The cultivated town – another perspective on urban life
By Karin Lindeblad and Sofia Wennström
Medieval Europe Paris 2007, 4th International Congress of Medieval and Modern Archaeology (2007)
Introduction: Swedish archaeologists have mainly studied urban space with focus on the built-up areas. The town dwellers’ way of life and economic base, like crafts and trade, have been viewed as a contrast to the surrounding countryside. Very little research has been devoted to the town dwellers’ cul-tivations, despite the fact that farming on lands surrounding the built-up town, was of great importance to the inhabitants far into the 19th century. Almost every Swedish town held extensive lands with arable fields, pastures, meadows and forests. However, it was not only the surrounding arable fields that were cultivated by the town dwellers. Within and nearby the built-up town area there were orchards and kitchen gardens. Also in this field of study archaeological research has been very modest.
The medieval towns of Sweden were all situated in the southern parts of the country. The oldest ones were founded in the late 900s and the youngest in the 16th century. Almost all the towns held large land areas surrounding the built up town with fields, meadows and woods. There are a few exceptions; some of the larger towns like Stockholm did not hold land areas like this. These parts of the urban space were well integrated with the built up areas, for example they were under the town laws.
In recent years the common perception of the town dwellers as dependent on products from the surrounding countryside and villages has been questioned within Scandinavian research. Recent research considers the town dwellers to have been self-sufficient to a much greater extent than earlier assumed. We will try to shed light on these topics with examples from two medieval towns in the eastern part of central Sweden, Skänninge and Vadstena.