Online Encyclopedia


Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V24, Page 291 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
Spread the word: it!
SCANDINAVIAN CIVILIZATION. The date of man's first appearance in Scandinavia. is still an open question. But for all practical purposes Scandinavian archaeology only begins with the Neolithic or Later Stone Age, since the country must have been covered with ice during the preceding period, the Palaeolithic or Early Stone Age, when parts of Europe were already inhabited. Thus the expressions Earlier and Later Stone Age in Scandinavian archaeology merely refer to subdivisions of the Neolithic Period. Men have left traces of their occupation of Denmark from the time when firs were still the prevailing trees in that country, and a few tools of elk and reindeer horn appear to belong to an even earlier period. Sweden and Norway were probably not inhabited until later, though it seems that men were present in Sweden while the Baltic was still a fresh-water lake. The dates assigned to this period vary very greatly: S. Muller suggests before 3000 B.C., while O. Montelius places it at 8000 years before our era. Besides the elk- and reindeer-horn tools mentioned above, a few rough flint implements seem to be the earliest traces of man in Scandinavia. In Norway and Sweden these are only found in the extreme south. The kjOkkenmOddinger or skaldynger, variously called in English kitchen-middens, refuse-heaps, or shell-mounds, are characteristic of Denmark in the next period. In these we find remains of primitive meals, consisting chiefly of oyster, mussel and other shells, and the bones of various fish, birds and animals, including deer, wild boar, seals, wolves and aurochs. It appears that the race which left these relics must have lived by hunting and fishing, and that they were probably semi-nomadic. They were evidently unacquainted with agriculture and had no domestic animals other than the dog. These refuse heaps are almost always found by the sea-shore or close to a lake. Some of them extend over an area of as much as 700 yds. by 20 yds. width, but their depth is usually not more than 3 to io ft. There are frequent traces of fire and hearth places, so that we may conclude that the food was both prepared and eaten on the spot. The flint implements consist of flakes or knives, awls and axes of various kinds, all made by a process of rough chipping. These are supplemented by articles of bone, horn and clay, including arrow or spear points, axes of horn, and bone combs. Earthen-ware vessels must have been much used, but only fragments have been found, made, of course, without the use of the wheel. Rare attempts at decoration consist of a few cuts or impressions round the top. The only ornaments found are the pierced teeth of animals and shells. In Norway and Sweden implements similar to those of the Danish shell-mounds have been found, but usually without, the organic remains, except at Viste, near Stavanger, excavated in 1907. The first Swedish shell-mound was discovered in the north of Bohuslan in 1905, but is of a later type than the Danish. The remains at Nostvet in the Christiania fjord show traces of a considerable population. Ground slate implements are found scattered along the coasts of Norway and Sweden, and are attributed to a nomadic people, whose arctic culture persisted much longer in these countries than in the much earlier flint civilization of the Kitchen-middens in Denmark. To this race are attributed a few rock-carvings and other sculptured representations of animals in a highly naturalistic style, almost equal to that of the palaeolithic cave-carvings of France, and showing close affinity with the artistic productions of the regions on the eastern side of the Baltic. Later Stone Age.—The remains of the Later Stone Age show a very much more advanced civilization of a pastoral and later of an agricultural type, with domestic animals, such as cattle, horses, pigs, sheep and goats. As the number of " transition " finds, showing a gradual development from the older forms, is very small, and as, moreover, settlements of the kitchen-midden type are known to have existed right through the later Stone Age, or even longer, there is some ground for assuming that the earlier flint implements of Denmark were the product of an aboriginal race, gradually ousted and driven north by Aryans, immigrating with a superior culture. By far the greatest proportion of the remains of the Stone Age are found in Denmark. While there are not more than five to six hundred Stone-Age graves known in Sweden, and only two or three in Norway, there are between three and four thousand on the island of Seeland alone. Besides Seeland, Lolland, Falster and the north-eastern part of Jutland appear to have been thickly inhabited during the Later Stone Age. In Sweden the southern-most part, Slane and Bohuslan, were probably the first to be inhabited: and then Vestergotland and Dal. Skane has yielded more than three-fourths of all the Later Stone Age objects foundin Sweden. Norway is not, as might be supposed from the absence of graves, entirely deficient in the objects of this period, but they are comparatively few in number, though quite on a par in technique with those of Sweden. As already indicated, the great difference between the culture of the shell-mounds and that of the Later Stone Age is the method of disposing of the dead. The dead of the former period, it is assumed, were placed in. simple graves in the earth, while characteristic of the latter period are the megalithic graves found in profusion in Denmark and Sweden. The earliest form, and that most common in Denmark, is the four-sided dolmen, formed by four or six large upright stones on which rests a huge rock, the whole being partly covered by a mound. These graves usually contain a number of skeletons. The next is the passage grave, a chamber approached by a passage, both built of great blocks of rough-hewn rock. The roof of the largest of these, near Falkoping in Sweden, is formed of nine blocks of granite, and the whole attains a length of nearly 6o ft. Later again are stone cists, consisting of a comparatively small space walled in and roofed by thin blocks of stone, surrounded by a low mound. These graves seldom contain more than one skeleton, and mark the end of the Stone Age. Inhumation was practised throughout the period, though the, bones found in the great graves are often marked by fire owing to the practice, apparently prevalent, of lighting fires in the grave chambers. The chambers are often full of remains up to within a foot of the roof, and in some cases parts of as many as a hundred skeletons have been found. In the mounds surrounding the tombs animal bones and shells are frequently found, indicating feasts and sacrifices. It seems as if many of the graves, especially in Sweden, had at some time been considered as places for sacrifice, to judge by the saucerlike hollows constantly found on the upper side of the covering stones. The finds of tools, weapons, ornaments and pottery contribute greatly to our knowledge of the period, but probably the best specimens were not placed in graves, as we find the finest work elsewhere. The pottery is of good material and form, though still made without the aid of the potter's wheel. The indentations of the pattern are frequently filled in with a white chalklike substance. Many of the vessels are rounded at the bottom, and perforations or handles show that they are meant to hang. Wood was no doubt much used, but it is only by a fortunate chance that wooden vessels and a wooden spoon have been preserved to us in Denmark. It is probable that wool was used as well as skins for clothing, but if so it must be supposed that the spinning and weaving implements were of too perishable a material to have come down to us. Awls are constantly found, but not needles. Bone pins were used for fastening the clothes. The ornaments were chiefly pierced teeth of various wild animals, and objects of amber and bone, many of them in the form of minute axes. Amber was much used during the earlier part of this age, but it is seldom found later on, probably because its value as an article of export had by then been realized. The Swedish archaeologist, O. Montelius, distinguishes four sub-divisions in this period, towards the end of which the implements show a mastery over material unequalled in the rest of Europe, but it must not be supposed that this was attained at once. The tools include chisels, borers, knives, saws and axes, but the finest workmanship seems to have been reserved for weapons. Arrow-heads and spear-points of flint have chipped blades of marvellous fineness and symmetry. Daggers with handle and blade all made of one piece of flint are characteristic of the Northern Stone Age, and show how much weight was laid on ornamental appearance, since wooden handles would have been equally effective and far less troublesome to make. The battle-axes are of many forms, perfectly symmetrical and beautifully ground and polished. Those of other stone than flint have holes bored through them for the shaft. Wooden shafts were usually attached at right angles to the flint axes. Of these latter the thin-necked axe is the most characteristic. The distribution of flint implements reveals a considerable trading activity, as flint-bearing strata only occur in certain parts of Denmark and in Slane, whence it must have been distributed over the whole of Southern Sweden through the channels of commerce. Considerable commercial activity must also have prevailed between the Scandinavians and their southern neighbours. Traces of dwelling-houses with hearth-places show that the usual form was a round or slightly oval hut, constructed of wattles, plastered inside and out with clay. The floor was usually partly or entirely paved. The Bronze Age.—Towards the close of the Later Stone Age a few objects of copper are found in the North. Copper is, however, soon superseded by bronze, which was probably imported ready alloyed into Scandinavia, though the special Scandinavian forms, as well as the presence of a number of moulds, conclusively prove that the casting of the metal was done in the North. It is supposed that the Bronze Age, which can be divided into two main periods, began in Scandinavia about 2000-1750 B.C. The earliest implements are clearly copies of the Stone Age work, betraying the ignorance of the makers as to the adaptability of the new material. Some bronze axes are exactly the shape of stone axes, but gradually we see the blade grow wider, the neck narrower, the outer sides of the haft turn back over the wooden shaft, which is still cloven, and finally before the end of the earlier period we have the " socketed celt," in which the tongue has disappeared and the wooden shaft is fixed in a cylinder of bronze, with a metal loop at the side through which the fastening passed. The unsocketed celt has also undergone modifications. By the end of the earlier period swords have been evolved from daggers, and brooches and clasps, besides beautiful vases and hanging vessels, are made of the metal. Gold is also known and used. Fine linear decoration, usually in spirals or zig-zags, is applied. The forms are extremely artistic, and the technique higher than in almost any other European country. Perhaps the most magnificent relic of this earlier period is the bronze " sun-chariot" and horse from Trundholm in Seeland. The disk supposed to represent the sun is overlaid with gold and beautifully decorated with spiral designs. The later period is clearly marked off from the earlier by the method of disposing of the dead, since in the earlier period the dead were still buried unburned, often in stone cists or oak coffins, while in the latter period cremation was practised, and the remains placed in small stone or wooden boxes, or in plain earthenware urns. Some of these urns are clearly imitations of the house of the period, and show that it was still round in form. The graves are covered by a cairn or mound. Miniature weapons are often found in the urns, but the objects placed in or beside the urn reveal little care in their selection: it is obvious that a few gifts were deposited with the dead, rather than the complete outfit of necessaries which are found in earlier periods. During this period decoration becomes more complicated: the spirals are often fringed with tangential lines, and the ends of knives, rings, &c., are frequently rolled up into spiral volutes. Bands of wavy lines are a common form of ornament. Amber and a dark-brown resinous matter are often inlaid. Ornaments show a tendency to exaggeration of size, as is seen in the massive neck and arm-rings, the brooches, pins and clasps. We are fortunate in knowing more about the Scandinavian Bronze Age than the mere remains, plentiful though they are, could tell. us. In some parts of Sweden and Norway rude carvings on bare granite rocks, executed in a stiff and conventional style, have been identified as belonging to this period, and from these, in combination with the finds, we can deduce a considerable fund of in-formation. Horses were used for riding, driving and ploughing. From the impress left on earthenware vessels we find that wheat, barley and oats were cultivated. Large boats, almost invariably without mast or sail, are very frequently depicted. The human figures on the carvings are unfortunately represented in such a primitive manner that little could be known of the details of their clothing but for some unique finds in Denmark, where the oak coffins of the earlier period have preserved hair and clothing for over 3000 years. Thus we know that the garb of the Bronze Age man consisted of a thick glossy cap, replaced by a helmet in time of war, a woollen tunic which left the shoulders bare, a cloak and leather shoes fastened on by strips of cloth crossed up the ankle. A buckle for the belt, pins for the cloak, and one bracelet were his only ornaments. From the small bronze knife and the tweezers found in men's graves it has been deduced that shaving was usual, and a small pointed instrument also found in the graves is regarded as evidence for tattooing. The women wore a fine hair net and comb, a curiously clumsily-cut bodice with sleeves to the elbow, and a long skirt gathered round the waist by a belt with a large ornament in front. A heavy necklace, two bracelets and a dagger appear to x xiv. I ohave been usual. The people were tall and had light hair. With regard to the distribution of Bronze Age finds, it may be said that Gotaland, Skane and the district round Stockholm yield the richest harvest in Sweden, while in Norway the mass of finds are in the Christiania and the Stavanger districts. A notable feature of the period is the number of finds made in bogs. Many were clearly buried there for safe keeping, but others are usually explained as votive offerings. Iron Age.—The approximate date for the first beginnings of this period in the North is still a matter of controversy; Montelius placing it at about Soo B.C., while Sophus Muller, of Denmark, would put it at least a century and a half later. It has been divided into four main subdivisions, of which the first, lasting till about the beginning of our era, is usually called the Pre-Roman Period. The beginnings of this age are most clearly traced on the island of Bornholm, where cemeteries are found containing from Io to r000 graves. These graves, called Brandpletter, are closely similar to the contemporary graves on the Continent, and consist of burnt bones embedded in charcoal and black mould. In this are found iron brooches (of the safety-pin type), buckles and a few fragments of pottery. More typically Northern cemeteries show small mounds covering each grave, in which an urn contains the burnt bones. These graves also yield but few remains, and the wealth of objects from this period come from bog and field finds, as for instance some magnificent chariots, overlaid with decorated bronze plates, from a bog near Ringkjobing, Denmark. Ornaments were usually of massive bronze or occasionally of iron, and gold seems to have been comparatively scarce, perhaps owing to the disturbed state of central Europe. All but the very beginning of the period shows the influence of the La-Tene (q.v.) civilization. The succeeding Roman period begins in the 1st century A.D. and extends, according to Swedish and Norwegian archaeologists, to about 400. In Denmark the latter half of the period is termed that of " National Migrations." A number of Roman objects are found —coins, glass and bronze vessels, &c. From the fact that Skane, Bornholm, Oland and Gotland are the chief finding-places, it appears that most of the objects must have been brought, through war or trade, from the south-east, by way of the great trade-route along the Vistula. Gotland alone has yielded nearly four thousand Roman coins, while Bornholm equals the whole of the rest of Denmark with Soo, and Norway has only yielded three. A certain number of Roman objects seem, however, to have reached Denmark from the Rhine Provinces. The graves show a variety new to Scandinavia: in some parts cremation continues to be practised, in other localities, notably in Jutland and Seeland, inhumation reappears. Characteristic of both forms of burial is the practice of placing a number of vessels containing food and drink in the grave. Weapons are seldom found in graves, but a complete knowledge of them is afforded by such finds as that at Thorsbjerg in Schleswig and Vimose in Fiinen, the latter yielding no less than 3500 objects to the National Museum. These are the debris of great battlefields from about the 4th century, and it is usually supposed that the victors dedicated the spoil to some god, as everything was left almost untouched. From this ample evidence we learn that the spear or lance was the most common weapon, and after that the sword, used now for striking as well as thrusting, and with a short cross-piece. The hilt is often superbly decorated, frequently with silver, which is now much used. Coats of ring-mail are found. Helmets' and shields are extraordinarily thin, almost flimsy, possibly in imitation of the inferior Roman goods of the period, possibly in the case of the shields, at any rate, because they were only intended to protect from arrows or spears flung from a distance, or because dependence was mainly placed on the strength of the boss. Numbers of bits and other fragments of harness prove the use of horses in war. A similar find at Nydam in Schleswig yielded two of the oldest boats that have come down to us: one of oak, 75 ft. long, built for 28 rowers, and another of firwood. The timbers were fastened with iron nails, but some early boats from Norway and Sweden show a more primitive method of attaching the timbers with fastenings of baste. Besides the deserted battlegrounds, the more usual type of votive offering is found, such as the silver cauldron from Gundestrup, or the two magnificent gold horns, one more than 2 ft. in length, discovered at Gallehus in Schleswig. Further indications of religious II customs are afforded by a curious find in Jutland, where between 20 and 30 earthenware vessels each contained a slaughtered lamb. With these were found remains of rude altars. Of domestic arts, weaving and dyeing seem to have been carried to a high degree of perfection. The art of pottery has also advanced, especially in Jutland, where we find a multiplicity of forms, with decoration in bands of slanting lines. It was during this period that the Scandinavians acquired the Runic alphabet from the southern Germanic tribes. The specifically Northern variant of this alphabet does not appear till later. Inscriptions from this period, cut into stone monuments, are found in Norway and Sweden. The next period (the first of the Later Stone Age), called in Denmark the Post-Roman, and in Sweden and Norway the " Period of National Migrations," brings us from A.D. 400 to about 700. In Denmark these centuries are very obscure, owing to the fact that the graves there are usually difficult to find, being without mounds and unfurnished with goods. Bornholm, where inhumation is greatly on the increase, is again the chief centre for grave-finds. Some few graves contain the personal equipment of the dead: sword, spear, axe, shield, knife and whetstone, and occasionally the skeletons of horse and dog. The vessels for food and drink are no longer found. At Old Upsala, Vendel and Ultuna, all in Upland, great interest attaches to the first ship-graves. These become common in Norway, fairly frequent in Sweden, and even in Finland, but only one grave containing remains of a boat has so far been found in Den-mark. The details of the earlier Swedish ship-burials are some-what obscured for us because the ship and all its contents have been burnt, but we can see that in these the dead man sits at the stern, as if about to set forth on a journey, while in later graves of the Viking Period, both burnt and unburnt, the corpse seems to have been laid on a bed in a chamber built amidships for the purpose. All the larger ship-burials are remarkable for the large number of animal bones found, including those of horses, oxen, pigs, sheep and fowls. The gold ornaments of the period are its chief glory: indeed the wealth of gold, especially in Sweden, has suggested the title " Gold Age " for these centuries. The favourite ornaments of the period were the so-called bracteates, worn as pendants, and imitated from Roman coins, but often stamped on one side only and decorated in the Northern style. Magnificent brooches of engraved or filigree work, some with a plate at the hinge end at right angles to the pin, others oval, often representing an animal seen from above, are among the finest productions of the time. The decoration of conventionalized animal forms is a marked feature, and, though characteristic of all the Germanic races at this time, is best executed in the north. When worked in filigree the animals' limbs become more and more attenuated and snake-like, or, on the other hand, when engraved, show less and less connexion with each other, but the artist's aim, a good decorative effect, is attained, even though there is a certain barbaric absence of restraint in design. In the Viking Age, from about Boo to the introduction of Christianity in the roth and uth centuries, Norway, hitherto the poorest in antiquities, springs into prominence. A wealth of objects is found in the graves, and especially in some of the larger ship-graves, such as those of Gokstad, Tune, Myklebostad and Oseberg (also in the Norwegian ship-grave at Groix, Brittany). Fortunately a number of these ships are unburnt, and in view of the importance of seafaring in the Viking Age, it is worth noting that a mast with square sail of woollen. material is common. One ten-oared vessel from this period is of exactly the same build as those used to this day in the district where it was excavated. A number of shield bosses are often found in the vessels, and it is clear that shields were hung round the bulwarks exactly as Icelandic sources describe. The prow and stern-post are often beautifully carved. Sometimes the remains of as many as 12 horses are found in one of these graves, besides those of a number of dogs. The presence of anvils, pincers and other tools, as well as weapons and ornaments, is noteworthy, indicating that the art of metal-work was held in esteem even among chiefs, as indeed is known from literary sources. During this period, moreover, iron ore was extracted, smelted and worked in Scandinavia. The weapons found are swords, knives, sickles, battle-axes, spears and arrows. The sword is two-edged, with a wooden hilt often beautifully decorated with silver. The axe is very broad-bladed, and evidently of great importance, being often the only weapon found in graves. Helmets and coatsof mail are not found in Norway, but are comparatively common in Sweden. We owe much of our knowledge of this period to the unburnt burials which were fortunately usual. In Denmark grave-chambers of wood, such as those at Jellinge, stand nearest to the ship-graves. In Sweden the great number of graves surrounding the ancient town of Birka (mod. Bjorko), should be noticed. Most graves have a round, oblong or triangular howe raised over them. A feature of the period are the tall, rudely-hewn bauta-stones, set up over graves containing burnt bones, or sometimes merely to the memory of the dead. Large upright stones are sometimes set round a grave in a circle, or in the shape of a ship, with pointed bow and stern. It is noticeable that the graves are often in close proximity to the modern cemeteries. In this period women are also occasionally buried in a boat or ship, as in the case of one of the finest ship-graves, that at Oseberg. Women's graves often contain splendid ornaments, though gold and silver are rare in grave-finds, and the large oval-headed pins and the oblong or trefoil-shaped clasps found in them are usually of bronze, while in other finds silver ornaments are common. Silver is as characteristic of this period as gold of the preceding one, Denmark alone yielding no less than 25 important silver finds, some of them consisting of necklaces of very fine filigree work, or of dexterously woven silver wires. The style of decoration is the same as the preceding period, but bolder, less refined and often heavy. Ornaments are often set with garnets. The influence of Irish art is discernible, as in the spirals which terminate the limbs of the animal forms, and in the frequent interlacing designs; and we are not surprised to find a number of objects of Irish manufacture in Norway. On the other hand, English leaf decoration is imitated, and Carolingian models appear to have served for certain grotesque forms, such as dragons, winged lions, &c. Sweden shows the same influences at work, though the Swedes still had most dealings with the eastern Baltic countries, and with the Scandinavian kingdom of Novgorod. Cufic " coins, struck in Persia and Turkestan, are found together with those of Germany and England. It is clear proof of Gorland's commercial importance that it is still the richest treasure-ground in this respect, even for English coins. Evidence for the eastern communications of Sweden is afforded by Runic inscriptions, some of which state that the chief whom the stone commemorates fell in Finland or Esthonia. Runic inscriptions with the later, entirely Northern alphabet are now common all over Scandinavia. The stones, especially the later Swedish ones, are often carved with spiral and animal designs, and some represent mythical scenes such as the adventures of Sigurd Fafnisbane, depicted on a stone from Sodermannland. The houses of this period were usually built of wood, and consisted, as we know from literary evidence, of a large hall with various outbuildings. The descriptions in Icelandic sagas of tapestry hangings are borne out by the discovery of traces of hangings in grave-chambers, especially those at Jellinge in Denmark. Some fragments of cloth, showing designs in various colours, testify to a considerable degree of skill in weaving, and figured silk material is found in some of the ship-graves. Traces of feather mattresses and wooden beds are found in some of these graves, and dice and playing-pieces resembling draughtsmen frequently occur. The remains of humbler dwellings have been found, some of them resembling a type of cottage still to be seen in southern Sweden, built of wattles, plastered inside and out. Another feature of the Viking Age consists in the great earthworks, many of them standing to this day. Such are the famous Danevirke, stretching right across Schleswig, the work of Queen Thyra, who lies in one of the great howes at Jellinge, and the so-called bygdeborge in Norway, some of which are assigned to Viking times. guide by J. Mestorf, Vorgeschichtliche Alterthumer aus Schleswig-Holstein, should not be overlooked. The Saga Book of the Viking Club (London) contains excellent articles, chiefly by H. Schetelig and H. Kjaer. (B. S. P.)

Additional information and Comments

There are no comments yet for this article.
» Add information or comments to this article.
Please link directly to this article:
Highlight the code below, right click and select "copy." Paste it into a website, email, or other HTML document.