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The Towns


The first Nordic towns began to emerge during the Viking Age. It is assumed that they are the result of a strong royal power, which in several cases have regulated and protected the early trade places
With the emergence of the towns entirely new social patterns arose compared to the earlier totally dominant agrarian society. However, it is clear that the towns as a dominating society factor played a less important part for a very long time.

With the growth of the towns, trade developed quite differently than earlier. For instance money economy was introduced instead of the exchange of goods.

The Birth of the Towns
Hedeby south of Jutland and Ribe, roughly 100 kilometres further north, are among the first town-like societies in Scandinavia. Hedeby was Denmark´s most important commercial town in the Viking Age. The oldest built-up area is from the second half of the 8th century. In the middle of the 10th century a huge semi-circled bank was built around it. It is an amazing feeling to visit the place today. It is one big meadow, framed by the bank and the water in the former harbour. One wonders what the missionary Ansgar, who visited the place in the 820´s would have said, if he was to see this modern idyll!
Ansgar later went to Birka, a then town-like society on an island in the lake Mælaren. Today it is one big flower meadow. Besides Hedeby, Ribe and Birka, we can mention the large trading place Kaupang, in southern Norway, Køpingsvik´s larging trading place in Øland and Paaviken´s trading place in western Gothland. Uppåkra south of Lund have probably also played a big role. Built-up areas have been here from the 1st century AD until the end of the 10th century.
When it comes to town-like areas in Scandinavia from the late Viking Age in the Denmark, we can mention Viborg, Aarhus, Roskilde, Helsingborg and Lund. In Norway Kaupang disappeared and in its place, places like Sarpsborg and Oslo emerged. Further north Trondheim developed into a very important town, especially after king Olof Digre, who died in 1030, was buried in the town and sainted. In Sweden Birka in the Maelar area disappeared in the end of the 10th century and was succeeded by the town, Sigtuna. In Gothland the trading place Paaviken seems to have been succeeded by Vaestergarn with its still partly preserved bank. But this place was quickly outdone by the early Visby at the coast a bit further north. In inner Sweden Skara was an important town in western Gothland. Linkoebing in eastern Gothland must also have ancestors dating back to the end of the Viking Age. The town is placed in the middle of the central areas of the Viking Age.
The Oldest Towns in the North around 900
The Oldest Towns in the North around 900
The Oldest Towns in the North around 1100
The Oldest Towns in the North around 1100

The Oldest Towns in Zealand and Scania
The building of an area in Lund probably started in connection with Harald Bluetooth´s establishment of a so-called trelleborg fortress in the middle of the future town around the year 980. Just outside the ramparts the wooden church St. Clemens was built. Harald Bluetooth must also have built a ring castle in Helsingborg. Here it is the presence of the town´s oldest church, a Clemens church and its likely dating to just prior to the 12th century, which points to the time of the foundation of the town. The town Helsingborg is first mentioned in 1085, but the town formation as well as the fortress, which the town was named after, must be older. Roskilde must also have been founded by Harald Bluetooth, who died around the year 986. Here too, there is a very early St. Clemens church just opposite the harbour.

Lund and Roskilde
It is characteristic of Scania´s and Zealand´s oldest proven town formations that they have been situated in areas, which the king in some way wanted to ensure was within his direct power sphere. Lund was Uppåkra´s heir, a commercial place in the rich area between Søderslætt and Lundaslætten. Helsingborg is situated strategically like a lock by the northern Sound. Roskilde is link between the former main area, Lejre, and the sea.
When it comes to Lund, this town, like Roskilde, quickly became a religious metropole. Around the year 1050 a large number of new churches were built in the town, which signifies that the town area was divided into many districts with their own churches. In the year 1104, the town became the archbishopric for all of Scandinavia. That it was Lund, the historian Saxo around the year 1200 explains like this: ”You can get here easily from the adjoining areas. There are many roads both by sea and by land.”

Land Donations
In the second half of the 11th century the Danish church was in an expansive period, which had been made possible through royal donations. The royal power´s great interest in supporting the development of the church in Lund as well as Roskilde, is clear from the fact that the king in 1073 is the force behind a donation of no less than 50 bol to the Trinity church in Roskilde and in the year 1085 a donation in Lund of 53½ bol to the Laurentius church. Both churches were cathedrals. The king and the church thus had the same goal: To establish and ensure a functioning Danish state founded on the premises that was laid down by Harald Bluetooth and his relatives. For the church it was important to gain economic control by dominating the towns. The church, for instance, had gained ownership of Roskilde. This happened at the same time as the coast towns Lomma and Copenhagen turns up in the written source material.

Copenhagen and Lomma
Especially for the young Christian church organisation the need for functioning connecting roads between the different ecclesiastical main towns, must have been great. To ensure the connections between the ecclesiastical metropoles, Lund and Roskilde, it was necessary to have coast towns close by on both sides of the Sound, Lomma and Copenhagen are those coast towns, geographically placed between Lund and Roskilde.
Copenhagen Havn (Harbour) is mentioned for the first time by name in the year 1043 in the so-called Knytlingesaga in connection with the account of how king Magnus sailed after the fleeing king, Sven Estridsen: ” and Sven reached the place called Hafn, where he stayed with a few ships. Resistance was scarce and Sven fled further up the country and many more of his men fell there.” The origin of Copenhagen may be found in a ring fortification from the time of Harald Bluetooth. However, the written sources cannot confirm this with certainty.
Lomma, a coastal society just north of Malmo, is mentioned for the first time in the year 1085 in Kud the Holy´s deed of gift, in such a way that it must have been characterized as a town. The place has probably lost this status early on. A semi-circled town bank has been pointed out in older map material.

©  Øresundstid 2009