Similarly to the Mediterranean Sea in the Antiquity – the Baltic Sea in the Middle Ages integrated the communities living at its coastline.
Between the 8th and 11th centuries the Baltic Sea was the main route of the contacts and trade exchange for the Scandinavians, Frisians, Balts, Finns and Slavs. There were many sea expeditions at that time. The exceptional one, because of its non-commercial goal,
was that of Wulfstan, an envoy of King Alfred the Great. He travelled by sea around 890 between Danish Haede (Hedeby, Haithabu) and Truso, a port on the Pruthenian coast at the Vistula River mouth.
Truso was the settlement and port on the Slavonic and Pruthenian (Este) borderline. Wulfstan reached that place at the end of 9th century. Until recently we have known about Truso only from this Anglo-Saxon sailor’s account. King of Wessex, Alfred the Great, (reigned 872 – 899) included Wulfstan’s description in his translation of the Paulus Orosius’ chorography (died before 423). For many centuries this chorography, i.e. geographic description of the then known World (written in around 417), was the basic source of information about geographic and political systems and ethnic relations. King Alfred the Great not only translated Orosius’ chorography but also completed it with his own geographic outline of central Europe, especially of the lands to the north of the Danube and to the south of the Rhine. The King’s completion was necessary because Orosius’ version was already out-of-date in its bigger part. Wulfstan’s account was used to create a new attitude towards the ethnic relations in the Baltic region.
Wulfstan visited that emporium 1000 years ago and the first attempt to locate TRUSO was made nearly 400 years ago (Richard Hakluyt, 1598).Discovery of Truso in 1982 was undoubtedly a great success of Polish archeology. Excavation works, carried out within this settlement, disclosed many mysteries and secrets related to its foundation, development and fall.
DESCRIPTION OF WULFSTAN’S VOYAGE ON THE BALTIC SEA
Wulfstan said that he travelled from Hedeby, arriving in Truso after seven days nad nights, the boat running under sail the whole way. To starboard he
had Wendland, to port Langeland, Lolland, Falster and Skåne. All these lands belong to Denmark. Then we had bornholm to port, where the people
have their own king. Then after Bornholm we had on our port side the lands which are called Blekinge, Möre, Øland and Gotland, and these lands belong
to the Swedes. (Two voyages at the court of King Alfred, ed. N. Lund, 1984).
This cited fragment of the Wulfstan’s account is the first written source which informs us so accurately about ethnic relationship in the early Middle Ages in the Baltic Sea basin. As a matter of fact there is no description of the eastern and northern parts of the Baltic Sea but we should remember that we know only a fragment of the account and we can conclude from its chorographic part written by Alfred himself that he also knew the Swedish and Finnish Baltic coastlines. It is also the only mention about Truso that has been preserved until our times.
THE VISULA RIVER IN WULFSTAN’S DESCRIPTION
Wendland was to starboard the whole of the way to the mouth of the Vistula. This Vistula is a very large river which separates Witland and Wendland. Witland belongs to the Este. The Vistula flows out of Wendland (Two voyages at the court of King Alfred, ed. N. Lund, 1984).
When reading this text we should remember about the ‘’Orosian” origin of King Alfred’s chorography. The border function of the Vistula was emphasized, which resulted from the schematic interpretation of the ancient geography, not from the real ethno-cultural relations that had been developing in the area. The above quoted sentence from Wulfstan’s account: „The Vistula flows out of Wendland” points it out. Therefore the lands of Slavs lay on both sides of the Vistula River and so did the Żuławy region – the terrain known by Wulfstan. Such interpretation has been has been confirmed by analysis of archeological sites in the interfluves of the Vistula and the Pasłęka River. This analysis allows to indicate the Ilfing River (now the Elbląg River), Lake Drużno and possibly the Dzierzgoń River as that “border” which separates the land of Est – Witland from the land of Slavs – Weonodland in the Vistula mouth. Thanks to archeological research we have a very interesting picture of Scandinavian penetration in the discussed area. Almost all findings, connected with the Balt – Scandinavian contacts or with stay of Scandinavian population in this area, are located in the quite narrow zone, along the Elbląg River, Dzierzgoń River and Drużno Lake, which separated the Est (Pruthenian) and Slavonic settlements. Truso was also founded on this settlement borderline. One fact is characteristic: since the 6th century there have been findings which we can connect with either some influences from Gothland and southern Scandinavia or from Jutland and Rhineland. After analyzing Truso research results we can draw a conclusion that the Danes took part in founding of this settlement. Either the discovered monuments or the settlement design, which was very similar to the main port towns of the Jutlandish Peninsula – Hedeby (Haithabu) and Ribe, confirmed the Danish influences.
The Vistula flows out of Wendland into Estmere which is at least fifteen miles wide. The Elbing flows into Estmere from the lake on the shore of which Truso stands, and they flow together into Estmere, the Elbing west from Estland and the Vistula north from Wendland. Then the Vistula deprives the Elbing of its name – for the estuary is known as the Vistula
estuary – and flows from Estmere northwest into the sea. This actually precise information seems to allow, in all likelihood, to indicate a terrain where Truso was founded but the problem with Truso location is that the Vistula estuary has been significantly changed since Wulfstan’s visit. The biggest problem was with location of the Ilfing River that flew from the Lake (Drużno) and then was to flow into the Est Lagoon (the Vistula Lagoon)
from the east. The clear traces of the river bed – i.e. sullages, sands and river gravel (wide strip from the eastern outer edges of the Elbląg Uplands to the west) were found in the same longitude as the present Elbląg town. So the Ilfing River flowing from the lake to the East Lagoon in 9th century is the Elbląg River nowadays. The Elbląg River changed its flow direction in the north because of progressing growth of the Vistula and Nogat estuary from the south and west. Lack, until recently, of reliable reconstructions of paleomorphology and hydrography of this area for the early medieval period (about 1000 years ago) resulted in the search for Truso being conducted in places too distant from the then shoreline of the Lake and made its discovery impossible. The fact that Wulfstan actually did not write anything about the settlement character was also important in searching for any remnants of this settlement. Assuming that it was a port – Wulfstan reached Truso indeed – allowed to select the most adequate areas for port functioning and to conduct accurate search. The natural research that was carried out after finding Truso confirmed correctness of these assumptions.
Wulfstan’s sea voyage from Hedeby to Truso happened in a
very interesting period. At the end of the 9th century, in the decades between 870 and 890, significant changes took place in the structure and organization of trade in the Baltic economic zone. They concerned methods of payment and payment system, orientation and range of product trade. The main elements of the new payment system were: silver coins flowing in that area, silver in the form of jewellery made of melted coins, cut silver (trimmings and coins chopped into pieces) and balances and weights.
Introduction of very precise balances and sets of standardized weights (cubooctoedric weights made of bronze with round surfaces, iron core and bronze coat) was of great importance. Since the absolute units, comparable with the sized weights, were not used yet, a relative position of weights in a set was fundamental.
To reach an agreement in a specific transaction it was necessary to weigh out required amount of silver by both merchants while each of them used his own set of weights. The sets of standardized weights appeared at the moment when the Arab silver stopped flowing to the North. Reduced delivery of silver caused a need to put existing stock in appropriate use in a different way, i.e. by cutting silver jewelry, rings, bars and old coins being still in use. In the process of archeological research in Truso and other similar sites, e.g. in Swedish Birka or Danish Hedeby, a lot of little pieces of cut silver and nearly the same amount of little cubooctaedric
weights were found. It was necessary to weigh small portions of silver so the standardized
sets of small weights (the smallest ones weighed less than 0,35 gram) were applied. One more consequence of silver shortage was that the weights performed the function of money – the value of weights corresponded to that of silver and they were a kind of a bill which guaranteed payment in silver when it was easily available in the future. To tell more vividly, there were the following means of payment for goods – silver, weighed in the amount equivalent to a price or simply weights which could be later exchanged into an adequate amount of silver. It is assumed that this new way of payment within the payment system, based on weighing, was evolving inside merchant community.
There were the following decisive factors in the development of that system: better transportation, increased amount of merchants and increased population around the Baltic coastline, which were involved in that system. The new payment system changed the subject of trade. It is particularly visible in extending the functions of emporia, port-trade centers, trade centers and market places. Trade in necessities held an advantage over sales of luxury goods in many places of this kind. So it can be stated that those places, including Truso, besides a role of meeting places for merchants of long distance trade, played also an important role in local trade exchange.
A sphere which was inseparably connected with trade was craftsmanship. The remnants of various kinds of craftsman’s workshops were discovered in the archeologically recognised places of trade concentrations in the Baltic Sea basin. However, it is still an open question whether the objects produced in those workshops were bought by the members of local communities – who were the direct base of those centres – or maybe those objects were produced only in order to satisfy one’s own, though quite substantial, needs. It is beyond all doubt that those objects were attractive and in great demand for the groups which were directly connected with the organisation and functioning of those emporia. Some categories of the products were also bought by people who were a closer or nearer base of the community. However, in the case of Truso, such considerations should be postponed until the moment of recognising the character and size of this base. Nevertheless, now, it is possible to indicate certain categories of the products which, due to their universal character, could have been the objects of interest for this type of consumers. Among many manifestations of the craft activity which were discovered in Truso, the most important ones were smithery, jewellery, glaziery, amber working and horn working. The smiths produced various kinds of tools from the imported bars of iron such as: knives, sickles, keys, arrowheads and a wide range of construction elements such as rivets, nails, wires or hooks. The products which were commonly used and which were widely bought were, in this case, knives. The specialists dealing with metalwork and jewellery produced various kinds of ornaments which, as far as ornamentation and the techniques used are concerned, were a typical example of Viking craftsmanship. The following ornaments can be mentioned here: silver and bronze discoid buckles, bronze annular, evenarmed, oval and trifoliate buckles and, according to the manner they were worn, brown small chains. Moreover, silver and bronze rings, bronze pins, iron pendants in the forms of miniature and Thor’s hammers were manufactured. An exceptional object of Scandinavian metalwork art discovered in Truso is a fragment of silver ornament which shows Valkyrie holding a horse by a bridle. The glaziers, who had their workshops in Truso, imported cullet (its big part came from Rhineland) which was the main material processed into different types of beads. It should be assumed that the glass beads were bought on the local market which was a base of the centre. The mass occurrence of those beads in Truso cultural stratification and the findings of the beads (in the forms of deposits containing from a few to a few dozens of such beads) let us assume that those beads could have functioned as object money in the contacts between the craft-trade developments and the local communities. The research of Truso settlement showed particularly big significance of amber in the Baltic trade. The remnants of the workshops dealing with amber were discovered in a few buildings located in the craft-trade part of the settlement. The researchers found a huge amount of amber material and product waste as well as a number of unfinished or damaged and abandoned products. The main products, among others, were various kinds of discoid beads, pendants in the forms of quadratic prisms, axe miniatures or Thor’s hammers as well as hnefatafl game pawns.
Many discoveries of numerous unprocessed amber nuggets on the marketplace in Truso and on the other marketplaces in, among others, Ribe, Haithabu, Birka or Old Ladoga confirm the fact that amber material was the object of trading. It can be said that in the early Middle Ages, amber was again one of the most demanded goods and products – not only in the Baltic Sea basin but also on the markets of highly developed countries, especially in the Byzantine Empire or the Arabian countries. Truso, with its perfect location of the Vistula delta and at the beginning of the old Pontic route (the Black Sea route), made full use of the old traditions of amber extracting and processing Truso was also a place where a quite unique amber product (if its dating is taken into consideration) was discovered. It is a fragment of an amber small cross which was found in the layer dated back to the half of the ninth century. Can it be associated with an attempt of the Christian world missionary penetration? It is difficult to explicitly answer such a question, especially in the situation in which we have only one single finding. It is, however, worth drawing attention to the time convergence of the missionary actions in Scandinavia (years: 830-831, 852 – Bishop Ansgar’s expeditions to Swedish Birka, and his activity in Denmark, in Hedeby and Ribe). In Truso, similar to all craft-trade settlements in the Baltic zone, there were antlers and bones workshops. Apart from various types of frames, mostly combs were produced in those workshops. It is assumed that the comb manufacturers’ workshops produced combs chiefly to satisfy the needs of faraway markets, but also of the inhabitants of those centres. The elites of the local communities are also supposed to have been potential consumers. The combs manufactured in Truso show numerous analogies to the products of the workshops operating on the North Sea shores (Friesland), in Jutland (Hedeby, Ribe) and in southern Sweden (Birka).
Truso was founded directly on the shore of Dru˝no Lake, between the arms of a brook which forks in the area of brook mouth. In the past it was a terrain with clearly marked boundaries, having the hallmarks of a closed defensive area. It has been found that at the peak of Truso development, Truso occupied the area of approximately 15 hectares. Taking into account the fact that there might have been some defensive fortifications, the size could be estimated to be even of approximately 20 hectares in area. The waterside location (port) and a regular building development, which was constructed in stages, had a decisive influence on functional-spatial character of this founding. The discovered traces of development exhibit two basic types of buildings on a rectangular plan: one of the dimensions of approximately 5 x 10 m, and the other of the dimensions of approximately 6 x 21 m, so called, a long house. For parts of these buildings, it was possible to specify the type of construction used while building the walls. In many cases it was a plaiting construction covered with clay, often reinforced with buttress poles. The majority of buildings comprised three chambers which had different functions. In a typically housing part, the remains of open hearths and the traces of weaving workshops were found. These buildings, along with other buildings which often were parts of marked homesteads, created a regulardevelopment net in a form of uniformly oriented rows and streets running along them.
In the port zone, the remains of flat-bottomed stave boats were encountered. On the basis of the kept traces, the length of these boats was estimated to be about 9-11 m, whereas the width – 2.5-3 m. A huge number of lumps of tar, cut rivets and rivets which had not been used were found, which suggests that the boats had been repaired there. Truso developed its international activity in the period: from the end of the eighth century to the beginnings of the eleventh century. In the initial period (that is, the end of the eighth century until the half of the ninth century) Truso was a seasonal point of craft and trade exchange. The second phase (from the half of the ninth century until the half of the tenth century) was a period during which the area of seasonal founding was geared towards a permanent, regular development. The area was divided into separate plots (numerous housing-craft and store-inventory buildings were erected within those plots). Traffic routes were delineated and built. Moreover, the brook running in this region was regulated. It is almost certain that it is at that time that the works connected with the special organisation of the port were undertaken. The bays were naturally deepened and transformed into regular port docks. The third phase (the second half of the tenth century – the first half of the eleventh century) was marked by bigger urban investments. It can be supposed that it is then that the defensive embankment was built. It is probable that the palisade security from the water was built, as well. The type of founding discovered in Truso was connected with a particular type of settlement which can be describes as early urban, developed and functioning in the basin of the Baltic Sea between the years: 700
Information taken from: http://www.lagomar.de/index.php?id=50