The other day, I started writing my Östergötland book in earnest, and I’m really enjoying myself. Here’s a snippet of today’s work.
The oldest known territorial unit in Östergötland is the härad district (etymologically, “army council”), of which the province originally had eighteen. This division is generally taken to have been established at a single event in the Viking Period. There is little evidence to allow us to date that event closer, and it may have taken place after AD 1000 [the end-point of the period under study]. Most likely the härad division event had something to do with the military duties of the Östgötar to a king — of Östergötland, of Sweden, even of Denmark, we cannot tell.
The division follows a neat baseline down the middle of the plains belt and generally does not correlate with natural features. It is thus unlikely to preserve vestiges of earlier territorial divisions. When parishes were laid out across the province in the 13th century, they were not made congruent with the härad system, though the judicial organisation continued to use it (with some modifications) as an organisational backbone throughout the Middle Ages and later. Thus, all in all, it seems that the härad system was used as originally intended only for a rather short period after its establishment, and that it is not relevant to earlier periods.
Each härad had a central judicial assembly site in the High Middle Ages, though in some cases there is evidence for assembly sites moving or competing. Whether these sites also had Viking Period pedigree is unknown.
Map from here.