This week On the Reading Rest I have a letter by Sidonius Apollinaris, but I don’t read it without consulting relevant chapters in:

coverWaarden, Johannes A. & Kelly, Gavin. 2013. New Approaches to Sidonius Apollinaris. [Late Antique History and Religion 7] Peeters. Leuven – Paris – Walpola, Ma. Acronym: NatSa

Reading a letter by Sidonius Apollinaris is not just a matter of getting the words and their immediate meaning right. His nine books of letters must also be seen as a work in themselves, a series of instalments, nine books of letters, related to Sidonius, his life, conscious and unconscious decisions, plans and opinions in his ‘long decade’, encompassing the 470s. His letters, however, are not terribly annalistic. Consequently, arrangement, editing, his choice of addressees, composition, facts, mood and opinion, to name but a few factors, must be actively understood in order to grasp the contexts of the letters and a wealth of relations. The possible variables are neither reviewable nor well-defined and reading Sidonius in depth is in other words reassuringly impossible but nevertheless worthwhile.

Book 8 letter 6, probably written from Clermont-Ferrand to his friend Namatius the Visigoth King Euric’s admiral stationed in Saintonges, is a case in point. (Go to page 145)

Sidonius Apollinaris personifies Late Antiquity. He writes classical Latin (Rodie Risselada, NatSa:273f & 300), but he also promotes himself in a non-classical but definitely Late-Antique style full of pretentious mannerism that doesn’t chime in well with the ever-present alleged modesty and professed inferiority of the author. This kind of lip service is so common and so linked to topos that is no more than the equivalent of more or less harmless politeness. It need not bother us reading the letter as long as we remember that life in Late Antiquity was horrible to most. Mannerism, moreover, hasn’t completely left us.

SidoniusWhen it comes to the overall structure of the nine books of letters, Roy Gibson (NatSa:195ff.) has argue that Sidonius composed his nine books according to an overarching structure reminiscent of the way Pliny the younger organized his (1). This means that anxiety would be a theme we must not be surprised to meet in a letter in book 7 or 8. Contrary to Pliny, Sidonius, who was well aware of the bleak aspects of life, makes a point of not losing hope. Fond of staging the drama of his own life in a historical setting (cf. Sigrid Mratschek, NatSa:254), he is nevertheless confident that ultimately the very kind of intellectualism that he himself represents will lead the way out of our present problems. Composing a series of ‘Books of Letters’ doesn’t prevent Sidonius from writing personal letters reflecting the world he lives in, and in this setting the last two books, 8 & 9, are appendices to the first seven inasmuch as he ends book 7 and 8 telling his addressee that enough is enough. Needless to say on request he procures book 8 & 9 (and so did Pliny). Sidonius, true to his composition is acutely aware of all possible dangers, but obeys ‘the command and set[s] his ‘sails to the old winds’. He asks himself why he, who has ‘navigated oceans’, ‘shouldn’t cross this quiet water’ (Book 8, letter 1). The book is the answer, anxiety present, and Sidonius is not discouraged.

With Ralph Mathisen we can expect that Book 8 was circulated in some form or other c. 480 CE, that is a couple of years after Books 1-7 (NatSa:Tab. 3 p 231).

The structure of Letter 6 is not straightforward. But reading the very last paragraph we understand that the letter is an answer to a request by Namatius asking Sidonius to send him some books that his friend would like to read because he is in camp organising his campaign and could do with a little leisure. Sending these books would have been a logical way to end the letter, had it not been for the paragraphs 13 to 17. In paragraph 13, after the first sentence, there is a break because a courier arrives. Talking to him Sidonius is told that Namatius has already weighed anchor pursuing the Saxons. If the last paragraph had not already been written we would expect the last paragraph to have rounded up the letter. Something like this: I send the books with the courier and they will await your happy return – please write to me as soon as you can! In fact what we have is a post scriptum pasted into the original last paragraph once meant to state the following:

[13] But, joking apart, do let me know how things go with you and your household. THE POST SCRIPTUM: [18 ]In accordance with your request, I send you the Libri Logistorici of Varro and the Chronology of Eusebius. If these models reach you safely, and you find a little leisure from the watches and the duties of the camp, you will be able, your arms once furbished, to apply another kind of polish to an eloquence which must be getting rusty. Farewell.

Prior to this last paragraph there are two sections. To begin with a rather long one (paragraphs 1 to 9) dedicated to one of Sidonii role models Flavius Nicetius. This man is a towering intellectual and orator successfully involved in governing. Since Flavius Nicetius likes Sidonius too, we are not surprised. Moreover, paragraph 1 begins with a reference to Caesar and that is relevant in view of the books by Varro – himself an intellectual at the centre of power and an antagonist accepted by Caesar.

Understandably, inasmuch as self-promotion must be balanced, the second part (paragraphs 10 to 12) begins: ‘But no more of me and my friend’ and Sidonius then goes on to jokingly to tease Namatius while flattering him. They are palls, God bless them, and now when the conversation has been made public we cannot help eavesdropping because Sidonius has chosen to publish himself in a way that reminds us of someone talking loudly into his phone on the train.

When the letter was finished the courier from Saintonges entered – what a coincidence! He is not Namatius’ courier, but having talked to the man Sidonius has to write the post scriptum (paragraphs 13 to 17). Needless to say he may have invented the anonymous courier. Later when Sidonius edits the letter he puts the post scriptum where it has the most dramatic effect. The post scriptum serves Sidonius to show his concern for a Saxon-hunting friend, and although he need not tell Namatius of the dangers, he does so anyway because danger, concern and anxiety it is one of his themes in Book 8. This mean that we know why the Saxons entered the letter – they are an indisputable example of the ruthless chillingly capable and dedicated barbarians – the IS/Isis of the 470s. Sidonius writes about the Saxons exactly to describe what Namatius and the well-informed already agree upon when it comes to Saxons. Everything is factual – horrible and true.

[13] … [The inserted Post Scriptum:] Just as I was on the point of ending a letter which had rambled on long enough, lo and behold! a courier from Saintonges. I whiled away some time talking with him about you; and he was very positive that you had weighed anchor, and in fulfilment of those half military, half naval duties of yours were coasting the western shores on the look-out for small curved pirate ships of the Saxons in whose every oarsman you think to detect an arch-pirate. Captains and crews alike, to a man they teach or learn the art of brigandage; therefore let me urgently caution you to be ever on the alert.

[14] For the Saxon is the most ferocious of all foes. He comes on you without warning; when you expect his attack he makes away. Resistance only moves him to contempt; a rash opponent is soon down. If he pursues he overtakes; if he flies himself, he is never caught. Shipwrecks to him are no terror, but only so much training. His is no mere acquaintance with the perils of the sea; he knows them as he knows himself. A storm puts his enemies off their guard, preventing his preparations from being seen; the chance of taking the foe by surprise makes him gladly face every hazard of rough waters and broken rocks.

[15] Moreover, when the Saxons are setting sail from the continent, and are about to drag their firm-holding anchors from an enemy’s shore, it is their usage, thus homeward bound, to abandon every tenth captive to the slow agony of a watery end, casting lots with perfect equity among the doomed crowd in execution of this iniquitous sentence of death. This custom is all the more deplorable in that it is prompted by honest superstition. These men are bound by vows which have to be paid in victims, they conceive it a religious act to perpetrate this horrible slaughter, and to take anguish from the prisoner in place of ransom; this polluting sacrilege is in their eyes an absolving sacrifice.

[16] I am in full of anxiety and apprehension about these dangers etc. etc. (Dalton 1915: Sidonius to Namatius: Book viii, letter vi, section 13-17).

The quotation describes fleets of small sailing ships full of oarsmen. The ships are many, quite fast and easy to manoeuvre, the sailors are capable.

Concerning the translation one may wonder about the word pandos translated as ‘curved’ in the expression Saxorum pandos myoparones—‘the Saxons’ small curved pirate ships’. The pirate ships, the myoparones, are light ships and thus easy to manoeuvre and dangerous to large men of war. Indirectly, Cicero Against Verres describes the character of these light vessels:

Is it because while you (Verres) were praetor, a most beautiful fleet, the bulwark of Sicily, the defence of the province, was burnt by the hands of pirates arriving in a few light galleys? Cic. Verr. 2, 3, 80, § 186

The ‘light galleys’ are the myoparones and their maritime strategy is based on their number (always several) the impossibility easily to foresee their movements and their speed, which makes them difficult to target. They are the equivalent of light cavalry attacking a formation of foot soldiers. Describing these light vessels as ‘curved’ is pointless. Most ships are curved and the shape of a myoparō not very important. It would be more reasonable, therefore, if pandos referred to the primary meaning of the verb pandere, that is, to spread out, extend; to unfold, or expand and described the ‘spread-out’ formation of the small ships when they attack heavy vessels. Moreover, if we believe that pandos refers to the shape of the individual vessel we tacitly imply that Sidonius is engaged in an ethnographic description of The Saxon Boat. Evidently he is not! boat, sail and anchor are instruments in the hands of the Saxons. He is concerned about these pirates’ naval skills, their landfall, their terrorising innocent people and murdering them in the most gruesome way – honestly believing that they do the right thing.

In Euric’s days coasting the Atlantic shores on his behalf as Namatius does, would be sailing all the way up to the mouth of the Somme hunting pirates in the sea and on land as the expression indicates when Sidonius describes the admirals assignment: atque inter officia nunc nautae, modo militis—‘and among assignments now naval, partly military’. Consequently, Sidonius describes the Saxon fleet as an effective naval force anchored in waters outside a coastal settlement making land fall although it is their seamanship that catches the eye. Since they are ‘setting sails from the continent’ to their homeland, these Saxons may have come from England as well as from the isles in the Wadden Sea or further north. Be this as it may, Sidonius relates second- or third-hand knowledge, which sounds very much like a narrative originally told by people who had encountered Saxons along the French coast and have had reason to be impressed by their tactics, because they were unusual and difficult to come to grips with. Sidonius’ description of the symbiosis between Saxon, ship and sea strongly suggests that 480 ce sailing ships existed in Northwest Europe.

Sidonius writes primarily to prove that he understands the perils of Namatius’ coast guarding and secondly in the end of his letter he demonstrates that he has complete confidence in the admiral. Nothing in the description of these terrorists seems wrong, and as Sidonius knows, taking more prisoners than one can safely bring home is a very good reason for sacrificing every tenth of them by chance if you are a rational and not just superstitious barbarian believing in fate. The prisoners are on the boats and thrown overboard just before the Saxons set out to sail home and decimation – as practiced by the Roman army – creates discipline.

If we look at the description of their setting sails:

Praeterea, priusquam de continenti in patriam vela laxantes hostico mordaces anchoras vado vellant, mos est—Moreover, prior to leaving the continent and enemy territory for their homeland, about to pull out their biting anchors and broad sails, it is their habit … .

we understand that they are living on their ships on the water as pirates making landfall. When Sidonius writes … priusquam de continenti in patriam vela laxantes hostico vado vellant, mos est …, he falls back on Vergil, Aeneid 1 169 (1) when Aeneas anchors on the Libyan coast. The 5th c. Afro-Roman author Dracontius, moreover, seems to have been drawing on both Vergil and Sidonius in his description of boats anchored on a shore, a very North-African situation. The fact that Sidonius writes to someone able to judge his description and that he inspires a poet to draw upon his formulation when describing a common phenomenon indicates that Sidonius’ second-hand description stood out as authentic.


There is something Pirate or Viking about Sidonius’ Saxons. Their tactics described in section 14, match a piratic strategy and it is not surprising that traveller Widsith has been together with two kinds of EIA Vikings. Indirectly, we may infer the existence of Vikings from the function of the barrages in EIA Denmark and find support for Viking behaviour in the odd water-related name on early runic inscriptions, such as Sikijaz (one who lives on a syke) or Wagagastiz (a guest from the wave). There are also similarities between Sidonius’ letter and Beowulf. The poem touches upon sailing and raiding allegedly one generation after Sidonius. Beowulf and his 15 armed warriors sail. Probably they are arch-pirates to Sidonius, but heroes in the poem. These fifteen men do not set out on their expedition until they have observed omens (vv 204 and 217). Later in the poem we are told that King Hygelac was killed in an attack on Friesland and the Franks by a Merovingian force. His combined naval and military operation failed and from the first description of the strife in which Hygelac was killed, it is obvious that it took place at least partly on the ships. As it happens, Beowulf, having fought well, jumps overboard and swims home. Fate, disrespect for water and the symbiosis Saxon–ship–sea, which Sidonius pointed to, would seem to have found a fantastic and eloquent exponent in Beowulf (vv 2354-66). Although Sidonius’ letter and Beowulf value their material differently they describe the same technology-based warfare.

Given the complementarity of their perspectives the actual profile of the Grönån canal (OtRR 4 February, 2013), becomes chronologically interesting. As Jan Bill points out (Bill 1997:187f. finns i reflistan) referring to the shape of the Oseberg ship, its frames were made of several pieces of wood in a brace-shaped [ }] rather than curved [ )] section. This construction created a stability essential for sailing the ship. Curved sections on the other hand result in faster albeit crank ships. Sidonius/Beowulf, c. 500, the Grönån section, c. 600, the Salme ships, c. 700 (2) and the Oseberg ship circa. 800 ce indicate a long and gradual technological development of the sailing ship in a naval/military Scandinavian setting. It is this long-term perspective which suggests that the Saxons were in fact sailing home already c. 480 CE.


(1) Tizzoni, Mark Lewis. 2014. Dracontius and the wider world. Cultural and intellectual interconnectedness in late fifth-century Vandal North Africa. Networks & Neighbours: Vol. 2.1: ‘Comparisons and Correlations’. Pp. 87-105.

(2) Bill, Jan. 1997. Ships and Seamanship. In: Peter Sawyer (ed.). The Oxford Illustrated History of the Vikings. Oxford. Pp 182-201.
Juri Peets. 2013. Salme ship burials. Revealing a grim cargo of elite Viking warriors. Current World Archaeology vol 58. Pp. 18-24


This week On the Reading Rest I have a published article of which no parts may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher. Since I have not been able to obtain a permission, and since I transmit something I have just read as I have read it, rather than contemplated and weighed it against a multitude of new and old opinions over a period of time, I cannot reveal the name of the publication because given what I have just written it is obvious that I have actually been quarrying information from a physical publication, which I then cannot transmit by this or indeed ‘any means electronic’. All this is understandable because buying the publication costs the consumer 0.25 € per page.

Fulham fig.00However, if you are able to follow this link:

you may be able to read the article behind the my acronym BaBroo.

You could also google: Vikings in Fulham.

The phrase ‘winter in Fulham’ gives c. 8,500 hits on Google, ‘summer in Ghent’ or ‘summer in Gent’ gives c. 15,000 hits. The reverse: summer in Fulham, winter in Ghent, is even more in favour of Ghent. The problem is Fulham. Despite the fact that bordered by Chelsea to the north and with the River Thames to the south, Fulham is one of the capital’s most popular residential enclaves and the properties are some of London’s most expensive. Although during the 18th century, city merchants flocked here for drinking, gambling and prostitutes. Today, however it is established and thriving – busy with shops, bars, boutiques and restaurants. (cf.

Fulham fig.01 The blog entry OtRR 8 August 2011 Pirate Settlements in England, listed a situation in Fulham 878-79 CE, as one of the few occasions when Vikings are mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: Manuscript A 878:(2) 7 þy geare gegadrode on hlóþ wicenga, 7 gesæt æt Fullanhamme be Temese—and that year Vikings gathered in a band (a hloþ was defined as 7-35 men), and sat at Fulham by the Thames.

And there, starting as a gang, they sat the winter through until they had grown into an army, then they sailed to Ghent in Belgium. This at least is what we gather from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, 878 and 879 CE.

The OtRR entry about the Fulham Viking winter is part of the quixotic struggle carried out on the blog to kill Vikings in general and let the rest be Vikings – that is pirates. Supported by BaBroo’s discussion, the present entry continues this hopeless fight.

Because there has been a tendency even in recent years among historians to relate Guthrum’s Danish army – which overran parts of England in the 870s, came to terms with Alfred 878 and secured East Anglia for themselves in 879 – to the Vikings gathering at Fulham, BaBroo discusses the Fulham scene in a number of perspectives starting with the meaning of the Old English word hlóþ. This word, however, is an Old Saxon one, hlōtha, which means booty in modern English (1).

Compared to Old Englishhlóþ, Old Saxon hlōtha has been unproductive. Old English hþ on the other hand came to designate not only the booty, but also a band of robbers and their crimes. Armed men, therefore, could come with the intention of robbing, mid hlóþe, rather than fighting, and not surprisingly the need for a verb was felt –hlóþian, to rob or spoil, i.e. what gangs or robbers – or indeed pirates – habitually do. Probably, the dynamics of the private initiative demonstrated by the hlóþ triggered a need for legislation and a hlóþ was thus defined as a body of 7 to 35 robbers.

In addition a specific terminology developed: hlóþere, is a gang member; hlóþbót, is a compensation or fine to be paid by a member of a hlóþ for the wrong committed by any one of them; hlóþgecrod, is a ‘crowd’ or small body of armed med and hlóþsliht, is the slaying of a member of a hlóþ. It’s all in Bosworth and Toller’s dictionary and that is why it seems fair to conclude that word was productive, exactly because the hlóþ phenomenon was common in England in the 9th century and onwards. Inventing the expression gegadrode on hlóþ—‘gathered on gang’ in the 9th century, is in other words a conscious use of language. On hlóþ describes the actions of robbers: they gathered gangwise, shipload upon shipload of pirates, e.g. at Fulham.

It is impossible, therefore, for anyone writing the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, to mistake a hlóþ for an army, i.e. a here, i.e. the word used to describe the men in Fulham 879. Rightly BaBroo concludes that a gang of pirates landed at Fulham in Dec 878. During winter and spring 879 they were probably joined by others and then they left for Ghent as an army. That is to say: the hlóþ of 878 had become the here of the year 879 at least in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

The 878 and 879 entries indicate a change in number, but more importantly a change of status: a hlóþ is engaged in robbing, an army in fighting. The gang member will be punished for the crimes committed by the gang or any member of it, but a soldier will not, by law, be punished for the crimes committed by the army or one of its soldiers. Gang members are guilty by association, soldiers are not. Contrary to robbers, soldiers are ordered to fight while pirates and thugs do it as a lifestyle – except of course if they turn out to be Russian soldiers posing as a hlóþ.

Because there has been a tendency even in recent years among historians to argue that the gang sitting in Fulham on the left bank of the Thames attracting other gangs, was actually a way of organizing an army in order to attack Wessex on the right bank, BaBroo:32ff looks into the topographical, geographical and strategic scene. Afterwards they address our limited insight into winter and spring activities in Fulham 878-9 (BaBroo:42f.). This allows them to conclude that the pirates, whom we hear of at Fulham, stayed put before they left. As it happened their stay became no more than an episode with no strategic or political consequences for England whatsoever. It is comparable to successful repatriation.

Thanks to BaBroo’s article, it meets the eye that when the Fulham Vikings had stopped being a team, since they had grown into an army, they sailed off to Ghent passing and leaving Essex and East Anglia behind them rather than joining Guthrum in his colonial endeavour to organize his new kingdom. This, and the fact that they actually preferred Ghent oven Kent, was their strategic decision when the stirred down the Thames. The leaders of the newly formed army may well have argued that if Guthrum had a Kingdom in Essex and East Anglia, while Alfred ruled Wessex, establishing a node in Ghent may be prolific. Fulham fig.02

Insisting that pirates form bands and soldiers armies makes sense of the Fulham 878-79 entries. Although winter in Fulham may well have been relatively dull, although pirates may have flocked here for drinking, gambling and prostitutes, it nevertheless created a possibility to gather an army and leave piracy behind you and become an army based in the Ghent area.

Fulham fig.03From an Anglo-Saxon point of view the Fulham episode would have stood out as a significant detail worth an entry in the annals. Although the episode didn’t become interesting until the result became obvious, i.e. when the newly formed army of Northmen left for Belgium, it is not inconceivable that the chronicler, wise in the event, summed up the episode in such a way that a seemingly insignificant event – a shipload of pirates seeking winter quarters in Fulham 878 – gathered momentum developing itself into an army that decided to leave England in 879.

Since the army, wedging itself between Guthumian Danes and Alfredian Saxons, didn’t try its luck in Wessex or the Danelaw, it  caught the attention of the chronicler and others that this kind of military body and political decision, developed in six of months. The episode was noteworthy and perhaps even astonishing.

When it comes to Vikings, what BaBroo critizises is a number of researchers who do not differentiate between an army of Danes and a band of pirates with an agenda of its own, because they believe Vikings and Danes to be synonymous. Formally they know the difference in practice they don’t. That is why some believe that the Vikings at Fulham were actually part of Guthrum’s army, split for strategical reasons. It so happens they weren’t related, because the term Viking is intended to differentiate pirates from Danes. All sensible researchers know that ‘Viking’ is just a conventional term for Danes or Northmen, Scandinavians more or less, but when writing the history of Anglo-Saxon England, some sensible researchers do not hesitate to equate pirate crews with armies, comparing apples and oranges, and making Danes and Vikings one and the same, irrespective of what the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle tries to convey. Notwithstanding, they would seem to believe that what happened in 878 could not in the perfect world of annals be revised in the light of 879, which of course they don’t believe, except when they do.


(1) See Köbler, Gerhard, Altsächsisches Wörterbuch, (5. Auflage) 2014

This week On the Reading Rest I have a book that try hard to escape what is expected of it. The expected is expressed by the Annals of Ulster, e.g. in the second entry for the year 798 CE: The burning of Inis Pátraic by the heathens, and they took the cattle-tribute of the territories, and broke the shrine of Do-Chonna, and also made great incursions both in Ireland and in Alba (U798.2): Shrine-breaking Vikings in the Irish Sea or Salafists in the Sahara – same Huns then as now – because a Hun is a Hun is a Hun and yet that may not be the whole truth.


Griffiths, David. 2010 (2012). Vikings of the Irish Sea. Conflict and Assimilation AD 790-1050. The History Press.

We learn a lot from Vikings of the Irish Sea. It is a good and interesting book and David Griffiths (DG) has written an introduction – a point of departure – in which he stresses the fact that viking – wicing in Old English – means ‘pirate’; that the actual word is uncommon; that the Irish spoke of foreigners sometimes dark or fair; that Vikings played a number of different roles in society. DG uses the label ‘Viking’ in the neutral conventional sense. Nevertheless we get the impression that as an ethnic heathen group they eventually dropped their barbarian identity. If we read the jacket blurb, which probably isn’t DG’s words, this misleading simplicity, Viking Reformed, makes us drift towards the general selling point, the Viking hype:


In part, the impression that although they are not Vikings the jacket-blurb way they still are, is due to the way DG introduces his investigation in the chapter following the introduction – Raids and Early Settlement in Ireland. He begins his analysis highlighting the earliest entries in the Annals of Ulster and similar chronicles simply by referring to them, seemingly taking them for granted. If we do so, we will have difficulties emancipating ourselves from their allegedly objective style and their skillfully constructed choice of events, the ostensibly important ones, which simply happened to take place in a certain year. Notwithstanding, we know that social chronology and the annalistic genre is never a simple series of events: the annals don’t lie; they are selective and imprecise to a fault.

Instead of highlighting the impression which the intruders made on the literate who lived by the coast or on small islands in monasteries amidst a material wealth ideologically attractive to any plunderer, the analysis must start before the Scandinavian colonists began what eventually turned out to be their not entirely successful project. The atrocities of heathen shiploads, al Qaida or salafist groups are ‘shameful terrorism’ to borrow an analytical term from Ayatollah Ali Khomeini, but they didn’t start at Inis Pátraic, in New York or Timbuktu. In the Viking case we need not know a lot about Scandinavia to understand the origin of Scandinavian behavior.

(1) In the 6th and 7th century, based on ownership of land, a new upper social stratum emerged, signified by magnate farms, and by landowners who need not live on their estates.

(2) The 7th and 8th century marked the end of a demographic crisis and the beginning of a growing population.

(3) Despite the demographic crisis, i.e. owing to social stratification and landownership, the landless, i.e. the pit-house population, couldn’t take over abandoned farms (cf. OtRR 21 January 2013).

(4) From the onset of the 8th century, if not before, larger boats and sailing ships (cf. OtRR 4 ebruary 2013) stimulated the political ambitions of the new upper classes inasmuch as new boat types renewed the logistics of communication and warfare.

Together, social structure, a population surplus, political ambition and new logistic possibilities paved the way for the formation of new political networks, plundering and colonization – in short a much enhanced revival of the dynamics of the 4th and 5th c. – around uniting seas. The magnates and their halls became the nodes in political networks. The waters of Central Denmark are the original uniting seas and they helped to define the colonial waters of The English Channel, and The Irish Sea. Since scale is important when logistics are crucial, the North Sea, albeit possible to cross, is too large to unite. On the other hand, the system may be modified to fit some coastal areas too, as well as fjords, the Trondheim Fjord being case in point.

Uniting seas

Since the model for this kind of political space came from Scandinavia as a geographical area, Scandinavians were among the first to engage themselves, but there was nothing particularly Scandinavian in the endeavor or in uniting seas. In the long run uniting seas could not sustain political units, except in Denmark where Øresund became a border in 1658 and in Sweden up and until 1809 when peace liberated Finland and made the Baltic a divide. Not surprisingly building bridges and tunnels are the most important communication projects in modern Denmark and indeed coastal Norway.

It is difficult to know when the Scandinavian model of the uniting sea became colonial, but it probably started as a small scale phenomenon following old expanded passages. This collonization or contact could be peaceful as well as violent. Similar to the situation in the 4th and 5th c. the journey would seamlessly combine acquisition, successful homecoming, emigration and death.

By quoting the annals DG emphasizes ethnic aspects rather than the model ones although he is often able to criticize ethnicity, e.g. when it comes to place names and the actual ethnic affiliation of a certain landowner. Language is not a perfect ethnic marker and must Scandinavian or non-Scandinavian landowners live on a farm with a Scandinavian respectively non-Scandinavian name? This is the basic question to which the answer is: No! DG’s critique is reasonable, but it backfires as criticism of the overarching ethnic perspective. This perspective, which is embraced as well as not-embraced by DG, stems from the inability to abandon the traditional Viking concept although we know that it is misleading.

Since the Viking concept is denoted by violent and pagan ethnic Scandinavians, it becomes difficult to uphold if the people involved cannot be defined ethnically, if myths could be embraced as narratives by non-Scandinavians, and if categories such as Norse, Native and half-breed were never exhaustively defined. Likewise it becomes difficult to uphold the concept if the intruders were no longer heathens, but Christians, which by the mid-10th century most of them were.

Grave finds lead to exactly the same problems as place names: it is impossible to maintain that Scandinavians were buried in a Scandinavian way. DG sums up the problem thus:
It is no longer acceptable merely to divide the practice of furnished and unfurnished burial along simplistic ethnic lines, with the latter being seen as an exclusive ‘native’ phenomenon. Just as people of non-Scandinavian origin may have been accorded pagan rites at their internment or cremation others who did have direct or familial Scandinavian backgrounds were probably buried in unfurnished graves, almost indistinguishably from those of the people they had settled amongst (p. 99).

DG nevertheless continues:
Science, particularly stable isotope analysis, promises to illuminate this question further. Nevertheless, the evidence from burials adds greatly to the picture of developing cultural hybridity around the Irish Sea … … (p.99).

Science in the shape of its current Deus ex machina, stable isotope analysis, obviously doesn’t tell us how people felt about their identity. Moreover, it stands to reason that amalgamation rather than hybridization characterized most identities, in which lineage were easily integrated. Vikings nevertheless are still there.

Even when they predate themselves, Scandinavians buried in Dublin before the first mentioning of monastery burners 795 CE, it is difficult to not to continue to believe chronicles and annals. DG accepts the possibility that Scandinavians settled in Ireland before 795 – somewhat reluctant to begin with and perhaps a little less reluctantly in Conclusions. Once again, a crucial point doesn’t really change anything – the annals are still trusted, albeit reluctantly. Because an unobtrusive start rather than full-blown terrorism is what we should expect, the early graves from Dublin, instead of being something perhaps possible, should have been the point of departure – trade before terror?

DG is not to be blamed for the obscurity that surrounds a series of early 14C-dates from graves in Dublin, Linzy Simpson is. How hard can it be to account for the results of a 14C-test? The central information is the name of the Laboratory, the number of the test, the year before present and the standard deviation, e.g. Xyz, 12345, b.p. 1250+/-45. Nonetheless, when the crucial dates were published in Medieval Dublin vol. VI 2005, that kind of simplicity and clarity was banned and readers were referred to a misleading ‘intercept date’ and supplied with the first and the last date of the +/- 2σ span. Only in the notes do we find the +/- 1σ, values, which do not figure in DG’s otherwise clarifying table (p. 76). It is difficult to find a 14C test result that will match the five figures given by Simpson: interception year, +/- 1σ and +/- 2σ limits, e.g. Grave F 196 South Great Georg’s Street: 770, 690, 790, 670 and 880 CE. Nevertheless a 14C-date such b.p. 1250 +/- 33 comes close. Since there are three burials with dates identical or very similar to F196, this implies that the probability that three of the dead were buried 795 CE or later is c. 25%.


The probability that all three are dated 795 or later is thus 0.25×0.25×0.25 = 0.015625. Consequently, the probability that at least one of the graves is earlier than 795 CE is 0.984375.That is a very high probability given that probabilities don’t come above one. The intention behind all this would seem to be a wish to obscure what would otherwise have been obvious: in Dublin before 795 CE, i.e. the first mentioning in the Annals of Ulster of a heathen attack on Ireland, people who felt it necessary to show affinities with the material culture of Scandinavia buried young men and at least one older woman, thus creating new burial grounds and consequently an element of a permanent new settlement inasmuch as graves make up an important element in a permanent and autonomous Iron Age settlement in Scandinavia.

The possibility that something similar to an 8th century CE Mesolithic diet would have caused a marine reservoir effect that made everybody look too young 14C-wise, is no more than a vain hope disguised as scholarly cautiousness, not least while the Annals of Ulster point out that the heathens took the cattle-tribute in 798. Reading the Annals as proof of the fact that heathens had not seen cows until 798 will not solve the problem of the early Dublin dates. In Dublin, beyond all reasonable doubt there is a pre-Annalistic heathen settlement with Scandinavian affinities — that is, a colony on a foreign coast.

If we trust the Annals of Ulster ‘heathens’ disappear in the early 900s and most Scandinavians, as we learn e.g. from DG’s discussion (143ff.), were Christians by 990s. In the Annals of Ulster, ‘Norsemen’ follow in the footsteps of the heathens. ‘Danes’ are rare and late and if anything related to the turbulent times in England from the 980s and onwards. This means that we can understands what happens between the 8th and 11th century CE in relation to a series of model stages:

(0) Small-scale immigration, sword in hand.
(1) A period of continued settlement and armed survey
(with a ‘crusade’ character, in search of booty, of little benefit for Heathendom)
(2) A period of further colonization and political formation
(3) A period of engulfment in local politics
(4) A period of international power struggle in connection with state formation

Vikings, i.e. pirates or sea robbers, probably existed up and until the third stage, but they were not labeled thus until the second model stage. Prior the Carolingian Iron Age (750-1025 CE), Vikings/Pirates were already an Iron Age Scandinavian phenomenon and we may argue that only when Scandinavians abroad started to look upon themselves as countrymen and players on the political scenes in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland, did it become necessary now and then to label Scandinavians and other freebooters ‘Vikings’, thus denouncing them.


There are no Vikings in the Annals of Ulster, because Vikings are rare, but they may be fitted into the model by means of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Their intermediate status belonging to stage 2 and 3 can be corroborated if we look into a translation from the 990s of a text originally written in Latin in the 980s.

abboIn Abbo of Fleury’s Life of St Edmund (Latin late 980s CE) translated into straightforward Old English (and shortened) by Aelfric of Eynsham in the late 990s CE, we are told how Ivar the Boneless and his men killed King Edmund of East Anglian a hundred odd years earlier in 869 CE. Translating this Latin text into Old English must have been a good opportunity to use the word wicing in order to describe both Ivar and his men as negatively as befitting, but ‘Viking’ and ‘pirate’ are used only in modern translations. Abbo of Fleury’s original Latin text uses pirata—pirate, pirata truculentes—grim pirates, piratica—piracy and latrocinium—freebooting to describe the Danes and their doings. But Aelfric writes flot-man throughout loosing pirates and freebooters in translation. Flot-man means seaman and since some seamen are pirates and some pirates Scandinavians, Bosworth and Toller translate: Flot-man: (1) sailor and seaman; (2a) pirate; (2b) ravaging Scandinavian. In our Aelfric case we may proceed down this road and add (2b:1) ‘Danish marauder’. Flot-man none the less is a euphemism – an indirect and vague substitute for the blunt and offensive wicing.

Abbo, a French career monk (1), who was in England at the Abbey of Ramsey in East Anglia 985-7 organizing and teaching, a visiting professor brought in from abroad, heard of Edmunds fate and wrote his Passio Sancti Edmundi dedicated to Archbishop Dunstan (†988) before he went back to the Fleury, his monastery near Orleans, and a new step in his career. Abbo had no problems calling a pirate a pirate and in all probability his informants at Ramsey were the ones who gave him the impression that pirate was the right word to use when they told him about Edmund’s death. Had they wished they could have referred to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle from the mid-9th century and the three Viking cases in East Anglia to prove their point (cf. OtRR 8 August, 2011).

Aelfric, like everyone else, knew that wicing meant pirate, but he chose the inexact over the exact term and that is understandable since he calls Ivar’s army a fyrd and talks of his ships as a scip-here, i.e. a fleet. A fyrd is a large army and fleet a large number of ships, and thus not emblematic of pirates, who don’t come by the thousands. That kind of consequence didn’t bother Abbo, who knew a pirate when he heard of him and needed something rascals-like rather than lordly to murder his martyr. In the retrospect, and to the educated reader in the 990s calling Ivar a Viking—‘pirate captain’ makes no sense because he commanded a big army and conquered East Anglia, although he ultimately came from the sea. Aelfric’s prose is not unobtrusive, on the contrary, it is pointed – Ivar’s emissary to Edmund describes his master boisterously as a great King, but Aelfric prefers árleáse flot-man—‘honourless’ seaman, which points safely to Ivar’s moral shortcomings. His choice of words allows us, albeit silently, to read ‘infamous pirate’, and ‘honourless’ is a significant term to Scandinavians, to whom honour was all-important, if we are to believe Icelandic sagas. Compared to Aelfric’s translation, Abbo’s original is genuinely agitprop. He calls Ivar furcifer, an abusive term which means yoke-bearer. It is used when mocking someone, because it implies that he is a slave doing menial work. But the invective may also label a gallows rogue, hang-dog or rascal. Consequently when Aelfric criticizes Ivar, his language is much less abusive than Abbo’s.

Aelfric in AbbasAelfric lived in Cerne Abbas 10 miles from the extraordinary 10th c. mass grave at Ridgeway Hill with the 54 beheaded mercenaries, of whom, isotopically speaking, at least 10 had ‘grown up in a colder climate than Britain’ and another 10 miles from the very last Viking attack recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (Portland 982 CE). Writing in the 990s, when not all Scandinavian lay beheaded in mass graves there may have be a point in not calling every Dane a Viking and any Danish petty king a hang-dog. In all robability, Christian Scandinavians were already part of society. In effect we may argue that what Aelfric achieved by translating Abbo so wisely, was to put an end to Scandinavian Vikings. In a way he succeeded since in the 11th century Viking became a metaphor for runaway thralls (Cf. On the Reading Rest: Pirate Settlements in England, 8 August, 2011; note (7) on Wulfstan’s Homily 33).



(1) This is what   has to say about Abbo (945-1004CE): Benedictine monk, taking the habit and coming of age at Saint Benoît-sur-Loire monastery, Fleury-sur-Loire, France. Studied at Paris, Rheims and Orleans in France. One of the great scholars of his age; we still have writings by him on astronomy, grammar, philosophy, mathematics, canon law, theology, biography, and other matters. Administered the abbey school and taught at Ramsey, Huntingdonshire, England from 985 to 987 at the request of Saint Oswald of Worcester, archbishop of York. Abbot at Fleury-sur-Loire, France in 988 where he instituted Cluniac observance; his election came into dispute, which was settled by the bishop who would later be Pope Sylvester II. Brought the abbey school to great renown. Fought for the rights of monks at the Synod of Saint Denis in 995. Ambassador to the Vatican where he became a close friend of Pope Gregory V. Peacemaker and negotiator between Pope Gregory V and King Robert the Pious of France. Worked to calm fears and reassure people who feared the end of the world or other problems with the millennial change to the year 1000. Murdered during a riot by monks he whose discipline he was trying to reform.

(2) Those who want to read about Edmund and the way Ivar made him a martyr will find a lot on the web:

Abbo’s Latin text at

Aelfric’s Old English text at

A translation of Aelfric’s text – with a pathetic introduction – can be found at:

TFig 00his Week On the Reading Rest I have something very common, i.e. a report (again in Swedish, but with good pictures) concerning a ‘unique archaeological’ find. Presently, entering ‘archaeological’ returns c. 43 and ‘unique archaeological’ c. 21 million hits on Google, and among the latter the ironic usage is probably ‘quite unique’, i.e. ‘like uncommon more or less’. Nevertheless, the combination, “quite unique” + ‘archaeological’, returns 400,000 hits. Luckily, when scrutinized the archaeologically unique turns out to be trapped in contextual meaning and entangled in the commonplace.

Nordqvist, Bengt. 2011. Våtmarksfynd från the forna åbädden vid Grönån [Wetland Finds from the Ancient River Bed by Grönån (i.e. Green River)]. UV rapport 2011:11. Arkeologisk undersökning. Swedish National Heritage Board.


Select: UV Rapport 2011:124.


In Scandinavian discussions within maritime archaeology sails have always been important because they indicate technological progress and refinement (cf. OtRR 25 July 2011). As it happens maritime archaeology is still obsessed with the importance of rational technology and invention as the emblem of historical development, as well as the emblem of modern scientific maritime method. The sail and its consequence the sailing ship are technological inventions that changed society because the sail was the first event in a chain triggering the next: Sail → Sailing Ships → Vikings → End of Prehistory →…. Because development is supposed to be dynamic and because we already know that the end of prehistory didn’t happen until 1025-50 CE, sails mustn’t be introduced too early or History will run ahead of itself.

Despite our archaeological endeavor, there are but a few contexts dating the introduction of the sail. The sailing ship with its buried crew of warriors from Salme on Saarema has nevertheless been dated to the beginning of the 8th c. CE and when published in more detail it will set Vikings sailing the seas and getting killed purposeless for generations unable to get started with the ‘Viking Age’, which began only 793 CE, a year that used to be just after the invention of the ‘Viking ship’ (1).

Since mainstream archaeologists have a gut feeling that technological solutions will become popular only when they fulfill a purpose, they are usually not bothered by technological implications. They simply wait for new sources to come to light dating the introduction of the sail. When that happens, i.e. when introduction is redated, it means that theory-based interpretation has been corrected by simple empirical observations, and mainstream archaeologists, who are always prepared to find something by chance, cry: ‘Eureka!’ – and why not ‘unique!’ while they are at it. Accordingly, mainstream archaeologists are prepared to cry havoc when theory threatens to inform empirical observation, and urge the archaeological observer to cast doubt upon the obvious in the observed.

The wetland finds from Grönån are referred to by Bengt Nordqvist (BN) as unique, which means that there is a good chance that they are actually trapped in contextual meaning and entangled in the commonplace.

Fig 02Grönån is a tributary to Göta Älv, which is the most important waterway in Southwest Sweden. It connects backwoods and coastland. Together with its tributaries, such as Grönån, it also runs through and structures a number of fertile settlement areas. During the Iron Age (IA) the most strategic settlement areas along this river would seem to be situated on the left shore of the river just north of its bifurcation at Kungälv. Sitting here, able to subside between coast and inland, one could benefit from exploiting the hinterland as well as from incoming and outgoing traffic without the immediate risk of being descended upon. Although the area is thus inland, up the river and relatively protected, choosing a settlement by Grönån rather than directly by Göta Älv would suit the general tendency for Early Iron Age (EIA) settlements, contrary to Late Iron Age (LIA) settlement, to avoid the relatively speaking unprotected ‘coastal situation’ by the large river.

On the left side of Göta Älv between Lödöse (the Early Medieval town directly by Göta Älv) and Nol we find a suitable upstream settlement area characterized not least by its maritime finds preserved in the wet and clayey sediments along the rivers. The ships from Äskekärr, a boatyard from the Carolingian Iron Age (CIA, 750-1025 CE) and consequently situated directly by Göta Älv are the most well-known. After Bn’s excavations we may add a similar, but much older site by Grönån. I will call it Skepplanda 226 (Sk226) because the parish name Skepplanda is significant and because it is conceivable that there are other similar sites along Grönån. The name Skepplanda is composed of the words land (in the plural) and skip—ship or skipvidh, i.e. the lands or district that supplies boat timber. BN, doesn’t comment on Skepplanda, but shows that waste and wood chippings indicates that trunks were brought to Sk226 to be processed, making radially split planks (boards), oars, ribs, oarlocks, etc. In addition there are several tools, such as wedges and a mallet, as well as boat details that support the boatyard interpretation. Sk226 is a site that befits a skipvidh-land, but also a landing-place that belongs to one or more farms on higher grounds the odd kilometer north of the river. Situated at Grönån, rather than Göta Älv, the site is protected and comparatively peripheral, i.e. typical EIA compared to CIA Äskekärr. Grönån, contrary to Göta Älv, is an obvious artery for floating small amounts of timber to yards near its estuary. As it happens Äskekärr is situated just 3km downstream from the point where Grönån falls into Göta Älv making it easy to supply the boatyard at Äskekärr with Skepplanda timber.

Grönån skepplanda

The reason why we find sites such as Äskekärr and Sk226 is a combination of the need in prehistory to maintain ships and boats, and the fact that rivers because of sedimentation and erosion change their course within the riverbeds. This leads to sediments covering some of the old shores preserving wood and fibers once dropped there by the boat builders. Today the river fronts are protected areas usually not touched by contract archaeology, but in the Skepplanda case the new road E45 had to cross Grönån, and since the span of the bridge was made as short as possible, the edges of the stream had to be investigated.

The excavation was difficult, but very successful and thanks to the sedimentation the stratigraphy revealed two chronological phases divided by sediments deposited c. 375 CE when the river moved c.15 meter to the South. Above the sediments the site continued to be used to land boats. In order to do so despite the new circumstances characterized by a wet strip between the river and the dry land, short canals were dug making it easier to pull the vessels out of the water. BN argues convincingly that in this phase the boats and ships that went into the canal had keels and a cross-section that we usually recognize from ships belonging to the CIA – that is sailing ships. Since the upper Skepplanda stratum is dated after c. 375 and before the 600s it would seem that sails were introduced sometime during these centuries. Salme and Sk226 thus make it likely that sails, but not the Viking Age, were introduced well before 800 CE. The fact that the canals were dug to fit the cross-section of the vessels indicates that the boats were floating when they entered their canal and that the canals were similar to a dock yard from which the boats were probably dragged up on the dry land.

Fig 04

In the first phase the site was used much more intensively in connection with the maintenance of boats. The site was established in the 2nd c. CE, but the hundred years c. 260-360 CE were its heyday. It stands to reason that Sk226 was not meant mainly to give service to people punting and rowing up and down Grönån. Using the boats on Göta Älv and in the archipelago or for coastal trafic in South Scandinavia would seem more important – not least why the popularity of Sk226 in the 3rd and 4th centuries, i.e. the LRIA, coincides with an economic boom in tandem with a period of warfare in South Scandinavian. In the 5th, 6th and 7th centuries we may instead expect lower economic activities. Skepplanda circumstances must to some extent have brought about the boom, but places such as Sk226 must nevertheless boom if the boom is going to be as general as it was. Sk226 is a site that fits the types of boats one would have built in the first half of the first millennium CE. A long, narrow and light boat such as the one from Hjortspring or a long, broad and heavy ship such as the one from Gokstad would not have fit the yard. But a series of boats similar to the ones from Nydam (the pine boat) or Valsgärde might well have been maintained at Sk226 (2).


The report is an overview with an understandable, but nevertheless biased focus on the ‘unique’, i.e. so far in Sweden the oldest wooden artefacts of their kind, definition, character, and function. Thus influenced by the face value of the ‘unique’, the report lacks the systematic information that would have allowed the reader to interpret the character of the site, i.e. its commonplace context, in greater detail (3). Consequently, the report doesn’t discuss intra-site matters in relation to time or the three periods defined by the 14C-tests.


Two examples go to illustrate this: (1) Although part of the canals belonging to the upper layers cut down into the glacial clay below the lower layers, we don’t know precisely where these disturbances of the lower layers occur. (2) The chronology rests on 14C-tests, but it is difficult and sometimes impossible to find out where the dated artefacts were found. Despite shortcomings such as these, there are nevertheless clues here and there in the text; some conclusion can probably be drawn and some insights sifted from it. Despite the restricted attitude in the report to conveying contextual facts, contextualizing the site is worth a try.

If the lower artefact layer at Sk226 is a boatyard used with varying intensity during 2-300 years, then one may wonder, especially looking at the last 100 years of the LRIA, whether the find distribution reflects the structure of a yard. The hypothesis (i.e. a theoretically informed point of view that may be tested against empirical patterns sometimes overlooked) is the following: maintenance takes place when a boat is lifted out of the water and secured with props allowing the craftsmen to stand next to the boat working on. In this position, while working, they tend to lose tools and utensils and to drop waste and broken parts. We would expect these wooden objects to be trodden down into the humid clay by chance and perhaps eventually by intension making the ground more stable. Since there are planks that must be wedged out of trunks, dressed and cut by the ax, we can expect wooden chippings and bits of planks more or less all over the place, but not specifically under or next to the boats. This means that (1) where the boats stood finds ought relatively speaking to be few. (2) Next to the boats there would be concentrations of artefacts; and (3) between the boats there should be more chippings and pieces of plank than next to or under the boats. These hypotheses hold true only if some parts of the site are defined by their boat standings. In the long run they are unlikely to hold true given the general freedom to choose a boat standing as best you please.

In the report the artefacts are divided into groups and mapped. Insignificant pieces of wood were plentiful but not recorded. Wooden chippings were abundant and fragments of planks relatively common. Both categories were recorded and mapped because being marked by tools they might reveal something about craftsmanship. If we use the categories defined by BN and combine the artefact maps in the report to give an impression of density and complexity there emerges a pattern to some extent consistent with the hypotheses indicating where the boats stood when they were maintained and repaired.


The pattern is easy to see in the two peripheral distributions, but blurred in the dense central part of the site where the boats may have stood within a larger less specific area just west of the landing-place. The peripheral boat standings are characterized by relatively speaking fewer artefacts.

When we add the chippings and the planks to the artefact distribution it is enhanced inasmuch as the areas between the possible boat standings are filled up by signatures. Since wedging the trunks, and dressing and cutting the planks benefit from an open work space rather than a boat standing, the two distributions match each other. Obviously axes were used next to the boats too, but less intensely.

If we figure out where the four oldest, i.e. the 2nd century 14C-tests were found their distribution coincides with the dense central part indicating that over the centuries the ideal division at the center of the site – the landing and the standing – becomes blurred because of the activities going on. It seem fair therefore to conclude that in the centre of the distribution, next to the landing area, later marked by the canals, there were standings where for hundreds of years boats stood when they were not used. In the period after c. 375 CE when the boats had their standing above the landing-place, maintenance might well have taken place at Sk226, but in that case the dry conditions of this possible site has deprived us of wooden remains. Nevertheless, the analysis of time and space at Sk226 suggests that the central part of the site was used between the 1st and the 7th c. CE. In the LRIA, work in the yard was intensified and this intensification shows in the addition two or three peripheral standings left and right of the original site. Because the peripheral standings were not used during a longer period and because they were left undisturbed by additional landings, their find distribution is not blurred. It tells us that from time to time in the LRIA there was more than one boat being looked after at Sk226. The expansion indicated by the 14C-dates is in other words matched by a find distribution that suggests a growing demand for tonnage in a period of dynamic economy and warfare. Before the activities at the site come to an end they became less intensive and thus more similar to the activities of the ERIA.


Grönån is a small river and the boats and ships that landed at Sk226 in the RIA were hardly more than 12-15 m. Probably they were similar in size to the small LRIA (pine) boat from the war offerings at Nydam. Oarlocks and a number of oars suggest that they were rowing vessels. A helm indicates that it wasn’t just small boats that landed. Some of the finds parallel elements of the LRIA boats in Nydam and one detail, a block with no wheel and thus perhaps a kind of gutter ring, might fit a rig. Since part of an anchor was also found the object might perhaps have filled a function in that connection uniting rope and anchor. Because of the Nydam parallels, the boats probably had a cross-section similar to the large Nydam boat and according to the new reconstruction of this boat the hull must have been supported by props when the boat stood on its standing in the yard. Probably the weight of such a boat was c. one ton. If we imagine that boats were now and then to be dragged past waterfalls, and compare them to what we know about the capacity of the large Nydam boat, they had a crew of c. 18 giving each man 55-60 kg to drag. Speculating about the reasons for giving up Sk226 it is reasonable to point to the fact that if we are engaged in regional and inter regional transportation the ships that could be maintained in Grönån became too small. A sites such as Äskekärr would accommodate large boats and ships although it lacked natural protection and easy conditions for floating timber. Sk226 was probably too small-scale and too protected for the new dynamic times of the CIA.

Fig 05

Sk226, Äskekärr and Fribrödreå (on Falster in Denmark) make up a small series comprising a millennium of off-settlement South Scandinavian ship yards in wetland environments characterized by wood because iron is not preserved. Their complement, linked to settlements such as Lundeborg (on Fyn) and Parviken (on Gotland) and covering the same period, are the dry land yards characterized by iron rivets because wood is not preserved. Together these sites define an economic geography and it is comforting to know that just as they are few and far apart today, they were once commonplace.

(1) Salme

There is an abstract: Warrior Burials with Scandinavian Finds of the Late Vendel Period (ca 750 AD) from Salme in Saaremaa/Ösel (Estonia)

Jüri Peets, Raili Allmäe, Liina Maldre (Tallinn University, Estonia) and Ragnar Saage (University of Tartu, Estonia)

In autumn 2008 remains of human skeletons and ancient artefacts, including some deformed sword fragments, boat rivets and two antler dice, were brought to light while digging an electrical cable trench for the lighting of a cycling track. Deciding mainly by the shape of the weapon fragments they were dated to the Vendel Period or the beginning of the Viking Age (7th–8th centuries). The finds were of Scandinavian types. Some of them, including gaming pieces and single-edged swords, hadn’t been previously found in Estonia. Artefacts related only to Estonia or Saaremaa were missing. The excavations of the site were resumed in 2010 and 2011, revealing a second ship – a big warship about 17m long. The ships contained the skeletons of 43 warriors with weapons and other grave goods: about 40 swords, 12 shields, about 50 arrowheads, 12 horn combs and about 300 game pieces lated of whalebone and 20 bovine femur heads, 5 of them were ornamented. Alongside with humans, dogs and hawks were sacrified. As food offerings swine, goat/lamb and bovine bones were found. The most significant find beside the ancient artefacts were the discovery of the remains of the first prehistoric boats (ships) in Estonia.

And information in Estonian on

(2) Nydam: or Rieck, Fleming. 1994. Jernalderkrigernes skibe. Nye og gamle udgravninger i Nydam mose. Vikingeskibshallen i Roskilde
Valsgärde, the boat in grave 6 looks like this:

 Valsgärde 6

 (3) Seemingly, the County Administrative Board (CAB) didn’t ask for it. At page 74 the author refers to some questions, posed before the final excavation took place and they may well have been formulated by a CAB because they are so odd:

Why is the largest artefact group objects that can be connected with the production of planks? The whole process of production from trunk to plank is represented in the material. Do these remains emanate from the production of something specific – such as boats?

If planks are what you find and boats what spring to you mind then you obviously know something that has already provoked the affirmative. The following question is thus not really surprising: Do even abandoned boats occur? But then again you better ask yourself because you wouldn’t want to miss them just because it hadn’t occurred to you that there might be boats, do you?

The next on the other hand is puzzling:

Is the agglomeration of the processed wooden objects a natural deposition? One might think that there is no need to talk of natural or unnatural depositions when we may talk of what is presumably meant namely primary or secondary depositions, but then again perhaps not; you never know with CABs. The right answer may actually be: ‘No, it’s an unnatural deposition!’ because you are not allowed to reformulate the original question, are you?

This week on the Reading Rest I have two books by J. J. A. Worsaae, one of the founding fathers of modern archaeology. He was a young father and it is characteristic of Worsaae that even when he didn’t know for sure and was in part wrong, he was more or less right — there is some sort of peoples’ freedom in England.



Worsaae, J. J. A. 1851. Minder om de Danske og Nordmændene i England, Skotland og Irland (MODON)—Monuments of the Danish and the Norwegians in England, Scotland and Ireland. Copenhagen.

(the sober publication in the following referred to as MODON).

Worsaae, J. J. A. 1863. Den danske Erobring af England og Normandiet (DEEN)—The Danish conquest of England and Normandy. Copenhagen.

(the popular book in the following referred to as DEEN)


In 1851 the Norwegian historian P. A. Munch wrote a history of the Norwegians disregarding archaeological sources. He argued among other things that Denmark was originally a country populated by Germans. In his book, The Viking Period, c. 800-1000 CE, was already a conventional term labeling a certain Scandinavian rather than Norwegian or Danish era epitomized by a ‘Viking’ mentality. For obvious political reasons Munch’s book was soon translated into German and called ‘The Nordic-Germanic People: their Original Home Land’, i.e. Norway and not Denmark. The Danish archaeologist Worsaae, a nationalist between two wars with Germany (1848-51 and 1864), didn’t like it.

Nevertheless, the birth of their respective nations was Worsaae’s as well as Munch’s concern, and Vikings denoted a pre-Christian mentality that took Scandinavians into Christian lands and their own nation states. Generally speaking, the experience civilized Vikings transforming them into Norwegians, Swedes and Danes.

Munch’s and Worsaae’s general understanding of the Viking Period or Viking Age as a period of transformation, not least from Pagan to Christian society, is still deeply felt. Sæbjørg Walaker Nordeide for one calls her 2011 book The Viking Age as a Period of Religious Transformation. Of course she doesn’t mean that and therefore the subtitle tells us what it is all about: The Christianization of Norway from AD 560-1150/1200. It is hard to understand why the first date is sharp and the last one fuzzy, since the first is the approximate beginning of the ‘Merovingian Period’ in Norway, i.e. 560-800 CE, while the concluding 50-year period in the Middle Ages is supposed to capture the year 1152/3 when to Nordeide’s mind (p. 21) Christianity was well-established in Norway and the country thus transformed. Transformation and civilization are difficult matters and no doubt pointing out what is in effect intellectual contact between Scandinavia and the Continent before 787 CE is a great step forward compared to the 1850 forefront of research – a leap of emancipation in the study of History.

Already in P.A. Munch’s days this Viking view – Pagan virtue eventually transformed into Christian civilization and social order – was contradicted by the earliest sources describing Scandinavian atrocities. P. A. Munch, who quotes the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle from 787 CE highlighting such aggressions, comments upon it: … … These were the first Danish ships to scourge England [literally: Þæt wæron þa ærestan scipu Deniscra monna þe Angelcynnes lond gesohton]. To Munch this part of the entry is an addition, added when several attacks had already taken place making ‘Danes’ English for ‘Scandinavian Vikings’. (P. A. Munch in German 1853:186)

Nevertheless, the quotation doesn’t refer to Vikings, only to three ships filled with aggressive Danes. And there is no historical proof of Munch’s conviction. References to Vikings in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle start to occur only late in the 9th century. Moreover, since his pre-understanding prevents him from believing that Danes come before Vikings, Munch thinks that the expression ‘the first Danish ships´ is wise in the event. A victim of his prejudice, he fails to see that Danes were not news to the chronicler; they had been around for hundreds of years, a nuisance, doing whatever they did already in the 6th c. In 787 CE, however, they took it one step further and came just to attack the land of the English.

From Munch to Nordeide, none the less, the Historian’s Viking has played a central part in the study of Norway, not least after the attack on Norway in 1940, or perhaps since 1937 when ‘Viking’, the leading Archaeological journal in Norway, was published for the first time by A W Brøgger, an archaeologist, almost as precocious as Worsaae, who strongly condemned Nazism already in 1936.

To Anglo-Saxons and Danes alike, ‘Viking’ was a well-known term in the 8th century, but as Worsaae (1851) points out, Gaelic speakers, who spoke of foreigners – Norwegians as finngalls and Danes as dubhgalls – had to translate ‘Viking’ when they heard the word. So they did, faithfully constructing the compound lochlannach – (1)loch-(2)lann-(3)ach, i.e. (3) a kinship (2) dwelling on/by/at (1) a lake/fjord/inlet, i.e. the equivalent of (1)Vik-(2,3)ing. It seems unlikely that they start differentiating between two kinds of foreigners after they had experienced lochlannach. On the contrary, Vikings were more deviant than foreign.

Leading authors such as P. A. Munch and J. J. A. Worsaae were interested in promoting Viking mentality as a driving factor in the history of their nations. Munch cemented his attitude already in 1851, but Worsaae’s changed between 1851 and 1863, not least because Denmark was threatened by German aggression. In 1851 Vikings played a less central role than in 1863 when arguing against Germans was so much more important than in 1851.


Worsaae was sent to the British Isles at King Christian’s initiative for nine month 1846-47. In a conversation, when Worsaae presented his latest book to the King, his Majesty all of a sudden asked Worsaae whether he would like to go abroad this summer. Worsaae said he would like to travel in Scandinavian before going to Russia in the future. Instead of commenting upon this, the King suggested England, Scotland and Ireland. Worsaae would very much like to, and the King asked why he hadn’t mentioned it before. Worsaae said that England was expensive, the King said he could afford it and ordered the exchequer to grant Worsaae 100£ (a year’s salary for an engineer – when the visit was prolonged more money was granted). In all probability the King had scientific as well as political reasons for sending Worsaae to England asking him to start in London. To a certain extent a king’s reasons for sending his subjects on a mission are always political, and Worsaae, who was already the King’s protégé, could be trusted. Off he went with letters of introduction to the conservative elite, such as the Duke of Sutherland and Lord Ellesmere. One year after Worsaae’s return the King died and war broke out (1848-51). A Danish nationalist and politically a non-liberal Worsaae published MODON when Denmark had won the war.

Worsaae was 25, clever, socially gifted, and already a leading archaeologist when he arrived in London. The Danish ambassador took him everywhere and Worsaae immediately understood that he had to buy some new clothes to fit in. It wasn’t his first trip abroad, but London and the museums, societies and private homes where he was welcomed during some hectic weeks, made a formidable impression on him – not least the respectful way he was treated as a researcher. Once at British Museum discussing some archaeological problems, his views were praised as similar to Worsaae’s before everybody understood that he was indeed Worsaae. The colleague who made the comment was busy translating one of Worsaae’s works from German. The importance of London shows in the letters he wrote to his mother and in MODON. Modern London and London around 1000 CE was the kind of place, where modern Danish researchers and ancient merchants, far from being Vikings, felt that they belonged. In  MODON, London is his ‘hook’ and in the end we know why a Dane 1000 CE or 1850 CE feels part of the same wonderful urban dynamism – they are at the centre of civilization far from provincial Denmark.

Worsaae tours the British Isles sorting every memoire of the Danes, and they are everywhere, putting them into the right category: anecdotes from the Napoleonic wars, popular misunderstandings, learned constructions, folklore, substantial folklore, place names, Scandinavian Saints, archaeological monuments and artefacts. They all fit the larger picture. Danes, Norwegians and Normans conquered England during a couple of hundred years and what they achieved was a necessary historical step in human development, when degenerated Anglo-Saxons, essentially Germans, were mixed with and replaced by the vigorous Scandinavians who laid the foundation for the present centre of the world — ‘The new Danish-Norman England – the Stout Bulwark of the Peoples’ Freedom. There is no need for Worsaae to protest this himself he simply quotes the scholar John Mitchell  Kemble (MODON:234-5) who pointed out that the battles lost by the Thames and the Avon (when the degenerated and demoralized Anglo-Saxons were defeated) were the preconditions for the victories by Sutlej (in the First Anglo-Sikh war 1845-46). The battle of Hastings was the birth of a Nation. England went on to become ‘1066 and all that’ while Denmark was marginalized, but still prosperous; despite having lost generations of capable men, Denmark became a Christian nation in the process of losing them.

All this wasn’t due to the Vikings. They played a minor part. They were splendid seamen and great fighters, the best they had in Scandinavia, but they weren’t instrumental and they were never all the Danes or Norwegians. Instead they were the robbers and plunderers (MODON:27ff). The settlers and tradesmen were the important ones and they were not Vikings – they were Danes and Norwegians, chieftains and leaders – still raw compared to the best Anglo-Saxons, but able to develop their civilization. In Worsaae’s sections on phenomena such as trade and the arts there are no Vikings. They are seamen with a warrior identity and their Pagan and Oðinnic consciousness is signified by the raven on their flags. Consequently, there’s no Viking Age in MODON.

In order to complement the studies he had undertaken 1846-47, Worsaae went to England and France — Normandy, Bretagne, and the area around the Loire estuary — in 1851-52. Although these new studies confirmed what he already knew he didn’t publish until the early 1860s when it became evident that Worsaae’s political views and the security of the nation converged: the analysis by P A Munch and German historians were a threat because they didn’t give credit to the Danes and their contribution to the history of Europe – even some English pro-Anglo-Saxon researchers tended to minimize the Danish input. These scholars, argued that the Anglo-Saxon mentality of the English was stopped only for a short while by Danish ‘pirates’ and their followers the Normans. Worsaae could prove that they were wrong. In DEEN he therefore took a larger grip on the Northwest European coastlands between the late 8th and the late 11th c. CE.

A few months after Worsaae had published his second book, the second war with Austria and Prussia broke out (1864, the King, Frederik VII had died in Nov 1863). Cautiously, England supported Denmark, but the Danish delegates (instructed by the new King Christian IX) didn’t accept the compromise put forward by the English foreign minister during a ceasefire and negotiations in London in May 1864. That was a mistake – and a few months later, not surprisingly, Denmark had lost the war and no less that 12 percent of its population became German citizens. One of the most spectacular archaeological finds – the Nydam boat became a German antiquity by the same treaty.

Tageting civilians, the ruined town Sønderborg, 1864.

In DEEN Worsaae reaches the same conclusion as in MODON, but he expresses himself more bluntly in a conclusion and four bullets:

‘Consequently, living memories of the manifest ancient Danish settlements and significant impressions on the western countries add undoubtedly new evidence to the written historical sources telling us

that the new Danish settlements in Danelaw in England, and in the lower Seine Valley or Normandy in France, regenerated and refined the degenerated Anglian and Frankish populations that lived there;

that one and each of these new Danish settlements in their own specific way contributed to undermining and overthrowing the German-Frankish rule in France and the German-Anglian rule in England where instead a large and powerful Danish realm was established;

that between them and in close cooperation they both prepared and made possible the ensuing Norman conquest of England;

and finally that in the blending that goes on between Britons, Anglo-Saxons, Danes and Normans after the fall of the Anglo-Saxons, it has predominantly been the Danish-Norman popular spirit that prevailed in the new England; and this spirit, most of all, has advanced England’s supremacy on the oceans, its freedom and glory in general.’

To arrive at these conclusions Worsaae sees more clearly that being a Viking is a certain way of fighting and ‘Viking’ a fighting spirit. Its strategy is sea-based robbery and plundering as long as it can be done with fast boats, gruesome warriors and horses – at sea and in undefended coastlands. Viking cruelty, however, is not much worse than the cruelty of any band of warriors. Nevertheless, the whole point in being a Viking is a matter of becoming non-Viking, i.e. becoming a landowner, lord, duke or king in a new land characterized by the dynamic, freedom-loving, late-heathen, forceful Danish mentality. By happy acculturation with 11th c Christianity, the foundation is laid for the European success in the 19th c. And even today a number of researchers think that this Danish-Norwegian-Swedish contribution to European history was important.

Over the years the Viking spirit has changed

Worsaae needed a Viking Age to construct his new perspectives. In his terminology, this age is not a period with a definite beginning and a definite end; on the contrary, it is times marked by a cultural phenomenon. As such they came to an end earlier in France than in England; in peripheral areas such as Orkney in the 10th c. the Norwegian king would get rid of ‘the worst Vikings’, who had rooted themselves, and create a reasonable society (1). Worsaae’s Viking Age, therefore, is a period of transition followed by its natural goal, ‘The Settlement Age’ when warfare become politics rather than plundering. Armies on boats in an estuary, nevertheless, continue for a while to be strategically important. Worsaae’s last phase, ‘The Conquering Age’, is the beginning of the new English nation and the end of large armies living onboard an armada of boats – i.e. the end of the last strategic emblem of pirate/Viking warfare.

When Worsaae includes France in his model, he can point to a source material similar to the English and describe the general rules in his historically necessary change, not least because Danes or Northmen in France were given what they wanted, i.e. land, semi-peripheral coastal lands where they were allowed to organize themselves developing the society that eventually finished off Anglo-Saxon England after centuries of Danish penetration.

Behind Worsaae’s social construction of Vikings there is a Scandinavian mentality and when this non-degenerated state of mind is combined with Christianity, new and powerful nations will evolve in areas characterized by degenerated Franks or Anglo-Saxons, i.e. Germans. The fighting may go on for centuries, but in the end the new spirit will prevail.

Nevertheless, in 1864 the rules of the European Continent, showed that small Scandinavian kingdoms had better become non-aggressive and liberal democracies if they wanted to survive and proud themselves of anything. Not surprisingly, Vikings were democrats in Sweden already when the historian Geijer described them in the 1840s, but then again aggression disappeared from Swedish policy already 1809 when Finland became Russian.

Danish archaeology was created after the Napoleonic Wars in order to give the nation a revised national history incorporating the entire population. In just a few decades it succeeded not least because it produced a new and relevant source material that linked-in with place names and early historic sources. Soon everybody could do it at least in small countries.

History became a matter of development and revision and Worsaae took advantage of the obvious political points in a national history of development. And he went further, made it nationalistic and linked it with the idea of cultural degeneration and the necessity to breed new people – an embryonic racism easily amalgamated with nationalism on the basis of historical revision. Worsaae singled out the prolific gene pooling supposed to take place when a Dane married a Brit, an Anglo-Saxon or a Frank (who by the way weren’t as important as German historians believed).

When sent to England to study a model case, Worsaae’s archaeology, i.e. Archaeology, had to revise the history of the English. It had to point out that their success was a product of Pagan-Christian acculturation and healthy cross-breeding principles – initial cruelty as usual being inescapable. Inasmuch as historical archaeology sorted even Europeans according to civilization, mental health and development, allowing the healthy to reform the degenerated, it defended the rights of the English and Europeans to become colonial. In effect Danes and Norwegians were frontier people going west a thousand years ahead of themselves and other Europeans.

The second wave of frontier people

Worsaae was translated and widely read. And during the odd generation the nationalist, racist and colonial archaeology became a reality. Even today it is difficult to escape this archaeology which in its post-colonial disguise tends to explain to the indigenous, such as the Anglo-Saxons, that they are indeed heritage, indigenous and fragile. When American politicians dream of colonizing Mars they don’t expect first nations to lead the way. Given second thought, however, there is little doubt that the indigenous, such as ‘first nation Vikings’, will eventually prevail, if they are allowed to develop into something else.


(0) A quote from Worsaae 1851 summing up his conclusions.

(1) Judging from the homepage he didn’t succeed. Six out of ten Orcadian men are Vikings because their blood is Viking. Unfortunately (to this didn’t mean Viking invasion and later on studies have showed that there were as many female as male Scandinavian settlers in Orkney. The blood therefore seems to be Scandinavian rather than Viking because women by definition aren’t Viking. To save the blood=mentality hypothesis we shall have to say that women are degenerated. Some may be tempted, but it would seem more reasonable to stop looking for Viking blood.

This week on the Reading Rest I have a book:

James Graham-Campbell, Søren M. Sindbæk and Gareth Williams (eds). Silver Economies, Monetisation and Society in Scandinavia, AD 800-1100. Aarhus University Press. 2011.

This is a conference publication and a good one too not least while it is a mixture of current ideas, and some old ones. The new perspectives dominate, but there are a number of problems that one would hope had general answers although the answers have a contextual basis only. To mention just one essential question: What is the relation in time between the date representing the minting of a coin and the one representing the day it was hoarded and eventually forgotten?

Far from being a comprehensive overview Silver Economies is a collection of mostly interesting contributions. Notwithstanding, I chose to comment upon a phenomenon that I happened to observe thirty odd years ago, when I was interested in coin weights and Oriental coins found on Gotland. The phenomenon was a simple one:

Early Oriental coins are slightly underweight compared to later coins.
Oriental coins are overrepresented among stray finds, i.e. coins probably lost while circulating rather than being hoarded.
When circulating coins, there is a general tendency to introduce lightweight and consequently early Oriental coins. Consequently, once again, one would tend to hoard surplus i.e. relatively speaking inactive coins i.e. fortune in relatively speaking younger and heavier coins.

One of the problems characterizing studies concerning the period in question is the old view upon the Viking Age as a leap from prehistory to history, from Heathendom to Christianity, from petty kingdoms to nation states. A period of progress, when a number of hitherto unknown and more advance cultural phenomena were introduced as part of the evolution of society, the Viking Age is supposed to be Viking and vigorous. Traditionally, monetization, i.e. understanding the principle of the nominal value and commensurability in a coin, and thus currency as being a legal or agreed upon tender, was one of the progresses embraced by barbarian Vikings, about to become civilized Christians. The idea of the brutally primitive Pagan becoming tolerably Christian is an old one, reflected already in Carolingian poetry commenting upon Danes and Northmen (cf. On the Reading Rest June 13th 2011), but also in the odd 20th century Viking Congress.

When it comes to the introduction of monetization in Scandinavia this Viking view has to be abandoned.

When the Roman Empire expanded northwards some coins started to reach Scandinavia. They were mostly silver or gold and few and far between. Silver and gold coins were valuable, but generally speaking uninteresting from a monetary point of view although they must have changed hands. The interesting coins, as it happens, are the ones with a negligible metal value, i.e. coins consisting mainly of copper.

These low-value coins have been known for years, but the use of metal detectors has added significantly to their number, especially in Denmark where the method is safely organized. Their distribution in Scandinavia meets the eye, because they are frequent in Central Scandinavia where there are no other Roman coins. Their chronological distribution is odd too, because they are sometimes very old, even 3rd century BC. Their greatest quality, nevertheless, is the fact that they are often very uncommon types – the further inland the odder. Lastly, when found in inland hoards the time span represented by the coins may be several hundreds of years and the youngest coins in such a hoard may be an Ottoman copper coin [1]. Like old Oriental coins they don’t easily drop out of circulation.

Low-value Roman coins in Scandinavia

Antiquaries once had a tendency to see them as imported in modern times, but today there is little reason to believe that, not least why the distribution of these coins mirrors routes from inland to coastland Scandinavia and vice versa. The most frequented seems to have been the one stretching from the Stockholm area to Darlecarlia.

We cannot see the roads themselves, only places along the route where the coins were likely to be lost or hoarded.

Stockholm is the obvious import situation and transshipment area with small hoards on the islands, e.g. under the Parliament or from Djurgården and stray finds such as the one on the hillock where Historiska Museet stands today as well as further off in the outskirts of today’s city. The first stop along the route towards the inland is Stäket, a couple of stray finds at a typical communication point, or Väsby. The next is Sigtuna, hoard and stray finds, before we reach the Uppsala area. From these plains we proceed all the way to Darlecarlia where hoards and stray finds are plentiful.

Further north this coastland-inland pattern is even more obvious owing to communication along the rivers.

It stands to reason that the use of coins in the inland has something to do with the exploitation of the inland and the transshipment of goods bringing them further south. Likewise the simplest way of understanding this usage, within a restricted economy involving trappers and farmers, middleman or supercargo, is to suggest that the coins fulfill their purpose because they are uncommon and impossible to imitate in Scandinavia. Their value is negotiated in a market situation. This economy was probably limited: valuables such as fur against everyday commodities and clothes. The reason for such an economy is in all probability the fact that trappers cannot be expected to carry off their surplus in goods.

The point in all this is the fact that from the Early Iron Age and onwards Scandinavians understood the idea of monetization, of nominal coin value and of the self-regulating market. It was a limited market circulating goods. The nominal value of a coin was probably just ‘one’, and the real value negotiated.

But it was a market and it had nothing to do with the Viking Age. The Viking Age, as it happens, is just the enhancement during the Carolingian Iron Age of phenomena introduced during the Early Iron Age.

In Silver Economies, Monetisation and Society in Scandinavia, AD 800-1100, Birgitta Hårdh and Ingrid Gustin draw attention to the abovementioned facts about the circulating Oriental coins, they are old, in their cases on Viking Age market places such as Kaupang, Birka and Uppåkra where the expected relation to the hoards from Scania is pointed out by Birgitta Hårdh. The pattern disclosed by Hårdh and Gustin link in with the well-known fact that there is much more silver in Scandinavian than necessary to keep the market economy going. And obviously those who owned silver didn’t find it necessary to put their silver into circulation, creating inflation, in order to get hold of the goods on the market. Nominal circulation of coins and coins factions simply wasn’t big business. Predictably the weight of coins and coin fragments, even their accumulated weight, is negligible. That large amounts of silver changed hands at market places as well as on farms and in halls is obvious and so is the inflation when it comes to the value of beads and bronze (cf. Sindbæk’s article in Silver Economies, Fig.2.1.). By the way, there are early hoards of beards and simple jewelry belonging to the  5th and 6th century in Eketorps borg on Öland.

Ultimately, coins circulating on the market place originate with the large silver owners. They in their turn belong to landowning families mainly engaged in import and contractual distribution and redistribution of large amounts of bullion and jewelry outside the market place. Buying ships and arranging marriages, e.g. in order later on to inherit land, may be activities belonging to this sphere of economy. There is a limit to these transactions since, e.g. on insular Gotland, landowning families cannot avoid making fortunes of their silver. Obviously, these sliver owners must also have supplied the market place economy with small amounts of silver, successfully controlling inflation. Some of the silver goes back into their hoards, because ultimately they produce real values such as goods, and some enters into the surplus of those who sell on the market, e.g. craftwork or services. When we consider the small amount of silver, it seems likely that large owners of silver introduces only a very small fraction of their silver directly into the market place. They may of course buy on the market, but also supply their pit house dwellers, such as weavers and smiths, with silver coins for their products, before the farm owners bring cloth, combs and iron tools to the urban economy. Their pit house dwellers and farm hands on the other hand will benefit from the nominal market economy in places such as Kaupang and Birka and Uppåkra.

The Roman copper coins and the Oriental silver coins circulating in market economies during the first millennium AD suggest that in Scandinavia market economy was introduced in the periphery of the economy, not as a splendid mind-broadening innovation, but reluctantly and primarily as a result of the social stratification of society in which there is a need to satisfy a demand for commodities among the landless, such as trappers and pit house dwellers. This stratification and the number of landless were no doubt growing during the whole of the first millennium AD. When it comes to economy, the Carolingian Iron Age was a revival or a renaissance enhancing concepts and phenomena understood already in the Early Iron Age. As pointed out in Silver Economies, e.g. by Sindbæk, the dynamics of the urban networks in the Carolingian Iron Age were an instigating force also in Scandinavian economy. In order at least in part to explain the difference between the Roman and the Carolingian Iron Age we may in other words point the difference between two kinds of urbanism, the Colonial and stagnating Roman, and the Indigenous and dynamic Northwest European. The Vikings were but a symptom and a revival of an Early Iron Age Scandinavian phenomenon.

[1] Recently Inger Zachrisson has discussed and catalogued the Roman coins in Central Sweden with a view to Early Iron Age trade. Zachrisson, Inger. 2010 Vittnesbörd om pälshandel? Ett arkeologiskt perspektiv på romerska bronsmynt funna i norra Sverige. Fornvännen. Årg 105:187-202. (Summary in English).

Dressing Society

28 November, 2011

This week On the Reading Rest I have conference volume, papers presented at the Sachsensymposium in Haderslev, last year in Denmark:

Arkæologi i Slesvig/Archäologie in Schleswig. Sonderband „Det 61. Internationale Sachsensymposion 2010 “, Haderslev, Danmark. Wacholtz Verlag Neumünster 2011.

I read an article by Sarah Croix: Status, gender and space on high status settlement sites from the Viking Age. Pp. 113-122.

On the one hand we hope that once upon a time in a straightforward world long forgotten, working with textiles was something every household did in a harmonious way, clothing itself. It was not by accident that Augustus’ third wife, the Empress Livia, who (reportedly) made the clothes of her household herself, became a paragon of household virtue, nor is it by accident that it is still remembered. In fact, the design is so obviously installed to create a false front of equality in duty that we doubt it. To our mind Livia Matrona was cunning rather than virtuous.

On the other hand, we know that to a certain extent working with textiles is a matter of taste, art and craft. Giftedness, therefore, is an obvious quality, but if you aren’t gifted you can nevertheless learn the craft as a duty and part of your upbringing. Thus textile production can easily be constructed as freedom or serfdom, as a paragon of virtue as well as exploitation. The gender aspect, e.g., can easily nullify the value of skill and good quality otherwise supposed to be  rewarded and recompensed. But since we have allowed clothes to express all kinds of creative contradictions, they grow in importance and become one of the prime markers of wealth as well as poverty. Eventually we shall have to admit that if a society is not dressed to display itself, then it is not a society.

That is why laundering and starching a 17th c. ruff collar, shaping and fluting it by means of cone-shaped and heated tubes or goffering irons [1], must be a day’s work for a servant. And that is why King Philip III of Spain used elaborate ruff collars almost every day dutifully protecting the extravagant clothes he had to wear, from being stained. Care and maintenance is what we must see in the portrait – not his head on a plate that some may have wish for. And when we seek refuge in the innuendo of the expression ‘cartwheel ruff’, then it takes just a moment or two to understand that ‘cartwheel’, as a load, lends itself to becoming a metaphor for the laundress’ tiresome and time consuming toil.

In her article Sarah Croix (SC) enters this intricate sphere of social relations by means of an analysis of space on manors or elite estates where we may expect social order to be expressed also in the organisation of the farms themselves. With her example Aggersborg, the farm that preceded the ring fort, she can point to a situation where textile production falls either in the cramped sunken huts among the common farm houses or in the central room of the hall building. This building, by the way, is one of those defined by Mads Dengsø Jessen [2] as indeed typical of Jutland in the Carolingian Iron Age (750-1025 CE). It is the stable in the west end that signifies these halls and consequently a situation in which horsemanship is starting to become essential to those lords who feel the need to invest in a retinue on horseback, thus raising the social status of the horse.

SC goes on to describe the milieu of the hall in the end she can point to two different textile workers, one who we may call a Livia of the hall and another, What’sHerName, in the pit house. Her status on the manorial farm, it would seem, is below that of the horses in the stable. Owing to the character of the craft the Scandinavian Livia sometimes worked in a splendid ‘room of one’s own’ (weaving played an important role in the grave chamber life of the so called  Oseberg Queen) while What’sHerName  was stuck in the 2.5×2.5 m pit house mockery of the expression.

The essential difference between the two workplaces is a matter of having or lacking light and open space. We may expect that the good life belongs to the hall and the bad to the dark and damp quarters of the pit house. This means that SC’s analysis emphasize a society that takes care to point out the importance of textile production and to show us that this craft befits society because this production lends itself to illustrating the social gap that should  indeed characterize society. Since weaving must always be done, by rich as well as poor, there must be a loom in the hall as well as in the hut.

The ulterior motive behind the production in pit houses, mostly visible as weaving and metal working, is a wish to produce goods that are needed in urbanized economies, but still too difficult to produce in the towns themselves. Before urbanisation develops this capability, manors, or villages with access to food, wool charcoal and iron, can feed farmhands and workers and eventually make a profit on the market selling their products. When towns become more sophisticated, the pit house dweller goes to town.

In societies where on the one hand women are pointed out as equa,l inasmuch as the weaving is a craft that everybody is obliged to engage in, and on the other pointed out as non-equal when they do what they are supposed to do, we may expect double standards and prejudice to play an important role.  They do! and thus we can point to one of the most blatant expressions of contempt for the lower classes and a corresponding devotion for the upper ones. Suffice to to quote the Eddaic poem Rígsþula.

Then there came to the farm (a woman) with the wanderer’s stout legs, there was filth on the soles of her feet, the arm was sunburned, the nose was bent down. She was called Þír (i.e. ‘female servant’. The spelling is Anglo-Saxon to point out her outlandishness).

Then she sat down in the midst of the floor, the son of the house next to her. They bargained and whispered, made themselves a bed. Þræll and Þír crowded together (for the rest of) the day. (þryngva/þringan, i.e., to press, is the same word as throng and since it is used postpositively i.e. placed after the word(s) it modifies, we may take it to mean (more than ordinarily) busy as in Yorkshire dialect. In fact we may understand the whole expression ‘þrungin dœgr’ as indeed postpositive – ‘Þræll and Þír busy the day’. The infamous contemptuous character of the expression is obvious even in today’s Scandinavian usage: Þræll och Þír trängdes dagen lång.

Þír tours the country. She is a potential pit house dweller and the prejudice of the lines describing her is massive, building up to the ironic description of the copulation comparing it to a busy day’s work in the lives of serfs. Þræll and Þír are meant to work and Þír’s is to produce children, 21 according to the poem, who will grow up and start working. Cows are used in animal husbandry, Þírs in human husbandry.

When we approach the upper classes in their better houses, things change:

And the housewife looked at her arms, stroked her clothes, stretched her sleeves and wimple. The brooch was at her bosom, her train was wide, her gown was blue, her brows bright, her bosom more shining and neck whiter than pure new-fallen snow.

True to his male gaze the author starts by observing a demure woman who doesn’t look at him, her name is Moðir≈Matrona, Then little by little her appealing manners, dress and sensuality become apparent to him. He likes what he sees because he things he was meant to see it this way. When he observed Þír the appalling filthiness, the whispering and bargaining, and the far from sensual endeavour on the floor stared him in the eyes. His fantasies are male too.

A cartoon by Fritz Jürgensen. Transformed to bigotry the Eddaic understanding of social behavior passed on into modern times : ’I have removed the kitchen chair, but now she has him sitting on the chopping block. And the other day, while my husband and I are out, my daughter and her fiancé sit on the sofa in the nightfall. – They are sitting quite still – of course – and then they hear that the maid drags him into the kitchen and has him hanging around for more than one and a half hour! My God that is more than one should tolerate in a decent house!’—Jeg har taget Kjøkkenstolen fra hende, men nu har hun ham siddende paa Huggeblokken. Forleden, mens jeg og min Mand er ude, sidder min Datter i Mørkningen i Sofaen med sin Forlovede. — De sidder ganske stille — naturligviis — og saa hører de at Pigen trækker Kjeresten ind i Kjøkkenet, og har ham drivende der i over halvanden Time! Det er dog ved Gud mere end man bør taale i et ordentligt Huus!

Because most Scandinavian archaeologists are reasonably broad-minded and liberal, we do not subscribe to the prejudice of the poem and in fact we have for a long time been prepared to look at pit houses as rational workhouses where is was actually nice to be weaving or hammer away as a blacksmith. But our view upon pit houses started to change when some 10-15 years ago the odd historian suggested that pit houses were in fact the dwellings of thralls[3]. And nowadays it seems that Rígsþula and archaeology alike reflect society.

SC is on to something important in her case study: a disgusting society that chooses ostentatiously to construct itself by means of blunt and significant material metaphors, taking for granted the following: since we happen to live in a society with huge gaps in social status we shall have to introduce a concept of ‘overarching necessity’, such as the necessity to produce textiles, on all levels of society. ‘Necessity’ works as a social glue. This means that although it is irrational and difficult to set up the loom in the pit house, it must be done because that is where the lowest stratum in society lives. And their conditions for doing the necessary, as well as those experienced by everybody else, must be obvious. We cannot blur the basic social division: ‘main house dwellers’ vs. ‘pit house dwellers’. On the contrary we must endeavour to strengthen it and show it to be fundamental. We must never forget the difference between Mother and female servant.


[1] See e.g.

[2] Mads Dengsø Jessen has published most of his research on this and other topics in his dissertation. The relevant published and forthcoming papers can be checked at

[3] See Annette Hoff 1997:58ff; 81, i.e. Hoff, Annette. 1997. Lov og landskab. Landskabslovenes bidrag til
forståelse af landbrugs- og landskapsudvikling i Danmark ca. 900-1250
. Aarhus universitetsforlag.
or Mats Olsson 1999:24, i.e. Olsson, Mats. 1999. Vikingatida träldom. Om slaveriets plats i Skandinaviens ekonomiska historia. Lund Papers in Economic History. No 67. Department of Economic History. Lund university. Lund.

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Viking Crime Scenes – the Docklands

5 September, 2011

This week on the reading rest I have an article from a Swedish journal:

Sven Kalmring. Of thieves, counterfeiters and homicides: Crime in Hedeby and Birka. Fornvännen 2010:4, pp 281-290.

Attuna District Court AttundaTingsrattStockholm.htm

Attuna Tingsrätt—the Attuna District Court – is modern cube with aluminium, steel and  glass façades, opaque and impenetrable, a modern material metaphor signalling that justice is something taken care of by civil servants behind maximal security out of sight – not a public matter. This may be wrong or right, or just an unfair interpretation, but at least during
the Carolingian Iron Age, cia  (750-1025 ce) crime, justice, sanction and gaining legal force were an open social concern in any community, probably not taken care of as well in the Attuna District Court.  Nor were the names of the accused kept secret till they were convicted.

The 14th word in Sven Kalmring’s (SK:s) article and the first in the second sentence is Archaeo-Criminology. In some way this concept, a neologism as it happens, is the theme of the article. Notwithstanding, it is absent from both abstract and summary, but evidently linked to the caption of the section following the introduction: Worth Punishing: Normative-social Criteria of Injustice – which soon leads us, not to a theoretical discussion, but to the Hedeby Harbour and some contexts that may be indicative of different crimes such as theft, counterfeit and homicide, i.e. crimes that stand out as most probable even in prehistory because they are all too human. The last category, arms smuggling, would have been interesting if arms smuggling could in any way be proved, which it cannot. Nor can homicide. To be fair, SK, who is very well read and takes source criticism seriously, doesn’t argue that homicide or smuggling can in fact be attested.

The reason why it is difficult to prove smuggling and homicide rests with the fact that crimes classified as ‘smuggling’ and ‘homicide’ are denotations of very specific concepts difficult to define inasmuch as they are indicative also  of very common-place cultural patterns of behaviour, i.e. distributing goods and killing people, which may or may not be a crime. The demand for significance in the material context is in other words high if we venture to document such very specific crimes. Not even intentionally killed bog people are clear-cut cases. Actually, it took the context of the Bocksten man so make homicide likely(1). Proof is difficult because we often take death caused while offering or fighting or punishing the unfree or base to be extenuating circumstances if someone is charged with murder.

It would seem from the emphatic text: on trabu nurminr o kniri asbiarnaR, which may nevertheless be an allegation, that the murderers cleared out and could not be prosecuted.

This is not to say that CIA Scandinavians did not commit murder since we must at least suspect early 11th century Northmen to have killed Gerbjorn (2). Nor is it to say that going home from abroad, Scandinavians refrained from bringing whatever they could and fancied, be it purchased objects, gifts, contraband, stolen goods or any item that would fit the notion of external acquisition, even if acquiring and bringing it with them would mean breaking one or two laws and paragraphs.

Thieves, counterfeiters and Viking bandidos are to be expected as soon as goods are put in locked chests and coin circulations a fact. Innumerable coins bear witness of Scandinavian fear of counterfeit coins. SK:s example, the cast lead coins from the harbour is an interesting one, but cheating with metal – passing pewter for silver or gilded copper for gold, is nothing new to a harbour district such that of Hedeby .

The Hedeby chest long after and before it was broken into HedebyChest.htm

The last part of the article tries to establish a parallel between Hedeby (and its criminal harbour scene) and Birka (and its perhaps, if excavations continues, criminal harbour scene). It is a very legitimate wish to compare Hedeby and Birka in any way possible. It is nevertheless doubtful whether the methodology sketched in the article, taking a criminology for granted and pointing to the earliest Scandinavian towns and their harbours as prolific criminal environments, is actually worthwhile.

Both the robbed wooden chest, loaded with a heavy stone which prevented it from causing suspicion bobbing up and down in the harbour basin, and the series of identical counterfeit coins that were thrown into the water, presumably because they were about to incriminate their owner, are wonderful curiosities. They exemplify the concept ‘dispose of evidence’, which in its turn indicates the importance of evidence and indeed exhibits. There’s a detective story to Hedeby crimes. Lack of incriminating evidence, of course, is a prerequisite of those who want to swear to the innocence of a man – criminal or not – on a medieval thing.

Or as the cross ‘conversation’ goes behind the Attuna District Court glass façade:

—Did you throw your counterfeit coins into
the harbour basin?

—Don’t remember nada, sorry – pissed!


(2) On the Uplandic runestone U 258 (Straight end style, c. 1000 CE) it says: Gunnarr and Sassurr, they had this stone raised in memory of Geirbjôrn, their father, Vittkarl/Hvítkarr of Svalunes’s son. Norwegians killed him on Ásbjôrn’s cargo-ship (my emphasis). Check at Samnordisk runtextdatabas:

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Pirate Settlements in England

8 August, 2011

This week On the Reading Rest I have an article:

Kershaw, Jane. 2011. Vikingernes bosættelse i England – ‘Viking settlement in England’. Skalk, Nr 3, 2011, pp. 18-26.

Often the biased usage of a word or concept becomes obvious if we exchange it for one that ought to be its equivalent. Originally, the below quotation was about understanding women; changing it to target men, therefore, makes its prejudice against women apparent (and its obsessive ‘digging’  backfires):

Every woman I know is baffled by the amount of thinking and overthinking that men do. Why can’t things be straightforward and simple, the way they are in a woman’s brain? Women seem to ignore anything that doesn’t actively threaten the safety of their loved ones or their egos, but men dig, dig, dig, dig, dig, dig, dig, looking for reasons and answers that sometimes don’t even exist.

Similarly, exchanging ‘Viking settlements in England’ for ‘Pirate settlements in England’ makes prejudice against Vikings stand out. Is that fair? Are they at all equivalent pirates and Vikings? Yes and no!(1)

In the introduction to her article Jane Kershaw (JK) points out that Vikings in 9th and 10th c. sources were alternately called pagans or Danes rather than Vikings. And she is right.

Because ‘Viking’ most often means ‘Pirate’, i.e. something uncommon even among pagans and Danes, the word seldom finds its way into the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles (A-SCs) and when it does it seems that chroniclers try not to use it as a synonym for pagan, Northman or Dane. To be precise ‘Viking’ is used only at three occasions: two times in the 880s; once c. 920 and once in the 980s.

The presence of Pagans, Danes, Northmen and Vikings in the A-SCs

Pagans and Danes, on the other hand, are commonly referred to and tacitly implied in expressions such as ‘the army’ because they are invaders and a serious problem compared to pirates. Danes and Northmen see invasion as a means to promote external acquisition (going back home) and eventually to conquer land and power (staying abroad).

If we look at the usage in the A-SCs, ‘Vikings’ stand out as something different, a specific subset: pirates and at the same time pagans or Northmen or Danes.

Manuscript A 879:(2) 7 þy geare gegadrode on hloþ wicenga, 7 gesæt æt Fullanhamme be Temese—and that year Vikings gathered in a band (a hloþ was defined as  7-35 men), and sat at Fulham by the Thames.

Obviously it is not un-Danish behavior to sail up the river and attack, but at Fulham it is a matter of small number of pirates convening at a strategic point to benefit in whatever way they can. They are not many and they sit at Fulham in their pirates’ nest, on their naval base so to speak, overlooking the Thames and the ferry crossing between Putney and Fulham.

A-SC, Manuscript A, 885: 7 þy ilcan geare sende Ælfred cyning sciphere on Eastengle; sona swa hie comon on Stufe muþan, þa metton hie .xvi. scipu wicenga, 7 wiþ ða gefuhton, 7 þa scipo alle geręhton, 7 þa men ofslogon; Þa hie þa hamweard wendon mid þære herehyþe, þa metton hie micelne sciphere wicenga, 7 þa wiþ þa gefuhton þy ilcan dæge, 7 þa Deniscan ahton siges;—and the same year King Alfred sent a host of ships (a fleet) into East-Anglia. As soon as they came to Stourmouth, sixteen Viking ships met them. And they fought with them, and took all the ships, and slew the men. When they turned homeward with their booty, then they met a large Viking fleet (since it is a sciphere it is probably more than 35 ships), and they fought them the very same day; but the  Danes (i.e. Vikings) had the victory.

The situation at Stourmouth

Sheltering in creeks and bays, lurking in Wantsum and in Stourmouth, staging successful or unsuccessful ambushes, is typical pirate behaviour in waters similar to the ones in South Scandinavia and Denmark where Viking strategies were developed already in the Early Iron Age(3).

A-SC, Manuscript A year 919: … þæs ilcan hærfestes gegadorode micel here hineof Eastenglum ægþer ge þæs landheres ge þara wicinga þe hie him to fultume aspanen hæfdon— ... this same harvest, a great army gathered itself from East-Anglia, both of the land forces and of the pirates, which they had persuaded to support them.

The situation at Maldon

The text indicates that there is a difference between the East Anglian army and the pirates. The latter are reluctant to join the campaign, which aims at attacking Maldon. The attack fails and when army and pirates are killed at flight, the pirates are called sailors (æscmenn, lit. men who belong to a ship, but also glossed as pirates). This situation at Maldon, therefore, indicates that normally pirates, now running to reach their ships, belong to the maritime landscape of Essex. From this most suitable Viking zone they may easily operate in the Thames and in Wantsum or vice versa, i.e. in areas characterized by creeks, bays, and sounds.

Scandinavian Viking activities are mainly in the maritime zone connected with the Thames.

A-SC, Manuscript C year 982: Her on þys geare comon upp on Dorsætum .iii. scypu wicinga 7 hergodon on Portlande.—Here in this year three pirate ships came up to Dorset and plundered on Portland.

The situation at the isle of Portland

Since these ships ‘came up to Dorset’, they probably sailed north from Brittany or Normandy. There is no good reason to believe they were Northmen or Danes, on the contrary, in the late 10th century Danes and Northmen came in large armies often under named leaders. With three ships only, plundering the isle of Portland (6×2.4 km) having landed in the Northeast, seems a manageable albeit un-Danish task. To a limited number of pirates the island is nevertheless strategic, a  place to harbour and keep a good outlook.


The Viking quotations from A-SCs combine to explain Vikings to be pirates usually, but not by necessity Danes or Scandinavians. They are linked to maritime landscapes and sometimes they form smaller or larger bands occasionally joining the land forces. Chroniclers used the word with discrimination to designate just that and to separate pirates from non-pirates.

When JK draws attention to Danes rather than Vikings, she makes a much greater point inasmuch as her subjects are as non-pirate as they come – women in Eastern England who wore simple Scandinavian jewellery on their dress during the 9th and 10th century: before, during and after the area obeyed the Danes’ law.

Her corpus is the result the model work within the Portable Antiquities Scheme(4) and it consists of 500 odd artefacts retrieved mostly by the public and mostly by metal detector archaeologists and recorded mostly in recent years. JK looks at the material in several clever and source-critical ways that prevent her from jumping to favourite, albeit naïve, archaeological conclusion such as:

Those who wore Danish jewellery rather than Anglo-Saxon
were ethnic Danes and vice versa


If your bring a female Danish dress to England
and wear it, then we must expect exogamy.

Instead, being well-aware of the alternative patterns suggested by the written sources, JK finds rather a homogeneous expression of material female culture marked by heterogeneous relationships with Denmark, Scandinavia, jewellery production, dress code, trade, immigration, settlement, etc. In essence JK discusses expressions in England of originally Danish traditions which have given rise to imported, echoed and hybrid female dress codes. Since this has little to do with pirates and piracy, not even when they join forces with the armies of East Anglia, there is almost nothing Viking in JK’s discussion, just Danes, Danish and Norse.

Actually, Viking is written in inverted commas when conventionally the term is correct, but still obviously odd, such as ‘a handful of ”Viking female graves”’ or ‘traditional signs of ”Viking activities”—place names and stone sculptures’. Nevertheless, writing in a popular journal, the overall perspective of the past must centre on Viking Reformed – once horrible marauders slowly becoming civilized landowners, their farm hands doing the ploughing and the tilling, as pointed out by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles c. 876 CE, when the Danes’ law is about to be established(5).

This is the perspective of chronicles as well as poems(6), reproduced again and again in modern analyses even by some of those who use Viking as a practical and conventional modern term only. Viking Reformed is a story about integration and the development of prehistoric man from pagan barbarism to Christian order. But JK tells us about a century or more of non-integration of a foreign fashion, something non-Anglo-Saxon, now and then something hybrid – a story the chroniclers had no intention to tell us. She also compares the distribution of stray finds and place names.

Chronicles and place name distribution (despite all the problems with the latter material) suggest that Danes and Northmen took over the land they had occupied when it was safe to do so. In principle, this colonization is a Scandinavian landnám, a colonizarion in which a leader such as Halfdan (876) subjungates a region and distributes land among his followers. The result, in our case the place names, reflects a regionally centralized and urbanized power structure. These Danes did not turn to ploughing as a step in their development, they fulfilled their Scandinavian dream of becoming landowners with hardworking farm hands; not very different from the ones they left in Scandinavia.

To the left:Scandinavian place names (red/black), stray finds (white/yellow) and some important towns in Danelaw, scales equal 25, 50 and 100 km. To the right: the relation between Scandinavian and Anglo-Saxon stray finds, after Kershaw 2011.

Comparing the stray finds, mostly simple female jewellery, to the settlement names, there are two things to point out: (1) Generally speaking the two distributions are similar, but the centre of gravity of the stray finds is situated southeast of that of the village names. It is also true that the fewer the Scandinavian place names the more frequent the stray finds. (2) Important towns, such as York and the five boroughs are often situated in the periphery of dense place name distributions or surrounded by a denser distribution (York).

Referring to Viking Reformed, we may explain these characteristics in the following way: Simple female dress has a tendency to preserve a kind of Scandinavian identity especially in Eastern England, i.e. in the immigration area. Valuable farms and villages are much more integrated in the society of the majority than females in Scandinavian Look. Thus the rich village or farm owners seem more smoothly to integrate themselves.

But is that really true?

Could the strength of the distribution of parish and farm names not be the sign of a very significant change in society – a reformed society rather than a reformed Viking – and a change in principle the same, but in practice different from the change signified by the dresses behind the stray finds? The farm owners are few, but important and they express their colonization of a new area by means of names. Those who happen to lose their jewellery are many especially in immigration zones. Probably they are poorer and thus more likely to lose their jewellery. Both, nevertheless, represent new structures in society rather than integration.

JK’s observations on Danish, Norse and hybrid settlements in England (there’s an impossible title for an article) opens up important new and Viking-free perspectives(7).

(1) When it comes to semantics and ‘Viking’ almost everything in this contribution is based on Christine Fell’s seminal article Old English Wicing: A Question of Semantics. Proceedings of the British Academy vol 72 1986 pp 295-315.
(2) The quotations from A-SC comes from

(3) See The Early Iron Age in South Scandinavia pp 535-60.

(4) See for yourself at

(5) The A-SC manuscripts express themselves in two slightly different ways:
Manuscripts A, C, D and E, 876 or 877 CE: 7 þy geare Healfdene Norðanhymbra land gedælde, 7 ergende wæron 7 hiera tilgende wæron—that year Halfdan divided the land of the Northhumbrians, and they were ploughing and they were their tilling.
Manuscript B, 877 CE: 7 þy geare Halfdene Norðanhymbra land gedælde þæt hie syþþan ergende 7 heora tilgende wæron—that year Halfdan divided the land of the Northhumbrians. That they (were) afterwards ploughing and they were their tilling.
‘Ploughing’ and ‘tilling’ (the preparing of land for the raising of crops, e.g. by ploughing and harrowing) are almost synonymous and used to clarify the situation in an accurate way striving to put two separate expressions: ergende wærontilgende wæron, next to each other thus by amplification making it clear that the new land owners, the Danes whom Halfdan gave each their lot, did no hard work whatsoever. The author behind Manuscript B felt that this situation ought to be clarified and stressed the fact that because of this division of land it fell to the Northhumbrians to work as farm hands.

(6) See One the Reading Rest, June 13 2011. Vikings in Latin Poetry.

(7) Except for the poem about the Battle of Maldon (991), in which we may expect the locals always to suspect the involvement of their neighbouring pirates when it comes to conflicts, and thus to use the word in a more general sense about anyone who attacks them from the sea, there is but one case in which ‘Viking’ is used in a more general sense. In a homily, no. xxxiii, Archbishop Wulfstan of York  (†1023) speaks of thralls who run away from their lords and Christendom to become Vikings. In this highly emotional text W wants to show his readers as well as listeners how violence, horror, blasphemy, abuse, cowardice, pestilence and indeed a distorted legal system signifies his and their day and age. W tells us that the thrall becomes thane and vice versa and one way of bringing about this awful situation is for the thrall to run off and become a Viking. This is outrageous because Vikings are such a despicable persons. ‘Viking’, therefore, is used metaphorically to designate society’s vilest enemy. W refers to the burning of Canterbury Cathedral in 1011 and probably wrote his homily in 1014. To his mind the enemies of society, ‘the wolfs to the English’ as the homily has it, are Danes, but there would be no point in saying that the thralls ran off to become Danes, which technically speaking they can’t (Moreover, in a matter of minutes, W will tell us that the English are such cowards that one Dane can put ten or more of them to flight). But thralls can run off to follow a pursuit as base as the mind of a thrall or a Dane. Vikings, Huns and Fundamentalists belong in the same rhetorical toolbox.

Nevertheless, things changed in 1016 CE when the war was over and Canute became King of England.

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