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Medieval Masculinities and Violence: Weapon-Related Trauma in Skeletal Assemblages from Two Religious Houses in Iceland and Sweden

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 April 2020

Elin Ahlin Sundman
Department of Archaeology, University of Iceland, Reykjavík, Iceland
Anna Kjellström
Department of Archaeology and Classical Studies, Stockholm University, Sweden


Previous research has shown that physical violence had a normative presence in medieval Nordic societies. In this study, weapon-related trauma (WRT) was examined in human skeletal assemblages from two religious houses, Skriðuklaustur in Iceland, and Västerås in Sweden. The aims were to identify patterns of WRT and to relate these to the masculinities of different groups of men. Violence was a prominent component of identity among lay men, especially for men with warrior experience. The use of violence was more problematic among clerics. The hypothesis that these notions of ideal masculine behaviour would affect the ways in which masculinities were enacted and would be reflected in the patterns of WRT was borne out by the results of this study. No WRT was identified among the canons and lay brothers in Skriðuklaustur, but it was present in about thirty per cent of the males interpreted as belonging to the lay elite buried in the northern part of the church at Västerås.

Selon les recherches antérieures, la violence physique était normale dans les sociétés médiévales nordiques. Dans cette étude, les traumatismes liés à l'usage d'armes (weapon-related trauma ou WRT) ont été examinés dans les collections de squelettes provenant de deux établissements religieux, Skriðuklausturm en Islande et Västerås en Suède. Le but était d'identifier les tendances détectables parmi ces signes de violence et de les relier à des manifestations de masculinité au sein de différents groupes d'hommes. La violence était un élément majeur de l'identité séculaire, surtout parmi les hommes qui avaient une expérience de guerrier. L'usage de la violence était plus problématique en milieu religieux. L'hypothèse qu'un idéal de comportement masculin eût influencé la façon d'exprimer la masculinité et fusse reflétée dans les traumatismes liés à l'usage d'armes a été corroborée par les résultats de l'analyse présentée ici. Les auteurs n'ont décelé aucune trace de traumatisme lié à l'usage d'armes parmi les chanoines et frères laïcs à Skriðuklaustur mais à Västerås ces signes de traumatisme étaient présents dans 30 pour cent des hommes enterrés dans la partie nord de son église et appartenant probablement à l’élite laïque. Translation by Madeleine Hummler

Aus früheren Forschungsarbeiten ist bekannt, dass die physische Gewalt in mittelalterlichen Gesellschaften in Nordeuropa normal war. In dieser Studie wurden die von Waffen zugefügten Traumata (weapon-related trauma oder WRT) in den Sammlungen von menschlichen Knochen aus zwei Klöstern, Skriðuklausturm in Island und Västerås in Schweden, untersucht. Ziel der Studie war es, Tendenzen in den Verletzungen zu identifizieren und sie mit der Männlichkeit von verschiedenen Gruppen von Männern zu verknüpfen. Die Gewalt war eine wichtige Komponente der Identität von weltlichen Menschen, besonders unter Männer, die erfahrene Krieger waren. Im geistlichen Milieu war die Anwendung von Gewalt problematischer. Die Ergebnisse der Studie bestätigen die These, dass die Auffassungen eines idealen männlichen Verhaltens das Männlichkeitsbild beeinflussen würden und sich im Verletzungsmuster widerspiegeln würden. Es wurden keine Waffenverletzungen unter den Kanonikern und Laienbrüdern in Skriðuklaustur entdeckt, während 30 Prozent der Männer, die im nördlichen Teil der Kirche von Västerås bestattet waren und wahrscheinlich Mitglieder der weltlichen Elite waren, solche Verletzungen hatten. Translation by Madeleine Hummler

Copyright © European Association of Archaeologists 2020

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