Here’s another snippet from my on-going book project. Context: I’ve surveyed the central-place indicators of the Late Roman Period (AD 150-400) in Östergötland, and now I’m moving into the book’s main period of study from AD 400 onward, starting with an evaluation of the Migration Period hillforts. Are they useful for my present king-chasing purposes?
A somewhat relevant site type in the search for Migration Period elite settlements is the hillfort, of which Östergötland has many. They appear to have about the same date distribution as the field walls (Late Roman and Migration Periods), but their interpretation is less clear-cut: they cannot be seen as a single class of commensurable sites.
Most hillforts show no sign of habitation, are located away from the best farmland and were probably built as refuges in anticipation of war. Clearly, building one took a respectable amount of labour, but most are simple structures: Nordén (1938:280, and I translate) mentions “… many of Östergötland’s hillforts, whose low, irregularly undulating ramparts often may seem to the casual observer as rather haphazardly created natural formations …”. Nothing suggests that that such a project would have demanded top-down coercive leadership rather than the voluntary collaboration of a number of households.
Other forts in densely settled areas such as Boberget in Konungssund and Odensfors in Vreta kloster have thick culture layers, usually with evidence for textile working and other crafts, and should probably be seen as fortified farmsteads with varying social pretensions (Olsén 1965:145; Olausson 1987). Yet most of Östergötland’s hillforts have seen no excavations, and determining the type of an individual fort can be difficult.
The hillforts’ overall distribution across the province (Olsén 1965:143; Hyenstrand 1984:88; Kaliff 1987a; Selinge REF) reflects their multifaceted character. Almost all of them are in semi-marginal locations in the eastern half of the plains belt, probably because a) the coast’s proximity allowed seaborne attackers to pose a greater threat here, b) the eastern half of the plains belt has far more hills. The few hillforts in western Östergötland occupy strongly marginal locations along waterways leading south from the central plains or have been placed offensively to guard Motala ström and Lake Boren. This means that as indicators of an elite presence, the hillforts have severe weaknesses. We have noted previously that the Gullborg fort in Tingstad parish has finds of Late Roman Period gold and glass and a metal-casting crucible. But this observation cannot be generalised to tell us anything about other hillforts in Östergötland. All we really have is gold and glass and metal-casting at that individual site.