The Beginning of the Viking Age in the West
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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During the Viking Age, Arctic Scandinavia was a source of exquisite furs, down, walrus ivory, and other commodities that met with high demand in England and on the Continent. Hitherto, the earliest firm evidence of this trade has been Ohthere’s account c. 890, but in light of this paper’s findings, its history may be pushed further back in time. Geological analyses of whetstones retrieved in eighth- to early ninth-century Ribe, south-western Jylland, in present-day western Denmark, demonstrate that the majority were quarried near the aristocratic manor Lade (‘loading/storing place’) in Trøndelag, present-day central Norway, some 1100 km by sea to the north. Because of their high numbers and durability, whetstones retrieved in Ribe and other urban sites may be regarded as a proxy for long-distance seaborne trade from the Arctic. The peak in this trade on the threshold of the Viking Age invites a reconsideration of the coinciding and conflicting interests of Scandinavian long-distance traders, kings, and Vikings. It is argued that coalitions and conflicts that arose from these interests, and new constraints and opportunities that emerged for these three types of agents, provide keys to understanding why and where Vikings raided overseas up to the mid-ninth century.