First Swedish City was Metropolis of Viking-Era Immigrants
Researchers in Sweden have made an important discovery about one of the first cities in Sweden. They have conducted tests on a number of skeletons in Sigtuna and have found that many were Viking era immigrants from all over Europe. The researchers’ conclusion are astonishing because they are not only revealing much about the nature of urban life in the Viking era but also that the population was probably more diverse than previously believed.
The History of Sigtuna
Sigtuna, near Lake Mälaren, was one of the earliest cities in Scandinavia and it was founded about 980 AD by King Olof Skötkonung or King Eric the Victorious. It was a royal center and became a very important trading hub. It is regarded as Sweden’s first capital. Sigtuna was also an important ecclesiastical center. According to The Local.ie , it ‘soon grew into a major settlement of around 10,000 people, roughly the same population as Anglo-Saxon London’. The city went into decline after it was sacked by unknown raiders in the 12th century, but today it is a picturesque town, popular with visitors.
Coin minted for King Olof in Sigtuna. ( Public Domain )
Finding Viking Era Immigrants
There have been many excavations at Sigtuna and it is recognized as a major archaeological site. The remains of some 38 inhabitants who died in Sigtuna from the 10th to the 12th century and who had been buried in six Christian burial sites in and around the city were studied. Researchers used several scientific techniques, including DNA, osteology, and strontium analysis of the teeth, to understand the origins of the dead. The tests were conducted by researchers from Germany, Turkey, and Sweden.
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The analysis of the 38 human remains produced some striking results about their origins. According to Archaeology, experts ‘ found that around half came from the nearby Lake Mälaren area’. However, based on the strontium isotopes in their teeth and genetic differences it would appear, reports Heritage Daily that ‘half the population of Viking age Sigtuna originated from outside Mälardalen’ and were therefore immigrants.
The ruins and remains of the city Sigtuna in Sweden. ( Public Domain )
Further investigations of the dead indicated that those who came from outside the region were from a wide geographical area. There are indications that some of the immigrants came from other parts of Scandinavia, such as Norway, and others from the British Isles. To the surprise of the researchers, some of the dead originally came from Germany and Ukraine. Maja Krzewinska of Stockholm University has stated that ‘the new findings suggest they also played host to those who came from afar’.
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The importance of the Research
The findings are providing invaluable information on the migratory patterns of the Viking era. Today, we regard the Vikings as travelers, traders, and explorers who migrated to areas as far afield as Russia and North America. It now appears that Viking era Scandinavia was the destination for migrants, many from long- distances as well. The research also indicates that Sigtuna was also much more cosmopolitan than previously believed.
‘Vikings Heading for Land’ (1873) by Frank Dicksee. ( Public Domain )
The find is extraordinary because they provide a unique insight into the migratory patterns of peoples in the Viking era . This is because it is impossible to determine the DNA of those who lived before Christianization. Before the arrival of Christianity, the dead were cremated, and they cannot be examined with our current technology to determine their origins.
The study has surprised many and indicates that Sigtuna was a very diverse place, rather like a modern city. However, there are still many questions concerning the identity of the migrants: were they servants, slaves, or traders? One thing is certain, Sigtuna will remain a fascinating site for archaeologists and will no doubt provide more insights into the Viking era in the near future.
Top image: An adult man (ID 2072) buried at "Götes mack", in Sigtuna. The skeleton was discovered in 2008 when archaeologists took down a tree in a cemetery from the 11th century. The skeleton was attached to the roots. Sigtuna was a town full of Viking era immigrants. Source: Sigtuna Museum
By Ed Whelan