|Title||Keynote Lecture 2022: Territorial and Social Borders in Medieval Scandinavia (Language: English)|
|Date/Time||Monday 4 July 2022: 13.15-14.00|
|Speaker||Stefan Brink, Institute of Northern Studies, University of Highlands & Islands / Institutionen för arkeologi och antik historia, Uppsala universitet|
|Introduction||Nora Berend, Faculty of History / St Catharine's College, University of Cambridge|
|Abstract||Speaker: Stefan Brink, Institute of Northern Studies, University of Highlands & Islands / Institutionen för arkeologi och antik historia, Uppsala Universitet
Introduction: Nora Berend, Faculty of History / St Catharine's College, University of Cambridge
In this keynote I will discuss the theme of this year's Congress, namely borders, in my case in medieval Scandinavia. The paper will be in two parts, the first focusing on physical, territorial borders in medieval Scandinavia, especially by asking the question when did the Scandinavian kingdoms become territorialised with established borders and landmarks. Secondly, I will discuss the more elusive social 'borders' in medieval Scandinavian society, which are both mental as well as physical borders, regarding different categories in society. I will also touch upon the question of whether there were possibilities for transgressing such borders, for example, by changing your social status from that of a slave (thrall), to semi-free, to free.
When we first are able to follow the process of establishing the kingdoms, which eventually will result in Norway, Sweden, and Denmark, the picture is complex, unstable, and difficult to grasp, mainly because of the scarcity of written sources. The people, tribes, gens, or whatever we shall call them, of the Danes (Danir) and the Swedes (Svíar), are well-known in Europe already in the beginning (Svíar) and the middle (Danir) of the first millennium, and we can place them geographically fairly accurately in northern Europe. We can see that early borders were not linear nor established on the ground, but were instead formed by large forests, normally bearing a name including the appellative mark 'border forest'. In the case of Denmark, this defined the Danish realm, Denmark, 'the border forest of the Danes' (and I will discuss where that was probably to be found). Most interesting are some descriptions of the border between Norway and Sweden from around 1300, which were given as long, orally recited lists (or rather 'poems') of landmarks at thing assemblies.
The second part of the talk will try to describe the social fabric of early Scandinavian society. I will concentrate on the lowest categories in society: the slaves, the presumably semi-free farmers, the tenants / serfs, and the free farmers. According to the earliest laws, different categories of slaves had different 'values' in the laws. Some had a 'wergild' somewhere between a free person and a chattel slave. Some nominally 'free' individuals had a social standing resembling a chattel slave. The picture that emerges is complex. The questions I will discuss, after presenting the material, is whether there was social mobility in society, so you could change your social standing and move up or down in the hierarchy?
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