Scandinavia. His antagonists may have burn down Jelling and made it a monument securely anchored in the past, but in so doing the future they embarked on nevertheless had to fit the place he staked out as his Denmark rather than the indefinite ‘Denmark’ mentioned e.g. by Alfred the Great. Harold’s ring forts lack a historical dimension in their construction, being thoroughly modern. Jelling, on the other hand, is a shrewd example of the present as rooted in and incorporating the past as well as of royalty rooted in farmsteads and manors (cf. DJal:59) (3). A contemporary of Ottonian Renaissance Harold’s monarchy boasted rural origins and systemic modernity partly resting on eternal geometrical principles.




(1)Bandholm, N., 2012. The Arcane Eshøj Ell: applications from royal Egypt to royal Jelling. Acta Archaeologica, vol. 83: 275–86.

(2) The scale in the illustration is inspired by and article by Tom M Apostol:
Apostol, Tom M. 2004. The Tunnel of Samos. Engenering and Science 2004:1 pp. 30-40

(3) For a detailed argumentation see Holst et al. 2013. Mads Kähler Holst, Mads Dengsø Jessen, Sten Wulff Andersen, and Anne Pedersen, A., 2013. The Late Viking-Age Royal Constructions at Jelling, Central Jutland, Denmark: recent investigations and a suggestion for an interpretative revision. Praehistorische Zeitschrift, vol. 87:2: 474–504.

Illu 00This week On the Reading Rest I have a play, Pafnutius, by Canoness Hrotsvit of Gandersheim, who lived and wrote in the middle of the 10th century CE. In practice a canoness is an upper-class woman who lives in a cloister without being a nun, i.e. without in this case abiding the Benedictine rules of the convent. Hrotsvit’s six plays are interesting mostly because they were written in the 10th century by a self-confident author prefacing her plays with devotional formula (cf. OtRR 19 August 2013) befitting her social status and power. In the century around 1900 their authenticity was of course doubted, mostly by male researchers. Less gender skeptical female researchers were not equally reluctant to believe that there was once such a thing as a female 10th century playwright. Sometimes as in the case of Marguerite Butler as late as in the 1960s, female researchers were peevishly reviewed with a blind eye to novel contributions, even by women (0). And by the way, if she (Hrotsvit) did write the plays, how can we be sure that they were staged in her life time. There is no description of a performance written by someone who actually saw a performance.

When a contemporary of Hrotsvit’s, Ethelwold of Winchester, wrote instruction guiding the performance of the trope Quem Quaeritis (Who do you seek) during the Easter liturgy, nobody doubted that these instructions were immediately followed nor that performance took place within his life time. Yet there is obviously no substantial proof, i.e. record of a Quem Quaeritis performance during the last decades of the 10th century CE. It would seem that researchers tend to expect a bishop, but not a canoness to be obeyed because they think that bishops have power. Nevertheless, the upper classes, to which Hrotsvit happened to belong, are quite capable of staging their female authors, whatever reforming Ethelwold or 19th and 20th century bourgeoises researchers may think. Today, nevertheless, most researchers are content to say that Hrotsvits plays may well have been staged, but at the same time, they represent a type of drama that wasn’t in vogues in 11th and 12th century Western Europe. Indirectly, the fact that they survived these centuries is a sign of their importance – not many plays did.

Hrotsvit set out to rewrite Terentius’ popular plays, i.e. to reform them so that they would be acceptable to a Christian society. This adaptaion of 2nd c. BCE secular Roman culture, was not the way the Church when it became powerful enough wished to make drama useful. And while mystery plays became popular, Hrotsvit was not staged for centuries.

It so happens that an essential point in dramatic performance described by Ethelwold when he tells us how to perform the scene when the three Marias and the Angel meet at Christ’s sepulcher after he has left it, coincides with a similar point in Hrotsvit’s plays. Having referred to the texts accompanying this scene Ethelwold continues:

This said, let the one, still sitting there (i. e. he who plays the angel sitting on Christ’s grave) and as if recalling them (i.e the three Marias), say the anthem Venite et videte locum—come and see the place. And saying this, let him rise, and lift the veil, and show them the place bare of the cross and only the cloths laid there in which the cross was wrapped. And when they have seen this …(1)

Ethelwold’s point is to let the Marias and the audience look into a secrete room behind the veil and behold that Christ has left it. The audience thus focusses on the material reality of a significant place. This scenic context – looking into a significant room, occurs also in Hrotsvit’s plays Pafnutius. The scene is very prophane, but it attracts the audience in the same way that Ethelwold devised.

 In order to bring about the conversion of the harlot Thaïs, the hermit Pafnutius decides to work under cover disguising himself as a lover. In this capacity he asks the whore whether there is a room in her house where the two of them may speak secretly. Thaïs, true to her profession, suggests her cozy bedroom which she points out to Pafnutius. The dramaticality employed by Hrotsvit’s character when she points out her bed to Pafnutius parallels the way Ethelwold’s Angel shows Christ’s grave to the Marias. The point is the dramatic technique which allows the audience to look into a secret place and satisfy their curiosity. It is a truly theatrical technique, an illusion based on the curiousness of the audience allowing it to imagine what’s necessary – Christ’s resurrection as well as Thaïs shagging her costumer. With such techniques at hand, no wonder that Ethelwold was specific when he gave instruction on how to perform the scene at the grave.

Illu 00b– ○ –

Nevertheless, I read Hrotsvit for technical reasons being interested in the way she wrote dialogue for the stage in the 10th c. when poems in alliterative verse could still be recited and poems in trimeter read aloud. Did she employ a poetic-style dialogue?

Usually researchers agree that Hrotsvit wrote rhythmic prose with rhymes, i.e. not verse, but precisely how she did it and why is seldom discussed. Katherine Wilson is the exception and in her translations of Hrotsvit’s plays she preserves the rhymes (2). Because there may be more to Hrotsvit’s way of using rhymes than meets the eye I have picked out a scene from Pafnutius and looked more formally at its prosody – the way Hrotsvit treats syllables, rhythm, stress and intonation in the speech she writes down as dialogue. I start with a translation.


Pafnutius, Scene II: The forum in Alexandria, translation

01a Paf:         There are some young men in the square. I will address them first and ask where I can find the woman I am looking for.

01b Young:   Look, there’s one who has lost his way approaching us. Let’s find out what he wants.

02a Paf:         Hello youngsters, who are you?

02b Young:   Citizens of this township

03a Paf:         Good day to you                                                                                                             

03b Young:   And welcome to you, whether you are local or foreign

04a Paf:         A foreigner – I have just arrived

04b Young:   Why have you come? What are you looking for?

05a Paf:         I am not telling you.

05b Young:   Why not?                                                                                               

06a Paf:         Because it is my secret.                                                                  

06b Young:   It would be better if you told us. Since if you are not one of ours, then you will hardly be able to do any business among us without following the residents’ advice.

07a Paf:         But if I tell it, then by saying something I might have built myself a hindrance.

07b Young:   Not among us.

08a Paf:         Happy with that promise and your trust, I will proceed with confidence and explain my secret.

08b Young:   No unfaithfulness on our part, no opposition shall prevent you.

09a Paf:         I have been told for certain that a woman staying among you is lovable to everybody – kind to everybody.

09b Young:   Do you know her name?

10a Paf:         I do!

10b Young:   What is she called?

11a Paf:         Thaïs.

11b Young:    She is fire among us.

12a Paf:         They declared this woman very beautiful – and being most attractive to all.

12b Young:   Telling you this, they made no mistake.

13a Paf:         For this difficult matter I have traveled long-winding roads, I have come just to see her.

13b Young:   Nothing prevents you from seeing her

14a Paf:         Where does she live?

14b Young:   Here in the house next to us

15a Paf:         The one you point to?

15b Young:   The same

16a Paf:         I will go there

16b Young:   If you like, we can go with you.

17a Paf:         I’d rather go alone.

17b Young:   As you please.

– ○ –

If we divide the dialogue into prosodic sections and define the syllables involved with the rhyming as relatively speaking short (blue) in relation to the long (red) ones, and sometimes as semi-long (green) then we get a perspective on Hrotsvit’s poetic technique. Several of the short syllables could be considered semi-long, but since it is the relation to the long ones and the rhythmic parallelism between the rhymes that matters, most semi-long syllables are in effect short.

Illu 01a

Illu 01b

Illu 01c


Comments on rhymes, rhythm and lines may center on a handful of Points:

Illu 02a

In these cases the rhymes mark the end of a sentence, or a part of a sentence or it creates a pause.

These are the standard variations resulting in the main or formal style of the dialogue, but there are lots of deviances from these patterns used to give the dialogue a less formal style, such as:

Illu 02b

Rhyming speech (using the standard structures 1 to 5) is a sign of well-formulated and organized speech. Deviances (such as A to D) are caused by context and they add a bit of life to the scenes.

The prosody is relatively free with the rhyming relatively speaking short syllables nearly always falling after a long one:

Illu 02c

Although there are more examples of not-so-clear- rhymes, Hrotsvit, nevertheless, treated prosody in a structured way free. This approach to form also governs the length of the prosodic lines as it can be seen if we sort them in (1) lines with no rhymes; (2) lines with two rhymes and (3) lines with three rhymes.

Illu 04

Lines with no rhyme are usually short. The ‘long one’, 8 syllables, was probably supposed to generate an answer rhyming with the question: Haec quam indice proditis? But the urban youngsters, whom Hrotsvit has made a bit toplofty, albeit nice to country cousins, can’t be bothered. This hints that Hrotsvit used rhyme and line length consciously.

On average, when a pair of lines are rhyming the lines become longer and although there are pairs consisting of a long and a short line, most pairs consist of lines being equally long, irrespective of their length. The average pair consists of lines that are c. 9 syllables long and circa half the paired lines have a length between 7 and 10 syllables. By and large the trend in line length is slightly exponential.

Although there are only two cases of three lines rhyming in the same way these cases consist of longer lines that the rhyming pairs or the un-rhyming lines. There are two principles at work in these sections. First rhymes are a way of keeping lines together. Second, when much needs to be said within one sequence of the dialogue the rhymes cannot be allowed to interfere with the message, i.e. the actual meaning of the words spoken. Nor must they be forgotten. This means that on average  line length, although varied, will grow and rhyme become less regular.

By and large rhymes are related to a general pace in the dialogue. Moreover, variation in line length and rhymes are used to make the dialogue more lively. Hrotsvit doesn’t count stress, being uninterested in alliteration, but well length and rhythm. Parallel rhythmic patterns in the syllables leading up the rhymes seems to be as important. Rhythmic patterns, therefore, signal the rhymes.

How then would Hrotsvit let Thaïs speak and use rhyme when she shows Pafnutius her bedroom? The scene is significant, but not many words are needed to point it out so Hrotsvit decides to symbolize the elegance or coziness of the room by means of rhythm and rhyme:

Illu 05

A true saleswoman pointing out a piece of real estate up for short-term rent, she decorates her speech with rhymes. She starts with two seemingly not-rhyming short lines. The second and shorter line is a calm and simple rhythmic repetition, which answers the first slightly more lively line. The last lines are longer and full of short syllables. The rhymes and no less than six short syllables, lead up to the final, long, syllable that announces the second rhyme.

To a modern ear Thaïs may not be convincing, Hrotsvit, nevertheless seems to have been careful when she constructed her speech, letting rhythm and rhyme interact with the meaning of the words spoken by Thaïs. If Hrotsvit had insisted on true rhymes the lines would have been tedious, instead her rhyme and rhythm creates a kind of harmony and gentle pace.



(0) In 1960 Marguerite Butler called her book Hrotsvitha: the theatricality of her plays. Searching the JSTOR database for ‘Marguerite Butler’ will lead the reader to several outdated reviews.

(1) quoted after Glynne Wickham. The Medieval Theater, 3rd ed. Cambridge. Cambridge University Press. 1987:38.

(2) If one wants to acquaint oneself with Hrotsvit plays Katherine Wilson’s books are a good point of departure e.g. Katherine M. Wilson (introduction and translation): The plays of Hrotsvit of Gandersheim.New York, Garland Publishing. 1989. And KatherineM. Wilson: Hrotsvit of Gandersheim: The Ethics of Authorial Stance. Leiden, E.J. Brill. 1988.