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Scandinavia and the huns : a source-critical approach to an old question

Nsman, Ulf
Fornvnnen 2008(103):2, s. [111]-118 : ill.
Ingr i:
Scandinavia and the Huns
A source-critical approach to an old question
That the Huns played a significant role in the the Annales School: vnements, la longue dure et
Transformation of the Roman World is not con- conjunctures. But it is an exaggeration to say that
troversial. A number of monographs have been Scandinavian archaeologists have neglected Hun-
devoted to the fascinating history of this no- nic elements in the North (Hedeager 2007b). As
madic people (Thompson 1948; Maenchen-Hel- I will demonstrate in the following, Hunnic ele-
fen 1973; 1978; Germanen, Hunnen und Awaren ments are not easy to find.
1987; Bna 1991; Anke 1998; ukin et al. 2006;
Anke & Externbrink 2007). The Baltic Islands and the Huns
In syntheses of the Iron Age in Scandinavia, Hedeager is convinced that the Huns supre-
the Huns take their proper place at the end of macy included parts of Scandinavia (s. 44). This
the Roman Iron Age as those who triggered the conclusion is based on a quote from a conversa-
Migration Period (Brndsted 1960, p. 120 f, 179 tion between the West Roman ambassador Ro-
f; Stenberger 1964, p. 446 ff; Magnus & Myhre mulus and the East Roman envoy Priscus. Ro-
1986, p. 244 ff; Burenhult 1999, p. 287 f; Sol- mulus said that [Attila] ruled even the islands
bjerg 2000, pp. 69, 124; Jensen 2004, p. 12 ff.). of the Ocean (Priscus fr. 8, see Doblhofer 1955).
In my own doctoral thesis I wrote a chapter on Now, this is not supported by any other evi-
The import of glass vessels to Scandinavia in dence. So one can simply reject it as too uncer-
the Hunnic period c. 375454 (1984, p. 147 f). tain, or accept it as it is. Romulus probably be-
There I concluded that the Huns conquest of lieved what he said. So have later scholars and
south-eastern Europe did not sever communica- some include the Baltic islands in the realm of
tions between Scandinavia and the Danubian Attila. But it is sound scholarly procedure to be
basin. A new dimension to Hunnic influence in critical of narrative sources. I see no reason to
Scandinavia was presented by Charlotte Fabech believe with Hedeager that Romulus held a
(1991) in her interpretation of the Ssdala finds competent geographical knowledge. In my doc-
and others as evidence of Hunnic influence on toral thesis I emphasised not the geographical
funerary rituals in south Sweden. But it has to but the social setting of the situation (1984, p.
be remembered that those finds only cover one 99 f):
generation and that they are only found in a
small area. The lasting effects of the Hunnic The success of the Huns and Attila in par-
impact on Scandinavia were indirect; i.e. the ticular made a deep impression on the Scan-
consequences of the fall of the West Roman em- dinavian peoples during the Migration peri-
pire, the demographic changes in Eastern Eu- od. We realise the role Huns and "Atle" play
rope, and the appearance of the so-called succes- in the Nordic sagas, especially the Hervarar
sor states (Heather 2005; Ward-Perkins 2005). Saga. But this does not mean that we have
It was thus with great interest and expecta- any reason to believe that the king of the
tion that I red a paper by Lotte Hedeager (2007a) Huns ever controlled land in the north.
in which she puts forward a new hypothesis "Hun" finds are very rare in Northern
about Scandinavia and the Huns. As always, it Europe (Werner 1956; Arrhenius 1982) and
is a well written and interesting paper, filled the Hun army has hardly been able to con-
with new ideas and interpretations. In the intro- trol the forested regions north of the
duction she makes elegant use of the concepts of Carpathians.
Fornvnnen 103 (2008)
112 Debatt
Fig. 1. Decontextualised gold
rings from Denmark. Diame-
ter 2030 mm. After Hedea-
ger 2007a.

Probably we have to interpret the in- Attila may have claimed hegemony over the islands
formation we get from Priscus in another in the Ocean, but in reality it is unlikely that any
way. Troops came from Scandinavia to win Hun ever went there.
honour, fame, and wealth in the armies of
Attila and his allied Germanic-speaking sub- The Archaeological Record of Scandinavia
kings. To be accepted, I guess that the lea- In her search for Huns in the archaeological
ders of the Scandinavians had to swear an record, Hedeager presents up-to-date theory but
oath of allegiance to the Hun ruler. This oath her factual reasoning is disappointing. It is not
has been transferred to the area they came true that Roman goods stopped from the late
from, the islands of the Ocean. In this way fourth century (p. 46). It is true that burial cus-
Attila can have imagined that the Baltic toms changed and left archaeologists without a
islands were constituents of his realm. record of Roman imports in Denmark. But oth-
er parts of Scandinavia saw continued rich fune-
Fornvnnen 103 (2008)
Debatt 113

Fig. 2. A Migration Period silver ring of Fig. 3. Gold rings from an 11th century hoard found at Nore
Nomadic pot-bellied type from a multi- in Vamlingbo parish, Gotland (SHM 5279). Diameter 27 and
ethnic cemetery at Saint Martin de Fonte- 28 mm.
nay in northern France. Diameter 12 mm.
After Anke & Externbrink 2007, p. 321.

rary customs. In many rich graves of the 5th cen- gilded bronze that look like the Danish rings
tury we find imports from former Roman work- 14/82, C1419 and 11/38 referred to by Hedeager.
shops, now under Barbaric control. In fact, some But they were not found in the context of the
of the most eloquently Roman objects date to Migration Period fort. They belong to the Me-
the fifth century. Most convincingly we can fol- dieval phase of the fort, possibly dating from
low the process of imitatio Imperii and interpreta- 11701240 (Borg 1998, p. 277). In fact, similar
tio Scandinavica in the gold bracteates. The earli- rings are common in Late Viking Period and
est ones are imitations of Roman imperial Medieval Scandinavia.
medallions and gold coins, but the pictorial pro- Unfortunately, all of the Danish rings He-
gramme soon changes to adapt to Nordic myths deager discusses are decontextualised. None is
and beliefs. Contrary to Hedeager, I see close known to have been found in wetlands like so
contacts between Scandinavia and the late Ro- many of the Migration Period gold finds. This
man world in the archaeological record of the observation makes Hedeager resort to a post-
5th century. processual argument that the rings held a differ-
ent position to other gold artefacts (p. 48). This
Earrings and Huns is true, but not in the way Hedeager suggests.
Ten gold rings from Denmark and Norway fi- The Danish rings are simple and do not offer
gure prominently in Hedeagers argument (fig. the archaeologist many typological traits to stu-
1). They belong to a crescent-shaped type, open dy. But some observations can be made. Mea-
with pointed ends and a thickened middle. Ac- suring 2030 mm, the rings are all larger than
cording to Hedeager they are Hunnic earrings any nomadic earrings I have encountered (c.
and were not recognised as such by Joachim Wer- 1118 mm). They all lack a typical pot-belly,
ner (1956). However, the similarity between ear- as seen on one from a multi-ethnic Migration
rings from Hunnic finds and the Danish rings is Period cemetery at Saint Martin de Fontenay in
illusory and based upon the lack of scale. Any- northern France that has been ascribed to a
one familiar with earrings and finger rings from nomadic presence (fig. 2; Pilet 1994). This shape
c. 10001200 would be suspicious. When I took is rare, and most of the rings look like French
part in the excavations of the settlement fort at croissants or German Hrnchen. Hedeager would
Eketorp on land, we found rings in silver and have been wise to look for other possible origins
Fornvnnen 103 (2008)
114 Debatt
than the Huns, for instance, in the stores of the I conclude that all Hedeagers rings in fig. 1
National Museum in Copenhagen. There you will can be dated to the late Viking Age or the High
find a number of similar rings from good con- Middle Ages. Thus, the distribution map where
texts, some in well dated hoards (Lindahl 1992, p. Hedeager has plotted the Danish rings onto
136 f)1. Doing a quick search on-line (mis.his- Joachim Werners 1956 map of nomadic 4th-5th, I found a number of gold and century rings gives a false impression and must
silver earrings and finger rings, many from well be rejected.
dated contexts, in Museum of National Antiqui-
ties in Stockholm (fig. 3)2. The Danish and Other Nomadic Finds in Scandinavia
Swedish finds confirm the dating of the Eketorp Concerning Ankes second point, Hedeager pre-
rings to the 11th and 12th centuries AD. If they sents other finds to support the idea of Huns in
reflect any foreign influence, it is Slavic. Scandinavia. A nomadic mirror can possibly be
A gold ring from Vesterb, Rogaland, Nor- identified among the bronze fragments found in
way is mentioned by Hedeager as Hunnic. It was one of the cremation barrows from old Uppsala
found in 1882 in a barrow, lying separately on (Arrhenius 1982, fig. 8; on this point Hedeager
the bottom of a SENW burial chamber. From refers to the wrong paper by Arrhenius). The
the same mound come an iron spearhead and a identification is not accepted by Wladyslaw
sword. Remains of crumbled bones were found. Duczko (1996, p. 78). The uncertainty makes
Kent Andersson included the ring in his cata- the find a possibility, but not a strong indication
logue of Roman Iron Age finger rings, but not in of Hunnic presence in Scandinavia. The rele-
his typology (1993 find 852). He did not date vance of the find is furthermore weakened by a
the ring, but today he considers it to date from recent dating of the burial to the Early Vendel
the Viking Period (e-mail 8 October 2007). It is Period, i.e. 550600, a hundred years or more
very similar to a gold ring from Lundby Krat after Attilas death (Ljungkvist 2005).
dated to c. 1100 (Lindahl 1992, p. 136 f). The Hedeager considers a tuft of hair found in
Vesterb grave find is not unequivocally closed. the same barrow as a further argument in favour
The opposite is more probable. In Norway it is of a Hunnic influence on burial practice. Sune
not uncommon to find secondary graves placed Lindqvist (1936, p. 201 f) rejected the find due
in Roman Iron Age and Migration Period stone to uncertain find circumstances, but referred to
chambers (Bjrn Myhre quoted by Siv Kristof- another hair find with a better context. It is
fersen, e-mail 2 January 2008). To conclude, the from the Viking Period barrow Skopintull on
Vesterb ring cannot carry the evidential bur- Adels in Lake Mlaren (Rydh 1936, fig. 291).
den for a Hunnic presence in Scandinavia. The grave goods contain several objects of east-
Since I have no detailed knowledge about ern provenance, but the late date makes other
nomadic earrings, I showed Hedeager's drawing influences than Hunnic ones more plausible.
of the Danish rings to Michel Kazanski in Paris
and Bodo Anke in Berlin, both of whom have Animal Art and Huns
great knowledge of nomadic material culture The origin of Nordic animal art according to
(Anke 1998; ukin & Kazanski 2006; Anke & Hedeager is to be found in cultural transforma-
Externbrink 2007). Kazanski could not agree tions and a new Germanic identity caused by
that the Danish rings are nomadic (Kazanski, foreign influences, and the Huns are for several
viva voce 9 November 2007). Anke offers three reasons the obvious candidates (s. 44). An eas-
arguments against an eastern or nomadic prove- tern nomadic origin for animal art has been sug-
nance. 1) The rings are all stray finds. 2) There gested before, but those who have rejected the
are no further references to an eastern context. idea have strong arguments. According to our
3) There is an obvious typological difference present knowledge, it seems out of the question
between the Danish rings and nomadic rings that Eastern-Asiatic art with its own character-
like the one from Saint Martin de Fontenay istic animal art can have influenced the art of
(Anke, e-mail 4 February 2008). the North (Haseloff 1984, p. 110 f, my transla-
Fornvnnen 103 (2008)
Debatt 115
tion from German; his views are available in 1991, p. 156 ff). Secondly, the surmised shaman-
English, see Haseloff 1974). Haseloff emphasises ism of the Nordic belief system is controversial
that it was only after 400 years of contact that (Schjdt 2003). In my view, we do not need any
the Roman influences resulted in an art-form Huns to understand the Norse religious tradi-
among Germanic-speaking peoples. He explains tion.
this with the closer interaction between Romans
and Germanic tribes in the wake of political Gold and Huns
changes after the Hunnic conquests (Haseloff The immense number of gold hoards in the
1981, p. 4; cf. Kristoffersen 2000, p. 45 ff). It is sur- Nordic area can be ascribed to the policy of the
prising that Hedeager, who includes Haseloff's Huns and the political situation in general.(s.
work of 1981 among her references, does not 47). No scholar disagrees with the last part of
bother at all to counter his arguments for a Ro- the sentence, but arguments can be raised
man root of the animal art. This root appears against the first part. Frands Herschend (1980,
clearly in the so-called Nydam style, coeval with p. 121 f; cf. Kyhlberg 1986) dates the importa-
the Hunnic invasion. In this style animals were tion of solidus coins to land to the 460s, i.e.
not the main organizing principle on the new after the Hunnic realm broke up. On Bornholm
artistic expression, but geometric chip-carving and Gotland, the solidi hoards are later still.
was, as demonstrated by Olfert Voss (1955; cf. Unminted gold is more difficult to date. How-
Roth 1979, p. 58 ff). That these patterns have a ever, heavy gold objects were made in Scandi-
Roman origin can hardly be called into ques- navia long before the Huns appeared on the Eu-
tion. Hedeagers statement that animals are ropean stage. And many were made of gold that
the media for social, religious, and political stra- was imported after they had disappeared again.
tegies among the Huns (p. 48) may be true, but Thus many if not most gold hoards are the result
I cannot find any support for the assumption of Roman policy, not that of Attila.
that this had any effect among sedentary Scan-
dinavians. Also, animal art appeared among Nomadic Faces
Barbarians already in the 3rd and 4th centuries, According to Hedeager, early Style I brooches
influenced by Roman decorated objects (Werner from Scandinavia have human masks with dis-
1966; Roth 1979, p. 44 ff). tinct Asiatic attributes (p. 51). In a recent paper
Claus von Carnap-Bornheim (2007) argues to
Shamans the contrary. Nomadic masks found in Eastern
In a number of influential papers Hedeager has Europe are in his opinion influenced by south
argued that the Scandinavian belief system was Scandinavian masks. Many masks pre-date the
shamanistic. The Huns are used to support this Huns and the earliest are from the 3rd century.
view. She argues that the Huns took over from A significant difference between the nomadic
the Romans as the ideal of the Germanic-speak- and the Nordic is that the Nordic masks have a
ing peoples in Northern Europe. She suggests a moustache whereas the nomadic ones have a
development of a new symbol system with ani- chin beard. All nomadic masks depicted by von
mals as the organizing principle, ideologically Carnap-Bornheim have round or straight eyes.
without anchoring in the Christianized Roman Thus the presence of moustaches and the lack of
world. This is an interesting idea, but is it more chin-beards on the masks depicted by Hedeager
probable than the obvious alternative, a continu- indicate a Scandinavian origin. That some masks
ed Roman influence? First, we do not know are slant-eyed seems to be the only Asiatic
when the Nordic pantheon developed, but many trait. But considering that the masks she depicts
scholars mean that its structure pre-dates the were made in a different way, being cast, and
Late Roman period (Schjdt 1999, p. 15 ff). Taci- that they decorate womens brooches, it seems
tus certainly saw similarities between the Ro- unnecessary to assume a Hunnic origin (cf. Ar-
man and Germanic gods in the 1st century and widsson 1963).
gave the Germanic gods Roman names (Rives
Fornvnnen 103 (2008)
116 Debatt
Mens Attire, Saddles and Bracteates cussed artefacts from Lithuania as a proof of
Disregarding chronology, Hedeager also refers direct contacts with the Huns (2006, p. 118 f).
to mens attire as depicted on small gold-foil fig- The conclusion about the "Hunnic period" in
ures of the period 550700 (her fig. 9). She Bodo Ankess doctoral thesis is well worth quot-
assumes a direct Asiatic influence, a Hunnic im- ing: a new ethnogenesis of Germanic tribes
pact on European dress. She refers to a paper by took place; the social structure, settlement pat-
Hayo Vierck, but disregards what he actually tern and economic basis changed. A significant
wrote. Vierck presents two alternatives: one di- part of the shaping and development of Ger-
rectly Asiatic via the Avars, and one indirectly manic kingdoms began. A totally new develop-
Asiatic via the Goths (Vierck 1978a; cf. Arrhe- ment and change in the Central European set-
nius 1982, p. 77 fig. 11). There is no need for tlement areas took place, on which the later
Huns. Medieval and Christian societal order was built.
The same is the case with the saddles. The It is tempting to state that without the Hunnic
earliest saddle with a wooden frame in northern impact, this development would not have hap-
Europe dates to the early 3rd century and has pened until much later (Anke 1998, p. 150; my
been found at Illerup in Jutland (Ilkr 2000, p. translation from German). But it would have
110). I disagree with Hedeager when she writes happened anyway, and not very much later. Had
that the iconography of the gold bracteates has the Huns not succeeded, the Avars would have
no obvious background in the material culture plausibly have done so 193 years later.
of the Roman Period and their central symbols
belong in the Hunnic realm (2007a, p. 54). I re- Thanks to Susan Canali who kindly revised my Eng-
fer the reader to a paper by Anders Andrn (1991) lish.
where he argues that the runic text on some
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Fornvnnen 103 (2008)

118 Debatt
End Notes rings are found at Drby on land (SHM 1672),
1 Simple rings are found in hoards from Hgerup, t.p.q. 1014, and the Medieval town Sigtuna (SHM
tpq 1048; St. Frigrd, tpq 1106; and Grse, c. 21135). Silver rings are found in the Hjortsberga
1130. A hoard from Lundby Krat, c. 1100, con- hoard from Blekinge (SHM 3491; Hrdh 1976
tains a decorated gold ring very similar to Hedea- Fund 2, Taf. 3), the Medieval town Lund (LKM
gers rings 2/46 and 6/28. Thanks to Peter Vang 53436:692; Blomqvist & Mrtensson 1961, fig.
Petersen who helped me with information about 214; Hrdh 1976 Fund 92, Taf. 37:ii), and a bog
the diameter of the Danish rings. His opinion, find from Saxtorp in Scania, tpq 978 (LUHM
well known to Hedeager, is that the rings are Late 3625 a.o.; Hrdh 1976 Fund 117, Taf. 37:iii).
Viking Period or High Medieval (e-mail 13
November 2007). Ulf Nsman
2 Two gold rings from a 11th century hoard at Nore Archaeology
in Vamlingbo on Gotland (SHM 5279) and a gold
University of Kalmar
ring from the Medieval town Lund (SHM 622)
are faceted like the Danish 10/27. A golden finger SE-391 82 Kalmar
ring from Kpinge in Scania (SHM 3524) is a
stray find similar to the Danish 2/46. Plain gold

Fr en liberalisering av de svenska metallskarreglerna

Sverige har strnga restriktioner mot allmnhe- kommer r obestridligt: ngra plundrare har
tens anvndning av metallskare. Nedan kom- dmts fr sdana brott i landets domstolar (Hen-
mer jag att argumentera fr att dessa regler nius 2004; 2008). Men plundringens omfatt-
tillkom utifrn en verdriven hotbild, att de i ning har verdrivits kraftigt. Oron fr krimi-
flera avseenden r skadliga och att det drfr nella ligor som plundrar fornlmningar r sr-
finns starka skl fr att mjuka upp dem. Bak- skilt p land och Gotland mycket stor. Antik-
grunden till mitt inlgg r fem rs givande variska tjnstemn frestller sig att utlndska
samarbete med metallskarsektionen inom Forn- skurkar springer omkring p smtimmarna med
minnesfreningen i Gteborg. nrmast magiska apparater och dammsuger k-
Flera olika grupper i samhllet har starka sik- rarna p guld och silver med stor effektivitet
ter om metallskare. Jag r arkeologisk forskare (Gustafson 2000). Denna oro har lett till politi-
och vill komma t det kllmaterial och den gra- kerptryckningar och medieframtrdanden och
tisarbetskraft som en mera utbredd anvndning drmed indirekt till att dagens restriktioner in-
av metallskare skulle alstra. En annan grupp r frdes i Kulturminneslagen 1991.
metallskaramatrerna sjlva som vill ha strre ret innan, 1990, prvade de annars mycket
frihet att utva sin hobby. Firmor som importerar sansade forskarna Majvor stergren och Jonas
och salufr metallskare representerar det ekono- Strm instrumentet Electro-scope fr Riksantik-
miska intresset. De kulturminnesvrdande myn- variembetets rkning. De konstaterade att inst-
digheterna vill vl i regel ha hrda restriktioner. rumentet var uppbyggt efter slagruteprincipen
Fornminnesplundrare, slutligen, struntar i regler- men bedmde nd att det kan praktiskt loka-
na hur de n ser ut. lisera delmetall p strre avstnd, d v s flera hund-
ra m (stergren 1991). stergren sammanfatta-
En verdriven hotbild de att Electro-scope i dess dvarande utfrande
De kulturminnesvrdande myndigheternas re- var svrarbetat och vindknsligt, men att det med
striktiva hllning grundar sig p en uppfattad tiden skulle kunna utvecklas och bli utomor-
hotbild. Att plundring med metallskare fre- dentligt farligt fr vrt fornlmningsbestnd.

Fornvnnen 103 (2008)