Vendel Period

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The Vendel I helmet, at the Swedish Museum of National Antiquities.

In Swedish prehistory, the Vendel Period (Swedish: Vendeltiden; c. 540–790 AD) appears between the Migration Period and the Viking Age. The name is taken from the rich boat inhumation cemetery at Vendel parish church, Uppland. This is a period with very little precious metal and few runic inscriptions, crammed between periods with abundant precious metal and inscriptions. Instead, the Vendel Period is extremely rich in animal art on copper-alloy objects. It is also known for guldgubbar, tiny embossed gold foil images, and elaborate helmets with embossed decoration similar to the one found at Sutton Hoo in England.[1]

During the period, the Elder Futhark writing system was abandoned in favor of the Younger Futhark, virtually simultaneously over the whole of Scandinavia. There are some runestones from the period, most notably those at Rök and Sparlösa, both from c. 800. Other written sources about the period are few and hard to interpret: a few Icelandic sagas, the tale of Beowulf, and some southern European writers. Earlier Swedish historians tried to make use of these to create a coherent history, but this effort has largely been abandoned, and the period is now mostly studied by archaeologists.[2]

Swedish expeditions began to explore the waterways of what was to become Russia, Ukraine, Belarus at this time.


The Germanic Iron Age is divided into the Early Germanic Iron Age (EGIA) and the Late Germanic Iron Age (LGIA). It is particularly for Sweden that the late Germanic iron age spanning between 550–800 is called the Vendel era. In Norway and Finland it is more common to refer to the period as the Merovingian Age, while the Danish refer to it as the Younger Germanic Iron Age.

The late Germanic Iron Age begins with the fall of the Western Roman Empire and the rise of the Gothic kingdoms in Europe, later replaced by the Franks, the Lombards and the Avar Khaganate. After the Western Roman Empire fell, gold became scarce and Scandinavians began to make objects of gilded bronze, with decorative figures of interlacing animals. During the early Germanic Iron Age, decorations tended to be representational; the animal figures were drawn in more basic forms. In the later Germanic Iron Age, artistic styles became more abstract, symbolic, and intricate, including figures with interlaced shapes and limbs.

The upheaval in Europe appears to have lessened somewhat due to the gradual cessation of the Gothic Wars. Emperor Justinian's Eternal Peace (532) with the Shahanshah Khosrau I of Iran as well as the Byzantine reconquest of the Italian peninsula with the capitulation of the Goths south of the Po river (555), the completion of the Byzantine reconquest (562) may be seen in context of what has been described as the Vendel period. The Merovingians have united the Gaulish Romans and the Belgae. The Franks establishing the Merovingan dynasty as "Kings of the Franks" (since 509).

In Uppland, in what today is the east-central part of Sweden, Old Uppsala was probably the centre of religious and political life. It had both a well-known sacred grove and great Royal Mounds.

Burial customs[edit]

Several areas with rich burial gifts have been found, including well-preserved boat inhumation graves at Vendel and Valsgärde, and tumuli at Gamla Uppsala. These were used for several generations.

Some of the riches were probably acquired through the control of mining districts and the production of iron. The rulers had troops of mounted elite warriors with costly armour. Graves of mounted warriors have been found with stirrups and saddle ornaments of birds of prey in gilded bronze with encrusted garnets.

Rich grave goods indicate a royal or high status burial. For example chess pieces made of ivory in the Roman style are found in the western grave, and buttons made of gold and three Middle Eastern cameos have also been found along with Frankish clothes made of gold thread.[3]

Games were popular, as is shown in finds of tafl games, including pawns and dice.

The Sutton Hoo helmet closely resembles helmets found in Gamla Uppsala, Vendel and Valsgärde, sharing elements such as boar imagery and pressblech foil decoration, showing that the Anglo-Saxon elite had extensive contacts with Swedish elite.[4]

Written sources[edit]

Mounted elite warriors are mentioned in the work of the 6th century Goth scholar Jordanes, who wrote that the Swedes had the best horses beside the Thuringians. They also echo much later in the sagas, where king Adils is always described as fighting on horseback (both against Áli and Hrólf Kraki). Snorri Sturluson wrote that Adils had the best horses of his days. The epic of Beowulf also describes legendary tales about the Swedish Vendel times, including great wars called the Swedish-Geatish wars between the Swedish house of Scylfling and the Geatish house of Wulfling.[5]

Due to Beowulf and Norse sagas possibly independently mentioning some of the Swedish legendary royals some of them could be historical. Geats could have been a part of the Anglo-Saxon settlement of Britain. They probably did not have any major role but could have been described by English sources as Jutes.[6] The Wulfling dynasty in Geatland might be related to the house of Wuffingas.[7]

Timeline of Swedish history[edit]

SwedenEarly Swedish historyMigration PeriodViking AgeVendel eraGermanic Iron AgeRoman Iron AgePre-Roman Iron AgeNordic Bronze AgeNeolithicMesolithicUpper PaleolithicNordic Stone AgeLitorina ageAncylus age

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Harrison (2009), p. 68
  2. ^ Harrison (2009), pp. 21-23
  3. ^ Västhögen. "Västhögen". Arkeologi Gamla Uppsala (in Swedish). Retrieved 6 January 2021.
  4. ^ Bruce-Mitford, Rupert (1974). Aspects of Anglo-Saxon Archaeology: Sutton Hoo and Other Discoveries. London: Victor Gollancz.
  5. ^ "The Project Gutenberg eBook of Beowulf: An Anglo-Saxon Epic Poem".
  6. ^ Schütte, Gudmund (1912). "The Geats of Beowulf". The Journal of English and Germanic Philology. 11 (4): 574–602. JSTOR 27700194.
  7. ^ Newton, Sam (2004). The Origins of Beowulf: And the Pre-Viking Kingdom of East Anglia. Boydell & Brewer. ISBN 978-0-85991-472-7.


  • Jesch, Judith (ed.) (2012). The Scandinavians from the Vendel Period to the Tenth Century: An Ethnographic Perspective, Boydell Press, 2012. ISBN 9781843837282
  • Harrison, Dick. Sveriges historia: 600–1350. Norstedts. Stockholm: 2009. ISBN 9789113023779
  • Hyenstrand, Åke. Lejonet, draken och korset. Sverige 500–1000 [The Lion, the Dragon, and the Cross. Sweden 500–1000]. Enskede: TBP, 2002.