Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Birka: Trade Center and Gateway for Viking Age Sweden

Birka: Trade Center and Gateway for Viking Age Sweden. Recounts the story of this town in Sweden founded in the 8th century on the island of Björkö. Includes maps, a reconstruction drawing, and description of Birka in the Viking age. This is from a larger site on Vikings produced by "The Viking Answer Lady."

From the site:

Birka sits upon the island of Björkö at the entrance of the Mälar Sea (sometimes called Lake Mälar), not far from the site of modern Stockholm. Birka therefore acted as the trade center and gateway for all of Central Sweden. The major east-west trade route passed along the southern Swedish coastline, through Bornholm, Öland, and Gotland, but Birka was the richest trade center of all. Traders came to Birka from Frisia, Anglo-Saxon England, Germany, the Baltic countries, Greeks from Byzantium, and Orientals.

A visitor approaching the island of Björkö sees first a bare rock due south of the site of Birka. On this rock was a fortress and a place of refuge if the town were attacked, surrounded by a rampart of earth and stones 25' to 50' across, oval in plan and with three gates: one facing north, one south, and one facing east towards the town. Outside the northern gate was the garrison that manned the fortress. North-east of the northern gate is the modern "Black Earth" area upon which the historical site was situated. Two types of houses were in use at Birka: wattle-and-daub homes, and timber or log houses caulked with clay. The settlement area occupies only 30 acres -- less than half the area of Hedeby. A defensive rampart surrounds the settlement, averaging 22' to 39' wide and 6 feet high. Gaps occurring in the line of the rampart indicate that there were probably square wooden towers along this fortification for further protection as well.

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