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Around the Barbarian Sea: Settlements and Outcomes in the Early Medieval Baltic

Around the Barbarian Sea: Settlements and Outcomes in the Early Medieval Baltic

By Alix Thoeming

PhD Dissertation, University of Sydney, 2018

Abstract: The development of urbanism in the Viking Age is undoubtedly one of the best-studied fields in the archaeology of the period. The Viking towns of Birka, Kaupang, Hedeby and Ribe have captured the imagination of archaeologists and the public alike, presenting the lives of their enigmatic inhabitants. Discussed in the literature but only occasionally discussed comparatively are a significant number of other settlements founded across the Baltic coast in the Early Medieval Period, from northern Germany to the tributary rivers of north-western Russia. These settlements appear across the Mare Barbarum at a very similar time, in similar forms, in response to ostensibly similar circumstances. Some survive through to today, most meet a variety of different ends, but all transformed in some way into the world of the later, more easily recognisable High Medieval town.

This thesis presents a model of Early Medieval settlement in the Baltic region, acknowledging the modern day historical and political reasons for the lack of representation of the southern and eastern Baltic countries and emphasising a comparative approach to remove these barriers of recent history. Thirteen settlements have been chosen for analysis, selected for the availability of information for the development of a quantitative model of settlement trajectory. Despite their similar beginnings, the settlements all met very different ends, and a triadic framework of settlement analysis is applied to this problem, highlighting interconnection between material form, social operation, and settlement outcome.

Regardless of just what these settlements were, as indeed discussions around the terminology of urbanism have predominated in recent years, they undoubtedly were something, strangers in an overwhelmingly rural and agricultural landscape, situated outside contemporary political and social systems. As the Scandinavian focus on archaeology of the Early Medieval period in Northern Europe begins to change, this thesis illustrates the role of comparative analysis in revealing the importance of sites less well-studied.

Click here to read this thesis from the University of Sydney

Top Image: Detail of 1467 map of Scandinavia from Cosmographia Claudii Ptolomaei Alexandrini



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