Nordic Bronze Age: Wikis


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Map of the Nordic Bronze Age culture, c. 1200 BC
Viking ship
History of

The Nordic Bronze Age (also Northern Bronze Age) is the name given by Oscar Montelius to a period and a Bronze Age culture in Scandinavian pre-history, c. 1700-500 BC, with sites that reached as far east as Estonia.[1] Succeeding the Late Neolithic culture, its ethnic and linguistic affinities are unknown in the absence of written sources. It is followed by the Pre-Roman Iron Age.


General characteristics

Bronze Age rock carvings from Häljesta, Västmanland province, Sweden. The carvings have been painted in recent times. It is unknown whether they were painted originally. Composite image. Nordic Bronze Age.

Even though Scandinavians joined the European Bronze Age cultures fairly late through trade, Scandinavian sites present rich and well-preserved objects made of wool, wood and imported Central European bronze and gold. The Scandinavians adopted many important European and Mediterranean symbols while adapting these to create a unique Nordic style. Mycenaean Greece, the Villanovan culture, Phoenicia and Ancient Egypt have all been identified as possible sources of influence for Scandinavian artwork from this period. The foreign influence is believed to have been due to the amber trade. Amber found in Mycenaean graves from this period originates from the Baltic Sea, so it is reasonable to assume that the culture that arose in the Nordic Bronze Age constituted one supply end of the so-called Amber Road. Many rock carvings depict ships, and the large stone burial monuments known as stone ships suggest that shipping played an important role. Several rock carvings depict ships that have been identified as plausibly Mediterranean.

Bronze Age burial mound (Bronsåldershög vid Gårdstånga, Skåne, Sweden)

There are many mounds and rock carving sites from the period. Numerous artifacts of bronze and gold are found. No written language existed in the Nordic countries during the Bronze Age. The rock carvings have been dated through comparison with depicted artifacts, for example bronze axes and swords. (There are also numerous Nordic Stone Age rock carvings in the north of Scandinavia, mostly portraying elk.)


Bronze lurs such as the lurs of Brudevælte found in Denmark were probably used in Bronze Age rituals.

Oscar Montelius, who coined the term used for the period, divided it into six distinct sub-periods in his piece Om tidsbestämning inom bronsåldern med särskilt avseende på Skandinavien ("On Bronze Age dating with particular focus on Scandinavia") published in 1885 which is still in wide use. His absolute chronology has held up well against radiocarbon dating, with the exception that the period's start is closer to 1700 BC than 1800 BC, as Montelius suggested. For Central Europe a different system developed by Paul Reinecke is commonly used, as each area has its own artefact types and archaeological periods.

  • I: 1700 BC-1500 BC
  • II: 1500 BC-1300 BC
  • III: 1300 BC-1100 BC
  • IV: 1100 BC-900 BC
  • V: 900 BC-700 BC
  • VI: 700 BC-500 BC

These six periods are then followed by the Pre-Roman Iron Age. Another, broader subdivision is the "Early Bronze Age" between 1700 BC and 1100 BC and the "Late Bronze Age" 1100 BC to 550 BC.


The Nordic Bronze Age was characterized by a warm climate that began with a climate change circa 2700 BC (comparable to that of present-day central Germany and northern France). The warm climate permitted a relatively dense population and good farming, for example grapes were grown in Scandinavia at this time. However a small change in climate between 850 BC and 760 BC and a more radical one circa 650 BC brought in a deteriorating, wetter and colder climate (sometimes believed to have given rise to the legend of the Fimbulwinter).

Rock carvings showing typical Bronze Age boats. Located at Bardal in Steinkjer, Norway, 64°N.


The Trundholm sun chariot pulled by a horse is sculpture believed to illustrate an important part of Nordic Bronze Age mythology.

Not much is known about the Nordic Bronze Age religion, since written sources are lacking. However numerous archaeological finds draw a vague picture of what the religion might have been, but only some possible sects of it and only certain possible tribes. Some of the best clues to the religion of this period come from the rock carvings scattered through Northern Europe.

In general most scholars agree that the Bronze Age religion was centered around the sun or a sun god. The sun was carried across the sky on a wagon pulled by a horse. Rock carvings from this time period sometimes show a sun wheel (usually depicted as an equilateral cross in a circle) near or being held by a figure that seems to be male. The gender of this figure is not known with certainty, but is believed to be male because of a penis-like projection coming from the groin. It is interesting to note that while the sun seems to have been worshipped as a male figure during the Bronze Age, later Scandinavian pagan beliefs pictured the sun as a goddess (Sunna in Norse religion), and the word for "Sun" is generally attested with feminine grammatical gender in the later Germanic languages. It is unknown how this transition occurred; perhaps a merging of different cultures is the answer.

Supposed twin gods in battle-axe fight from the rock carvings in Tanumshede.(Red color was added recently)

A pair of twin gods are believed to have been worshipped, and is reflected in a duality in all things sacred: where sacrificial artifacts have been buried they are often found in pairs. A female or mother goddess is believed to have been widely worshipped (see Nerthus). Sacrifices (animals, weapons, jewelry and men) have been connected to water and small lakes or ponds have often been used as holy places for sacrifice and many artifacts have been found in such locations. Hieros gamos rites may have been common. Ritual instruments such as bronze lurs have been found sacrificed and are believed to have been used in ceremonies.

Bronze Age rock carvings may contain some of the earliest depictions of well known gods from later Norse mythology. A common figure in these rock carvings is that of a male figure carrying what appears to be an axe or hammer. Most likely, this may have been an early representation of Thor. Other male figures are shown holding a spear. Whether this is a representation of Odin or Týr is not known, as both gods are associated with this weapon. It is possible the figure may have been a representation of Tyr, as one example of a Bronze Age rock carving appears to show a figure missing a hand. A figure holding a bow may be an early representation of Ullr.

Remnants of the Bronze Age religion and mythology are believed to exist in Germanic mythology and Norse mythology; e.g., Skinfaxi and Hrímfaxi and Nerthus.

Timeline of Historical Scandinavia


  1. ^ "Estonia" (html). European Cultural Paths. 1997-1999. Retrieved 2007-11-13.  


  • Dabrowski, J. (1989) Nordische Kreis un Kulturen Polnischer Gebiete. Die Bronzezeit im Ostseegebiet. Ein Rapport der Kgl. Schwedischen Akademie der Literatur Geschichte und Alter unt Altertumsforschung über das Julita-Symposium 1986. Ed Ambrosiani, B. Kungl. Vitterhets Historie och Antikvitets Akademien. Konferenser 22. Stockholm.
  • Davidson, H. R. Ellis and Gelling, Peter: The Chariot of the Sun and other Rites and Symbols of the Northern European Bronze Age.
  • K. Demakopoulou (ed.), Gods and Heroes of the European Bronze Age, published on the occasion of the exhibition "Gods and Heroes of the Bronze Age. Europe at the Time of Ulysses", from December 19, 1998, to April 5, 1999, at the National Museum of Denmark, Copenhagen, London (1999), ISBN 0-500-01915-0.
  • Demougeot, E. La formation de l'Europe et les invasions barbares, Paris: Editions Montaigne, 1969-1974.
  • Kaliff, Anders. 2001. Gothic Connections. Contacts between eastern Scandinavia and the southern Baltic coast 1000 BC – 500 AD.
  • Montelius, Oscar, 1885. Om tidsbestämning inom bronsåldern med särskilt avseende på Skandinavien.
  • Musset, L. Les invasions: les vagues germanique, Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1965.

See also

External links



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