A Viking Market Kingdom in Ireland and Britain
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A Viking Market Kingdom in Ireland and Britain

Trade Networks and the Importation of a Southern Scandinavian Silver Bullion Economy

Tom Horne

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eBook - ePub

A Viking Market Kingdom in Ireland and Britain

Trade Networks and the Importation of a Southern Scandinavian Silver Bullion Economy

Tom Horne

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About This Book

Viking-Age trade, network theory, silver economies, kingdom formation, and the Scandinavian raiding and settlement of Ireland and Britain are all popular subjects. However, few have looked for possible connections between these phenomena, something this book suggests were closely related.

By allying Blomkvist's network-kingdoms with Sindbæk's nodal market-networks, it is argued that the political and economic character of Viking-Age Britain and Ireland – my 'Insular Scandinavia' – is best understood if Dublin and Jórvík are seen as being established as nodes of a market-based network-kingdom. Based on a dataset relating to the then developing bullion economies of the central and eastern Scandinavian worlds and southern Scandinavia in particular, it is argued that war-band leaders from, or familiar with, 'Danish' markets like Hedeby and Kaupang transposed to Insular Scandinavia the concept of polities based on establishment of markets and the protection of routeways between them. Using this book, readers can think of interlinked Dublin and Great Army elites creating an Insular version of a Danish-style nodal market kingdom based on commerce and silver currencies.

A Viking Market Kingdom in Ireland and Britain will help specialist researchers and students of Viking archaeology make connections between southern Scandinavia and the market economy of the Uí Ímair ('descendants of Ívarr') operating out of the twin nodes of Dublin and Jórvík via the initial establishment of Hiberno-Scandinavian longphuirt and the related winter-camps of the Viking Great Army.

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1 Market economics in Viking-Age Ireland and Britain

DOI: 10.4324/9780429341625-2


I think we understand Insular Scandinavian economic and monetary developments best if we imagine Dublin and Jórvík as linked nodal markets within a network-kingdom. The form of these developments suggests this kingdom was established by those with experience of silver-based market economies in Southern Scandinavia, but that they were then influenced by Insular innovations developed in longphuirt and winter-camps (Williams 2020d).
While bullion is key to understanding the particular form of money dominating transactions initially, I acknowledge the role of coined silver minted by Scandinavian rulers in Jórvík (Kershaw 2020: 123). I also agree with Kershaw on the existence of a ‘multi-metallic’ economy involving the more irregular use of gold and (possibly) copper-alloy as cash. With apologies to Shakespeare, all that glistens is not gold (or silver), however: it is likely Insular Scandinavians used the most appropriate currency for a given transaction, whether coined (Münzgeldwirtschaft) or bullion (Gewichtsgeldwirtschaft) metallic cash, or non-metallic commodity-money such as units of cloth or foodstuffs such as dried fish.
Beyond currency, I am concerned with the routes and economic character of long-distance trade, as this seems to have had a major effect on how Viking-Age kingdoms developed in both East and West. I propose trade networks were extended to Ireland and Britain primarily by those with experience of the advantages of market commerce and metallic currencies, with the latter initially focussed on silver in bullion form. These individuals and groups operated within a series of interconnected networks linking Scandinavia and the Viking east (the present-day Baltic States, Russia, and Ukraine) to Insular Scandinavia. Chief among the mechanisms of this transfer were individuals with long-term plans (cf. Cooijmans 2020: 4; Sheehan 2020). These included independent traders and those elites who established trade-based polities based on large, permanent market sites situated at nodal points on existing exchange and plunder routeways (Skre 2015). For those traders, the experiences of Ohthere of Hålogaland (seemingly in Arctic Norway) and Wulfstan of Hedeby (a Danish market-town now in northern Germany), whose shipborne journeys to markets in Scandinavia and the southern Baltic were recorded in c.890 in a text for Alfred the Great, are key (Batley & Englert 2007; Englert & Trakadas 2009; Kruse 2020: 170).
Of those elite actors with designs on establishing polities in Insular Scandinavia, my primary candidates are the leaders of 9th-century Viking war-bands, most notably the Great Army (Old English micel here) (Williams 2020g: 92), many of whom had also been active in Frankia and Frisia (Cooijmans 2020). Let us now turn to the Great Army and discover how they may have linked Southern Scandinavia to political and economic developments in Britain and Ireland.

The Great Army and economic links to Southern Scandinavia

With the original force landing in East Anglia in 865, the Great Army campaigned across England until c.879 (Woods 2020: 396; Williams 2020g). It seems elements previously operated in Ireland, Frisia, and Frankia (Williams 2020g: 93; ref. McLeod 2014: 109–71). Beyond England, elements of the Great Army also operated – with Dublin Vikings – in southern and central Scotland during the 870s. Likely dominated by Southern Scandinavians who probably considered themselves Danes, the Great Army became increasingly heterogeneous, attracting war-bands and individuals from across Scandinavia and the West (Woods 2020: 399). ARSNY’s assemblage in particular suggests previous activity in Ireland (Williams 2020h: 87). Seemingly consisting of thousands of people, probably including children and women alongside traders and craftsfolk, elements of the Great Army campaigned in Britain until the late 870s, overwintering at Torksey (872–873, Lincolnshire), Repton (873–874, Derbyshire), and ARSNY (c.874–875, Yorkshire) (Woods 2020: 396). Upon leaving Repton, the Army – always likely to have been compartmentalized – divided: one half under Healfdene (‘brother’ of Ívarr) went north, seemingly overwintering at ARSNY, then next to the Tyne in 876–877 (?) before settling in Northumbria, and the other, led by Guthrum and others, moving south (Williams 2020g: 93). The highly mobile Great Army would move quickly when campaigning in a modern-looking combined forces manner, before making camp at key (Roman) road and riverine nodes and ecclesiastical and manorial redistribution centres that allowed them to control traffic while also providing for their horses, warriors, craftworkers, and ships, something also true for eastern Europe (Jarman 2021). It seems probable winter-camps and a winter peace allowed the Great Army to reprovision and redistribute a portion of its loot back to those it had raided (Williams 2020g: 94–5). As I will show you, the quasi-urban market form winter-camps took speaks more to the Great Army borrowing from Scandinavian prototypes in my Danish Corridor, Frisia, Frankia, and the Baltic than (northern and western) Norway (although see Krokmyrdal 2020).
Ultimately, I think the facilitation and regularization of commercial exchange (trade) through efficiencies gained via the use of monetary silver and the deliberate structuring of polities and their markets around new and existing exchange networks were central to the genesis and monetary shape of the Viking Age in the West (as in its centre and east – Hedenstierna-Jonson et al. 2020: 66; Jarman 2021). Looking at southern Scandinavian involvement in Dublin (853+) and what I consider to be related individuals in the Great Army, I argue that the dominant models for Insular Scandinavian political structures and exchange modes originated in Southern Scandinavia, which in themselves followed monetary and market innovations of Swedish and Gotlandic Vikings in the 8th-century Baltic (Konsa et al. 2009; Peets et al. 2011; Price et al. 2016; Gruszczyński 2019; Gustaffson 2020; Hedenstierna-Jonson et al. 2020: 61–2; Jarman 2021).
I define Southern Scandinavia as including southern Norway, Denmark, and Skåne in south-west Sweden (cf. Hilberg 2020: 258). While early (late 8th century) Insular raids were likely launched from northern and western Norway (Heen-Pettersen 2020: 445–6), developments by the mid-9th century suggest Southern Scandinavians were the major influence on the economic character of the Viking west (Kershaw 2020: 117, 124, 127; Sheehan 2020: 425; Williams 2020e: 43). Indeed, recent finds from Norway appear to show a difference in the type of (looted) Insular finds between western and northern Norway and south-eastern Norway, with more status and display-related items in the former and, in the latter, more market-economic artefacts like the Insular-Scandinavian bullion weights consisting of a lead base with fragments of Insular/‘Celtic’ copper-alloy metalwork or Northumbrian stycas (Heen-Pettersen 2020: 446; Kershaw 2020; Williams 2020a, 2020c). Six of these ‘Insular mount’ weights have been found in the Kaupang market (Vestfold), suggesting this Southern Scandinavian association with economies using hacksilver, dirhams, and Insular-Scandinavian bullion weights confirms the market-centric nature of contact between south-eastern Norway (and the rest of Southern Scandinavia) and Insular Scandinavia (Heen-Pettersen 2020: 439, 446; ref. Bill & Rødsrud 2017).
While new Insular mount finds in northern Norway trade and exchange sites like Sandtorg i Tjeldsund (Krokmyrdal 2020) may change this picture, for now the evidence favours south-eastern (Southern Scandinavian) connections. To test this hypothesis, I analyse archaeological evidence and theories relating to the development of market-based economic networks. The former focusses on dirhams and other ‘mobile silver’, and the latter on trade and exchange models developed by archaeologists working with homeland Scandinavian and Baltic data as I investigate the what (the material culture and sites) and how (networks of communication, migration, raiding, and trade). The why is an understanding that individuals want regular access to high-value commodities in relatively low-risk environments. Accordingly, transposing to Insular Scandinavia what worked in the north-way (ON Norðweg) coastal route that became the Norwegian network-kingdom and a Swedish Baltic network-kingdom (Blomkvist 2009) – namely, the deliberate establishment of trading sites within an overarching market network – makes sense. That elites created network-kingdoms in the West after having seen them prosper in Scandinavia and eastern Europe is perhaps unsurprising (cf. Blomkvist 2009: 174). However, while the network-kingdom phenomenon has been suggested for the Baltic and Eastern Europe (Smyth 1977, 1979; Blomkvist 2009; Jarman 2021) – e.g., a Danish kingdom based on Hedeby and Kaupang, and a Rus’ polity based on Novgorod and Kyiv – attempts to identify this for Insular Scandinavia are rare and brief (Smyth 1975, 1977, 1979; Downham 2007; Valante 2008: 57–80).
Map of Viking-Age ‘network-kingdoms’ across northern and eastern Europe, from the Uí Ímair kingdom of Ireland and Britain to the Khazar Khaganate
Figure 1.1 Eastern and Western Seaways showing potential network-kingdoms (author, after Blomkvist 2009: 177, with kind permission)
This is not to say the literature concerning economic networks in the West is not catching up: indeed, the field is expanding, with important contributions concerning commercial and social economies and the interactions between them. Although interest in non-metallic forms of commodity-money like foodstuffs and fabric is increasing (Williams 2020e: 43–6; 2020f: 30–1), attention to silver suggests it is still considered pre-e...

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