Haithabu bei Schleswig, Museum und Museumsdorf. Rekonstruiertes Wikingerschiff.

Hedeby: Scandinavia’s Southernmost Town in the Viking Age

Hedeby, the southernmost town in Scandinavia during the Viking Age, was one of the most important Viking trade centers. It was settled as early as 770 A.D. and is the site of several firsts for the Viking Age, including the earliest Scandinavian coins in 808 A.D. and the first Christian church sanctioned by King Horic around 850 A.D. Hedeby was surrounded by semi-circular ramparts that connected to the Danevirke fortifications.

A Town by Any Other Name

Hedeby has had several names. Currently, those traveling to Hedeby need to head to the German town of Haithabu. Historic references include Sliesthorp, Sliaswich, Slesvic, Aet Haethum, and Haitha By.

Gaining Influence

The Frankish Annals, written in 804 A.D., contain the earliest mention of Hedeby. According to the Annals, Danish King Godfred moved to Sliesthorp with his army. Four years after the move, Godfred destroyed the Polabian Slavic trading center of Reric. He moved the merchants from that town to Hedeby (Sliesthorp).

Losing Influence

Around 1050 A.D., Norwegian King Harald Hardrada plundered Hedeby and set fire to its ships and the town. The Polabian Slavs finally had their revenge in 1066 A.D. when they attacked the town. Those who survived the attack moved across the river to the town of Schleswig and built up Schleswig’s economy. Schleswig also benefitted from its position closer to the Baltic Sea as ships began to require deeper water to accommodate their draft.

Hedeby: A Town Preserved

Lageplan von Haithabu (draussen auf dem Nordwall fix angebracht)

Rising water inundated much of the town, which has been great for archeology. The water has helped to preserve wood and other organic material that would have, under normal circumstances, decayed and disappeared. The Hedeby Viking Museum contains many artifacts found at the site, as well as some reconstructed buildings. While this is one of the most studied archeology sites in Germany, only about five percent of it has been explored.

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Sources: The Vikings by Else Roesdahl. Published by Penguin books, 1998, revised edition.




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