Commerce And Key Markets In Scandinavia During The Viking Era

Commerce in Scandinavia during the Viking Era is mostly known to have taken place between the major trading ports located around the North and Baltic seas. During the Viking Age, the most significant emporia situated along the coastlines of the previously mentioned bodies of water (or in their vicinity) were the following ones (approximate or precise contemporary coordinates given in parentheses):

  • Alaborg (Novgorod Oblast, Lyubytinsky District, Russia);
  • Aldeigja (Staraya Ladoga, Volkhovsky District, Leningrad Oblast, Russia);
  • Arkona (Rügen Island, Mecklenburg-West Pomerania, Germany);
  • Bardy-Świelubie (near the city of Kołobrzeg, West Pomeranian Voievodship, Poland);
  • Birka (Björkö Island, Sweden);
  • Dierkow (near the city of Rostock, Mecklenburg-West Pomerania, Germany);
  • Dorestad (near the city of Wijk bij Duurstede, Utrecht province, the Netherlands);
  • Gnezdovo (in the village of Gnyozdovo, Smolensk Oblast, Russia);
  • Grobiņa (near the the city of Liepāja, Kurzeme Region, Latvia);
  • Hedeby (southern Jutland, Schleswig-Holstein, Germany);
  • Holmgard (Veliky Novgorod, Novgorod Oblast, Germany);
  • Kaup (Zelenogradsky District, Kaliningrad Oblast, Russia);
  • Skiringssal (Vestfold, Norway);
  • Köpingsvik (Borgholm Municipality, Kalmar County, Sweden);
  • Lindholm (near the city of Aalborg, Denmark);
  • Menzlin (near the town of Anklam, Mecklenburg-West Pomerania, Germany);
  • Ralswiek (Mecklenburg-West Pomerania, Germany);
  • Rerik (Mecklenburg-West Pomerania, Germany);
  • Ribe (Region of Southern Denmark, Denmark);
  • Sarskoye (Yaroslavl Oblast, Russia);
  • Sigtuna (Stockholm County, Sweden);
  • Timerevo (several kilometres south-west of the city of Yaroslavl, Russia);
  • Truso (Lake Drużno, Northern Poland);
  • Vanaja (one hundred kilometres north of Helsinki, Finland);
  • Wolin/Jomsborg (Wolin Island, West Pomeranian Voievodship, Poland).

From the list of the aforementioned settlements it must be mentioned that some had a defensive purpose as well, being built as strongholds and not solely as market places. Furthermore, some of them were mixed Scandinavian-Slavic markets (this means that they were populated at the same time by the Wends). It is equally important to highlight the fact that the town of Wolin in modern day Poland is very likely to have been the actual location of the famed Jomsborg (i.e. the citadel of the elite Jomsvikings during the early Middle Ages).

Detailed map depicting the trade routes of the Norsemen in Northern and Western Europe. Image source:

Detailed map depicting the trade routes of the Norsemen in Northwestern Europe during the Viking era. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

However, trade also took place between a wide variety of other undocumented trading outposts and harbours from the area between the North and Baltic seas. In fact, the Viking Age was primarily triggered by trade, rather than plunder, violence, or conquest.

Therefore, the trade network of the Norsemen comprised several key ports in native Scandinavia (where commerce mainly took place during the Viking era due to proximal logistic reasons). Yet, this network did not end there, as Norse merchants travelled to many places in continental Europe (and even beyond), arriving in Constantinople, Jerusalem, Baghdad, and even sailing on the Caspian Sea.

A peculiarity of trade within Viking Age settlements was that products and various goods were mostly charged in silver, rather than in gold. In this respect, the Norsemen developed a certain ‘bullion economy’, where silver overcame gold as a means of transaction.

The Norsemen mainly imported fine textiles, weapons, silver, and silk from the Frankish Empire, the Byzantine Empire, as well as from the Anglian kingdoms of Britain (i.e. Northumbria, Mercia, or Wessex). In turn, they exported, among others, skins, furs, amber, walrus ivory, or honey. Moreover, slavery represented an additional important part of the Viking Age trade. The slaves taken by the Norsemen overseas were also known as ‘thralls’.

Map highlighting Kaupang's geographic location in Scandinavia. Map designed by Sven Rosborn on

Map highlighting Kaupang’s geographic location in Scandinavia. Map designed by Sven Rosborn on Wikimedia Commons

The largest market places from Viking Age Scandinavia that handled all these goods were (in no particular order) the following ones:

  • Ribe (from early medieval Denmark);
  • Hedeby (German: Haithabu; from early medieval Denmark, now in northern Germany);
  • Birka (from early medieval Sweden);
  • Kaupang in Skiringssal (from early medieval Norway).

It is also quite interesting to note that between 991 and 1018, the Anglo-Saxon kings of England paid Viking invaders 2.8 million troy oz in silver coins. This explains why today there are still more Anglo-Saxon silver coins in Denmark than in England.

Documentation sources and external links:

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4 Responses to Commerce And Key Markets In Scandinavia During The Viking Era

  1. Trade from Iceland and Greenland in ropes, fat and ivory is not shown on the map.

    • Victor Rouă says:

      Dear Magnus,

      Thank you for pointing this out as it adds more insight on the subject. It is very true indeed what you said, as per the sagas and previous historical research derived from the Viking era. I did not create the respective map though.


  2. Tom says:

    “In fact, the Viking Age was primarily triggered by trade, rather than plunder, violence, or conquest.” Actually, new historic evidence shows this was not true at all. It’s an old myth from faulty historic assumptions that keeps being repeated.

    “Vikings were only barbarians to a small extent, because although they were horrifyingly barbaric in battle, their way of life was peaceful and organised. They had social organisation and a legal system (the first parliament in history) and religion was part of every Viking’s life.”

    and “…one misconception we have is that swarms of Vikings raided constantly all over the place, and it really wasn’t that way. ”

    • Victor Rouă says:

      Dear Tom,

      Thank you very much for your comment as well as for your time, readership, and attention on The Dockyards! Indeed, very well pointed. Many Norsemen were very peaceful, intellectual, and even spiritual. They were great writers and poets as well! All the best!

      Sincerely and respectfully,
      Victor Rouă – Webmaster at The Dockyards

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