Denmark’s first “pedestrian street” was founded already around 700 AD in Denmark’s oldest town, Ribe. Walking on this “pedestrian street” through Ribe Viking Market, you could meet people from North Scandinavia and South Europe; even Arab salesmen came to the Viking Market bringing exotic luxury goods as spices and pearls.
At the marketplace newcomers’ first impressions were mixes of people shouting for better sales of their goods, foreign languages, smells of food, garbage, and cow flops, and craftsmen producing all kinds of crafts from combs of bone to jewellery
from bronze, etc.
Ribe gave probably the most international impressions you could get in Denmark during the early Viking Age.
But why did this Viking market by Ribe River around 700 develop to be an enterprising metropolis with international commercial relations? And why did it quickly grow to be so big that Ribe was (maybe) the most important – town in Denmark? And why did it decline dramatically all ready again 150 years later around 850?
Slave trade could be a reasonable answer for some of Ribe’s rise around the Viking Age.
At the market it was possible to buy goods as drinking glasses, jewellery, spices, pottery, amber, leather, wool, food, wine, combs, grind stones, etc. – and PROBABLY ALSO SLAVES.
In the 150 years from 700 to 850 AD the Danes were still pagans. They believed in the old Nordic Gods such as Odin and Thor. But south of Denmark Europe was Christianized. In the early 700’s AD the Frankish Empire forced Christianity to the people around the Rhine. Christianity didn’t allow Christian people to keep Christian slaves. The Christian Church accepted slaves, but at the same time it was a good deed to free slaves. So what did they do? They probably went to their northern neighbour to get some pagan slaves.
But why did Ribe decline again?
As Ribe was a major trading town it was an obvious choice for Christian missionary work. At the marketplace Christians mixed and traded with the pagan Vikings. About 855 the catholic monk Ansgar obtained some land from the Danish King Horik to build the first Christian Church in Denmark in Ribe. From now on Denmark starts to get Christianized and 100 years later, around 965 AD the first Danish king Harald Bluetooth (Harold Bluetooth) was baptized. He erected a runic stone in Jelling for his parents, King Gorm and Queen Thyra, proclaiming that he now had Christianized Denmark. This stone is now part of the UNESCO World Heritage Centre in Jelling. Well it wasn’t that easy to Christianize the Danes, for many years Christians and pagans lived side by side, but of course it became more difficult to buy slaves.
Another important reason that influenced Ribe’s situation was probably that around mid 800’s the Frankish Empire declined. After Charlemagne’s death (Charles the Great in 814) no strong central power ruled in the Frankish Empire and many wars between France and Germany continued for centuries. The European trade fell, people were getting poorer and also the first Danish Viking raids started in the late 700’s AD and when the Frisian capital Dorestad was attacked in the 830th the raids really escalated. Around 850 Ribe got surrounded by a town moat to protect the citizens. The good times for Ribe were over and didn’t return until the mid-11th century when Ribe rose again as a very important Danish Christian metropolis
I have to emphasize that we don’t know if pagan Vikings in Denmark sold slaves to Christians at Ribe Viking market – it is only a most likely hypothesis. Maybe we will get wiser when archaeologists in this month start excavations to find Ansgar’s first church in Denmark around Ribe Cathedral again, where they all ready a couple of years ago found some of the first Christian burials in Denmark. Millions have been donated for these excavations and it is possible for everybody to follow the excavations all 2011. Ribe Cathedral is 5 minutes walk from Danhostel Ribe.
Claus Feveile: Vikingernes Ribe. Handel, magt tro