Danish towns

The Danish town

It was in Viking times that the first actual towns were founded in Scandinavia. In the first instance they played an essential role in the development of commerce and later in the administration of royal power.

Thanks to archaeological excavations and descriptions of towns in written sources we now know what many of the Viking Age towns in Denmark looked like.

  • What is the reason for towns appearing at the beginning of the Viking Age?
  • Where were these towns located in the landscape and why?
  • Why was the harbour so important?
  • How were the towns fortified and why?
  • What happened towards the end of the 10th century which led to the appearance of new towns and the restructuring of old ones?
  • Which role did Viking Age towns play in the development of society?
  • How was central royal power expressed in Viking Age urban society and of what significance was the town for royal power?
  • Discuss the attributes that made Roskilde suitable as a royal town.
  • Discuss why Lund was an important town for royal power.
  • Which role did Viking Age towns play relative to the Church?
  • Read the texts on Haithabu, Ribe, Roskilde and Aarhus and use the descriptions of the towns as the basis for a drawing or a papier mâché model of a Viking town with a harbour, church and trading stalls.
  • Plan a Viking town. Consider the town's location, municipal government, activities such as trade, crafts and perhaps a harbour for a war fleet. Which links does the town have on both land and water
  • Draw plan of the town and give it a name – also name the streets within it.


Your own town in Viking times

In Viking times, the early towns were often located within easy access to water, as hubs for trade between the local areas and international trade routes. When new towns appeared they were located strategically as administrative centres for royal power and the Church.

  • Investigate the towns which are shown on our map and draw or describe your own town as it would have appeared around AD 1000.
  • Compare the Viking towns with your town. Where is your town located? Is there anything important about its location? Are there any special characteristics? Take a look at a map of the town. What does the street plan of the town look like?


Place names and street names

Street names and place names in Viking times often revealed what took place in a particular area – which craftsmen had workshops there, which merchants had stalls, or which wares were sold. 

  • Look at a map of your country and work out how place and street names are given today. Try to find place names made by joining two words together. Where do the words come from? How old are they and what do they mean? Find street names that can tell us what has happened in the area around the street several hundred years ago. For example Sølvgade (Silver Street) in Copenhagen; this tells us that silversmiths worked here in medieval Copenhagen.