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Northern Emporia. An archaelology of urban networks.

Carlsberg Foundation Monograph Fellowships

What

The trading towns or emporia, which emerged along the coasts of Northern Europe from the late 600s CE, and especially during the Viking Age, are particularly intriguing case of urban development in the past. Seen from the point of view of common theories about urbanization, places like Viking-age Ribe, Hedeby or Birka do not fit expectations on many points. Yet they seem to align with a number of similar developments in the ancient and medieval worlds. This project is to analyse the emporia of the northern world in a comparative perspective, aiming to establish a new synthesis and to revise theoretical models with particular attention to the network aspect of urbanism.

Why

There are few early systems that are as well documented by archaeology as the northern emporia are today. Over the past couple of decades high-quality reseach excavations have taken place in many sites. Most recently, the Carlsberg Foundation sponsored a major research project focused on the key site Ribe, in Jutland, a project I directed between 2016 and 2021. Presently the need is to synthesize and analyze all this new evidence. Many textbook assumptions about these sites, put forward when the evidence was much slighter, have proven to be misleading, and we need a new coherent picture of these important sites and the processes they express.

How

My aim in the project is to put together a monograph to act as a new basic reference and synthesis for the northern emporia. This work will build, of course, upon my research in the past 20 years, but will involve a great amount of data collection, theory building and testing. I have an agreement with Cambridge University Press for the publication of the book.

SSR

In the current world, many political, cultural and economic decisions are influenced indirectly by assumptions about the role of urbanism in history. A common understanding is that economic efficiency, cultural diversity, and individual freedom scale with urbanization in the form of nucleated cities and political centralization. In recent years archaeologists and historians have begun to question the validity of this notion in the ancient world. The northern emporia appear to have achieved many of the benefits of an urban economy in an unusual way. This is an important case to examine, in order to establish a better understanding of the long-term interplay between society and urbanization.