A Viking Settlement.
To get an idea of life in a Viking settlement, here is some evidence about the Viking fort at Hedeby in modern Germany. We get our information from what people wrote as well as from archaeological excavations.
Around the year 950, an Arab merchant visited Hedeby. His name was Al Tartushi and he wrote a description of Hedeby. He referred to Hedeby as Slesvig - historians sometimes called this place Hedeby-Sclesvig.
About 100 years after Al Tartushi had visited Hedeby it was burned to the ground by King Harold of Norway. A man who was with Harold and who watched Hedeby burn wrote this:
Hedeby was burned in anger from end to end. It was a manly deed and one from which Swein, King of Hedeby
will smart. High rose the flames from the houses when at dawn I stood on the stronghold's
This "stronghold's arm" was probably the wall of the fort or rampart which enclosed the town of Hedeby and its harbour. Remember that Hedeby stood at the head of a narrow fjord in southwest Denmark. It probably depended on passing trade from the Baltic and North Sea. This burning was more or less the end of Hedeby.
When archaeologists began excavating the area of Hedeby, they noticed that the top layer of earth in many places consisted of soil mixed with great amounts of charcoal and ash. Can you guess why this was so?
In 1953 divers explored the sea just off Hedeby. They discovered the wreck of a flat-bottomed ship like the ones used by the Vikings when trading close to home. The wreck had been burned and in it was found the remains of a man whose face had been injured. Can you guess how the man and the ship got there?
Archaeologists think that there were probably three gates in the ramparts around the town. A small river ran through Hedeby and into the harbour. This would have supplied the drinking water. The banks of this river were supported wooden piles and rubbish was found on the bed of the river. Why do you think the wooden piles were needed? What did the finding of the rubbish in the river mean?
The houses near the stream all had wells, and each well had a sturdy wooden pipe which brought the water to the surface. Can you remember who first told us about these wells?
Archaeologists could also tell from their finds that the following trades were carried out in Hedeby: iron smelting, weaving, glass making, minting of coins and pottery making. Very few farming implements were found.
In the graveyards, some bodies were found in wooden coffins, in other graves only ashes were found. The graves contained burial objects such as weapons and jewellery.
Animal bones were also found at Hedeby. Most were from pigs, but there were also a good amount from sheep and goats. There was very little evidence of horses or chickens.
The remains of many plants were found, including barley, wheat hazelnuts, walnuts, apples, cherries, plums, blackberries, wild strawberries and hops.
Tell what the people of Hedeby ate for their meals.
Imagine you are the mother of a family living in Hedeby and that you keep a diary. Write entries in your diary
about your life and that of other members of your family.