Vikings, lecture 2


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Vikings, lecture 2

  1. 1. The Origins of the Viking AgeScandinavia in the Bronze Age and Iron Age
  2. 2. The Foundations of the Viking Achievement  The Viking Age did not begin suddenly, without any warning or precedent. It emerged from the preceding periods; there is considerable continuity in social, economic, and technological structures  Some of the cultural developments that rendered it possible for the Scandinavians to expand so successfully must be sought in the Bronze Age, namely, the development of the ships  Other aspects of culture had their roots in the deep past and were developed and elaborated through time  This lecture will mainly focus on the evidence from the Iron Age, which ledThe Bronze Age rock art of western directly to the aspects of cultureSweden and the Norwegian coasts afford characteristic of the Viking Age, butvivid images of aspects of culture that some mention of the Bronze Age willwould undergo elaboration and refinement be offered as a prelude to thisand figure prominently in the Viking Age discussion
  3. 3. Late Bronze Age Scandinavia The Bronze Age begins in Scandinavia at roughly 1700 BC, but the late Bronze Age is considered to extend from ca. 1000 BC to 500 BC At this time, the characteristic domestic architecture of Scandinavia begins to emerge: timber built long houses with thatched roofs A rich religious and ritual life is also in existence, focused on votive offerings made in bogs and a warrior- priesthood Ships displaying the distinctive prows that came to distinguish the Viking ships are also seen in the rock art traditions
  4. 4. Domestic Architecture
  5. 5. Votive Depositions
  6. 6. The Economic Structure of Scandinavia Agriculture, Exchange and Settlement in Scandinavia from ca. 500 BC to AD 600
  7. 7. Economic Structure  The subsistence economy of Scandinavia was, in most places, based on agriculture  It is important to recognise that some of the marginal regions were poorly suited to agriculture of any form, so only modest quantities of livestock were kept and grain cultivated  In such marginal territories, like the Norwegian coast north of Trondheim and the interior of northern Sweden, fishing and hunting provided the foundation of the economy  Any characterisation of the economic structure must therefore take into account the opportunities and limitations afforded by the local environment
  8. 8. Fishing and Fowling Even in agriculturally rich lands such as Denmark and southern Sweden, there were tracts that were ill-suited for crops and livestock The sandy and open coast of western Jutland was one such location, and here fishing was important Nonetheless, even in the fertile regions fish and fowl were caught in large quantities—large quantities of fish have been recovered from the nascent towns of the Viking Age such as at Hedeby This may represent limited access to farmland, or it might indicate seasonal exploitation of different resources by farmers Dried fish was also a valuable staple for sea-journeys and as storable food through the winter
  9. 9. Household Economy  The typical house of the Scandinavian Iron Age resembled the long-houses known already from the Bronze Age  These structures were produced in timber, often of oak if available, and could reach fifty metres in length  Many had internal partitions and through phosphate studies, it is possible to determine that humans and animals lived within these structures, separated by walls
  10. 10. Activity Areas
  11. 11. Farmsteads and Their Environment If possible, the Iron Age farms were situated in landscapes which permitted them to exploit different environments without having to move too far The main agricultural land was close to the houses; this is where cereals were cultivated Nearby was pasture for the animals, and usually there was timber and wetlands available within a short distance from the houses In the uplands of Norway and Sweden, there was the additional prospect of high altitude pasture near the settlements
  12. 12. Cereal Agriculture  The agrarian foundation of the economy in the Iron Age has been subject to detailed study through pollen analysis and macrofossil analysis  One of the more recent studies concerned sites in Jutland  These have demonstrated that the main crop was naked barley (Hordeum vulgare var nudum) and bread wheat (Triticum aestivum)  Flax (Linum usitatissum) and hulled barley (Hordeum vulgare) whereas emmer wheat (Triticum dicoccum) was a contaminant  The crops were sown in spring, but the field conditions varied considerably even in this small sample region  Winnowing and casting seemed to be the most common ways of processing these cereals
  13. 13. Cereal Processing
  14. 14. Rye Cultivation Another crop, well suited to the northern environment, was rye This cereal seems to be under-represented in many collections but has been recovered from the base of furnaces where it was incorporated with wood and other fuels The rise in importance of rye Cereal remains found and other hardy cereals within iron smelting furnaces in southern seems to have been Jutland have provided associated with a general evidence of rye cultivation, which does deterioration of climate not seem to be occurring in the Iron Age registered in the macrofossil collections It was more important in elsewhere in Jutland but those marginal regions where have been encountered the soil was less fertile and in Norwegian collections and in some of the pollen the conditions for cereal diagrams agriculture poorer
  15. 15. The Social Structure of the Late Iron Age Social Stratification, Tribal Organisation and Political Instability
  16. 16. Social Hierarchy  The social structure obtaining in the Scandinavian lands in the Iron Age must have undergone change through time  We have good archaeological evidence for most of the period, affording burials, cremations, votive deposits, villages and even extraordinary finds such as ships and wagons  Moreover, there is tantalising historical documentation from Roman authors describing the location of certain tribes, their names, customs and exploits that assists us in interpreting the archaeological evidence
  17. 17. Exotic Goods and Wealth
  18. 18. Armour
  19. 19. Textual Evidence of Social Conditions Most of the textual evidence is, nevertheless, biased and incomplete However, the internal agreement amongst them and their correspondence with some classes of archaeological evidence renders them generally reliable One bias that is difficult to overcome is the spatial distribution of the accounts: most of these pertain to tribes in Denmark and Sweden that elicited the attention of the classical scholars Our knowledge of Norway, therefore, is based almost entirely on the archaeological evidence, but the overall similarities in social structure throughout Scandinavia makes this less of a disadvantage than it might at first appear
  20. 20. Historical Sources  The earliest record of Scandinavia derives from the citations of the lost work of Pytheas  He undertook a journey from Cadiz to the Don between 330 – 300 BC and described a land that ostensibly lay a six days sail journey north of the British Isles near the Arctic Circle  The people here, he states, were poorly furnished with domestic animals but grew millet and herbs and threshed their grain indoors because the rain and lack of sun made it impossible to do this outside  If the secondary accounts of Pytheass work are reliable, this description was most probably of Norway
  21. 21. Teutones and Cimbri In this account, he also mentions the amber island of Abalus, which some have identified with Heligoland The inhabitants here sold their fish, shells and amber to a people called the Teutones These people have been associated with the Danish province of Thy in the north of Jutland Lying to the east of the Teutones, in the province of Himmerland which has been associated with the Cimbri Both of these tribes were known to the Romans in their conflicts with them in Gaul, Spain and northern Italy at ca. 100 BC
  22. 22. Conflict With Rome  The Cimbri are described in Orosiuss History of the World because of their peculiar martial rituals  In their victory over the Romans at Orange in 105 BC, their rituals were described thus: The enemy [the Cimbri] captured both camps and acquired an enormous quantity of booty. In accordance with a strange and unusual vow, they set about destroying everything which they had taken. Clothing was cut to pieces and cast away, gold and silver was thrown into the river, the breastplates of the men were hacked to pieces, the trappings of the horses were broken up, the horses themselves drowned in whirlpools, and men with nooses round their necks were hangedOne of several horse skeletons recovered at from trees. Thus there was no booty forthe site of Illerup Àdal, most likely sacrificed the victors and no mercy for theduring martial rituals after a victory vanquished.
  23. 23. Martial Cults Another account of this martial ritual is afforded by the writings of Strabo in his Geography: Writers report a custom of the Cimbri to this effect: Their wives, who would accompany them on their expeditions, were attended by priestesses who were seers; these were grey- haired, clad in white, with flaxen cloaks fastened on with clasps, girt with girdles of bronze, and bare-footed; now sword in hand these priestesses would meet with the prisoners of war throughout the camp, and having first crowned them with wreaths would lead them to a brazen vessel of about twenty amphorae; and they had a raised platform which the priestess would mount, and then, bending over the kettle, would cut the throat of each prisoner after he had been lifted up; and from the blood that poured forth into the vessel some of the priestesses would draw a prophecy, while still others would split open the body and from an inspection of the entrails would utter a prophecy of victory for their own people; and during the battles they would beat on the hides that were stretched over the wicker-bodies of the wagons and in this way produce an unearthly noise.
  24. 24. Illerup Ådal
  25. 25. Weapon Offerings
  26. 26. Hjortspring
  27. 27. Hjortspring Offerings  Another rich bog find is from Hjortspring, which afforded not only a large quantity of weapons but also a complete ship  Again, it is assumed that all these valuable goods were committed to the waters as part of some sort of martial cult practice, probably akin to that described by Orosius in his writings  A similarly rich votive find was made at that nearby bog of Nydam, where another ship was found in the bog deposit accompanied by many weapons
  28. 28. Nydam
  29. 29. Bog Bodies