The Period Transport of Liquids

The transport and the storage of liquids are one of the biggest problems in the reenactment of any time period. Archaeological finds are only a few and making a keg or flask needs skill. For a person living in 21st century, it is much easier and cheaper to load a barrel of beer and some bottles of water to a car and after that hide everything in a tent. On historical events, there are principles of hiding modern bottles, however we would be lying, if we said that it is a generally valid and strictly followed convention.

If we move from a camp to a march, there is a necessity to have a field bottle, because in our luggage there is a limited space for equipment. In such a case, we are going to plan our way close to the springs and streams. Scandinavian streams (Old Norse lœkr) and mountain rivers have stayed drinkable even up till now, so if the Old Norse people made a good journey plan, they had no thirst. In the corpus of Old Norse dictionary, there is a term rǫst (“mile”), which literally means “distance between two halts”. Literary sources show existence of route with some fixed halts, which were located near the water streams.

Reconstruction of the farmstead Stöng, Iceland.

Even buildings and farmsteads were built near to the water streams. Water is necessary for a household, and people settled there not only because of water, but also because of fish. In some sources, the connection of a farm and a stream more than obvious:

Next to Ásólf’s hall, there was a river. Winter started and the river was full of fish. Þorgeir claimed that they settled on his fishing grounds, so Ásólf moved and built the second hall on west near to another river.
(The book of settlement, chap. 21, Hauskbók version)

The same situation was during the settlement of Iceland. Settlers often took up land, surrounded by two water streams. In addition, there was the law that the settler could take more land than she or he could walk around in one day. The farmstead Stöng, which was built in 11th century and covered by volcano ash in 1104, follows the same logic – it was built on a hill approximately one kilometer above the Fossá river. In densely built-up areas, water drained from wells. The most of farms did not need wells, because they had access to water streams (Short 2003: 74).

The containers for a water transportation can be divided to big volume containers and small volume containers. Among the big volume containers belong barrels, buckets and bigger ceramic vessels. Their volume can be between ones and hundreds of litres and they served for crowds, e.g. farm residents, merchants or soldiers on war expeditions. However, the dimension limits mobility, as can be shown by the quote from the Eyrbyggja saga (chap. 39):

Then too was it the custom of all the shipmen to have their drink in common, and a bucket should stand by the mast with the drink therein, and a locked lid was over it. But some of the drink was in barrels, and was added to the bucket thence as soon as it was drunk out.

The transport of barrels at the Bayeux tapestry.

The small volume containers were using for needs of individuals and they were parts of personal equipment. We are talking about different kinds of flasks, bags and bottles, which had limited volume – only up to several litres, but it was not difficult to carry them. It is necessary to add, that there are almost no preserved containers from Scandinavian area, so we have to use the written sources or look for the analogic finds from the period Europe.

The barrel from Haithabu.

The biggest container from the Viking period is a barrel (Old Norse: tunni, verpill). The barrels are well preserved in archeological, written and iconographic sources. In the previous written example, we can see the barrels were used for long-term storage of water on ships. Barrels also served for fermentation and storage of beverages in the halls. A big barrel with the volume of approximately 800 litres was found in Haithabu, Germany. Similar finds are known also from the Rome Empire period. Barrels of this kind are also depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry, where they are loaded on both carts and shoulders and carried to the ships. The Tapestry comments this depiction with these words: “These men carry arms to the ships and here they drag a cart laden with wine and arms.

A slightly smaller container is represented by a bucket, a tub and a vat (Old Norse: ker). The main advantage is a handle for the easier transport. It could be the most frequent big volume container of the period. A bucket was not provided with a permanent lid, because the liquid was meant for an immediate consumption. If it was necessary, the bucket could be covered by a removable lid (Old Norse: hlemmr or lok, see the quote from Eyrbyggja saga). The finds of buckets are well preserved in Oseberg and Haithabu. In Haithabu, they found imported big volume ceramics (so called Reliefbandamphoren) as well, which could be used for similar purpose thanks to transportation eyelets.

Opening of a bottle.  Made by Jakub Zbránek and Zdeněk Kubík.

We know only a few finds of flasks and bottles (Old Norse: flaska) made of leather, ceramics, wood, metal and glass in Early medieval Europe. Absence of local anorganic bottles in Scandinavia is a sign of the fact that organic materials were mainly used. From the following list, it is evident that ceramic, metal and glass bottles were imported to Scandinavia.

There are only a few written mentions about bottles from Scandinavia and they all are of the late date. It is interesting that some mentions are connected with bynames of people living in the Viking Age. We can find Þorsteinn flǫskuskegg (“bottle beard“) and Þorgeirr flǫskubak (“bottle back“) among the Icelandic settlers.


  • Leather bottle, made by Petr Ospálek.

    Leather bottles – it is the only kind mentioned in Old Norse sources. In Grettis saga (chap. 11), there is a funny story of Þorgeirr flǫskubak who is attacked by an assassin to his back, but he manages to survive, because the axe of the assassin hits a leather flask:

“That morning, Þorgeirr got ready to row out to sea, and two men with him, one called Hámundr, the other Brandr. Þorgeirr went first, and had on his back a leather bottle [leðrflaska] and drink therein. It was very dark, and as he walked down from the boat-stand Þorfinn ran at him, and smote him with an axe betwixt the shoulders, and the axe sank in, and the bottle squeaked, but he let go the axe, for he deemed that there would be little need of binding up, and would save himself as swiftly as might be. [Now it is to be said of Þorgeirr, that he turned from the blow as the axe smote the bottle, nor had he any wound. [Thereat folk made much mocking, and called Þorgeirr Bottleback, and that was his by-name ever after.”

This part continues with a stanza with this meaning: “Earlier the famous men cut their swords into enemies’ bodies, but now a coward hit a flask with whey by an axe. Even though it is a nice example of an Old Norse perception of society decline, but we can notice the mention about whey (Old Norse sýra). The whey was mixed with water in a ratio 1:11 and created a popular Icelandic drink, the so-called blanda (for the exactl mixture, see here, page 26). The saga suggests that Þorgeirr has got such a drink in his flask.

The leather flasks are mentioned in Anglo-Saxon sources and are archaeologically documented in Ireland, where were found some decorated pieces from 12th century. They are lightweight and ideal for long hikes. They are resistant against damage too. But sometimes water is running through, whis is a disadvantage. Summary, I recommend to reconstruct of leather variants.



A replica of a wooden bottle, made by CEA.


 

  • Ceramics bottles – ceramics bottles were popular for the whole Early medieval period. They were used in the the Roman times (Roman ceramics amphoras for a wine transporting are known from Rhineland), in the Migration period, as well as in the period of 9th to 11th century. One piece was found in Winchester, England (11th century, photos here, here, here), another one in Gnezdovo, Russia (10th century, photo here) and yet another in Great Moravian Staré Město (9th century, photos here and here). In Belgian Ertvelde-Zelzate (9th century, here), a painted flask was found. Analogies of this bottle were found in Dorestad and in Norwegian Kaupang too. The find from Kaupang is represented by nine orange painted shards – the only proof of ceramics flasks in Scandinavia (Skre 2011: 293). The similar shape to Roman amphoras remained popular in the Rhineland, and it devepoled into so-called Reliefbandamphoren that are up to 70 cm high. Some pieces were found in Haithabu as well. Ceramic bottles seem to be popular in Eastern Europe as well.


    The pottery industry of Viking Age Scandinavia was not very developed, so we can presume that all the ceramic bottles in Scandinavia were imported. Me and my colleagues were using this type for years and it proved to be very practical. On the other hand, the use is very questionable in Scandinavia.


  • Bronze bottle from Aska.

    Metal bottles – an unique copper-alloy bottle was found in the woman’s grave in Aska, Sweden. According to works, which I found on the internet (here and here), the grave dated to 10th century and the container is considered a Persian import, because of the inscription. The origin limits the usage in reenactment. A similar bottle was found in FölhagenGotland, and it is dated to the of 10th century (the picture on demand).

  • Glass bottles – I am aware of two Scandinavian bottle necks made of glass, they are very rare finds. The first one was found in Haithabu and is dated to the 9th century (Schiezel 1998: 62, Taf. 13:1–2). The second one was found in a rich female grave from Trå, Norway, dated to the 10th century. Pictures on demand.

All the mentioned bottles except the glass and metal examples do have the eyelets. So, we can suppose that they had got a strap for a hanging. To my knowledge, stoppers are never preserved, so they probably were made of wood. The experiments showed that oaken lathed or hand-made mushroom or cylinder-shaped stoppers are functional. While a simple wooden stopper works for wooden and leather bottles, in case of other materials, it is useful if the stopper is a bit smaller and wrapped in a textile, so the neck is not destroyed by the harder material of the stopper. 

I believe that the article provided a brief summary of Early medieval liquid containers. For reenactment purposes, I recommend to use the barrels and buckets for camp life and the bottles for a march. This can also lead to reconstructing proper banquet tools, like spoons, scoop and ladles, that are present in the sources. If needed, write your feedback into the comments, the problem of a liquid transportation is still opened. Many thanks to Roman Král, Zdeněk Kubík, Jan Zajíc and Jakub Zbránek, who helped me with this article and answered my questions. 


Bibliography

The book of settlement – Landnamabók I-III: Hauksbók, Sturlubók, Melabók. Ed. Finnur Jónsson, København 1900.

Grettis saga – Saga o Grettim. Přel. Ladislav Heger, Praha 1957. Originál online.

Eyrbyggja saga – Sága o lidech z Eyru. Přel. Ladislav Heger. In: Staroislandské ságy, Praha 1965: 35–131.

Cleasby, Richard  Vigfússon, Gudbrand (1874). An Icelandic-English dictionary, Toronto.

Schietzel, Kurt (1998). Die Glasfunde von Haithabu, Berichte über die Ausgrabungen in Haithabu 32, Neumünster.

Short, William R. (2010). Icelanders in the Viking Age: The People of the Sagas, Jefferson.

Skre, Dagfinn (ed.) (2011). Things from the Town. Artefacts and Inhabitants in Viking-age Kaupang. Kaupang Excavation Project Publication series, vol. 3., Århus.

 

For those interested in wooden barrels, buckets and ceramic vessels, I recommend these books:

Hübener, Wolfgang (1959). Die Keramik von Haithabu, Neumünster.

Janssen, Walter (1987). Die Importkeramik von Haithabu, Neumünster.

Wesphal, Florian (2006). Die Holzfunde von Haithabu, Neumünster.

Jakobsson’s Hilt Typology

Jan Petersen’s revolutionary thesis De Norske Vikingesverd (1919) became a basis for many authors, who attempted to adjust or complete the work, or replace it with a typology of their own. Such an example is Mikael Jakobsson, who chose a different approach in his thesis Krigarideologi och vikingatida svärdstypologi (Stockholm, 1992), which we analyse in the text below.

kniha

The book Krigarideologi och vikingatida svärdstypologi [Warrior ideology and typology of Viking Age swords], which is a published doctoral thesis of the author, is a reputable and very thorough work. Personally, I see its main benefit in advanced analysis using data collected from majority of Europe. His goal is not a revision of Petersen’s hilt typology – with which he basically agrees – but a categorisation of broader hilt groups based on similarities in construction. Jakobsson labels these categories as “design principles”. While Petersen worked with three principles (a group with multi-lobed pommel, a group with simplified pommel, a group of unclassifiable types), Jakobsson expanded the list to six, respectively seven types:

  1. Triangle pommel
  2. Three-lobed pommel
  3. Five or more-lobed pommel
  4. Absenting pommel
  5. Curved guard
  6. Single-pieced pommel
  7. Unclassifiable

 

Design principle 1 : triangular pommel

Jakobsson’s triangular pommel corresponds to Petersen’s main sword types A, B, C, H and I, plus his special types 3, 6, 8 and 15. The swords using this design principle comprise a substantial part of swords finds portfolio – at least 884 pieces (48%) according to Jakobsson. This equals to 529 swords in Norway (60%), 147 in Sweden (17%), 81 in Finland (9%), 4 in Denmark (0,5%), 94 in Western Europe (11%) and 29 in Eastern Europe (3%). Their origin can be traced to continental swords with pyramid-shaped pommels. This principle emerged in Scandinavia sometime between the half and end of 8th century under the influence of Carolingian swords and remained there until the end of 10th century.

princip1-typyPetersen’s sword types corresponding with Jakobsson‘s design principle 1.

princip1-rozsireniDistribution of design principle 1 pommels, areas of archaeological finds marked with black.

Design principle 2 : three-lobed pommel

The design principle 2 includes variants of type A, types D, E, L, Mannheim, Mannheim/Speyer, R, S, T, U V and Z, older variant of type X and special types 1, 2, 6, 13, 14 and 19. This principle is present at least on 492 swords (26%). This corresponds with 188 swords in Norway (37%), 58 in Sweden (12%), 43 in Finland (9%), 18 in Denmark (4%), 75 in Western Europe (15%) and 110 in Eastern Europe (23%). The origin can be traced to Merovingian swords, with the three-lobed pommel being based on a pommel with animal heads on the sides. This principle appeared in Scandinavia at the end of 8th century under the influence of Early-Carolingian swords, and supported by English influence in 9th century, it remained there until the beginning of 11th century.

princip2-typyPetersen’s sword types corresponding with Jakobsson‘s design principle 2.

princip1-rozsireni
Distribution of design principle 2 pommels, areas of archaeological finds marked with black.

Design principle 3 : five and more-lobed pommel

Jakobsson’s design principle 3 includes Petersen’s sword types O, K and the five-lobed variant of type S. This principle is the least numerous with only over 88 swords (5%) and is tighly connected to the design principle 2. In Norway, there are 44 swords (49%), 4 in Sweden (5%), none in Finland, 1 in Denmark (1%), 26 in Western Europe (30%) and 13 in Eastern Europe (15%). Like design principle 2, also the design principle 3 is based on Merovingian pommels with animal heads on pommel sides. It arrived in Scandinavia at the beginning of 9th century and remained until the half of 10th century. The topic five and more-lobed pommels is vaguely analyzed, as there are more than fifty cast bronze pommels that are not included.

princip3-typyPetersen’s sword types corresponding with Jakobsson‘s design principle 3.

princip3-rozsireni
Distribution of design principle 3 pommels, areas of archaeological finds marked with black.

Design principle 4 : absenting pommel

With its distinctive upper guard instead of a traditional pommel, design principle 4 includes main types M, P, Q, Y, Æ and special types 5, 17 and 18. We know of at least 712 swords (39%) belonging to this design principle. It is notable that the type M alone is the most numerous of all sword types with more than 432 finds (17%). As for the principle 4, we know of 631 swords in Norway (89%), 23 in Sweden (3%), 14 in Finland (2%), 2 in Denmark (0,3%), 28 in Western Europe (4%) and 14 in Eastern Europe (2%). Design principle 4 was in use from 9th century to sometime during 11th century.

princip4-typyPetersen’s sword types corresponding with Jakobsson‘s design principle 4.

princip4-rozsireni
Distribution of design principle 3, areas of archaeological finds marked with black.

Design principle 5 : curved guard

This design principle of swords consists of main type L, Q, T, Y, Z and Æ, variants of types O, K and X, plus special types 7, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18 and 19. The number of swords belonging to design principle 5 is somewhere over 482 pieces (26%). In Norway, we know of 312 finds (71%), 32 in Sweden (7%), 23 in Finland (5%), 3 at maximum in Denmark (1%), 45 in Western Europe (10%) and 70 in Eastern Europe (6%). Design principle 5 was in use during the same period as design principle 4 – from the beginning of 9th century till the end of 11th century.

princip5-typyPetersen’s sword types corresponding with Jakobsson‘s design principle 5.

princip5-rozsireni
Distribution of design principle 5, areas of archaeological finds marked with black.

Design principle 6 : single-pieced pommel

The distinguishing attribute for design principle 6, containing sword types X and W, is a single-pieced pommel with absenting upper guard. There are over 211 swords (11%) of this kind, with 69 found in Norway (33%), 25 in Sweden (12%), 46 in Finland (22%), 8 in Denmark (4%), 51 in Western Europe (24%) and 12 in Eastern Europe (6%). While Jakobsson suggested design principle 6 coming into use at the end of 9th century or the beginning of 10th century, Jiří Košta proved on a set of type X swords from Moravia area of Mikulčice that this principle could had been in use in Central Europe as early as 9th century. This principle turned out to be dominant and substantial for following medieval weapons.

princip6-typyPetersen’s sword types corresponding with Jakobsson‘s design principle 5.

princip6-rozsireni
Distribution of design principle 6, areas of archaeological finds marked with black.

Unclassifiable

Out of the total of 1900 included swords, as much as 97% can be classified into one or more of the previous six design principles. The remaining 3% (around 60 swords) cannot be categorised as such, because they are either a combination of some of two principles or represent a completely standalone category.

nezaraditelnePetersen’s sword types corresponding with Jakobsson‘s unclassifiable category.


As the research shows, it is possible to see a certain evolution of the individual sword types, with a new type of sword per circa each new generation. On contrary, if we categorise the swords by Jakobsson’s design principles – thus working a wider group of sword types based on clearly defined attributes – the length of usage increases to over 100 years, in some cases even up to 200-250 years, i.e. 6-8 generations. Such a prolonged usage of similar manufacturing process undoubtedly must have a deeper meaning. At least in 10th century, all principles were used simultaneously, so it is not possible to connect different manufacturing processes with different chronology. The same goes with geographical distribution, as all principles were used in the similar area, and with practical features – design principle 1 has no connection between the pommel type and blade type, so we can come across both single- and two-edged swords. Jakobsson therefore suggests the popularity of six different principles being tied to something else entirely – to different strategies for reproducing a symbolical value tied to a physical form.

The symbolical value of swords goes hand to hand with their ownership and usage. The fact that the sword principles emerged in such volatile times filled with war, and that the swords are often found in graves suggests that their owners were perceived as sovereigns and combat capable figures. A sword is therefore a multi-layered expression of independence and legitimate membership of higher society (see The sword biography). This value was undoubtedly reflected by the visage of the sword, with some types or even whole principles being more suitable for such a presentation than others. Individual principles might have held a meaning we are not able to grasp anymore nowadays.

More traditional constructions (most of the principle 1, 2 and 3 swords) consist of heavier, usually decorated multi-pieced pommels and short guards, which are good especially for footed combat. In contrast to this conservative construction with deep roots in previous generations of Germanic weapons, there are lighter, less decorated swords with simple pommels, longer guards and better usage in mounted combat (principle 6, especially the type X). Their owners could had expressed their allegiance to continental aristocracy and fashion which the local elite promoted. This could also be the case of principle 5, which seems to be of Anglo-Saxon origin, with its features being widely replicated at least in Viking-Age Scandinavia. Principle 4 might had been more suitable for a part of population wishing to show their identity of sword owners but could not afford the previously mentioned principles. That is why Petersen‘s type M is the most common sword of the Early Middle-Ages (see Petersens type M swords).

Last but not least, it is important to mention that the weapon distribution throughout Scandinavia was not uniform, and that there were notable differences between rich centres and less important peripheries. In closed communities, such as Iceland and some Scandinavian regions, the weapons were widespread among the population, but swords were held by only the richest and in small numbers. In major centres such as Uppland, Central Sweden (also known as society dividing model), the weapons were mainly owned by warrior nobility, circa in ratio 14 Petersen’s types per 100 swords. In this societal model, the presence and absence of weapons among the wider population is crucial. In contrast to this model stand the peripheries settled by seldom stratified population attempting to demonstrate its power. Such a demonstration usually takes form of cumulation of vast number of weapons (also known as society uniting model), which is based on quantity and quality. This can be seen both in number of swords found in Norway, counting over several thousands, and relatively high diversity of sword types, being 10-13 Petersen‘s types per 100 swords in some areas. The vacuum created by absence of a central ruler is filled by number of lesser chieftains who represent their sovereignty by possession of exclusive equipment. Such a type of society, which uses more swords, preserves this trend and puts even more swords into circulation. Other reasons for the creation of Norwegian model could be interpreted by well-equipped militia, but also in other ways. According to Jakobsson, all the models are as a matter of fact a reflection of the same reality.

Jakobsson‘s work is a semiotic approach to material culture. He attempts to outline a complex relation between a symbol and a context and does not resort only to a single explanation. His approach to the subject is by both analysing the sword categories from broader historical perspective and by considering each of the specific weapons by the local and minor relevance. Despite its useful analyses and extensive appendixes, the book does not receive enough attention after more than 25 years. Nevetherless, Jakobsson‘s research should be revised in order to confirm or disprove its up-to-dateness.

Tomáš Vlasatý
Slaný, Bohemia, 2nd May 2019