The Danish island of Zealand is home to the city of Roskilde, the capital of Denmark from the 11th century until 1443. Roskilde was at the heart of numerous Viking land and trading routes, exerting its influence over many miles and thousands of people. As such it has long attracted historians and archaeologists alike to this Viking world, lying 19 miles (30 kilometers) to the west of the modern-day capital Copenhagen and located at the south end of the Roskilde fjord, a south branch of Isefjord. In the 1960’s a remarkable discovery was made at the end of the fjord. On the seabed lay the wrecks of Viking boats , scuttled in the 11th century to protect Roskilde from seaboard assault.
Queen Wealhþeow serving King Hrothgar and his men in Beowulf, by J.R Skelton ( Public Domain )
The Founding of Roskilde
The city of Roskilde was, according to Adam of Bremen, a German chronicler, and Saxo Grammaticus, a Danish historian and theologian, founded in the 980’s in the time of Harold ‘Bluetooth’ I of Denmark (958-986 AD), of whom it is said, built both a church on the high ground above the harbor, which he dedicated to the Holy Trinity , and a royal estate there. There are however chronicles which speak to an earlier tradition where in the sixth century two kings named Ro and Heighe, the sons of Haldan, had split their father’s kingdom upon his death. Ro took the land and founded Roskilde, naming the city after himself, and Heighe took to the water. The epic poem Beowulf and an older text Widsith both mention a Danish king called Hrothgar whom the sagas, Icelandic and Scandinavian chronicles all suggest may have been the same king as Ro. The Gesta Danorum and the Chronicon Lethrense in particular state that Horthgar and Ro are versions of the same name. So perhaps Roskilde was founded by the Viking Hrothgar, described in Beowulf as living in Hereot a “towered hall, high, gabled wide, the hot surge waiting the furious flame.” Hrothgar is generally considered to be semi-legendary but today many agree that Hereot in Beowulf probably is a fair reflection of real Viking mead hall. No evidence of either Ro’s buildings or Harold Bluetooth’s have been found to date, but Viking remains have been found dating to circa 1030 proving that they were in the area at that time.
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Rebecca Batley has a Bachelor’s degree in archaeology (University of Wales) and a Master’s degree in Classics. Her fieldwork includes sites dating to the Bronze Age, Iron Age, Romano-British, Roman, Medieval, Tudor, Georgian and modern periods. At the Louvre Museum, she researched and excavated at sites in Egypt, Syria, and Israel. She works at the Military Intelligence Archive to help to prepare World War One records and she is a part time History tutor.
Top Image : The reconstruction of Skuldelev 5 (1991) ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )
By: Rebecca Batley