Armed and expected: Traders and their Ways in Viking Times
By Vladas Žulkus
Archaeologia Baltica, no. 8 (2007)
Abstract: The Baltic traders’ stimulation for trading with foreign countries was caused by the shortage of iron, the necessity to obtain good arms, salt, metals for bronze manufacturing, and silver. Apart from traditional goods, like slaves, furs and honey, traders from Scandinavian and west Slavic centres were interested in rye, horses of local breeds, and Baltic ornaments. Aquatic routes up and down rivers were convenient and fast in winter. In Viking times, traders could reach the neighbourhood of Kaunas, trading there for several days, and get back to the Baltic Sea in about 20 days. Navigation away from Kaunas upstream included dugouts, primitive flat-bottomed boats and even rafts. Sailing up and down the river can be proved by information about sailing in Crusaders’ times (13th and 14th centuries). Travelling in foreign territories was dangerous, so traders were usually armed. Arms were discovered in about 60% of the so-called “traders’ graves” of Lithuanian coastal cemeteries.
Introduction: In the second half of the tenth century graves with balances and weights for weighing silver are traced in Baltic territories. Most of them are discovered in the southern territories of the Curonians. Their appearance coincided with the advent of silver bullion in Lithuania. Balances, with the help of which the weight and value of articles was defined, are treated as a hallmark of traders’ graves. The fact that balances are abundant in the graves, set tlements and hill-forts of Western Baits and very rare among remote tribes living far away from the sea, is a manifestation of two things. Firstly, the custom of putting balances and weights into graves in the East Baltic region was spread in areas under Scandinavian influence only. Secondly, inland trading relations started later in comparison to coastal areas.