Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Vikings - they were also Farmers.........

Fyrkat, Viking longhouse

Around 1075 told Adam of Bremen (German medieval chronicler) about people in the North. He says about the Danes that they collect much gold in pirate expeditions, and their Vikings pay taxes to the Danish king in order to be allowed to rob the Barbarians in the Norwegian sea, but they often misuse this permission and rob their own countrymen. "And as soon one has caught his neighbour, he sells him without mercy as a slave to either a friend or a foreigner."

If a Viking was accussed of lese-majesty or something illegal, he would rather be decapitated than whipped. He knew no other punishment than axe or slavery, and when he had to accept his conviction with a happy face -tears, complaint or other signs of remorse were hated and despised. It was not allowed to cry for his sins or for his dear departed.

But the Viking was not just a brutal warrior, he was also a family man, a farmer, a craftsman, a jeweller - even a clergyman.

Thanks to archaeology it is known that the population of the Nordic countries in the 1000th century had lived in their countries for more than 10.000 years - a long space of time , and probably only in one occassion - just after 2000 B.C. - they had some innovation from a large immigration from south and southeast. The history of the North starts with sources ab. 800, while the archaeology goes thousands of years back - so it is possible to correct master Adam of Bremen, when he said that farming was unknown in Norway. This was not true. The Norwegian knew about farming, but it is true that the main occupation in the northernest sections was dominated by cattle-breeding, hunting and fishing.

corn shoots in spring

There were no borders between the countries, except the Dannevirke bank in Schleswig - the sea and the wilderness made the borders. In the late Viking period a border was marked, when Denmark got Skåne, Halland and Blekinge in Sweden.

In Denmark, Norway and Sweden lived in the Viking period a population with a more than thousands of years experience. The occupations were partly the ancient: hunting and fishing, partly the younger: farming and cattle breeding - and finally the trade. In the southern part of Scandinavia were all five often the base of the existence.

The most important tool in farming was the plough, and the Vikings knew several types, both the two old types of the "ard", and a more effective plough with iron-strengthening or completely made in iron. The fields were partly flat, broad fields, partly high-backed and narrow.

Hjerl Hede open air museum, village

Adam of Bremen continues to talk about the fertility of the three Nordic countries, Denmark, Norway, Sweden. Norway was quite impossible, as for Denmark the earth of Jutland was barren, but the southern islands were fertile, and Sjælland (Zealand) was famous for its vigour. Sweden was extremely fertile. He says about Jutland: " except from places with water streams everything looks like a wilderness, salty land and extensive desert. Jutland is worse than many other places, poor crops, pirates at sea, it is hardly cultivated in any place or suitable for human living. But where the fjords are they have big cities".

It is not known exactly, which parts of the Nordic countries were cultivated in the Viking period, but from some knowledge about farming in Iron Age in the North before the Vikings and in the Middle Ages shortly after, it is possible to point out the areas and tracts, which the Viking farmer chiefly was ploughing. This differs from Adam of Bremen's Latin documents.

Viking pit-house, Sebbersund

To the Scandinavians, like to many other people in the world, the farming was sacred and closely connected to fertility-belief and rites. One thousand years after the Viking period up till present there are still strange ceremonies among Swedish farmers, connected to the first spring-ploughing, ancient rites, coloured by magic wishes about fertility and growth. So the Viking period is framed by sanctification in centuries before and after - farming was probably also sacred among the Vikings.

Other farming tools were sickle for harvesting corn, scythe for harvesting hay, a leaf knife for cutting tree's leaves and twigs for cattle-fodder, spade and pickaxe for working and cleaning the field. These tools are known from grave finds in Norway and Sweden. From the examined settlements were found rests of preserved corn - or imprints of corn in the clay. Danish examinations brings - compared to finds in Dk from Roman period - impressions that the rye reached a greater importance in the Viking period, while the barley and the oats' share of the yield was almost unchanged. The barley was the usual barley from Nordic prehistoric time: the six-rowed nodding barley.

Sletterhage, cattle

Lille Vildmose Reserve, auerochsen

Strands, Mols, Icelandic Pony

The cattle-breeding was just as important as the farming in southern Scandinavia, and far more important in the northern Scandinavia. In the northernest sections were simply no farming.

The Viking farmer's livestock was horse, oxen, sheep , goat and pig, plus dog and cat.

Oxen were used as draught animals in front of plough and harrow, sledge and cart; the cows delivered milk, and both oxen and cows finally gave meat and skin. Like the horses the cattle was smaller than today. It is estimated that cows in Haithabu only weighed 200 kilo and gave 500 liter milk a year, while their present descendants weigh 600 kilo and give ten times as much milk. An excavation of the village Vorbasse shows that the number of livestock on the farms was amazingly big. If all 7 farms in the village had equal number cattle, there would be at least 150 heads of cattle in the village in the early Viking period and three times as much in the 1000s. Even in the early period it must have been more than needed, which means that there must have been an export trade with cattle, increasing perceptibly up till the end of the period.

Skyum Bjerge, Thy, sheep

Dollerup Brook, goats

Other domestic animals are not possible to number, but caused by bone-finds from similar settlements there must also have been pigs in Vorbasse village. In most places were sheep. They were small, the bones found in a village west of Ålborg had a shoulder height of 57-69 cm. In many places were the sheep full-grown, probably kept for wool, while others were slaughtered while young for meat.

Goats, chicken and geese are known, as well as cats and various dogs. While most of the domestic animals were smaller than those we know today, some dogs were very large, looking like the present Grand Danois. The Vikings probably used dogs for both guarding and hunting, but game was seemingly not an important culinary part of the household. The fishing in the sea and in the lakes was important, in some places it is obvious that they have eaten large amounts of mussels. Berry and fruit made a healthy supplement to the food, like apples, plums, blackcurrant, wild strawberry and hazelnuts and gathering of spice herbs.

The fifth occupation of the Vikings was the trade and the two most important trade lines were - when they were trading with southern Europe - furs and slaves. Both trade lines are mentioned in literary sources. There is much evidence of slavery. In archbishop Rimbert's biography is told, how the holy man during a visit to Haithabu gives away his horse in order to redeem a miserable slave woman. Adam of Bremen talked much about the slave trade - and Arabian tales about the rus-people (Sweden) leaves no doubt that slaves were an important, and maybe the most important commodity. The late Laxdølasaga talks directly and straightforward about the slave trade. The slaves were probably mostly women. And the question is from where they came? Possibly from the domestic slaves. And as for the rus-people the sources say that the slaves were recruited by making inroads and plundering the surrounding Slavic tribes.

Hjerl hede, The oldest farm in Denmark

There was a sign of wealth among people in the Viking period. Everywhere in the country were large well-built houses, and the farmers had in general a large livestock. These signs were underlined by the occurrence of foreign import articles in almost all the excavated villages. The articles were probably paid with silver achieved from abroad, but most of the articles must have been paid with the profit from the export of surplus products, most of all cattle.

Many Danes were probably healthier and stronger, better nourished and better materially off in this period than their descendants in the 1800s. The height of males varied from 163 up till 184 cm, with an average of 172,6 cm, which is more than 4 cm higher than was measured at the sessions in Schleswig-Holstein in 1876-80. Men in the Viking period lived as long as in Iron Age with an average age of ab. 39, while women's average age rose to above 41. (This drastic change was caused by early deaths of young women during Iron Age. )

Hjerl Hede, reconstruction of church from 1000-1100s

The forests were used with care, the inhabitants in the village Vorbasse and many other villages were dependent on, what they produced themselves, but they were also able to get imported articles to their craftsmen etc. from other parts of Scandinavia and from Germany. Although many people might have been narrow-minded, and although the majority never travelled long, the societies were not at all isolated. Contacts and influences came from abroad together with trade, diplomacy, Christian mission and even with Viking expeditions abroad. Both ideas and things were imported. New ways to fabricate clothes, new styles in decoration, a new religion and new words in the language. The society was moving on.......

Johannes Brøndsted, "Vikingerne", Gyldendal 1960;
Gyldendal og Politikens Danmarkshistorie, bd. 3,
"Da Danmark blev Danmark", 700-1050,Peter Sawyer, 1988.

Hjerl Hede, the church inside.

photo 2002/2006/2007/2008/2009: grethe bachmann


Teresa Evangeline said...

My paternal grandfather immigrated to the U.S. from Norway. He was a Gulbranson, but on Ellis Island it was changed to Enger, as in Enger, Norway, for reasons lost to time. I'm enjoying the history you're sharing here. The photographs illustrate it perfectly. Humans have a checkered past, don't they? We have not, nor do we still, treat each other as well as we should. I've been meaning to tell you how much I like the Anais Nin quote, and the Ray Bradbury, as well.

Thyra said...

Hej Teresa! So you've got Scandinavian blood in your veins! Maybe he was from the Gulbrands/ Gudbrandsdal (dal= valley), which is one of the most beautiful places in Norway. The Vikings and with them the Norwegians were by the way excellent navigators! You know what I mean!
I like Anaïs Nins, she writes like music! I've got 4 volumes of her diaries, but they are in a Danish edition , unfortunately.
One of my interests is the Vikings and their daily life. I don't like that some radical groups misuse the name.
Have a nice week-end! `)

Teresa Evangeline said...

Ah, excellent navigators - yes! :) I hope you're having a good weekend, too!

CherylK said...

This is utterly fascinating, Grethe! It's amazing but true that all humans have survived in a similar manner despite the fact that they were in entirely different parts of the globe.

For example, the Viking longhouse looks remarkably like the Indian longhouses of Washington state. We saw them when we traveled there last year. I find that SO interesting!

And the tools that they used were almost identical to tools created everywhere else. Maybe that's not amazing to anyone but me, though.

Your photos are wonderful. I love the one of the sheep eating the leaves from the bush! The ponies are so pretty.

Thyra said...

Cheryl, what you say is also absolutely fascinating to me, like this about the Indian longhouses. And the tools. It is certainly also amazing to me that we humans share the same ideas and build houses and create tools alike and much more through the centuries. And we often discover more like this when we bloggers talk to each other. - Thank you for your kind words about my photos.

swamericana said...

Grethe: I'm fascinated by the architecture of your post. I wonder what kind of wood supports the outside of the longhouse? Must be an endurable cedar? Or what? You spend a lot of time composing your work in the blog and it is so informative. I once applied for a Fulbright fellowship to study political parties in Denmark. I didn't get the fellowship, but always had a soft spot for the beautiful country.

Thyra said...

Hej Jack! They were great those old vikings! Do you know that Teresa has got Viking blood in her veins? I have made a new label called: viking longhouse, and when you click this, you'll see two articles, the second is especially about the longhouse at the fortification Fyrkat in Himmerland. The material is oak. They cleared whole forests for houses and ships!
I'm not sure you would like the political parties in Denmark! But I'm glad that you like Denmark, I can feel it everytime you mention my little country.
Grethe ´)

scott davidson said...

Nice way to decorate your walls. I have never done that. My effort to beautify the walls in my house was to order big-sized canvas prints from, from images of western art. I use the same angel motifs in all of the rooms painted by different painters, such as this one by very interesting English artist Stanley Spencer,