VIKING DENMARK AND EARLY MEDIEVAL ITALY
a possibility for a comparison
Signs of cultural
and economic change can be traced in the transformation of settlement
patterns, given that their structure was usually determined by inhabitants
and political authorities interested in controlling and economically
exploiting the territory.
Therefore it could
be relevant to discover which important transformations in settlement
patterns were taking place in different areas of Europe during the
same chronological period. In Romance Europe when the feudal system
was already in use, a new concept emerged in the administration
of land property, the so-called incastellamento, implemented
by local landowners (nobles or clergymen) in order to display their
personal power and wealth.
The decadence of the
Roman villa system generated a situation of instability,
and as a consequence settlements were abandoned or reorganized around
a new centre, the castle, so that they would be protected and controlled
in a more efficient way.
However, during the
research for my master thesis,  it was possible to verify that
similar dynamics were recognizable also during the Viking Age in
Denmark. Danish aristocratic manors and Italian castles had a similar
history: they were both first residences for landlords, and then
they became real settlements with military, commercial, and productive
activities within their walls.
Moreover towns in Denmark
had been founded since the late Viking Age (around the tenth-eleventh
centuries), often in places already in use for commercial or political
purposes. Before towns all the productive activities were usually
limited to the domestic sphere. Towns offered a new environment
more similar to the one known in other European areas.
In Italy the situation
was different. Towns and bigger cities were inherited from the Roman
Age with a long tradition derived from Greek colonies and Etruscan
areas. But during the Middle Ages Italian towns were in decline,
suffering a deep crisis related to economic and political problems.
After having a look
at similar examples, I think that Viking Age in Denmark and the
Early Middle Ages in Italy (more or less from 800 until 1100-1200)
were both a period of experimentation, with changes in economy,
society and, as a consequence, in settlement pattern.
Therefore this article
presents a possibility to compare early medieval Italy and Viking
Age Denmark, two realities traditionally considered very different
from the point of view of transformations of settlements patterns.
I believe that such a study could be useful in order to better understand
what was happening in medieval Europe concerning the relationship
between social background, settlement patterns, and the adoption
of new models. My aim is to here make a base for a comparative study,
discussing structural analogies of settlement patterns and building
technique, introducing only some issues related to social and political
background, which could be treated more efficiently in further research.
I hope to be able to
refer to these analogies in the future, extending this comparison
to Scandinavia and other areas in Southern Europe; therefore I am
introducing a formal approach, in order to individuate valid elements
extracted from the structure of settlements. This approach basically
consists of a system of five parameters freely inspired by Weber's
ideal-types method, as presented by David L. D'Avray. 
In the following section,
I present settlement patterns in Italy and Denmark by showing the
most discussed settlements, in order to offer a general overview,
focusing on chronology, archaeological data, and related problems.
The third section describes
my method of analysis in order to obtain a more systematic point
of view. My method is then applied in the fourth section, where
settlements from Italy and Denmark are discussed from a comparative
perspective in order to research analogies and differences; and
in the fifth section conclusions and possible future research is
looking for analogies between Denmark and Italy
This article has
as its main point to compare the Viking Age in Denmark and the Early
Middle Ages in Italy; I have already fixed the geographical context,
presented by the territorial extension of Denmark and Italy, more
or less as they are today. It could be interesting to find a chronological
frame in which to study changes in settlement patterns, as a process.
I will start to look at the two countries and the two periods separately,
analysing their individual limits as defined by the previously conducted
Traditionally the Early
Middle Ages in Italy is supposed to have begun in 476, with the
fall of the Western Roman Empire and the deposition of the last
emperor, the young Romulus Augustulus, by the barbarian Odoacer.
From that moment the Western Roman Empire was officially decayed
and new entities were to replace it, the so-called Roman-Barbarian
kingdoms, with a mixed population (Latin and Barbarian) ruled by
barbarian kings; only the Eastern Roman Empire survived, with its
capital in Byzantium. 
This period has traditionally
been called the Middle Ages by historians, in opposition to the
Roman Age, and the result was a polarization: the Roman Age was
described as an advanced time, with a good lifestyle, sophisticated
culture, and an efficient central organization, while the Middle
Ages represented only decay in civilization.
It has generally been
supposed that a proper civilization started again only after the
year 1000, which represented a crucial moment in history: new technologies,
the wider spread use of coins, economic growth, and the founding
of new market places. Therefore it became common to distinguish
between the Early and Late Middle Ages, separated by the eleventh
century, as conventional reference. This flourishing was supposed
to have continued until the end of the Middle Ages and the start
of the Renaissance, traditionally fixed to the last twenty years
of the fifteenth century.
But this was the traditional
chronology, while according to more recent studies,
 the period between the fifth and the seventh centuries
had a specific cultural context derived from a mixture of different
elements: Germanic and Eastern European elements brought to Italy
with the barbarian invasions and preserved in the Roman-Barbarian
kingdoms; Oriental from the Eastern Roman Empire and Byzantium,
whose soldiers were a constant presence on Italian territory, as
they had been ordered to restore the extension of the Roman Empire.
Following these new
definitions, scholars do not consider the year 1000 as crucial anymore.
Today more attention is given to finding a gradual transition between
the Early and Late Middle Ages. Therefore it is now generally supposed
that the Early Middle Ages started around the eighth century and
ended more or less during the eleventh and the twelfth centuries.
The chronological definition
of the Viking Age was no less problematic. Hence it has been suggested
that the definition of Viking Age be applied to the period between
the first Danish and Norwegian raids in Western Europe, about the
800, until the total collapse of Danish power in England, in the
middle of the eleventh century.
Viking raids are still
a difficult phenomenon to explain, and therefore it has been suggested
that the lack of land and famine caused by huge demographic growth,
induced a great part of the population to travel, trade, and steal
goods from other European countries. 
But looking at the
territorial situation of the Scandinavian countries, it seems that
Denmark and Sweden could offer enough cultivable land to the local
population, maybe only in Norway could the situation be problematic
because a vast area of its territory is occupied by mountains.
Hence it was proposed
that Vikings went to Western and Eastern Europe in order to collect
precious goods and establish new trading connections with other
countries.  As
proof of this theory could, in fact, be seen that the most important
consequence of the raids was the creation of a broad trade-network
involving Western (the British Isles, Frankia, the Low Countries,
and Germany) and Eastern Europe (Finland, the Baltic countries,
and Russia), as well as the Atlantic regions (Iceland, Greenland,
and Anse-aux-Meadows in Canada).
Another important issue
is represented by the conversion to Christianity, which was completed
only in the beginning of the Middle Ages (around the eleventh and
twelfth centuries). Danish Vikings, the first Scandinavians touched
by conversion, were suspended between the traditional pagan religion
and the new imported cult. Moreover, around the eleventh and twelfth
centuries important changes took place in society and a new balance
was established in the state.
It is interesting to
note that after the process of conversion was completed, Vikings
were involved in a different kind of military expedition: crusades
to convert Eastern Europe and the Baltic area to Christianity. Therefore
it seems that the Middle Ages in Scandinavia started at the latest
in the twelfth century, as proved by some relevant phenomena dated
to that period: 
1. The constitution
of medieval states, which were the starting points for the modern
2. The conversion of
all Scandinavia to Christianity and the banishment of the old religion.
3. The end of the raids
directed to Western Europe.
4. The permanent loss
of the domination of the British Isles always contended between
Denmark and Norway.
Now, if I try to compare
the chronological limits between the Viking Age in Denmark and the
Early Middle Ages in Italy it is possible to find a real correspondence:
they more or less comprehended a period between the eighth and the
twelfth centuries, and this could be one point to consider in my
Considering the archaeological
data it is possible to see that they present more or less the same
characteristics in both countries. Buildings and other structures
were made of perishable materials, therefore very little of them
have been preserved until now, only negative impressions in the
soil such as post-holes, ditches or ground layers have survived.
This means that the building quality was not generally as good in
Denmark as it was in Italy, although the quality was quite poor
in both areas. The economic investment in private houses was usually
low and people often built their own houses. It also means that
methodological problems in studying and excavating Denmark and Italy
are not very different.
My goal is to prove
that, between the eighth and the twelfth centuries, a phenomenon
of redefining the settlement patterns happened in a similar way
in both Denmark and Italy. I do not expect to find any direct connections
or exactly the same processes, but I want to find and show some
analogies concerning innovations in settlement patterns and building
techniques derived from social and political changes.
In the following section
I present the general situation of the two countries, focusing on
the development of settlement patterns, by showing some examples
focusing mainly on:
1. The structure of
settlement patterns, paying attention to function and people.
2. The planning and
founding of settlements by political authorities.
3. The changes in settlement
patterns as the consequence of social and political changes.
This data could say
something more about Europe between the eighth and the twelfth centuries,
if applied to a larger European context, given that the economy
was generally based on agriculture, and that political authorities
always took care of the same major problems: war and defence, administration
of territory, and interaction with religion.
It is generally possible
to recognize four kinds of settlements in Viking Age Denmark: rural
villages, towns, aristocratic manors, and circular fortresses.
the building technique was quite simple and based on perishable
materials: wooden posts and planks were the backbone of the buildings,
straw and wattle with clay, mud, and cow dung formed the main structure
of walls and roofs of the houses.
The most common kind
of settlement was the rural village, with a structure determined
mainly by the necessities connected with agriculture and breeding,
the most popular activity during the Viking and the Middle Ages.
A rural Viking village
was basically composed of a group of farms, each of them located
on an elevated position, a small hill called toft, and delimited
by fences or ditches dug into the ground. Every farm comprehended
a variable number of buildings, all of them disposed around the
central area of the toft, which was left empty. The central
area of the whole settlement was sometimes left empty, probably
because the whole community used it for social purposes. This peculiar
configuration is called by the old Danish word, forte, which
indicated the central empty area. A good example of this pattern
is represented by Sædding and some Iron Age villages,  like Hodde from the last century BC and Vorbasse
in the fifth century,
 the last phase before the Viking Age village. 
The most important
building in a farm was certainly the long-house, a huge building
divided into two main rooms: a longer one used as a stable and a
shorter one used as dwelling quarters.  The internal area was further divided into
three naves by freestanding posts, called suler-posts, which
carried the roof. The suler-posts gradually disappeared and
by the end of the Viking Age the roof was carried only by the perimeter
Around the long-house
there were several smaller outbuildings, structured as pit-houses
and pit-huts, sunk deep into the ground and of different shapes
(round, oval, and rectangular), all of them had a specific purpose:
storerooms, smithies or workshops for making textiles.
Several Viking villages
presented a gradual shift in their location, usually after a period
of circa one or two generations. Therefore archaeologists started
to talk about “wandering” or “migrating villages”. A number of explanations
were proposed to understand this phenomenon, for example: geological
transformations or the frequency of sand storms, an acceptable theory
for the area around Vorbasse but not for everywhere.  Then it was suggested that farmers were moving
simply because they were looking for new territory to exploit,  and this seemed to fit with the fact that
Viking villages became permanent at the end of the Viking Age when
new technologies were discovered in agriculture, such as the wheel
plough, which was used by all the inhabitants. It is possible that
people started on similar occasions to show a new interest in keeping
their land and tying ties of solidarity with other farmers in the
village. Moreover the concept of land-property also became more
relevant in the new law code.
For example, the village
at Vorbasse presents two sectors of occupation: the Eastern sector,
the older part of the village, dated to between the eighth and tenth
centuries, it represents the usual long houses with suler-posts.
The Western sector, dated to the eleventh century, included three
farms and represented the new kind of long houses with the roof
carried by the walls and the central room left completely free.
The village was again moved 500m further south during the twelfth
century to the place where the actual Vorbasse lays.
Viking Age villages
were very traditional settlements, while towns were a brand new
pattern, which created a different environment for human activities.
Danish towns arose
in several ways: some of them were previously seasonal market places,
other towns were founded directly by a king for special reasons,
and lastly some towns were the meeting places for the ting
or for celebrating religious rites.
Towns, that were seasonal
market places, had their first phase of occupation around the eighth
century, which is testified by very simple structures, such as houses
or huts sunken into the ground and mostly used as shops or workshops.
Later, usually around
the ninth and the tenth centuries, the urban phase started because
the king wanted to have permanent buildings built in those areas
as well as defensive walls in order to much as possible exploit
the productivity of these places. 
Ribe, a town located
in Western Jutland on the river Ribe, followed this development:
it was a seasonal market place around the year 700, with a good
number of workshops that occupied the same area for a long time.
It was even supposed that, before the urban phase, the king or one
of his officers ruled the place, assigning space to merchants and
artisans.  As the site grew, it received
defensive walls and became a permanent settlement. It also moved
from the Northern to the Southern bank of the river, where the cathedral
was built. In the twelfth century, at the end of the Viking Age,
Ribe was a lively town with a bishop and a famous trading place.
Another group of towns
was directly founded by the king for special purposes, as in the
case of Hedeby in Schleswig, Northern Germany. Hedeby was founded
by king Godfred at the beginning of the ninth century, probably
to improve the defence of the borderline, the Danevirke.  Later the city became a market place where
merchants and craftsmen had to pay tribute to the king in order
to rent space for their activity. Soon the place attracted a lot
of people from everywhere, and in the ninth and tenth centuries
at least one thousand people lived there, a church and a mint for
coins were built, and from 948 the town is mentioned in written
sources as the seat of a bishop.
The foundation of Ribe
and Hedeby can be connected with king Harald Bluetooth, who was
also involved in the building of the monumental area at Jelling,
the circular fortresses, and then in the process of conversion to
Ribe, Hedeby, and Århus
started their urban phase in the same period, around the ninth and
tenth centuries, and they all had a circular defensive rampart with
the same kind of building technique and structure known from the
circular fortresses Trelleborg, Fyrkat, Aggersborg, and Nonnebakken.
The last group of towns
I am going to consider includes places used for social purposes
such as the ting meeting or pagan rites.
 They were turned into towns by the kings at the end of
the Viking Age by receiving administrative and market centres as
well as new sacred and residential areas. Later on those settlements
followed the same development already presented from the afore mentioned
However, this theory
is a little controversial because it is mainly based on place names
or on small archaeological finds connected to rituals. For instance
Lund, a town in Scania (in Southern Sweden), was founded by Sven
Forkbeard. In the ninth century Lund became a trading place, and
then in the tenth century under the reign of Cnut the Great, it
was mentioned as one of the largest towns in Denmark, well known
as a centre for religion and trade. Not very much is known about
Lund before it became a town; however, archaeologists suppose it
was a sacred area basically because the name Lund means “little
A similar origin could
be recognized for Ringsted, while Odense and Viborg were probably
used for the ting meetings. Moreover also Odense had a circular
fortress, indicating the strategic position of the site itself:
located in the middle of the island of Fyn, on the fjord. 
In conclusion I can
argue that Denmark had its first towns in the Viking age, where
there before were trading or social meeting places. Then the Danish
kings wanted to plan the structure of those places in order to make
them permanent and more productive, and therefore they set defensive
walls and administrative centres, and people were allowed to live
and work in towns in exchange for paying rents and tributes. Towns,
with their market places, permitted a better development of the
economic activities giving new relevance to the creation of better
quality artefacts, usually connected with the domestic sphere.  In that way the settlement became more similar
to our concept of a town: a geographic area with a good number of
people, a particular juridical status and economic activities, evolving
gradually into a proper cultural and social context.
 When Christianity came to Denmark the process continued
in a way more similar to other European areas. Moreover clergymen
had churches built in towns, and they represented a religious authority
connected to the central hierarchy, reinforcing the connections
with the core of Europe.
The next kind of settlement
I will discuss is represented by aristocratic manors. These settlements
present a central monumental area, with a huge long house as the
main building, called “hall”. A series of pit-houses were placed
around the hall and they were used as storerooms and workshops,
like in a market place.
found on these sites include high quality artefacts such as weapons,
jewels, and amulets made of bronze, silver, and gold.
Structure and archaeological
materials suggested to archaeologists that these settlements were
aristocratic manors: the hall was the residence of the lord and
workshops were collected all around it in order to provide anything
the lord needed.
It is also possible
that the lord wanted to hire merchants and artisans to work for
him near his residence in order to control the commercial activity
connected with his territory and probably collecting a rent for
the space occupied by the workshops. It has also been suggested
that he could offer special conditions to the workers to encourage
them to come under his control by granting them favours, giving
precious presents and by hiring a private army that could assure
protection and stability for the settlement.
However, this kind
of pattern represents an exception and only a few sites can be considered
aristocratic manors. The most studied are Lejre and Tissø.
Lejre is today a small
village, located on the river Lejre that flows into the Roskilde
fjord on Zealand Island; the site was dated by the archaeological
findings: it seems it was founded in the seventh and abandoned in
the tenth century. 
The first mentions
of Lejre in written sources come from Icelandic sagas, Danish chronicles
and the Gesta Danorum by Saxo Grammaticus. Saxo wrote that
Skjold, Odin’s son and founder of the most ancient Danish royal
dynasty, the Scyldings, chose Lejre to be their personal residence.
Moreover Lejre Chronicle, written in the twelfth century,
gives a long list of names: kings who lived there, many of which
were related to the Scyldings dynasty.
Tissø has its location
in Zealand too, on the lake Tissø, 7km from the Store Bælt coast.
This area is famous since the seventies due to the discovery of
precious archaeological materials, for example: in 1977 a two kilogram
golden necklace was found and dated to the year 1000.  Then in 1979 two graves of
decapitated men were discovered, dated by the C-14 method to a period
around 1030-1040.  According to typological analysis
conducted on the found material, it seems that occupation of the
site started in the sixth century and ended suddenly in the first
half of the eleventh century.
The monumental area
at Tissø comprehended the hall and an enclosure, probably consecrated
to Tir's cult,  as testified by the finding of jewels and
weapons in an area close to a hill, along the lakeshores. Traces
of similar rituals were found in other places in Denmark, as the
lake Søborg and the river Væreborg in Zealand, then in Kolindsund
area in Djurlsand, Eastern Jutland.
It is remarkable that
both places were connected with the Vikings’ mythical traditions,
such as old rituals or a holy dynasty of kings, and peculiar artefacts
not known from other sites underlined their relevance. For example,
glazed pot shards of lead were found at Lejre hall. They were produced
with local clay but the shape and technique were very close to English
pottery from the same period, the tenth and eleventh centuries.
Therefore it was supposed that lords of Lejre hired English ceramists
when England and Denmark were ruled by the same king. 
A lead seal found at
Tissø testifies the political relevance of this place; the seal
represents the portrait of a military officer from Byzantium, Patrikios
Theodosios who had the titles of Chartularios and Protospatharios.
In 840 he was responsible for the armoury and the enlistment office;
therefore it is possible that he came to Scandinavia to hire new
mercenaries and to buy iron for the army. 
These finds suggest
that aristocratic manors had a special relevance. They were probably
considered administrative centres, also known abroad; the same finds
give us evidence of an aristocratic lifestyle and lords who were
probably active in the exploitation of both trade and land-property.
At last a very interesting
settlement pattern is represented by circular fortresses, which
had a peculiar configuration, known only in a limited number of
sites, all of them located in Denmark: Trelleborg in Zealand, Aggersborg,
and Fyrkat in Jutland, then at last Nonnebakken on Fyn Island and
another Trelleborg in Scania (in the Viking Age Scania was part
of the Danish kingdom) were presumably circular fortresses, but
a systematic study has not yet been done.
All the fortresses
had a strong geometrical structure that can indicate the presence
of a conscious project. It has been suggested that a similar pattern
could be motivated by necessities connected with military activity.
The structure is almost
the same in every place: a circular defensive rampart made of timber
and covered with turf, which surrounded the core of the settlement.
The street system included a circular road that followed the layout
of the rampart and surrounded all of the inner space, and two main
orthogonal streets, which started from the four entrances, located
at the four cardinal points and crossing each other at the geometrical
centre of the settlement.
The orthogonal streets
divided the inner space into four living quarters, in which four
houses were situated as in a square, with a square court and sometimes
a smaller house in the middle; all the dimensions of the buildings
were based upon a modified version of the Roman foot.
A different kind of
long house was found in fortresses, called trelleborg house,
after the name of Trelleborg, the first fortress to be excavated.
 Those houses had basically the shape of a common long
house, rectangular with bowed long sides, but with some structural
differences: the roof was carried by a row of external posts, fixed
into the ground at an angle of 20º towards the wall. Thus the inner
space was divided into three rooms: two smaller rooms were located
at the gables and used as storerooms, and a larger central room
was used for living, as confirmed by the presence of fireplaces.
The discovery of circular
fortresses immediately provoked a discussion and different theories
were proposed to explain the structure and function of such a pattern.
Moreover the fortresses were located in isolated places, on hills
surrounded by waterways as impossible to sail in the Viking Age
as they are today; therefore the theory that the fortresses would
have been market places has been discarded. 
At first it was suggested
that Trelleborg was a kind of military centre, used to muster and
train the army, thus it was also thought that Svein Forkbeard wanted
the fortresses built, maybe in connection with the conquest of England,
around the year 1013. This theory seemed partially proved by Icelandic
sagas, in which special military places are mentioned where soldiers
were trained for war, and women and children were not allowed to
at Trelleborg, and new ones at Aggersborg between 1945 and 1954,
and then Fyrkat between 1950 and 1963 clarified the situation: a
huge number of feminine jewels, especially brooches, loom-weights,
and spindle-whorls, were found in the fortresses testifying the
presence of women in the fortresses.
materials from Trelleborg were dated by dendrochronology to the
years 980-981, the end of Harald Bluetooth's reign.
 The buildings in the fortress did not present signs of
repair, indicating that they were only used for a short time, probably
abandoned before the year 1000.
Data from the other
fortresses correspond to the dating of Trelleborg, proving that
Harald Bluetooth, and not Sven Forkbeard, was behind the planning
of the fortresses. He probably wanted a place to muster his army
and his officers, to assure better control over the territory of
his kingdom, which comprehended all of Denmark and the islands,
Schleswig in Northern Germany, Scania in Southern Sweden and Southern
Norway.  Thus archaeological artefacts proved the
existence of trading and handicrafts inside the fortresses, suggesting
that the king hired artisans and merchants to provide anything needed.
In conclusion it is
possible to say that settlement patterns and the choice of different
kinds of buildings were determined by functional necessities, connected
with economic or military activities. An authority (king or lord)
often planned and decided the foundation of new settlements. This
involvement depended on the possibility to take commercial or strategic
advantages, therefore a settlement could sometimes not survive,
if an authority was no longer interested in it.
related to the end of the Roman Age and Late Antiquity, between
the fifth and the eighth centuries, shows a change in settlement
patterns and building techniques throughout all of the Italian territory,
for example: from an organic and centred pattern to a more fragmented
one and then from brick and stone to perishable materials. 
Most of the information
concerning the Early Middle Ages comes from sites abandoned around
the fifth or the sixth century or converted into Lombard cemeteries
where buildings could leave evident traces in the ground without
being compromised by new structures. 
This entire phenomenon
was probably produced by an economic recession, connected to the
political situation left by the so called Gothic War (535-553) fought
between Barbarian and Byzantine armies, and the decline of the Latin-Barbarian
ruling class, which created a fragmentation of the central power
into smaller entities. 
In that situation all
Roman infrastructures, such as streets, bridges and public places
could not be maintained as before for economic or bureaucratic reasons,
and also because the social context was changing and a lot of these
structures were simply abandoned or used for other purposes.
The Italian territory
was at this time administrated only on a local scale, without central
coordination, contrary to the Roman Age. As a consequence of this
situation the Roman villa system decayed and a relevant reduction
was registered in the number of organic and centred settlements.
is not enough information to precisely describe all the phases in
settlements and the evolution of houses: written sources are not
detailed, they usually do not mention the configuration of the settlement
and only sometimes, if relevant, the type of buildings and their
disposition. Especially for the sixth and seventh centuries archaeological
traces consist only of ground layers or post-holes.
A possible pattern
of evolution has been proposed, articulated into three stages and
based on the combination of historical and archaeological sources,
and sometimes on analogies between different areas in the Italian
1. From the fifth to
the sixth century a chaotic pattern is usually found,
 characterized by a parasitic occupation of old buildings,
made of brick and stone, incorporated into new wooden structures.
Stone and brick were only used for special elements such as roofs,
fireplaces and foundations.
2. From the sixth to
the seventh century wood became the most important building material
together with straw, clay or mud and vegetable bindings. The most
common buildings were long houses and huts, sometimes sunk deep
into the ground. This phase is characterized by few and fragile
traces that are not easy to recognize as they are compromised by
more recent buildings made of bricks and stones, which have been
built over them at least since the eleventh century.
3. From the eighth
to the tenth centuries, perishable materials were still used and
a new kind of hut appeared, rectangular in shape with wooden posts
as the load-bearing structure.
Then at the end of
the tenth century stone and brick gradually started to be used again,
especially for aristocratic and defensive structures.
In the countryside
perishable materials have always been used, and only around the
twelfth and the thirteenth centuries is it possible to find the
first rural houses made of brick, while the last two phases of occupation
are represented by wooden buildings and settlement patterns comparable
to the Danish ones. These changes were brought by economic and technical
necessities since people were building or adjusting their own houses
in towns as well as in the countryside, and perishable materials
were cheap, easy to find in woods and not very difficult to use.
Therefore old techniques, never abandoned in the countryside, were
rediscovered in the towns, maybe also thanks to the introduction
of Barbarian customs. 
During the Roman Age
professional builders were often hired from the central state to
build new structures or to maintain the older ones, but now the
lack of a strong central power, the fragmentation of the territory
together with an economic crisis (partially derived from the Gothic
war) created a situation in which common land workers had to take
care of the maintenance of buildings, even though they did not have
the necessary skills.
patterns were determined by economic and work necessities, and in
the Early Middle Ages it is generally possible to recognize three
types: rural villages, towns, and castles.
In Early medieval Italy
the general situation in the countryside appeared precarious after
the crisis and the abandonment of the Roman villas, rural villages
were simply groups of houses spread over the territory.
During the Early Middle
Ages several settlements changed their location because farmers
were looking for safer places to live or because a local authority
(noble or clergyman) decided to change the location for economic
and political reasons.
Many villages were
moved to places naturally defended by mountains and hills, creating
a new pattern: the so called hill-top village,
 characterized by a small extension, narrow houses very
close to each other, and usually with several vertical levels.
Other villages remained
on the lowlands but they were reorganized around new sacred places
(a parish, monastery, or abbey) or around landowner's residence,
becoming nucleated villages.
For instance Monte
Zignago in Liguria (North-Western Italy) was a hilltop village,
placed on a flattened crest with an average elevation of 670-680m
above sea level. During the Early Middle Ages buildings were made
entirely of wood or wood mixed with stone. The disposition of houses
is peculiar because a certain distance was left between them in
order to exploit the surrounding ground as an orchard. In the thirteenth
century new houses, a tower and a fence were built with local stone
and limestone. 
Anteggi (Liguria, North-Wetern
Italy) on the other hand continued to be a spread rural village
until the beginning of the Late Middle Ages (around the twelfth
and the thirteenth centuries) when it was abandoned. However, the
building technique of this village followed the general tendency,
and in the thirteenth century houses were made of local stone, cut
and assembled with clay, forming an irregular texture.
But the situation of
the countryside continued to be difficult for a long time, and many
villages were abandoned or turned into different settlements, for
example: hill-top villages, included in a big land property, were
turned into fortified sites or castles.
In Italy the town pattern
was inherited from the Roman Age, in fact most of the medieval towns
were founded during the Roman Empire and they are still inhabited
today, lying more or less on their original location.
However, Italian towns
suffered a deep crisis that started after the falling of the Western
Roman Empire and its ruling class; towns and big cities became smaller
and lost their previous relevance until the thirteenth century when
they gained a new independent status becoming liberi comuni.
The most visible effect
of the urban crisis was a strong demographical contraction, which
left large empty areas that were promptly converted into vineyards,
and also fields and olive-groves. Therefore in the seventies and
eighties scholars thought that the urban lifestyle became more similar
to the rural one, so they invented expressions like ruralisation
 But today this theory is no longer supported because
archaeological material and written sources testify that, even during
this crisis, towns maintained their economic and political importance
in the territory because of the presence of market places as well
as political and religious authorities.
Moreover, also rich
landowners lived in towns, and they made an important contribution
to preserving the urban lifestyle by competing against each other,
and by building churches and palaces.
However, the urban
crisis created different situations and deep changes. A good example
is represented by Ravenna, a town located in central Italy, close
to the Adriatic coast (Emilia-Romagna). Ravenna was founded by Valentinian
III in the fifth century and the same structure is still preserved
today. After the fall of the Roman Empire the town became one of
the capitals of the Byzantine Empire and later of the Ostrogothic
kingdom. Ravenna maintained its status but it suffered the crisis,
aggravated by geological changes at the burgus of Classe,
the commercial harbour of the town. The coastline started to advance
and a broad, sandy plain appeared; today the same area is occupied
by a pinewood. 
The situation was different
in Southern Italy, where more than half of the Roman cities were
abandoned before the sixth and seventh centuries.
Other towns changed
their location, for example Altino in Veneto (North-East Italy)
and Ventimiglia in Liguria on the French border (North-Western Italy).
Other towns lost their
relevance and were gradually isolated because of the new political
balance or battles over territory.
For instance Luni,
located in Liguria (North-Western Italy), was a very important Byzantine
fortification (castrum) during the sixth century, defending
a strategic place on the Ligurian hills not far from the coast.
Things changed when
the Lombards entered Italy in 568 under the reign of King Alboin,
but they didn’t take Luni until 640, after having already conquered
its surrounding territory. Before 640 they changed the traditional
road system to bypass the town, which was still a Byzantine possession.
In this way Luni was excluded from the Lombard trading network and
the Byzantine connections, and so its population gradually moved
away and the town decayed. The total area of the town was reduced
to occupy the square with the cathedral and its boundaries.
The last type of settlement
I am going to introduce is the early medieval castle, which was
an evolution of the Byzantine castrum pattern, a small, fortified
village with military defences. 
Between the eighth
and the tenth centuries new leaders tried to impose themselves,
taking advantage from the disorder left by the fall of the Roman
ruling class. They tried new strategies to administrate their land
properties from the eighth century on, with visible changes in the
structure of settlement pattern. The new rulers were local landowners
(noblemen, warriors, clergymen and kings) who needed a political
act to affirm and increase their personal control on land property.
Hence they tried to concentrate rural settlements in the countryside
in order to be able to control the population. 
Since the seventh century,
new villages were founded around a recognizable centre, which was
sometimes built on the ruins of the Roman villas, such as an administrative
place, the lord’s residence or a religious place (a parish, church
This new elite increased
its land property in a short time, especially the clergymen who
received donations from lords or kings. Aristocratic landlords and
military officers were often in charge of administrating the king’s
(Germanic or Byzantine) property. Therefore they could expropriate
other people because they were judged guilty or unable to pay their
debts. With time minor landowners began to give their land to the
lords, out of their own free will, preserving the right to live
in their houses and work their land.
 They received protection and security by paying tribute
to the new landowner.
However, as it is difficult
to know the founders of the castles, historians decided to consider
the first owner of a castle, mentioned in written sources, as the
founder. The typical owner of a castle was a member of the new ruling
class, such as clergymen, mostly bishops or abbots, officers or
noblemen, members of aristocratic families with political and juridical
charges, or just a rich private persons without any specifications. 
Castles were often
founded in already established settlements (such as curtes and
villages) simply by adding a fortification to the settlement. For
instance Scarlino, located near Grosseto, was founded in the tenth
century, on a previous curtis. During the first phase all
the buildings were made of wood, then, starting in the eleventh
century, they were changed into stone, and a tower and living quarters
were added. Poggibonsi was a small village from the fifth and the
sixth centuries, located in the countryside controlled by Siena,
on a hill on the borderline with Florence. The castle was built
around 1155, and it was supposed to be used as a military fortress.
Other castles were
founded in areas not previously inhabited for political and economic
reasons: for instance Rocca S. Silvestro, located in the countryside
around Massa, which was founded by a Tuscan lord in order to exploit
the local mines. It is first mentioned in sources from the first
eleventh century. 
Written sources from
the eighth and the ninth centuries and later,
 mention castles built in the Early Middle Ages and Late
Antiquity without making any distinctions. Thus castles are considered
outbuildings, (a smaller structure detached from the main building
but close to it, usually with a specific function, like storage
or workshop, usually with a specific function, like storage or workshop)
and called by the name of the place, the previous settlement, the
borders of their area, and sometimes by the name of the resident
farmers. But even these first castles played a political and administrative
role in the countryside, forming quite real territorial districts. 
Moreover written sources
from the tenth and eleventh centuries, often mention castles to
indicate a whole area, even after the destruction or abandonment
of the castle itself. Moreover, from the tenth century on, more
and more castles are recorded, sometimes with their whole history
(as in the case of Marlia in the countryside outside Lucca, and
Barga in Garfagnana, both in Tuscany). A possible explaination could
be that castles were becoming gradually more representative of their
These sources describe
all the architectural elements of the castles, but not the building
material, which is only known thanks to archaeological excavations.
Thus, at the present time, it is possible to say that the first
castles founded in the eighth and the ninth centuries were made
of wood, protected only by fences and moats. But during the tenth
century, the classical period of incastellamento, castles
were gradually transformed into buildings of stone and brick and
new defensive structures were added. Moreover, it is supposed that
professional builders were hired by the lords to improve the quality
of their residences, for example at Poggibonsi, from the tenth century;
the walls were made out of travertine blocks which formed a regular
texture. The work was probably done by professional workers who
were paid by the founder, Guido Guerra the head of the family of
the counts of Guidis. 
The situation changed
again around the eleventh and the twelfth centuries: towns were
growing and getting stronger, and they became liberi comuni with
local and autonomous legislation. At the same time towns started
to compete, and fight against the castles over control over the
and by the end of this fight, during the thirteenth century, towns
destroyed castles or reduced them to small fortresses to control
A comparative method
This section proposes
a comparative approach, which could help me find some specific elements
to compare and formalize our discussion. This method is inspired
by Weber's system of ideal types and it includes five
extracted from the structural analysis of the different kinds of
settlements known in Italy and Denmark, which are: configuration,
activity, stability, building technique, and actors.
The first parameter
is “configuration”, which includes settlement structure, organization,
and disposition of the buildings, for example if a settlement was
spread through a territory or concentrated around a centre. In some
cases we consider the evolution of a settlement from its original
structure, for example: Viking towns and Italian castles were generated
from a different pattern, hence describing their evolution can help
us understand which events were involved in urbanization.
The second parameter
is “activity” which deals with economic or social activities known
to have occurred on the site: for example farming, handicrafts,
military defence, and religious ritual.
The next parameter
is “stability”, which considers weather or not the site was permanent,
wandering or if it changed its location. This is relevant for both
Danish and Italian villages at the beginning of the incastellamento
refers to the materials used and the quality of the buildings. This
data, together with configuration, can inform us of economic investments
related to a settlement, if an authority planned the structure of
a settlement, if professional builders were hired and if good materials
were used. This is particularly relevant if we think of Italian
castles, which at the beginning were poor wooden structures and
were only around the tenth and the eleventh centuries turned into
stone and brick by the owners.
The fifth, and last,
parameter is “actors”, which considers the people responsible for
the life and the structure of the settlement. These actors could
be inhabitants, professional categories as farmers, artisans, and
merchants, secular or religious authorities such as kings, members
of the aristocracy, landlords, and clergymen. They determined the
configuration of the settlement, through conscious or unconscious
acts derived from their personal interests. For example the village
pattern is related with farming and it was mainly inhabited by farmers,
in Italy as in Denmark, while political authorities, together with
trading and handicrafts, and gave an important contribution to create
the peculiar configuration of towns. This is visible especially
in Denmark, where towns rose for the very first time at the end
of the Viking Age; in Italy the picture is more complex because
urban tradition came from the ancient period and in the Middle Ages
towns were in decline.
I hope that this approach
can help us lay the foundation for our study, which at the moment
mainly considers structural characteristics of settlements, but
our intention is to better discuss the social meaning of these structures.
and Denmark in a parallel perspective
In this section we
present the settlement patterns in Italy and Denmark from a comparative
perspective by applying our system of parameters in order to find
comparable elements, and discuss them. Settlement patterns are presented
in this order: first villages, then towns, and lastly aristocratic
places, such as Danish manors and fortresses and Italian castles.
In Italy rural villages
were touched by deep changes during the seventh and eighth centuries.
During the Roman Age the traditional rural settlement was represented
by villas: big farms with a main building as the dwelling
for the owners, outbuildings intended for productive activities
and houses for slaves and workers. After the falling of the Roman
Empire and its ruling class, the villa system collapsed,
and as consequence the countryside was occupied by houses spread
on the territory without a specific plan. However, since the seventh
and eighth centuries religious and secular authorities consciously
decided to concentrate these settlements around a religious or an
administrative centre in order to control their territory from a
military and an economic point of view. As a result of this process
it is possible to find organic groups of houses, usually placed
on an easily defendable place such as elevations and hills (hilltop
In Denmark villages
were inherited from the Iron Age, and with the same pattern: houses
were usually organized in a recognizable group, every farm occupied
a hilltop or simply en elevated place (the toft system).
Both Italian and Danish
villages owed their organization to agriculture, which was the most
practised economic activity; hence cultivable land was usually selected
for the founding of a village. The shape of the houses and outbuildings
was derived by necessities connected with the harvest, animals and
manual work such as, for instance, the preparation of food, weaving
and handicrafts. The same kinds of buildings were to be found both
in Italy and Denmark: long houses divided into dwelling and stable
rooms, huts sunken into the ground, pit-huts used as storerooms,
a weaving room and a smithy.
In Italy, after the
founding of hilltop and nucleated villages, it seems that new activities
were introduced in the villages, such as military defence, religious
rituals and professional handicrafts. Danish villages changed their
location several times, therefore it has been suggested that they
were wandering settlements, and that new generations were moving,
looking for new cultivable land in the area. At the end of the Viking
Age these moves are no longer registered. For this reason it has
been suggested that villages became permanent, maybe thanks to technology,
as discussed in the second section of this article.
In Italy villages were
supposed to be permanent settlements, but that does not seem to
be the case in general. If we consider the history of these villages,
they were originally houses spread throughout the countryside, then
they were collected in organic settlements, and a lot of people
were encouraged to move to these settlements. As a result entire
new villages were founded in new places, on hilltops or in the lowlands.
All the structures
excavated in villages were usually made from perishable materials
but during the end of Late Antiquity and the very beginning of the
Early Middle Ages in Italy (more or less around the eighth century),
buildings were made partly of stone and partly of wood either because
materials were taken from older buildings, or because the whole
structure was built on ancient ruins.
The inhabitants of
villages were farmers in Italy, as in Denmark, but if we consider
the people who were responsible for the village structure, the situation
seems quite different in the two countries: in Denmark it is not
possible to recognize the presence of an authority, the structures
of villages came from a consolidated tradition and continued to
be in use because the farmers wanted it so. In Italy it seems that
an authority has always been involved in changes, and when the authority
disappeared a lot of new problems were created. Farmers and those
who worked the land had to invent a new way of life for themselves
after the Roman villas decayed. During this period villages were
fragmented and spread in the countryside without any precise organization.
In time, by the decision of new leaders, there was reorganization
of rural production, and as a consequence an inversion of the trend
toward centred settlements. During this phase landlords could introduce
other economic activities: some villages became castles and got
new relevance in their territory.
Originally spread houses; nucleated,
agriculture and domestic handicrafts
agriculture and domestic handicrafts,
later religion and military defence and professional handicrafts
permanent, but changing locations
permanent and changing location
farmers, aristocratic landlords, clergymen
Italian and Danish
towns look very different: in Denmark they were a brand new settlement,
with limited extension and entirely made of wood. In medieval Italy
towns were inherited from the Roman Age with an already evolved
and complex structure because the concept of town appeared in Italy
during the Etruscan period, and in the Greek colonies in Southern
Italy. The history of Italian towns continued in the Roman Age with
the creation of big cities, like Rome, hence medieval towns represented
a sort of regression.
As a configuration,
towns present an organic structure with a distinction between different
kinds of buildings: houses, workshops, administrative centres, churches
In Denmark we have
an evolution from sites occasionally used for special purposes,
which already had social or political relevance: meeting places
for the ting, sacred areas to celebrate rites, areas on borderlines
and strategic locations. It is also possible to recognize a process
of evolution derived from conscious political acts mostly realized
In Italy that process
was already completed in the ancient age, but after the urban crisis,
which derived from the falling of the Roman Empire, Barbarian migrations
and the Gothic War, urban life became more difficult. Maybe due
to all these problems towns changed. They maintained their peculiarity
as commercial and administrative centres, but the density of population
diminished and many areas were deserted and turned into fields.
Towns continued to evolve gradually, until in the thirteenth century
they became liberi comuni, getting a new, independent status.
In Danish and Italian
towns all activities were centred: trading and handicrafts, administration,
military defence and, thanks to the clergy, religion. The introduction
of towns created a different context, in which economic activities
could better display their potential, and the kings could prove
their ability in organizing and planning settlements. In this way
I think it is possible to say that the foundation of towns, in Denmark,
was already a big step in the direction of the Western and Southern
It is also interesting
to notice that in Italy the urban crisis had some consequences,
as we have already said in the second section of this discussion:
in the end most of the towns continued to be inhabited until today
even if some of them were abandoned and others were moved to new
Danish towns started
as seasonal or occasional meeting places, but they had to be transformed
into permanent settlements to attract new people and to grow.
It is possible to see
some differences in building techniques: in Denmark everything was
built with perishable materials, while in Italy the picture appears
very varied. During Late Antiquity (more or less from the fifth
and sixth centuries), it is possible to find a chaotic and parasitic
occupation of ancient buildings made of stone in the towns. Wooden
structures were integrated in these older buildings, in order to
repair walls or add new rooms. Gradually wood became the most used
material. However, similar changes depended on the economic condition
of the people involved: for examples lords’ urban houses were usually
made of stone, or maintained peculiar architectural elements made
of stone or brick. In all other cases houses were simply made of
The actors involved
in urban life were the same in both Italy and Denmark: kings, merchants,
artisans and clergymen, especially bishops. The construction of
a cathedral in a town could have crucial consequences in its structure
and the urban life. The bishop was included in an international
hierarchy, with contacts to all of Europe. Moreover, in Italy a
bishop could also be a landowner with particular interests in the
organization of a territory. A good example of this was the bishop
of Lucca (Tuscany, Italy): while he was active as a clergyman in
Lucca, he had remarkable land property and was responsible of the
founding of a number of castles in the countryside, for example
S. Maria a Monte, Moriano and Pietrabuona  .
From this point of
view it seems that the growth of a town represents a convergence
derived from the intentions and interest of an authority that was
able to invest many resources in a town “project”.
originally seasonal market, social
meeting place, new settlements founded by kings; towns centered
settlements with planned structures
towns centered settlements with planned
structure inherited from the Roman Age, but smaller and with
a smaller density
trading, handicrafts, administration,
military defense, religion
trading, handicrafts, administration,
military defense, religion
seasonal or occasional occupation,
permanent, occasional move and abandon
perishable materials, stone and brick
kings, merchants, artisans and bishops
kings, merchants, artisans and bishops
fortresses, and castles
This part is the most
interesting and complicated to consider in a comparison, because
it involves three different kinds of settlements and these settlements
did not have precisely the same correspondence between the two countries
during the considered period (the eighth to the twelfth centuries).
I have to mention that
circular fortresses were a Danish phenomenon related to the Viking
Age, while castles can be found in Italy but not yet in Denmark.
Italian castles can be equated to Danish aristocratic manors, and
maybe aristocratic manors could be considered as an embryonic form
of castle, however they were surely of different types.
The circular fortresses
represent a typical Danish pattern, limited only to the Viking Age,
while the typical fortress in Italy was the so called castrum,
which was known since the Roman Age and is considered an ancestor
of the castle type; therefore, I argue, that in Italy there was
a fusion between aristocratic manors and the fortress pattern in
Even though it is not
impossible to recognize similar characteristics, for instance if
we think of the configuration of all these three settlements, we
will discover that they were organic, centred settlements that included
a lord’s residence, a sacred place, workshops and houses.
The lord's residence
was the centre and the main focus in aristocratic manors and in
Italian castles, especially from the tenth and eleventh centuries,
when stone and brick were increasingly used for construction. The
situation appears quite different when it comes to fortresses, which
were more military than aristocratic compounds; in fact all the
houses inside the rampart were equal: it is not possible to recognize
a royal quarter even if the king, Harald Bluetooth, wanted them
built and maybe had to spend some time inside to muster and prepare
The activities attested
in all these sites were almost the same: trading, handicrafts, military
defence and religious rites, as testified by the found structures:
sacred areas, many amulets buried as offerings, and smithies.
All of these settlements
did not show a systematic change of location, maybe they were supposed
to be permanent, but in several cases they were abandoned. In Denmark
fortresses were abandoned after Harald Bluetooth died around the
year 986, and aristocratic manors were abandoned around the tenth
and eleventh centuries. In Italy castles suffered a deep crisis
during the twelfth century when towns became liberi comuni
and got control of the territory for themselves. It seems that after
they lost their function they were abandoned or turned into something
else, for example some castles were destroyed in fighting against
towns or they were conquered by towns and used as fortresses to
control the countryside.
Quality and building
techniques are similar, if we consider the first period of castles.
As already said, Italian castles were poor structures made of wood
in the beginning, and they represented the same kind of buildings
as known in Denmark: long houses and pit huts. However, in Denmark
we have some peculiar buildings, which were a variation of the long-house
type: the so called trelleborg house in fortresses and big
long-houses in aristocratic manors, while in Italy there was always
the classic rural long house.
The difference became
more pronounced during the tenth and the eleventh centuries: when
fortresses and aristocratic manors were abandoned, castles were
rebuilt in stone or brick and professional builders were hired by
the lords, as testified by the good quality and regular texture
of the walls.
In the end, when considering
the actors, it is possible to find an interesting correspondence:
kings, lords, merchants, artisans and soldiers were all connected
to these settlements. These sites probably had their origin in a
conscious project, by the will of an authority (king or landowner);
soldiers and royal officers lived there along with merchants and
artisans who supplied what the soldiers and officers needed. Moreover
fortresses were built for military purposes, while the military
function was added to the castles and aristocratic manors later
in order to guarantee security, defence and stability for the settlement.
In regard to religion,
every Italian castle had a church and sometimes a special chapel
for the lords, and in some cases clergymen themselves were landowners.
As already said, monasteries, abbeys and bishops had great power
In Denmark Christianity
was not as strong during the Viking Age. Officially the new cult
was already imported, but as proved by the existence of places like
Tissø, the pagan religion was still very strong. Thus religious
activity should be connected more with the traditional cult: Tissø
was a sacred place dedicated to Tir and, according to the legend;
Lejre was the first terrestrial residence of Skjold, Odin's son.
Clergymen started to
impose their influence first at the end of the Viking Age and the
beginning of the Middle Ages (the twelfth century).
In conclusion, the
intention behind the foundation of fortresses, aristocratic manors
and the Italian castles could be related to similar reasons such
as the control over territory and the display of power.
It is relevant at this
point to consider Lejre and its origin because it is supposed to
be founded by the first dynasty of Danish kings; maybe they could
have had an interest in being officially recognized as kings throughout
their entire kingdom by creating a rich manor for themselves.
Therefore it is possible
to say that aristocratic manors, fortresses and Italian castles
mixed the same elements together: authority, economic activities
(trading, handicrafts), the army and military defence (fortified
walls and soldiers) and eventually religion.
Aristocratic manors and fortresses,
aristocratic manors, fortresses
organic settlements with a lord’s
residence, sacred place, workshops and houses
organic settlements with a lord’s
residence, sacred place, workshops and houses
trading, handicrafts, military defence
and religious centre
trading, handicrafts, military defence
and religious centre
perishable materials, stone and brick
kings, lords, merchants, artisans
kings, lords, merchants, artisans,
soldiers and clergymen
In this article I have
discussed settlement pattern in Viking Age Denmark and Early medieval
Italy by fixing chronological limits between the eighth and the
twelfth centuries. My goal is to compare settlement patterns from
a synchronous and diachronic point of view, finding analogies and
differences, even if it was very difficult to manage with different
terminology relating to the Italian and Danish chronological contexts.
First one can see that
in Italy the settlement pattern was influenced by many unsolved
socio-political problems derived by the fall of the Western Roman
Empire, which left great instability aggravated by the Roman Barbarian
Kingdoms and the Gothic war (535-553). Thus the Italian territory
was not anymore considered as a whole as it was partitioned into
smaller entities administered on local scale by noble landowners
On the other hand Denmark
was already recognized as a kingdom ruled by only one king. Moreover
Denmark was expanding its territory, until it comprehended Schleswig
(Northern Germany), Scania (Southern Sweden), Southern Norway and
the British Isles. At this time many people started to travel from
their home country throughout Europe, also reaching Iceland, Greenland,
and the Canadian coast (Anse-aux-meadows).
However, it is possible
to find similarities between Danish and Italian settlements. The
application of a series of five parameters (configuration, activity,
stability, building technique, and actors) helped to underline common
elements and processes.
and cultural processes had clear consequences on settlement life:
the conversion to Christianity in Denmark and battles between the
Byzantines and Barbarians in Italy could cause abandonment, destruction
or creation of new centres, the moving of people and transformations
in trading networks. Therefore it is relevant to check the “configuration”
of a settlement. This is usually based on productive “activities”,
its “stability”, quality of “building technique” and the people
involved in settlement life, inhabitants or local authorities, the
“actors”. These elements can reveal interesting connections between
changes in settlement patterns and the general context.
My schematic approach
helped find common elements for a comparative study; it permitted
me to create a more formal and systematic point of view, as these
parameters offer a homogeneous terminology, as the standard forms
are usually country and period specific.
Moreover, the case
of Italian castles versus Danish aristocratic manors and fortresses
quite clearly shows that similar structures and functions can be
recognized between settlements that seem very different at first
sight. Castles are a medieval product while circular fortresses
and manors came from the Viking Age and are represented only by
a limited number of settlements. However, it was possible, with
this approach, to compare these different patterns, discover similar
structures in them and more or less the same elements: military
defence, the presence of an army and of an aristocratic authority,
sacred places, productive activities and control of the territory.
I hope that this formalization
could be useful as a starting point for a comparative study extended
to Scandinavia and Southern Europe, focusing more on Christianity
and its consequences on the economic and political context in order
to get more information on the organization of territory in medieval
Following this research
it will be interesting to study how communication systems (roads,
bridges and rivers) were administered in connection with political
and economic changes in Denmark and Italy, but also in other countries,
between the eighth and the twelfth centuries.
From this same point
of view, demographic studies of medieval population can provide
us with some interesting information to evaluate the relevance of
a place. This is an interesting question if we think about the recently
founded Danish towns and Italian towns with long traditions but
in decline. It was also interesting to think further, and focus
on aristocratic settlements in general, because we could understand
better the effective influence exercised on people by territorial
Streets, bridges, rivers,
and mountain passes have always been important to secure trading
connections and an efficient control of the territory. Therefore
it could be interesting to discuss the functions of the communication
systems, pointing out how the different features of the landscape
influenced trade and communication, how authorities were involved
in their building and maintenance in connection with economic and
political processes. This study could answer interesting questions
concerning territorial policy, and a comparative perspective could
help us find similar processes going on in different European areas.
However, I aim to discuss
differences in order to respect the peculiarity of the considered
areas and to find new interesting questions, which could open new
perspectives and tell us more about the diffusion of ideas and models
in medieval Europe, still an open argument in this first phase of
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 The first studies on the Byzantine Empire and Late
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 Sawyer 1997, pp. 1-18.
 Kaland & Martens in Fitzhugh & Word 2000,
 Graslund in Fitzhugh-Word 2000, pp. 60-61.
 Sawyer 1997, pp. 1-18.
 A village located on the western coast of Jutland,
8km North-West of Esbjerg.
 The village at Hodde is located on Jutland, close
to Blåvand on the Western coast (Stoumann 1980, pp. 98).
 Hvass 1980, Schmidt 1997, pp. 68-70.
 Stoumann 1980, pp. 106-110, Schmidt 1997, pp.
12, Roesdahl 1982, pp. 57-64
 Schmidt 1997, pp. 89-90 and p. 102.
 Roesdahl 1982, pp. 50-64, Schmidt 1997, “migrating
 Carelli 2001, pp. 29-40.
 Hvass 1980, pp. 140, 155, 171.
 Roesdahl 1982, pp. 68-70, Sawyer 1991, pp. 329-330.
 Jensen 1991, pp. 5-11.
 Sawyer 1991, pp. 320-322, 330-333, Roesdahl 1982,
pp. 54, 70-76.
 Madsen 1996, p.113, Schmidt 1997, p.25.
 The ting was a periodical assembly of
people in which legal and social issues were decided.
 Sawyer 1991, pp. 322-327.
 Sawyer 1991, pp. 327-330.
 Carelli 2003, pp. 99-105.
 Christensen 1991 p.183.
 The gold necklace is documented in an article
published in Skalk (Andersen 1977, pp. 4-7).
 Jørgensen 2002, p. 221.
 Tir was the god of the sky and of battle; he
took care of the cosmic order of things.
 Christensen 1996, p. 8.
 Jørgensen 2002, pp. 241-243.
 Christensen 1991, p. 183.
 Roesdahl 1982, pp. 147-155, Nørlund 1948, Olsen
& Schmidt 1977, Roesdahl 1977, Nørgaard, Roesdahl & Skovmand
 Schmidt 1997, pp. 61-66, 94-102.
 Trelleborg was excavated in the thirties and
the excavation has been documented by Poul Nørlund in his book
Trelleborg from 1948.
 Schmidt 1997, pp. 30-34, 43-44.
 Roesdahl 1982 p.152, Roesdahl 1977.
 Brøndsted 1967, pp. 171-184.
 Nørgaard, Roesdahl & Skovmand 1986 p.68,
 Harald Bluetooth was killed in 985, or at the
latest in 987.
 Nørgaard-Roesdahl-Skovmand 1986 p.90.
 Cagnana 1993 p.172, Wickham 1981 p.97.
 Valenti in Brogiolo 1996 p.82.
 Wickham 1981, pp. 92-98, 105-109.
 Most of the Roman villas were definitively abandoned
by the end of the seventh century (Francovich in La Rocca 2002,
 As Valenti for the Tuscan area; in Italian: “insediamento
caotico” (Valenti, pp. 81-106, in Brogiolo 1996).
 Cagnana 1993, pp. 171-172.
 Wickham 1981, pp. 100-105, 109, Wickham in La
Rocca 2002, pp. 122-125, 133-134.
 “Hilltop village” from the Italian ”villaggi
d'altura” (Francovich in La Rocca 2002, pp. 144-150).
 Cagnana 1993, pp. 172-175.
 Zanini 1997, pp. 104-111, Gelichi in La Rocca
2002, pp. 181-186.
 Wickham 1981, pp. 83-89.
 Zanini 1997, pp. 128-133, Zanini 1994, pp. 131-134.
 Zanini 1997, pp. 163-165, Wickham 1981 p.81,
Cagnana 1993, pp. 171-172.
 Wickham in Francovich 1992.
 Wickham in Francovich 1992.
 There were some regional differences: for Northern Italy
the owners most recorded in documents are bishops and archbishops.
For central and Southern Italy documents mostly mention officers
and noblemen (with the remarkable exception of the bishop of Lucca
in Tuscany, who built S. Maria a Monte, Moriano and Pietrabuona)
(Francovich & Ginatempo 2000 p.45).
 Francovich & Valenti 1997, pp. 37-38.
 Francovich & Ginatempo 2000, pp. 51-53.
 The whole number of castra and castella
mentioned by texts, until the ninth century, is about 15 (Francovich
& Ginatempo 2000).
 Castles connected with old curtes are
mentioned as outbuildings of the curtis itself: “curte
cum/et castello”; but since the tenth century the written
sources reported “castellum cum curte” (Francovich &
Ginatempo 2000 p. 32-34, 43).
 Francovich & Valenti 1997, pp. 50-53.
 Francovich & Ginatempo 2000, pp. 205-232.
 As presented in d'Avray 200, pp. 209-221.
 Francovich & Ginatempo 2000, p. 209.
 About Denmark: A. Andrén: Den urbana scenen:
Städer ach samhället i det medeltida Danmark, 1985 Malmö.
P. Carelli: En kapitalistisk anda: kulturella förandringär
i 1100-talets Danmark, 2001 Stockholm, J. Jensen: Danmarks
oldtid- Yngre jernalder og vikingetid 400 e. Kr.-1000 e. Kr.
vol.n.4, 2004 Copenhagen. E. Roesdahl: Dagligliv i Danmarks
middelalder-En arkæologisk kultur historie pp.54-81, 172-205.
P. Sawyer: Da Danmark blev Danmark. Fra ca. år 700 til ca.
1050, Gyldendals og Politikens Danmarks historie vol.3,
1988-91 Copenhagen. About Italy: A. Colecchia: Geografia umana,
geografia politica, geografia religiosa: aspetti di organizzazione
e gestione del territorio in un’area della collina abruzzese tra
età tardoantica e medioevo pp.101-129, in Archeologia Medievale
XXVII, 2000 Firenze. G. Macchi Jánica: Il problema della misurazione
delle distanze fra insediamenti umani nella ricerca archeologica
pp.7-19 in Archeologia Medievale XXVII, 2000 Firenze; Sulla
misurazione delle forme di occupazione sociale dello spazio medievale
pp.7-21 in Archeologia Medievale XXVIII, 2001 Firenze. G. Tabacco:
Egemonie sociali e strutture del potere nel Medioevo italiano,
1974 Torino. P. Toubert: Dalla terra ai castelli: paesaggio,
agricoltura e poteri nell’Italia medievale, 1995 Torino