Distribution of wealth at the end of the Viking Age

Icelandic farm recreation. Stretch you mind and picture a farm in Norway or Sweden. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

How concentrated was wealth at the end of the Viking Age?

In lecture 34 of his course The Vikings, from The Great Courses Prof Kenneth Harl tries to frame up the dispersal of wealth in Scandinavia at the end of the Viking Age.

He makes the following estimates of the concentration of land ownership in the late 12th and earliest 13th century. This would reflect the increased trade and improved agriculture that occurred as Norway, Sweden, and Denmark fully embraced Christianity and had well-developed territorial monarchies.

  • Denmark: He estimates 75% of the land was owned by large landowners and another 15% was royal land. That leaves somewhere around 10% of the land for small farmers who could live independent of the landed class.
  • Norway: The country developed differently, so that about one-third of the land was owned by small farmers. An unquantified portion of people could make a living from ocean fishing and thus not live under the control of the big landowners.
  • Sweden: Geography and the impact that had on political developments led to a very different result. About 50% of the land, give or take, was held by smaller farmers.

That is quite a wide range of the concentration of wealth.

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