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Part V - Power and the Political Landscape

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 October 2023

Tom Horne
Affiliation:
University of Glasgow
Elizabeth Pierce
Affiliation:
University of Glasgow
Rachel Barrowman
Affiliation:
University of Glasgow
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Summary

In Vikings in Scotland, Graham-Campbell and Batey introduced the reader not only to the impact of landnam and settlement on the landscape and power dynamics operating within Scandinavian Scotland (Parts I and II, this volume), but also to research on the subsequent development of thing (assembly) sites and architecturally impressive elite power centres, that was then at completed or near-complete publication.

Scandinavian thing-sites, where religious debates and legal rulings (and possibly markets: see Sanmark, this section) were held, are preserved in today’s place-names such as Tingwall (Orkney and Shetland) and Dingwall (Ross). Over two decades on, Sanmark adds to their importance beyond the administrative role presumed in the 1990s by articulating how a thing also provided a widely accessible arena in the regional landscape for the negotiation of power relations between elites and their community.

Sanmark also explores the regionally specific evolution of thing-sites. Scotto-Scandinavian elites, for example, responded to a unique colonial environment in the North Atlantic that, unlike Iceland, for example, contained ancient indigenous mound monuments like barrows and overgrown brochs. Scandinavians in Scotland behaved like elites in the homelands in their use of these venerable mounds to legitimise an ‘ancient’ right to rule that was rooted in the landscape.

Domination of both the pre-existing and contemporary landscape is also apparent in the site location and wealth demonstrated at the Brough of Birsay, an influential Pictish site that became ‘the power centre of the Viking Earldom of Orkney’ (Morris, this section) and an important church site. Indeed, as Vikings in Scotland demonstrated, the story of Orcadian power evolution and its landscape impact is one of the increasing importance of Christianity.

Beyond church power, secular control in Orkney and the Northern Isles pivoted increasingly to the Norwegian kingdom as the Viking Age moved into the Late Norse period. At the same time, however, regional elites like the Orkney Earls could increase their wealth from the evermore efficient exploitation of natural resources; this seems to have been the case within Orkney at the Earl’s Bu, Orphir with its elite bu placename, sophisticated watermill, and important manufacturing complex at nearby Lavacroon (Batey, this section).

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The Viking Age in Scotland
Studies in Scottish Scandinavian Archaeology
, pp. 195 - 196
Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Print publication year: 2023

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