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4.3 The 10th century; towards centralised control over the western contact?

From around AD 900, the datable Insular material from Trøndelag shows several changes in the nature of contact. Within large parts of the Trondheimsfjord, there is a sudden disappearance of Insular finds in areas that appeared to have frequent contact in the previous century, suggesting that the westward ventures had come to an end for many of the communities within the fjord. This is particularly notable in Stjørdal, where the preceding strong connections more-or-less seem to vanish around the beginning of the 10th century. The decrease of datable finds not only from Stjørdal, but also in other parts of Uttrøndelag, is significant. Part of the decline is almost certainly related to changed conditions within the Norse settlements in the British Isles, where the activity and the evolving communities in the later 9th century became more politically controlled and where 'there was no place for old style war bands under individual chieftains raiding monasteries and looking for land to settle' (Crawford 1987, 63). However, while the number of Insular finds declines significantly in Uttrøndelag, finds of such artefacts seem to continue to some extent in Inntrøndelag and Namdalen, indicating additional regional and local factors may have been at work.

Wealth acquired by warfare and trade was an effective means of winning support and building up power and prestige within the social system of Norse communities (Helle 1991, 26). The economic and ideological resources that could be drawn from the Insular networks must therefore have been significant, providing a considerable source of income and status for those involved. Access and influence over the North Sea activity would also have given the local elites strategic access to the aristocratic networks of northern Europe (Bjørgo 1995, 27). The networks with the Insular world would therefore have represented both an essential economic and ideological prerequisite for maintaining and strengthening the power base for certain groups. Control over trading and exchange became of increased importance towards the end of the Viking Age as both local and long-distance trading increased in volume (Skre 2007). Heimskringla refers to an increased consolidation of power in Trøndelag during the last part of the Viking Age, resulting in conflicts between powerful Norse leaders who were seeking to establish and control trade within the Trondheimsfjord. This is likely to have led to increased control of North-Sea activity, which in turn is liable to have been another factor diminishing the opportunities for individual chieftains from smaller communities around the fjord to organise westwards voyages. It may therefore be no coincidence that the overall finds distribution within the Trondheimsfjord area indicates that westward contact, which still existed in the 10th century, was confined to Inntrøndelag, especially to the area around Steinkjer. This may be related to the emergence of a central trading place at Steinkjer towards the end of the Viking Age as indicated by written sources and archaeological finds (Grønnesby and Ellingsen 2012, 43-44). According to the Saga of Olav Haraldsson (St Olaf), the Jarl of Lade - Eirik - founded a trading place (Kaupang) at Steinkjer in an attempt to make Steinkjer the leading trading centre in Trøndelag at the expense of the royal centre at Nidaros (Trondheim). This is likely to have been a policy both to limit increasing royal power and Christian influence in the region and to reinforce the Jarls' power base in Inntrøndelag, where the old faith and traditions were still strong (Skjevik 1997, 146).

The Steinkjer Kaupang is supposed to have been of greater importance than Nidaros for a short period before King Olav Haraldsson again restored Nidaros as the royal residence and trading centre, towards the end of the Viking Age. The distribution of imported finds in that area indicates that the Kaupang in Steinkjer was in operation during parts of the 10th century, although its exact location remains uncertain (Grønnesby and Ellingsen 2012, 31, 44). Archaeological evidence from burials at Lø in Steinkjer, however, suggests that this farm may have had a central role in the control and administration of trade and exchange during this period, possibly on behalf of a leading chieftain in Inntrøndelag (Herstad 2012, 104-5). The Insular material from Lø includes the balance scale previously discussed, and it is worth noting that this find, together with a balance scale from the neighbouring farm Egge (of possible eastern origin), so far represent the only weighing equipment found in 10th-century graves from within the Trondheimsfjord.


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