The 'Bare Branches' of Scandinavian Society and the Origins of Viking Raiding

Author(s): Ben Raffield; Mark Collard; Neil Price

Year: 2015


The surge of violent raiding that traditionally marks the beginning of the Viking Age at the end of the 8th century ushered in a period of turmoil and change across much of Europe. Though the factors that might have triggered this have been repeatedly debated, no hypothesis has thus far provided a convincing explanation for this important historical phenomenon. One of the oldest arguments, discussed in this paper, was that proposed during the 11th century by Dudo of St. Quentin in Gesta Normannorum, who suggested that an excess of young males amongst Scandinavian societies forced many to embark on raiding in search of wealth and reputation.

This paper will propose a hypothetical social model for the conditions that might have prompted this violent behaviour. The mutually reinforcing social practices of polygyny and selective female infanticide will be considered in light of their potential to generate a pool of low-status males who were required to seek wealth and status in order to enter an elite-dominated marriage market. Relevant archaeological, historical and anthropological data will be consulted in order to identify the possible social mechanisms underpinning Iron Age Scandinavian societies, as well as the extent to which these precipitated socio-political change.

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Cite this Record

The 'Bare Branches' of Scandinavian Society and the Origins of Viking Raiding. Ben Raffield, Neil Price, Mark Collard. Presented at The 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Francisco, California. 2015 ( tDAR id: 395275)


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min long: -11.074; min lat: 37.44 ; max long: 50.098; max lat: 70.845 ;