Norse Viking Soap

Trade took the Vikings to a new era

Kaupang, Birka and Hedeby

During the Viking age, there were three great centers of trade and commerce in Scandinavia: Kaupang (lit. “market-place”) in Norway, Birka in Sweden, and Hedeby in Denmark. Birka was founded sometime during the 8th century, presumably by order of the king, and run by a local nobleman. Birka was well-organized and visited more frequently than Kaupang in Norway.

While Kaupang’s activities depended on the seasons, Birka had visitors all year round. Even during winter, trappers and hunters would visit this small settlement outside what would later become modern day’s Stockholm, all the while traders prepared for the summer.

One of the most important products from Birka was iron ore, brought here from the mines to the north and west of Sweden. The ore was usually sold to Danish traders, who brought it with them back to Hedeby.

Northern Europe’s trade hub

Hedeby was founded around year 810, by the Danish king Godfred. Frankish scribes recorded how the Danes despoiled and ravaged the areas surrounding the Saxon city of Reric (presumed to be today’s Rostock), forcing merchants to ply their trade further north. Godfred founded his new trade hub at the inlet of the fjord Slien, which granted him a large income from taxes. Today, this area is called Schleifjord, part of Busdorf municipality in the German region of Schleswig-Holstein.

Hedeby’s strategic location granted access to several important trade routes. The Baltic Sea gave access to Russia and further routes towards the middle east, the North Sea to the British Isles and Frankia, and the primary Danish trade road called Hærvejen was just a kilometer away.

This caused traders from far and wide to come visit Hedeby, and the city became so renowned that scribes all the way from Iceland to Baghdad have mentioned Hedeby in their writings.

Moorish trader shocked by the Vikings

The Moorish trader al-Tartushi recorded his impressions upon visiting Hedeby: “a great city at the edge of the ocean”. He thought the city’s inhabitants were uncivilized. He wrote: “They hang their sacrifices by poles near their doors, so that their neighbor can see their sacrifice”, presumably after witnessing the Viking methods of smoking and salting meat for conservation.

Further he wrote of his horror upon learning women had the right to divorce, both men and women wore makeup, and that everyone sang “with a rumbling sound coming from their throat, as if like a dog, only far more bestial”.

This Moorish trader didn’t care much for our Viking ancestors.

Great Viking Armies

Despite being known for raiding and exploring, Vikings made a lot of money and wealth through trade. . After tax was paid to the kings, the Vikings used the profits to send even more merchant ships around the world. The tax to the Viking kings enabled them to recruit warriors and build great Viking armies with which they would conquer new lands. The successful trade directly contributed to a new era for the Vikings, as their kings would conquer parts of today’s England, for example.

However, their wealth and glory wouldn’t last forever. When the Norwegian king Harald Hardrada razed Hedeby to the ground in his quest for power and fame, the Viking age was slowly coming to an end. There are many reasons their age came to an end, but historians agree the greatest contributor was the fact Vikings settled in England and Russia, instead of returning to Scandinavia with their wealth. Conflict and unrest in the areas around the Caspian Sea made trade routes unsafe, and they were eventually abandoned.

The End of the Viking Age

The kings tried to compensate for the loss of income by raising taxes on domestic trade but ended up making traders seek more lucrative opportunities to the south. As the traders fled, so too did the last of the once powerful Viking economy that fueled their armies and conquests. The golden age of the Viking came to an end.

Source: Bladet Historie

Trade took vikings to a new era