- Settlement and Lordship in Viking and Early Medieval Scandinavia ed. by Bjørn Poulsen and Søren Michael Sindbæk
Settlement and Lordship in Viking and Early Medieval Scandinavia covers and further develops the research presentations of Aarhus University's 2008 Interdisciplinary Conference on 'Land and Lordship: Settlement and Social Power in Viking and Early Scandinavia'. Editors Bjørn Poulsen and [End Page 298] Søren Sindbæk are recognizable as current academic leaders in the fields of medieval Scandinavian and Viking history and archaeology, enabling the volume to bring these two disciplines together extremely successfully. Like many areas of medieval study, much needs to be done to breathe new life into academic research rather than relying on the scholarship from last century, and volumes like Settlement and Lordship in Viking and Early Medieval Scandinavia are one of the most effective ways of achieving this goal.
Poulsen and Sindbæk clearly recognize the problems many medievalists experience when comparing settlement and lordship in early medieval Scandinavia with the rest of Europe. They ascertain that lordship in the north was very different from other parts of Europe, a view supported by the research presented in the book. The chapters of the book are grouped into four thematic sections, 'Changing Aristocracies', 'Settlement and Social Development', 'Magnates and Manors', and 'Lords, Slaves and Tenants', and this division works well. The Scandinavian sources, both literary and archaeological are carefully considered within each chapter. Moreover, these sources are assessed across the concepts of aristocracy, social ties, landholding, and the development of a unique cultural landscape.
Sometimes the authors of individual chapters disagree with existing scholarship, but this is a positive point. Accessing such recent research naturally means that there is fresh debate about what the evidence actually represents. An obvious example is found within Judith Jesch's chapter, 'Runic Inscriptions and the Vocabulary of Land'. Within this chapter, it is refreshing to see discussion on the definition of thegn within Scandinavian society. Jesch asserts that in many cases the word drengr has been used misleadingly, believing it to refer to 'an established landowner', rather than the more traditional 'position of agent for the monarchy'. This is but one example found within the volume where a disagreement within traditional scholarship has been examined, with new conclusions drawn from the available evidence.
An interesting choice for inclusion in the volume is the chapter by Johnny Jakobsen, 'High Medieval Magnate Farms in North-West Sjælland, Denmark: Analyses of Magnate Farms in an East Danish Region, c. 1100-1400'. It is the method rather than the contents that make this chapter stand out, with the author applying a quantitative approach to the study of the development of settlements within eastern Denmark. Jakobsen urges the reader to consider that while such an approach is sometimes unpopular with medievalists, it works for scholars who want to investigate the geographical relationship between magnate farms and parishes.
Janken Myrdal's chapter is another stand out. 'Milking and Grinding, Digging and Herding: Slaves and Farmwork 1000-1300' considers the [End Page 299] work performed by slaves, while also touching on the same tasks, which had previously been performed by slaves, after the early fourteenth-century abolition of slavery. Myrdal argues that the elite needed slaves for the operation of their farms and estates, but as he indicates, neither the written nor the archaeological sources can completely answer all the questions one could ask about medieval Scandinavian slavery, so it is an area of continuing debate. However, Myrdal presents a useful starting point from which to develop a better understanding of the roles of slaves in the farms, primarily using the saga literature and written laws. He concludes with the comment that during 1000-1300, the division of labour was in a state of flux, while simultaneously the actual tasks needed did not change.
Each chapter could easily have...