It was not until the Viking Age that the towns started to flourish in Scandinavian regions. Before, most regions were dominated with farmland and fishing villages. The Vikings were self-sufficient. They simply produced what they needed to survive. However, life moved on, they created more crops and raised more livestock, they traded and wanted more things that they could not produce in their homeland. And there came Viking trading towns – the economic and political joints.
Four major Viking trading towns included: Birka, Hedeby, Kaupang, and Ribe.
Historians pointed out that many of the Viking trading towns were in the strategic positions. They sprung up in the positions where everyone could easily get access to. But they also lay next to the military and political stronghold for protection. A town without royal protection would be soon to collapse. While the kings promised the town peace and order, traders in the town had to pay the kings with tax and toll. That was how this relationship functioned, not only in the Viking Age.
Birka is the most famous Viking town in this day and age for its richness in archaeological findings. In the past, Birka was also an important trading center in present Sweden. A king or a chieftain formed this Birka town. At first, it was just a seasonal town where the people would gather in designated time in a year and leave. Later, people lived in this town for the whole year. The most well-known good in Birka was fur.
But after roughly two centuries, Birka was abandoned by its inhabitants for the ports were no longer effective. Little sources about Birka survived. The main materials about Birka are the archaeological evidence. The archaeologists have detected approximately 3,000 graves inside the town.
Hedeby was a part of Jutland peninsula. It once was a settlement that later a Danish king developed it into a town where the people preferred to come and trade. The town became an important Viking town also because of its unique position through the main trading Scandinavian route. With the rising power of the Vikings in the 9th century, Hedeby got expanded.
In 1050, the town was sacked by King Harald Hardrada Sigurdsson of Norway. He set the town on fire by sending fleets of burning ships into the harbour of Hedeby. In the work of Snorri Sturluson, he described the burning scene:
Burnt in anger from end to end was Hedeby
High rose the flames from the houses when,
before dawn, I stood upon the stronghold’s arm
In 1066, the town got burnt again by West Slavs. From this point, the town was finally abandoned.
This “Kaupang” is a Viking town, not an Old Norse word meaning “market”.
Kaupang was the first Viking town. The name of this town is derived from the Old Norse word “kaupangr” meaning “marketplace”. Kaupang was also among the Viking trading towns that were strategically positioned. But this trading town quickly followed the same path of other towns.
Toward the end of the 10th century, the inhabitants of the town abandoned it though the reasons were quite unclear. By far, roughly 100,000 artifacts have been unearthed in this Kaupang town.
Ribe was the oldest Viking town in Denmark dating back to the 700s. The historians and archaeologists believed that the establishment of Ribe was merely for economy and trade. There was nothing to do with politics and war here. In the territory of Ribe now, archaeologists found many artifacts dating back to the Viking Age.