Tag Archives: lindegaarden

When pagan Vikings in Denmark sold slaves at Viking markets in Ribe – and the buyers were Christians

Ribe Viking Market. Reconstruction of Ribe about 700 AD
Ribe Viking Market. Reconstruction of Ribe about 700 AD







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.

Viking raid at Ribe Viking Centre

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

Jelling rune stone. Unesco world heritage
Jelling rune stone. Unesco world heritage

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

Denmark’s probably first Christian burials are found

Medievial child buried with necklace of pearls
Medievial child buried with necklace of pearls in Ribe

Ribe is Denmark’s and Scandinavia’s oldest town with findings from the start of the 8th Century (before the Vikings). Ribe celebrates its 1300 years birthday in 2010.
A new medieval archaeological excavation during 2008 and 2009 reveals news about Ribe again. This time news from when Christianity came to Denmark in the 9th century.
From written sources we already knew that the catholic monk Ansgar arrived in Denmark around year 826, at a time when the Danes still worshipped the Nordic gods Thor and Odin. Ansgar’s purpose was to convert the Danes to Christianity and about 855 he obtained some land from the Danish King Horik (Horich) to build the first Christian Church in Denmark in Ribe. This church was never found and therefore we didn’t know where it was located and the archaeologists thought they had to look for it in the part of town where the Ribe Vikings lived traded and had their burials north of Ribe River. Also no reliable written source has told us about the activities of Christianity in Ribe the next 100 years, until 948 when the first bishop of Ribe, Leofdag, is mentioned. This was shortly before Denmark was officially converted to Christianity.

It is probably a part of the first Danish church’s cemetery that is now found south of Ribe River and just south of where the beautiful Ribe Cathedral now piles up 52 meters (170 feet) (though it is situated far below the street level because of the accumulation of hundreds of years of debris and disintegrated building materials around the church). The excavation was made at Lindegaarden that burned to the ground a few years ago.
In more than 4 meters depth (13 feet) underneath man-made cultural stratums and in an excavation area of only 127 m² (417 feet²) the archaeologists found what is probably the oldest Christian burials in Denmark. One of the reasons you can tell it is Christian burials is the way they buried people east-west, with the head at the western end of the grave and with arms and legs straight, so that the person would look towards the sun and the coming of Christ on Judgment day after arising from the dead. The bodies also were lying on their back in different kind of coffins like a dugout coffin, a trough, the body of a wagon, etc. Only one little girl brought grave goods, she wore a necklace around her neck. Radiocarbon dating tells that the skeletons belong to the time between 9th and the start of the 11th century. In other words it tells us that Christian burials were made in the 9th century in Ribe and that make them contemporary with Ansgar’s building of the first church in Denmark in Ribe.
Some people might say that the first Christian church in Denmark was built in Hedeby (Haithabu) by Ansgar. I don’t know which one was first. But anyway Hedeby is now a part of Germany.
Many other very important findings were made. I will only mention what is probably Denmark’s oldest brick wall. It was a part of a dining room that belonged to the Cathedral’s canon (= priest) monastery from the middle of the 12th century to the middle of the 13th century.
During the next years the findings have to be examined and the citizens of Ribe have to rewrite Ribe’s history once again.
The archaeological excavation at Lindegården has it’s own blog, it is only in Danish but it has a lot of photos of the findings: Lindegaarden