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Iron Age


The Iron Age stretches from around 500 BC to 1100 AD. The last part of the period is also referred to as the Viking Age.

Well preserved bog bodies from the period provide a good picture of how the people of the day looked.

The Iron Age covers the years 500 BC to 1103 AD. The last part of the period is the Viking Age and opinions are divided as to when this period ends. In 2007 the Swedish archaeologist, Sven Rosborn, argues like this: ”The year 1103 has lately been said to be a logical year, as this was the year when the archbishopric over all the North was established in Lund. Earlier 1050 or 1066 was pointed out as the end of the Viking Age, but there are no important events during these years, which have played an important part in the North”.
Although the entire period is called the Iron Age, we should not forget that iron probably was a valuable raw material. It wasn’t until the end of the Iron Age that the production of iron was increased to the extent that the material could be used more commonly.

Contacts to the Roman Empire
As early as the time around the birth of Christ there were many contacts between the Teutons in northern Europe and the great Roman Empire. However, the expansion of the Romans in the north led to conflicts.
Around 100 AD some of the Germanic peoples, Cimbres and Teutons – possibly settled in Jutland – went south in large flocks. This emigration is the first known of the so-called migrations. Many more were to follow, however, not until several centuries later.
The Border Guarding
During the expansion of the Romans north the rivers Rhine and Danube played an important part. Here the Roman developed a border guarding system, the so-called “limes” with fortified strongpoints. During the rule of Domitianus (81-96 AD) these limes constituted an infinite road bordered by wooden watch towers. Half a century later the wooden towers were replaced with stone towers and by the beginning of the 300th century, ramparts and moats were constructed around the strongpoints.
More than a thousand watch towers and about a hundred citadel or strongholds has been located along this border through all of northern Europe.
Archaeological Finds at Ystad and Kristianstad
Both in Denmark and Scania the archaeologists can confirm the contacts with the Roman empire of that age. Two graves in Scania are quite unique in this connection. In Öremölla in Skivarp north west of Ystad they found a grave as early as the 19th century, which contained a large Roman made bronze kettle. The dead had been cremated in his chain mail, which, with the rest of the bones, had been placed in the kettle. Moreover he had Roman made glasses and iron weapon with him on his last long journey
Another magnificent find has been made by contemporary archaeologists from the Region Museum in Kristianstad. When excavating an Iron Age grave site in Farlöv north of Kristianstad they came upon a bronze kettle filled with burned bones from two men. A closer analysis of the kettle showed that it was Roman
Besides the cremated bones remnants the kettle contained two warriors´ weapons. Two swords, two lance points, two spearheads, two so-called ”skjolbuckler”, which in that day was placed in the middle of the shields with two shield handles, two pairs of spurs and two tiny human figurines made from thin bronze plates.

A Militant Time
Southern Scandinavia abounds in finds from the Iron Age. Especially the period 200 BC to 400 AD indicates a very rough and bloody time. Large sacrificial finds of weapons and other forms of war equipment has been found here, especially in Jutland.
Sacrificial Finds in Lakes and Bogs
The many weapons and the war equipment are war trophies from defeated opponents, which posterity has come upon in lakes and bogs. It is believed that the conquered soldiers´ weapons and equipment are gratitude sacrifices, given to gods we don´t know today. However the victors have made sure that they could not be used again by making them useless. The swords are broken, the spearheads too and artistic ornaments are destroyed.
It is remarkable that no traces of human beings have found here. The poor people, who carried the weapons and the rest of the war equipment, have probably been killed somewhere else or has been taken away as slaves.
The Weapon Graves
Weapons have been found in many Iron Age graves. In Scania 43 weapon finds from the Iron Age. Among them one grave site in Simris in Österlen and one in Albäcksbakken west of Trelleborg. The latter directly on the beach by the Baltic and this is one of the largest grave sites in Scania. In three of the graves weapons were found, for example spearheads and lance points.
The grave site at Simris consists of 102 graves. Six of them weapon graves containing lance points, spearheads and swords. The weapon graves at Simris are far richer than those excavated in Albäcksbakken. In one of the graves they found a shield, spurs and handles for drinking cups and pottery
Other Finds
There are other rich finds related to the weapon graves of the Iron Age in Scania. In Fulltofta and in Sösdala, in the middle of Scania, they have come upon remnants of buried silver plates for horse equipment from the 5th century AD. The Sösdala find consists of almost three hundred small parts, which were part of the ornament of two horse head straps and at least five saddles. The objects have been deliberately destroyed and arranged in a way, which can be compared to the traditions of the time in Central Europe
Down in Europe
The horseman people, the Huns, invaded large parts of Europe in the years 375 AD – 451 AD. A number of sacrificial finds from Hun chieftains from this time present the same incomprehensible and destructive picture of destructions and burial of horse equipment as seen in Sösdala and in Fulltofta. This is no accident. The finds in Scania indicate that there must have been close connections to Central Europe, so close connections that they have left traces in religious rites and burial customs
Maybe “the Danes” were strongly represented in the international grouping of that time? Maybe a part of the adventurous youth was on active duty with the Huns and brought back some of their traditions?
Human Sacrifice
Human Sacrifice
Animal Sacrifice
Animal Sacrifice
Iron Age Grave Site
Iron Age Grave Site
Lejre Environment
Lejre Environment

Bog Corpses
The bogs in Jutland contains a number of bog corpses from the oldest Iron Age to just after the birth of Christ. The special storage conditions have preserved these prehistoric human beings and through knowledge and a number of sciences we continuously gain new insights about our ancestors.
The Huldre bog woman has been found in a bog in Djursland in Jutland in 1879. The dating is still somewhat unsure, but it is believed that she was buried in the bog around 55 AD. Especially the clothes are well-preserved; she was dressed in a fur cape of sheepskin a skirt woven of naturally coloured wool. The corpse has been kept in the National Museum´s store for many years.
In the peat bogs in Jutland in the 1950´s they found several well-preserved bodies from the oldest Iron Age around 3-400 BC. Internationally known is the Tollund man – perhaps the best preserved prehistoric human being in the world. He is so life-like to look at that the police in Silkeborg was first on the spot, when they found him. It is a man of approximately 30 years of age, who apparently was hanged. We don´t know why. Perhaps a sacrifice to the gods? The Tollund man is exhibited in Silkeborg Museum.
Close to the Tollund man they found another body, the Grauballe man. He was from the same time, but his throat was cut from ear to ear. The Grauballe man is exhibited in Moesgaard Museum in Århus.
As early as 1938 they had found the Elling woman. She was approximately 25 years old and had been, as the Tollund man, hanged. Her haircut is the best preserved haircut from the Iron Age. Remarkable is her plait of almost one metre, which was rolled up in her neck at the time of her hanging.
The Huldre Bog Woman
The Huldre Bog Woman
The Tollundman
The Tollundman

Written source
From the time right after the birth of Christ there is written material, which has information about the conditions in northern Europe. The writers are all from the Mediterrenean culture and thus give a rather onesided view of the Teutons. Tacitus´ great book ”Germania” is an often quoted source. Only one part is dealt with here. It is about hospitality:
”Att utesluta någon från sin bostad anses som respektlöst; varje german, allt efter sina möjligheter, mottar sin gäst med ett väldukat bord. När hans förråd är uttömda, blir han som nyligen var värd en guide och följeslagare till andra och utan invitation går de till nästa hus. Det gör ingenting, de mottagas med samma hjärtlighet. Ingen gör åtskillnad på en nära bekant och på en främling när det gäller gästfrihet. Det är brukligt att ge den ankomne gästen vad han vill ha och vill man återgälda med en present mottagas den med tvekan.”
How different a picture does this text give in comparison to the sacrificial and weapon finds of archaeology, which all suggest a hard time? How did reality look at the time?
It is not until the Beowulf that we encounter a literary text, which can be linked to its origin here in southern Scandinavia. However, the writer is unknown, but the text deals mostly with the Danes. The text contains stories which in all probability refer to real events. The text is regarded as one of pre-English literature´s stranger works. Thanks to Beowulf´s uncle, Hygelak, some researchers think that they are able to link the Beowulf text with a known event. Hygelak may thus be identical to the Geatic or Gautic king, which was defeated and killed around 515-525 AD during an expedition against the Frankish coast.
The family relations of the hero Beowulf are surprisingly detailed and spans several generations. Beowulf was the son of the chieftain Eggtheow. His mother was the daughter of the Gautian King Hredel and his uncle was Hygelak. The Beowulf text centres on three of Beowulf´s heroic deeds. With his Gauts he sails to the Danes to liberate them from the monster Grendel, who ravages the halls of the Danish King Hrodgar. The other battle is against Grendel´s mother, a terrible wonder. Beowulf´s last battle is against a cruel dragon, which guards a great treasure. It is in this last part of the text, when Beowulf has killed the dragon and he himself, fatally wounded, sits trying to look to the past and future that a wealth of interesting information appear. The hero is worried about what will happen after his death. Will the Franks and the Frisian revenge Hygelak´s violent deeds. The Swedes too, must revenge Hygelak´s deeds. Great battles had been fought between the Swedes and the Gauts and friendly relations were not certain.
In the Beowulf text a number of peoples are mentioned. The Gauts live in Vädermark and when Beowulf sails out to perform his heroic deeds he steers the ship to the West Danes. In the text Hrodgar is mentioned as the king of the East Danes. During the fight against Grendel the North Danes are standing outside the hall and hear the sound of the battle inside. In the poem it is also mentioned that Beowulf´s father in his young years had to flee from the Gauts´ land to the South Danes. Thus the Danes seemed to have been divided into different groups. The great question, which is always asked in connection with this unique literary work, is, where did the Gautian people live? That it hardly can be Western or Eastern Goths in Sweden is apparent in the fact that they crossed the sea in order to come into contact with this people. With that Western Gotland as well as Eastern Gotland may be excluded. Are Gauts the same as Goths? That may be so, but is not likely that they battled the Frisians and the Franks in the North Sea on the other side of Jutland. On the other hand Jutland would have to correspond to the descriptions of Vädermark, the Gaut country.

©  Øresundstid 2009