The Viking Town
Twelve hundred years ago, the king of the Swedes established a new trading port at one of the inlets from the Baltic Sea. The place was called Birka, and became Sweden's first real town. Birka is today a popular site for excursions, where the archaeologists' continuing excavations provide insight into the daily life of the former Viking town.
The island is today called Bj?rk? and the inlet from the sea is nowdays lake M?laren. The grounds on Bj?rk? were cultivated long before Birka's heyday, and the island still has a thriving landscape with grazing animals and verdant fields. Birka and Hovg?rden were added to the World Heritage List in 1993.
Birka was an important centre of trade for Northern Europe for 200 years. The town was founded in the late 8th century and abandoned before the end of the 10th century. During its period of prosperity, it had close on 1,000 inhabitants. Pagans and Christians lived side-by-side, and plenty of foreigners dwelled in Birka as well. When the king visited the town, he and his company lived on Hovg?rden, the King's estate on the island across the water.
Contacts outside of Scandinavia
Birka was part of a global commercial network. Arabic silver and Russian pearls were traded for iron or skins. The plentiful archaeological findings tell a story of a society with a distinct hierarchy and inequalities between both the classes and sexes. Merchants, artisans and farmers were all part of Birka's population, which was ruled by the King's representative when the King was absent.
Why was the town abandoned?
Archaeological material suggests that Birka was abandoned, and that people moved elsewhere, possibly to the town of Sigtuna which was founded by Erik Segers?ll in AD 970. One reason for the move can have been the increasing difficulty in reaching Birka. Isostatic uplift (rising land levels after the ice-age) led to shallowing of the S?dert?lje water route. Furthermore, progress began to favour larger ships.
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