Tuesday, August 4, 2015


Denmark and The Roman Empire

The “Roman Iron Age” in Denmark, the years 0 – 450 AD, has traditionally been largely overshadowed by the Viking period from 900 – 1200 AD. And to many Danes this “Roman era” is still a dark chapter in the Danish history.

Many finds in Denmark are from this period. But it is worth mentioning that many of the discoveries, especially from the first and second Century, are gravefinds and finds of Roman goods that clearly have been cherished by their owners. They are not prizes of war, but goods that have been traded and perhaps given to their owners. Things that appearantly show, that the danish tribes in this age, had a friendly and close relationship with Rome. A friendship wich counted trading and a wide support from the tribes to the Romans. A support that also encounted danish tribesmen participating in the Roman wars against other Germanic tribes, probably as "Auxillia" (supporting troops) or, in the later periods, as regular soldiers in the Roman Army.

Map showing the concentration of Roman discoveries (armaments, coins, etc..) in the Denmark islands. The highest concentration is in the islands of Zealand (Himlingoje) and Fynn (Gudme)

But there it is even the possibility that in southern Denmark the Romans created a "Client State" (or more), mainly in the islands between Jutland and southern Sweden.
Actually some historians & archeologists think that they existed (at least one related to the "Himlingoje Dynasty" in the southern area of the Zealand island) until the second century and perhaps until Marcus Aurelius.

Indeed Danish archaeologists: Lars Jørgensen, Birger Storgaard and Ulla Lund Hansen have suggested Germano-Roman alliances, in which Romans supported a Germanic power in today's Denmark. According to Jørgensen, this was either to destabilize Scandinavia, or to create a Roman friendly power which could help ensure peace and stability in the border areas.

Ulla Lund Hansen and Birger Storgaard have also suggested that Roman interests in Scandinavia were strong since just before Augustus times, and that there was direct contact. Storgaard alluded to a text written in accordance with an expedition led by Tiberius in year 5 AD, in which Tiberius describes what has been interpreted to be Jutland, although this interpretation is based on myth. Jørgensen points to the Gudme-Lundeborg complex in Fyn, a Denmark's island. Archaeologists have found Roman coins and scrapmetal at Lundeborg, a trading place in relation to this complex. Hansen, Jørgensen and Storgaard interprets from these archaeological discoveries that Lundeborg may have functioned as a Roman port.

Recently in 2014 Ulla Lund Hansen has written that has been discovered a nice bronze brooch in the island of Bornholm, located in the middle of the Baltic sea and not far from the Poland coast. It was found at the ancient village of "Lavegaard", during the excavation of a Roman settlement on the island of Bornholm. She wrote that "Larger excavation is underway, revealing an AFFLUENT ROMAN SOCIETY...and the archaeologists hope to uncover many well-preserved remnants of this ancient community called Lavegaard.Besides the owl brooch, the archaeologists have found pottery and ancient building materials, postholes marking the sites of ancient houses, along with architectural features such as ovens and hearths (and a cemetery). All evidence of industry in the form of iron smelting or iron extraction and ceramics firing, and several well-preserved metal objects are also preserved...The excavated area now totals more than 5000 m² and so is part of a much larger settlement, which in Roman times would have had direct access to the sea via an inlet, now a wetland located just south of the settlement.In fact, all the evidence suggests that Lavegaard was a rather affluent society in its day. With easy access to the sea and evidence of industry and coins (dating to AD 161-175) at the site, the inhabitants of Lavegaard could presumably afford to buy and produce valuable jewellery and other objects".(read more at sciencenordic.com/ancient-roman-artifact-found-danish-island ).

Augustus and Tiberius

On “Monumentum Acyranum”, Augustus own descriptions of his deeds, it is told that in the year 5 AD he sent Tiberius on a major clearing expedition to the most northern parts of Germania. With a fleet from the Rhine and possibly a supporting land-army he advanced to the Cimbrian Peninsula, and made peace agreements with the local tribes there.

This first official contact with the “Danes”, since the Cimbrian and Teutonian migrations in 150 BC shows that there appearantly was an active interest in Rome in an annexation of the southern parts of Scandinavia into the Roman Empire. However we must remember that the names “Danes” and “Denmark” first appeared in 800 AD; and before that a multitude of tribal names was used for the citizens of the Cimbrian Peninsula and the Danish Isles: among these tribes were the Teutones and Cimbrians, names that still is found in present day places like “Thy” (Teuto) and “Himmerland” (Cimberland), both locations in Jutland.

In the following years the supporting land-army probably reached the Baltic sea and the Jutland peninsula. But the navy expedition for sure reached the actual Poland and eastern Sweden coast, and made agreements with the inhabitants of the Danish islands: these agreement usually were more that simple trade pacts and dealt even with the creation of a "Client State" (as happened in other border areas of the Roman empire, like in the northern Black sea or in actual Morocco).

But this interest of the Romans was brutally stopped in the year 9 AD, when the Roman General Quintillius Publius Varus was beaten in a Germanic ambush in Teutoburgerwald at Kalkriese in Germany. At this battle 3 Roman Legions were anihilated: approx. 30.000 legionaries died

The mission for Varus was to prepare the advance of the Imperial border to the River Elba. But after this major loss, the Romans resignated and gave up any further offensives beyond the Rhine, and the northern border of the Empire stayed at the Rhine.

Trading and Alliances

Though the plans for the northern germanic territories were abandoned by the Romans, it seems that a broad contact were established between the Romans and the tribes of Southern Scandinavia. Especially famous is the trading expeditions to the Baltic for "Amber" to ornate the Emperor Neros palace after the burning of Rome in 64 AD. This palace was later demolished by Vespasian, and he and his sons Titus and Domitian erected the Colloseum at its place.

The archeological discoveries in Denmark from this period are really interesting. Especially the great gravefinds from Himlingoje on Southern Zealand, Gudme on Funen and the rich Hoby graves from Lolland. In these large finds, a wide range of Roman officers equipment were found. And especially two Silver Cups from Hoby are of great interest. Not only because of their superb quality, but also because of the name “Silius” wich is ingraved in the buttom of the Cups.

This “Silius” appears to be the Roman Commander who were stationed with the Rhine Army in the years 14 – 21 AD, with the purpose to find the locations for the Varus disaster and conduct punitive expeditions into the german controlled territories around the Elba river. If Silius is the former owner of the Hoby Cups, the idea that danish tribes were hired as "Auxilia" to the Romans seems obvious. Wich also explains the many other finds of Roman military equipment in Denmark from this period. For instance a beautyful 1st Century Pugio found in a grave near Horsens in Jutland.

Together with this Pugio, there were found also a Roman style Hamata and a Roman military Balteus and other personal equipment. A discovery that appearantly show the presence of Roman military activities in Denmark, or “Danes” that served with the Roman Army.

Findings all over Southern Scandinavia, of especially Fibulas, indicates that a small “Empire” (or "Client State") was present here in the first and second Century. With a “Himlingoje Dynasty” as rulers. This “Dynasty” not only traded with Rome, but appearantly also lived a very “Roman” style of life.

If there were such an “Empire”, it is obvious that the Romans could benefit from this State, and seek alliances with this regime. Alliances that today is described by historians as Denmark beeing a “Client State” of Rome: it was a supportive territory for the Romans where they traded and recruited Auxilia and soldiers for the wars down South.

Roman Artefacts from a third-century grave at Himlingoje (southern Zealand). Some archeologists think that this was the base of a Roman client-kingdom in Scandinavia

Dr Harry Sidebotom wrote in the September 2014 "BBC History" edition that "Recent archaeological studies offer a potentially new and important insight. From AD 162–80 Rome was embroiled in the Marcomannic wars against the peoples across the upper waters of the Rhine and Danube. From this period, finds in Scandinavia begin to increase both in wealth and in the numbers of Roman imports, including swords. The epicentre was the burial site at Himlingoje on the Danish island of Zealand.The spread of artefacts, especially elaborate brooches (rosette fibulae), from Himlingoje to other sites in modern Scandinavia, Poland, and the Baltic countries suggests the appearance of a large political unit around the shores of the Baltic Sea. It has been argued that Rome employed diplomatic gifts and the supply of weapons to create an extensive CLIENT KINGDOM beyond the Marcomanni and its other enemies. Not only could the new power based at Himlingoje threaten the rear of Rome’s enemies, but it could supply new reserves of mercenaries. If the hypothesis is correct, the new extended political organisation could have acted as a model for the soon-to-emerge confederations of northern barbaricum.The leaders of the Franks, Alamanni and Goths could have learnt from the royal dynasty of Himlingoje. In the north, as in the east, by different processes, but to the same result, Rome had assisted in the creation of enemies much more dangerous to its own empire."

Additionally, chiefdoms like those in the islands of Lolland and Falster were based upon what is commonly called a prestige-goods economy.Prestige goods are nonutilitarian objects that are indispensable for social and political relations—in this case, Roman imports of weapons, ornaments, and feasting and drinking equipment.

In return, the Romans received leather, fur, meat, cloth, and probably slaves. In Denmark, personal reputation and power were intertwined with the ability and degree to which one could control and own Roman goods, a system that only worked if their flow was controlled by an elite minority. In return for sharing prestige goods with lower-level elites for their own legitimation, chiefs received staple tribute: livestock, grain, and other supplies. Lower-level elite in turn extracted tribute from farmers in return for their services in defense, upholding law, and overseeing ritual activities. Grave goods reflect this hierarchy: a few have the full complement of prestige items, others less but still rich, while many have small quantities of less valuable Roman items. War chiefs had much power within society but were balanced by the thing, a regular meeting of freemen—and possibly some women, if we infer from some later sources—who could vote against the plans of chiefs. In addition, a chief's son was not automatically a chief; all contenders had to prove themselves, leading to a degree of upward mobility in society.

Furthermore, in order to maintain a certain degree of stability among the barbarians that lived on the borders of the Roman Empire and beyond, the Romans developed a series of procedures.

They bought off the native élite with luxury goods and money. They could also offer special monopoly or protection and in some cases the élite’s young could be fostered in the Roman Empire. Sometimes they were even fostered in the Emperor’s household to later on return to their tribes, and now behaved more Roman than many Romans themselves.

Hints of the gift-giving are found in Lolland, Denmark where silver cups and a bronze vessel were found. The silver-cups showed scenes from Classical scenes like the Iliad.

It is interesting that in the first centuries AD Lolland and Eastern Fyn, Denmark have inhumation graves that are rich in Roman goods, but does not contain weapons. On the other hand graves containing weapons are poor in Roman goods. This distinction is also evident in Southern Jutland, Denmark, whereas Eastern Jutland does not have this distinction. Eastern Jutland do not show graves that contain much Roman goods, but instead show a mix of rich and poor burial findings.

From around 150 AD and onwards Roman imports seem to have been sent to a site at Stevns/Himlingøje in Sjælland (Zealand in Danish language)), Denmark. The best quality materials apparently stayed there, while the rest might have been shipped off to other areas. Other important areas are Sorte Muld on Bornholm, Denmark and Bejsebakken in Ålborg, Jutland. The Stevns/Himlingøje-centre was surpassed by Gudme on the island of Fyn by the end of the third century.

Roman Discoveries

Archaeological evidence from Denmark demonstrates that particular clusters of elites in various periods controlled the trade with the Romans( read: "Political complexity in Denmark during the Roman Iron Age" pag 27.) The earliest concentration of Roman goods occurred in high burials in Lolland dating to the 1st and 2nd centuries AD. In the early period of trade, the goods entered the north when Roman messengers entered Denmark to give the elite class gifts and elaborate items. Not until later (after Augustus) did a limited number of local rulers (of the "Client States") organized the importation of Roman goods.

In the 3rd century AD, the elite on Sjælland controlled trade via a sea route to the mouth of the Rhine that bypassed continental land routes. Like Sjælland, most islands between Jutland and Southern Sweden assumed power with the help of the archipelagic nature of Denmark. Beginning in the middle of the 3rd century AD, eastern Fyn controlled trade, primarily because it could easily trade with water traffic and merchants from Roman provinces.

In the 4th century AD and continuing, Jutland had the greatest contact with the Roman Empire. Jutlands increased interactions with the Romans probably occurred because the Ox or Army Road ran through the narrow isthmus of the southern part of the region. Viking Age documents described "Ox Road" as a corridor that allowed traders and travelers to move easily between the continent and Denmark.

Indeed recent archeological diggings have proved that the "Danevirke" dyke (that historically marked the southern limit of Denmark with Germany) was built many decades before 500 AD. This important defensive earthwork across the neck of the Cimbrian peninsula, was initiated by the Danes in the late fourth or early fifth century: it was also a small canal used to connect the Atlantic ocean with the Baltic sea and it was used for boat-commerce between the Roman empire and the Danish isles.(read "Danevirke - Ældre end hidtil antaget!" at http://www.museum-sonderjylland.dk/siderne/det-sker/05a58-Oktober2013.html#.VcNsliDbLIV)

Marcus Aurelius and the Marcomannic wars

As "Client States" the tribes north of the Danube had traditionally been a very peaceful territory for the Romans. But in the 150’s this area was destabilized by a range of migrations from the north, pressing the Marcomanians, the Quades and the Sarmatians downwards against the Roman Danube border in the present Czech Republic.

Regular wars between some of these tribes and the Romans broke out in the year 166 AD, in the fifth year of Marcus Aurelius as Emperor. And they didn’t end before 180, in the time of Commodus.

Today there is no doubt, that also South Scandinavians participated in these wars. Gravefinds from Müsov in Mähren indicate this, with the findings of jewelry and fibulas that are obvious Scandinavian. And in Himlingoje two Roman silvercups, showing Roman soldiers with “Ringgrib” swords, were found. These Roman Gladii had their prime in the Marcomanian Wars. Also the discovery of a gold Kolb Torch in Himlingoje is evidence of a “Danish” participation. The Kolb Torch were a sign of dignity among the Sarmatians and the Sarmatians participated in the wars on the Roman side. Wich clearly indicates, that also the “danish troops” were on the Roman side.

That the Roman – South Scandinavian relationship were well established and continued on to the 5th century is indicated by the many findings from this period. Most of all by the great "Bog-finds" from 300 – 500 AD. Among these is the Illerup findings and the Thorsbjerg findings, which counts as the largest finds of Roman weapons in the World.

These weapons were not in use by the Romans themselves, but were blades produced in Roman Fabricas and purchased by the Scandinavians in the Roman Empire.

That Roman Merchants sailed the waters of South Scandinavia for several centuries are clear. Worth mentioning are the Egyptian Geografer Klaudios Ptolemaios travel descriptions from the second century, wich describes the naval route from the Rhine around Jutland and through the Danish sea of Isles to the coast of Poland. A route, also described by many other Roman authors, like Tacitus. A route appearantly commonly used by the Romans.

It appears, by the writings of Marcus Aurelius, that it was his plan to establish two new provinces north of the Danube. The provinces "Marcomannia" and "Sarmatia". And thus, push the border of the Roman Empire to the Baltic.

In such an enterprise, the Romans would have to have good and loyal “Clients” in South Scandinavia, in the ”Danish territories”. And it now clearly appears that they had just that.

When Rome fell in the mid-fifth century, so did the Danish prestige economy, but most of Denmark's small realms did not collapse: they reorganized and expanded. A few groups found themselves in disarray and sought new lands, leading to what is called the Migration period, when Langobards, Teutons, and other "Danish" tribes overran the Roman Continent and staked a claim. Despite this, around A.D. 550, Gothic writings indicate that many small polities in Denmark were being consolidated into bigger political units: evidently, some of the former "Roman client States" in southern Denmark started to grow and to be the political entities of medieval Denmark.