In The Vikings, Else Roesdahl provides a great description of how economic growth took place during the Viking era and how political development was both possible as a result and was simultaneously required for the growth to continue.
Early on men in an area would gather in “things”, local assemblies to resolve conflicts. Local yarls (rulers or strongmen, vaguely similar to a small city mayor) struggled, schemed, and fought to gain influence over larger areas.
Without a modest level of security and property rights, one dare not risk scarce capital in building a foundry or gather lots of goods for trading.
As regional yarls, or petty kings, gain influence, more stability developed.
The opening comments in all the books I read on the Viking Age explore the limits on our knowledge of the Viking era. Seems to me most of the reliable information has been developed in the last century or so.
Like my discussion of other books on the Vikings and Romans, this series of posts will describe some things I find particularly interesting. My hope is this will be interesting to others as well.
With the series on this book I will start bringing in other things I have learned from previous reading.
Researchers don’t really know that much of the Viking Era
Like other authors, in The VikingsElse Roesdahl points out most of what we know of the Vikings is from contemporary victims of the Vikings or from reports written long after the Viking era ended.
As a result, as the author says, it is difficult, if not impossible
“to distinguish pure fiction from an embellished version of an event…”
and to separate
“improvements and additions to make the story more coherent, from what was once objective reality.”
No, I’m not talking about losses in battle. Disease, famine, and lack of food in normal times were deadly in the ancient world. Not even until the American Civil War was germ theory of disease transmission a known thing.
This series of posts by Marian Tupy was kicked off as a response to one writer who disagreed with the assertion that the portion of people living in abject poverty has declined radically starting about 200 years ago. That particular author gives away his worldview by using Marxist terms. Thus we know why he refuses to acknowledge the existence and cause of rapid increases in wealth over the last 200 years. What, oh what, could have possibly caused that change?
I won’t dive in the to the responses. I will however provide a few tidbits from this article for insight of the severity of poverty in the past.
Prior to the 19th century, most people wore clothes made of wool, which not only itched but was also hard to clean, which increased disease transmission.
Keep in mind that concept of germs did not exist and most people lived under the same roof with their livestock, both to prevent theft and for mutual warmth. The animal droppings were used for fertilizer. All of that shot mortality rates skyhigh.
The body armor presented on a Roman Legionnaire, whether on ancient statues, modern re-enactors, or illustrations is usually the scaled plate armor referred to as Lorica Segmentata, a phrase that has been in use only since the 16th century.
The armor consists of horizontal scales, sort of like a lobster. Additional plates protect the shoulders.
Wikipediasays the insides of the plates were soft steel and the outside mild steel. The individual plates were hung on a leather harness with brass buckles. Later on rivets or hooks were used.
The armor fastened in front and back. The sections could be stored inside each other, allowing for compact storage.
The probate document for my paternal grandfather listed the assets in his estate. What is the total value of his estate? Let’s ponder that question.
Values for some items are listed in the probate document. Prices of asset purchases and sales during the time between his death and filing of probate document can be used to estimate other values. For example, I estimated values for livestock at this earlier post.
Here is a summary of the assets:
oats and corn
tractor drawn equipment
horse drawn equipment
total assets, without $400 liability
My estimate for the value of the individual items in his estate as listed in the probate filing are accumulated below. I’ll update this analysis later if I can get better definition for value of some assets.
Legionnaires in the Roman army wore marching boots, called caligae (singular caliga). These may appear to be merely an open sandal. However, they were sturdy enough to wear all day, every day, even on long marches.
A thick lower sole would be attached to a mid sole with hobnails. This added strength to the boot and increased its durability. (I don’t know enough about shoe construction but that is the comment made by several sources.)
For a conception of what hobnailed Roman caligae might look like, consider this photo of a hobnailed boot of the U.S. Union Army. The boot is thus circa 1861 to 1865.
Roman soldiers would wear a belt around their waist.
I have not seen much discussion on the purpose of the belt. It would be the base for carrying some items. For example, a dagger, called a puglio, would be on the left side. A money pouch could be carried on the belt, I suppose.
See update below for comments on purpose of a balteus.