Legendary Viking town unearthed. The hidden centre of power for the first Danish kings may well have popped up from the soil in Northern Germany. Archaeologists have surprisingly found some 200 houses and piles of weapons.
Danish archaeologists believe they have found the remains of the fabled Viking town Silasthorp by the Schlei bay in northern Germany, near the Danish border.
According to texts from the 8th century, the town served as the centre of power for the first Scandinavian kings.
But historians have doubted whether Sliasthorp even existed. This doubt is now starting to falter, as archaeologists from Aarhus University are making one amazing discovery after the other in the German soil.
“This is huge. Wherever we dig, we find houses – we reckon there are around 200 of them,” says Andres Dobat, a lecturer in prehistoric archaeology at Aarhus University.
“And the houses we have dug up so far were filled with finds: beads, jewellery, pieces of broken glass, axes, keys and arrowheads.”
The finds support the archaeologists’ interpretation that the town belonged to the Viking elite and functioned as a military strategic centre.
Caltrops are very unpleasant to step on, and that makes them a useful tool in wars – and apparently they were used as early as in the Viking Age.
The first written sources for the history of Denmark – the Royal Frankish Annals from 804 – say that Silasthorp played an important role in the Viking Age.
The aggressive Viking king Godfred decided to turn the town into a military power centre near the border of the early Danish kingdom. At the start of the 9th century he arrived with his army to what was then a small settlement and turned it into a key strategic military location.
Itt was a clever choice of location. The long Dannevirke fortification was located only a few hundred metres to the south. So when there was a need for troop reinforcements at the border to the Carolingian Empire in Germany, they could easily step in from Sliasthorp.
The town’s numerous pit-houses could accommodate all of King Godfred’s warriors. This enabled the king to strike back in case Jutland was attacked by Charlemagne (c. 742-814), who ruled what we now know as Germany. He headed a superpower, which had just conquered and forcibly Christianised all of Northern Germany and which could potentially occupy Jutland too. With its location by the Schlei bay, Viking ships could easily transport personnel, weapons and food to and from the town.
King Godfred was king of the Danes from before 804 to around 810 – some 150 years before King Gorm the Old.
Godfred is the first Danish king who we know for sure existed. We know this from the Royal Frankish Annals, which was written by King Godfred’s enemies to the south – the Carolingians. The books detailed the power relations in and around the Carolingian Empire.
Godfred was in all likelihood not the only king in the area we today call Denmark. But we do know that loyal chiefs secured his power in Jutland and perhaps also southern Norway.
The attack took place long after King Godfred’s death. But even if he had been alive, it’s still unlikely that he witnessed the attack. Back then, kings were always on the go and rarely spent long periods at Sliasthorp.
As a consequence, the daily running of the town is likely to have been administered by the town chief, who lived in the lavish longhouse.
King Godfred and his men only lodged in Sliasthorp when they had business in the area.
“This is common European history. We have actually found the origins of what we today call Hamburg,” says Dobat.
“When the Vikings built this town and Hedeby, they were a precursor of Schleswig, which in the early Middle Ages was the great trading city in the region. Schleswig, in turn, was the precursor of Lübeck, which today has given way to Hamburg. We’re digging at the roots of world economy.”