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The Cambridge History of Scandinavia
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  • Cited by 18
  • Volume 1: Prehistory to 1520
  • Edited by Knut Helle, Universitetet i Bergen, Norway
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Book description

This volume presents a comprehensive exposition of both the prehistory and medieval history of the whole of Scandinavia. The first part of the volume surveys the prehistoric and historic Scandinavian landscape and its natural resources, and tells how man took possession of this landscape, adapting culturally to changing natural conditions and developing various types of community throughout the Stone, Bronze and Iron Ages. The rest - and most substantial part of the volume - deals with the history of Scandinavia from the Viking Age to the end of the Scandinavian Middle Ages (c. 1520). The external Viking expansion opened Scandinavia to European influence to a hitherto unknown degree. A Christian church organisation was established, the first towns came into being, and the unification of the three medieval kingdoms of Scandinavia began, coinciding with the formation of the unique Icelandic 'Free State'.

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"...this work is clearly designed to permit regular consultation in library collections for many decades. Essential." Choice

"...a significant addition to the growing literature on Nordic history...an indispensable reference book for every major library. Thanks to good editing, it is highly readable and flows seamlessly from chapter to another. It is a volume not only for professional historians, but also a valuable research tool for college students and the general adult reading public." History

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Contents


Page 1 of 2


  • 1 - The Scandinavian Landscape and its Resources
    pp 13-42
  • View abstract

    Summary

    Human intelligence exercises a decisive influence on the ecological balance of the landscape, to store knowledge and to organise the use of natural resources. This chapter starts by considering some of the main physical characteristics of the Scandinavian landscape throughout the millennia that have passed since the Quaternary glaciations. A number of physical processes were responsible not only for the geological construction of the Scandinavian landscape but also for the later changes that took place. The soils in Scandinavia consist mainly of relatively coarse glacial deposits, which have generally proved difficult to cultivate. In the last 5,000 years, shore displacement around the Baltic has mainly been caused by land uplift. However, the Norwegian Sea has not undergone such drastic changes. The chapter also deals with the climatic changes, coastal landscapes, and the vegetation zones and animal life in the Scandinavian region.
  • 2 - The Stone and Bronze Ages
    pp 43-59
  • View abstract

    Summary

    This chapter deals with the life in Scandinavian region during the Stone Age and Bronze Age periods. The environment of the early hunters was open tundra where huge reindeer herds migrated seasonally and provided an easy source of meat. Agriculture and animal husbandry became important means of subsistence alongside hunting, fishing and gathering after 3100 BC. About 2300 BC a marked, not to say dramatic, cultural change occurred in southern Scandinavia. There are strong indications that the changes were caused by immigrants from the south. The result was a culture which has been named after its pottery, Corded Ware. In Norrland, northern Finland and Finnmark there was clearly a cultural, ethnic and technological continuity from the early Stone Age. Around 1800 BC, a flow of bronze objects reached southern Scandinavia, which were used as models for smelting and casting of bronze in local workshops.
  • 3 - The Iron Age
    pp 60-93
  • View abstract

    Summary

    As the Iron Age progressed, Scandinavia changed from being a separate region in Europe to becoming a border area, initially to the Roman Empire and then to the Merovingian and Carolingian kingdoms. Many Scandinavian resources were important for the major kingdoms of Europe and political leaders in the Scandinavian centres knew how to take advantage of long-distance trade with such commodities. At the onset of the early Iron Age it appears that a more egalitarian tribal society with few traces of social stratification had come into being. Early Iron Age hamlets and villages consisted of a number of small, individual farming units. The best investigated village is situated near Grøntoft in western Jylland. Existence of helmets, ring swords, and other ornamented status objects found in richly furnished warrior graves from France and southern England to Finland seem to confirm that the petty Scandinavian and Finnish kingdoms aspired to the ideology and political organisation that was characteristic of the Franks.
  • 4 - Languages and ethnic groups
    pp 94-102
  • View abstract

    Summary

    The languages of Scandinavia: Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, have been either of Indo-European or Finno-Ugrian origin. The conception of the development of Finnish and Sami branches of Finno-Ugrian rests on comparison of their various post-Reformation manifestations with each other and with related languages. The development of a characteristically Scandinavian form of the Germanic branch of Indo-European has largely to do with the spread of Germanic to the east, south and west, with resulting linguistic splits between the different groups of speakers involved. The earliest extant vernacular manuscripts, of Iceland and Norway in twelfth and Denmark and Sweden in late thirteenth century, confirm the existence of numerous and significant linguistic differences between the various areas of Scandinavia. Many scholars have in fact reckoned with an East Nordic-West Nordic split from as early as the end of the syncope period. East Nordic is roughly the language of Denmark and Sweden, West Nordic that of Norway and later of Iceland.
  • 5 - The Viking expansion
    pp 103-120
  • View abstract

    Summary

    For 300 years, beginning at the end of the eighth century, Scandinavians, figure prominently in the history of western Europe, first as pirates and later as conquerors. In the ninth century it was the English who called the invaders Vikings, originally a Scandinavian appellative: víkingr. The first recorded raids were on monasteries in the British Isles. The pressure of increasing population in Scandinavia and the consequent shortage of land was the main cause of Viking activity. However, in other parts, most of the first generations of Vikings were seeking wealth. Scandinavians took advantage of internal conflicts in western Europe. In 838 Vikings supported the Britons of Cornwall against the West Saxons, and in 844 a deposed Northumbrian king was restored to power. Reasons behind the decrease in Viking activity in western Europe may also lie in the better wealth-gathering opportunities that existed in the east where there had been great changes since the eighth century.
  • 6 - Viking culture
    pp 121-146
  • View abstract

    Summary

    The culture of the Viking Age was strong, independent, rich in tradition and vibrant. It was good at copying, adapting, developing and creating; foreign ideas could be incorporated or rejected. The lands of Viking Age Scandinavia, apart from Finland and the Sami areas in their northern and central parts, shared a substantially common culture. The varied natural resources of Scandinavia encouraged shipping and trade; thus shipping was a decisive factor in the more general expansion and common culture of the period. Other communication routes, using sledges, skis, snowshoes or skates, developed where there was a stable snow and ice cover for several months of the year. Agriculture in various forms was the predominant economic activity. But with the growth of trade, the Viking Age saw the emergence of town-like settlements in Scandinavia, and trade and crafts became increasingly specialist occupations. The religion of the Viking Age was polytheistic. A multitude of gods and powers influenced the different aspects of life.
  • 7 - Scandinavia enters Christian Europe
    pp 147-159
  • View abstract

    Summary

    It was not until the ninth century that significant numbers of Scandinavians were converted to Christianity, but some knowledge of Christian beliefs and rituals had reached Scandinavia much earlier. By the beginning of the ninth century the Franks had subjected and forcibly converted the Saxons south of the river Elbe. In 819, the Franks helped Harald to regain power in an uneasy partnership with Godfred's sons. This made it possible for Ebbo, archbishop of Rheims, to lead a mission to Harald's part of the kingdom. The first king to be baptised in Scandinavia was the Dane, Harald Gormsson, who proclaimed that he had made the Danes Christian on the huge runic monument he had erected at Jelling. By the end of the eleventh century Christianity had begun to affect all levels of Scandinavian society. Numerous churches had been built, many of them by landowners with clergy who were, in effect, their servants.
  • (a) - Introductory survey
    pp 160-167
  • View abstract

    Summary

    The Viking Age and early Middle Ages saw the beginning of political unification in the larger territories, leading to the creation of the kingdoms of Denmark, Norway and Sweden, and the Free State of Iceland. The early political unification was the outcome of political decisions made by individuals, and of military force. The formation of the kingdoms involved the development of a more elaborate and formalised military organisation. The breaking up of the Danish North Sea empire and the consequent weakening of the Danish kingdom made it possible for Norwegian kings to establish a more permanent rule over most of their later territory. In Sweden the tendencies towards political unification came later and were weaker than in Denmark and Norway. In the process of political and social transformation Christianity and the Church were of crucial importance. Christianity and its ecclesiastical organisation were also means of enhancing the kings's power and prestige.
  • (b) - The making of the Danish kingdom
    pp 168-183
  • View abstract

    Summary

    At the end of the ninth century, Denmark comprised all areas bordering on the Kattegat, that is, the central part of southern Scandinavia. This chapter explores the origins of this conglomeration of territories and of its further history throughout the rest of the Viking Age and the early Scandinavian Middle Ages. Archaeology has become an increasingly important source for the study of the earliest political history of Denmark. New procedures have been developed, such as the excavation of large areas of settlement and improved dating techniques, notably dendrochronology. By and large there appears to have been a tendency towards political unification of Denmark throughout the Viking Age, but royal sovereignty over the entire medieval Denmark cannot be substantiated until the latest part of that period. The chapter also presents discussions on the North Sea empire, and the early medieval Danish kingdom, especially the political and social organisation of eleventh-century Denmark.
  • (c) - The early unification of Norway
    pp 184-201
  • View abstract

    Summary

    The political history of Norway in the Viking Age and the early Scandinavian Middle Ages has been dominated by one great theme, the political unification of the different parts of the country into one kingdom. Although posterity exaggerated the importance of Harald Finehair there are still good reasons for taking his reign as the point of departure for the political unification of Norway. Danish supremacy had long traditions in Norwegian parts of Scandinavia. Until the thirteenth century Danish kings from time to time made claims to be kings of Norway or at least of Viken. After the official Christianisation of most of the country in the reigns of Olaf Tryggvason and Olaf Haraldsson and the establishment of an elementary church organisation, Norway was on the threshold of finding its way into the family of more established European kingdoms. Only at this stage could political unification of the country seriously begin.
  • (d) - The Norse island communities of the Western Ocean
    pp 202-220
  • View abstract

    Summary

    The area from Ireland and the Irish Sea in the south-west to Greenland in the north-west saw an extensive expansion of Norse settlement in the ninth and tenth centuries. The earliest known Viking raids on the coasts of Britain and Ireland towards the end of the eighth century suggest that by then there were at least Norse pirate settlements in the Northern and Western Isles and a few Norse grave finds in the islands may possibly be older than 800. However, it appears that the westward expansion of settlement from Norway did not assume larger proportions until the mid-ninth century. The community of Føroyar appears to have been dominated by chieftains and large landowners, and probably formed a separate legal entity with its own political and administrative institutions quite early. In Iceland, the Church expanded as chieftains and wealthy farmers built private churches on their farms.
  • (e) - Kings and provinces in Sweden
    pp 221-234
  • View abstract

    Summary

    The core of the medieval kingdom comprised its two main regions, Svealand and Götaland. Kings who, in the course of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, gained some degree of control over these regions, also began to bring peripheral regions under their authority. Before AD 1000, kings of the Svear were associated with the Lake Mölaren region. For the kings of Svear and Götar, there were great difficulties in maintaining royal rule over both Svealand and Götaland at the same time. The tendencies towards political unification and a more centralised political organisation were closely connected with Christianisation and the establishment of a Swedish church. Control of the legal and judicial system was of paramount importance for the growth of royal power. The right to demand regular contributions from the population was the most important economic prerogative of lordship in medieval society.
  • 9 - Demographic conditions
    pp 235-249
  • View abstract

    Summary

    The rural classes constituted the overwhelming majority of all the Scandinavian populations in the Viking Age. Osteologists and osteo-archaeologists have provided new and invaluable data which can be used by historical demographers to provide information on life expectancy and mortality. Danish and Norwegian osteological studies on sizable Iron Age skeletal materials consistently show mean life expectancy at age twenty of only 15-18 years. The type and size of co-residential units are fundamentally important demographic structures. According to a composite estimate, the mean size of a simple family household occupying a usual Scandinavian holding around 1300 would be about 4.25 persons. This average would be slightly increased, to about 4.5 persons, by a modest element of living-in servants and lodgers and by the infrequent occurrence of joint (biologically related) or multiple (unrelated) families. In the second half of the thirteenth century, Denmark's population was much larger than that of any other Nordic country.
  • 10 - Rural conditions
    pp 250-311
  • View abstract

    Summary

    Sedentary settlement in Scandinavia was predominantly agrarian during the Iron Age and the Middle Ages. Grain cultivation and animal husbandry were the basic means of providing sustenance, but were complemented, according to local conditions, by various forms of hunting, fishing and gathering. Most of the medieval sedentary population of Scandinavia based its existence on a combination of agriculture and animal husbandry. The systems of cultivation and the tillage technology that were employed at the end of the Viking Age had parallels in west and central Europe. Different patterns of settlement have existed in the Nordic countries from prehistoric times. There were farms grouped in villages of different sizes whose resource areas were more or less clearly separated from each other. There were also individual farms corresponding functionally and legally to villages in the sense that they had their own resource territories. Throughout the first millennium AD Danish agrarian society was marked by the continual relocation of rural villages and hamlets.
  • 11 - Urbanisation
    pp 312-342
  • View abstract

    Summary

    Scandinavia lends itself to a discussion of the causes, expressions and course of urbanization. The earliest known tendencies towards urbanisation in Scandinavia manifest themselves in the economic and political centres of the Merovingian Period and the early Viking Age. Scandinavian urbanisation entered a new phase from the latter part of the tenth century. From now on there is evidence of several places with a more complex centrality. Places of particular importance in this context are Lund in medieval Denmark, Sigtuna in Sweden, and Trondheim, Oslo and Bergen in Norway. Most of the new high medieval towns were established in the central parts of the Danish kingdom, including Skåne, and in the Mälaren area of Sweden with its extension towards the south and towards Finland. The development of Scandinavian towns was closely related to the evolution of more centralised political systems. The early medieval Norwegian towns were promoted by the kings which was important for the political unification process.
  • (a) - Introductory survey
    pp 343-352
  • View abstract

    Summary

    The main tendencies in the development of Scandinavian political organisation in the high Middle Ages were centralisation and growth of public authority under the monarchy, the Church, and the secular aristocracy. This chapter outlines the development of three Nordic kingdoms that grew into more state-like entities, until 1319 when the first of the Nordic unions was established between Norway and Sweden. Danish struggles over the succession to the throne from the 1130s to the 1150s were followed by the strong and expansionist Valdemarian monarchy which once more made Denmark the leading kingdom in Scandinavia. In Norway, the Norwegian church was centralised under the archbishop of Trondheim in 1152-3, and in the following decades the first steps were taken towards a nationally organised system of government. Scandinavian kingship entered a new phase in the high Middle Ages, reflected by the introduction of royal unction and coronation. There may have been early royal initiatives in provincial thing legislation in the Scandinavian kingdoms.
  • (b) - The Danish kingdom: consolidation and disintegration
    pp 353-368
  • View abstract

    Summary

    The killing of Knud Lavard in January 1131 started a period of dynastic strife in Denmark, which ended in 1157 when Valdemar I, became the ruler. His reign and that of his sons, Knud IV and Valdemar II constitute the period when a high medieval kingdom of European type emerged, consolidated by an ordered succession to the throne. The century following Valdemar II's death in 1241 saw political unrest which led to disintegration of the Danish kingdom in Scandinavia. The contrast between the Roskilde Chronicle and Saxo seems to reflect a serious political conflict in twelfth-century Denmark, between the old magnates' families who sought to protect their traditional rights and a new, more effective, and ruthless royal power of which St Knud was an early representative. The Danehof became the forum of negotiations between the king and a group of magnates who often opposed him. The chapter also talks about the Finderup murder of King Erik Klipping in 1286.
  • (c) - The Norwegian kingdom: succession disputes and consolidation
    pp 369-391
  • View abstract

    Summary

    The death of King Sigurd Crusader in 1130 marked the transition from a century of relatively peaceful internal conditions in Norway to a century of frequent struggles over the succession to the throne which are referred to as the Civil Wars. Due to and during these struggles, the development of a more centralised and better organised Norwegian kingdom gained momentum. This resulted in a period of internal consolidation between the last outbreak of hostilities in 1239-40 and the death of King Håkon V Magnusson in 1319. For the consolidated monarchy the right of inheritance played a central role. The period of early 1260s to about 1400 has been termed the Norwegian age in Icelandic historical research. King Magnus Law-mender laid down the principle that there should be one king over the whole Norwegian dominion, both inland and over the tributary lands. This meant that Iceland was considered part of the Norwegian realm both constitutionally and administratively.
  • (d) - Sweden under the dynasty of the Folkungs
    pp 392-410
  • View abstract

    Summary

    The account of the early history of Swedish political developments ends in the middle of the thirteenth century when Sweden became a high medieval European kingdom. This chapter discusses the development of that kingdom until the downfall of the Folkung dynasty in the 1360s. After the death of King Erik Eriksson in 1250, his nephew Valdemar, son of the factual ruler Earl Birger succeeded him. This established, though incorrectly, the dynasty of the Folkungs (Swedish folkungar). In legal proceedings formal proof by sworn witnesses nominated by one of the parties was slowly replaced by material proof provided by a group of people similar to a jury that was appointed by the judge. A privileged upper stratum existed in an old provision of the Law of Östergötland: special fines of honour were to be paid to a lord for the killing of his unfree steward or his man. The chapter also discusses the political developments in Sweden after 1300.
  • (e) - Growing inter-Scandinavian entanglement
    pp 411-420
  • View abstract

    Summary

    Internal consolidation in the high medieval Scandinavian kingdoms meant that more energy and resources could be directed to foreign affairs, which led to expansion in directions that were determined by the geographical positions of the three kingdoms and other factors. Norway expanded towards the islands of the western sea, Sweden towards Finland and the eastern Baltic. The Danish kingdom found the chief outlets for its foreign energies in north Germany and along the Slavonic south coast of the Baltic. After 1300 inter-Nordic relations were, to a much higher degree than before, determined by internal political conditions in Sweden. In 1319, the first of the medieval Scandinavian unions was established. It was clearly an outcome of the inter-Nordic entanglement which had started in the mid-thirteenth century, not least on the initiative of the consolidated Norwegian monarchy under Håkon Håkonsson. The process had now gone too far to be stopped by the new-found cautiousness of Håkon V in his last years.
  • 13 - Church and society
    pp 421-462
  • View abstract

    Summary

    During the eleventh century, Christianity was accepted as the public religion in most of Scandinavia. The conversion of the Finns, a process that was not completed until the high Middle Ages, was closely related to their incorporation in the Swedish kingdom. The missionaries working in Scandinavia from the ninth century were in large part Benedictine monks. The first Nordic religious houses were a couple of Benedictine monasteries established in Denmark towards the end of the eleventh century. The ecclesiastical demands for immunities and rights of various kinds culminated in the second half of the thirteenth century. To a large extent these demands were met, but there were soon counter-reactions because the secular aristocracy and the monarchy felt threatened by the economic resources and autonomy of the Church. The doctrines and moral code of the Church influenced people's lives throughout the Middle Ages. The chapter also discusses the extent to which the teaching of the Church managed to change Scandinavian mentality.

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