Pathways to Power in Iron Age/Early Medieval Northern Europe

Posted on October 23, 2015


From the EAA conference in Glasgow here are some more presentations we managed to film:

Session Abstract:

Dr.Gordon Noble, University of Aberdeen. Dr.John Ljungkvist, Dep. of Archaeology and Ancient History, Uppsala University. Dr.Álvaro Carvajal Castro, UCD School of Archaeology. Dr.Patrick Gleeson, National University of Ireland Galway. Dr.Jan Henrik Fallgren, University of Aberdeen

The first millennium- early second millennium AD period was a watershed in northern Europe – a time of fundamental changes in world views, political structures, and trade economies, which ultimately resulted in the emergence of new kingdoms and national identities in England, Scotland, Ireland, Frankia, Scandinavia and the Baltic region. This session aims to create an increased dialogue between researchers in a climate where research on power and the origins of modern national identities has tended to remain focussed within the boundaries of single modern nation states. Themes for comparison can include:The role of Rome, particularly at the edges or beyond the edges of empire in the ethnogenesis of particular polities The differing materializations of power in the first millennium AD – e.g. the role of halls, hillforts,mints The emergence of places of assembly and the role of powerful and sacred places in inauguration and expressions of hierarchyThe role of religion, particularly pre-Christian practices in the symbology of rulership Evolution of settlement form and land ownership The importance of monumentality (burial mounds, inscribed monuments, etc) The Pathways to Power in First Millennium AD Northern Europe session offers an opportunity for archaeologists and scholars from other disciplines to meet and discuss how their research is illuminating the different ways in which the early medieval kingdoms of northern Europe developed, and how power was negotiated and communicated. Interdisciplinary contributions that chart the transformations that irrevocably changed the political and economic landscape of northern Europe between the 5th and 12th centuries are particularly welcome. It is hoped that the synergies produced by bringing together specialists from different regions, who are working on similar research questions, will expose scholars to ideas outside of their traditional national dialogues and lead to new collaborative initiatives that cross-cut national and disciplinary boundaries.

Elite territoriality and the development of early medieval states: a comparative approach to Ireland and NW Iberia

Alvaro Carvajal Castro
The emergence of early medieval polities was linked to the development of different patterns of elite domination. Elite power could be materialized in a variety of ways, of which halls, hillforts, and enclosures, but also churches and monasteries are some of its most visible expression in both the archaeological and the written sources. These centres were important in as much as they represented the foci of different networks of relationships that could, in themselves, find other material expressions. Even though it was constrained by the conditions at the local level, the imposition of elite power and the dynamics it generated could affect the patterns of land management and the appropriation of natural resources, as well as the circulation of produce, the distribution of goods, the settlement patterns, and the configuration of local spaces of sociability, to mention but some. Thus, elite centres can be said to represent elite territoriality at large, that is, the particular way in which space was articulated as a result of the dialectical relationship between elite agency and the local spatial conditions and social, economic, and political micro-dynamics. The aim of this paper is to propose a comparative approach to the construction of elite territoriality in early medieval states. In order to do so, it will focus on two case studies, Ireland and NW Iberia.

Animals and the rise of Kingship in northern Europe. Sacral kingship and the role of animals in early medieval power relations

Gordon Noble
Written evidence and increasingly archaeological evidence suggest animal (blót) sacrifices were central to notions of leadership in a pre-Christian context in first millennium AD northern Europe (e.g. Sundqvist 2002). Indeed, Hedeager (1999: 151) has argued that new types of political authority in the fifth and sixth centuries in Scandinavia were rooted in a new religious authority where practices such as animal sacrifice were increasingly prominent in settlements of this period. This paper will examine the evidence for similar practices and trends in the regions of Britain and Ireland that remained beyond the edges of the Roman Empire. In particular, it will draw on new evidence from Pictland in eastern Scotland for the importance of animal sacrifice in the emergence of early royal centres and pre-Christian forms of kingship. It will draw on the debate over the definition and identification of sacral kingship and outline the archaeological, iconographic and scant written evidence for the forms of practice that bound animals into the emergent hierarchies of power in the early medieval period.

Making Kingdoms and Creating Communities in the 1st millennium AD: re-framing Rulership and Governance in the Irish Sea region

Patrick Gleeson
This paper explores the emergence of kingdoms in the Irish Sea region during the first millennium AD. While scholarship has largely moved beyond anachronistic Celtic and Insular paradigms for this region, many aspects of the study of kingdoms are still hamstrung by their legacy, particularly, a perception of power as small-scale, transitory and lacking the type of developed governmental apparatus which characterise Anglo-Saxon or Continental polities. To develop more nuanced analysis of the genesis and evolution of kingdoms in the Irish Sea, this paper frames analysis around evidence for expressions of power, and the practices which facilitated the manufacturing and challenging of authority. Focusing particularly on the 4th-9th centuries, it explores the how different scales of polity and community came about, were negotiated and moreover, articulated as kingdoms. Analysing evidence for inter-polity relationships, the evolution of assembly structures, collective identities and royal governance, it will suggest that the trajectory of different, interwoven kingdoms describes important similarities with the emergence of regional kingdoms in other areas of late- and post-Roman northwestern Europe, and suggests a much more complex, dynamic political landscape than is often allowed.

Manifesting power – the creation of monumental Gamla Uppsala

John Ljungkvist
The monumentality of Gamla Uppsala is one of the sites main characteristics besides numerous very Early Medieval literary records. Barely ten years ago was the centre considered a Migration period period creation, primarilyon basis of datings of the mounds. Today are these datings revised and the results from repetitive excavations in combination with major revisions of existing data, have generated a strongly revised picture of how the monumentality of the site is created during less than a century. We can today talk about a monumental entity constituted by grave mounds, raised buildings on artificial plateaus and very long post row constructions, leading into and demarcating the centre. In this presentation I intend to emphasize the societal context of the site. Its relation to contemporary societala transformations and not the least relations to Europe,
reflected in imports of both objects and ideas between c. 550-700 AD.

Landscape Agency and the Materialisation of Power in Viking Age Iceland

Karen Milek
This paper discusses the trajectories of different power centres in Viking Age Iceland as the result of choices of different ways of dwelling in the Icelandic landscape. The dominant discourse on landscapes in the North Atlantic region emphasizes the vulnerability of northern environments, the severity with which they have been culturally modified, and the intensity of their management by Norse settlers and their descendents. This paper proposes an alternative perspective that places greater emphasis on landscape variability and the intimate entanglement and symmetrical interactions of environmental and human agencies. Natural variability in the Icelandic landscape provided different potentialities for economic and social capital, which were used in different ways by the aspiring Icelandic elite. Drawing on examples from recently excavated sites in different regions of Iceland, including Vatnsfjörður, Hofstaðir, Hrísbrú, Reykholt and Hólar, this paper traces how selective interactions with the diverse topographies and resources offered by the Icelandic landscape enabled Viking-age and medieval Icelanders to create different networks, and to acquire different materials and objects, which were used, sometimes in innovative ways, to materialise and signify power. The entanglement of the aspiring elite with different parts of the Icelandic landscape lead to highly variable expressions of power and deeply embedded localized power structures – possibly one of the factors that lead to the civil wars that characterised power politics in Iceland in the 13th century.

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