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Weapon graves in Iron Age Norway (1-550 AD)

The present paper deals with a minority of burials in Roman (B-C) and Migration period (D) Norway, namely the ones containing weapons. Its aim is two-folded: 1) to present an overview of this material to non-Norwegian colleagues, and 2) to discuss the significance of the weapon burial rite in its Scandinavian and North European context. Regarding the first, I intend to focus on the chronology, regional distribution and typology of burials with weapons. As for the latter, the emphasis will be on weapon graves as evidence both of the militarisation of barbarian society in general and more specific of warlike relations between the Roman Empire and the northern Germans, particularly the question of Scandinavian auxiliaries in the Roman army.

In the Nordic area, the first weapon graves appear in the Late pre-Roman Iron Age; mainly, but not exclusively in parts of Denmark (Hedeager 1992:115). Well-known examples are found on Bornholm (for instance Simblegård) and Fyn (Langå). As for Norway, a small number of finds, mostly from the south eastern part of the country and all of them cremations, shows this early development here as well (cf Martens 2008). The oldest group of weapon graves in Barbaricum occurs east of the River Oder in the early part of the Late pre-Roman Iron Age, and according to some researchers, the rite might have its origins in the Upper or Middle Vistula area (Adler 1993: 211).

Although there are clear regional differences when it comes to leaving weapons with the dead (Hedeager & Kristiansen 1981:122f; Watt 2003), the practice of leaving weapons with the dead from that point onward exists in many parts of Scandinavia right through to Christian times, i.e. to the late 10th and.early 11th centuries. For large tracts of Norway, the majority of weapon graves do in fact belong to the Viking period (late 8th – mid 11th cent.).

Norway’s physical geography

Norway is one of Europe’s most mountainous countries; average elevation is 460 m, and more than 30 % of the mainland is located above the tree line. It’s long and rugged coastline (covering 13° latitude from 58°N to 71°N) is strewn with some 50,000 islands. The whole of Norway was glaciered during the last ice age, as well as during several earlier glacial stages. The glacier’s movement carved out valleys, some of which became fjords when the ice melted, and the retreating glacier left pockets of sediment which have attracted settlements since the Neolitihic.

The large mountain range that runs through the Scandinavian Peninsula separates the eastern from the western parts of the country. This, and the limited distribution of land suitable for agriculture, means that Norway during most historical periods has been characterised by a limited number of clearly demarcated settlement regions and districts, separated by mountains, woodland and/or water. Due to the same limited distribution of sediment, the settlement structure, in the Roman period as in historical times, has by and large been characterised by either single farms or very small clustered settlements. The land to the east of the Scandinavian Mountains (Østlandet) is dominated by a number of valleys congregating on the Oslofjord, among them Gudbrandsdal, Valdres, Hallingdal, and Østerdal. Some of Norway’s main agricultural areas are situated in the southeastern part of the country, primarily in the lowland Oslofjord area (Østfold and Vestfold) and in the districts centered on the lakes Mjøsa, Randsfjorden, and Tyrifjorden. The southernmost part of the country mostly consists of low hills to the south of the mountain range, only broken by river valleys where the estuaries in particular are suitable for settlement. Two smaller areas stand out for being very flat and historically speaking relatively densely populated; the coastal districts of Lista and Jæren.

Western Norway is dominated by deep fjords, the largest being Sognefjord and Hardangerfjord, with steep mountains going all the way to the sea. In this traditionally treeless area, the main settlement districts are situated on larger islands like Karmøy, as well as in the inner fjord areas. Further north, the area bordering on the Trondheimsfjord with its more gentle landscape constitutes another major agricultural region (called Trøndelag), comparable to the Oslofjord area. Here, the valleys congregating on the fjord open up and form rather extensive lowland areas. North of Trøndelag the landscape is again dominated by high mountains stretching all the way to the coast, and with numerous fjords. Along the coast of North Norway are several large islands, including Lofoten and Vesterålen.

Norway’s long coastline means that, historically speaking, the main routes linking the different regions and settlement districts were coastal routes using boats or ships. In a mountaineous country like this, inland routes were never as important as the sea routes. However, a number of main routes through the inland valleys of Østlandet connected the Oslofjord area and Vestlandet and Trøndelag, respectively.

Types of burials

Mortuary customs in Roman and Migration period Norway are varied and complex. Both extensive cemeteries, smaller clusters of graves and isolated graves are known, the first two probably reflecting variations in settlement structure between villages or clustered settlements on the one side, and single farms on the other (cf Stylegar 2006). Well-known cemeteries like Gunnarstorp and Store-Dal in Østfold in the Oslofjord region are of the first mentioned type, as is the Veien cemetery in Buskerud, bordering on the Tyrifjorden.

Mounds as well as cairns are common in most of the country during this whole period. The mounds are sometimes surrounded by circular ditches or stone settings, or they have a standing stone on top. There is a myriad of grave types besided mounds and cairns: singular standing stones, several stones put together as circular, square, triangular or ship-shaped stone settings, and flat graves without any visible marking above ground.

Both cremations and inhumations are widespread. In a macro-perspective, cremation was the only rite in the Pre-Roman Iron Age, and its domination continues throughout the Roman and Migration periods (and, in most parts of Norway, even later; until Christianisation, in fact). However, the very first inhumations appear in the Early Roman period. In this respect, Norway is no different from most Germanic areas. The oldest inhumations in the country are associated with the above-mentioned extensive cemeteries in the Oslofjord area. In the Late Roman period, and even more so in the Migration period, we have the majority of inhumation graves in the western and northern parts of the country.

Among the inhumations, wooden coffins and stone cists (‘hellekister’) are both common. A minority of inhumation graves are dug into the ground, while in most cases the dead body has been put on the ground (either in a wooden coffin or stone cist or without) and a mound erected on top. There are a small number of graves in wooden chamber, starting in the Late Roman period. In the Migration period the stone cists can be oversized, some of them 6 or 7 m long. The latter is a regional trait, found in the southwestern part of the country (Stylegar in press). Inhumation graves are often richly furnished, often with a number of vessels for food and drink that are usually placed at the foot-end, i.e. in most cases to the south. In many instances the deceased is laid to rest on textiles, horsehides etc.

There are also several different types of cremations. Urn burials are the most common type; the urn is either a ceramic vessel, a wooden vessel or an imported Roman bronze vessel. Sometimes the cremated bones are tucked into sheats of birch bark. Most urn burials either have very few furnishings or lack them completely. It is not uncommon to find fibulas and other dress accessories, and likewise bear claws from skins which were either worn by the dead or served as blankets during the burning of the dead body. Some urn burials do, however, come with rich furnishings, and this goes for other types of cremation burials as well. The urn is either dug into the ground or put in a mound or cairn; sometimes in a small stone cist. Cremation pits and cremation layers without urns are also known. It is often difficult to distinguish between cremation layers and urn burials in a vessel made from clay or organic material.

Weapons in cremation graves are in most cases ritually destroyed, often by bending.

It is neccessary to say a few words about the material presented in this paper. In total, 552 weapon graves dating from the Early Roman Period through the Migration Period are included. Most of these graves, but far from all of them, are easily accessible through published find catalogues (mainly Fett 1940; Ilkjær 1990; Bemman & Hahne 1994). I also rely on a number of regional studies (Shetelig 1900, 1912a, 1912b; Grieg 1926, 1932; Hougen 1924, 1929; Herteig 1955; Petersen 1957; Sjøvold 1962; Straume 1962; Munch 1965; Marstrander 1983; Resi 1986).

The Early Roman Period (B1-B2)

Let us now, picking up from where we left, i.e. at the end of the Pre-Roman Iron Age, have a closer look at the distribution of various types of weapon graves over the next few centuries. Starting with the Early Roman Period, there is still a very limited number of burials with weapons, although many more than in the previous period. Apart from a cluster of graves near the Oslofjord (most of the in Østfold), as in the previous period, there is now a handful of weapon graves in Jæren, near Stavanger, as well as scattered graves in the coastal districts in the West, and a few in Trøndelag. There are about as many inhumations as cremations. The former are part of a bigger picture of early inhumations dating from the first and second centuries AD, many of which do not contain any weapons, but are otherwise richly furnished. The inhumation graves with weapons are in most cases cut into the ground, a trait which seems rather typical of this period but which occurs only a few times in the following periods, and with a mound built on top. The large stone cists (‘hellekister’) do not appear until the Late Roman Period. As for the cremation graves, they are of one of two major types – urn burials, with the urns in the Early Roman period in most cases made from either wood or clay, or cremation layers. In a small number of burials dating from this period, a Roman bronze cauldron is used as an urn.

The major difference regarding the distribution of weapon graves in comparison with the Late Pre-Roman period is the substantial number of graves in the inland districts of Østlandet, called Opplandene (literally ‘the uplands’), an area with no weapon graves dating to the Late Pre-Roman Period. There is a cluster around lake Mjøsa (the historical districts of Toten and Hedmarken), and also around two other big inland waters of East Norway, namely lake Randsfjorden and lake Tyrifjorden (the historical districts of Hadeland and Ringerike, respectively). All these weapon graves are cremations, and, although a number of them are urn burials (one of them, interestingly, using a shield boss as urn), there are no instances from Opplandene where a Roman bronze vessel is being used as an urn in this period. This, however, would change in the Late Roman Period.

The Early Roman Period material from Norway is too small, 60 graves in total, and too heterogenous to make any assumptions about weapon combinations etc. Two graves stand out as being more richly furnished than the others; both are inhumations, and both are from the Oslofjord area. A third grave should be mentioned; an urn burial from Rogaland dating from B2, and which has, and this is indeed a rarity, a horse bit among its furnishings.

The Late Roman Period (C1-C2)

In the 3rd century, we are dealing with a significant rise in the number of weapon graves. There is a total of 195 graves with weapons dating from periods C1 and C2. The distribution of the graves is in some ways similar to what we saw in the previous period; thus, the districts bordering on the Oslofjord still have a number of finds, as have Jæren as well as Trøndelag. Now there is also a certain density of weapon graves in Sogn, and the first graves are appearing in the coastal districts in northern Norway, including Lofoten. The distribution pattern is characterised by a number of marked clusters separated by large tracts where weapon graves are rare or non-existing.

But the outstanding feature regarding the distribution is again the graves in ‘the uplands’ of eastern Norway. Almost half of Norway’s Late Roman weapon graves stem from the central settlement districts of Hedmarken, Toten, Hadeland, and, as a ‘newcomer’, Valdres, which is a mountain valley situated halfway between Oslo and Bergen. Valdres and Hadeland alone account for nearly a quarter of all Late Roman Period weapon graves in Norway. The number of weapon graves in these upland parts of the country is matched by Gotland only in Scandinavia.

In Opplandene, as in eastern Norway as such, the weapon burial rite peaks in the Late Roman Period, in fact it peaks in C1.

As in the previous period, the weapon graves is not a homogenous group. For instance, both cremations and inhumations occur regularly, even if it is possible to discern regional regularities in this respect. Thus, while both rites are found in the Oslofjord region, in the West and in Trøndelag, cremations dominate in the former region and inhumations in the latter two (even if the typical ‘hellekister’ are not introduced until C2, and then only slowly). North of Trøndelag only inhumations are known, while all weapon graves in the Opplandene are cremations.

The majority of weapon graves in this period are poorly furnished except for the weapons. But there are a few outstanding finds which are indeed richly furnished. First among them is of course the chieftain’s grave from Avaldsnes in Rogaland. The Avaldsnes find includes a golden neck ring weighing close to 600 kilograms.

A particular type of urn graves stand out clearly against the background of cremation layers, which seems to be the otherwise dominant type of rite in Opplandene. This is the urn burials which I mentioned earlier, the ones where the urn is an imported Roman bronze vessel. In most cases the vessel in question is a so-called Østland cauldron, Eggers’ types 38-42 (cf Eggers 1951). The burials in Østland cauldrons can be male or female, although the majority seems to be male. Most such graves have little or no furnishings. But there is a characteristic group of burials in Østland cauldrons which also contain weapons. Even if these occur as isolated graves in many coastal areas north to and including Trøndelag, there is a marked cluster in Opplandene, more precisely in Hadeland (there are no such graves in Valdres, for instance).

These particular weapon graves have caused much debate among scholars, and I will discuss them more closely later on.

The Migration Period (C3-D2)

At first glance, the total number of Migration Period weapon graves, 296, seems to prove a further strenghtening of the weapon burial rite in the fifth and early sixth centuries. However, what we are dealing with is a regionalisation of the rite; while most areas can document either a stand-still or a decrease in weapon burials in this late period, there is a marked growth in the number of graves in the West, i.e. the districts of Agder, Rogaland, Hordaland, Sogn and, to some degree, Møre, as well as in the North. There are several clusters of weapon graves in the West, the first and foremost being Jæren. Agder, Rogaland, Hordaland and Sogn account for over sixty percent of the weapon graves in this period. In these areas the weapon burials are almost exclusively inhumations, and they are intimately connected to the huge stone cists, the ‘hellekister’.

In the East, weapon graves are now completely absent from many areas, most conspiciously from Hadeland, while Valdres still has a number of graves. As for the Oslofjord region, most of the weapon graves in this period are found in Vestfold and Telemark, on the western side of the fjord, but even there the number of graves are decreasing, even if the remaining ones are more elaborately furnished than in the preceding period. The majority of these late weapon graves belongs to the early part of the period. Eastern Norway is now unequivocally bi-ritual; the relatively few and scattered weapon graves are either cremations or inhumations. In Opplandene there is still a predominance of cremation graves, with only the uppermost part of Valdres, which historically speaking has had extensive contacts to the West, being dominated by inhumations.

Urn burials, including in bronze cauldrons, are a significant trait in western Norway in the Migration Period. But, in contrast to the preceding period, they no longer feature weapons. In the East urn burials – with or without weapons – are virtually non-existing.

In the bigger scheme of things, Hadeland and the Oslofjord region follows Denmark, mainland Sweden and large parts of Barbaricum in that the practice of putting weapons in graves decreases after period C1a (Ilkjær 2001:2).

The ‘hellekister’ in the West is a special case. They first appear in C2, as stated above, and they peak in D1. The same goes for the weapon graves in western Norway. The ‘hellekister’ are made from flagstones, they are very often ‘oversized’, i.e. very long and relatively narrow, and it is difficult to point to any real model for this typical western rite. The Roman Period stone cists in Jutland, Denmark (see Lysdahl 1971), are too different to be considered as the model for the ‘hellekister’, although there are some affinities between the Jutland cists and a local group of subterranean cists in the district of Vest-Agder.

For most of the Roman Period, and to some extent still in the Migration Period, there seems to be a negative correlation between graves with weapons and graves with drinking equipment made from glass or bronze or other imported objects, as well as personal jewellery and food offerings. The main exceptions are obvious high-status graves like Avaldsnes, Sætrang and Snartemo. Still, there is a greater degree of overlap between richly furnished graves and weapon graves in the latest phases of the Late Roman Period (C2-C3) and in the Migration Period than in the preceding periods, and this is particularly so in western Norway, where quite a few ‘hellekister’ contain both weapons and several ceramic vessels, jewellery in the shape of golden finger rings, in some cases imported glass beakers etc.

Weapons and status

What do the weapon graves represent, then, status wise? The use of weapons in burial rituals is basically a reflection of the militarisation of societies in the tribal zone beyond the limes (Stylegar 2008). Hedeager’s 1992 study of Roman Period weapon graves in Denmark concluded that weapons are usually found with younger men, ’in other words, weapons are particularly linked to the function of the active warrior’ (1992:162). Several more recent studies have taken Illerup and the other Roman Period war-booty offerings in South Scandinavia as their departure point, and tried to correlate weapon combinations and military hierarchy from these finds with other types of archaeological source material, not least the contemporary weapon graves (von Carnap-Bornheim 1992; Gansum 2000; Ilkjær 1990, 1993, 2001, 2003; Ilkjær & von Carnap-Bornheim 1999; Solberg 2003:103-123; Stylegar 2008).

As for Norway, Roman period weapon graves have been the subject of a number of recent studies (Joki 2006; Eketuft Rygh 2007; Storli 2006; Stylegar 2008). Storli, for instance, has suggested that a relative distribution of weapon groups similar to the one argued by Hedeager in her 1992 work can be discerned in Northern Norway. She follows Hedeager in arguing that individuals buried with a complete set of weapons represent a military elite (Storli 2006:88-89).

But it makes sense to distinguish between the earlier graves furnished exclusively with weapons, and the later ones which includes weapons as well as a wide array of other categories of objects. It is possible, inded, it is likely, that while the earlier graves signal a warrior identity or warrior status pure and simple, in the latter ones we are dealing with a more complex, probably aristocratic identity, where the martial theme are expressed as part of a bundle of different aspects, including the long-distance political contacts witnessed by Roman import finds. Let us concentrate on the early graves, and view them in light on what they might tell us about warrior status and military organisation in Roman Period Scandinavia.

The types of weapons used by Germanic armies in the Late Roman period are well-known and well studied. Thanks to the excavations and subsequent publications of Illerup, Ejsbøl and other war-booty offerings, we now also have a rather clear picture of functional aspects and internal organisation of Germanic armies. Ilkjær and von Carnap-Bornheim differentiates between three qualitatively different combinations of weapon equipment, and thus three different levels of hierarchy in the beseiged army at Illerup: army commanders with swords, shields, belts, and riding gear decorated with mounts made of gilded silver, officers with swords, shields, belts, and riding gear decorated with bronze mounts, and regulars or infantry with a combination of weapons different from the officers, most often a spear, a javelin, and a shield with mounts primarily made of iron. In the only partially excavated Illerup ’A’ offering, 5-6 sets of weapons associated with the uppermost level were found, against 35-40 associated with the middle level, and c. 350 with the lower (Ilkjær 2003:50).

A study of the Late Roman weapon graves from Opplandene, altogether c. 150 finds, makes a useful comparison with these results from Illerup (Stylegar 2008). Here, the numerical distribution of weapon types is rather similar to the one from Illerup: 12 % of the weapon graves can be attributed to Ilkjær’s level 2, against 88 % in level 3. For Illerup ’A’, the comparable ratios would be 9 % and 89 %, respectively. Only one burial in the study area belongs to level 1 – the C3 burial from Sætrang in Ringerike, Buskerud, with a bandoleer with silver fittings. This single burial of course defy any statistics (it equals 0,7 %; just one more find would bring the percentage up to 1,3, and thus very close to Illerup’s 1,5 %).

The geographical distribution of weapon graves in Opplandene is interesting in this regard. As mentioned already, there are major clusters of such graves in some local areas, like Hadeland, Hedemarken and Valdres. But there are other, more enlightening facts about the distribution of weapon graves in this area. There is a tendency for graves with swords, either belonging to level 2 or level 3, to form large, marked clusters. Graves with lance and/or javelin (and sometimes shield) as the only weapon(s), however, also occur in more peripheral areas, and thus have a much more widespread distribution than the sword graves. In the Illerup find, swords are associated with the upper and middle level of the military hierarchy, as well as with a minority within the lower level. But topographically speaking there seem to be clear differences between weapon graves with or without swords, as graves with swords are found first and foremost in clusters which also contain level 2 graves, i.e. graves associated with the middle level of the Illerup hierarchy. There is only one kind of military organisation which seems to fit this pattern, namely aristocratic retinues – with chieftains and their sword-bearing retinues residing on central farms, while spear-wielding regulars who could be called upon in case of war, otherwise were making a living on more peripheral farms (cf Stylegar 2008).

There is an extensive literature concerning the retinue or comitatus described by Tacitus and said to be widespread among the Germans (Germania, ch. 13-15; see for instance von Carnap-Bornheim 1992). The comites would consist of both cavalry and infantry (Kristensen 1983). They had taken a special oath which obliged them to assist their leader (princeps) in war as well as peace. In return they received maintenance, gifts and a part of the spoils in case of raids or other war-like acitivities. The princeps’ reputation depended on the number of brave warriors in his retinue, which again depended on his generousity and luck in war. In peace time the retinue was a heavy burden, economically speaking (Hedeager & Tvarnø 2001:105). Skre argues that ’the aristocracy in the Nordic countries had warriors attached to their persons and households from the Roman Period and well into the Middle Ages’ (Skre 1998:261).

Roman auxiliarii?

Several of the 3rd century weapon types occuring regularly in the Opplandene region of eastern Norway, have close parallels in a south-eastern zone stretching through Gotland, Bornholm, Funen, South Jutland, Mecklenburg, western Prussia, Silesia and Bohemia, while they are comparatively rare both in western Scandinavia and north-western parts of the Continent (Grieg 1926:91). A long time ago, H. Shetelig pointed out that these types probably represents the weapons used by Roman supporting troops, auxiliarii (Shetelig quoted in Grieg 1926, p. 91; cf. Albrethsen 1997).

The characteristic clusters of 3rd century weapon graves in Opplandene were introduced into the scholarly debate by Shetelig already in 1900, and he returned to comment on this phenomenon at several later occasions (Shetelig 1900, 1920, 1925).

’Cremation burials with a rich equipment of weapons and often with imported bronze vessels appear sporadically, one and one, from the beginning of the Roman Iron Age on both sides of the Oslofjord, and in the lake districts in the Uplands, at Tyrifjorden and Randsfjorden. … It is the older finds, from the 1st-3rd centuries, that have this rather widespread and even distribution across Eastern Norway. But during the 3rd, and even stronger in the 4th century, the burials of this type cluster very clearly in one single, limited area, in Hadeland with Toten and Valdres, the old historical Hadeland, while they gradually disappear elsewhere’ (Shetelig1925:136).

In 1920 he explicitly linked the Late Roman Period weapon graves in Hadeland, Toten and Valdres to finds from the area occupied by the Marcomanni and their Germanic allies during the Macomannic wars of the late 2nd century. ‘The men buried here,’ he wrote, ‘seem to be strangers towards traditions and rites in the local area, and at the same time they have very close connections to Barbaric-Roman culture in the border areas of the Empire. Through literary cues one is led to believe that this people were migrants returning home, people who had been with the German tribes in Bohemia or on the Danube’ (Shetelig 1920).

Shetelig especially linked this return to the name Hadeland, i.e. ’land of the warriors’ (Shetelig 1920; for the possible meaning of the landscape name, see Sandnes & Stemshaug 1997). Shetelig’s hypothesis was later supported by S. Grieg, even if the latter believed that the people buried in the weapon graves in Opplandene were new immigrants from Europe, and not warriors returning home (Grieg 1926:91). Others have been more skeptical; A. Herteig in his study of Toten arged that most weapon graves in the area stem from what today are wealthy farms, and thus that the weapon burial custom reflected the upper strata of a farming society (Herteig 1955).

Still, the distribution pattern of the weapon graves in Opplandene seems to me to give support to Shetelig’s ideas, in the very least to a variety of his hypothesis. Three different questions have to be answered: Why do the weapon types and weapon combinations in Scandinavian graves adjust to changing conditions in the Roman army with little or no delay? How do we interpret the particular pattern of distribution of weapon graves in areas like Opplandene; meaning not only the characteristic clusters in smaller districts like Hadeland, but also the way the different types of weapon combinations are distributed? The distribution pattern does not fit well neither with the idea of individual warriors returning from service on the European continent, nor with a farming population utilising martial symbolism simply as a status marker. It is a whole system we seem to be dealing with, and this strongly suggests that what we have for instance in Hadeland, is either a local or regional military organisation, or/and a larger group of warriors returning home or settling in a new area.

There seems to be a mutual relationship between this military organisation in Opplandene and the Germanic armies pushing against the Roman Empire’s northern frontier on the upper and middle Danube in the late 2nd century, or indeed the Roman armies defending the frontier. Discussing the Illerup ‘A’ find, Pauli Jensen et al. suggest that the similiarities between ‘the Germans who fought on the Roman side in the Marcomannic wars and later on served as mercenaries in the period after Marcus Aurelius, have brought home with them their knowledge of the Roman military structure’ (2003.325). Poignant examples from east Norway in this respect are a handful of weapon graves with spurs and three or more spears, in the fashion of Roman cavalrymen (cf. Kontny 2008:118, Hyland 1993).

It is not only a question of transferring knowledge, however. Many of the weapon graves in Opplandene contain weapons which are not only based on Roman models, but are in fact Roman products. These are double-edged swords, some of them with figure inlays (Rygge 1970; Ilkjær & von Carnap-Bornheim 1999, 2000). Shield-bosses, lances and spears appears to be Scandinavian products (ibid.); interestingly, the major iron-producing areas in Norway during the Late Roman Period are situated in Valdres, Gudbrandsdal and Trøndelag, i.e. areas with many weapon graves (Stenvik 1997; Larsen & Rundberget 2008). Apart from swords, many weapon graves in Opplandene, especially in Hadeland, contains imported bronze vessels. These graves in particular links Opplandene with the European mainland.

Among the Late Roman Period weapon graves the ones where an imported bronze cauldron serves as an urn is a characteristic group. In these graves weapons, and sometimes a few other types of personal objects, are kept in a bronze vessel together with the cremated bones. The cauldron, in most cases a so-called Östland cauldron (Eggers types 37-43), is often placed in a small stone chamber inside a mound; there are only a couple of examples of the cauldron being placed in a pit below the surface. These ‘cauldron burials’ from the 2nd and 3rd centuries have a distribution very similar to the distribution of weapon types discussed above; they are found along an axis stretching from Norway along a south-eastern route through Central Europe, where similar graves are known from cemeteries like Hagenow in Mecklenburg, and ending in present-day Bohemia and cemeteries like Dobřichova-Pichora (Droberjar 2006; Voss 2007; Baumgartl 2009). Some of these cemeteries have a very large percentage of weapon graves, as have districts like Hadeland and Valdres in Norway (Kolník 1980; Droberjar 2006). As U.-H. Voss (2007) argues about the cemetery of Hagenow, five or six generations of an elite manifest rank and status through burial rites, using weapons and military equipment, as well as other artefacts stemming from participation both in Roman military service and Germanic retinues. Early Germanic kingdoms like Maroboduus’, which were consciously modeled on the Roman system, would give ample opportunities for the barbarian elite in this respect. It seems only natural to interpret the ‘cauldron burials’ in Opplandene in this light.

The weapon graves from Opplandene are not very lavishly equipped. Except for weapons and (in some case) a bronze urn they do not contain much. Other Roman Period burials from Norway, often inhumations, are richer in the sense that they have more Roman imports (glass vessels and bronze drinking utensils) as well as objects made from precious metals in them, but these graves do not, as a rule, contain weapons. Some of these latter graves, spread out both geographically and chronologically, might represent individuals having diplomatic contacts with the Romans, i.e. foederati (cf. Grane 2007 for a number of possible examples from Denmark). This is a possible explanation also for a small number of very rich weapon graves situated away from the clusters with ordinary weapon graves, with Avaldsnes and Kongshaugen/Giske, both from western Norway, as the prime examples.

Addendum: Auxiliaries’ graves, Chatyr Dag and the Norwegian connection

In a context like the present publication, it seems fitting to comment rather briefly upon the Late Roman Period cemetery of Chatyr-Dag in the Crimea, as the graves there have been connected not only to Germanic auxiliarii, but even to auxiliaries originating from present-day Norway (Kazanski 1991; Myts et al. 2006).

Auxiliaries in the Roman army were recruited from peoples that did not have Roman citizenship. Men who came to the auxiliaries were either volunteers or conscripts. Some allied tribes, such as the Batavians, provided troops to the Romans in place of taxes of money or goods. Certain auxiliary units were formed of single ethnic groups, such as cohors I Hamiorum Sagittariorum, a unit of Syrian archers stationed on Hadrian’s Wall in Britain (Anderson 2009:16). The Roman army was essentially based on heavy infantry, thus it favored the recruitment of auxiliaries with different specialities, such as missile troops, cavalry, or light infantry. So what do we know about the burial rites of these Roman auxiliarii?

Burial with weapons is not a ‘Roman’ rite, meaning that it is not an Italian tradition, despite the fact that Roman weapons appear in numerous burials, even within the Empire. ‘Depositing weapons in graves’, writes N. Roymans, ‘represents a tradition which was not practiced within the Roman army; members who died during active service were buried by their fellow soldiers without their equipment’ (1996:35). Discussing weapon graves in native cemeteries within the Empire, Roymans suggests that these belong to ‘veterans of auxiliary units who, on ending their active service, had taken their equipment or part of it home. When they died, they were buried according to native traditions’ (ibid). But weapon burials also occur in some Roman legionary sites, like Krefeld-Gellep, as well as in Hees and Hatert near Nijmegen (Anderson 2009:147f).

There are several cemeteries within the borders of the Empire which have been interpreted as belonging to auxiliary units. Well-known examples are Windisch-Dägerli in Switzerland and Brougham in England (Hintermann 2000; Cool 2004). Both these cemeteries are located next to a known and long-used military installation, and with the majority of the burials dating to the period of military occupation. Several different legions and auxiliary units were stationed at Windisch (Vindonissa), while Brougham (Brocavum) seems to have housed only one auxiliary unit – the cavalry unit numerus equtium Stratonicianorum (Anderson 2009:106). Both cemeteries included urned as well as unurned burials, and militaria were found in a number of graves. Not only men, but also women and children were buried in these cemeteries (Anderson 2009:123).

Other cemeteries have been more or less convincingly linked to Germanic auxiliaries, even if written sources do not specifically mention the presence of auxiliarii units in the area. This is the case for instance with a single weapon burial in Algarve, Portugal and the cemetery of Queen Alia Airport, Jordan. In the Algarve case, the identification of the decased as a Roman auxiliary soldier of Germanic descent is based on the sword found in the grave; in the Jordanian case a single cremation burial in an inhumation cemetery seems to be the only basis for the identification of the deceased as a barbarian auxiliary (Ibrahim & Gordon 1987; Mendes 1999, cf. Anderson 2009:138f.).

As for the cemetery of Chatyr-Dag in the Crimea, it is situated on the south-eastern slope of the mountain ridge of this name, ca. 8 km to the north of Alushta and near the modern road between this city and Simferopol. 55 graves were excavated at Chatyr-Dag between 1980 and 2002 (Myts et al. 2006). The cemetery was used from c. AD 250 to the early part of the 4th century. Most of the burials were cremation pits, but a number of burials were cremations in stone cists with bent weapons and tools and agricultural implements. This particular combination is otherwise known in the Crimea only from Charax, which had hosted a detachment of the Legio XI Claudia at the end of the 2nd century (ibid.). Thus it seems logical to look outside the Crimea for the origins of the people buried in these two cemeteries.

V.L. Myts et al. seek to put the cemetery at Chatyr-Dag into the historical context of relations between the Roman Empire, the Bosphorian kingdom and other peoples in the Crimea in the late 3rd century. They argue that the emperors of the Tetrarchy used barbarian mercenaries to guard an important mountain road along the southern coast of the Crimea from Chersoneses to Theodosia. Both Chatyr-Dag and Charax lay exactly on this road (2006:193). As for the origins of the men buried at Chatyr-Dag, Myts et al. state that no similar burial rite is known neither from the northern Caucasus nor from central and east Europe. The only place where cremations in stone cists with weapons and agricultural implements are known in the Roman period, they continue, with reference to M. Kazanski (1991:496), is south Norway (Myts et al. 2006:193).

These authors make a convincing case for interepreting the cemetery at Chatyr-Dag as belonging to Roman auxiliary troops. But the identication of these soldiers with people of Norwegian origins is not rock-solid.

Kazanski (1991) mentions a number of graves, mostly from Opplandene, as examples of graves where cremations in stone cists and bent weapons as well as agricultural implements as furnishings occur. While all these traits are indeed known from Roman Period Norway, the are hardly ever found combined. Kazanski mentions graves like Snortheim and Fjellberg in Valdres, Snipstad, Valle and Gile in Toten and Egge in Hadeland. All these graves are weapon graves, and all are cremations. Except for Egge, the weapons in them are bent. Egge and Gile are cremations in small stone cists, but not the other ones. All of them are burials in mounds, and not dug-down (as opposed to the flat graves at Chatyr-Dag). Agricultural implements are furthermore rare in Norwegian graves from this period. None of the graves mentioned by Kazanski have them. In east Norway some Roman Period urn burials have a small sickle or leaf knife, but these are never combined with weapons. A small handful of weapon graves do have a type of curved iron knife probably used for preparing animal hides, but this type of object is almost exclusively found in women’s graves (Gustafsson 1981, see also Petersen 1957; Grieg 1926:96). The weapon graves in south Norway in most cases contain weapons only, and almost never any objects except personal equipment (mostly small objects which would have been attached to the belt).

The particular combinations known from Chatyr-Dag do not to my knowledge occur in Norway at all in the Roman Period, even if all the single elements can be found in Norway. But the same can be said for different parts of Europe. Bent weapons is of course a traditon with roots in the Pre-Roman Iron Age, and it is found many places in North Europe, including in a minority of cases within the Przeworsk and Chernyakov cultures (Moscati 2001). Cremations with weapons and agricultural implements (sickles and curved knives) feature prominently in Germanic cemeteries in Saxony, Mecklenburg and Pommerania; this is indeed one of the main differences between the weapon graves at Hagenow, for instance, and the ones from Hadeland.


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