Economic and political development in the Viking Era

Swedish stamps, circa 1990. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

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.

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Researchers don’t really know much about the Viking Era but have increased knowledge with new techniques.

Viking ships on the water under the sunlight and dark storm. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

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 Vikings Else 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.”

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More ideas on how to interpret those horrible, brutal, vicious Vikings who were worse than those other horrible, brutal, and vicious people.

Illustration courtesy of Adobe Stock.

The Age of the Vikings by Anders Winroth provides lots of enjoyable information on the Viking Age.

The author suggests that much of what we think we know about the Vikings is “skewed, exaggerated, or simply misunderstood. “ He wants to challenge some of the over-the-top stories we hear.

One factor he suggests we keep in mind is the Medieval ages were incredibly violent. He suggests the Vikings were no more violent than other leaders of the time, specifically Charlemagne.

The reports of their raids, normally written by the victims, suggest they were unusually ruthless, unusually successful, unusually destructive.

In contrast to common lore, the author suggests they were just as destructive and just as brutal as all the other people groups of the time.

Continue reading “More ideas on how to interpret those horrible, brutal, vicious Vikings who were worse than those other horrible, brutal, and vicious people.”

Attrition rate in Roman Legions.

Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock.

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.

The death rate in ancient times was terrible.

In The Roman Army – The Greatest War Machine in the Ancient World, Chris McNab provides some estimates of the rate of losses in a Roman Legion (page 152).

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Life in Europe before the Industrial Revolution was dirty and disease-ridden.

Back in the 1820s, the upper class in San Diego had nice furniture but still used chamber pots which had to be dumped in the morning, Photo by James Ulvog.

There is a myth that rural life in the medieval ages before the industrial revolution was, if not good, then at least okay. In fact life then was a battle for survival.

(Cross-post from Freedom is Moral. Posted here as in illustration of the progress made by the rising wealth generated by the Industrial Revolution.)

The romantic idea of a plentiful past is pure fantasy – Marian Tupy at CapX – 2/13/19

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.

Continue reading “Life in Europe before the Industrial Revolution was dirty and disease-ridden.”

Picture of life on a South Dakota farm based on what can be seen in a probate document

Daniel Ulvog with horses. Date unknown but before 1945. Photo courtesy of Sonia Pooch.

In 1945 my paternal grandfather departed this vail of tears. The probate document filed for his estate the next year provides a financial glimpse of life on a South Dakota farm in the mid-1940s.

This was a time of low productivity with all the members of a large family working all day every day to keep the farm running.

Farmers were starting to transition from horse power to tractor power.

It was also a time of self-sufficiency: Raising the oats and hay to feed the horses to work the fields to raise the corn and hay to feed the pigs and cows to sell for money to pay for the farm.

I will use my accountant eyes to see what can be learned from just a probate filing.

Discussion in this series:

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Lorica Segmentata and Lorica Hamata, body armor worn by Roman Legionaries.

Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

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.

Lorica Segmentata

The armor consists of horizontal scales, sort of like a lobster. Additional plates protect the shoulders.

Wikipedia says 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.

Lorica Segmentata. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

The armor fastened in front and back.  The sections could be stored inside each other, allowing for compact storage.

Legionary: The Roman Soldier’s (Unofficial) Manual by Philip Matyszak explains a Legionaire would first put on a scarf to protect the neck and chest from being rubbed raw by the steel.

The plates required constant polishing to prevent rust.

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First estimate of value of my grandfather’s estate at close of probate

House on a farm where Ulvog family lived for a while, back when my dad, aunts, and uncles were growing up.

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:

livestock       4,508
oats and corn       1,794
tractors          450
tractor drawn equipment          150
horses          400
horse drawn equipment          140
other equipment          180
car          300
total assets, without $400 liability       7,922


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.

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Caligae – the marching boots worn by Roman Legionnaires

Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

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.)

Hobnail (PSF).png has been released into the public domain courtesy of Pearson Scott Forseman.

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.

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Balteus or cingulum- belt worn by Roman Legionnaires. Puglio – dagger carried by soldiers.

Roman Legionairre, with focus on belt, or balteus. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

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.

Continue reading “Balteus or cingulum- belt worn by Roman Legionnaires. Puglio – dagger carried by soldiers.”