The court site (tunanlegg, ringformet tun) – i.e. a number of houses placed side by side in a circle (or circle segment), each of the buildings featuring an entrance in the short wall facing the open courtyard in the centre – is a well-known type of site in Norwegian Iron Age archaeology. More than 20 court sites dating from the Early Roman period and later are found along the Norwegian coast from Agder in the Southeast to
Today, after a long scientific controversy, the Danish bog offering sites with weapons are being regarded as the results of a relatively little number of major depositions of materials belonging to attacking but defeated armies, and the finds rescued can be associated with different military ranks. The key material from Illerup place A (c. 200 AD) can be used for discussing many interesting questions.
According to analyses of the sacrificed objects, the weapon types have a distribution pattern common to most of
1. There are close similarities between artefacts in Norwegian graves, for example in Tryti (Western) and Bø (
2. An axe shaft found in Illerup was made of Christ’s thorn, i.e. a wood species that in
3. The SW Norwegian provenance of some of the attackers is perhaps indicated by a runic inscription known from Opedal in the Hardangerfjord, showing similarities to the ones from Illerup.
The preliminary conclusions from the still ongoing evaluation of the find material from place A in Illerup point towards an army originating in the
The man buried in the Bø grave in Steigen is of particular importance. In Illerup he would have had only a middle ranking position, whereas he was part of the top social stratum in
The court site organisation of
This hypothesis can be considerably elaborated upon. Egenæs Lund reflected upon the total number of Southwestern sites already in the 1960s, starting from the fact that these structures are always accompanied by other spectacular types of archaeological monuments, like big grave mounds, richly furnished graves, and large boathouses. Based on these criteria, he suggested that even more court sites were to be expected in Rogaland, namely at Avaldsnes, in the Sola region, and at Egersund. In fact, these places would have been ’predestined’ sites for monuments of this kind, and their absence may either be attributed to destruction at an early time, or to monuments not visible on the surface, like the one in Oddernes. Since several huge boathouses have recently been discovered in Avaldsnes, there might still be a chance for more discoveries.
The person buried at Avaldsnes in Karmøy and having the highest rank in the Illerup hierarchy is very interesting as a starting point for making further reflections. The extraordinary status of this burial from C1b/C2 excavated in the 1840s and earlier is reflected by the size of the mound, with a width of almost 50 m, the golden neckring of 600 g of gold, the shield with silver ornaments etc. Considering all the grave furnishings together, it is in fact the richest weapon grave of the Roman period in Scandinavia, ranking as high as for example the East German grave from Gommern, probably dating to the late 3 rd century, i.e. C2. A person like the one buried at Avaldsnes is very likely to have been in control of something more than an ordinary tribal chiefdom, and for that reason he may have been at the top of the SW Norwegian hierarchical organisation of court sites, acting as a (petty) king. If this is indeed the case, such an overlordship might have been only temporary, and most likely based on the person of the king, i.e. a Personenverbandstaat. This is not dissimilar to the political system suggested by Lotte Hedeager for
Around 200 AD settlements are restructured, and an infield-outfield system is established. The new, unprecedentedly stabile settlements of the Late Roman period in
The discussion about the interpretation of the find material from Illerup place A is still ongoing, and some archaeologists have doubted Ilkjær’s point of view, for example by pointing to the fact that the bog offerings may reflect inner-Danish confrontations, perhaps with engagement of Norwegian troops, or, alternatively, that the offerings represent the booty from a Danish raid in Norway, and thus constitute a Germanic version of a Roman triumph, an interpretatio Romana. Most of these alternative interpretations do not seem to have any bearing on Ilkjær’s work with the military hierarchy, as it can be reconstructed from the Illerup find. For this particular discussion, it isn’t really relevant if the kind of army that can be reconstructed in Illerup was defeated in
This points are elaborated upon in a recent article by Oliver Grimm and I in Norwegian Archaeological Review.