This chapter’s discussion of rulers and polities in 1st-millennium Scandinavia is based on evidence on the upper echelon of ‘central places’, those that may arguably be regarded as ruler’s sites, as well as on written evidence, primarily the Old English poem Beowulf and the Old Norse skaldic poem Ynglingatal. The Roman expansion into continental Europe amplified interaction between Germanic peoples as well as with the Roman Empire, mainly through military campaigns and trade. The intensified mobility triggered deep cultural and societal integration processes within 2nd to mid-6thcentury Germanic Europe. This interaction and integration is evident in martial proficiency and in the rise of a new type of leaders, the dróttinn (army commanders), among many Germanic peoples. Challenging the authority of tribal rulers, the kindins and þiudans, some of the dróttinn became de facto rulers. In southern and middle Scandinavia, where a southern and a northern economic zone overlap, some dróttinn of the 3rd century established economic and political centres that also served as ritual and communal assembly sites. Sites such as Uppåkra, Gudme, Helgö, Åker, and Avaldsnes appear to have constituted the nodes where the dróttinn’s networks into the two economic zones intersected. Commodities obtained through one network were conveyed into the other, and at the sites, raw materials were worked into commodities. At the core of each site was the residence and hall of the dróttinn; they were ruler’s sites. In the decades around AD 500, royal lineages were initiated in several Germanic polities, the Merovingians the most prominent among them. In contemporary Scandinavia, the Skjǫldungar, the Skilfingar, and other royal lineages were initiated. In the same period, the number of tribes was reduced from the plethora of the 1st–6th centuries to predominantly three: the Danir, the Svíar, and the Norðmenn. The 6th century also saw the downfall of several ruler’s sites and the emergence of new such sites. It is suggested that these three parallel developments were related to the introduction of kingship and the establishment of kingdoms. Following the downfall of southern long-distance networks and societal and climatic upheaval in late 6th to early 7th centuries, Scandinavia became less economically and culturally connected to the west and south. In the same period, most continental and British kingdoms were Christianised. No longer deeply integrated with the latter, Scandinavian kingship came to follow its own trajectory. Within the pagan universe, the heroic warrior ethos of the past was developed and refined, only to recur overseas in the 9th–10th centuries, embodied in sea-borne warrior bands. After a turbulent two centuries, Scandinavia was reintegrated among what was now the west-European normality: the Christian kingdoms.
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