Academic journal article Estonian Journal of Archaeology

Viking Age Ports of Trade in Poland/Viikingiaegsed Kaubasadamad Poolas

Academic journal article Estonian Journal of Archaeology

Viking Age Ports of Trade in Poland/Viikingiaegsed Kaubasadamad Poolas

Article excerpt

In northern Europe, a new type of settlement appeared in the first millennium AD. On the coastal areas as well as in the lower reaches of big rivers, settlements were founded in whose economy traditional agriculture and hunting played a minor role. These new type sites functioned as centres of production, trade, and service for merchants and travellers. In archaeological literature, these large settlements, characterised mainly by production and trade activities have been variously termed--emporium, port of trade, early form of town, pre-urban nucleus, incipient town, proto-town, Seehandelsplatz and vik (Clarke & Simms 1985, 672). Their existence was one of the phenomena that distinguishes ancient times from the Early Middle Ages--Viking Age in the northern Europe. (1)

1. The emergence of the ports of trade

Karl Polanyi, who has treated and defined ports of trade (2) in his writings, has suggested that one of the most important characteristic in defining sites is their location (Polanyi 1963, 30-45; 1978, 92-96) (3). Ports of trade were situated at the crossroads of trade routes, in most cases in naturally protected places like river estuaries, or on the shores of fjords or bays. A location like that was essential for security. Normally, the ports of trade also marked political, cultural, ethnic, or geographical borders. Security was needed by the local society which feared attacks by large numbers of well-armoured men who were interested in finding loots and slaves. Therefore, the emporia were situated in a so-called "no man's land". Another important precondition for an emporium was the protection given by local chieftains. They were bribed with luxury goods, especially weapons of very high quality. Their support was necessary to guarantee peace and safe conditions for trade.

Characteristically, cult and religious centres can be found inside emporia or in their vicinity. In many archaic societies, priests possessed strong power over the people, and they were also interested in the profits obtained from trade. (4) The temples collected profits not directly from the trade, but in the form of ceremonial payments (5) and tributes. Very often the priests were also well-qualified craftsmen, like the Benedictine monk Theophilus Presbyter, who described the early medieval jewellery techniques in his Diversarum Artium Schedula. (6) In the ports of trade, they could sell a lot of their products. Craft working in general was one of the most important activities of the emporia, and usually it developed quite soon into mass production. Tools, weapons, jewellery and other products were distributed both in local and foreign markets. Traces of blacksmithery, horn and amber products, glassmaking, weaving, boat building and other crafts are often recorded in these kind of sites.

A vital role in the existence of emporia was played by trade, both long-distance trade and barter of a more local character. The ports of trade were meeting points for merchants from distant lands. The tradesmen could exchange or sell goods directly in the emporia, or just use them for storing their wares temporarily, awaiting further transportation. To make this possible, special storehouses where large amounts of goods could be deposited, were erected in such places. (7) At the same time, these ports functioned as markets, where merchants could sell foreign goods and craftsmen could trade their products. People from the local society supplied the places with food, drink and other necessary products. Among the exchange articles, grain and livestock (8) were probably of the greatest importance, but the locals could also sell furs, salt, honey, craft products, and other goods. Another important object of trade was slaves. The emporia were places where people from different parts of the Viking world met each other; different economic systems, for example autarkic barter exchange and medieval money markets co-existed there (Dalton 1978, 104-105). …

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