Concerning Mass Graves: The use, development and identities within mass graves during the Scandinavian Iron Age and Middle Ages
By Mattias Frisk
Master’s Thesis, Uppsala University, 2015
Abstract: This master thesis deals with the subject of mass graves as a result of war and violence; how, where and why they are created, what they represent and how they are used throughout the Scandinavian Iron Age and Middle Ages. To analyze and discuss these questions, I have used nine case studies as well as several literary sources such as Beowulf, Tacitus and Jordanes. To further increase the depth of this discussion and to help us understand the mass graves themselves, I have also included subject of warfare in the form of a walkthrough of violence and social psychology. Together, these pieces have helped me form the basis for an analysis and discussion of the three acts I have created: The Ingroup act of deposition, The Outgroup act of deposition and the Triumph act of deposition.
Introduction: Although it is one of our darker side, waging war, killing, conquering, and the glorification of these has always been an intricate part of our society and history, and remains so even to this day. What has changed however is where we wage war on each other, how we do it and why. This also means that the deaths that follows in the wake of the war change in scale and thereby also the practice of dealing with the dead and their war gear.
In this Master thesis, my aim is to investigate, compare and discuss the practice of dealing with the dead and their war gear during the aftermath of a battle or an armed engagement. How the dead are dealt with primarily comes in the form of a mass grave or mass deposition site, but I argue that they during the early Iron Age also come in the form of weapon depositions. The primary time periods on this thesis will focus on, is mainly the Scandinavian Iron Age (ca 500BC-1050AD) and the Scandinavian Middle Ages (ca 1050-1520 AD), this in order to get an overview of the use and development of the mass grave practice. Furthermore, I have also examined different literary sources, both historical and pre-historical. And though brief, I will give an overview of the history of warfare during the Iron Age and Middle Ages in northern Europe and Scandinavia. The purpose of this overview is to further clear up the use and practice of mass graves as the result of violence, since a mass grave or mass deposition is nothing but a direct result of warrior culture in action.