Viking Birka: Important Viking Trading Center Collapsed

modern reconstruction of viking birka town viking hectic town

Viking Birka used to be one of the most hectic Viking trading centers in their time. What remain now are the graveyard of a long gone community. Indeed, Birka now is a hot archaeological spot. By far, the archaeologists have detected 3,000 graves in Birka.

Birka is located on the island of Björkö which is now in Sweden now. This used to be an extremely wealthy plot of land for business in the Viking Age. With its economic potential and prime location, the Viking chieftains ordered to build strong fortification to protect this town. The town flourished within two centuries. It became one of the most powerful site, both politically and economically.

The Viking history significantly attached to the water and ships. And the location of Birka was just perfect. It rested on the site that provided a direct access to Baltic Sea. This spot helped Birka welcome traders from many regions to come and do business. This was the key factor that boosted the economic growth in Birka. In 1993, UNESCO granted Viking Birka the title World Heritage Site.

Birka artifact from BJ542
Birka artifact from BJ542

Life in Birka

For two centuries, Birka was the largest town in Sweden. The archaeologists believed that Birka covered 7 hectares (17 acres). There were three harbors in the site and the population was about 600-1000.

Birka really need a strong fortification to protect it. If the traders could come in easily, the pirates could too. Such a wealthy land like Birka would never be crossed out of the list by the pirates.

Archaeologists have unearthed numerous remains of weapons in Birka. This suggested warriors or even armies used to be there, within the town. Birka was also the home of the talented like craftsmen, carpenters, weavers, blacksmith, etc. They were either local or foreign coming there to make ends meet. These people opened their shop and sold things there. The archaeologists also believed that the local there used to use the skates and sleds to transport goods from places to places.

Collection of Viking jewelry Birka Jewelry artifact
A collection of Birka jewlery artifact

Birka was a real melting pot. Because it had a mixed population of Norwegians, Swedes, Danes, Germans, Balts, Finns, etc. The graves archaeologists detected in Birka attested to the richness of its inhabitants and culture. Up to 3,000 graves have been detected and the archaeologists have unearthed roughly 1,000 ones. One exciting excavation in Birka was the BJ581 which was a grave of a Viking warrior. What is unique with this BJ581 is that the warrior was a female buried with weapons. This urged the archaeologists and historians ponder about the historical existence of the Viking shieldmaiden or Viking female warrior.

BJ581 Birka woman warrior
The archaeologists started to examine the skeleton remains. They found that the skeletons inside the BJ581 full of weapons belonged to a woman

There were two major ways of burial in Birka. The first belonged to the Swedish traditional burial of cremation and stone closure with the shape of the ship. The other type of burial belonged to the foreigners because it consisted of the coffin, for example. Later, some burials belonged to Christians for there were more and more Christian converts.

Two-century flourish came to an end

It might cause controversy if we say that Viking Birka was an example of “quickly come, quickly go”. But the phase can vividly describe the life expectancy of Birka.

For some insightful scholars, the collapse of Birka was visible. The first sign was the sudden absence of Anglo-Saxon coin in trading market in Birka. The number of Arabian dirhams dramatically reduced in this time. External hostile force also came and indirectly torn Birka. A deadly blow might be the falling water level in Birka’s harbor. This disabled the Viking and foreign ships to reach Birka. Unexpectedly, all problems befell Birka. The only option for those who wanted to make their fortune, they had to abandon Birka.

Some scholars suggested that the Danes attacked Birka but there has been a lack of evidence about this.

But even the Danes did not attack Birka, it was during its last days. It completely lost traffic to its competitors, for example the town of Sigtuna lying 25km southwest of Birka.


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