Hedeby (IPA2|ˡhe:ðəby, Old Norse "Heiðabýr", of "heiðr" = heathland, and "býr" = yard, thus "heath yard"), sometimes known by the modern German name Haithabu which is a revival of the runic spelling of Heiðabý(r), was an important settlement in Viking Denmark, flourishing from the 8th to 11th centuries and located towards the southern end of the Jutland Peninsula. It developed as a trading centre at the head of a narrow, navigable inlet known today as the Schlei which connects to the Baltic Sea. The location of Hedeby is favored because there is a short portage of less than 15 km to the Treene River which flows into the
Eider with its North Sea estuary, making a convenient place where goods and Viking ships could be ported overland for an almost uninterrupted seaway between the Baltic and the North Sea and avoiding a dangerous circumnavigation of Jutland.

Hedeby was the largest Nordic city during the Viking Age and used to be the oldest city in Denmark. [The oldest town in modern Denmark is Ribe, first mentioned in 854.] Denmark lost the territory on which Hedeby was located to Austria and Prussia in 1864 in the Second Schleswig War. As a result of these border movements, the site is now located in the province of Schleswig-Holstein in the extreme north of Germany. The name 'Hedeby' means the "town on the heath". Abandoned almost a thousand years ago, Hedeby is now by far the most important archaeological site in Schleswig-Holstein. A museum was opened next to the site in 1985.

Problems with naming

Both in modern European usage and in Viking times, the names and spellings used for Hedeby were varied and confusing. [Research opinions on the naming issues differ slightly. The version given is based primarily on cite book | first = Hildegard | last = Elsner | year = 1989 | title = Wikinger Museum Haithabu: Schaufenster einer frühen Stadt | chapter = | editor = | others = | pages = | location = Neumünster | publisher = Wachholtz | id = | url = | authorlink = , p.13]
* "Hedeby" is the accepted modern English and Danish spelling.
* "Heiðabýr" is derived from old Scandinavian sources and is the oldest known name.
** "Heithabyr" is an English spelling of the Old Norse name.
* "Heidiba" is a Latin form.
* "Haithabu" is the modern German spelling used when referring to the historical settlement. It is a revival of the Old Norse name, but whereas this language is usually rendered in its Latin spelling, curiously, in this case a transliteration of the runic spelling has been preferred. This is reflected in the name of the museum now located at the site.
* "Haddeby" is the modern German spelling for the " [http://www.haddeby.de administrative district] " around the site of the original town.
* "Heddeby" is also known.

A second set of names are used in other linguistic traditions.
* "Sliesthorp" in the earliest Saxon and Frankish texts.
* "Sliaswich" in later Saxon and Frankish texts.

It is possible that two name sets were used interchangeably for the same settlement, depending on which language was being used. However, the fact that two settlements came into existence, situated very close together, creates further difficulties. While the settlement today referred to as Hedeby/Haithabu lies on the south side of the Schlei inlet, a settlement also grew up (at around the same time) on the north side. That second settlement has had a continuous history of habitation to modern times, and has now grown into the town known as Schleswig (derived from the second set of names for Hedeby) and given its name to the surrounding province.



Hedeby is first mentioned in the Frankish chronicles of Einhard (804) who was in the service of Charlemagne,but was probably founded around 770. In 808 the Danish king Godfred (Lat. Godofredus) destroyed a competing Slav trade centre namied Reric and it is recorded in the Frankish chronicles that he moved the merchants from there to Hedeby. This may have given the town of Hedeby its initial impetus to develop. The same sources record that Godfred strengthened the Danevirke earthen wall which stretched across the south of the Jutland peninsula. The Danevirke joined the defensive walls of Hedeby to form an east-west barrier across the peninsular, from the marshes in the West to the Schlei inlet leading into the Baltic in the East.

The town itself was surrounded on its three landward sides (north, west, and south) by earthworks. At the end of the 9th century the northern and southern parts of the town were abandoned for the central section. Later a 9-metre (29-ft) high semi-circular wall was erected to guard the western approaches to the town. On the eastern side, the town was bordered by the innermost part of the Schlei inlet and the bay of Haddebyer Noor.



Hedeby became a principal marketplace because of its geographical location on the major trade routes between the Frankish Empire and Scandinavia (north-south), and between the Baltic and the North Sea (east-west). Between 800 and 1000 the growing economic power of the Vikings led to its dramatic expansion as a major trading centre. The following indicate the importance achieved by the town:
* The town was described by visitors from England (Wulfstan - 9th C.) and the Mediterranean (Al-Tartushi - 10th C.).
* Hedeby became the seat of a bishop (948) and belonged to the Archbishopric of Hamburg and Bremen.
* The town minted its own coins (from 825?).
* Adam of Bremen (11th C.) reports that ships were sent from this "portus maritimus" to Slavic lands, to Sweden, Samland ("Semlant") and even Greece.

A Swedish dynasty founded by Olof the Brash is said to have ruled Hedeby during the last decades of the 9th century and the first part of the 10th century. This was told to Adam of Bremen by the Danish king Sweyn Estridsson, and it is supported by three runestones found in Denmark. Two of them were raised by the mother of Olof's grandson Sigtrygg Gnupasson. The third runestone is from Hedeby, the "Stone of Eric" ( _sv. Erikstenen) and it was discovered in 1796, which shows Norwegian-Swedish runes. It is, however, possible that Danes also occasionally wrote with this version of the younger futhark.


Life was short and crowded in Hedeby. The small houses were clustered tightly together in a grid, with the east-west streets leading down to jetties in the harbour. People rarely lived beyond 30 or 40, and archaeological research shows that their latter years were often painful due to crippling diseases such as tuberculosis. Yet make-up for men and rights for women provide surprises to the modern understanding.

The Jewish Arab traveller Ibrahim Al-Tartushi (late 10th C.) provides one of the most colourful and often quoted descriptions of life in Hedeby. Al-Tartushi was from Cordoba in Spain, which had a significantly more wealthy and comfortable lifestyle than Hedeby. While Hedeby may have been significant by Scandinavian standards, Al-Tartushi is unimpressed::"Slesvig (Hedeby) is a very large town at the extreme end of the world ocean.... The inhabitants worship Sirius, except for a minority of Christians who have a church of their own there.... He who slaughters a sacrificial animal puts up poles at the door to his courtyard and impales the animal on them, be it a piece of cattle, a ram, billygoat or a pig so that his neighbors will be aware that he is making a sacrifice in honor of his god. The town is poor in goods and riches. People eat mainly fish which exist in abundance. Babies are thrown into the sea for reasons of economy. The right to divorce belongs to the women.... Artificial eye make-up is another peculiarity; when they wear it their beauty never disappears, indeed it is enhanced in both men and women. Further: Never did I hear singing fouler than that of these people, it is a rumbling emanating from their throats, similar to that of a dog but even more bestial." [cite web |author=Consulate General of Denmark in New York | title=Factsheet | work= | url=http://www.denmark.org/about_denmark/factsheets_articles/factsheets_vikings.html | accessmonthday=January 14 | accessyear=2006]


The town was sacked in 1050 by King Harold Hardrada of Norway during the course of a conflict with King Sweyn II of Denmark. He set the town on fire by sending several burning ships into the harbour, the charred remains of which were found at the bottom of the Schlei during recent excavations. A Norwegian "skald", himself quoted by Snorri Sturluson, describes the sack as follows: :"Burnt in anger from end to end was Hedeby [..] ":"High rose the flames from the houses when, before dawn, I stood upon the stronghold's arm"

After the sack of Hedeby by Harold, Slavs plundered and again destroyed the town in 1066. The inhabitants then abandoned Hedeby and moved across the Schlei inlet to the town of Schleswig.


20th century excavations

After the settlement was abandoned, rising waters contributed to the complete disappearance of all visible structures on the site. It was even forgotten where the settlement had been. This proved to be fortunate for later archaeological work at the site.

Archaeological work began at the site in 1900 after the rediscovery of the settlement. Excavations were conducted for the next 15 years. Further excavations were carried out between 1930 and 1939. Archaeological work on the site was productive due to two main factors: that the site had never been built on since its destruction some 840 years earlier, and that the permanently waterlogged ground had preserved wood and other perishable materials. After the Second World War, in 1959 archaeological work was started again and has continued intermittently ever since. The embankments surrounding the settlement were excavated and a partial dredging of the harbour was carried out. The wreck of a Viking ship was discovered in the harbour during these latter excavations. Despite all this work, today only 5% of the settlement (and only 1% of the harbour) has actually been investigated.

The most important finds resulting from the excavations are now on display in the adjoining Hedeby Viking Museum.

21st century reconstructions

In 2005 an ambitious archaeological reconstruction programme was initiated on the original site. Based on the results of archaeological analyses, exact copies of some of the original Viking houses have been built.

ee also

* Viking Age
* Towns: Jelling, Birka, Ribe, Schleswig, Reric
* People: Wulfstan of Hedeby, Al-Tartushi, Adam of Bremen, Harold Hardrada, Rurik, Godfred (Danish King)
* Hedeby stones, Schlei


Bibliography and media

* A number of short archaeological films relating to Hedeby and produced by researchers during the 1980s are available on DVD from the " [http://www.uni-kiel.de/cinarchea/neu/dvd-e.htm University of Kiel's Archaelogical Film Project.] "
* The known publications on Hedeby are mainly in the German language. See " [http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haithabu Wikipedia's German-language article on Hedeby.] "

External links

* [http://www.schloss-gottorf.de/wmh/index.php Website of the Hedeby Viking Museum]

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