The Viking Chieftain’s Stronghold at Erritsø

In Norse News by Skjalden

Archeology and excavations have seen a huge boom in the Kingdom of Denmark, and new evidence from the Viking age, keep coming into the light of day these years. Over a period of several years, there have been conducted excavations at one of the highest points in Erritsø in the southwestern part of Denmark.

From the hills of Erritsø there is a great view over Little Belt (The sea between Jutland, and the island of Fyn). What is interesting about this spot is that there are only 35 km (21.74 miles) to the city of Jelling where Gorm the Old had his fortress in the 10th century.

Photo: Esben Klinker Hansen (VejleMuseerne)

The discovery is actually a little bit of a sensation, not only was there discovered a huge Viking hall, but there are also remains of defense facilities with a moat.

During the years, and while the excavation took place, many theories went back and forth over the dinner table, on what this place was, but always with one question in mind, who lived here?

Was there a rival dynasty of Kings, that existed in Jutland during the 10th century, that challenged Gorm the old for power in the region? Was there a war for power, and did Gorm the old defeat the rival clan in his pursuit for more power, and burn down their great halls?

Photo: Esben Klinker Hansen (VejleMuseerne)

We do know based on the evidence, that the buildings were burned down, but if it was a rival clan or an accident was still something that needed to be sorted out. However, one thing that we did know for sure, whoever lived here, was a very powerful family.

The years went by, and more evidence was placed on the table, and our theories were brushed aside. The buildings were finally dated to around 1300 years ago, about 200 years before the reign of Gorm the old. However, that did not make it less interesting, and Erritsø should still be placed on the same scale as the town Lejre.

How the Viking Hall may have looked like Photo: Sagnlandet Lejre

The great hall at Erritsø was 40 meters long, 10 meters tall, and 13 meters wide. The hall was protected by a moat of 110 meters on all four sides. The moat was V-shaped, 1-3 meters wide, and 1-2 meters deep. Two Meters beyond the moat was a palisade, which may have been 3 meters tall.

Next to the hall was a smaller structure that was fenced off, similar to the one found at Tissø on Zealand (Danish: Sjælland). This smaller building is believed to have been a place of worship to the pagan gods.

On the other side of the moat, were four wells and three other buildings, which may have been barns, workshops, and stables.

It must have been a hall of great importance, and a place where powerful people in charge sat around the fire to discuss matters at hand.

It was at a time where only the language of the sword was spoken, and peace was more the exception than it was the norm. It was the strongest that ruled the lands, and the strongest was the one with the most warriors at his disposal.

It would have taken a powerful family to build a great hall like this, which means that this area was either ruled by a King or a Jarl. A building like this, is a symbol of power, a status symbol, like a nice car.

The hall stood in the center of what is believed to have been a small society of approximately 1,000 people, who lived in small houses called gruppehuse, scattered throughout the nearby landscape.

Why, or how this village at Erritsø was destroyed is only something that we can speculate about today, but it could have fallen victim to the Franks who were out for pagan blood in Jutland in 815 BCE.

According to the Frankish royal annals from 815, Emperor Louis had ordered his troops to travel north for seven days, to plunder and take slaves, before returning back to Saxony. The source does not mention any battle with the Danish army or their fleet of 200 ships which were at the time located three miles away from the mainland at Erritsø.

The Frankish army may have encountered the villagers and the defenders of the fortress wiped them out and then burned the buildings to the ground.

This place would have been a perfect location to have a strategically placed control post to observe an incoming army or fleet. An analysis that was conducted in 2016, also confirms that the area had no significant tree growth, so it was possible to see for many kilometers and have enough time to prepare or warn of an incoming attack.

Erritsø and the surrounding area have had a strategic significance in Danish history, and it has often been used with that purpose in wars. For instance, during the Schleswig wars, the Danes retreated to the city of Fredericia and used it as a strategic defense. Evidence of these wars is still clearly visible in the form of moats that twist themselves like a snake through and around the city.