Viking Denmark and Early Medieval Italy: a possibility for a comparison

DenmarkViking Denmark and Early Medieval Italy: a possibility for a comparison

By Emanuela Marchetti

Ennen Ja Nyt, Vol.4 (2004)

Introduction: Signs of cultural and economic change can be traced in the transformation of settlement patterns, given that their structure was usually determined by inhabitants and political authorities interested in controlling and economically exploiting the territory.

Therefore it could be relevant to discover which important transformations in settlement patterns were taking place in different areas of Europe during the same chronological period. In Romance Europe when the feudal system was already in use, a new concept emerged in the administration of land property, the so-called incastellamento, implemented by local landowners (nobles or clergymen) in order to display their personal power and wealth.


The decadence of the Roman villa system generated a situation of instability, and as a consequence settlements were abandoned or reorganized around a new centre, the castle, so that they would be protected and controlled in a more efficient way.

However, during the research for my master thesis, it was possible to verify that similar dynamics were recognizable also during the Viking Age in Denmark. Danish aristocratic manors and Italian castles had a similar history: they were both first residences for landlords, and then they became real settlements with military, commercial, and productive activities within their walls.

Moreover towns in Denmark had been founded since the late Viking Age (around the tenth-eleventh centuries), often in places already in use for commercial or political purposes. Before towns all the productive activities were usually limited to the domestic sphere. Towns offered a new environment more similar to the one known in other European areas.


ItalyIn Italy the situation was different. Towns and bigger cities were inherited from the Roman Age with a long tradition derived from Greek colonies and Etruscan areas. But during the Middle Ages Italian towns were in decline, suffering a deep crisis related to economic and political problems.

After having a look at similar examples, I think that Viking Age in Denmark and the Early Middle Ages in Italy (more or less from 800 until 1100-1200) were both a period of experimentation, with changes in economy, society and, as a consequence, in settlement pattern.

Therefore this article presents a possibility to compare early medieval Italy and Viking Age Denmark, two realities traditionally considered very different from the point of view of transformations of settlements patterns. I believe that such a study could be useful in order to better understand what was happening in medieval Europe concerning the relationship between social background, settlement patterns, and the adoption of new models. My aim is to here make a base for a comparative study, discussing structural analogies of settlement patterns and building technique, introducing only some issues related to social and political background, which could be treated more efficiently in further research.


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