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This book provides the first global analysis of the relationship between trade and civilisation from the beginning of civilisation 3000 BC until the modern era 1600 AD. Encompassing the various networks including the Silk Road, the Indian Ocean trade, Near Eastern family traders of the Bronze Age, and the Medieval Hanseatic League, it examines the role of the individual merchant, the products of trade, the role of the state, and the technical conditions for land and sea transport that created diverging systems of trade and in the development of global trade networks. Trade networks, however, were not durable. The book focuses on the establishment and decline of great trading network systems, and how they related to the expansion of civilisation, and to different forms of social and economic exploitation. Case studies focus on local conditions as well as global networks until the sixteenth century when the whole globe was connected by trade.
The archaeological evidence for the Late Iron Age (c. 600–1100) is rich in Sweden, particularly in central Sweden, around Lake Mälaren. A characteristic burial tradition evolved here in the Late Iron Age, with one or several burial grounds attached to every prehistoric settlement. These burial grounds have been preserved to a large extent because they were on barren land close to the settlements and not on arable land. The burials consist of both cremation graves and inhumations, and typically a low mound was placed over the burial. Some graves are exceptional, normally representing the upper stratum of society. For example, there are chamber graves with rich and plentiful grave goods; some, found at the Viking Age trading place Birka on Lake Mälaren are very famous. Boat graves constitute another remarkable type of inhumation; the body was placed in a boat which was buried in the ground. Many of the boat burials are exceptionally rich in grave goods. Famous sites are Valsgärde, Vendel, Alsike and Gamla (Old) Uppsala in the province of Uppland, and Tuna in Badelunda in Västmanland. As opposed to the low mounds, large mounds (‘king's mounds’) are very often found in the central places of settlement districts, for example in Gamla Uppsala or on royal farms (husabyar). Many of these seem to be connected to ancient bona regalia, what contemporary vernacular texts called Uppsala öd (literally ‘the richness of Uppsala’).
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.
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.