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The Landscape


The landscape, which a thousand years ago belonged to the Vikings, is not similar to the landscape we see today. The peasant houses were spread in the landscape and it wasn´t until around the year 1000 that they were organized in the villages we know from the Middle Ages.

The wheel plough gains a footing by the end of the Viking Age, which in turn becomes significant for the way the fields were shaped.

The forest was dense even in areas, which today are open areas. Wetlands and lakes were more numerous than today. With such cultivation landscape there was, apart from agriculture, a significant livestock

The population must have been spread all over the landscape. However, with a significant concentration by the coasts.

About the spits in the sound (Øresund=The Sound. Ør=spit)
The name Øresund has been known since the Viking Age; the sound with the many spits (ør). One of theses spits was “Halør”. “Halør” was according to the so-called Færingsaga one of the biggest marketplaces in the North. In the year 1196 a meeting is mentioned between Nothern men, “on the spit they formed a party….”
The word ”ør” probably means a tongue of land. This is quite consistent with all the places along the Sound coasts, which have this name. Furthest in the south Falsterbonæs protrudes as a marked peninsula in the Sound. The oldest built-up area in this area is found on the north part of the peninsula in “Skanør”. Towards the end of the 12th century a small Christian chapel was built in connection with the beginning of the establishing of the herring fishery. The name Skanør was probably invented then. The meaning of the prefix “Skan” is not clear. Some think that the word is to be interpreted “Magpie (skade) islands”, others that the meaning is “Skandia´s ør”.
Before the market places were established in Skanør there was a large market place nearby, at “Halør”. This one is mentioned in the Icelandic saga material first in connection with the visit of Harald Bluetooth before 986. “Halør” has been the name of the tongue of land, which is situated between Höllviken and Foteviken.
The Sound Bridge is a few miles further north. Its Scanian territory is mentioned as late as the 18th century as “Stenøren”. The place is the furthermost spot on the spit, which goes out the Sound. On the Danish side facing this place is “Dragør”. This town with its “ør” name dates back to the 13th century.
The town Landskrona is founded in the beginning of the 15th century, but Saxo Grammaticus mentions the place in the end of the 12th century as ”Landora”. This can probably be interpreted as a Latin version of ”Landör”. The area appropriately forms a large tongue of land into the Sound.
The town ”Elsinore” (Helsingør) can be dated back to the 13th century. Like the other ”ør” places along the Sound coast, this also is places on a tongue of land, the first of many ”ør”, which seamen from the north had to pass, when they traversed the Sound.
Aerial Photo
Aerial Photo

The Wet Areas
The areas on both sides of the Sound have changed character completely since the Viking Ages. It is not possible to acquire knowledge of how nature looked in this area a thousand years ago. The impact of man has completely changed this environment.
A journey a mere two hundred years back in time would make it difficult for us to recognize the landscape. The characteristic yellow summer fields, which is caused by the rape, was only sparsely cultivated. The colour scale, which the cultivation causes was not as intensive at the time. The biggest noticeable difference during this journey in time, however, would be the relation, field versus wet areas and meadows.

I connection with the so-called ”Enskifte” (the aim to collect all land for each farm in one area) was carried through in Scania in the beginning of the 19th century, the basis for a completely changed cultural landscape was laid. Before Enskiftet the villages were neatly situated in “town streets”. Between the villages were only waste fields with no built up areas. The villages were connected by small and poor gravel roads. One traveller, Jonas Carl Linnerhielm, journeyed in the year 1803 between Malmö north to Landskrona. He writes:”The speed is, as you can imagine, very slow. You feel an even support between these furrows; you see nothing but empty land…”
The Enskifte meant that the villages were torn apart and that the farmers moved their farms from the town communities. At the same time new fields were parcelled out around the new farm placements. Through comprehensive drainage the farmers along the coasts of Scania gained more fields and soon most of the wet fields and their vigorous green. More than 80% of all wet fields and meadows disappeared!
Meadow Areas and Wetlands.
Meadow Areas and Wetlands.

The Population Density
If you want to study the population density in Scania in former times, the archaeologists usually draw maps over different finds. However these only provide a coarse picture of reality and they merely show archaeological excavations in specific areas. If we are to obtain a fairly realistic picture on the distribution of settlements in the end of the Viking Age, the medieval churches provide a very precise foundation.
The intensity of the medieval parish churches indicates the size of the population a thousand years ago. The more people per area, the more churches. When we excavate the medieval parish churches, we constantly find remnants of their wooden predecessors. They were places on the same spot, but were replaced during the great stone building period in the 12th century. An estimate of this known church material in relation to the number of real churches is probably more than 80%. This is a very strong statistical basis of how the situation was in the 11th century.
The result of this population study is shown on the two maps, partly of Denmark-Sweden, partly of Scania. The darker the parts, the more churches and hence more population density.
In Denmark´s case it is evident that especially eastern Jutland with the Aarhus area-Limfjorden has been a densely built up area, but heavy condensation are also evident on the islands. It is interesting to note how the eastern part of Zealand is markedly different from the west. In the east here there were large forests and areas with low population density.
In the present Sweden Scania, Västergötland/Östergötland and Gotland appear as the largely populated areas. It is surprising that the intensive settlement areas I Uppland north of Stockholm are so geographically limited. This is after all the origin of sveaväldet (Sweden in the Viking Age).
The Scania map gives us an interesting picture of the situation in the late Viking Age. The area with most early churches is Söderslätt, i.e. the area between Malmö and Trelleborg. Hököpinge church, which is situated in the middle of this area, has in fact the highest rates in analyses of all churches in Denmark/Sweden.
It is evident from the map that the coastal areas have specifically attracted the early settlements. The density here is concurrent with the geographic placements of the different districts. The district as an administrative unity was probably created by the end of the 11th century-beginning the 12th century.
The Locations of the Churches in the North
The Locations of the Churches in the North
Church Density in Scania
Church Density in Scania

©  Øresundstid 2009