By Eddi Tomband
Pre-Viking Age contacts
In the following I’d like to share with you some stories about Vikings and our country and the connections between Estonia and Scandinavia in pre-Viking times (500-800).
Evidence from that time has been found in some Scandinavian jewellery and swords, but the main source is Scandinavian and Iceland folklore. In the folklore the lands east of the Baltic sea are known as Eastway, Austrvegir or Austriki, and Russia is known as Gardariki – the state of towns. Also this area was earlier called Svitiod.
The sagas tell about some pre-historic Swedish Kings, who met their death here, but also about the war and the fall of the fourth Swedish King Ingvar, about AD 600. “And in the next summer the great soldier Östen’s son Ingvar went with his army to Estonia and they plundered around the place called Stein. But Estonians gathered a large army and began the battle. The army was big and the Swedes didn’t resist for long. Ingvar fell and the soldiers fled. The King is buried on the coast at a place called Adalsysla.
The Swedes, beaten, returned to their home and “he waves sing their song for the pleasure of the resting Swedish King”. Afterwards Ingvar’s son Anund, sword in hand, carried off booty from the Estonian coast. In folklore he’s known as “the enemy of Estonians”.
All this happened on the coast and some years later the Viking ships appeared again. Inland Estonia lived its peaceful agricultural life, most people not leaving their own village or parish in a lifetime.
On the southern border war never ended. There were raids from the Latvians, and from the east the Russians were frequent invaders.
The Viking Age in Estonia
The Market Place
Men became “Vikings” not by choice, but because they had to. A good example is found in “The Saga of the Goths”, describing a year in Öland in the 6th century:
“Once there was a big famine on Öland and a third of the people had to move away just as they had been forced to do in the past. The people drew lots and those who lost didn’t want to go peacefully but were forced to go with weapons. Then they sailed to DAGAITHI (Hiiumaa – an island in Estonia) where they built a fenced fortification. Later they travelled on through Russia along the Dyna river and came to Greece, where the King gave them land”.
Estonia was at that time “a house beside the road” or a staging post. The trade-routes between Northern Europe, through Russia East to Persia, passed through here. Usually trade with Scandinavia happened like this: They came with some ships, each with 30 men on board. Once ashore, they first looked around, and if it was possible, they started robbing people. If they weren’t any stronger than the Estonian people, they began trading with them instead. To achieve this, they made a truce with them and exchanged hostages, but after the truce anything could happen.
In time, certain permanent market places were established in Estonia, like Birka at Mälari- the lake in Sweden. It is known that there were several such market places here, but nowadays no-one knows exactly where they were.