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The tale of Jomsborg tells of a thriving settlement with a formidable fortress on the Baltic.      Source: Mariusz Świtulski/Adobe Stock

Existence of Mythical Viking Stronghold of Jomsborg Acquires Teeth in Polish Discovery

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Investigations into the semi-mythical and legendary medieval Viking stronghold of ‘Jomsborg’ have acquired new steam, and in an entirely unexpected way. With the local government making the decision to construct an observation tower on Hangman Hill, on Wolin Island in the Baltic Sea, the expectation was that its chilling history would be uncovered, since it had served an execution ground, cemetery, and possibly even a site for human sacrifices. It turns out, however, that this current public park might have been a Viking military stronghold – namely the legendary Jomsborg!

Searching for Jomsborg: An Accidental Discovery

The expertise of Polish archaeologist Wojciech Filipowiak was enlisted for this lofty undertaking. His job was to examine the site before construction, searching for buried artifacts that could shed light on the area's dark and macabre past. Given its gruesome past, the potential for discomfiting discoveries was high, reports The New York Times.

However, to the surprise of everyone involved, the findings made by Filipowiak during his excavation were more thrilling than distasteful - the presence of charcoaled wood fragments strongly indicated the remnants of a 10th-century stronghold, potentially offering a breakthrough in solving one of the great mysteries of the Viking Age.

“It is very exciting,” said Dr. Filipowiak, also a scholar in Wolin with the archaeology and ethnology section of Poland’s Academy of Sciences. “It could solve a mystery going back more than 500 years: Where is Jomsborg?”

Poland Baltic Sea. (Ess Threefive/CC BY-SA 3.0)

Poland Baltic Sea. (Ess Threefive/CC BY-SA 3.0)

It has long been known that Nordic warriors established outposts more than a millennium ago along Poland's Baltic coast. These Vikings not only engaged in the slave trade, enslaving indigenous Slavic peoples to meet the demands of a booming market, but also traded in valuable commodities like salt and amber.

Despite this knowledge, the specific location of the Vikings' largest settlement in the area, a town and military stronghold referred to as Jomsborg in early 12th-century texts and linked to a possibly mythical mercenary order known as Jomsvikings, remained elusive. Indeed, Jomsvikings have found mention in some 12th and 13th century Icelandic sagas too, reports The Heritage Daily.

Modern scholars have held differing views on Jomsborg, with some considering it nothing more than a literary invention passed down through generations. However, the discoveries made on Hangman Hill may challenge this perception and potentially alter the prevailing narrative.

According to Karolina Kokora, the director of Wolin's history museum, the elusive 10th-century settlement known as Jomsborg can be described as a "medieval New York on the Baltic." It was a bustling trading hub with a diverse population comprising Vikings, Germanic peoples, and Slavs.

This settlement would, however, mysteriously vanish from historical records, leaving behind only fragments of evidence in archaic texts. It is believed to have been a thriving town with thousands of inhabitants, complete with a formidable fortress and a long pier to accommodate the Viking ships that traversed the Baltic, reaching as far as North America. The presence of enslaved Slavs traded along the Baltic coast during the first millennium has even been discovered thousands of miles away in Morocco.

As scholars and researchers continue to sift through pottery shards and other excavated remnants, it becomes clear that the Vikings did not excel in pottery production. Instead, they relied on Slavic artisans for their ceramic needs.

Hangman Hill Barrows, Wolin, Poland near to where the recent discovery was made. (CC BY 3.0)

Hangman Hill Barrows, Wolin, Poland near to where the recent discovery was made. (CC BY 3.0)

Resurgence of Viking Fascination: A Tricky Tryst with Nazism

The newfound interest in Viking culture - largely fueled by popular television series like "Vikings", movies, graphic novels, and video games - has catapulted the Viking Age into the realm of popular culture, expanding its appeal beyond the confines of academic study. Indeed, this comes with its fair share of baggage – television depictions are often inaccurate, poorly researched, and Norse themes, clothing, and symbols have all been thrown into the fray of ahistoricism.

On the other hand, this surge in Viking fascination has had a positive impact on the tourism industry in Wolin. Ewa Grzybowska, the mayor of Wolin, acknowledges the allure of Vikings and their ability to attract significant interest, describing them as “sexy”. There is an over-fetishization of Vikings that also ties up with poorly understood depictions of Nordic genetics – tall, blue-eyed, blonde/redheads, amongst others.

During the Nazi era, Wolin, which was part of Germany until 1945, became the focus of intense archaeological investigations. The Nazis sought to find evidence of Viking presence to support their ideology of Aryan supremacy and the dominance of the Nordic race during the early medieval period. Following World War II, Polish archaeologists continued the search for artifacts, aiming to strengthen Poland's claim on former German lands and reinforce a sense of national identity.

The legacy of this complex history can still be felt today. Schools in Wolin once organized re-enactments of Viking invasions along Poland's Baltic coast, and for many years after World War II, more children aspired to be Slavic defenders of the island. Yet, as Poland transitioned away from communism and embraced a more Western orientation, the desire to be associated with Vikings surged.

Jomsborg Found?

The quest to locate Jomsborg and determine its historical authenticity has been a protracted and spirited discussion among experts. However, Dr. Filipowiak, the archaeologist involved in the recent discovery at Hangman Hill, believes that his findings offer significant progress in resolving this debate.

While further analysis and research are necessary to establish the full extent and importance of the unearthed remains, Filipowiak expresses a level of confidence, suggesting that there is already an "80 percent certainty" that the site corresponds to the 10th-century stronghold associated with Jomsborg.

“The debate over Jomsborg’s location — or if it really existed — has been a very long discussion. Hopefully, I can help end it,” concluded Dr. Filipowiak.

Top image: The tale of Jomsborg tells of a thriving settlement with a formidable fortress on the Baltic.      Source: Mariusz Świtulski/Adobe Stock

By Sahir Pandey

References

Higgins, A. 2023. A Centuries-Old Mystery: Did This Elusive Viking City Exist? Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2023/05/18/world/europe/poland-vikings-wolin-jomsborg.html.

Milligan, M. 2023. ARCHAEOLOGIST SUGGESTS LOCATION OF LEGENDARY VIKING SETTLEMENT OF JOMSBORG. Available at: https://www.heritagedaily.com/2023/05/archaeologist-suggests-location-of-legendary-viking-settlement-of-jomsborg/147482

TVH S. 2023. Jomsborg: The mythical Viking stronghold. Available at: https://thevikingherald.com/article/jomsborg-the-mythical-viking-stronghold/19.

 
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Sahir

I am a graduate of History from the University of Delhi, and a graduate of Law, from Jindal University, Sonepat. During my study of history, I developed a great interest in post-colonial studies, with a focus on Latin America. I... Read More

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