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Denmark's History

11. Roman Iron Age

In the older Roman Iron Age, Denmark was more densely populated than ever before. The villages were close together, even the smallest moraine hills were inhabited. It is assumed that the distance between the villages was 1-2 km. The land was divided between warlike and intensely rivaling tribes, who build extensive fortifications as defense against each other. Ptolemy mentions Sabalingii and Fundusii, and Tacitus mentions Cimbrians, Harudes, Eudoses, and Angles. Hundreds of fallen warriors and thousands of captured weapons were sacrificed to the traditional gods in the sacred bogs. In the middle of the period, the Danes came from Asia with their Asir gods and displaced the Heruls from Scania and Zealand.

1. With the Roman Empire as neighbor

Timeline from Neolitic to historical time.

The term Roman Iron Age refers to the time between year 0 and 400 AC. It describes the major influence that the Roman Empire had on the development of Scandinavia during this period.

Copies of two Roman silver cups from the famous Hoby find on Lolland exhibited at Museum Lolland-Falster. The original cups were found in a nobleman's grave in Hoby between Rødby and Nakskov in 1920. The motif on the cup on the left depicts King Primaos of Troy begging the Greek hero Achilles to have his son's body handed over. The motif on the cup on the right is the Greek hero Philoctetes, who owned Heracles' bow without which Troy could not be conquered. Philoctetes has grown old and sick, and the cunning Odysseus slips the bow from him without he noticed. Photo Leif Plith, Museum Lolland-Falster Wikipedia.

The core of the Roman army came to be made up of Germans recruited from the free Germania, and all these young men returned home after their military service filled with knowledge of Roman culture, military organization, tactics and strategy. They came back to their Germanic villages with Roman treasures, weapons and coins, which latter quickly became legal currency also on markets in the free Germania.

Finds of Roman artefacts in free Germania. The map is from 1951, but although many new finds were added, the pattern is likely to be the same. They are spread all over Germania, there are not particularly many finds near the border. There are some areas where the finds are dense, while other areas are more or less empty of finds. No consideration has been given to whether the Roman objects are from the Pre-Roman Iron Age or from the Roman Iron Age, but the vast majority are probably from the Roman Iron Age.
It can be seen that West Jutland, Himmerland, Slesvig-Holsten, northern Holland and Scania are quite empty of Roman finds. On the other hand, there are many finds in East Jutland, on the Danish islands, Bornholm, Øland and Gotland, and Roman objects have also been found in Norway, Västergötland and Östergötland.
We can think that many of the Roman objects were brought home by younger sons of distinguished families who have been in Roman military service.
We can imagine that some Germanic tribes had close connections to the Roman Empire, they lived in the areas rich in finds, while other tribes had a cooler relationship with the empire, and they lived in the areas more empty of finds. From H.J. Eggers Der Römische import im freien Germanien, Hamburgisches Museum 1951.

In the first centuries after the birth of Christ, Denmark was more densely populated and less forested than the country had ever been before, with villages and farms in almost every corner of the country. In the following centuries, the forest spread again in many places; only in the Middle Ages, a thousand years later, did the open country regain the same extent as in the Roman Iron Age.

The Roman Empire and the free Germania in the Imperial period, that is about the Roman Iron Age in Denmark. Pliny, Mela, Ptolemy, Caesar and Tacitus mention many Germanic tribes, here are only listed a few. Photo Wikipedia.

Many discoveries of extensive ramparts and other fortifications and big quantities of beaten armies' weapons, sacrificed to the gods, testify that Roman Iron Age was a turbulent and violent time of intense fighting on the scarce resources.

Some believe that the Romans led a rather domineering policy in relation to the tribes in free Germania. Some Germanic peoples they branded as despicable rogue nations, while others received rich gifts with assurances that they were friends with the mighty Roman Empire.

2. The roman warm period

The Roman warm period started quite suddenly around 250 BC and ended around 350-400 AD. The ancient Romans lived in a fairly pleasant climate, which also can be concluded on the airy dress that classical statues are often clothed. In most of Roman Iron Age, climate in Scandinavia must have been quite close to today's climate, probably a little warmer.

When the climate became less cold after the ice age, and the ice melted, the reindeer migrated north, followed by the reindeer hunters.
The temperature rose quickly and Denmark became completely covered by primeval forest, in which the Maglemose hunters hunted and fished, followed by the Kongemose and Ertebølle hunters. It was not until the peasant Stone Age that people began to keep livestock and cultivate the land. Around 500 BC the Bronze Age was replaced by the three periods of the Iron Age, namely the Pre-Roman (Celtic), Roman and Germanic Iron Ages. The Viking Age started with the attack on the monastery of St. Cuthbert on the island of Lindisfarne in England AD 793 and ended with the killing of Canute the Saint in 1086 AD. The Middle Ages ended in 1536 with the civil war, the Count's Feud, and the Lutheran Reformation.
For 60% of Denmark's history, the main occupations have been hunting and fishing. For 75% of the time, a form of stone age has prevailed.

Some studies in a bog in Penido Vello in Spain have shown that the average temperature was around 2-2.5 degrees warmer than in modern times. We must believe that also in Scandinavia, the weather in Roman Iron Age generally have been warmer than it is in modern times.

The Roman warming period is amply documented by many analyzes of sediments, tree rings, pollen and ice cores - especially from the northern hemisphere. Studies from China, North America, Venezuela, South Africa, Iceland, Greenland and the Sargasso Sea have all demonstrated the warming period. Moreover, it is supported by evidences of ancient authors and historical events.

Ruins of Roman bridges in Syria, where the rivers they span have long since dried up.
Left: Ruin of a Roman bridge in Syria between the villages of Ayyash and Ain Abu Jima in the north-west of Jebel Bishri.- Photo: Minna Lönnqvist.
Right: Ruin of the Roman bridge in Uthma in Syria - Photo: arminhermann.

Hannibal brought a whole army, equipped with 37 war-elephants across the Alps in 218 BC - In the winter. There are many ruins of Roman bridges, especially in Syria, which leads over rivers long since dried up due to failing monsoon rains. North Africa was Rome's granary, which is difficult to imagine today. Olive trees were growing in the Rhine Valley in Germany, and citrus and grapes were grown in England as far north as the Hadrian's Wall near Newcastle. Olive presses have been found in Sagalassos on the Anatolian highlands of present-day Turkey, which is an area, where it currently is too cold to grow olives.

Therefore, it is fair to assume that also in Scandinavia the weather has been relatively warm in the Roman Iron Age.

3. The villages

The Roman writer Pliny the Elder had no great thoughts about people living at the Northern Ocean: "There, wretched race, they occupy high mounds or platforms (tribunalia) built with their own hands according to their experience of the highest tide, and they put houses on top of them - and they hunt the fish, who flee with the sea around their huts. It does not befall them to have flocks, to be nourished with milk, like their neighbours, not even fight with wild animals, since every scrub is far removed. They make rope of sedge and marsh reeds in order to spread nets for the fish, they gather mud with their hands and dry it more in the wind than in the sun, and with earth, they warm their food and their own entrails, frozen by the north wind. They have no drink except from rainwater stored up in trenches at the entrance of their houses." - "And these people claim that if the Roman people defeated them, they would thereby become slaves. Truly, it is a people that fate spares, but for their own misfortune!"

As a young man Pliny took part in a military campaign against the Frisians east of the Rhine, and there he saw with his own eyes, how they lived. The Roman army already got a foothold in the area, when Emperor Tiberius commanded them to draw back to west of the Rhine. Romans very rarely came to Scandinavia and most likely did not have any clear idea about, how the peoples there lived.

Maybe the Scandinavian peoples were poor, but there were many of them. In Roman Iron Age the Danish population was larger than it ever had been before.

The Iron Age village in Lejre Forsøgscenter - Photo Krestenklit Wikipedia

Near Marslev northeast of the city of Odense, archaeologists have managed to map the Iron Age settlements. The villages were located on moraine hills, and their land was bounded to the neighboring villages on other hills by natural boundaries, such as creeks and marshes that stretched in hollows between the hills. Thus, the villages were also located in the 1700's before the agricultural modernization. But, surprisingly, it has been shown that the Iron Age villages were located denser than they came to be later in the history; even the smallest moraine hills were populated in the Iron Age. In the Middle Age and later, only the largest hills were populated.

It is assumed that the distance between the villages in the early Roman Iron Age was 1-2 km. On good soil, like on the island of Funen, they were even closer. However, during 300-400 AC, the very small settlements were abandoned, and some large central villages remained. It was troubled times, and one can imagine that it was for security reasons, or more likely because of a decline in population.

At the village Galsted south of Vojens, Sønderjyllands Museum has excavated a village that existed through older Roman Iron Age in varying forms.

Left: The village at Galsted as it occurred around the year 0 around the bronze-age mound. The houses are approximately of equal size and the whole village is surrounded by a common fence. One can imagine that the residents felt that they were descenders of the famous old king, who rested in the mound. Perhaps the village was called something with -ninge.
Right: One hundred years after, the village was completely restructured. The common village fence was abandoned, the houses were fewer but larger and with separate enclosures around each house. Some peasants were richer and more noble than the others and lived for themselves with separate burial sites. (Pictures: Sønderjyllands Museum)

The oldest village existed from about 0 to about 100 AC. It consisted of 13 houses located around a bronze-age mound. The village was surrounded by a common enclosure and the areas belonging to the individual houses were also bordered with fences. The houses have been around 5.5 m. wide and 20-25 m. long. In front of the house, a fence formed an enclosure, a "tofte", where there have been shelter and sunshine. It is easy to imagine that the villagers have considered themselves as descendants of the old king, who rested in the Bronze Age mound. Maybe they buried the ashes of their dead in the mound following old custom.

The reconstructed Iron Age village by Stavis Åen in Odense. Photo Odense - Jernalderlandsbyen

Around 75-100 AD, the village was completely restructured. The common fence was abandoned, and the number of farms was reduced from 13 to 9, and each farm got its own much larger enclosure. East of the village a burial site was built that was common to the eight regular farms. Here ordinary peasants and warriors were buried in urn graves.

However, the ninth farm was something special and was located separately and did not share fences with any of the others. It had its own small burial ground, where one of the dead had been buried with a fingering of gold. In slightly longer distance from ordinary farms were a group of three farms. Here lived probably the most important peasants, or even perhaps the nobleman. Each farm had its own small burial ground with circular tomb gardens in Roman design. In one of the graves was a pendel of gold.

Spurs found in rider-grave at Dollerup.

Spurs found in rider-grave at Dollerup. They consist of a hard core of iron, covered by a surface layer of bronze with silver inlays. From Danmarks Oldtid by Johannes Brøndsted.

The Bronze Age was an aristocratic period of great difference between high and low. Celtic Iron Age seems to have been the exact opposite. The excavated villages indicate a society of community where everyone was pretty equal. In the early village from the Celtic Iron Age at Grøntoft, all houses were almost equal in size, and the whole village was surrounded by a common fence. As time passed by, there became still bigger differences in the size of the houses, and the common fence was abandoned. The late Galsted village from the Roman Iron Age clearly demonstrates that there now existed different layers in society. The leading peasants had even their own exclusive burial grounds, separated from ordinary burial grounds.

The army whose weapons were sacrificed in Ejsbøl Mose numbered around 200 infantrymen and horsemen, as well as an unknown number of archers. There has been one horseman for every twenty infantrymen.

In some warrior-graves, the deceased were buried with their spurs, indicating that they have been warriors on horseback. These rider graves contain rich grave goods, with a grave from Dollerup near Kolding as the grandest. Evidence suggests that military leaders, that are officers, have been mounted, as it in this way was easier to keep overview and quickly get around.

The age of Iron Age place-names. The suffix -løse, -inge and -um are the oldest. -lev and -sted are a little younger, as they indicate a personal ownership of the land.

Archaeologists have found spurs in the graves of older men, who were out of their military age. They had not got weapons in the grave, but they had their spurs. It shows that the spurs had become a symbol of dignity, a sign of a high position in society or a particular office. If a man once had been elevated to be a rider, he had this title to his dying day.

The village Sinding

The village Sinding north of Slagelse.

Weapons and spores have also been found in graves of very young men. This must mean that they did not earn their spurs by bravery in battle, but that they had inherited the right to wear them.

It may have been such a noble family, who lived in the village Galsted in the group of three houses in some distance from the common farms and with their own distinguished cemetery designed in Roman style.

All these thousands of small villages, that lay scattered across the country, have probably been called something with the endings -løse -inge, -um, -lev and -sted, which place name endings all are supposed to originate from the Iron Age or perhaps even from earlier times. Place names are incredibly persistent. As long as humans continuously had been living in a particular area, the name had lived on.

The village Hjallese was named Hielløse in the Middle Ages.

-løse as in Stenløse (Middle Age: Stenløsæ), Vanløse (Wandløse), Værløse (Hwærløsæ) or Tølløse (Thølløsæ) - are considered to be very old. They have often been reduced to names with the ending -else as in Hjallese (Hielløse) and Slagelse (Slauløsæ). The word -løse has fallen into disuse in the Danish language, now-a-days it means "loose", but by comparison with the Anglo-Saxon word "læs", which means meadow, some have concluded that -løse means meadows and low-lying fields, in short, good pastures, most likely along small rivers. The connection to the word's modern meaning may have been that on these fertile pastures the cattle could go loose, and one did not need to collect fodder. One can also imagine that the ending -løse refers to that in these key cities inhabitants - perhaps many artisans and merchants - had been loosened from otherwise usual band of fidelity.

Plan of the funeral site from Præ-Roman Iron Age at Årupgård

Plan over begravelsesplads fra Førromersk Jernalder ved Årupgård mellem Ribe og Gram. Den store cirkel foroven til højre repræsenterer en bronzealder gravhøj. Signaturerne bolle, kryds og firkant med videre forneden repræsenter fund af dragtnåle af forskellig type, som er vist over hver signatur. Det vides fra andre fund at forskellige dragtnål-typer tilhører forskellige perioder - moden skiftede også i keltisk jernalder. Det kan eftervises at de ældste dragtnål-typer er fundet nærmest bronzealdergravhøjen. Derfor kan man konkludere at landsbyens første begravelser fandt sted i siden på selve bronzealderhøjen eller i dens umiddelbare nærhed, de følgende begravelser fandt sted nær disse men lidt længere væk, og således har begravelsespladsen langsomt spredt sig udover marken med udgangspunkt i den oprindelige bronzealderhøj.
Derved får hele gravpladsens lay-out karakter af et familietræ med den oprindelige stamfader øverst repræsenteret ved den mytiske konge fra bronzealderen, som lå i højen. Efter E. Jørgensen, Haderslev Museum 1975.

Place names with the suffix -løse do not exist in Jutland except for a few exceptions.

It is said that when the Western Goths established their kingdom in southern France in 413 AC, they called their capital for Tølløse, which later has become to Toulouse.

The prefixes in -løse place names are among the oldest in the country and are therefore often difficult to interpret. They are never personal names. An old spelling for Sengeløse was Siængeløse, which refers to lake-meadows. Some believe that Vanløse means pastures where the plant hvan, angelica, grew.

-inge as in Mesinge (Middle Age: Mesing), Revninge (Ræffninge), Hjørring (Hiøringh), og Herning (hørningh) - are also very old. We know "ning" in Danish in the meaning person or persons, as in hedning (a heathen), usling (wretch), nidding (miscreant), slægtning (kinsman), Færing (person from Faroe Island), Islænding (Icelander), and flygtning (refugee). It seems likely that the meaning of the suffix has evolved throughout history, so that in a distant past it has been son, who of course is derived from the father, later descendants, which of course are derived from the ancestor, then people derived from a place or another special feature, and finally a noun derived from an activity.

Herning was named Hørningh in the Middle Ages.

Snorri tells in his preface to the Sagas about the kings about Tjodolv from Kvine, who was a Harald Fairhaire's skjald and wrote a poem about King Ragnvald Heidumhære, called Ynglinge-tal, which listed 30 of his ancestors, and in which are told about each one's death and burial. "After his name (Yngve) are Ynglings named", Snorri wrote. This shows that the descendants of a famous ancestor in the Viking Age were called -ning sometimes shortened to -ing.

The layout of a burial ground from Pre-Roman Iron Age at Årupgård between Ribe and Gram clearly demonstrates that the residents of this village saw themselves as descendants of the old king, who was in the mound. They can have called themselves something with -ing, where the first syllable was the name of the old king in the mound.

Left: The village Kertinge south of Kerteminde was called Kyrtinge in the Middle Ages.
Right: The village Mesinge west of Kerteminde.

Some believe that in such a village from the Celtic Iron Age and early Roman Iron Age, the residents considered themselves to be descendants of a common ancestor, and they owned the land in the community as one large family.

One can easily imagine that the first inhabitants of such a village, for example Mesinge, considered themselves to be descendants of old King Mes.

In Danish we call people from Mols for Molsinger, people from the island of Samsø for Samsinger and people from the island of Als for Alsinger.

Kertinge, Kertinge Nor and Kerteminde.

Large natural formations often have names that are given to them by the original inhabitants. For example, many mountains and rivers in the United States have native American names, because the mountains and rivers were already called such when European settlers arrived. Similarly, some have sought to explain very short Danish place names, including names on islands such as Samsø, Ærø, Sprogø and so on, in the way that indigenous inhabitants, perhaps the old hunters, called the islands Sams, Ær and Sprog, which names were accepted by later arrived peoples, however, with the addition -ø (Danish for island) to describe, what it was about.

The village Kertinge (Middle Age: Kyrtinge) near Kerteminde (Kertenemunde) may originally have been called something like "Kert-ninge", that means "Kert-people", that is, the people, who lived at "Kert", which most likely was the original name for the natural formation, the shallow brackish fjord Kertinge Nor. The name of the city Kerteminde will then come to mean Kert's mouth.


The village Dalum near Odense..

The meaning of -ing was eventually expanded to include things or conditions derived from an activity usually a verb, such as terning (cube), hæmning (inhibition), hældning (slope), beslutning (decision), klædning (clothing), holdning (attitude), saltning (to sprinkle salt), gnidning (friction), tegning (drawing) and so on.

-um names - as in Borum (Middle Age: Bardhom), Dalum (Dalum), Farum (Farum), Nissum (Næswm) and Åsum (Aasum) - are found in all the old Danish regions, but with most in Jylland and Fyn and very few in Scania. Some have been rounded off by everyday speech, for example, Rome, which formerly was called Runnum. It is generally assumed that the -um suffix originally sounded -hjem (home), which it still does in Gudhjem on the island of Bornholm. The suffix corresponds to the English -ham as in Birmingham, Gotham and Nottingham, and the German -heim as in Hildesheim and Mannheim. In Norway are many villages with the suffix -um, and it can be shown that they in the Middle Ages was spelled as -heim. The Danish villages Gudum, Kornum, Maarum, and Smørum were in the Middle Age written Guthemæ, Kornhæm, Martheme and Smørhem..


The village Farum near København.

However, some believe, that some -um suffix contain an old Danish dative suffix. In Erik's Sjællandske Lov we can read: "mæth vapnum" (with weapons) and "æt logum" (by law). Thus, one can say that for example, the village name Åsum comes from "in Åsum", where "in" is a preposition, which controls dative, Ås is a ridge (hill) or "å" (stream), and -um is a dative suffix. With time, the preposition has been omitted and only the "Åsum" is left. In modern Danish, we actually still have a few of these dative expression, such as "fordum" (in old days), "løndom" (secretly ) and "stundom" (sometimes). If -um always had the meaning -hjem (home), the village name Husum, house-home, would be a strange double expression.

Dalum may have developed from either "Dal-hjem" (Valley-home) or "i Dalum" (in the valley).

-lev names - as in Brønderslev (Middle Age: Brummersløff), Særslev (Sersløff), Haderslev (Hadersleff) and Tinglev (Tingløff) - are found everywhere in the old Danish area, however, they are rare in West Jylland. They are almost non-existent in Sweden, Norway and Holstein.

Fjerritslev in Thy.

The first part of these names is always a personal name - Brummer in Brønderslev, Sers in Særslev, Hader in Haderslev and Ting in Tinglev. The suffix -lev (-lef) indicates a person's possession. The word -lef is found in Konung-lef describing estates and land that belonged to the Crown. Also, land and estates that through long times had been inherited in a family was called its "oldeleve". In Anglo-Saxon poetry, they could talk about a sword as a blacksmith's lev. Lev thus appears to mean the legacy, what originates from a particular man, or what once had been given to him. They used never -lev about inheritance in general.

Lev still exists in the Danish language with a slightly shifted meaning. We recognize it in "at levne" (to leave something behind i.e some food on the dish) and in "levn" as in expressions like a "levn" from the old days," or like in an expression like he "levnede" (left) nothing to his descendants".

-sted names - as in Allested (Middle Age: Alistæth), Ringsted (Hringstada), Gelsted (Gielsted), Fjelsted (Fiælstedh), Thisted (Tystath), Herrested (Hærmæstath, Hærrigstath), - exist throughout the country, but most of them are in Jutland and in particular many in South of Jutland. "Sted" means in modern Danish "place". Sometimes they are by every-day's speech reduced to such names as Gamst and Sest, as though they in the ancient sources show up as Gamsted and Seested. -sted names have in many cases a person's name from the Iron Age as prefix. Thus Skibsted at Aalborg has nothing with ships (skibe) to do but comes from a person by the name Skef.

Hyllested at Næstved was in the Middle Age called Hyldæstathæ, and the prefix is assumed to come from the man's name, Hildir.

Allested on the island of Fyn contains the man's name Alvar or Alli; Ringsted contains probably the man's name Ring; Gelsted is named after either Gjaldi or Gjalli. Thisted we write with Th, and we understand instinctively the name as the region Thy's city or capital, but all old records show that the landscape has always been spelled as Thyth, the city, however, was spelled Tisted, that is in the same way as more villages called Tisted that are not located in the landscape Thy, which neither in the past or present have been written by Th; they are all composed with a man's name, which also exists in the village name Tistrup. The name Herrested is special because some believe that in Valdemar's Jordebog (A kind of Danish Doomsday book) the name of the tribe Herul can be recognized in that village name, but it is not easy to see.

4. Religion in Roman Iron Age


Typical "bog pot" found near Ringkøbing. From Danmarks Oldtid by Johs. Brøndsted.

In Roman Iron Age the ancient custom to sacrifice to the gods in the bog continued. Through hundreds of years of peat cutting in the bogs in modern time, it has been quite common to find the so-called "bog pots". These are coarse simple clay pots, which sometimes contains animal bones; most likely placed in the bogs as a food-sacrifice to the gods.

Furthermore, there have been found a few gold jewelries, separately sacrificed weapons and bones in connection with tethering poles and ropes. But generally, there have not been found very many individual votives in the bogs that can be attributed to the Roman Iron Age. Maybe common people had switched to sacrifice more perishable things, as for example food.

But the collective sacrifices in the bogs are overwhelming. Hundreds, even thousands of weapons captured from defeated enemies have been immersed in about twenty Danish bogs especially in Jylland and on the island of Fyn. The overwhelming discoveries of large quantities of spears, swords and shields in Nydam Mose, Ejsbøl Mose, Vimose, Thorsbjerg Mose, Illerup Ådal, Vingsted Sø and many other places testify abundantly clear that the people still firmly believed in the gods in the bogs.

Weapons from Illerup Ådal

Weapons from a big sacrifice in Illerup Ådal - Photo myarmoury.com.

The oldest written source on religion in the free Germania's is from Julius Caesar. In his "Commentarii the Bello Gallico" he compares the complicated Celtic traditions with, in his view, the very primitive Germanic traditions.

"The Germans differ much from these practices, for they have no druids to lead the sacred ceremonies, nor they put great importance to sacrifices", Caesar wrote. "They reckon only with such deities, which they can see and whose functions, they naturally benefit from, namely the sun, fire, and moon; they have not heard of other gods, also not through others' reports."

Somewhat inconsistently he tells elsewhere that "they worship particularly Mercury, and have many pictures of him, and regard him as the inventor of all the arts, they consider him as a guide at their travel and marches, and believe that he has great influence on the acquisition of profit and commerce transactions." As Mercury is later replaced with Odin in the names of the week-days, it must be Odin, whom he was talking about.

The Aesirs burn the völva Gullveig

According to Völuspá the war between Aesirs and Vanir was triggered by the Aesirs' killing of the völva Gullveig:

The first murder,
she remembers in the World,
was, when they on spear-point
Gullveig pierced,
and in the holy
hall her burned.
Three times burned
the three times revived,
again and again;
but then she lives.

After Mjodvitnir and drawing by Lorenz Fröhlich.

Cornelius Tacitus lived a little later than Caesar. He wrote about some north-eastern Germanic tribes' religion: "The Langobardi, on the other hand, are ennobled by the smallness of their numbers; since, though surrounded by many powerful nations, they derive security, not from obsequiousness, but from their martial enterprise. The neighboring Reudigni, and the Aviones, Angli, Varini, Eudoses, Suardones, and Nuithones, are defended by rivers or forests. Nothing remarkable occurs in any of these; except that they unite in the worship of Hertha or Mother Earth; and suppose her to interfere in the affairs of men, and to visit the different nations."

Tacitus' Germanic tribes

Tacitus' Germanic tribes located as best as possible following his somewhat uncertain indications. Tacitus lived around 100 AD. We recognize Cimbri in Cimbri, Angles in Angli, Lombards in Langobardi, Frisians in Frisii, Burgundians in Burgundion, Helveterne in Helveti, the Teutons in Teotorum, Goths in Gotones and with very good will Jutes in Eudoses and Charudes from Hard syssel in Charuder. Own Work.

Tacitus gave a detailed description of the worship of Nerthus: "On an island in the ocean is a sacred and unviolated grove, in which is a consecrated chariot, covered with a vail, which the priest alone is permitted to touch. He becomes conscious of the entrance of the goddess into this secret recess; and with profound veneration attends the vehicle, which is drawn by yoked cows. At this season all is joy; and every place, which the goddess pleases to visit is a scene of festivity. No wars are undertaken; arms are untouched; and every hostile weapon is shut up. Peace abroad and at home are then prevailing; then only love; till at length the same priest reconducts the goddess, satiated with mortal intercourse, to her temple. The chariot, with its curtain, and, if we may believe it, the goddess herself, then undergo ablution in a secret lake. This office is performed by slaves, whom the same lake instantly swallows up."

Fertility ritual in the Iron Age painted by an unknown artist. Perhaps the picture imagines the cult of Nerthus, as described by Tacitus.

It is not easy to recognize something from Scandinavian sources in this story. Some believe that Tacitus has allowed himself to be mistaken and to describe the Egyptian Isis cult, which had exactly a ceremony as described.

According to Tacitus the Germani sacrificed both animals and humans to their gods, which he identified with Hercules and Mars. He also told that the greatest tribe, Suebi sacrificed Roman prisoners of war to a goddess, whom he identified as Isis.

The names of the weekdays and the associated gods. The Germanic tribes took over the seven-day week from the Romans but replaced the Roman Gods with their own, as they thought fit. But not for Saturday, its name comes from laundry day.

The Romans named the seven days of the week after the gods: Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus and Saturn - in this order.

De Germanske folk overtog ideen om ugens syv dage, men erstattede de romerske guder med deres egne - med undtagelse af lørdag. Ugedagene blev således, som vi kender dem - opkaldt efter Sol, Måne, Tyr, Odin, Thor og Frigg eller Freja. Lørdag faldt udenfor systemet, den kom til at hedde laugardagr, som betyder "vaskedag".

Illustration af krigen mellem Aser og Vaner som beskrevet i Vølvens spådom:

Da slyngede Odin
spyddet ud
og voldte det første
drab i Verden.
Brudt var væggen
om Asers borg.
Stridslystne Vaner
over sletterne skrede.

Tegning af Lorenz Fröhlich og oversættelse af Mjodvitnir.

The Germanic migration peoples converted to Christianity pretty early. The Western Goths thus converted to the Arian Christianity as early as 376 AC. The Anglo-Saxons became Christians around 600 AC. Therefore, one must believe that the days of the week got their pagan names between 200 and 350-600 AC. At this time the belief in the gods Tyr, Odin, Thor and Frigg must have been deeply rooted everywhere among the Germanic tribes.

Introduction to Snorri's Ynglingasaga..

Following the Danish Dictionary, a "vane" is a "conduct or behavior, which a person, often unconsciously, have acquired himself by constant repetition and therefore may find it difficult to change." That is a habit. An Old Norse lineage of gods was also called Vanirs (plural). They included the fertility-gods Njord, Frey and Freya. Vaner and Vanir also remind of the Danish word for water, "vand". (H2O).

It is obvious that these three meanings of "vane" have something to do with each other. The god lineage is called Vanir because it was them that the people since time immemorial had had the habit (vane) to worship, and this they did at water (vand).

But by emphasizing that they had the habit of worshiping particular gods, i.e. not all gods, then it must be in the cards that they did not have the habit of worshiping other gods, for example, the Aesirs, who include Odin, Thor and Frigg, whom we recognize in the names of the weekdays.

In Snorri's Ynglingasaga the home of the Aesirs', Asgaard, is located in Asia east of Tanakvissel: "The land East of Tanakvissel in Asia was called Åsaland or Åsaheim, but the main castle in the country they called Åsgard. In the castle was a chieftain named Odin. "According to Snorri the Vanirs lived along the river Tanakvissel (The lower part of the river Don).

Saxo, however, let Odin have his home in Byzantium with his wife Frigg.

World Map from early Middle Ages

In the early Middle Ages it was believed that the world's continents formed a circle. Heimskringla means The World circle or Earth disc.

We must believe that the Aesir-faith came from the east, from Asia, perhaps around 200 AD and that's why these gods are called Aesirs. Or the continent is called Asia because it was from there the Aesirs came. The Asa faith spread to all Germanic people, most likely in connection with a limited migration. There was a conflict between supporters of the Aesirs and Vanirs, but a settlement was established - among gods and humans.

In Ynglingasaga Odin himself suggests that he came from somewhere else: "Odin made it into law in his countries, as it had previously been law among the Aesirs ; Thus, he ordered that they should burn all dead and carry their belongings to the pyre with them. He said that as much wealth should each bring to Valhalla, as he had with him on the pyre, and he should also be benefited from what he himself had dug into the soil. The ashes they should carry out on the sea or dig into the soil; in memory of brave men they should make a mound, and after all the men, who to some extent had been menfolk, they should raise a bauta stone, and this custom remained long after."

5. The graves

In Roman Iron Age the epoch-making event happened that the peoples in Denmark changed away from cremation, which until then had been the dominant funeral form through the thousand years since the middle of Bronze Age.

Storstensgrav ved Sønderholm mellem Nibe og Aalborg Gravurne fra gravpladsen ved Tislund øst for Toftlund i Sønderjylland

Left: Typical big stone tomb excavated at Sønderholm between Nibe and Aalborg. The capstones are removed. Of the skeleton, there is nothing left, but the dishes, which contained food to the deceased were preserved. Danmarks Oldtid by Johannes Brøndsted.
Right: Typically burial urn from Roman Iron Age from a cemetery at Tislund east of Toftlund in Sønderjylland. Danmarks Oldtid by Johannes Brøndsted.

Thousands of graves all over the country attest how densely populated the country was in Roman times. The tombs are very different. Most of the discovered graves are inhumation graves, which means that the deceased was buried unfired. However, not everybody chose the modern way to leave the world. The ancient custom of burning the corpse and bury the cremated bones in an urn or even without urn was still in widespread use. It was still common to place the urns containing the burned bones in the existing mounds of the ancestors.

Weapons are very rare in inhumation graves, but they are frequently found in cremation graves. It can include spears, shields, swords, axes or spurs.

Inhumation grave from Roman Iron Age at Hjadstrup west of Otterup. It is narrow and without stones. In all inhumation graves, the deceased are placed on the side with slightly bent legs facing south. Bowls and dishes with food are placed in front of him within reach. Danmarks Oldtid by Johannes Brøndsted.

n fact, there was considerable variation in the burial customs from region to region, reflecting differences in culture and religion between different tribes.

In North Jylland, cremation was pushed back rather strongly. There very few cremation graves have been found. The dominant type of tomb has been named "Iron Age big stone graves"; they are built of large boulders after similar principle as the New Stone Age dolmens. They are found mainly in Vendsyssel and are somewhat weaker represented in Himmerland and Thy. They are often dug down under flat field and have been found by agriculture or construction works. It is believed that these graves were intended for several persons, for example, a married couple or family members, who were laid to rest at different times. The deceased got pots, dishes and cups with them probably originally filled with food and drink.

Inhumation grave from a burial site at Bulbjerg north of Aarhus. It is pretty spacious and built without stones. Food in jars and dishes are placed within the deceased's reach. Danmarks Oldtid by Johannes Brøndsted.

In eastern Jylland, the cremation-custom resisted better than in Northern Jutland, but the inhumation graves are in majority. The burials are conducted under flat ground. Newer diggings disturb very rarely older graves, and therefore one must assume that they have been marked on the ground with a stone, plank or similar. The burial chambers are made of planks assembled without iron nails. Again, the deceased received plenty of food and drink with him in his grave in different pots. There are signs that the living have placed provisions in new clay pots with food and drink on the grave long after the funeral.

Under a football field in Torslunde at Ishøj, Kroppedal Museum excavated in 2007 a prince's tomb. The buried was a man of about 40 years and 175 cm. high. He died around 250 AC. His gold finger ring and the precious grave goods indicate that belonged to the elite of society. There is no doubt that he died in battle, he has three injuries to the skull and the left shin bone. One can guess that he fought on horseback, as cavalrymen often got that kind of damage to the shin bones, it is said. One can imagine that he fell in the fierce fighting in Jylland. He was laid in a tomb built of timber several meters below surface level, and over the grave were thrown a mound covered with large stones. Note the Roman glass bowl and bronze bucket and his military bugle. Photo: Kroppedal Museum.

A plank grave in Store Vildmose shows signs that it has been build as a roof or tent-shaped burial chamber, a type that was fairly common in the Roman Empire.

Most found graves in Western Jylland have been cremation graves.

Examples of Northern Jutland ceramic from Roman Iron Age. Photo Danmarks Oldtid by Johannes Brøndsted.

Also, graves in South Jylland express a certain conservatism. Cremation has certainly held the post for long. The South Jylland inhumation graves are narrow with little use of stone. They have been dug deep below the surface, sometimes down to two meters.

On the islands of Fyn and Langeland have been found numerous graves from the Roman Iron Age. They are predominantly cremation graves dug down under flat ground.

On the islands of Sjælland, Lolland and Falster tombs from Roman Iron Age are divided equally between cremations and inhumation graves. At Hoby on Lolland, a forty-year-old man was buried with a lavish equipment in silver and bronze, which surpasses even the best artistic creations found within Roman Empire's borders.

Burial customs almost always have their origin in religion. The fact that throughout the whole Iron Age were at least three different ways to leave this world indicates that throughout the period several rival religions must have existed.

Malede Romerske glasskåle fra Østsjællandske grave

Painted Roman glass bowls from Eastern Sjælland graves. From Danmarks Oldtid by Johannes Brøndsted.

There is room for many kinds of speculation. But let us suppose that cremation was the original, thousand years old rooted way to bury the loved ones. That can we associate with the Vanirs, the ancient fertility gods that they habitually had worshipped at water - in the bogs.

In most of the Roman Imperial period the legions belongings to the actual Roman combat troops consisted almost exclusively of Germanic and other barbarian soldiers. Thousands of younger sons must have spent years in the Roman Empire, where it after the second century became still more common bury the dead uncremated. The soldiers must have come home with their heads full of new ideas, including on how burials should take place; and therefore still more in Denmark were buried without being burnt. Nonetheless, the belief in the Aesir-gods gradually got foothold throughout the free Germania, and we know from Ynglingasaga that Odin himself commanded that everybody should burn their dead, so maybe the new gods had given the beleaguered cremation practice a renaissance.

South Jutland Museum has identified a cultural area from Roman Iron Age characterized by the special Over Jerstal ceramics. We do not know the old people's name, and it, therefore, has been named after one of the pottery's important finds places, namely Over Jerstal. We can suggest to call them Sigulones after Ptolemy or Syegas after the Anglo-Saxon Widsith poem. From oldtidsglimt.dk.

Men måden at begrave sine ubrændte døde varierede fra egn til egn. I Vendsyssel og Himmerland brugte man storstens-grave, i det vestlige Jylland blev mange grave bygget op med planker, i det østjyske område blev de døde lagt til hvile i en egentlig plankekiste, i Sønderjylland og på Fyn var gravene smalle og dybe, og på Bornholm holdt ligbrænding stand i meget lang tid. Lertøjet, som blev medgivet som gravgaver, udviser tilsvarende egns-variationer.

One must conclude that these differences in funeral customs and artistic style of pottery are reflecting both differences in religion and the political condition that the country was divided between intensely rivaling tribes and basically always had been. That's what the ancient writers tell, and it is also the impression that one gets when one considers Roman Iron Age extensive defense ramparts and the huge finds of sacrificed weapons in the bogs.

It seems as if Himmerland and Vendsyssel was a separate area, it may have been the Cimbri area. Perhaps the western Limfjord region was also a separate political area, as Ptolemy's Sabalingii can recall Salling. Charudes can be associated with Hard syssel in West Jylland. Eastern Jylland was a densely populated area with special quite uniform funeral customs, maybe it was here that Tacitus' Eudosos lived, but that is of course speculation.

Over Jerstal urn found on a burial site at Galsted

A characteristic Over Jerstal urn found on a burial site at Galsted east of Toftlund. Photo Peter Ethelberg. From graenseforeningen.dk.

The Angles had certainly lived in the eastern Part of present Slesvig, while the Ambrones may have inhabited the Wadden Sea coast, because also here not many Roman objects have been found, and their name can be associated to the Amrun island in the Wadden Sea. The first syllable of Ptolemy's Fundusii recalls the island of Fyn. It's all in all a topic open to many guesses, also the duration of the Roman Iron Age, 400 years, is quite a long time; everything may have changed through the period.

6. The Danes' burial mounds at Tryggevælde Å

Not far from Køge Bugt, at the stream Tryggevælde Å on Sjælland, we find the burial sites Himlingøje, Valløby and Varpelev. In a time, where burials under flat ground had been completely unchallenged since the Bronze Age burial mounds, the mounds at Tryggevælde appeared about 200 AC so to speak, without notice.

Two silver cups from Himlingøje. Note the characteristic continuous band around the edge with figures depicting animals and humans. It is not a Roman design. Photo Asernes Æt Verasir.dk

They are Denmark's most prestigious burial sites from the Iron Age and surpass far the bronze age burial mounds in size and in the wealth of the grave goods. There were originally several burial mounds, but since the area has been heavily exploited by gravel extraction, and a railway passes right through the area, only a series of four mounds called Baghøjene are preserved. The area also includes several graves under flat ground. The oldest of Baghøjene contained an urn burial, while the other contained inhumation tombs.

Two silver cups from Valløby only three kilometers from Himlingøje at the stream Tryggevælde Å. It is readily seen that they are made in exactly the same style. Photo Kulturjagt i Køge Bugt.

The area has for generations been used as a burial site for mighty ruling lineages - but who?

Jordanes wrote about Dani in his history of the Goths, "Getica sive De Origine Actibusque Gothorum", or only "Getica": "The Switheudi are of this stock and excel the rest in stature. However, the Dani, who trace their origin to the same stock, drove from their homes the Erulos, who claim to be preeminent among all the nations of Scandia because of their tallness." - It is generally assumed that Switheudi means the Svears.

Til venstre: Swastika-Fibula from Himlingøje. From "Danmarks Oldtid" by Johannes Brøndsted.
Right: Swastika-fibula from the 3-4 century AD excavated on the Engbjerg burial site at Sengeløse by Koppedal Museum.

This passage of Jordanes has often been interpreted as if the Danes came from Sweden and descended from the Swears, but it is more likely that it simply means that the Danes have the same origin as the Swears. As we now that Sweeden in the Iron Age was a sparsely populated country, mainly consisting of forests and mountains, it is difficult to believe that there suddenly should have come a numerous and mighty people with a sophisticated culture from there.

Budda with swastika in Chinese temple

Budda with swastika in Chinese temple in a village near the Chinese city of Dalian. - In Asia, the swastika is still used as a religious symbol. Own Photo.

In any case, it is difficult to deny that such a sudden change in burial practice represents a form of immigration, probably from Asia. Snorri tells us that the Aesirs came from Asia.

In the Nordic countries burial mounds had not been built in a thousand years, but in inner Eurasia, it was nothing new. All the way over the plains from China over Sirberia and southern Russia are numerous burial mounds; just think of Qin Shi Huang's huge mound at Xian. The burial mounds at Old Upsala and Himlingøje were in all likelihood a product of a custom that new rulers had brought from their original home in Asia.

7. Weapon sacrifice and fortifications

finds of weapon sacrifice in bogs from Romersk Iron

There are about 25 lakes and bogs in Denmark, which can be described as "weapons sacrifice bogs"; the largest and best known are Illerup Ådal, Nydam Mose, Vimose, Ejsbøl Mose and Thorsbjerg Mose. Moreover, weapons sacrifices from the Iron Age has been found in Kragehul on Fyn, Fuglsang and Trinnemose in Vendsyssel, Vallerbæk at Viborg, Ille Mose on Fyn, Tranebjerg at Vejle, Vingsted Sø near Vejle, Dollerup Sø near Horsens, Porskær at Aarhus, Hedelisker north of Aarhus, Knarremose and Balsmyr on the island of Bornholm, Hassle Bosarp in Scania, Dalby and Skedemosse on Øland, Finnestorp in Vester Gøtaland and many other places. In Alken Enge have been found many dead warriors - but few weapons. Several long defense ramparts were built in Denmark, however, only in Jutland. At the inlet of Haderslev Fjord were built two impressive sea barrings. Moreover, there existed at least 3 ring fortresses - also in Jutland - however, far smaller than the later Viking circular castles. Eget arbejde.

In Roman Iron Age Denmark was more densely populated than it ever had been before. From ancient times the country was divided between rivaling tribes, who by all accounts fought numerous wars over the scarce resources. The defeated enemy armies' weapons and equipment, and sometimes even the enemies themselves, were sacrificed to the gods in the sacred bogs. The exceptional amounts of spearheads, swords, shields, chainmail, harnesses, tools and personal pieces of equipments, which have been found in the Danish sacrificial bogs, witness to that the Roman Iron Age was a troubled and violent time - judged from the finds especially in Jylland and on the island of Fyn.

Big and extremely laborious defense ramparts and sea barrages also tell about a time filled with struggle and strife.

Long defense walls and ramparts were quite popular a few thousand years ago. Just think of the Great Wall in China. In Europe, they were both in England, Germania and Scandinavia. In England, the Romans built Hadrian's Wall or walls, and in southern Germany, they built the Limes; when the Angles had established themselves in Britain, they built Offa's Dike as protection against the Welsh. In Sweden, there was Gøtavirket in East Gøtaland, and in Jylland at least five long defense ramparts were built in Roman Iron Age.

Left: Skull of a warrior from Alken Enge. Photo: Skanderborg Museum Right: One shield was found in Alken Enge. It is of the elongated type, which is also known from the Hjortspring find, which is a way to date the fallen warriors to shortly after the year 0 AC. Photo: Myarmory.

Alken Enge, which is located at Skanderborg a few kilometers west of the Jutland motorway, was excavated by Skanderborg Museum in 2009 and the years ahead. They uncovered a mass grave, which is dated to around the year 0 AC. Until now they have found the bones of 240-250 people, mostly young men.

Kranie fra Alken Enge

Skull from Alken Enge. Photo Bensozia.

The theory is that a foreign army was defeated and the victors left the dead enemies on the battlefield, where they lay for a long time - at least six months - as food for foxes, wolves and other predators. First then the scattered bones were collected and thrown into the lake Mossø. A few skeletons were fairly anatomically contiguous, and one can believe that they are from surviving prisoners of war, who have been forced to gather the bones; then they have been executed and also thrown into the lake.

After the almost contemporary Varus battle between the Germanic tribes and Roman legions near Osnabruck, the Germans also let the fallen Romans lie on the battlefield for a long time as food for wild animals.

The find in Alken Enge stands in complete contrast to other major finds from the Iron Age, where only weapons have been found and no dead warriors. In Alken Enge archaeologists have found almost only dead warriors and very few weapons. A few short lanceheads have been found that one must believe have been sitting in the dead bodies, and an iron ax with shaft. There was a nearly complete shield of the same elongated type as those found in Hjortspring Mose.

Weapons and equipment found in Illerup Ådal. Originally everything was systematically destroyed and it has been a great challenge to fit the bits together to whole objects. One can say that it has been a giant puzzle with 15,000 pieces. From myarmory. Photo myarmory.

Illerup Ådal is located near the Motorway exit Skanderborg Vest a few kilometers west of the East Jutland motorway. During drainage work in 1950 were found large amounts of bent swords, spears, lances and arrowheads from the Iron Age that had been sacrificed to the gods by being submerged in the lake, which at that time covered the area. Until now more than 15,000 objects have been found. It is first and foremost weapons and the warriors' personal equipment.

Swords from Illerup Ådal.

Swords from Illerup Ådal. There have been found more than 150 swords of Roman manufacture in Illerup Ådal. Photo myarmory.

The excavation is overseen by the Moesgård Museum in Aarhus. Digging is still going on since it is believed that at least just as much still remain in the ground. Some objects have been dated, and it has been demonstrated that they are from, respectively, 200, 225, 375 and 450 AC. We must believe that the lake has been the eastern Jylland tribe's holy sacrificial place, where they at least at four occasions have submitted defeated enemies' weapons and equipment to the gods. Perhaps the tribe had been Tacitus' Eudoses.

The first sacrifice in 200 AD was by far the largest. More than 150 personal items, nearly 1,000 spear and lance heads, about 100 swords, more than 300 shields and bows, arrows, axes, tools and more than 10 harnesses for horses were sacrificed in the water.

All objects had with great thoroughness been destroyed before they were submerged in the lake. Swords were bent, shields chopped up, spears broken, leather straps cut and so on.

For each sword found in Illerup, 3-4 sets of spears and lances were found. A spear could be used both in melee and as throwing weapons. One of the lances had its entire shaft preserved; it was almost three meters long. Spear and lance-shafts were made of split and planed heartwood.

Spydspidser og skjoldbuler fundet i Vimose

An older exhibition in the National Museum of spearheads and shield bosses found in Vimose. Older photo of unknown origin.

It fits - almost - with Tacitus' description of Germanic armament: "Only a few use sword or larger lances. They have namely spears - in their language called framea - which blade is so narrow and short, but as sharp and usable that they with this one weapon can fight in close or distance combat. Also, their riders use shield and framea. Infantrymen also have missiles - each man several - which he slings enormously far, naked or wearing only a light cloak."

Sword blades were all, in contrast to the lances and spears, imported from the Roman Empire, as they are labeled with roman letters or symbols that can be attributed to Roman producers, perhaps in Gaul.

Nydam Mose ligger 5 km. nord for Sønderborg på Sundeved-siden af Als Sund. Mosen blev første gang udgravet af arkæologen Conrad Engelhardt i 1859-63. Ved senere undersøgelser 1989-97 er der fundet mere end 14.000 genstande, fortrinsvis våbenudstyr, som kan henføres til mindst fem forskellige ofringer. Fem gange har stammen, som boede på Als og Sundeved, besejret deres fjender og ofret de erobrede våben til guderne i mosen.

Left: Magnificent shield from Illerup Ådal. Photo Wikipedia.
Right: Sword from Illerup with inlaid picture of the god of war, Mars, in gold. Photo forums.totalwar.org.

What makes the finding in Nydam Mose something special, is that it also includes ships. A boat made of oak was cut to pieces and placed in the bog as part of the first sacrifice about 250 AD Additionally spears, lances, swords, scabbard decorations, belt buckles and combs were sacrificed. All of that systematically destroyed. Then came the sacrifice of a pinewood boat around 300-320 AC. Along the boat, there were found large amounts of shields, bows and arrows, spears and lances, 70 swords with decorated sheathes and belt buckles. All of it had been deliberately and systematically destroyed before it was immersed into the lake.

The Nydam boat on display at Gottorp Castle. Photo Andree Stephan Wikipedia.

Top: Midship section of the later Gokstad Viking ship.
Bottom: Midship cross-section of the Nydam ship.
First: The drawings are not in scale - the Gokstad ship is much wider than the Nydam ship and thus far more stable. In addition, the Gokstad ship had a strong and rigid keel, and thus a far greater longitudinal strength than the Nydam ship. On the Nydam ship, the cladding planks were nailed together with iron nails, and the planks were also individually tied to each frame. On the Gokstad ship, only the planks below the waterline were tied to the frames. Also note the Gokstad ship's wider and fuller rounded shape, which gives better stability, while the Nydam ship is more round below the waterline, it may have had a tendency to roll in the sea. The oars on the Gokstad ship were stuck out through holes in a high railing, so that the oars sat protected from waves. On the Nydam ship, the oars were fairly unprotected.
The Nydam boat is built of oak, which was felled approx. 310-20 AD.
We note that the Nydam ship was rowed and not paddled as the Hjortspring boat was.
In 1997, two 1.3 meter long wooden poles with carved men's heads were found in the area where the bow of the Nydam boat had been. The heads are approximately 40 cm high. It is assumed that they have sat in the bow of the Nydam boat.
- Drawings from "Construction parallels in Scandinavian and oceanic boat construction" by James Hornell.

What makes the finding in Nydam Mose something special, is that it also includes ships. A boat made of oak was cut to pieces and placed in the bog as part of the first sacrifice about 250 AD Additionally spears, lances, swords, scabbard decorations, belt buckles and combs were sacrificed. All of that systematically destroyed. Then came the sacrifice of a pinewood boat around 300-320 AC. Along the boat, there were found large amounts of shields, bows and arrows, spears and lances, 70 swords with decorated sheathes and belt buckles. All of it had been deliberately and systematically destroyed before it was immersed into the lake.

Comb from the Nydam find

Comb with incised swastika from the Nydam find. Photo Danmarks Oldtid by Johannes Brøndsted.

The boat from Nydam Mose is very large, entirely comparable with the later Viking ships. It is built with five planks on each side, which are joined together with iron rivets. However, the keel plank is quite flat and does not have the same strength and stiffness, as the keels of the later Viking ships. It had no mast, but it was rowed forward with real oars in tholepins by 15 men in each side.

Parts of a similar ship from the same time have been found at Gredstedbro south of Esbjerg.

The Nydam boat is 22.8 m. long. The much later Viking ships from Oseberg and Gokstad are respectively 21.5 m. and 20.1 m. long. However, the Norwegian Viking ships are much wider and therefore more stable. The Nydam boat is only 3.26 m. wide against the Norwegian Viking ships' 5 m.

Single-edged sword from Lynghøjgård in Salling - decorated with a wheel cross. Photo Danmarks Oldtid by Johannes Brøndsted.

In Vimose on the island of Fyn between Otterup and Odense, thousands of weapons and other army equipment were found in 1850-60's in connection with peat cutting. Throughout ancient times people, animals, jewelry and food have been sacrificed to the gods in the bog. From the year 0 to about 600 AC at least eight major sacrifices have been performed. However, the entire sacrificial site is dominated by a very large submerging of thousands of weapons and other equipment, which took place around 100-300 AC.

We can guess that the victorious people had been Ptolemaios' Fundusii, as Fun- reminds of Fyn.

The chain mail from Vimose

The chain mail from Vimose. Poto Danmarks Oldtid by Johannes Brøndsted.

It is believed that on this occasion weapons and equipment of an army of about 1,000 men, including 40 officers, were sacrificed. 300 identical scabbard decorations have been identified, which shows that they have been mass produced as equipment for a professional army.

In Vimose the oldest completely preserved chain mail in Northern Europe has been found. It is assembled of several thousand small rings, yet it weighs no more than about 10 kg. It recalls the chain mails, which were used by Roman legionaries that probably also included many Germans. The chain mails may be recognized on the Trajan column and on Roman tombstones.

There have been uncovered more than 1,000 spearheads from Vimose; they are far more numerous than swords, which again shows that spears and lances were the main weapons of the time. The shafts were made of ash, and a few could be reconstructed to their full length, about 2.5 m.

In Roman Iron Age it was undoubtedly fashionable to have a nice and well-combed hair. About 50 combs have been found in Vimose, including one with an incised swastika.

It is special for the Vimose find that some longbows and arrows were unearthed. Longbows were as high as a man with notches in the ends for attachment of the bowstring. There were found a large number of arrows. The arrowheads are of iron or bone, sometimes with inscriptions or motifs such as swastikas.

Kjortlen fra Thorsbjerg mose var båret løsthængende, men har været holdt sammen i livet med et bælte. Den er et fornemt klædningsstykke, idet stoffet er fint vævet i et rudemønster, og den har brikvævede bånd syet på ved håndlinningen. Photo Bullenwächter - Photographed at Schleswig-Holsteinisches Landesmuseum Schloss Gottorp, Germany Wikipedia.

Thorsbjerg Mose is located in the landscape Angel 5km. north of the fjord Slien near the village Sønder Brarup northeast of the town of Slesvig. The first discovery in the bog was made during peat cutting already about 1850, and the bog was excavated in 1858-1861 by Conrad Engelhardt.

It was an extraordinarily rich find. Weapons and equipment lay in thick layers in the bottom of the bog, and Engelhardt noted that "shield boards, lance sticks and various other wooden items were found in the various positions between metal items, sandals and pieces of clothing."

The bog at Thorsbjerg differs from other sacrificial bogs by being very acidic, which has been the cause that most iron objects have disappeared by erosion. In turn, the more parts of the organic materials have been preserved, such as parts of textile, garment accessories, jewelry, tools, vehicle parts, agricultural tools and clay pots.

Bukser fra Thorsbjerg mose.

Reconstructed trousers from Thorsbjerg bog - It is the first time that trousers are shown in Denmark. It's a kind of tight leggings. They are sewn together from no less than 10 different individual parts. Cut pattern and weaving together have made the fabric elastic, and a good fit has been achieved, which was necessary when the trousers had to sit quite close to the body. Photo Bullenwächter - Photographed at Schleswig-Holsteinisches Landesmuseum Schloss Gottorp, Germany Wikipedia.

Just like in the other large bog finds, everything has been destroyed with great zeal. Shield bosses and massive metal pieces are cut up, bows and spears broken, garments and chainmail have been torn to pieces.

Thorsbjerg Mose seems to have been the Angles' holy sacrificial bog. The first sacrifices took place already in Pre-Roman Iron Age. But the site is dominated by a very large weapons sacrifice, which occurred around 200 AC. Around 300 AC yet another sacrifice took place.

The size of the army, whose equipment was sacrificed in the bog at Thorsbjerg, can only be estimated indirectly because iron objects like spearheads have rusted away. But about 30 shield bosses of bronze were preserved from the sacrifice around 200 AC. In Illerup Ådal a similar number of bosses of bronze were preserved but additionally came more than a hundred shield bosses of iron. So if we assume that the distribution between shield bosses of bronze and iron have been the same as in Illerup, one can estimate that the defeated army at Thorsbjerg was of about the same size as the one whose weapons were sacrificed in Illerup Ådal, that is around 1,000 men.

single-edged sword with reconstructed scabbard from Ejsbøl or Illerup

Spearheads and a single-edged sword with reconstructed scabbard from Ejsbøl or Illerup. Photo TWC.

Belt Buckles, scabbards, strap fittings, sword-bandoleers and personal equipment exhibit many similarities between the finds in Vimose, Thorsbjerg Mose and Illerup Ådal. Furthermore, these sacrifices took place about the same time within a few decades. As something special, in Thorsbjerg Mose were found a few very special helmets. In no other bogs, helmets have been found. It fits very well with Tacitus' statement: "There is nothing flashy about their equipment, only they decorate their shields in the merriest colors. Few of them are wearing chest armor, and no more than a few have a helmet of any kind".

Ejsbøl Mose in the outskirts of Haderslev had been the sacrifice bog for the local tribe since shortly after the birth of Christ. Perhaps the tribe was Ptolemy's Sigulones or the Syegas mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon Widsith poem.

Sword Handle from Ejsbøl Mose

Sword Handle from Ejsbøl Mose. Photo TWC.

The sacrified objects were discovered in 1950 and excavated in 1955-64 and 1997-99. About 3,000 items were taken in the form of weapons, belt buckles and fittings. They had been largely subjected to deliberate destruction before being submerged in the bog.

About 300 AC a large weapons sacrifice took place.

One hundred years later yet another sacrifice took place, which, however, did not include the whole army's equipment, but only the grandest thing, among others costly magnificent swords with sheaths and matching belts, gilded silver buckles and strap fittings; all of very high artistic quality, but also systematically destroyed.

It has been estimated that the defeated army in 300 AC consisted of about 200 infantrymen led by 9 mounted officers. Their weapons consisted mostly of spears, lances and shields. The lances had 2-3 m long shafts made of heartwood. The shields had a diameter of 60-80 cm. There have been found 6-700 arrowheads, which were between 9 and 15 cm long, it is said, indicating that archers were an important part of the army.

In Ejsbøl Moses around 1,000 ship's nails were found in four heaps close to each other. Photo: Museum Sønderjylland.

There was also found a tholepin, parts of three oars and around 1,000 iron nails for a boat, probably of the same type as the ones that were excavated in Nydam Mose.

Olmerdiget near Tinglev is assumed to have been the Angles' defense against enemies from the north. It is built between 40 and 50 AC, expanded and repaired between 80 and 90 AD and again expanded between 100 and 110 AD. It is more than twelve kilometers long and stretches roughly between Tinglev and Aabenraa. The function of the dyke has been to form a barring, which filled the space between natural obstructions in form of wetlands. It consisted of dyke, palisade and moat.

Left: Olmerdiget near Tinglev - From Kulturarv.dk see link below. Right: Vendersvold also called Æ Vold at Øster Løgum. Photo Erik Moldrup - Along the old Military Road in Jutland, April 2002.

Vendersvold also called Æ vold is an ancient defence dyke that still can be traced in the landscape south of Øster Løgum between Aabenraa and Haderslev. It is preserved over a distance of 2-3.5 kilometer between two bog areas a few kilometer west of the Jutland motorway. It stretched into the land in extension of a wetland, located at the bottom of the bay, Genner Bugt. The dyke had been fitted with palisades of oak and a 1.5 m. deep moat on the northern side. Today, most of the dyke had been leveled, while other parts do not look like more than an ordinary field divide ridge. It is believed that the Angles expanded their territory to the north, and therefore they gave up Olmerdiget and built instead Vendersvold. In 1988-89 it was excavated by Haderslev Museum, who dated it to 279 AC.

Trældige at the border of the Vojens municipality Photo: Andst.info. Photo: Andst.info.

Trældiget is an ancient defence dyke west of Kolding, which stretched from the Jordrup-Egtved area in the north to southwest of Lunderskov - perhaps all the way to Vamdrup. A distance of 12 kilometers has been detected with certainty, but in general the dyke today is almost leveled and can only be detected by archaeological excavations. According to "Annaler for Nordisk Oldkyndighed" from 1841 peasants called the dyke Alverdensdiget because, it was said that it stretched through the entire country all way to Rendsborg. Unfortunately, Trældiget is not accurately dated, but some guess that it dates from the early Roman Iron Age.

Graphic reconstruction of Trældige as it originally looked like. Drawing by Svend Aage Knudsen. The other Jutland defense ramparts were probably constructed similarly.

The course of the dyke was interrupted only by natural obstacles such as marshes and lakes. Like the other defense dykes, it consisted of a more than 2.5 meter high dyke provided with palisades and with a 1.5-2 meter deep moat in front. The moat was on the western side, and thus one can conclude that the dyke was designed as a defense against enemies to the west. Its course must have marked a tribe border in the Iron Age. The course of the dyke intersects the Esbjerg motorway at Gejsing.

Left: Dandige midway between Randers and Hobro. Photo: panoramio.com.. Photo: panoramio.com.
Right: The course of Dandige intersects the Northern Jutland Highway just north of exit 38 Purhus. Photo Google Maps.

The defence dyke, Dandige is located at Purhus between Randers and Hobro. The course of the dyke is intersected by several roads, including the Northern Jutland motorway. The dike can be seen from the motorway but is difficult to distinguish from common boundaries between fields. Originally it has been about 1.5 km. long. A record of 1894 tells that the dyke was partly leveled, but in the South-East, it was barely 2 m. high and 1.15 m high in the northwest. The cross section is said originally to have measured 9 m. With a smooth, flat slope to the southwest. This indicates that the dyke was built as a defense against enemies from the north. No traces of palisades had been found, but it must be assumed that they have been there. Unfortunately, it has not been possible to date the dyke, but many believe that it was built in early Roman Iron Age. The legend tells that the legendary King Dan fell in battle on the dyke.

Rammedige with dyke and moat December 2009. Photo: Holstebro Museum. Photo: Holstebro Museum.

The dyke runs north-south and has originally been 2-2.5 km long and connected two wetlands. Today the remains of the dyke can be seen over a 400 meter long distance. There is no sure dating, but it is believed to have been built between 100 and 400 AC. The dyke has undoubtedly been higher than it stands today, and one must also assume that it had been equipped with palisades on the top. On the eastern side of the dyke, there is a moat that is 6 meters wide and 1.7 meters deep. One must, therefore, assume that the dyke was built as a defense against enemies from the east.

When H. C. Andersen visited the place on his Journey to Jylland in 1859, he was told that Prince Amled (Hamlet) fell in battle at Rammedige, and he is buried there.

Graphoc reconstruction of the fjord defence blocking "Æ Lei" at the mouth of Haderslev Fjord. In the background the mouth of the fjord. Drawing: Jørgen Andersen.

At the entrance to Haderslev Fjord, two very large sea defence blockings were built in 370-418 AC, which are called Æ Lei and Margretes Bro. Both barrings are designed as a wide belt of driven poles, some places reinforced by floatings, which were split oak planks with cut holes that had been put down over the piles, and has floated on the water surface. The purpose of this facility has been to prevent or delay enemy ships from entering the fjord; a kind of Iron Age minefields.

Archaeologists have found the remains of similar - but smaller - stake barrages in Nakkebølle Fjord on the south of Fyn and in Jungshoved Nor on the south of Sjælland.

The stronghold Troldborg Ring at Ravning just north of Vejle Ådal. Photo Poul Krogsgård Wikipedia.

In Denmark, there are remains of three ring-fortresses which are thought to have been built in the Roman Iron Age. Troldborg Ring west of Vejle, Hagenshøj north of Skive and Smøl Vold north of Broagerland. They can not be compared with the later Viking ring castles, but it is interesting that ring fortresses have had a certain tradition in Denmark. They measure all under 60 meter in outside diameter; Troldborg Ring is still surrounded by a 0.5 m. deep moat, which is 2.5 m. wide.

8. Culture and society

The Roman officer Gaius Cornelius Tacitus wrote in 98 AC a small book about the Germanic peoples beyond the Rhine that is called "Germania". It represents the largest and most reliable source for understanding Germanic culture and society in Roman Iron Age. Moreover, Caesar described the Germans in his book on the Gallic war.

There have certainly been many differences in culture and customs between the tribes in Scandinavia and the tribes near the Roman frontier on the Rhine, whom Caesar and Tacitus were in contact with, but there must have been even more similarities, and therefore the Roman writers, especially Tacitus are the best sources we have.

Germanic ting reconstructed after motif on the Marcus Aurelius column in Rome. The original column is unfortunately not in very good condition at this location. The column was erected in honor of the emperor's victories over the Markomans and Sarmatians around 170 AC. Photo Medievalists.net

Already the Greek Poseidonos told according to his fellow countryman Athenaios about Germanic eating habits: "As Poseidonios reports in 30. book the Germans eat for breakfast fried pieces of meat, to which they drink milk and unmixed wine."

Caesar reported: "They are not interested in agriculture, and their diet consists predominantly of milk, cheese and meat. None of them holds any particular piece of land or has land that he can call his own, but the authorities and the leaders decide year by year, which and how much land to be allocated to individual families and groups of families that had come together."

Tacitus tells that they choose their kings on the basis of noble birth, and the generals om basis of bravery: "They choose their kings by birth, their generals for merit. These kings have not unlimited or arbitrary power, and the generals do more by example than by authority. If they are daring, adventurous, and conspicuous in action, if they fight in the front, they lead because they are admired."

Motif on the Marcus Aurelius column showing Roman legionaries, forcing Germans to decapitate their own. The captive Germans are dressed in tight pants and robes just like those found in Thorsbjerg Mose. Photo Wikimedia Commons.

About the Germanic tribes' political system, he goes on to tell that the chiefs had only limited power, as important matters were decided by the assembled people, that is the free men: "About minor matters the chiefs deliberate, about the more important the whole tribe. Yet even when the final decision rests with the people, the affair is always thoroughly discussed by the chiefs. They assemble, except in the case of a sudden emergency, on certain fixed days, either at new or at full moon; for this they consider the most auspicious season for the transaction of business." - "Their freedom has this disadvantage, that they do not meet simultaneously, or as they are bidden, but two or three days are wasted in the delays of assembling. When they all think fit, they sit down armed. Silence is proclaimed by the priests, who have on these occasions the right of keeping order. Then the king or the chief, according to age, birth, distinction in war, or eloquence, is heard, more because he has influence to persuade, than because he has power to command. If a proposal displeases them, they reject it with murmurs; if they are satisfied, they brandish their spears; for the most honorable expression of assent among them is the sound of arms."

Tacitus tells that Germanic armies are highly motivated by their women, whom they appreciate very much: "And what most stimulates their courage is, that their squadrons or battalions, instead of being formed by chance or by a fortuitous gathering, are composed of families and clans. Their pledges also are near at hand; they have within hearing the yells of their women, and the cries of their children. They are to every man the most sacred witnesses of his bravery, they are his most generous applauders. To their mothers and their wives, they bring their wounds for relief, nor do these dread to count or to search out the gashes. The women also administer food and encouragement to those who are fighting."

It is reported that Germanic women have motivated their men to continue a difficult battle by showing their naked breasts, making them clear, what they were fighting for: "Tradition says that armies already wavering and giving way have been rallied by women, who, with earnest entreaties and bosoms laid bare, have vividly represented the horrors of captivity, which the Germans fear with such extreme dread on behalf of their women, that the strongest tie by which a state can be bound, is the being required to give, among the number of hostages, maidens of noble birth. They even believe that the female sex has a certain sanctity and prescience, and they do not despise their counsels, nor disregard their answers."

Motif on the Marcus Aurelius column showing Roman legionaries, who plunder a Germanic village, killing the men and leading women and children away as slaves. The Germanic woman is dressed in a sleeveless dress, apparently torn showing an exposed breast. The German men and the boy are dressed in trousers, such as those found in Thorsbjerg Mose. It seems like the Romans are dressed in a kind of chain mail. Photo Wikimedia Commons.

Women were dressed in a sleeveless dress, which revealed a parts of the breast: "The women have the same dress as the men, except that they more frequently wear linen garments, which they stain with purple, and do not lengthen out the upper part of their clothing into sleeves. The upper and lower arm is thus bare, and the nearest part of the bosom is also exposed"

Tacitus was clearly of the opinion that the Germanic women were less frivolous than the Roman: "Their marriage code, however, is strict, and indeed no part of their manners is more praiseworthy. For they are almost the only ones of all barbarian peoples, who are content with only one wife."

The Germans placed great emphasis on hospitality: "No nation is more lavish in terms of entertainments and hospitality. To exclude any human being from access to his house is to be a sinful act; every German, according to his means, receives his guest with a well-furnished table. When his supplies are exhausted, he who was the host becomes the guide and companion the guest to further hospitality, and without invitation, they go to the next house. It matters not; they are entertained with like cordiality. No one distinguishes between an acquaintance and a stranger, as regards the rights of hospitality."

Two typical Germanic drinking horns of aurochs horns found in a tomb of an Anglian prince from the sixth Century at Taplow Buckinghamshire west of London. Photo Wikipedia.

Already Pliny described our forefathers custom of drinking from horn: "The barbarians of the north drink of the aurochs' horn, and they fill the horns in pairs of two taken from the same animal head." He is supplemented by Caesar: " - those animals which are called uri. These are a little below the elephant in size and have the appearance, color and shape of a bull. Their strength and speed are extraordinary; they spare neither man nor wild beast, which they have espied. These the Germans take with much pains in pits and kill them." - "The size, shape, and appearance of their horns differ much from the horns of our oxen. These they anxiously seek after and encase the edges with silver, and then at their greatest banquets use them as drinking cups."

Two men are drinking dus

The bridegroom's Danish uncle and a relative of the bride are drinking dus in the traditional way at a wedding in Georgia - From "Bryllup i Tbilisi og ture i Georgien" - s8.dk/camp/ - s8.dk/camp/

Usually, archaeologists find only the horns' bracket in the graves, because the material horn is not very resistant. This was the case in a tomb at Dollerup, where only small cow-skulls of bronze, which had decorated horn tips remained. However, a few preserved drinking horns with bronze fittings were found in 1890 in a bog near Skrydstrup west of Vojens; they are now on display in Berlin. A biochemical analysis of organic residues on the horns inside stated that one horn had been filled with mead, and the other had contained beer that was brewed on emmer.

No findings have given any indications that the horns should have had feet. By all accounts, they had to be emptied at once by two people at the same time. We can imagine that the traditional Danish custom "drikke dus" (drink to brotherhood) is a relic of this ceremony.

In a tomb at Dollerup near Kolding the metal parts to a set of drinking horns remained, but the actual horns were gone. Here, the metal parts are mounted on a modern horn. From Danmarks Oltid by Johannes Brøndsted.

Tacitus tells that the Germans discussed important matters, even when they were rather drunk considering that when men were drunk together, they could not hide their innermost thoughts and their feelings, and this created a good basis for important decisions: "Then they go armed to business, or no less often to their festal meetings. To pass an entire day and night in drinking disgraces no one. Their quarrels, as might be expected with intoxicated people, are seldom fought out with mere abuse, but commonly with wounds and bloodshed. Yet it is at their feasts that they generally consult on the reconciliation of enemies, on the forming of matrimonial alliances, on the choice of chiefs, finally even on peace and war, for they think that at no time is the mind more open to simplicity of purpose or more warmed to noble aspirations. A race without either natural or acquired cunning, they disclose their hidden thoughts in the freedom of the festivity. Thus the sentiments of all having been discovered and laid bare, the discussion is renewed on the following day, and from each occasion, its own peculiar advantage is derived. They deliberate when they have no power to dissemble; they resolve when error is impossible."

Eric Wentling drinks Minnesota beer from a horn - While drinking from horn, it is important to keep the tip of the horn in level with the liquid surface, as well as possible. If you hold horn tip high, the hydrostatic pressure will give an unpleasant surprise, and if you hold the horn tip low, the beer will come sloshing. Eric Wentling from Minnesota does it completely right - JABlog: A Minnesota-Centric Beer Blog. .

Seneca wrote: "Who is more hot-tempered than the Germans? Who storm faster? Who grabs easier to weapons?"

Tacitus is the first to describe how the Germanic people are divided into three castes, namely: the free, the freed and the thralls: "In every household the children, naked and filthy, grow up with those stout frames and limbs, which we so much admire. Every mother suckles her own offspring, and never entrusts it to servants and nurses. The master is not distinguished from the slave by being brought up with greater delicacy. Both live amid the same flocks and lie on the same ground till the freeborn are distinguished by age and recognised by merit."

The Germanic slaves were not slaves in the Roman sense, they can be better described as a kind of serfs: "Their slaves are not employed after our manner with distinct domestic duties assigned to them, but each one has the management of a house and home of his own. The master requires from the slave a certain quantity of grain, of cattle, and of clothing, as he would from a tenant, and this is the limit of subjection. All other household functions are performed by the wife and children. To whip a slave or to punish him with bonds or with hard labour is a rare occurrence. They often kill them, not in enforcing strict discipline, but on the impulse of passion, as they would an enemy, only it is done with impunity."

But only in the Germanic nations, led by kings, the freedmen could hope to climb up in society: "The freedmen do not rank much above slaves, and are seldom of any weight in the family, never in the state, with the exception of those tribes, which are ruled by kings. There indeed they rise above the freedborn and the noble; elsewhere the inferiority of the freedman marks the freedom of the state."

Part of coin treasure from the Roman Iron Age consisting of twenty Roman denarii found by Steen Agersø at Kallehave on the island of Ærø. The oldest coin is from 69 AC and the youngest is from 185 AC. Note the coin in the bottom right, which is issued by Vespasian 69-70 AC; it is well worn, most likely because it has been in circulation in the free Germania for several hundred years before it was buried in the ground on Ærø, maybe around 200-250 AC - Photo Steen Agersø see link below.

Much evidence suggests that the tribes in the free Germania had a widespread money economy based on Roman coins. Tacitus writes: "The border population, however, value gold and silver for their commercial utility, and are familiar with, and show preference for, some of our coins. The tribes of the interior use the simpler and more ancient practice of the barter of commodities. They like the old and well-known money, coins milled, or showing a two-horse chariot. They likewise prefer silver to gold, not from any special liking, but because a large number of silver pieces is more convenient for use among dealers in cheap and common articles."

The Roman denarius was originally of pure silver. Under Emperor Nero (54-68 Ac) the silver content was reduced by 15% and the following emperors continued in this track so that under Marcus Aurelius the denar had a silver content of only 15%. Around 200 AC the Denar grade was only 50%.

In the Roman Empire, it was forbidden to possess the old coins, because the Romans thereby evaded the emperor the profit that he otherwise would have got by remelting and devaluating. However, in the free Germania, the old coins were in use for hundreds of years after they were taken out of circulation in the Roman Empire. The Germans knew that the old coins were most worth.

At Smørenge near Aakirkeby on the island of Bornholm, a coin treasure was found that contained 484 Roman denarii, a pair of silver bars, and a Roman golden coin. The denarii were all from the first two centuries, while the golden coin was from the end of 400 years. Thus 200-300 years separated the silver coins from the gold coin. The denarii are very worn, reflecting a long life in circulation in free Germania.

In connection with excavations in Seden Syd near Odense, archaeologists from Møntegården found parts of wagon wheels from the Iron Age. It has been a solid vehicle with a load capacity of 300-400 kg. You can clearly see the kinship with the Celtic chariots that the Cimbri and Teutons brought home with them 100 BC. Mads Runge from Møntegården has done this drawing in Aasum Sogneblad nr. 11 2004.

There have been found parts of a wagon from Roman Iron Age in Tranebær Mose near Vejle. It has been estimated that the original wagon had a weight of about 100 kg. and a payload of 300-400 kg. We must believe that such vehicles are a further development of the magnificent Celtic wagons, which the returning Cimbri and Teutons brought with them. They are made stronger and more suited for rough terrain with large solid wheels with spokes.

Horn comb from Vimose

Horn comb from Vimose with the inscription "Harja", which is a personal name. - About 50 combs were found in Vimose.

No one knows where and when the runes were created. The earliest runic inscriptions are from first and second centuries AC. There are about 30 runic inscriptions from this time, and they are almost all found in old Danish territory, particularly on warrior-outfitting from Illerup Mose, Thorsbjerg Mose and Vimose. In Roman Iron Age the runic alphabet consisted of 24 characters, called Elder Futhark.

The earliest runic inscription was found on a comb from a war booty offering in Vimose, which is dated to about 160 AC. On the comb is the name "Harja". In general runic inscriptions from the early Iron Age are most names written on weapons and jewelry.

Scabbard decoration from Thorsbjerg Mose with inscription

Scabbard decoration from Thorsbjerg Mose with the inscription: "O(v)lthu Thevar". Photo fra Runeindskrifter schleugerhard.com.

The peculiar development was that in the later Scandinavian Viking Age the 24 characters were reduced to 16, called the Younger Futhark, which naturally made the inscriptions more difficult to interpret.

The Angles took the ancient runic alphabet to England, where they kept the original 24 characters and even added new characters so that their runic alphabet consisted of 32 characters.

Tacitus tells about Germanic military tactic:"Their horses are remarkable neither for beauty nor swiftness. Nor they are taught various evolutions after our fashion. The cavalry either bear down straightforward, or wheel to the right, in so compact a body that none is left behind the rest."

Lance shaft with runic inscriptions from Kragehul on the south of Fyn. Drawing by Stephens in 1884. It says: (I Asgisls eril named (muha)- power - vier(?)".

"On the whole, one would say that their chief strength is in their infantry, which fights along with the cavalry; so well accordant with the nature of equestrian combats is the swiftness of certain foot-soldiers, who are picked from the entire youth of their country, and stationed in front of the line."

"Their line of battle is drawn up in a wedge-like formation. To give ground, provided they rally again, is considered prudence rather than cowardice. They carry off their slain even while the battle remains undecided. The greatest disgrace that can befall them is to have abandoned their shields."

9. How did the iron age people look like?

Strabo believed that the Gauls and Germans were quite similar to each other, only the Germans were a little wilder, bigger and blonder: "Now the parts beyond the Rhenus, immediately after the country of the Celti, slope towards the east and are occupied by the Germans, who, though they vary slightly from the Celtic stock in that they are wilder, taller, and have yellower hair, are in all other respects similar, for in build, habits, and modes of life they are such as I have said the Celti are. And I also think that it was for this reason that the Romans assigned to them the name "Germani," as though they wished to indicate thereby that they were "genuine" Galatae, for in the language of the Romans "germani" means "genuine."

The height of the Danes in different historical periods calculated on the basis of the found skeletons in each period. From vikingetidenskonger.dk.

Pomponius Mela wrote that Germans waged war against their neighbors, not that they want to rule or to expand their territory, but because they loved fighting: "The inhabitants are wild by nature and mighty of body, and in accordance with their inborn wildness they harden both to an unusual degree: their nature by fighting, their bodies with hardships and especially because of the cold. They go naked around until they become adults, and childhood lasts exceptionally long with them. The men dress only with a mantle or bast of trees no matter how harsh winter is. They are not only enduring swimmers, but they also like to swim. They like to lead war against their neighbors. Reason for this they will find, because they like to fight, and not because they want to rule or expand their territory - for what they have, they grow not very diligently, but to that the country around them may be desolate. The power of the strongest rules here, and that to such an extent that they are not even ashamed of the plunder raids. They are only good-natured to guests and only easygoing toward inferiors."

Long-skulled man cranium from Hjadstrup on Fyn. Note his gently sloping eyeholes, which Johannes Brøndsted mentions. Such gently sloping eye sockets can also be seen on several Cro Magnon skulls from ice Age. From Danmarks Oldtid by Johannes Brøndsted.

Tacitus believed that the people of Germania was an original unmixed race: "For my own part, I agree with those, who think that the tribes of Germany are free from all taint of intermarriages with foreign nations and that they appear as a distinct, unmixed race, like none but themselves. Hence, too, the same physical peculiarities throughout so vast a population. All have fierce blue eyes, red hair, huge body frames, fit only for a sudden exertion. They are less able to bear laborious work. Heat and thirst they cannot in the least endure; to cold and hunger their climate and their soil make them accustomed."

Nederst: Long-skulled woman cranium from Almager west of Kalunborg on Sjælland. From Danmarks Oldtid by Johannes Brøndsted.

Though no rule without exceptions, Tacitus highlights one Germanic tribe rather than the other, even they were still inferior to the Romans: "Beyond these dwell the Catti, whose settlements, beginning from the Hercynian forest, are in a tract of country less open and marshy than those which overspread the other states of Germany; for it consists of a continued range of hills, which gradually become more scattered; and the Hercynian forest both accompanies and leaves behind. This nation is distinguished by hardier body frames, compactness of limb, fierceness of countenance, and superior vigor of mind. For Germans, they have a considerable share of understanding and sagacity."

Johannes Brøndsted wrote in "Danmarks Oldtid - Jernalderen" that - based on skeletons found in Denmark until about 1930 - the average height of men in the Roman Iron Age was calculated to 174.7 cm. and average-height of women to 159.7 cm. It is to be compared with the height of modern men and women in 2005, which were respectively 179.5 cm. and 166.5 cm. Since then, there have been found many skeletons from the Roman Iron Age, just think of Alken Enge, so presumably, the figure has to be corrected.

Long-skulled man cranium from Vestre Egesborg on Stevns. From Danmarks Oldtid by Johannes Brøndsted.

Nevertheless, the men and women from Roman Iron Age in Denmark, whose skeletons that have been found, were quite tall compared to both the Stone Age and the later Viking period. But as the historian Palle Lauring wrote: "But height does not say all in the world, it is, in fact, variable and dependent on the living conditions and nutrition. However, the shape of the skull does not change, as far as we know, with climate changes and dietary changes, and here the picture is worth noticing" - "But from Neolithic tombs the material is rich and shows us 23% short skulls and 30% long-skulls, the remaining 47% are intermediate forms. It sounds alluringly that it is almost exactly the same proportions as we have in Denmark today (1972), and it can be interpreted to that no changes have occurred in the population in the intervening millennia. But the older Roman Iron Age, located approximately halfway between the Neolithic and the day of today, has 3% short-skulls, 84% long-skulls and only 13% intermediate forms, that is an almost purely long-skulled population."

Long-skulled woman cranium from Varpelev on Stevns south of Køge on Sjælland. From Danmarks Oldtid by Johannes Brøndsted.

"You must certainly not forget," Palle Lauring continues, "that the graves almost exclusively represent the country's upper class, that is a very narrow segment of the population, and often even of the same lineage. But yet it explains not all, for there must be a reason for that exactly the upper class is long-skulled, and one must not believe that a skull measurement has been a precondition to the appointment of chieftains, noblemen, rich trade merchants and captains. There is nothing about that long-skulled should be spiritually superior to short-skulled. Several very primitive negro tribes are pronounced long-skulled, and they did not in their homeland bring the civilization very far."

Long-skulled persons are often quite spindly types with somewhat narrow faces. I would think that His Royal Highness Prince Joachim and former Foreign Minister and MP Villy Søvndal would have suited well into the ruling circles in Roman Iron Age.

"The immigration, that may be the case, centers on that the Danes at the time perhaps should had come to the country, that is in the early Roman Iron Age," Palle Lauring concludes.

Let us stay with Palle Lauring a last minute, while he is reflecting on the height of modern etnic Danes: "The height of the Danes is not as big as Swedes and Norwegians, and the Dutch also beat us, mainly because in Denmark there is a mixture of a tall type, and then a low stature race that one does not really know, where to find its origin."

Since Palle Lauring's time have been found many skeletons and settlements from the Hunters Stone Age, and we can supplement him that the old hunters actually were some pretty broad and low stature types, and by all accounts their genes are still among us.

10. Literature

Kallehavegaardskatten En skat af Romerske sølv-denarer fundet på Ærø.
Runer Københavns Universitet.
Danmarks Stednavne Nordisk Forskningsinstitut Københavns Universitet.
Internet Archieve Full text of "Pliny's Natural history. In thirty-seven books"
De Danske Stednavne Af johannes Steenstrup i fuld tekst på projekt Runeberg.
Våbenofret fra Vimose Historisk viden, Danmark.
Annaler for nordisk oldkyndighed Trældige
JABlog: A Minnesota-Centric Beer Blog.
Sarmatisk smedekunst i vore landområder Asernes Æt.
Hærvejen Along the old Military Road in Jutland, April 2002 - Erik Moldrup.
Våbenofferet i Thorsbjerg Mose Den Store Danske.
Vold og værn i ældre jernalder - Olgerdiget ved Tinglev Glimt fra Oltidsdage.
Nydam Mose Oldtidsglimt.
Overjerstal-kredsens Pompeji Glimt fra oldtidsdage.
Kongegrave ved Tryggevælde Den store danske.
Nyfunden massegrav vidner om barbarisk krigsskik videnskab.dk.
Jernalderens ældste stammeområder Den store danske.
A treatise of the situation, manners and inhabitans of Germany 1. by Cornelius Tacitus Elfinspell - full text of Germania.
"Danmarks Oldtid - Tredie bind - Jernalderen" af Johannes Brøndsted - Gyldendal.
"Gyldendal og Politikens Danmarks Historie 2"
"De etnografiske kilder til Nordens Historie" Allan A. Lund - Wormanium.
"De byggede Riget" af Palle Lauring.
"Danmarks Oldtid - Ældre Jernalder" af Jørgen Jensen.

Bent Hansen - last changed: 20240124

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