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 print-out of an article from the open access journal, JAAH

framsidaFischer, Svante & Lind, Lennart 2015. The Coins in the Grave of King Childeric. Journal of Archaeology and Ancient History 14. Pp. 1-36.

Fulltext:   Acronym: FiLi

In the end of the 1990s it was proposed that the time depth and distribution of coins in a hoard could be compared with that of the names of Kings used in a chronological series to give historical i.e. time depth to a certain context. The series consists of a few old and famous kings and many partly unknown younger ones. The example given was the first series of kings in the poem Widsith, which includes several of the kings mentioned in poetic texts – that is the Finnsburh Fragment and a section in Beowulf – about the hall called Finnsburg. The chronological distribution of coins in hoards could be read as kings’ names and linked to events in the past in similar way as name series. Ten years later is was suggested that a series of weapon could be viewed in the same perspective. When the small hall in Uppåkra, Scania (0) was smashed in the beginning of the 6th century it would seem that a series of weapons were deposited in a waterlogged depression just north of the house. In a traditional weapon offering after a victory this kind the weapons date the battles – each battle forming a chronological peak among the offered military equipment. At Uppåkra nevertheless, the series resembled a long chronological period with a few very old and several younger weapons. Since halls are known to have contained weapons it was thus conceivable that the weapons in the Uppåkra depression were the offered spoils taken from the walls of the hall when it was conquered and smashed.

The idea is simple enough: by collecting a series of objects or names one can create a network that will sustain a historical narrative. The point being that this was done consciously in the middle of the first century CE. Ideas may be interesting, but do the lend themselves to be proved? This is where FiLi comes in.

Ch's signetKing Childeric’s grave is a signed installation excavated in the 17th century and immediately understood to be Childeric’s grave because of the signet ring probably found on the finger of the buried person: childerici regis it says referring to what of his he signed with this the king’s ring while alive. The grave installation was soon understood to contain a message respecting the new Byzantine Empire created 476 CE when West Rome disappear. But as FiLi points out the installation is actually ‘signed’ by Childeric’s son Clovis, who used his right as a descendant to design the funeral and burial.

During later years earlier interpretations stressing the devout attitude of dependency to the new Byzantine Empire, thought to be symbolized by the Byzantine artefacts on display in the grave, have been questioned and now FiLi sets out to reinterpret the most outstanding objects in the grave: the two hoards (1) the 100 gold coins, 5th c. solidi, of which 89 were described and 12 depicted in the 1655 publication and (2) the 200 silver coins of which four were illustrated. It is FiLi’s combined and numismatic knowledge and overview of the period in question, the late 5th century that allows them incorporate the hoards into a much more rewarding reading of the burial context – the hoards being the most complex messages in the installation.

I’ll concentrate on the gold coins. FiLi shows that originally the coins were collected in the West Roman Empire foremost Italy during the chaotic decades leading up to the fall of Rome 476 CE and Childeric’s death 481/82. Contrary to what one might have expected this didn’t mean that the coins in the hoard were a mirror of the coins that circulated in the West during those years. On the contrary someone (read Clovis) have sorted out the coins that mirror the coinage of the last emperors in the West and opponents of the East Roman emperors. What the gold hoard signals is thus not just King Childeric’s and Clovis’ dependency of Byzantium, but all the more actively a wish to distance themselves from the former West and its last more or less dubious emperors. Clovis wanted to emphasize that the Franks had created the new West. To many, the message of the coins may have been obscure, but as FiLi argues not only Clovis could read the coins, many of the funeral guests would have been familiar with the coin legends.

en tabell

FiLi’s analysis discloses a sophisticated insight into the mind of Clovis adding a material statement to oral eulogy in what was probably a masterly directed lit de parade and funeral. Moreover, the statement delivered by the hoard is a historical statement summarizing the outcome of a number of turbulent and decisive decades in European history.

Since On the Reading Rest is free to develop analysis a little further, interpreting context in a textual way, it seem possible to add an interpretation to the gold hoard developing its perspective on the past. This interpretation falls within the frames established by FiLi.


One way of looking at the hoard is to consider of a mirror of Childeric’s life dividing it into phases such as before he became king 457 CE (a period of c. 20 yrs); between that date and the fall of Rome or Childeric’s alliance with Odovacer, i.e. 476 (a period of 19 yrs), and the rest of his life until 481, a period of 5 yrs).

If we divide the coins into these three periods the 89 coins are distributed 12 – 64 – 15, but since they amount to no more than 89% of the coins, the expected numbers are 13,48 – 71,91 – 16,85 respectively. Since 11 coins are missing it is likely that the original composition was (12+0) = 12 – (64+6) = 70 – (15+3) = 18.


The years covered by the periods are c. 20, 19 and 5 years respectively.

The periods covered by the coinage according to legends and types are 431-5 to 456 CE ; 457 to 476 CE and 474/5 to 491 CE.

The start of the last period is a result of the Emperor Zeno’s troubles in the beginning of his reign. That period is mirrored in the sample because it was a Constantinopolitan problem. After 476 CE we may confidently see him as a powerful ruler who died 491 CE. In practice therefore, the emperor who would have been told about the burial was Zeno. What Clovis describes is Childeric’s life in terms of gold coin success as a sign of general success as seen in the above success rate.

This is obviously not bad on the contrary it is a growing success and Clovis saw the life of his father as a period of success irrespective of whether the West Roman Empire existed or not. Since he is depicted as the King of the West and loyal to Byzantium, Childeric did better when he came into power and always well.

It was a success when Childeric became king, and the fall of Rome caused him no trouble.

In addition to the coins as measures of success the collection is also one of names and as FiLi has shown this is its most obvious expression of intent. This should worry the Southeast Scandinavians because some of their most historical coins from this period, collected by themselves in Italy, were issued by the very emperors excluded by Clovis. Everybody may not have been happy with what they when they examined the coins — or rather when they saw what was lacking. The importance of warfare, nevertheless, wasn’t doubted and among his contemporaries, the Gallo-Roman rulers in the domain of Soissons were probably among those who noticed the peculiar lack of western coins in the funeral hoard although these rulers were not defeated by Clovis until 486.

Honouring his father, Clovis sets a new agenda and he doesn’t keep his father’s signet ring as a sentimental object of veneration. Probably he would have explained he decision not to keep it with reference to his father needing in the next world, in which by his funeral definition he seems no more than his son’s father.


(0) On Uppåkra in general, see for instance:

This week On the Reading Rest I have a report from a road section excavated by archaeologists before the road was built.

Skeke framsidaLarsson, Fredrik et al. 2014. Skeke – gudar, människor och gjutare. Rituella komplex från bronsålder och äldre järnålder samt en höjdbosättning från yngre järnålder med gjuteriverkstad. Utbyggnad av väg 288, sträckan Jälla–Hov, Uppsala län; Uppland; Uppsala kommun; Rasbo socken; Skeke 1:3, 2:6; Rasbo 55:1–2, 654, 655, 669, 695, 696, 697, 626:1–627:1, 682–688 samt delar av Rasbo 628:1 och 629:1 UV rapport 2014:53 Riksantikvarieämbetet. Stockholm.



Skeke översiktIt is difficult to know what the place name Skeke means, but it could in principle refer to a landscape element characterized by oak trees or less likely contain a word meaning ‘to spread’ (Larsson et al., p. 42 with references). In this entry I shall use the very unlikely but at least pronounceable Spread-Oaks or Spreado for short.

All kinds of things are dated at Spreado. 14 C-wise ‘everything’ gives rise to a number of questions and looks like this:

Illu All dates with questionsHowever, if we disregard questions about continuity and discontinuity and filter the dates according to categories some patterns arise.

ILLU dating of groupsSpreado is inaugurated with a grave indicated by the earliest date of cremated human bones. This monument is probably a pre-settlement manifestation although there may of course be some kind of settlement outside the excavated road corridor. For 400 years one burial seems to suffice, but c. 1000 BCE graves start to become more common. Sometime during the 3rd c. BCE this grave period comes to an end. As expected in this kind of ‘cemetery monument’ there are structures that did not contain any burial remains. Perhaps, and in that case typically, there is a small burial-revival during the Carolingian Iron Age (Spreado:55; 65).

The first dwelling house, House 16 doesn’t convince the reader although on can naturally build something makeshift on a random distribution of post holes. Not until the late Bronze Age are there any typical dwelling houses at Spreado. They are just two but in all probability there were many more in the environment owing to the temporary character of the one-house farms of the period. Nevertheless, grains, animal bones and houses covariate although many of the grain finds are intrusions in much later houses build on top of the earlier temporary farms. Spreado is a good example of the Early Iron Age habit of resettling a place that has already been settled albeit hundreds of years earlier.

The situation at Spreado reflects the fact that Late Bronze Age and Early Pro Roman Iron Age living produced a lot garbage that wasn’t moved out of the settlement as well as holes and layers in which to trap garbage and ecofacts. Later settlements at Spreado are not characterized in the same way.

The dates of the dwelling houses at Spreado reveal the expected pattern: a few short dwelling periods during a millennium and then the establishment of a more stable settlement during several hundred years. This often happens before or the beginning of the Common Era, but in Spreado it happens late. The farm, which may at times have had two households, is eventually characterized by a small hall, House 2. The precise date is difficult to give owing to contaminations, but c. 400 CE is a plausible date. The farm on which House 2 is the emblem doesn’t survive the turbulent 6th century. Exactly when House 2 was rebuilt as House 21 is difficult to know since it is dated by an animal bone in a layer. The bone has little precise linkage to the house.

The interesting thing about House 2 is its measures. they are formalized in a way that is characteristic of the end of the Early Iron Age. Although the house may not have been an elegant or well-proportioned building – it was, however, a well-measured edifice, which shares some common South Scandinavian traits and perhaps some sort of architectural norms emphasizing measure and structure rather then function, in a way that would not have suited the general functionalistic norms of the Early Iron Age.

Skeke proportioner

Lika hallar

At the same time there are some local characteristics in the post setting and wall height and in the fact that the building was erected on a terrace on top of a small hill in order to be seen from afar. This landscape statement was deemed important because older graves had to be removed in order to give room for the building (Spreado Fig2:6 p:25; p:61ff.).

Roof and walls at Skeke

As an ideological statement, the hall at Spreado is older than the middle of the 6th century and the 536-45 CE dust veil, that is earlier then the new large halls characteristic of Lejre and Tissø. It is in other word a manifestation of the old upper classes, their inter-Scandinavian hall-designing network as well as their wish to prove themselves locally.

The contrast between Gilltuna (On the Reading Rest: 6 October, 2014: 536 and all that – the Gilltuna case) and Skeke is in other words model: Gilltuna, a traditional village closing down in the 6th century, happened to become one of the new large estates of the Late Iron Age characterized by its large 27-metre hall; Skeke, a traditional village formed in the 3rd century, developed into a 5th-6th century estate with a 20-metre hall. Both sites are exceptional: Skeke because it survived long enough to become a hall farm giving us a glimpse of an Early Iron Age success that came to nothing; Gilltuna because it was Late Iron Age success that came to nothing. The two farms happen to mirror something significant: the social change among the well-to-do in the 6th century.

ILLU Skeke hall fasad02

Since the fate of the Spreado hall and events central to Beowulf or Codex Regius as a synopsis (cf. On the Reading Rest 9 March, 2015) exemplify the way real-time archaeological past on a hillock in Uppland link-in with the fictional pan-European alleged time perspective in Beowulf and Codex Regius, it stands to reason that the Spreado hall, like many other halls, was the home of local real-life Hrothgar, Unferth and Beowulf as well as Sigurðr, Guðrún, Gunnarr and Brynhildr loving and hating each other. Although Spreado was a small place — the spiral gold ring buried outside the hall (house 2/21) (Spreado:241, A26) was actually made of gilded copper — there is nevertheless a chance that when Guðrún from Spreado left for Denmark and married Jonakr she went to Dejbjerg on Jutland.

Today, little by little archaeology in Scandinavia excavates both the large halls where the heroic epics were recited as well as the small ones in which the historical events that formed the backbone of the epics took place.


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 Løgstørs ældre historie

(3) see



This week On the Reading Rest I have an article that discusses the reburial of indigenous people once exhumed for the benefit mainly of race biology. The article focuses on the ethics of complex situations, questionable already when they occurred. Today, more or less by definition, the roots of the problems belong to a relatively remote past that we are able to judge without too much ado. Thus I too, wise in the event, read:

NAR nummerSvestad, Asgeir. 2013. What Happened in Neiden? On the Question of Reburial ethics. Norwegian Archaeological Review. Vol. 46, No. 2, 194-242. Acronym: ASve.

To most readers Neiden, if anything, is geography, a point on a map of Northernmost Norway and a river where we do not live. The actual place, nevertheless, is a settlement called ‘Skoltebyn’—a place where Skolt Sámi people live, although there are very few left. This place name suggests that non-Skolts, the very great majority, needed to define the place. Skoltebyn is probably full of living traditions with little historical evidence to corroborate or question and reconstruct the past and the present. ASve’s approach is straightforward geographical and historical. He defines the place on a map and in relation to two precisely dated historical events. In essence, his approach is based on facts and the individual opinion of some of those who took part in 1915 and 2011. Wider aspects, the more we know about them, are brought in when necessary, but in principle everything pivots on what happened in July 1915 and September 2011. ASve’s analysis of the two situations is revealing and cautious.

It turns out that history allows itself to play a trick on everyone involved in the two events. Notwithstanding, the central question is simple enough: what, if anything, should be done with the bones from Neiden? Needless to say we know very little about the bones too.

To the physician and odontologist of 1915, Johan Brun, bones and even skeletons were a source material worth describing because without anatomical knowledge there would have been no physicians. Anatomical description wherever possible is thus above the individual physician – ideally speaking. It is difficult, therefore, to accept a physician who for ethical reasons would not be prepared to use the human body as a source material, nor use the evidence-based knowledge about broken bones, often obtained without ethical considerations, to help us. Still today a large number of corpses are anatomized. This doesn’t give Johan Brun the right to go to Neiden and loot a cemetery it just creates an everlasting ethical problem.

The still unsettled cemetery

The reason is simple – we think of our forefathers as our heritage and thus as ours by right! Except of course if we are landowners. If that is the case, we may think that we own what is on our land exploiting it is as best we wish. Landownership as opposed to communal rights is a cornerstone of practical colonialism and the relatively rich Johan Brun took advantage of a relatively poor landowner Ondre Jakobovitsj, who knew that there were inhumation graves on his land. Since his land was not on the early colonial monument still in use, i.e. the Orthodox chapel and churchyard in Neiden, he sold Brun the right or a concession to dig on his land and take skeletons back to Oslo – payment per skeleton. To buy and sell in this way may be seen as unethical and condemned, accepted, pardoned or hailed. Irrespective of our point of view it may in time repeatedly be condemned, accepted, pardoned or hailed.

Only oblivion can save us from heritage and ethical problems, and that is the reason why much heritage legislation is built on oblivion. When something material is no longer used or when it has been forgotten, i.e. when it has fallen into oblivion while still existing, i.e. when its role as meaningful in a living culture has come to an end, then it becomes accepted as everybody’s heritage and protected by law despite the fact that we lack knowledge about it. If it comes to our knowledge it must be treated with respect and preserved as best we can. Since preservation is impossible in the long run, and since knowledge can be reproduced, respecting the past as our heritage is knowledge driven. The more we know, the more will become our heritage and revived material culture. In a democratic society this may solve a lot of ethical problems, but obviously not all.

Brun's excavationBoth Johan Brun and Ondre Jakobovitsj acted unethically because they should have understood that the existing churchyard was no more than a part of a larger burial ground – in all probability its pre-Christian parts, which had fallen into oblivion and thus become part of our common heritage. The ideological colonialism of Christianity, which denounced indigenous culture and faith, is to blame for the oblivion. At least Johan Brun ought to have understood this. Needless to say, in this situation the obvious cannot be proved. Most of what we know about what happened in 1915 is what Johan Brun told us in his report and he steered clear of ethics, context and any wider perspective. The skeletons exhumed were his objective, the living his problem. Bargaining with the locals, Brun spend money, but ASve doesn’t mention whether Brun was compensated for his expenses. It stands to reason, nevertheless, that he was, and if so his description of the way he haggled with Jakobovitsj makes sense inasmuch as it demonstrates that he did not waste money.


True to his approach, which is based on Heidegger’s view upon the disclosure of the hidden and the care and being that characterizes humans, ASve goes beyond describing what happened in 1915 and 2011 respectively, and his Heideggerian discussion works quite well. Nevertheless, being and care didn’t characterize the agents when they took part in the disclosed events. Moreover, I don’t think it is possible to lay bare or disclose the 1915 and 2011 events, because there is nothing specific – no essence – to lay bare. Contrary to Heidegger I don’t think that nur ein Gott kann uns retten – only a god can save us – because such an entity cannot be disclosed. Inventing a god or seeing oneself as one, jeopardizes the human, i.e. the agents now and again bothered by ethics. I find enlightenment and emancipation a better approach to ethics.

No ethics will solve ethical problems. Oblivion will erase them, but we learn nothing from oblivion because knowledge in a historical situation, be it past or present, is the only way to come to terms with ethical problems. Knowledge often fails, even if it concerns disclosure, because it is easily disputed by those who take only a limited interest in the obvious. Care and being are roads to ethical shortcomings and Heidegger’s life is a case in point. Being, moreover, is hard to avoid and care is a cornerstone in reproduction – caring for those who cannot survive without it.

ReburialASve is cautious when he describes the events that led up to the reburial in September 2011. One might say that he discloses the events in an unbiased manner rather than he exposes them. While the reader reads between the lines, ASve is true to his sober method – almost. The comment on the Orthodox tradition that governed the reburial is an exception (ASve:211, col. 2).

Actually there is no need to be cautious because the events leading up to September 2011 make up a textbook example of how a majority marginalizes a minority. In this case the Sámi community, the majority among the indigenous people in northern Scandinavia, and organized around Sametinget (the Sámi Parliament), has turned a place central to a minority, the almost extinct Neiden Skolts, into a memorial of its own and a protected heritage area. The Neiden Skolts have been sqeezed into heritage. In this process, as we would expect from a textbook example, the 10 odd Skolts involved have been divided into a larger group of people who find themselves excluded and alienated and a few who back-up the powerful Sámi majority.

Njauddâm sijddAt least since 1826 Skolt identity has been threatened (1). In this year the border between Finland (Russia) and Norway (Sweden) was closed and the Skolt community and its settlement area – both referred to as Njauddâm sijdd lost its land, and began losing its identity, being unable to live in the sijdd in the intended yearly cycle. While the sijdd used to be orientated towards Russia the frontier delimination meant that Spring and Summer was incorporated in Norway, while Autumn and Winter and most of the population stayed in Finland. In Norway the population was concentrated to Njauddâm (Now: Neiden), the summer site of the sijdd, in a permanent settlement called Skoltebyn. For more than a millennium the sijdd’s cemetery and since the 16th c. the orthodox St George chapel and its churchyard were already situated at Neiden. Soon a protestant chapel marked Norwegian colonization and the ideological consequences of the closed border.

neidenkapellkartaThe marginalization of the Skolts and their loss of identity has continued. Their language is no longer spoken in Norway, they are not represented in Sametinget. In effect, Neiden rather than being part of the Skolt Njauddâm sijdd has been culturally annexed by the Sámi and become a site where this people demonstrates its unified heritage and ideology at the expense of the identity of the Skolts. Neiden has become a protected heritage area and a museum site dedicated to Skolt culture. Ironically, as if the authorities awaited Skolt culture and the last Skolt to pass away, the museum building has been left empty and leaking through the roof since 2008.

the burial siteThe reburial fits the cultural demise of the Njauddâm sijdd. As ASve shows Johan Brun excavated more than a sample of Sámi skeletons. He found an unknown cemetery older than the Christianization of the Skolts with a potential of reviving an unknown Skolt history with a potential to illustrate the Skolt interaction with other people. Moreover, given that Neiden was the millennia old summer site of the Njauddâm sijdd it is by no means certain that all the human remains were Skolts. The Neiden Skolts understood this and that was obviously their reason to place the skeletons in a respectful context without destroying them as a source material. In view of losing their history or recovering it, they opted for knowledge. It is obvious from ASve’s analysis that destructing the source material and keeping Skolt history in the firm grip of decay and oblivion to benefit their own ideas of essentialist colonial and Christian ethics guided the representatives of the Sámi establishment. The representatives of the Church of Norway and the representatives of the Orthodox Church, moreover, were supported by the Norwegian Government and its institutions.

There may be utilitarian reasons to destroy remains of the past, mainly the resent past, and the representatives of a society may judge it to be necessary and have the power to act accordingly. In the Neiden case it is difficult to find any reason for anybody except Skolts to destroy Skolt history. An ossuary would have been an alternative to the slow destruction in the burial mound – echoing a distinctly South Scandinavian past – in which the 94 small wooden coffins are now decaying. This mound can be appreciated only as a monument of the colonialist oppression that the Scandinavian majority societies have subjected their minorities to. While doing so, they effectively taught the tame majority groups within the minorities to act likewise against their minorities. Since this is a never-ending process it is important that the Neiden reburial story split the Neiden Skolts. Divide et impera is at the heart of the matter. ASve lets his quotations speak for themselves rather than pointing the reader in the right direction. This is quite an effective strategy not least given the context in which representatives of those in power speak. Here they are at Neiden, literally burying the history of the Neiden Skolts in a mound letting it moulder away, and the Minister for Reform, Administration and Church Affairs says:
‘ – I hope this will remind us of the importance of reconciliation. We should lift our eyes and use this opportunity to look at the need to protect Skolt Sámi language and culture’—Jeg håper dette kan minne oss på betydningen av forsoning. Vi bør løfte blikket og bruke anledningen til å se på behovet for å ivareta skoltesamenesspråk og kultur,

the newspaper adds: ’she thinks.’—mener hun.

Indeed, and she is right, of course! This need to protect Skolt language and culture is visible in the sky only, i.e. above the grey September clouds over Neiden. Moreover, as Minister of Church Affairs it is appropriate in this solemn context to express a pious hope echoing a biblical phrase. In fact, almost anything one could say as an official representative will add to the unintended but nevertheless carefully constructed irony of the occasion.

Only knowledge can save us – nur eine Erkenntnis kann uns retten.



(1) The history of the Skolts and the injustices done to them is outlined (in Nowegian) in an official governmental commission 1997

This week On the Reading Rest I have an article in German consisting of two articles:

Sommer, Sebastian. 2008. Die Römer in Künzing – Wege zur einer virtuellen Rekonstruktion dess Kastellvicus oder: Versuch der Annäherung an ein Lebensbild—(The Romans in Künzing – roads to .  virtual reconstruction of the vicus of the fort or: An attempted approach to a picture of living space. My translation). Bericht der bayerischen Bodendenkmalpflege, 49. 2008. Pp.107-126 + 128

In the end of the article there is a perfectly autonomous contribution:

Sättele, Manuel. 2008. Methodik der virtuellen Rekonstruktion—(Methods of virtual reconstruction. My translation). Bericht der bayerischen Bodendenkmalpflege, 49. 2008. Pp. 126-28.

Contrary to the authors, acronomised SebSo and ManSä, some readers, who start their German geography with Lech, Main, Mas, Rhein, Inn, Donau, Weser Oder Elbe before they gather that perhaps Inn/Donau is more or less the environment where Künzing may be situated, have only a vague idea where to find Roman Quintana. To many Künzing is at best like Fiesole, Haut de Cagnes, Valtournanche, Gandersheim, Kelso, Vorbasse, Sogndal or Hög i Hälsingland, that is, European places we have perhaps heard about, but cannot point out on a map. The above articles won’t help us perhaps because their readers are required to know the geography of Bayern, but Wikipedia et cetera will (0).

Fig 01

Fig 02Twenty five – thirty years ago it was common to point out that one of the scientific values of reconstructions, despite their propensity to be wrong deceiving the public and the odd researcher, was the fact that in order to obtain a result, reconstruction forced researchers to perform a series of actions that had little or no support in the source material. Ideally, having completed the reconstruction, and being aware of its hallmark, the reconstruction should prompt the researcher to study the source material once again, searching for hitherto undetected significant patterns. The reconstruction was meant to throw new light over the existing records and suggest new ways of recording future investigations in order to produce knowledge. In reconstruction archaeology as in any applied natural science describing something, patterns are detected because the perceived is studied and described on the basis of different models.

In complex human contexts, however, it becomes obvious that although we get a better understanding, for instance of the reconstruction of the Iron Age house in Scandinavia, when using models, we are chasing a fleeing goal that becomes more and more distant because of its growing complexity: now that we have learnt how Iron Age man made use of timber it seems there are no extant suitable woods to be found anywhere in Scandinavian to supply us with the timber. Moreover, the quality of the craftsman and the contribution of his childhood experience to his craftsmanship will be difficult to judge although it may well be important, now that we a have a general understanding of the principles of house construction. Chasing this fleeing goal and trying to answer the impossible questions in order to know more about woods and craftsmanship make up the methodological point of the reconstruction.

Quite a number of words and repeated observations could have been saved had these commonplace insights into problems and possibilities of reconstructions simply been referred to. One might also have started with ManSä’s contribution because it summarizes the character of the virtual reconstruction project arguing along some of the lines sketched above. Referring to these by all means Scandinavian and thus barbaric rather than Roman insights would also have made it obvious that one should think about one’s readers when writing about reconstructions. There is little general purpose in trying to describe why the Kastellvicus at Kastell Künzing – the vicus (settlement) around the Künzing fort – should be reconstructed in this or that way. Instead these steps of the actual reconstruction itself and the report on what precise decisions were taken in the process, concerns mainly those who are supposed to continue the heritage management and carry out possible future excavations in Künzing — not the commonl archaeological reader.

Based on the article alone the common archaeological reader cannot and should not check the foundation of the reconstruction because the common reader doesn’t belong to the local scientific community addressed in the article. The reconstruction is interesting to a wider group of readers and worth reading for the simple reason that it is a platform which demands to be followed up.

The task is simple: reconstruct the Roman settlement and the landscape surrounding it according to a relevant chronological framework for the benefit of heritage management, future town planning, research and the public. Only quite far into the article does SebSo argue for two settlement phases, but the section is easy to find at page 117 ff. and may thus be read in advance by those who think that chronology is an interesting early companion to history.

The point of departure is simple too. The contextual remains divide themselves into two groups. Group (1) consists of areas of relevance to the task. They are either (1:a) that is, recorded before they were destroyed or (1:b) that is, destroyed but void of any helpful records. Group (2) consists of areas in which future investigations may be helpful.

So why not start by making a chronological series of maps, such as phase one and two, of areas (1) and areas (2) with the subdivision (1:a) or (1:b). A possible grey zone between (1:a) and (1:b) may come in handy. Needless to say: if investigations are actually begun at a specific place the division between (1) and (2) may need revision. There is no such series of maps. Implicitly the landscape map is there and somewhere it can probably be found. I don’t doubt that the Bodendenkmalpflege – the heritage board – have these maps. The article, however, has the only following Beilage:

Fig 03

Fig 04Remains, records and documentation govern the reconstruction and SebSom has almost got it right: to begin with, reconstructions of contexts dominated by large formal structures, such a dominant fortress in a specific topographical situation, are built up hierarchically imitating a past reality. This means that even if the vicus is in focus, one should start with the auxiliary fort Quintanis.

The reconstruction should follow a path that runs from – the fort, to the roads – Passau-Regensburg and Künzing-Töging, to the cemeteries, to the streets defining the quarters, to the quarters, the plots, their structure, their houses and the open space in their backyards. One could go further into the diagnostics of the settlement, but to a broader research community there is little point in doing so because the information is already overflowing. Nevertheless, judging from ManSä’s contribution p. 127 it seems that the archaeologists and 3D modelers have each their approach to reconstruction. That may well have been their experience in the Künzing project, but that doesn’t make it true, i.e. a theoretically reasonable situation.

Probably the heritage management has already got its Künzing instrument and the ability to make the vicus an even more interesting site. Likewise town planners in Künzing have something to refer to and the villa owners between Kastellstrasse and Kohortenstrasse may realize that a geophysical prospection in their gardens, and in other parts of the community, could be worthwhile and non-destructive. The Bodendenkmalamt is probably all in favour because the latest edition of Archaeologisches Jahr in Bayern is full of geophysics. Moreover, work was done already in the 1990s on the cemeteries (1).

The only problem seems to be that the project has not been followed up. I may of course be wrong having simply been unable to find the information.

The end product of the article consists of two reconstructions. They are very nice, but they are presented as illustrations informing the public, not as results of a research into the reconstruction of the vicus. Thus they are only illustrations and historical documents since there seems to be no 2nd and 3rd editions of the reconstruction. I may of course be wrong having simply been unable to find the information.

Fig 05

Fig 06

But suppose I am not wrong, then the Künzing project highlights the inability to of heritage authorities and museums to incorporate a scientific approach to knowledge production into their projects. This is not solely due to lack of funding, it also reflects an inability to design projects. Let’s hope I am wrong.


(0) There is a popular description of this part of the Limes in English and German by Wolfgang Czysz, Andrea Faber, Christof Flügel and C. Sebastian Sommer at

(1) See illustrations in the description referred to in note (0) and: Fassbinder, J.W.E., and H. Becker (1993), Kombination von Luftbild und Magnetik zur Prospektion eines urnenfelderzeitlichen Gräberfeldes bei Künzing, Arch. Jahr Bayern, 1992, 180-182.
Fassbinder, J.W.E., and H. Becker (1996), Das urnenfelder-/hallstattzeitliche Gräberfeld von Künzing, in Archäologische Prospektion Luftbildarchäologie und Geophysik, vol. 59, edited by K. Hemmeter and M. Petzet, pp. 139-141, Bayerisches Landesamt f Denkmalpflege, ISBN: 3-87490-541-1.)

The Reading Rest is collapsing under the weight of books, articles and manuscripts that must be read, but not written about. Owing to lack of time references will for a while be hinted only and subjects changed a bit – LIA. in Scandinavian being a focus.

Production sites are emblematic of the PCIA and most often they reveal very few links to the upper classes. Sometimes they are socially stratified villages such as Bejsebakken, but only seldom do aristocracy and lordship tie-in with production. In even fewer cases are halls or manors located at a landing site in a context involving production.


From the point of view of production and trade these sites resemble towns or market places, but as communities they are production manors dominated by an owner, whose presence is marked by a hall. This hall-and-landing-place structure goes back into the PCIA and continues into the MA e.g. at Borgund near Ålesund in Norway where the production is based on cod fishing in the spring. Here the hall is a small building probably representing the Godøya-based owner of the site. Sites developed in the CIA and Gokstad in Vestfold may have had a strong emphasis on a manor-and-market structure. It is, nevertheless, characteristic of these sites that they are not autonomous urban communities.

Since the original relation between a manor and a landing or trading place is a certain geographical distance, emblematically expressed by the relation Gudme–Lundeborg, we may expect that manorial presence at a landing site belongs to an advanced part of the PCIA and to the best of our knowledge they do. Non-manorial production sites on the other hand are epcia inventions. In part the aristocratic presence patronizes the site for economic reasons, but aristocracy is also prone to bring with it a political dimension. We sense that in Aggersborg where the manor is leveled to the ground to give room for the CIA ring fort, but at Füsing we are coming much closer to this dimension because excavations and discussions by the archaeologist Andres Dobat have made it most likely that Füsing is indeed Sliesthorp.

Sliesthorp is related to King Gudfred, who is mentioned in the Royal Frankish Annals and in the Life of Charlemagne. These two sources, the factual annals and the opinionated narrative about Charles’ life, cross reference each other. In terms of methodology, the latter is the outcome of the former and a typical way of writing history: having created a source material, a series of facts governed by the pace of time, consequences in the form of a Life may be drawn – biography being a prime form of history. Because in reality there is no clear line to be drawn between facts and interpretation, the lines none the less established become blurred and disappearing with deconstruction.

The story about Gudfred, who is introduced 804 and active 808-810 ce when he dies, is a case in point. In Einhard’s Vita Karoli Magni, Gudfred’s performance on the historical stage is summarized, but instead of ending with a negative judgement of his character, now that he is dead, it ends with a piece of precise but significant information – ‘since he was murdered by his own bodygard’ (nam a proprio satellite). In the Royal Frankish Annals he is murdered by ‘someone in his surrounding’ (a quodam suo satellite), which is correct but less significant. In the Annals, Gudfred is aggressive and in the Vita his is the end of a boastful king, who might just have put his inflated plans into action. In the Life, therefore, the significant fact rings a bell inasmuch as it is a perfect illustration of Proverbs 16:18: ‘arrogance precedes destruction and the spirit is exalted before fall’.

In the annals, before we are given the details of 808, we are told that the king is ‘insane’ or ‘mad’ – versanus – as if the annalist would like in advance to make sure that we understand the facts presented to us. As if we were reading the patient’s case book we may go back to the short notice from 804 where an undecided King Gudfred, having been advised by his people, will not keep his promise to meet with the Emperor. This is nothing very important, on the contrary it’s a small matter and the Emperor just sends a delegation to Sliesthorp where Gudfred sits with his fleet and army. The outcome is not mentioned. In 804 this is just a fact, but in 808 when Gudfred’s irrationality becomes apparent, 804 is an early, perhaps paranoid, sign of weakness. In 808 when he attacks the Obodrites commencing a series of irrational and stupid actions. In 809, on the pretext of hearsay he demands diplomatic negotiations with the Emperor. He agrees, but while much is discussed and nothing accomplished in extensive and fruitless talks, the Obodrites beat Gudfred’s allies, and his antagonist Drasco, defeated in 808, is raised to power again. In 810 the Emperor is informed that the Danes are attacking Friesland with 200 ships and considerable success, but also that Gudfred takes no part in this. And to the astonishment of the annalist this turns out to be true. Gudfred is sits at home – … vero Godofridum domi esse. Et revera ita erat. The Emperor, who sees this situation as threatening takes his elephant, crosses the Rhine by means of his fleet, awaits more troops and makes his camp where the Aller falls into the Weser, i.e. a little south southeast of Bremen and c. 60 km south of Hamburg. He awaits what will come of the threats expressed by the boasting Gudfred, who – taking out his victory in advance – wants to meet the Emperor on the battlefield. The Emperor waits, and then among a series of different intelligence he is told – almost by the way – that Gudfred has been killed.

From indecision in 804 to irrationalities in 808 and 809 to full-blown insanity and death in 810, so runs the entries in Mad King Gudfred’s case book. Gudfred, being at the receiving end of almost 40 years of Carolingian aggression trying to defend a border zone rather that attacking the Carolingians, probably saw things differently.

Be this as it may, annals are not fabricated and facts are facts. How then can we explain this particular 808 Gudfredian antic and paragon of irrationality:

‘Indeed, Gudfred, before he returned [from the Obodrites] destroyed a trading place – in the Danish tongue called Reric, which – set at the coast of the [Baltic] sea  – gives his kingdom great benefits from payment of taxes. Transferring all the merchants from that place, he came, with the whole army on board his fleet, to the port called Sliesthorp’—Godofridus vero priusquam reverteretur, distructo emporio, quad in oceani litore constitutum lingua Danorum Reric decebatur et magnam regno illius commoditatem vectigalium persolutione praestabat, translatisque inde negotiatoribus, soluta classe ad portum, qui Sliesthorp dicitur, cum universo exercitu venit.

Reric – today a landing place and ancient monument at Gross Strömkendorf  near Wismar – was an independent emporium on Obodrite territory. The place was favoured by the Carolingians when they wanted to trade with Scandinavian and Baltic countries bypassing Hedeby. A victim, we gather, of his troubled mind, Gudfred destroys the place. The itrrationality of this fact has been too much for many archaeologists and Medieval historians, who have suggested that Sliesthorp was indeed Hedeby. However, there is little reason to suggest that Hedeby should have changed its name in the 9th century and less reason to believe that an annalist, to whom Reric is a trading place (emporium), should believe that Hedeby was a harbour and a place (belonging to a king)  – portus and locus – rather than emporium, given that  it was already a well-established trading place. Moreover, it is odd to believe that Hedeby is in Denmark bordering the Saxons, rather than vice versa.

In addition, one must recognize that in the 8th c. the difference between old settlements called by and young ones called thorp was probably obvious and that the settlement next to present-day Füsing, in Denmark bordering on the Saxons, seems a reasonable thorp with a landing place. Likewise in Sliesthorp in Denmark bordering the Saxons there was a thorp-settlement and a harbour named after the settlement. The odd thing from the annalist’s point of view is the fact that Gudfred moves merchants from an urban trading place to a manor albeit with a harbour. Most archaeologists tend to share his opinion, but refuse to believe him and thus they come up with the equation Sliesthorp = Hedeby. This rational idea is wishful thinking given that the annalist knows that Gudfred is insane.

Instead we should look at Gudfred as a king rooted in the pcia. He doesn’t like independent towns, but he likes trade and doesn’t mind organizing it from his manors or any semi-rural site controlled by him. Taxation the Carolingian way is not his cup of tea – as it were he is busy defending his nation against it. He is nor raiding the Friesians either. In short he is old-fashioned and a relict. Trying to defend his country he uses his manor at Sliesthorp more or less the Charlemagne would use a one of his palaces as a strategic foothold in his mostly maritime warfare. He expects the merchants to thrive in Sliesthorp, probably he is mistaken and similar to the pcia lord at Aggersborg and his manor he and Sliesthorp will be wiped out. Be this as it may, strategic footholds seem to be the reason behind manor-controlled lia landing sites.

This week On the Reading Rest I have a very short text, a piece of composed indignation a response by a reformed Smithsonian curator and three descendants (archaeologists/anthropologists) working in Kodiak, Kodiak Island, Alaska. It’s a ten year old case, but I hope that time and the opening session of the 2013 SAA meeting in Honolulu, the Presidents Forum: The Future of Archaeology, will help shedding some light upon this indignation.

CroPulStefHaa Fig01

Crowell, Aron L., Pullar, Gordon L., Steffian, Amy F. and Haakanson Jr, Sven. 2004. Response to Lee and Graburn’s Review of “Looking Both Ways: Heritage and Identity of the Alutiiq People”.  American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 106, No. 2 (Jun., 2004), pp. 431-32 URL: .
Alutiiq archaeology has become a textbook example of a successful native Alaskan archaeology (00). Because of the dedicated work not least of descendant archaeologists and anthropologists it has been possible to make archaeology contribute considerably to an Alutiiq identity as well as to remodelling this identity. To begin with in the 1930s there was a clash between on the one hand the ‘pure Smithsonian research’ – rounding up the past and taking it into custody – and on the other baffled local interests forcefully overrun by the ‘pure’ archaeologists. Today fundamentalist Smithsonian curators are rare — the reformed all the more common.

By the 1980s the importance of what was labelled ‘the right of indigenous nations or peoples to their history’ – rather than political autonomy – had already been growing for a while. In this eventually happy case, since there were only a few advocates of the traditional society left, collaboration about the past was easily establish, and the role of the education of descendants and their endeavour bridging a gap between the traditional or suppressed and the modern must not be underestimated (01). Some traditional knowledge was still living culture, but the educated descendants– an intelligence reserve made visible – understood that one could also learn a lot from archaeology laying bare the material details of a lost world.

But lo and behold, when found, it turned out that this world was not lost – instead it was looked upon as primordial and living Alutiiq identity resurrected. Saving language, traditions and material culture from extinction applying among other techniques archaeology, gave back the Alutiiq their history by confirming it rather than making it more complex. At the same time, none the less, archaeology was instrumental in making this identity an integrated part of decidedly modern society.

The Kodiak textbook example is naïve and clarifying. To begin with, the textbook authors, Kelly and Thomas (Ke&Tho), build their didactic Alutiiq case on Aleš Hrdlička (1869-1943).

Between 1898 and 1903, during his scientific travels across America – later on he travelled east Asia too – Hrdlička sought to prove his hypothesis that the Americas were colonized (by Indians) from east Asia across the Bering Strait, probably some 3,000 years ago. Right and wrong, he obviously worked with questions related to a vast geographical area much larger than the Kodiak or the Aleutian Islands, despite their importance. With hindsight, especially since he didn’t believe in hominid evolution (sic!), we understand that he might as well have constructed his research as a series of case studies in a series of areas with more easily understood geographical borders, such as Kodiak Island. That would have been the correct thing to do – effortless combining regional and over-regional scales, but there were neither political nor scientific reasons forcing him to do so. On the contrary, travelling and collecting were mainstream research methods and very appropriate ones, if diffusion is what you are looking for. Collecting by travelling, moreover, was the only approach that got funding. Travelling for DNA backed up by a television team is still a wet dream to many.

CroPulStefHaa Fig02

Ke&Tho excel in double standards when they insist on putting Hrdlička into the Alutiiq (or Sugpiaq) context. They start by humorously insinuating that there was perhaps some truth about the man in the fact that some anecdotal Alutiit (pl. of Alutiiq, thus: Sugpiat) spotted ‘hard liquor’, in their pronunciation of his surname name. Given the traumatic effects of alcoholism – amongst a series of culturally induced devastating lethal diseases – on Alutiiq society, this mock-humorous anecdote is inappropriate – indirectly suggesting that alcoholism was the foreigners’ problem.

Ke&Tho go on to indicate that Hrdlička’s excavations were no more than robbing people of their heritage and they end suggesting that his ‘strictly scientific’ Smithsonian views were of limited value. Heralding ‘scientific’ values is otherwise emblematic of their text, but tacitly in pursuit of a greater glory they are obviously prepared to make an exception when it comes to giving the ‘Alutiiqs’ (they do not use the correct plural Alutiit) an identity.

Somewhat surprised, moreover, Ke&Tho state that when archaeologists with a local background consulted the Alutiiq suggesting that excavations would contribute to the understanding of Alutiiq identity, an agreement to excavate (based on common grounds) was soon reached. To Ke&Tho this was a ‘curious situation’. While the Alutiiq were still fighting for the repatriation of the material that Hrdlička stored in the Smithsonian Institute, they were not against modern archaeological excavations, if namely they felt sure it would help their cause (in a way most similar to the way public heritage management and museums helped the small Scandinavian countries in the 19th century when this dyad was invented (02)).

The Alutiiq deal was struck by an Alutiiq ‘descendant’ – a graduate student from the University of Michigan. Since the descendents continued to build up the heritage management and the archaeological museum in Kodiak and became Archaeologists, the Kodiak example fits Ke&Tho perfectly. To these textbook authors it is a model example under their heading ‘Seeking [and indeed finding] Common Grounds’.

Ke&Tho pretend they do not know that despite being beneficial bringing archaeology to Kodiak Island enhanced the modern remodelling of the traditional Alutiiq society – barely surviving when the United States in its capacity as a colonial power bought Alaska in 1867 and continued to destroy whatever local culture it could. Their choice of words, the ‘curious situation’ shows that somewhere in the back of their patronizing mind they know this is the case. True to their double standards they refrain from doing the obvious, i.e. a political rather than archaeological analysis of the situation arguing that strengthening the identity of the local society, even at the cost of destroying a number of traditional graves instead of preserving them, is recommendable. Using archaeology to confirm the present by referring to the past is politically wise, but scientifically, i.e. morally, dubious.
When it comes to history or archaeology ‘resurrecting lost traditions’ is a contradiction in terms. When something is resurrected it cannot be integrated and vice versa. It is resurrected as the true past, and thus parallel to the modern. It is recovered as the remains of a past forever lost and thus integrated with the modern, in as much as we recognize its agency. In everyday politics, nevertheless, ‘resurrecting lost traditions’ works just fine thanks to grave social injustice and the readiness of archaeologists always to side with the political and its current correctness. After all, the discipline and its funding were invented in the 19th c. owing to political will. Nationalism and racism were always an archaeological option, and today siding with the political rights of disappearing minorities has become a worthy option now that the heydays of nation state nationalism and colonialism are (hopefully) over.

This is where descendants as a category enters the scene as go-betweens, since integrating stubborn small minorities as well as defending their political rights and their traditional, in our sense of the word ‘non-modern’, ways of life is no doubt a politically popular/honourable thing to do – supported by any central government. Today, meeting the US census category ‘some ancestry’ rather than ‘exclusive ancestry’, the descendants are c. 50% of the Native Americans and a typical people with a go-between mission:

Table 00


And so, the Kodiak example found its way into textbooks. Some might have thought that blunt political correctness would be commented upon in a less friendly way since textbooks are meant to educate future archaeologists in a historical discipline and not in political behaviour. If archaeology is politicised such expectations are obviously naïve.

Looking both ways
Before the Alutiiq experience entered the textbook, part of the success of this endeavour to revitalize Alutiiq identity was an exhibition called Looking Both Ways: Heritage and Identity of the Alutiiq People. As this exhibition travelled the country it was paralleled by an exhibition of decontextualized Alutiiq masks in Paris at Musée du Quai Branly: Les Masques de la Collection Alphonse Pinart du Chaiteau-Musée de Boulogne-sur-Mer. Both exhibitions were accompanied by catalogues. In a review article Molly Lee & Nelson Graburn (LeGra) wrote about both the exhibitions and their publications. The LeGra criticism was gentle, but they pointed out the political agenda and correctness of both exhibitions. They suggested that Looking Both Ways was marked by a political will to stress Alutiiq, essentially ‘Our Alutiiq’, rather than say Unangan or indeed Sigpiaq (coastal dweller) identity. Looking Both Ways simply could not fall short to governmental interests, not least while it is in the interest of a central government to exchange broad categorizations, i.e. large heterogenic groups, for small homogenous groups. Small groups are easier to handle and balance against each other not least while anthropologists and linguists have taken it upon them to do their best categorizing Native Alaskans minutely.

GroPulStefHaa Fig04

Supporting an urban centre of Alutiiq culture, i.e. a Kodiak centre, is always right from a governmental point of view. At the same time the whole exhibition project found its platform in consultation with a broad committee of Alutiiq advisers. Having defined the vested interests of two parties the stronger succeeds in defining the common grounds, in this case the exhibition, on which the parties act.

KodiakmuseumSuch structures will have consequences: LeGra pointed out that the exhibition fitted its original setting, the Alutiiq Museum in Kodiak, better than the Anchorage Museum of History and Art’s (AMHA) Gallery 7. They noticed this as a sign of the long-standing drawbacks of a travelling exhibition. But that is hardly the case. Instead it is in the structure of ‘looking both ways’ that the exhibition was designed for the Alutiiq Museum in Kodiak and when it travelled out of its original setting it naturally lost a little, because nowadays Alutiiq identity has an urban centre – a national museum.

A Yup'ik story knifeLeGra suggested that less politically correct common grounds would have resulted in a more important exhibition. They hinted that the myriad of problems besetting rural Alaska, should have played a more prominent part in the exhibition. They thought that the picture of the Alutiiq was too superficial, uncritically painting a primordial, i.e. a fundamentally Alutiiq past into the present. The direct and indirect messages of the exhibition were obvious: now that we have a centre for Alutiiq culture, Alutiiq identity and its centre have become idealized.

LeGra didn’t sum up their critique as a blunt message, but nevertheless their views caused indignation and a response arguing that:

Alcoholism and other social problems in Alutliiq communities – presumably what Lee and Graburn refer to in their review – were discussed at an Elders’ planning conference for the exhibition in 1997 [… … ]. However, Elders spoke of these social ills as symptoms of the loss of identity, not characteristics that define it. [ … … ]. One said, “To sit and listen and think about the social ills that we’re all faced with – and they’re common – that is for another time.”(Response pp. 431f.)

Nobody can turn a blind eye to the problems of the Alutiit, LeGra just wanted to point out that finding common grounds in a politicised landscape comes with a price to disciplines such as Archaeology and Anthropology. The response is ample proof of their point telling us about the role and power of the ‘Elders’ – an institution with a capital E no less. The Elders’ dubious analysis of the concept of identity, and their dictum: social ills – that is for another time, are significant.

There is no doubt that the rights of every Alaskan must be respected and that modern society has an obligation and a duty to compensate rural Alaskan population, but that doesn’t mean that LeGra got it wrong. On the contrary they were right in their analysis ten years ago. Nevertheless, it has turned out that being right is of little importance in the political archaeology surrounding Native Americans.

Hoholulu2013It so happened that the Alutiiq became a textbook paragon of descendant/indigenous archaeology, and at 2013 Honolulu meeting of the Society for American Archaeology (SAA) this political archaeology was introduced at the opening session, the presidents forum — isn’t that a contradiction in terms? On this forum seven descendant archaeologists making up a panel consisting of a moderator and six discussants introduced themselves as representatives and discussed the problems they experience e.g. with archaeologists who do not respect the rights and obligations of those living in an area to protect and control its heritage. To the panellists the problem was the violation of the rights of the indigenous and the descendants. It was obvious that they equated this with the rights of indigenous peoples to their history.

After the presentations the audience could write down questions on cards, which were then collected and (perhaps) handed down to the panel. In this way, at the very end of the session, the panel was asked about the future of archaeology and how that could be brought about given the sadly familiar problems we had just heard about. The answer was simple, almost ‘Elderly’: If we learn by experience and do the right thing then everything will be fine. There was a general humming of consent on the podium, but out on the forum the audience didn’t seem totally convinced, because it is not often we hear scientific ideals ignored and reformulated as demagogic buzzwords at the very beginning of a scientific conference. Only if political archaeology is the centrepiece ‘doing the right thing’ is what matters, but then again doing the right thing borders on fabrication.

Archaeology and history cannot be defined as belonging to any modern group of people. In fact the remains of the past preserved in an area to which people or the individual relate are the remains of actions that aimed to form a near or distant future. These actions are not primarily intended to define the history of a specific modern group of people – not primarily intended objectively, specifically or fairly to prove the identity of those who live today. They were meant to create the future by whatever means necessary. Today one cannot reclaim one’s history, only an understanding of the past as ways of influencing the future.



(00) The textbook is Kelly, Robert L. & Thomas, David Hurst s. 2012 Archaeology. Wadsworth Publishing; 6 edition .403-4

(01) There is a well referenced paper on the role of and lack of education by Gordon L Pullar at  Pullar’s own experience of being a descendant is described and analyse in an article from 1992 in Arctic Anthropology, Vol. 29, No. 2, Maritime Cultures of Southern Alaska: Papers in Honor of Richard H. Jordan (1992), pp. 182-191. See:

(02) Indigenous Danish archaeology, i.e. Political Archaeology, began in the summer of 1807 when Rasmus Nyerup (*1759 †1829), who had become a professor of history of literatur at the university of Copenhagen, visited Fyn the land of his childhood and ancestors. When he wandered around in this landscape he understood that its heritage—his heritage and that of the Danes – was threatened. He wrote an article in a Copenhagen newspaper and the King saw the political potential of national heritage management and 10 years later the potential of the national museum.  The birth of Danish archaeology is paralleled by the birth, c. 175 years later, of Alutiiq archaeology – in fact Alutiiq archaeology and heritage management is modelled, consciously or unconsciously, on its Danish and Scandinavian predecessors (cf. On the Reading Rest, 12 November, 2012, The New Danish-Norman England – the Stout Bulwark of the Peoples’ Freedom)

O mi Germane – ubi es?

15 April, 2013

This week On the Reading Rest I have no less than four books on West European history mostly concerned with the later part of the first millennium CE. I read the introductions because historiography is my focus. Historiography is important when researchers of European decent think about the 5-6th c. and onwards as the beginning of a passage more or less in its own right from Antiquity to the Renaissance. Two of the books are anthologies and two are monographs.

Gillett, Andrew. 2003 (ed.). On Barbarian Identity. Critical approaches to Ethnicity in the Early Middle Ages. Brepols publishers, Turnhout.

Noble, Thomas F. X. 2006 (ed.). From Roman Provinces to Medieval Kingdoms. Routledge. London

Smith, Julia M. H. (2005). Europe after Rome: a New Cultural History 500-1000. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Olson, Lynette. (2007). The Early Middle Ages: The Birth of Europe Palgrave Macmillan. New York.


O mi germane – ubi es? is a pun, and a very old one too (Quintilian c. 95 CE referring to Cicero (01)), because germanus means ‘(full) brother’ as well as ‘German’, thus the mock sentimental: Oh ‘my brother’ ’my German’ where art thou? Today, we may ironically ask this remembering the rambling ways of German brothers now that they are not as dangerous as they were. To begin with this pun wasn’t always funny and Strabo in earnest suggested the following:

Now the parts beyond the Rhenus, immediately after the country of the Celti, slope towards the east and are occupied by the Germans, who, though they vary slightly from the Celtic stock in that they are wilder, taller, and have yellower hair, are in all other respects similar, for in build, habits, and modes of life they are such as I have said the Celti are. And I also think that it was for this reason that the Romans assigned to them the name “Germani,” as though they wished to indicate thereby that they were “genuine” Galatae, for in the language of the Romans “germani” means “genuine.” Strabo Geography Book 7:1:2.

Later on his etymology lost its significance, but in Tacitus there remains a measure of Barbarian virtue in Germani. From the 2nd c. CE and onwards into the 5th Germani and Germania were more often depicted in traditional poses on coins as defeated. In the same period Gaul is depicted as restored.

Germania and Gallia

In part the two anthologies discuss the same problems. One concerns the barbarians as a political phenomenon: did migrating barbarians organized in nations put an end to Rome? The other question concerns the ethnic unity of Germanic tribes and kingdoms: was there a common core identity among people called Franks, Alemanni, Visigoths etc.? Gillett (ed.) doesn’t think so being especially critical of the construction of ethnicity. In his anthology Derek Fewster, who doesn’t write about the middle of the first millennium ce., come closest to understanding ethnicity as the outcome of bad historical analyses. Noble (ed.) qualifies these questions, since revision is the model for all the books in the series to which this particular volume belongs. Instead of relying on the fall of Rome and the origin of the Germanic Early Medieval kingdoms it has been common, since the 1990s, to talk of the ‘transformation’ of the Roman world. I textbooks suitable for first year students the first sentence would point out that although Rome in the West disappeared as a political system – Roman civilization had already profoundly changed societies in northern Europe among those the people the Romans called Germans. The ongoing transformation of what was formally Rome is the complement of, and thus complemented by, the ongoing transformation of what was formally not-Rome in North and West Europe.

Even to Romans there was something about Germanic ways that transformed the land where Germani lived, i.e. Germania. When the poet Venantius Fortunatus wrote a wedding poem to King Sigebert and his Visigoth Queen Brunhild, who came to Metz in what we would term Gaul from Toledo in Spain. Venantius expressed his astonishment that there was a marriage bed for her in Germania – not in Gallia. Rhetorically he asks:

Quis crederet autem / Hispanam tibimet dominam, Germania nasci? –
Who would have believed / that with you there was born I Spain a mistress for Germania?  (Venantius Fortunatus, Book 6, Poem 1, ll. 117-18).
Since he presented the poem to the couple at their wedding, and became a popular court poet, his analysis of the Merovingian court was commonly accepted, emblematic of Germania and consequently of the Germanic ways. Spain, on the other hand did not qualify as Germania, despite its Visigoth court in La Mancha. The Visigoths were lords in Spain while the Franks had moved Germania into Gaul, at least into its northern parts, when they settled there. The examples suffice to show that the questions discussed in the two anthologies have been ‘with us’ and difficult to handle for the last 2000 years at least.


Nevertheless: The fall of Rome? and Germanic ethnogenesis? are questions typical of a post-war discussion presently dismissed by most. For theoretical reasons such discussions should have been abandoned already in the 1980s, but obviously that was not the case and pointless dichotomies such as: did Rome fall or did it not fall? Was there a core ethnicity or not? – continued to dominate the discussion whether researchers agreed or disagreed with one another or agreed to disagree. Especially Ethnicity and Identity continued to preoccupy researchers and only in recent years has the relation between ethnicity – heralded by ancient or modern voices – and bad historical analysis (a very common phenomenon then and now) been emphasized.

It should not be forgotten that the Romans themselves introduced the idea of ‘the political fall’ such as the Republic and bad ‘ethno-historical analysis’ such as Tacitus’ ‘Germania’. Caesar writing about the Civil War and Tacitus writing about Germans both wrote of something else too, and so do Gillett (ed.) and Noble (ed.). They write in the flickering torches of the EU and the comfortable straight jacket of Eurocentric post-war history departments, i.e. – paragons of the 6th c. royal and petty-royal halls; the nodes of a political network and prestige economy; a gender-controlled environment engaged in introspect historical narrative.

Sigebert coin

Using the concept of Ethnicity as a discursive node tying it to whatever source material available, is a way of ordering the discourse of a discipline in times when its male dominance is questioned. This shows already in Laura Bohannan’s essay ‘Shakespeare in the Bush’ (1966) (02) in which the patronizing ethnicity-driven claim to the correct interpretation of Hamlet rests equally well with Bohannan’s male friend in Oxford, England and elders in Tivland, Nigeria, despite the fundamental discrepancies between their correct interpretations, Both her friend and the elders are convinced that Laura Bohannan being a foreigner, but in reality a woman and thus not quite up to male standards, is not able fully to grasp ‘correct interpretation’. As the obvious representatives of each their ethnic group, they are both capable of contextualizing Hamlet as their story using ‘Hamlet’ as a discursive node. The capacity to see ethnicity in relation to border lines between the individual and a group, thus defining the individual as either inside or outside its social territory, makes it easy not least for conventional males to look at discipline as (my) territory and defend the discipline by discussing ethnicity taking its status as a discursive node for granted and disagreeing with others about ‘ethnicity and correct interpretation’. Arguing about the correct interpretation of ethnicity strengthens the structure of the discipline inasmuch as it creates schools combating each other without questioning the discursive node even if relabeling or subdividing it – ethnicity/identity – may be part of the struggle.

Scholars who think that ethnicity is unimportant or indeed the outcome of inferior historical analysis, are thus automatically excluded from the disciplinary discourse. In this case they tend to be women. Scholars who comprise traditional discursive nodes are included in the disciplinary discourse. In this case they tend to be men. Some prominent historians therefore figure in Noble ed. as well as Gillett ed. And some have two chapters in Noble (ed.). Most of the authors in Gillett (ed.) are obviously the young and sometimes angry generation. Nevertheless they all belong to a group we may call the Anthology Group.

Reading an introduction as a text in its own right means reading it as an epilogue as well as an introduction and in the case of the anthologies we are probably right in suggesting that the introductions were not written until all the contributions were available to the editor, who then sat down to analyse and explain what the anthology was all about in some ways knowing it already. Therefore, reading the introduction to an anthology as an epilogue is a method rather than simply unfair.

Writing a monograph one could do more or less the same, i.e. write the introduction when the rest of the book was already finished. But even so, the introduction would often have brewed in the author as the result of an interaction between the book as imagined and what has so far been written. The introduction develops and colours the book in the process of writing it.

Significantly there are some concepts that are consciously avoided in both Smith and Olson such as ethnicity and its correlate identity. Moreover, the European core area Germany, southern England and northern France is not anymore a must in a book pointing out the diversity of the Early Middle Ages. Cognitive history holds a prominent place and the break with the revisionist view is central: Julia M Smith

The awareness that archaeology doesn’t simply confirm or question the written sources, but make up ‘brand new evidence for the Early Middle Ages’ is another important component of both Olson’s and Smith’s books.

In the end of her introduction in a most typical way, Olson refers to a picture of the front of the Franks Casket commenting upon it in the following distinctly non-ethnic way:

Lynette Olson

Franks casket


Representing a radical break with the tradition of the anthologies, one is not surprised to find that one of the younger anthology authors has written a review, fault-finding and territory-defining, demonstrating a formidable inability to grasp Lynette Olson’s general approach and a sniper’s attitude, if not craftsmanship, to scientific discourse.

The anthology group, including the reviewer, is a good illustration to Fredrik Barth’s views upon ethnicity. Quoting Barth on almost anything, why not on his third approach – on boundaries: If a group maintains its identity when members interact with others, this entails criteria for determining membership and ways of signalling membership and exclusion (03) – and remembering the way the reviewer takes ethnogenesis and thus also ethnicity to be a discursive node in the sense of Discourse Theory, it becomes obvious that the anthology group interacts and struggle within itself to dominate the this node. Both the Noble (ed.) and the Gillett (ed.) group acknowledge the ethnicity node and the reviewer, who doesn’t forget to mention ethnogenesis as self-evident (although in his opinion misunderstood by Olson beyond comments), takes every opportunity to exclude Lynette Olson, as he would probably have tried to exclude Julie Smith, from the group. That is a safe thing to do because they would not contemplate membership. Thus he shows his group membership, his individuality and his loyalty as s boundary defender. Nevertheless, ethnicity, whether performed by groups of the past or a male anthology tribe, is just a reflection of bad historical analysis of the past or the present.

There is an interesting socio-biological component of the male defense of what seems primarily to be a scholarly territory perhaps not understood as social boundaries. Fredrik Barth, none the less, would have advised that the Anthology Group understood itself in terms of social boundaries.


(01) According to Quintilian, Cicero used the pun thus: Cimber hic fuit, a quo fratrem necatum; hoc Ciceronis dicto notatum est: Germanum Cimber occidit—There was this Cimber who murdered his brother; a fact recorded by Cicero in the words: “Cimber killed his ‘full brother’/’German’.” Quintilian Institutio Oratoria Book 8, 3, 29.

(02) The essay can be found at:

(03) See page 15 at

This week On the Reading Rest I have a translation of an essay in historical anthropology first published in French 2010.

Le Geoff, Jacques. Money and the Middle Ages: An Essay in historical anthropology. Cambridge. Polity Press. ISBN-13: 978-0-7456-5299-3

CoverBecause money is embedded and entangled in social relations, not least in the Middle Ages, money eludes definition. In the end of his essay Jaques Le Goff (JaLGo) points to these two characteristics – the first insight is a legacy of Karl Polanyi’s wiki/Karl_Polanyi , the second, which he brings in from the historian Albert Rigaudière membres/academiciens-depuis-1663/article/rigaudiere-albert-jean-marie , is made significant not least by himself.

JaLGo points to these characteristics because they guided him all the way through his analyses. To prove his point in a not too formal way, he quotes Le Petit Robert on the word ‘money’ demonstrating the elusiveness of any definition. The quotation breaks off after some of the colloquial terms before it becomes tedious, but also before the tangled embeddedness becomes reflected in the sheer mass of words and varieties. However, if we surf to there is a list of almost 300 words, nouns most, but also verbs and adjectives, making up a muddle of synonyms. There are useful phrases too: a quote, in Latin, from Ovid, about bearable barbarians, one more in Latin (anonymous, slightly distorted, but nevertheless Cicero about the sinews of war), a German saying, which also explains war, and a gentle line by Tennyson, i.e. not the one about ‘lust of gold … … war of old’, which is too long and pompous for a dinner conversation. Moreover, to complete the entry there is a warning not to confuse ‘Capitol’ and ‘Capital’ because ‘the similarity between the words is purely coincidental’ – well not ‘purely’. Who would have thought that Latin was so important when making economic conversation and not a fool of oneself.

Accountants & Bankers Dinner '08 (Photo: Anne Conover)

Accountants & Bankers Dinner ’08 (Photo: Anne Conover)

In Money and the Middle Ages (MoMa) JaLGo devotes 19 pages, an introduction and three short chapters, to arrive at the glorious and long 13th c. — 1160 to 1330 CE. It takes the following 62 pages and five chapters to bring us to the second half of the 14th c. and 66 pages and 7 chapters to analyze the last 100 years and the end of the Middle Ages in the 15th c. always taking the glorious (long) 13th c. into account eventually defending his thesis that there was no capitalism in the Middle Ages. This thesis, rather than stated as a point of departure stands out as an outcome, and capitalism thus ‘turns out’ to refer to the kind we associate with liberalism and the free market. A student paper structured that way, defending that thesis, would alert the serious wisdom and advice of any academic teacher – even kindly professors – unless of course the student could write as interestingly as JaLGo about MoMa.

The reason why I read the book is twofold. (1) I think it is essential to discuss history analyzing concepts which, similar to money, evade traditional definition. (2) I think that next e.g. to money one of these concepts is ‘modernity’, which in my opinion is not an era commencing sometime after the Middle Ages, but a confident relation with the future as defined and predicted by the past. The modern writes the structure and dynamics of the present into the future, preferably by presenting the future as solution. Consequently, the future when seen as a predicament triggers the less-modern, i.e. revision and an interest in the historic as a means to understanding the future. No era or century is either modern or non-modern and modernity may well exist as a subculture within a society structured by canonical obedience or historical revision.

In this perspective the history of the modern becomes interesting, and so does wealth and money, because they make up a sometimes open and sometimes
restricted field for modernity. On the road to modernity the long 13th c. is eventually checked by crises highlighting the non-modern. The late 14th to early 15th century, on the other hand, lay the foundation for a much more assured modernity, based on a new historical understanding.

Chapter Six, ‘Money and the Nascant States’, discusses the way the booming coin- and currency-related activities included merchants, King and Church among their actors. The Merchants were obviously the ones who knew how to make profit by means of trade and world systems, the Kings were obviously the ones most interested in the administration of the values of the state, thus partly creating the state, and the Church took pains to keep the moral issues alive arguing against usurers — cautiously transferring money (sometimes with a questionable profit) between private and limited public spheres.

Because of the boom, the North European exploitation of natural resources with roots at least in the Roman Iron Age, became visible in the Hanseatic trade echoing the pre-Medieval North European ingot and weight based economy, now hampered by the lack of a heavy silver coins belonging to a common currency — probably because it was impossible to convince trappers to use money with no guaranties against inflation. Failing to do so is the sure sign of a not-working non-liberal market. The Hanseatic system, like the Royal European systems, modeled or revived Roman and Iron Age systems. The great difference and the main problem for those trying to develop the administration of wealth and the practice of trade into a modern economic system was no doubt the Church, because it wasn’t able to create a discussion on morals in relation to a concept of modernity nor to create a discussion of the need to revise history in view of future or imminent problems.

JaLGo’s discussion of lending, debt and usury (p. 63 ff.) highlights the confrontation between scholastics and the ‘new intellectuals of the 13th c’. To the scholastics the past as guideline was described in the Bible in such a way that the present and thus the outcome of the future was given, while at the same time the present and future road to this outcome was in practice traumatic. To the ‘new intellectuals’ a study of mankind and the past, e.g. through Aristotle and later Graeco-Roman philosophy, was necessary in order to manage the present and the imminent future. The mixture of scholastic and non-scholastic views is typical of the in-between fundamentalism and modernity of the long 13th century. In the eyes of the scholastics teachers, those who received payment for their teaching (as if they were ancient sophists) were like ‘merchants of knowledge’ selling ‘words’, which rightfully belonged to God – i.e. they sold the value of His words in a way similar to the usurer, who acquired a profit without working and thus without the sweat of his face – earning money even as he slept. JaLGo points out this conflicting way of reasoning – drawing on the value of work and eventually on value and risk – and he defines it as something new to the long 13th century. This means that he probably doesn’t appreciate the significance of the following passage from a dialogue by Aelfric written c. 1000 CE:

Merchant: I embark on board ship with my wares and I sail over remote seas, sell my wares and buy precious objects that are unknown in this country. I bring these things to you over the sea enduring great danger and shipwreck with the whole of my goods hurled overboard and with me hardly escaping with my life.
Teacher: What sort of wares do you bring us?
Merchant: I bring purple cloth and silk, precious stones and gold, various sorts of clothes and dyes, wine and oil, ebony and brass, tin and brimstone, glass and like products.
Teacher; Do you want to sell your goods here when you have bought them elsewhere?
Merchant: I don’t want to, but where else can I make a profit from my work? I want the selling price to be dearer than the purchase price so that I can make some money to feed my wife and sons. (Translation from Latin: Ann E Watkins)

To scholastics, nevertheless, value and profit make up a dangerous path to follow because we may wonder how long, without getting sweaty, should the value or profit of one’s work last? Can risk and danger not teach a man to sweat? Is inheritance not a way of acquiring wealth without labour, even if your father is not an usurer? And if a merchant makes a profit that covers more than his needs when selling his goods is that not usury? But then again what are his needs and those of ‘wife and sons’?

The criticism of usury comes from everyday life in dynamic and flowering times when people think that the costs for surviving are too high – not primarily from the Bible. As JaLGo shows usury as a moral complex is not a great problem in the countryside, where subsistence is under the control of household economy. This economy produces a surplus of people, who for want of something better supply the towns with people because living in a town stands out as better than vagabonding in the countryside. If you belong to the rural community the value of you time is relatively constant given the modes of production, but in the towns, i.e. in the urban practice the value of time fluctuates, not so much in the productions of the crafts as in the time it takes to subsist. In the towns the remedy is money as long as there is food to buy.

In the chapter that concludes those concerning the glorious 13th c. ‘A New Wealth and a New Poverty’ – a convincing paradox – JaLGo introduces a couple relation that guides the distribution of money while at the same time it is unable to distribute it more evenly. In MoMa the subject is money, but the theoretical problem seems to be the way urbanized people think about their universe trapped between wealth and poverty, secular and Heavenly justice, merchant companies and mendicant orders or between vice and virtue — unable not to embrace both.

oresme salisburyIn this connection JaLGo draws attention to Nicolas Oresme’s ‘De Moneta’ since his analysis is the beginning of the modern or the proto modern analysis inasmuch as it is a new historical analysis, i.e. an analysis of Classical, Roman and Byzantine authors as a means to explain the principles that should guide our future. This kind of analysis will remedy future predicaments, such as those already experienced. In theory Nicholas Oresme represents emancipation from the unfruitful couple relation of the long 13th century.

An early paragon of the ‘new intellectual’, John of Salisbury, brought the ethical discussion of political science back from antiquity in order to inform Kings of the needs of their subjects, i.e., their responsibilities as secular monarchs towards their subjects. He is critical of the urban life of his day and age and sets out to reform the couple relation between the ruler as a ‘moral person’ and the ‘divine law’ by introducing the needs of the subjects – a very modern or non-canonical view on subjects. Characteristically, John is not as radical as the anonymous author of the 6th c. Dialogue on Political Science discussed OtRR 30 April 2012. Nevertheless, John, who writes between 1150 and 1180, introduces a new a kind of analysis emphasizing the citizen. Nicholas who writes in the mid-14th c. writes in the middle of a demographic crisis that led to war in the 14th and 15th century and his message to those in power is thus urgent.

We may see the depth of the demographic crisis in the 14th-15th century as consisting of an economic crisis in the beginning of the century resulting in famine later turned into a demographic catastrophe by the Plague. But why was a state of continuous warfare the outcome of famine and plague? Why did a population reduced by 30-50% start to fight each other? Why didn’t ‘the long 16th’ century commence immediately after the long 13th century?

In MoMa JaLGo argues that money is embedded in social relations, but also that progress in the form of capitalism and a real market economy (an embryonic Liberal capitalism) could not develop till after the Middle Ages, i.e. only after the Middle Age when we have done away with the Biblical understanding of money, usury, caritas etc. are we able to step into modernity. The reason for this, on the one hand, rests with the fact that the use of money is embedded in social relations, on the other (seemingly) it rests with the fact that history proceeds in cultural steps forever putting eras such as the Middle Ages behind us.

When capitalism enters the scene following in the footsteps of risk, credit and justifiable profit its steps are irreversible. Nevertheless, this view doesn’t sit well with the idea that money eludes traditional definition because it is embedded in social relations, which do not proceed in a series of stages excluding each other. As soon as money, the commensurable, is introduced risk, credit, fair profit, usury, caritas and so on must always be taken into account, irrespective of their being important or not. Defining day one of capitalism let alone the end of canonical financial moral is impossible.

Work at the exchequer

Work at the exchequer

When Aelfric, c. 1000 CE, indicated that merchants should be compensated for the risk they take, when John of Salisbury pointed to the needs of the subject as being on par with the rights of the King, and when Richard FitzNeal described the fairness of the Exchequer system of account, split tallies, administration and justice c. 1180, the arguments pointed towards social relations that became popular with JaLGo’s capitalism and modernity. But in JaLGo’s discussion important elements of capitalism cannot have been around for two or three hundreds of years without resulting in any change. Modernity cannot be a substratum of the Medieval. To many, not least British historians this is nevertheless quite possible. The reviewer of MoMa in Times Literary Supplement (01 Feb 2013) for one, is as good an exponent of this tradition as ever Aelfric, or John of Salisbury or Richard FitzNeal.


Let us return to the questions posed above: Why was there such as thing as the squeezed 14th-15th century? To JaLGo this question is irrelevant because the period is just one in which capitalism doesn’t happen. That is why the answers one might point to are not likely to be accepted by JaLGo. Nonetheless, one may point to the following: In the dwindling and soon drastically reduced populations, the amount of money per capita grew. And since coin economy, owing to all the circumstances put forward by JaLGo, was not spread to every corner of society and since there was thus a surplus of money, money was invested in wars. Instead of pointing to the anachronistic understanding of the early 14th century frescos in Siena as allegories of good and bad government, as JaLGo does, one might instead stick to their original topic, the difference between war and peace. War, not bad government was the problem of the squeezed 14th and 15th centuries.


A demographic crisis may be the result of inadequate energy regimes perhaps caused by factors such as the Little Ice Age and a subsequent breakdown in subsistence systems, which causes people to die of starvation. In the 14th century this kind of crisis was followed by the plague which reduced the population drastically and money thus became relatively speaking abundant and of limited use. In this situation it is typical of the wealthy capital owner with access to money, i.e. when money is cheap and populations decreasing, to start investing in wars, to follow the interests of power policies because it pays although it destroys the countryside. Rebuilding the economic system from its foundations is not the first capitalistic option – not even today. The point is simple: because there was an embryonic capitalism, investors followed the hopes of Kings lending them money to invest in wars because as bankers they had money. Both Investors and Kings thought it would be profitable; to begin with it was, in the end it wasn’t.

It is difficult to embrace JaLGo’s view upon capitalism, but in the end one finds that that is not a problem because MoMa is a book that should be read not for its thesis but for its ‘plaidoyer’.