Places of Assembly: New Discoveries in Sweden and England
By Alexandra Sanmark and Sarah Semple
Fornvännen, Vol. 103 (2008)
Abstract: This paper reviews recent field results from Sweden and England demonstrating that currently held perceptions of assembly-sites as archaic and cultic are only partially accurate. Evidence has emerged for the purposeful creation of assembly locations in the fourth to eleventh centuries AD as one of the many processes of kingdom formation. In common with other modes of expression such as burial, the creation of assembly sites was often undertaken by adopting or reusing ancient locations marked by palimpsests of prehistoric remains. However, as evidence from Sweden demonstrates, meeting-places could also be created de novo, and newly monumentalised by the addition of standing stones, inscribed stones and mounds.
Introduction: The assembly as ameans of early government and social control may have been in place in northern Europe, in “Germania” if not elsewhere, as early as the first century AD.
The evocative idea of public assembly as an early arena for political debate has engaged constitutional historians, placename specialists, landscape archaeologists, folklorists and historians alike. Whilst the existence of assembly as a means of local and even national government is not in question in the late prehistoric to early historic eras, the actual locations of the assembly, and the processes that took place there, remain a relatively unexplored aspect of early political history. Before the start of the project presented in this article, some studies of assembly sites had been carried out, e.g. in the British Isles, Sweden, Iceland and Ireland.
In general although very interesting, these are all small-scale studies, which generally focus on a few well-known sites in each region. The results of several of these studies have been presented in two publications: Political Assemblies in the Earlier Middle Ages and Assembly Places and Practices in Medieval Europe.