Power and Conversion – a Comparative Study of Christianization in Scandinavia

Power and Conversion - a Comparative Study of Christianization in ScandinaviaPower and Conversion – a Comparative Study of Christianization in Scandinavia

By Alexandra Sanmark

Occasional Papers in Archaeology, Vol. 34 (2004)

Originally published as a PhD Dissertation, University College London, 2002

Abstract: This book examines the Christianization of Scandinavia with the help of comparative material from Anglo-Saxon England, Old Frisia and Old Saxony. It is shown that Christianity spread from secular rulers and aristocracy downwards in society. In order to achieve widespread acceptance of Christianity, rulers employed specific measures, mainly legislation and material support to clerics. It is clear that in the conversion process, missionaries were necessary, but subordinate to secular rulers.

Various kinds of pressure were present in all conversions covered by this study, ranging from mild inducement to brutal force. The conversion of Saxony was particularly violent. While not as harsh, the conversion of Norway belongs in the same part of the spectrum. Forceful conversions included the use of military force, but also the introduction of strict laws and rigorous control systems. Rewards of social, political and material nature were however also significant.


Most important among the new laws were those that regulated the daily life of the population according to the Christian calendar, requiring observance of the seasonal fasts, Sundays and feast days. Other early decrees concerned baptism, churchyard burial and marriage regulations. Early Christian legislation, furthermore, provides a different picture of the Scandinavian pre-Christian religious custom than the Icelandic sources, suggesting that this was mainly a ‘nature religion’. The eddaic gods seem to have been either essentially literary creations, or of little significance for the wider population. The popular cultic rituals appear to have focused on other supernatural beings and magical practices.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Introduction

Chapter 2. The Conversions of Anglo-Saxon England, Frisia and Saxony

Chapter 3. The Conversion of Scandinavia

Chapter 4. Pre-Christian Religious Custom and Early Christianity in Scandinavia

Chapter 5. Christian Dietary Regulations

Chapter 6. Seasonal Fasting Regulations

Chapter 7. Regulation of Work, Marriage, Baptism, and Burial

Chapter 8. Final Conclusions

Click here to read this thesis from Uppsala University