View Full Version : The Early Germans: Scandinavia

Monday, January 9th, 2006, 09:29 PM
A region of which written sources have very little to relate is southern
Sweden and the Baltic islands of Gotland and Oland. The overall tenor of
life can only be established with the aid of archaeological evidence. Sweden
and the adjacent lands were not subject to major intrusions of people from
the outside. But the period from 400 to 700 was none the less one in which
there was a considerable degree of cultural change. In part this was due to
external forces, but the main motor of change was internal. The land was
rich in agricultural products and its potential was increasingly realized in
the fifth and sixth centuries by its largely nameless leaders.

The land was settled by a variety of small groups and the tribal units which
were known to the literate south were few. The most powerful was the tribe
of the Svear or Sviar which had its centre in Uppland in eastern Sweden, a
people who had been mentioned centuries before by Tacitus as strong in men,
ships and war-gear.

Also in southern Scandinavia lay the East and West Gotar, probably the
Gautae of earlier writers, and linked by some with the early Goths, though
on weak grounds. Western Norway was also brought within the same cultural
orbit as the rest of southern Scandinavia from the fifth century.
In most areas of southern Scandinavia there was an evident quickening in
economic progress as the resources of the land were more systematically

In several regions there was a marked population increase and a filling up
of the
landscape by farms and small hamlets. Fortified settlements appeared across
Sweden in their hundreds, testifying to ever-present raiding and warfare of
an acquisitive aristocratic society.

The economic development of southern Sweden and the Baltic islands from the
late Roman period will inevitably have been accompanied by competition for
resources and the wealth they afforded. Alongside the treasure it is not
surprising to observe the spread of fortifications among the settlements of
the period. In the coastlands of the west, in Sodermanland and Ostergotland,
on Oland and Gotland, an enormous number of stone-built hill-forts testify
to local insecurity and to the likelihood of long-distance raiding by sea.
The great majority of these forts are small, with a single wall round them.
Some now
show no trace of internal buildings; a small number have planned structures
covering most of the interior.

Many small farming settlements of the Roman and migration periods are also
evident in the landscape of southern Sweden and the Baltic islands. One of
the most fully investigated is Vallhagar on Gotland.

Richly furnished graves occur in Sweden from the later Roman period onward,
but not until the seventh century do we encounter anything as lavishly
equipped as the royal graves of the Franks.

The emergence of early states in Scandinavia followed a different pattern
from that in much of the rest of Germanic Europe. The relative geographical
remoteness and small size of these states did not mean that they were
insignificant or negligible. Their power to attract wealth from the eastern
Roman world and later from western German powers was not inconsiderable. By
the late sixth century, if not earlier, their ruling houses had connections
not only with the lands across the Baltic, but with the Franks and the
dynasts of eastern England, the last-named so startingly revealed at Sutton
Hoo. In these wide-ranging contacts is foreshadowed the expansion of the
Vikings from the eighth century onward.

from: The Early Germans by Malcolm Todd