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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.
Rural society in Scandinavia was marked by the repercussions of a dramatic loss of population well into the second half of the fifteenth century when the first signs of recovery manifested themselves in some areas. Nobles and the Church were the dominant landowners in Denmark at the end of the Middle Ages, possessing together 75 per cent of the farms, but there were districts in the peripheral forested areas where freehold farms could amount to 50 per cent of the total. As a consequence of the late medieval loss of population the profitability of certain forms of agricultural production decreased radically, destabilising the economy of those involved. On the other hand, large groups of the rural population profited from the changes that occurred in the period of crisis. Auxiliary means of livelihood often permitted farmers to accumulate wealth. In the course of the high Middle Ages, the rural population of Scandinavia came to comprise only legally free persons.
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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