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Title: The regional communities of Viking Age Norway and their contribution to socio-political dynamics, c. 900-1050
Author: Allport, Benjamin
ISNI:       0000 0004 7961 9120
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2019
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Historical analysis of the sociopolitical processes that took place in Scandinavia in the last 150 years of the Viking Age has long been preoccupied with the formation of the medieval precursors to Norway, Denmark and Sweden. Focusing on the geographical area encompassed by modern Norway, this thesis looks beyond the received narrative of state formation by assessing the dynamics which led to the formation of regional communities, identifying these communities wherever possible, and analysing their role in the gradual change of social and political structures that ultimately saw the emergence of a unified and, to some degree, centralized Norwegian realm in the mid eleventh century. To conduct this investigation in a way which best takes advantage of the evidence available, while at the same time accounting for its varied flaws, the following research pursues a philosophy of attributing equal weight to both literary and archaeological data. It draws chiefly upon established indicators for the existence of power centres or 'central places' in the archaeological record, such as longhouses, assembly-sites, monumental burials, and the distribution of high-status craft items, and the corpora of skaldic verse, the Norwegian synoptic histories of the twelfth century and the Icelandic konungasögur (kings' sagas) of the thirteenth century. It will also incorporate recent research on network theory regarding dynamics of communication and exchange. The first chapter outlines these research parameters in greater depth, before providing necessary historiographical background to the study of the Norwegian 'rikssamling' (state formation), and the ways in which both nationalistic and regionalistic impulses have affected the nature of recent historiographical discourse. Theoretical considerations of the nature of collective identity and societal bonds in the medieval period are also dealt with in this chapter. In the second chapter, further context and justification for the analysis of regional communal identity is provided through the deconstruction of traditional scholarly arguments for the existence of 'Norwegian' collective identity before the first half of the eleventh century. The third chapter proposes a methodology of 'triangulation' for the reconstruction of regional communities, combining archaeological evidence for the distribution of power centres with the lexicon of regional demonyms attested in the literary record from the Viking Age onwards. The chapter establishes the theoretical basis for the methodology, incorporating archaeological central place and network theories, and identifies the role of regional elites as a core mechanic in the construction of communal identity due to their influence over communal practices and exchange. It also presents a preliminary analysis of the literary lexicon of regional demonyms. This methodology is put into practice in chapter four, which identifies specific regional communities throughout the area under discussion in as much detail as the available evidence permits, dividing the area of Norway into five geopolitical zones: western Norway, southern and eastern Norway, the Trondheimsfjord, northern Norway and the interior. The following chapter incorporates these findings into an analysis of the emergence of supra-regional polities in the tenth century. It argues that the scholarly focus on coastal dynamics along the western seaboard has neglected the importance of overland routes through the interior, which are suggested to be equally viable. The chapter ends by relating these dynamics to the appearance of administrative boundaries towards the end of the period, focusing in particular on the Frostuþing and Gulaþing legal assemblies, arguing for the regional social developments that contributed to their foundation. This thesis concludes with the fundamental argument that the dimension of regional communities is crucial for our understanding of the dynamics of social change in Viking Age Scandinavia. The political systems which emerged in post-unification Norway were not solely invention of kings and ecclesiasts borrowing continental models, but were, in part, manifestations of long-term social processes encountered on a regional level. However, it is argued that political unification was not the inevitable consequence of these processes.
Supervisor: Rowe, Elizabeth Ashman Sponsor: None
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Medieval Norway ; Regional Identity ; State Formation ; Viking Age ; Community ; Geopolitics ; Triangulation ; The North Way ; Kings' sagas