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Trelleborg - Danish Viking Fortress

On the West coast of Zealand, near the town of Slagelse, you find an important part of Danish history - an excavated viking fortress.

[Trelleborg Viking Fortress - a model]

The model gives a good overview of the fortress as it looked when it was functional. Using the dendrochronological method, comparing the number and size of rings in the wood found, researchers have dated the building of the fortress back to the period of autumn 980 - spring 981 AD. It is 6 ha. large and housed approximately 450 to 500 vikings, which was the size of a large town at the time. The vikings lived in the houses inside the main wall. The houses outside the main wall - except for two - didn't have fireplaces in them, which has led researchers to conclude that those houses were used for storage and possibly workshops. The open square field all the way back center behind the two houses inside the outer wall is the cemetery. Excavations have shown that both the vikings from the fortress and probably attackers of the fortress are buried there - the attackers thrown together in mass graves. Non of the graves were chieftain graves, like the Ladbyskibet viking grave at Ladby, Funen, which indicates that the "viking generals" were either buried near their family home, or so far from the Trelleborg compound that the grave locations have been destroyed. Looting a chieftain grave was considered a show of strength during the viking age - 800-1050 AD.

[The moat and wall of the fortress]

What you see today is the foundation of the fortress. Imagine the walls steeper, covered with oak planks, and the four gates - of which you see the excavated Southern gate on the picture - covered, like tunnels, with heavy oak doors, water in the moat and some wooden defences installed in the moat itself.

[The only entry into the fortress]

The only entrance into the fortress was across a bridge over the moat and through the Western gate, which can be seen above. The excavations from 1934 to 1942 revealed a number of arrowheads and scorched materials at the Western gate, which indicate that the gate was under attack at least once.

[The fortress was divided into four areas]

Inside the fortress were some of the only real roads, made of oak planks, constructed during the viking age - they were extremely rare, and were probably considered status symbols.

The main means of transport then were the waterways, as indicated by the location of Trelleborg at the joining of two (what used to be) rivers close by. Still, Trelleborg wasn't closer to the rivers than it was possible to keep it hidden from the rivers.

[The house poles are indicated using concrete]

During the excavation, the pole holes from the houses that were built inside the walls were capped with concrete, in order to give a better visualization of the size and location of the houses.

[A reconstructed viking house]

Based on the discoveries made during the excavations, a house was re-built along the design lines indicated by the pole holes. Again, the house is made of oak, and one house has probably had 36-50 inhabitants who lived and slept there. Not much privacy in those days. To the left of the picture you can see the reconstruction of a viking ship underway.


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Copyright © Hans-Henrik T. Ohlsen 1996-2009

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