The Earliest States of Eastern Europe
DG-2014, 179-192

Norðvegr – Norway: From Sea Kings to Land Kings

D. Skre


Along the West-Scandinavian coast agrarian settlements are found along fjords and in valleys which are separated from each other and from the lands to the east by high mountains. Thus, seafaring was the main communication mode from the Stone Age onwards. Unlike the coasts of Britain, Ireland and continental Europe, this 1,000 kilometres long coastline is littered with thousands of islands, islets and reefs which create a protected coastal sailing route – the Norðrvegr – from which the kingdom took its name.

The naming of the kingdom reflects how it was created. The reason that Denmark, England and numerous other Germanic kingdoms have names composed of an ethnonym and a term for ‘land’ is that they are based on control of territory. Because of the unusual topography, the lands along the west-Scandinavian coasts could be subdued by taking control of the sailing route. If local chieftains wanted to move their people and products out of their territory, they would need to be in the grace of the king that controlled the sailing route. While most kings at the time were land-kings, the king of Norway was a sjó-konungr, a sea-king, as reflected in the name of the country.

A few sites along the coast are better suited for control of the sailing routes than others – Avaldsnes at Karmøy near the town of Haugesund being one of them. Although the climate is rougher and the land less fertile than along the fjords, many of these sites have prominent archaeological monuments from the first millennium AD, some even from the Bronze Age. This long history of seafaring being the main transport mode and naval warfare being a necessary skill for political dominance makes out a backdrop for the Viking incursions in Britain, Ireland and the Continent c. 790–1050.

Kingship, Viking, Scandinavia


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