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Posts Tagged ‘Adam of Bremen’

Göte Göransson

Well, this is pretty cool news (though I’m a bit late posting about it, so my apologies!) They’ve found two really really long rows of pillars at Gamla Uppsala  dating to the 5th century (= Old Uppsala, seeing as the city has since been moved south a bit–but it is still a really lovely walk, which I have missed since last being in Sweden 5-6 years back). Obviously the posts mark a Migration-era pathway to the restaurant Odinsborg, which, incidentally, has the most delicious meatballs I have ever tasted (yes, I am a connoisseur), and which offers mead made according to a medieval recipe (the best I have ever tasted, except a homebrew by a food-science friend of mine). OK, just kidding (but not about the quality of the food and drink). But it does look like it marks a path to and from this very significant cult center of ancient Scandinavia.  Further info here, here, here, and here.

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The Migration-era grave mounds at Gamla Uppsala.

The latter two links are a bit longer, if you are up for more reading (beyond my own post here, of course…). The examiner article has a neat quote from Dagens Nyheter re: Gamla Uppsala as a “centralized location” rather than a village/town/city. I think it was first in an article by Lotte Hedeager (not this article, but this one is a neat foray into bringing together pre-Viking archaeology with the study of Norse myth, preserved in Medieval documents–always a problematic approach, but still worthwhile and intriguing imho) that I was introduced to the term “central places” (vs city, town, etc), and I think it’s a great way to highlight the difference between significant communal locations in such an extremely rural society as ancient Scandinavia versus our usual presuppositions about urbanization, or even the formation of towns (maybe more on the significance of towns and markets for the rise of the Viking age some other time…). I’m not sure why the author of the Examiner article also notes the significance of the number 144 (the number of pillars uncovered) in the book of Revelation, and I think their claim that the ancient Scandinavians had a pantheon of 12 is problematic (I am inclined to take the “pantheon” as for the most part later efforts to systematize a non-systematic religion by people like Snorri or later scholars), but otherwise lots of neat info here (and for some brief comments on the problem with projecting our ideas of orthodoxy on pagan Scandinavia, see my interview at Paper Tape).

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The temple at Uppsala, according to Olaus Magnus, following Adam of Bremen

The Daily Kos post is a bit more of a gushy “Isn’t Viking history cool???” post (I have no problem with that, of course) with some great quotes from the sources about Gamla Uppsala, including a description of the supposed Uppsala temple from Adam of Bremen. We might be skeptical of the idea of a ginormous pagan temple at Uppsala (or elsewhere in Scandinavia)–for one, we don’t think he actually visited Uppsala himself, and for two, we think that ancient Scandinavian religion was not especially associated with specialized cult-buildings (we have lots of connections to outdoor locations and landscape, though). It wouldn’t be too out of the way to suggest that the idea of a “temple” had more to do with the Christian imagination, setting up this heathen site as a sort of anti-Christianity, with an anti-Church. That said, Uppsala WAS an incredibly significant cult location in Scandinavia, and, as we noted above, was a central place to which a lot of wealth would have flowed–so if there were to be any sort of gargantuan hall reserved solely for cult practice in Scandinavia, it would be here. More likely there was a hall belonging to those in power which was then also used for official cult practice, as this seems to have been how aristocratic cult worked at the time. As for the gargantuan aspect of it (although I won’t speak for the golden chain that Adam imagined), I suppose the newly discovered pillars would give new hope to the idea that truly remarkable projects were quite plausible in the northern corner of the Mälaren basin during the Migration period (pre-Viking). At the moment, sadly, there does not seem to be evidence of anything especially huge, apart from this roadway… but who knows, maybe these enormous pillars will turn out to be part of/terminate in/(whatever) some super-cool giant structure! We can dream… So anyway, support your local archaeologist! And all the others too.

And one final note–I think it is cool that what seems to be a means of marking a very significant route from Gamla Uppsala to the south was discovered because that same potential route was still relevant when the powers-that-be decided to set up a new rail track. I can’t map the route of the proposed track to my own memory of the landscape b/c it has been WAY too long, but at the very least the idea that the landscape offers similar paths/solutions/possibilities to us now as it did to our ancestors is something pretty neat. It’s a much more concrete and homey way of finding a connection to the past than, say, visiting a museum. The landscape is, in a sense, as much an agent as we are (OK, I said “in a sense”), and in certain places and ways that agency has not changed too much–or to put it in a more poetic (or cheesy) way, the landscape still speaks roughly the same language, while our own languages have changed so much (there is of course a degree of cultural conditioning when it comes to the semantics of space and place–but there is also a good amount of continuity stemming from the concreteness of the world and our embodiment in it).

You find a high degree of consciousness of this sharing of space across time in Iceland, where locals are very aware of the way the sagas write the landscape, or are written in the landscape that surrounds them. This point is made by a few of the Icelanders interviewed near the end of this BBC documentary on the sagas. The documentary is basically a retelling of Laxdæla saga, though I think it is way too bare-bones a presentation, and the woman doing the interviewing looks bored or condescending a lot of the time (sorry lady…)–that said, there is some good stuff in there, especially the interviews with the Icelanders (including many authors and scholars–such as Gísli Sigurðsson, a top-class scholar and a very friendly guy, who wrote the introduction to this translation of the Vinland sagas WHICH YOU MUST BUY NOW). And if you are down for some more intense academic reading, check out my friend Lissi’s dissertation, which touches on this topic.

Well, there is another long-winded blog post, but I hope there is something interesting in here for everyone! To my friends who are archaeologists, mythologists, etc in Scandinavian Studies (or related fields)–what are your thoughts on this? I’d love to hear from you all. And for my readers, I have stuck mostly to things I know off-hand for this post, but if you would like a more thorough presentation on any of these issues, let me know! I may find time to do a bit more research and prepare something more in-depth… but no promises.

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