A Visit to King Harald Bluetooth’s Viking Ring Fortress and Village
STEP BACK IN TIME AND LEARN HOW THE DANISH VIKINGS LIVED AT TRELLEBORG
When you hear the word “Vikings” what instantly jumps to mind? Maybe long-bearded axe-wielding warriors. Or seafaring explorers in longboats wearing horned helmets? Or maybe you conjure Ragnar Lothbrok? From the HBO series The Vikings? Or Thor. And Odin. Or just Chris Hemsworth? Nah. He’s Australian. And just plays a Viking in the movies. But how about Harald Bluetooth? Who?
Harald Bluetooth. If you’re from Denmark you might. King Harald Bluetooth was the son of the original Danish King, Gorm the Old. Bluetooth claimed all of Denmark and Norway for his kingdom in the second half of the 10th century. Jump forward a 100o years and the current reigning Danish monarch, Queen Margrethe II can trace her family line back to old Gorm making Denmark the longest running monarchy in Europe. Gorm and Harald were Vikings. But what was Viking life like 100o years ago?
Denmark, like all the Scandinavian countries, is proud of its heritage and happy to share everything they know about their Viking history. All over the Danish country and throughout the landscape, evidence of the mighty Viking society can still be found. And you won’t need to know how to read the runestones to get a feel for how the Vikings lived in the Middle Ages. At the National Museum Trelleborg, you can walk the ramparts of a real Viking fortress and learn about village life in the idyllic Danish countryside.
FROM VIKING SHIPS TO RING FORTRESSES
In Roskilde, you can learn all about the Vikings’ seafaring ways and nautical nature at the Vikingeskibs Museet or Ship Museum. But what about the Viking settlements and structures set up to protect and defend interests on land back at home? What was life like for Vikings 1000 years ago here in Denmark? Lucky for you, you can walk through one of the best-preserved examples of a Viking fortress at Trelleborg in Western Zealand, an hour from Copenhagen near the town of Slagelse.
A LITTLE DANISH VIKING HISTORY
Carbon dating from wood excavated at the Trelleborg site puts construction here around 980 AD,¹ definitively during King Harald Bluetooth’s reign. Harald made his mark in Danish history as the first Christian King of Denmark. Now before you get confused and wonder where Thor, Odin, Loki and the rest of the Norse gods went, scholars are still debating whether the conversion was made for faith or for strategic reasons. It might have kept powerful Christian kingdoms to the south less inclined to attack and convert, if the Danes took care of it themselves. Or maybe it afforded a common ground for bargaining with Christian Kings of Europe.
There is plenty of evidence that the former pagan religion and the new Christian doctrine were blended going forward. Not uncommon throughout history and around the world. The fact that Danes celebrate Christmas and call it Jul is a perfect example and draws a direct line from the old pagan winter traditions. If you’re visiting the Jutland side of Denmark, you can learn more about King Harald’s proclamation which was set upon a huge rune stone, known as The Jelling Stone. So named from the nearby town Jelling where the stones were sourced.
King Harald ordered these [stones] made in memory of Gorm, his father, and in memory of Thyra, his mother; that Harald who won for himself all of Denmark and Norway and made the Danes Christian.” 965 CE
– Jelling Stone Museum
DID YOU KNOW? The modern “bluetooth” technology many of us know and love is indeed named after King Harald and the iconic symbol is a combination of the two runes that make up his initials. Read more here.
TRELLEBORG IS A CLASSIC VIKING RING FORTRESS
Claiming all of Denmark (and Norway) under one ruler was not an easy feat and local chieftains often challenged King Bluetooth. As an attempt to set up defenses and exude power, he orchestrated a series of ring fortresses stretching from the Danish mainland of Jutland across the islands of Fyn and Zealand and even into Southern Sweden. Trelleborg was one of these. Others can be seen at Fyrkat near the Mariager Fjord in Jutland, Aggersborg near the Limfjord also on Jutland and the most recently discovered Borgring near Køge, still being excavated.
The discovery of this greater network of fortress sites thus helps to elucidate how King Harald Bluetooth exercised control over the landscape. It is clear that such building work had major symbolic implications and practical value. As much as it was a preparation for actual conflict, a large fortress was also a statement of power and longevity, demonstrating the King’s ability to maintain control in the event of future conflict. The system of fortifications centred around the Trelleborg-type ring fortresses displayed Harald Bluetooth’s ability to command and organise significant manpower and resources, while offering major strategic benefits.”²
ARCHITECTURALLY UNIQUE VIKING RING FORTRESSES IN DENMARK
The Viking fortresses, all erected in the late 10th century, were unique architecturally. There was nothing like them in Northern Europe. Built in giant rings, they were all perfectly circular with openings or gates set at precise right angles like a giant compass. The fortresses were also placed strategically in the landscape for defensive purposes, inland and away from any potential attacks by sea. The effort was massive and evidence of Bluetooth’s organized central power structure.
Trelleborg was well situated at the confluence of two small Danish rivers and then surrounded by an outer wall as well as a moat. Meant to be seen and intimidate from afar, the large ring structure was formed of timbered outer walls would have been covered with turf to create the ramparts. Today, you can still walk atop the ramparts here at Trelleborg and play watch like Medieval Vikings scanning across the now idyllic Danish landscape.
RECONSTRUCTED VIKING LONGHOUSE
Besides roaming the around the ring fortress, Trelleborg has a reconstructed Viking Longhouse to show what the buildings would have looked like inside (and outside) the ring here 1000 years ago. Unfortunately, you can’t enter the longhouse, but it does offer great perspective at the size and beautiful details of the Viking construction.
LEARN ABOUT VIKING VILLAGE LIFE
Want to really immerse yourself in Viking Life? Head to Trelleborg mid-July for their annual Viking Festival where a marketplace of over 60 stalls will feature demonstrations and Viking crafts for sale. Activities like archery, wood carving, weaving, horseback riding will be available daily from 10.00 – 16.00. Costs vary. Taste Viking food from vendors and the Museum cafe. Witness a reenactment of the Battle of Trelleborg with 200 warriors. For a taste of what it was like last year, check out this video from Skjalden.
VIKING FESTIVAL DETAILS
Saturday, 14 July – Sunday, 22 July, 2018
Open daily from 10:00 to 17:00
Try-yourself activities every day from 10:00 to 16:00 (additional cost)
Battle of Trelleborg:
Thursday 19 July and Friday 20 July, 2018 at 13.00
Saturday 21 July and Sunday 22 July, 2018 at 15:00
Adults 120 DKK
Children (under 18) 30 DKK
NOTE: Admission to Trelleborg site and museum are free at all other times of year. Museum is open every day except Monday.
Can’t come during the Festival? You can still wander through the village. Summer season runs from 30 June to 2 September with a varying range of activities in the Viking Village daily.
STEP INSIDE THE NATIONAL MUSEUM OF DENMARK AT TRELLEBORG
See artifacts, learn more history and learn the whole story inside the Danish National Museum here at Trelleborg. Just don’t visit on a Monday. When the museum is closed. You’ll still be able to wander the grounds and read about the site’s history from displays out by the fortress.
HOW TO GET TO TRELLEBORG
Viking Fortress Trelleborg
Trelleborg Allé 4, Hejninge
We rented a car, but you can take public transportation. There are regional trains to Slagelse and then you can catch bus 439 to Trelleborg Allé (Hejningevej) and walk the 500 m to the museum. It was about 1 hour to drive from Copenhagen, and public transportation would take about 1.4 hours for reference.
We visited Trelleborg on a Monday in early June and practically had the place to ourselves. And while we would have loved to do some of the activities and perused the artifacts, it was a peaceful and pretty day out in Denmark. Hard to picture the fierce battles of yesteryear as we watched the wind sway in the grass and listen to it rustle leaves on the trees. Easier to imagine were quieter moments of village life; people tending sheep, planting in the garden and weaving linen. Whatever your picture of Vikings may be, Trelleborg is a beautiful place to learn more about life in Denmark so long ago.