The Viking Silk Route

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Birka was founded towards the end of the 8th century, and archeological excavations have revealed trade networks stretching east to Byzantium and as far as China.

281114-silk-for-the vikingsThe finds, which include silks from the Far East, Arabic coins and glass beads from the Arabic Caliphate, have challenged the belief that the Viking Age was all murder and mayhem. They point instead to a burgeoning, prosperous society made up of merchants, traders and farmers.

Birka was the first town in Sweden to come into contact with Christianity. But the town was never evangelized, and in some graves Thor’s hammer was found alongside a crucifix.

The Viking silk routes are described in the book “Silk for the Vikings” by Marianne Vedeler. It takes a closer look at the organization of production, trade and consumption of silk during the Viking Age. Beginning with a presentation of the silk finds in the Oseberg burial, the richest Viking burial find ever discovered, the other silk finds from high status graves in Scandinavia are discussed along with an introduction to the techniques used to produce raw silk and fabrics.

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Later chapters concentrate on trade and exchange, considering the role of silk items both as trade objects and precious gifts, and in the light of coin finds. The main trade routes of silk to Scandinavia along the Russian rivers, and comparable Russian finds are described and the production and regulation of silk in Persia, early Islamic production areas and the Byzantine Empire discussed. The final chapter considers silk as a social actor in various contexts in Viking societies compared to the Christian west.

The museum at Birka is open between May and mid-September. Boats leave from outside Stockholm City Hall, at Stadshusbron.

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