The Roman Empire and Southern Scandinavia - a Northern Connection!
A re-evaluation of military-political relations between the Roman Empire and the Barbaricum in the first three centuries AD with a special emphasis on southern Scandinavia


The aim of this work is to enhance the knowledge of Roman relations to the northern Barbaricum, i.e. southern Scandinavia.

The nature and extent of the northern parts of the Roman Empire has for long been thoroughly examined within a multitude of scholarly disciplines. Likewise, the parts of Europe outside the Roman Empire have undergone thorough scholarly examination. However, whereas the Roman Empire has attracted the attention of both historians, philologists and archaeologists, northern Europe has mainly been subjected to the scrutiny of prehistorical archaeologists.

But the fact that one area was seen to have influenced the other is quite apparent as the period of interest in prehistorical chronology is labelled ‘The Roman Iron Age’. That the two parts of Europe were not completely isolated is of course well known and for one thing illustrated by the numerous finds of Roman origin in northern Europe. However, within provincial Roman research, represented by both classical and prehistorical archaeologists as well as historians, Roman-‘Barbarian’ contacts has generated an interest in the immediate vicinity of the Roman borders.

The parts of Europe more distantly situated from the Roman Empire have primarily been of interest to prehistorical archaeologists alone, who have looked southwards with a base in the local context. As is apparent from the title, this work strives to reveal military-political connections between the Roman Empire on one hand and on the other an area situated at quite a distance from this Empire. The motivation for choosing this part of Barbaricum is based on a number of reasons.

Various aspects of the Roman Iron Age in Scandinavia indicate that relations could have been present. This is seen through finds from, for instance, the princely graves at Himlingøje or from the war booty sacrifices. Within each of these fields of study, it has been suggested that there might be some sort of connection to the Roman Empire or occurrences related to the Roman Empire. It is therefore the purpose here to examine all these vague indications from another point of view for once, in order to establish an overview of these relations.
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The starting point is an investigation of the north-western limes. Focus is on four episodes from the first three centuries ad, which are important for the understanding of Roman-Germanic relations. Each of these episodes was dominated by large scale war between Romans and Germani. This had a great impact on the subsequent behaviour of the Romans towards Barbaricum.

The first episode is the clades Variana, the defeat of Varus, and the end of the Augustan Germania campaigns. During these encounters the first substantial indications of contact appear.
The second episode is the Batavian revolt following in the wake of the civil war in ad 69 – 70. Although the revolt proved not to be fatal for the Roman Empire, it forced the Romans to re-think their policy towards their eastern neighbours.
The third episode concerns the reign of Marcus Aurelius, in which an external pressure apparently forced Rome’s long term friend, the Marcomanni, to attacks on the Roman provinces. In the end Rome was fighting practically every neighbour in Barbaricum.
The fourth episode is constituted by the troubles in the second half of the 3rd century ad that led to the loss of the Agri Decumates and the rise of new Germanic ‘federations’. The investigation of these four episodes provides a new view on various aspects, as well as an outline of Roman-Germanic relations, which can be used as models for Roman contacts to other parts of Barbaricum, to which such information is not available.
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This passage quoted in the book, is very true for our early ancestors, too. They were so much more than they appear to be but unfortunately, much of what they were and produced is forever lost to time, due to their illiteracy and use of decaying organic material.
”For if the city of the Lacedaemonians should be
deserted, and nothing should be left of it but its
temples and the foundations of its other buildings,
posterity would, I think, after a long lapse of time,
be very loath to believe that their power was as great
as their renown. (And yet they occupy two fifths of
the Peloponnesus and have hegemony of the whole,
as well as of their many allies outside; but still, as
Sparta is not compactly built as a city and has
not provided itself with costly temples and other
edifices, but is inhabited village-fashion in the old
Hellenic style, its power would appear less than it
is.) Whereas, if Athens should suff er the same fate,
its power would, I think, from what appeared of
the city’s ruins, be conjectured double what it is.”
Thucydides
History of the Peloponnesian War I.10.2
5th century BC