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State Formation, Administrative Areas, and Thing Sites in the Borgarthing Law Province, Southeast Norway
Marie Ødegaard

Journal of the North Atlantic, Special Volume 5 (2013): 42–63

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M. Ødegaard 2013 Journal of the North Atlantic Special Volume 5 42 Introduction How did the state-formation processes affect the administrative system and assembly organization in southeast Norway in the period between the 11th and 14th centuries? On a regional level, it has been assumed that the king took control over the assembly organization through his representatives in this period, by strategically moving them closer to royal farms or other centers (Andersen 1977:248–255, 1982a:358). These assumptions have, however, never been thoroughly investigated for the geographically confined area of southeast Norway. To examine this question, I have studied parts of this area, namely the medieval landscape of Viken in the Oslo Fjord region, which includes the county of Bohuslän in present-day Sweden. According to the Saga of Olaf the Holy, the area consisted of three medieval counties, or Old Norse fylki, which were unified during King Olaf II Haraldsson’s reign at the beginning of the 11th century (Sturluson 1979:246– 249). He presumably also established the town of Borg in 1016 and founded a lawthing there: the Borgarthing (Fig. 1). Historical sources indicate that petty kings of western Norway and Denmark competed over the supremacy of Viken from at least the 9th century up to the 12th–13th centuries. The establishment of the law area with the lawthing might be interpreted as a strategic geopolitical response to the threat from the Danish king in the beginning of the 11th century (Opstad 1976:147). One hypothesis might be that when the Norwegian kings gained control over this region they achieved this by asserting power at the State Formation, Administrative Areas, and Thing Sites in the Borgarthing Law Province, Southeast Norway Marie Ødegaard* Abstract - This paper discusses some consequences of the state-formation processes on the thing organization in the Borgarthing law province in southeast Norway, between the 11th and 14th centuries. The aim is to identify and discuss thing sites in relation to social organization and regionalization processes related to power structures and the emerging supra-regional kingdom. The study explores two spatial levels—a regional level and a lower administrative level—through a case study of an Old Norse skipreiða unit. Questions about territoriality, stability, and change will be discussed, particularly regarding the king’s shifting influence in the Borgarthing law province. Debating the Thing in the North I: The Assembly Project Journal of the North Atlantic *Department of Archaeology, History, Cultural Studies, and Religion, University of Bergen, Postbox 7805, 5020 Bergen, Norway; marie.odegaard@ahkr.uib.no. 2013 Special Volume 5:42–63 Figure 1. The law provinces of Norway around 1160. M. Ødegaard 2013 Journal of the North Atlantic Special Volume 5 43 lower administrative levels. Viken had an administrative system connected to the royal maritime defence at an early stage of the kingdom in the 10th–11th centuries: the ON skipreiða (Bjørkvik 1982:546– 551); however, the skipreiður also functioned as judicial areas for the rural assemblies. Altogether, 48 skipreiður are known in the Borgarthing law provinc in 1277 (DN IV:3; Lange and Unger 1857:3). According to a hypothetical and arithmetical principle, it has been assumed that every skipreiða had four thing sites, corresponding to one in each quarter (fjórðungr). One of these sites may have been shared by the entire skipreiða for discussion of mutual matters, such as weapon inspections and taxes (Andersen 1982a:346–359). Nevertheless, both these types of assemblies are assumed to be althings, where all free men would meet (e.g., Indrebø 1935, Norseng 2005:257). It is, however, still somewhat unclear if the administrative areas in Viken were older jurisdictional districts which the king later built his organization on, or whether he created new administrative units for Viken when gaining control over the area (e.g., Bull 1918:257–273, Indrebø 1935:153–168, Tunberg 1918). Is it possible to trace such a development through the sources and in the landscape? This study will focus on two different spatial levels: a regional macro and a local micro level. At the local level, a case study of one of the skipreiður—Eiker, in the present Buskerud county—will be presented including the different administrative areas, and the possible changes regarding questions of territorialization, stability, and change will be considered. Methods and Sources Archaeological monuments, such a burial mounds and standing stones, are important features for assemblies in northern Europe (e.g., Brink 2004, FitzPatrick 2004, Larsson 1998, Sanmark and Semple 2010) and may potentially identify thing sites. However, since few thing sites are known from Norway, the characterization of their archaeological and topographical attributes remain uncertain. Therefore, as a point of departure, later medieval legal documents, together with place-names, may be used to identify thing sites. If medieval assemblies can be identified and located, they might provide clues as to where the assemblies were held at an earlier stage in history. I have studied diplomas from the 14th to the 17th centuries for the whole Borgarthing law province, combined with research on place-names and secondary literature related to the theme (e.g., Bugge 1918, Bull 1924, Indrebø 1935). Altogether, approximately 1800 diplomas that might relate to thing sites have been registered, and a total of 195 possible assembly sites have been documented. Compared to previous research, several new thing sites have in this way been identified in the Borgarthing law province. A classification of the sources and their value for identifying the thing sites are therefore necessary. I have divided the sites into two categories: certain and possible thing sites. Several diplomas use the term “the correct thing site” (e.g., “a rettom stemfnabø”), indicating legally recognized sites (cf. Sandnes 1982:380). These sites may also be indicative of older traditions, and they constitute the majority in the category of certain thing sites. No precise rules separating the cases conducted at the thing sites from those by local ad hoc commissions (skiladómr/sættarstefna) are found, except that manslaughter and claims to oðal, i.e., an option for relatives to buy or redeem land (Robberstad 1981:493–499), should be announced at the thing (Imsen 1990:197, Myking 2007:191–194). Furthermore, some diplomas use the ON term stefna (i.e., assembly), but these usages do not necessary refer to the legally recognized sites. Therefore, I have found it necessary to include a category of possible thing sites, and this also includes sites signalled by placenames. The documents rarely specify exactly where on the farms assemblies were held. Thus, in most cases, I have used the denoted farm as an analytical category at the local level. According to the afore-mentioned arithmetic principle, each skipreiða should, in theory, have four fjórðungar, each with their own assembly site (Indrebø 1935:136–168), which adds up to 192 expected medieval thing sites in Viken. So far these are all unknown. Some sites might also have been common for larger areas with other functions, or may have been moved, etc. If more than four things sites are located in one skipreiða, as has been proposed in earlier research (Bugge 1918, Bull 1924, Indrebø 1935), then there might be changes or assemblies on different geographical and hierarchical levels. Of the recorded 195 potential medieval thing sites, 78 are classified as certain thing sites and 117 as possible, according to my criteria (Fig. 2). Since assemblies are closely connected to their judicial areas, I have mapped the different medieval administrative areas of the Borgarthing law area, based on historical information (Bull 1930, Indrebø 1935) and cadastres of 1647 (Fladby and Imsen 1971), rectified after historic maps1 (Gjessing 1857) in a geographical information system (GIS) (ArcMap 9.3). Historical documents can give information concerning which administrative district the different M. Ødegaard 2013 Journal of the North Atlantic Special Volume 5 44 farms belonged to, and thus the modern-day farm boundaries are used together with topographical features, to identify the outer borders of the medieval administrative units. Even though the farm boundaries may have changed since the Middle Ages, from a larger perspective the reconstructed administrative areas will still give visual impressions of the areas in question. The boundaries of parishes and fjórðungar sometimes coincide in Viken (see Indrebø 1935, Lunden 1965:274–275); thus in some cases, the oldest administrative boundaries and possible changes during the Middle Ages can be traced through a combination of secular and ecclesiastical boundaries, together with topographical landscape features. The northern European practice of re-use of prehistoric monuments on thing sites, especially burial mounds, is well documented (e.g., Brink 2004, Fitz- Patrick 2004, Larsson 1998, Sanmark and Semple 2010). Therefore, relevant archaeological sites and monuments, such as burial mounds and medieval churches, together with place-names, have been recorded in the GIS. As for place-names, discrepancy in expected structures may be interpreted as expressions of change, both regarding the assemblies’ location and the names of the administrative areas. Prehistoric burial mounds have been interpreted as markers of proprietary rights to land and as symbols of free landowners (Iversen 1999, 2008; Skre 1998; Zachrisson 1994). The Law of the Gulathing states that only free men of full age can attend the assembly, and that the handling of weapons should be controlled (G 309; Eithun et al. 1994:166–167). It is likely that the right to carry weapons was regulated also in earlier times (Hofset 1981, Martens 2003). Furthermore, it is assumed that residences of powerful families were closely connected to the thing sites for purposes of controlling the meetings (Andersen 1977:255, Imsen 1990:198). In this regard, weapon graves could be interpreted as markers of free, weapon-bearing men, who played a prominent role at the thing meetings. To study which types of farms housed assemblies is therefore important for identifying who may have controlled the meetings and if powerful families were at all influential regarding Figure 2. Certain and possible thing sites recorded in the research area. M. Ødegaard 2013 Journal of the North Atlantic Special Volume 5 45 the location of the assembly sites. The size of the farm, and if they were “normal”, magnate, or royal farms, could thus be important. Did size matter, or was perhaps geographical location more significant? The cadasters from the 17th century are important for shedding light on this question (e.g., Farbregd 1984, Holmsen 1940), and the case study of Eiker will scrutinize this material in detail. In this way, different places and patterns in the landscape will be studied in relation to each other, both at micro and macro levels. Therefore, I examined different geographical levels and structures collectively and comparatively to provide a more comprehensive understanding of the administrative landscape and to assess the relevance of a variety of concepts such as centrality, stability and change, and temporality. Thing Sites and Administrative Areas in the Borgarthing Law Area The origin, age, and relationship between the different administrative levels within the Borgarthing law province is a disputed topic. Information about the oldest organizational structure of the law province derives from sagas and early laws. Four geographical levels are identified in the medieval period (Fig. 3). For Viken, the oldest surviving Christian laws, of which some of regulations may date back to the 11th century (Halvorsen 2008), presuppose six fylkir-churches, i.e., main churches, in three fylkir (Fig. 4). In practice, this indicates a half-fylki division (Taranger 1887, 1935:27), which corresponds to the historically known sýslar-divisions. The churches are Konghelle and Svarteborg in the medieval Ranrike fylki in Bohuslän, Tune and Aker in Vingulmork fylki, as well as Sem and Hedrum in Vestfold fylki (Halvorsen 2008:133; Indrebø 1931; Munch 1846:343–344, 358, 367). These churches are considered to be among the oldest churches in the country, probably erected in the first half of the 11th century, but this is not archaeologically verified. It is assumed that the king played a central role in the processes of early Christianization and was instrumental in erecting these churches (Skre 2007:393), as they are often located on royal estates (Sandnes 1969, Skre 1998:93–104). This connection to the king seems to apply to all six fylkir-churches in Viken. These churches often had special rights to income, and were built to serve a larger region. They housed standard weights, an indication of judicial functions, and should, according to the law, be maintained by the farmers in the region (B8; Halvorsen 2008:133). It is therefore likely that the establishment of Christianity was approved by participants at the assemblies (Andersen 1977:191). As no fylkir-churches are known in Grenland (Fig. 4), the area’s connection to the Borgarthing law area is debated (e.g., Bull 1930, Indrebø 1931, Storm 1877). It seems that Grenland’s connection to the law province may have changed over time (M. Ødegaard, unpubl. data.). In 1223, the law province most likely consisted of two smaller legislative areas, so-called lagsogn, indirectly evidenced in the Saga of Hákon Hákonson (Þorðarson 1979:91) listing nine lawspeakers (lǫ gmaðr) in Norway, of which two came from the Borgarthing-area. This division may, however, represent an older situation. During the 13th century, several changes were made regarding the legal territories, and the lawthing at Borg may well have gone out of use as a common lawthing shortly afterwards (Seip 1934:8–16). The afore-mentioned sýslur were larger administrative areas managed by the king’s “faithful” men, given as fiefs, perhaps as early as the 10th and 11th centuries in this area (Norseng 2005:61–62). From the 13th century, the Borgarthing area was divided into six sýslur, probably increasing to eight later on (Fig. 5; Helle 2001:152).2 The sýslur were units for economic, military, and judicial purposes. Their names indicate the administrative centers and seats for the royal officials of the sýslur (sýslumaðr) upon these areas’ emergence (Andersen 1982b:648, Norseng 2005:64). It is unknown if the sýsla boundaries were based on older divisions (Jørgensen 1974:242). As there is no knowledge of thing sites at the fylki-level, one cannot rule out that the fylkir Figure 3. The different geographical and hierarchical lev- originally had common thing sites, like the so-called els in the Borgarthing law province in the Middle Ages. M. Ødegaard 2013 Journal of the North Atlantic Special Volume 5 46 landsting known from Denmark and Sweden (Jørgensen 1974:238–240, Rosén 1981:293–296), and that the sýslar-thing or the main lawthing replaced them. Furthermore, it is unknown if the sýslur had any impact on the assembly organization at lower levels, but it is likely that the sýslumaðr attended Figure 4. The four fylkir in Viken in the Middle Ages with the fylkir-churches. M. Ødegaard 2013 Journal of the North Atlantic Special Volume 5 47 Hertzberg 1914; Steinnes 1929). As the Law of the Gulathing stated how many ships each law area were supposed to provide for the naval fleet (leiðangr; G 315; Eithun et al. 1994:170), the organization of naval defence could be old. When the term skipreiður appears in the sources at the beginning of the 13th the skipreiður assemblies (L I:8, III:12; Taranger 1915:13–14, 37–38). Since the coastal and core regions of the law area were primarily divided into skipreiður, the other divisions and their extent are a much-debated topic (e.g. Bull 1918, 1930; Ersland 2000; Hasund 1921; Figure 5. The sýslur in Viken with the fylkir-churches. M. Ødegaard 2013 Journal of the North Atlantic Special Volume 5 48 royal regulation at lower levels be traced? To discuss this, I will now turn to the case study of Eiker, in Buskerud county. Eiker: A Local Case Study Five thing sites have been recorded in Eiker between the 14th and 17th centuries (Fig. 7). Three are categorized as certain thing sites, located on the farms of Berg, Sanden, and Hedenstad,3 while two assemblies have only been categorized as possible: Fiskum and Haug.4 In order to assess the assembly sites in chronological terms together with possible processes of stability or change, I will examine how the different assemblies were located in relation to their judicial areas. Questions remain over whether Eiker was originally part of the skipreiður organization or whether it was based on another system (Bull 1920:136, Steinnes 1933:57). That Eiker was divided into fjórðungar could indicate that the area was originally a skipreiða (cf. Indrebø 1935). In addition, the farmers of Eiker bought a ship in the 1390s (DN II:519, century, it seems to refer to fixed districts for the payment of royal taxes. It has been assumed that the skipreiður divisions were mapped onto an older division of herað units, further subdivided into quarters. This division may have been introduced by Danish kings prior to the 11th century (Fig. 6) (e.g., Bull 1918, Sogner 1981:492–494, Tunberg 1911). The origin of the herað is unknown, but since the borders often coincide with topographical borders, they may be based on older divisions between rural districts (cf. Jørgensen 1974:235–236). The different sizes of the skipreiður/ herað and the unequal distribution of the fjórðungar may indicate chronological differences or different political affiliations (Fig. 6; Bull 1920:142–143; Steinnes 1929; M. Ødegaard, unpubl. data). The different administrative areas with assemblies of different functions and levels indicate a rather regulated system. Most of these administrative divisions appear in the sources as districts with set boundaries at the same time as society became more tightly organized by a central power. So how were the rural assemblies organized? Can any attempts of Figure 6. The known skipreiður and fjórðungar boundaries in the Norwegian part of the Borgarthing law province ca. 1300. M. Ødegaard 2013 Journal of the North Atlantic Special Volume 5 49 II:562; Lange and Unger 1851:398–399, 1852:427– 248), evidently a ship for the naval fleet, the leiðangr (Indrebø 1935:110, Moseng 1994:76–80). In 1665, however, Eiker had a total of six fjórðungar (Indrebø Figure 7. The investigation area, Eiker skipreiða, with the recorded thing sites and fjórðungar boundaries. M. Ødegaard 2013 Journal of the North Atlantic Special Volume 5 50 Figure 8. Eiker skipreiða with the parish boundaries. A parish boundary for Berg is suggested, but it is uncertain which farms belonged to this parish in the early Middle Ages, as the parish became a part of Haug parish around 1400. M. Ødegaard 2013 Journal of the North Atlantic Special Volume 5 51 that the parish and fjórðungar boundaries did not coincide in Eiker. Written and archaeological sources seldom give information of the exact location and functions of the assemblies. However, some information is found in a few of the diplomas from the farms with churches. At Fiskum, Berg, and Haug, the diplomas state that the assemblies were held either in the church, churchyard, or the “living room” (setstofa) of the farms.6 Assemblies in churchyards are also known from the sagas (e.g., Þorðarson 1979:183–184) and other parts of the law area. More uncommon is that two diplomas from Berg also indicate the function of the thing, and refer to it as an “ordinary weapon thing” (DN VI:451, 1434; NHD 2 r. III (2):25, 1611; Thomle 1987:25; Unger and Huitfeldt- Kaas 1864:475–476), denoting an assembly where the weapons of the naval fleet were inspected by royal officials (Fig. 9). This reference suggests that Berg had an assembly of a higher level and was the main thing site of the skipreiða (L III:12; Taranger 1915:37–38). The term weapon thing also testifies to the close relationship between the military and legal aspects of the thing organization. About 100–200 m east of the farm and the medieval church at Berg is a small hill called Pilhaugen (“The arrow mound”).7 From Sweden and England, it is well attested that assemblies were held both at natural and man-made mounds, often burial mounds (Pantos 1935:105), obviously a secondary phenomenon, suggesting changes in the administrative areas. According to the Norwegian historian and philologist Gustav Indrebø, two of the fjórðungar were divided in two during the 16th century, indicating that the original four medieval, or pre-14th century, fjórðungar in Eiker are Varlo, Fiskum, Hedenstad, and Sanden (Fig. 7) (Indrebø 1935:107–110). Consequently, when analyzing the medieval thing organization, these fjórðungar must be used. Three of the four fjórðungar are named after a farm with a thing site; the certain thing sites at Sanden and Hedenstad, and the possible assembly at Fiskum. In the last fjórðungr, Varlo, there were, however, two possible thing sites—at Berg and Haug—but only at Berg is the site considered a certain thing site. It has been assumed that the oldest fjórðungr is named after the farm which was the legal center within the fjórðungr when it was established (Moseng 1994:94, cf. Norseng 2005:64), thus indicating that the farm Varlo may have had a thing site. The written sources do not, however, indicate that Varlo had any assembly functions,5 although these may, of course, have been moved at an earlier point in time. There were three churches in Eiker in the Middle Ages: Fiskum, Haug, and Berg, all on farms with possible assembly sites (Fig. 8). Both Haug and Berg were located in the same fjórðungr, demonstrating Figure 9. The farm Berg today. “The arrow mound”, now demolished, was located just left of the photo’s edge. M. Ødegaard 2013 Journal of the North Atlantic Special Volume 5 52 and Semple 2004, Sanmark 2009, Turner 2000). The name Pilhaugen is also interesting, as assemblies could be called by “arrow” (ǫ r) or “thing summons” (þíngsboð). Arrow summons is mentioned in the Law of the Gulathing (G 131; Eithun et al. 1994:102–103) for cases such as murder (Andersen 1982a:348, Grieg 1980:338–340). When the leiðangr was transformed into an annual tax for the years when the ships were not in use, probably between ca. 1150–1300, the weapon assembly became important for tax collections (Bjørkvik 1981:433–442; Bull 1920:38, 43–45; Ersland 2000:55). Thus, the assembly became an administrative level for economic transactions and taxes to the king (Moseng 1994:90). It is therefore interesting to observe that Berg’s neighboring farm, Sem (Fig. 10), was a royal residence from at least 1240 until 1541 (Johnsen 1914:102). It is, however, unclear whether the farm held this status also in previous times. Sem was a so-called “free-farm”, which was a special royal, administrative farm (Bjørkvik 1968:66). Only eight such royal farms existed at that time in Norway. In 1388, Sem became the aristocratic manor and center in the newly established Eiker fief (DN I:511; Lange and Unger 1847:374–375). Thus, the administration of Eiker seems to be centered on Berg and Sem, at least from the 13th century onwards (Moseng 1994:113). The travelling distance to the thing sites may have been decisive for their location, even though one should be careful in assuming that principles of short geographical distances were important in the Middle Ages and earlier.8 All assemblies in Eiker are centrally located within their respective fjorðungr (Fig. 7), except for Berg, which is located in the middle of the skipreiða, which again fits well with the interpretation of the site as the main assembly site of this unit. What characterizes the farms with assembly sites in Eiker? Hedenstad was originally royal land (Bjørkvik 1968:59–60). At the beginning of the 16th century, the nobleman Per Hanssøn Basse bought several farms from St. Hallvard’s Church (DN IV:1119, VII 741; Lange and Unger 1858:822–823; Unger and Huitfeldt-Kaas 1869:792–793), including Fiskum and parts of Sanden. Such farms may originally have belonged to the king (Moseng 1994:204– 211), but will be considered here as belonging to the church, together with Haug farm. The main part of Sanden belonged to farmers in 1647, and Varlo was partly owned by farmers and noblemen (Table 1). In the Middle Ages, the farms were divided into three fiscal units: large, medium, and small. Sanden and Varlo were fiscally considered to be large farms, which might indicate that the farmers belonged to an upper stratum of society. Fiskum, on the other hand, was considered as a medium farm, while the ownership and land rent of Berg is unknown.9 However, in 1347, a man called Solve at Berg, Sauli a Berghi, is mentioned as one of the king’s “faithful men” (DN III:248; Lange and Unger 1853:209–210), indicating that Berg was connected to the highest Norwegian aristocracy, linked to the royal administration at the time. Several noble families also lived at Berg from the late 14th century onwards (Austad 1974:63, Moseng 1994:48). All farms with assemblies included here had prehistoric graves, although none of these had late Iron Age weapons (Fig. 11), despite the fact that Eiker had a large number of such burials. In Eiker, as many as 50% of the graves contained weapons, while in the province of Vestfold, only 10% had weapons (Mikkelsen 2006:48). However, it must be emphasized that not all pre-historic graves have been excavated, and these assertions are only based on the known material. Interestingly, at Hoen, the neighboring farm to Varlo, the Hoen hoard was found. This is the most important hoard in the country, and possibly also in Scandinavia, from the Viking period (Wilson 2006:13). Thus, Hoen and the area around Varlo appear to have been equally important from the end of the Viking Age, both in terms of wealth and communication routes, since it was possible to sail from the Oslo Fjord to Hoen in the medieval period (Fig. 11; Mikkelsen 2006). Communication is often considered to be a highly important feature of thing sites (Sanmark 2009). Several place-names in Eiker may indicate assembly sites from the Viking Age or even earlier (Fig. 11). The neighboring farm west of Berg is called Skjøl, ON Skeiðiholf, a name interpreted as “height used for horse races” (Rygh 1914:261–262). East of the certain thing site at Sanden is the farm of Horgen, a name that could be interpreted as pagan cult site (Rygh 1914:270–271). The same interpretation has been put forward for Hovet, a small-holding located east of Varlo, dated to the Viking Age (Sandnes and Stemshaug 1976:30). The place-names thus indicate communal Viking Age meeting-places Table 1. Landowners and land rent of the farms with assemblies in Eiker. The land rent showing the fiscal values of the farms in Eiker, where Sanden and Varlo were considered large farms and Fiskum was categorized as a medium fiscal unit (Cf. Fladby and Imsen 1971). Farm Ownership Land rent Sanden Farmer Large Hedenstad Royal Unknown Berg Unknown Unknown Haug Church Unknown Varlo Farmers and aristocracy Large M. Ødegaard 2013 Journal of the North Atlantic Special Volume 5 53 near Berg, Sanden, and Varlo. Another interesting name in Eiker is Vegu, ON Víghaugar, a farm located near the southern skipreiða boundary (Fig. 11). The first part of the name, vig n., has been interpreted as “battle, murder”, or ON vé n. “sanctuary”, and the last part comes from a mound (haugr) (Rygh 1914:275). Thus, the name may mean “murder mound” or “the Figure 10. The farm boundaries of Berg and Sem in Eiker skipreiða. M. Ødegaard 2013 Journal of the North Atlantic Special Volume 5 54 Figure 11. The figure shows the location of weapon finds and hoards from the Iron Age in relation to the thing sites at Eiker skipreiða, as well as place-names indicating cult-sites. The weapon graves are modified after Mikkelsen 2006:22. M. Ødegaard 2013 Journal of the North Atlantic Special Volume 5 55 2005:63–68). Consequently, new administrative requirements were created, and it is likely that they were dealt with at the fylkir-churches. Around the beginning of the 13th century, the skipreiður appear in the sources as fixed tax districts. It is, likely, however, that they were based on older Danish herað divisions, which again could be based on natural boundaries between rural districts (Jørgensen 1974:235, Norseng and Stylegar 2003:484). It is therefore possible that, at least some local assemblies retained their location throughout the Middle Ages and perhaps even earlier. At the beginning of the 13th century, the Borgarthing law area seems to have consisted of two smaller legislative areas (lagsogn) with two royal officials (lǫ gmaðr), a situation which could reflect older conditions. However, later in the same century, the Borgarthing law area was already extended and at the same time split up into several lagsogn. A common feature is the contiguity of assemblies with royal residences, especially places where royal officials lived (Seip 1934:16, 33). Strong royal power is perhaps further reflected in the Law of the Borgarthing, probably written down in the first half of the 11th century (Halvorsen 2008, Riisøy 2009:10). The law describes three types of churches, where the fylkir-churches appear to constitute the highest level in the hierarchy (B 8; Halvorsen 2008:133–135). The king’s sanctions for not paying the fines on time were more severe in the Borgarthing area compared to the other law areas in Norway. Within four months of non-payment, the king had the right to carry out a military campaign to force all remaining pagans to become Christian and take their goods in war tribute (B 8.5; Halvorsen 2008:133–134).11 This paragraph is unique to the Borgarthing area, and the Swedish church historian Gunnar Smedberg (1973:42) argued that this indicates that the king had a special connection to the fylkir-churches in this area. It was moreover also in the Borgarthing area that the king had the right to take ownership of private churches if the owner failed to maintain it (B 8.11; Halvorsen 2008:135).12 A different distribution of the fines if someone was sentenced to outlawry additionally emphasizes the king’s strong position in the Borgarthing area. In all four Norwegian law areas, the bishop had the right to all fines up to the value of three marks, and the difference among them lies in the distribution of the outlaws’ properties and possessions worth more than that sum. The bishop received the additional fines in the Frostathing law area, the bishop and king would split the values above three marks evenly in the Gulathing law area, and the king, bishop, and holy mound”. It has been suggested that the name refers to a cult site (Moseng 1994). As the site is located on the administrative border, it may as well refer to an execution site. In both England (Reynolds 1999:108, 2008) and the Borgarthing area, execution sites were often located at or near administrative borders and at the fringe of settlements. As no other sources refer to an execution site, this could, however, be debated. Increased Royal Control over the Assembly Organization? On a regional level, the name of the law area, Borgarthing, shows that the town of Borg was the legal center when the lawthing was established (Norseng 2005:64).10 It is possible that King Olaf II Haraldsson established the thing simultaneously with the foundation of the town of Borg at beginning of the 11th century. The royal officials, sýslumaðr, appear in the sagas from the 10th and 11th centuries (Norseng 2005:61–62). The centers of the sýslar were connected to the fylkir-churches, which may date to the 11th century, built on royal land near new medieval towns, like Borg and Konghelle. As no assemblies are known from the fylki-level, it is possible that the sýsla-assemblies were new establishments, reflecting changes in assembly location to royally controlled farms. The sýsla areas and functions might thus have broken with older administrative units. In the beginning, however, the borders of the administrative areas may have been unstable (Helle 1964, Seip 1934, Stylegar and Norseng 2003). It is likely that the king used Christianity for strategic purposes, to gain control over law and religion, and as an effort to gain control over society and local magnates’ power over the judicial and legal landscape (cf. Brendalsmo 2006). Thus, the 11th century may have been a period that witnessed fundamental changes regarding the administrative and assembly institution in the Borgarthing law area, at least on a regional level. However, already after the mid-12th century, the royal officials of the sýsla appear in laws and documents as administrative leaders of permanent districts. They had three main duties: law, defense, and economy (Andersen 1982b:645–648; Helle 1964:145, 2001:152). It has been assumed that one reason for the royal appointment of offices and fixed districts can be found in the civil wars between 1130 and 1240, which created a need for royal officials with armies to control the newly conquered areas, as well as for more men and income to support the leiðangr fleet (Helle 1964:145–146, Norseng M. Ødegaard 2013 Journal of the North Atlantic Special Volume 5 56 “farmers” would take 1/3 each in the Eidsivathing district. In the Borgarthing area, on the other hand, the king had the right to take everything above the three marks (Spørck 2009:153). This may indicate that the king had more control in the Borgarthing law area than in the rest of the kingdom, while the church was stronger in the Frostathing law area (Spørck 2009:153). The explanation for the strong royal power in Viken may relate to the different political affiliations here and Danish attempts of supremacy through large parts of the Viking Age until the 13th century, which may have led to special administrative and judicial relations in the area. Consequently, when the Norwegian kings secured the area, they may have seized control with a grip that was felt even at the lowest levels, with a system that made it easier to interfere more effectively in local communities. It is likely that the king used Christianity strategically in this attempt, as a way to get control of both religious and legal life. Obviously, the royal consolidation of power and institutionalization of the assembly organization was a continuing process, although it seems that larger changes can be identified at the higher administrative levels around the 11th century and between the mid-13th and 14th centuries. Royal Influence in Eiker skipreiða? In sources from the 16th century, Eiker was divided into four fjórðungar: Fiskum, Hedenstad, Sanden, and Varlo (Fig. 12). A thing site at Varlo is indicated but only by its name. Haug was originally categorized as a possible thing site; however, this could probably be linked to Haug’s status as an important ecclesiastical arena for announcements and written transactions and contracts. That leaves the other two other possible thing sites in the same fjorðung as Haug, namely Varlo and Berg, which most likely indicate that changes occurred in the location or functions of one of the sites. Even though one should be careful not to infer ex silentio, the fact that Varlo is not recorded as a thing site in medieval documents might indicate that the assembly was moved from Varlo to Berg. The transferral of the assembly may have happened before the mid-14th century, which is when the first diploma indicating legal functions at Berg is dated (DN III:299; 300, 1358–9; Lange and Unger 1853:243, 244). After 1273, documents started being more commonly produced at thing meetings, especially concerning cases with physical injuries (RN II:112; Bjørgo and Bagge 1978:70). The growing use of written documents for judicial acts led to increasing participation of both central and local royal officials in cases in the legal districts (Dørum 2004: 387). As stated above, thing meetings at Berg are repeatedly referred to as weapon things, designating assemblies on the skipreiða level. The question then, is why the assembly was moved to Berg, as there are no indications of other thing sites in the skipreiða being moved. As mentioned above, it has been suggested that powerful families controlled the thing meetings (Andersen 1977:255, Imsen 1990:193). None of the farms with assemblies in Eiker, however, have finds of prehistoric weapon graves, and as the farms in the early Modern Period were owned by different landowners and the land rents of half of the farms remain unknown, it is difficult to draw any positive conclusions for this skipreiða. Then again, three of the farms with assemblies had a medieval church. In the last decades, several scholars have claimed that the aristocracy played an important part in establishing the earliest churches in Scandinavia (e.g., Brendalsmo 2006, Emanuelsson 2005:223, Lidén 1995:129–131, Skre 1998:64–72). The church at Berg may have been a private church, as known from the Law of the Borgarthing (B8; Halvorsen 2008:133–135).13 Private churches can be seen as expressions of local continuity of power, in the same way as the royal churches—such as the fylkir-churches—from the same period, interpreted as manifestations of royal supremacy (Brendalsmo 2006:285–287). Considering that Berg’s neighboring farm has a name suggesting horse racing, together with a possible private church, it may seem peculiar that an assembly was not located at Berg originally. However, place-names and rich archaeological finds from the farms surrounding Varlo also testify to the area’s importance in prehistoric times. The fact that the legal and cultic, and later Christian, functions are located close together, often on neighboring farms, is a recurring phenomenon in the Borgarthing area. The weapon thing at Berg perhaps suggests a family of an extraordinary position and higher status than others. At least, being one of the king’s “faithful men” may suggest that this farmer had greater influence over decisions at the assemblies than others (Moseng 1994:95), while perhaps also giving the king some control over the thing organization at the lower level in Eiker. Maybe changing the location of the thing site, and perhaps also the function, is a consequence of the king gaining ownership of the farm of Sem? The date coincides chronologically with the period when the control of weapons at the assemblies had, or was in the process of, being M. Ødegaard 2013 Journal of the North Atlantic Special Volume 5 57 Figure 12. The investigation area with the certain and possible thing sites. The certain thing site of Berg is suggested as the main thing for the whole skipreiða, i.e., the weapon thing, located next to the royal farm of Sem. M. Ødegaard 2013 Journal of the North Atlantic Special Volume 5 58 transformed into a tax (Andersen 1982a:346–359). Consequently, it is likely that taxes in kind were collected at the assembly of Berg and moved to Sem for storage and use. Then again, why not move the assembly to the royal farm itself? The relation between assembly sites, chieftain’s and royal farms is not properlyly understood, and several different situations have been observed (e.g., Andersen 1977:225, Reynolds 1999:65–110, Sanmark 2011, Turner 2000). In northern and southwestern Norway, there seems to be a close connection between chieftain’s farms and courtyard sites,14 interpreted as assemblies on neutral ground where the landowning elite could meet for political and religious activities (Storli 2000, 2010). This desire for a neutral site could perhaps explain the location of the weapon thing at Berg, not directly located on the royal farm itself, as the “farmer” might have functioned as a royal official with close connections to the king and his administration, while at the same time also serving as local representative and sanctioning the law for the local population. The royal officials were dependent on the thing participants’ cooperation, whilst looking after the king’s interests in the local communities, for example the collection of taxes. The thing thus became an arena for cooperation between the royal representatives and the farmers (Dørum 2004:387, Imsen 1990:193–198). Conclusion Previous researchers have presumed that the king took strong control over the assembly organization after the mid-12th century, especially through his representatives. The development of the administrative structures and royal administration discussed in the regional analysis seems to support this view. Most likely, the king gained more control over the thing organization by drawing the activities closer to new urban centers and central administration, at least at the highest administrative levels. This paper has examined how power may have been extended down to the lower levels. In Eiker, three of the suggested thing sites had the same location across the centuries, which seems to imply a continuity of the political system. However, as shown, the thing system was not static, and changes both in the thing site location and administrative districts could happen. The main skipreiða thing in Eiker was moved to Berg in the 13th century, probably to be closer to the royal farm of Sem. This move could probably be related to increased royal control over the local thing institution and the judicial life in the districts by the beginning of the 13th century. Nevertheless, the thing was an arena for the general public in the local communities, and especially before the 15th century, this was a result of cooperation between the royal representatives and the farmers. The thing sites gradually became an instrument for communication and cooperation between the local communities and royal authority. This is, however, a study of only one skipreiða, and not necessarily representative for the Borgarthing law province as a whole. This study is part of the author’s PhD, and these preliminary results will in the next stage be contextualized in relation to the rest of the analysis of the law area, which will contain approximately 10–15 selected skipreiður in the Borgarthing law area. Even though some researchers have reflected on the location of thing sites close to churches and rural centers, the sites have not previously been studied from a landscape perspective, nor have they been compared to administrative boundaries and other structures. 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Later, Numedal, Telemark, Tverrdalane, and Modum might have been added to the law area (Helle 2001:152). 3Berg—e.g., DN III:298, 1359 (Lange and Unger 1853:242–243); DN VI:451, 1434 (Unger and Huitfeldt- Kaas 1864:475–476), NHD 2 r. III (2):25, 1611 (Thomle 1987:25). Sanden—e.g., DN V:372, 1396 (Lange and Unger 1860:269–270; references to more unprinted diplomas, dated to 1591 and 1604, in Indrebø 1935:140). Hedenstad—e.g., DN VII:378, 1425 (Unger and Huitfeldt-Kaas 1867:372); DN 494, 495, 500, 1445 (Unger and Huitfeldt-Kaas 1864:518–520, 524-525); DN VII:783, 1531 (Unger and Huitfeldt-Kaas 1869:729–730). 4Fiskum: e.g., DN III:337, 1364 (Lange and Unger 1853:265–266); DN VI:410, 1421 (Unger and Huitfeldt- Kaas 1864:439); Haug: e.g., DN II:428, 1373 (Lange and Unger 1851:331–332); DN XIII:35, 1378 (?) (Unger and Huitfeldt-Kaas 1889:29–30); DN XI:214, 1462 (Unger and Huitfeldt-Kaas 1882:185–186); DN II: 796, 1452 (Lange and Unger 1852:598). 5One diploma was issued at Varlo in the 14th century, but such activity is not uncommon, and does not in itself indicate that Varlo was a thing site (DN VI:343, 1394; Unger and Huitfeldt-Kaas 1863:383). 6Fiskum—living room: DN II:654, 1420 (Lange and Unger 1852:487); church yard: DN VI:410, 1431 (Unger and Huitfeldt-Kaas 1864:439); Haug—DN II: 428, 1373 (Lange and Unger 1851:331–332); parsonage: DN XI:214, 1462 (Unger and Huitfeldt-Kaas 1882:185–186); church: DN II:796, 1452 (Lange and Unger 1852:598); DN V:850, 1464 (Lange and Unger 1861:616); DN VIII:785, 1545 (Unger and Huitfeldt-Kaas 1874:831– 832); Berg—living room: DN V:319:1380 (Lange and Unger 1860:232); church: DN VI:489, 1442 (Unger and Huitfeldt-Kaas 1864:515–516). 7Information provided by the farmer at Berg in August 2011 (cf. Moseng 1994:90–92). 8The settlement landscape used here is based on modern cultivated land and settlement areas, and changes might have happened over time; however, it will still give a broad picture of the medieval settlement areas. 9The Norwegian farms were fiscally divided into three categories according to their value; the large farms paid the most land rent, then the medium farms, and the smallest valued farms paid the lowest land rent. An overview of the land rent is given in the cadaster of 1647 (Fladby and Imsen 1971). It is generally assumed that this cadaster represents the land rents before the Black Death in the mid-14th century (Bjørkvik and Holmsen 1978, Holmsen 1940, Iversen 2008, Skre 1998). Main farms belonging to the priest and aristocracy, like parts of Fiskum, Berg, and Haug, often had tax exemptions, and thus were not documented in the cadasters. Regardless of the margins of error, the land rents can be used as a basis for comparison of the farms’ economic capacity in the Middle Ages (Andressen 1980:50, Gjermundsen 1980:37–38). 10A thing in Borg is mentioned several times in the sagas from the beginning of the 11th century onwards. The term Borgarthing was not used until Harald Fairhair’s seizure of power in 1047 (Jónsson 1902–1903:332). The assembly was, however, not referred to as a lawthing until 1224 (Seip 1980:148–149). 11Nu skall gera hina iiij fiogura manoðr stæfnu. Þa er sa æin hærnaðr er konongr løyfði innan landz at hæria monnum till kristins doms. Han skall æigi men drepa oc æigi hus brenna. Fe þæira | skall han taka oc bu oc hava at hærnaðe (8.5; Halvorsen 2008:133–134). 12… Gera honom hina .iijjo. manoðr stæfnu. En ef þa er æigi gor þa a konongr bø þæn en bonde |-er-|ækki i. Halde konongr upp kirkiv gærð (B8.11; Halvorsen 2008:135). M. Ødegaard 2013 Journal of the North Atlantic Special Volume 5 63 13The churches at Fiskum and Haug might also have been private churches, but this point will not be discussed here. Archaeological remains have been found beneath the standing stone church at Haug, interpreted as an older church, probably a stave church (cf. Moseng 1994:20–25). 14Courtyard sites are interpreted as assembly sites, dated from the 3rd to 10th centuries. For a discussion see Brink et al. (2011).