The background for the project was that we wanted to approach the Civil War era in the history of the Nordic countries (c. 1130-1260) with new questions and perspectives. First, we believe that previous research had exaggerated the destructive aspects of medieval conflicts and wars. Recent research inspired by anthropologist has emphasized that a number of norms regulates conflicts, and that the dissolution itself often creates new networks and peace. From this perspective, we asked the question of what the civil wars in the Nordic countries entailed, not as a struggle between anarchy and order, but as a tug-of-war between various elite networks with an extensive degree of social overlap.
The civil wars have largely been studied as a national conflict over the title of king. We meant that this does not capture the whole picture. External interference in the civil wars has rarely been given much weight compared to internal factors, neither in terms of the explanation of the outbreak of the civil wars, their course or results. We therefore felt that it was not durable to limit the unrest to an internal, national arena, and attribute external interference to such a limited role. The elites' networks were international and drawn into these wars.
The period ca. 1130-1260 constituted the temporal framework and a loosely defined Nordic region (Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Iceland) the spatial delimitation of the project. We wanted to study the Nordic civil wars in three different arenas: a regional level, a national level, and a Nordic/Northern European level. The focus was the elites as leading social actors who operated across both regional and national borders, and to a lesser extent towards formal institutions such as the kingdom and church. The focus on the elites further resulted in an emphasis on networks ? socio-political, economic and religious (which cannot be sharply delimited from each other), as well as emphasizing the strategic leeway of individual elite members.
The work on the Nordic Civil Wars was interdisciplinary, bringing together five different disciplines: history, legal history, sociology, anthropology and political science. Civil war was and is a current phenomenon, we would therefore associate scientists (anthropologists, political scientists and political scientists) who had worked with modern civil wars, because we believed that their insights and knowledge could be relevant to the study of similar phenomena in the Middle Ages and vice versa.
In many ways, we have confirmed the project's two main thesis. The civil wars were by no means particularly destructive. The fighting took place between small groups, and the majority of the population was only to a modest extent drawn into the conflicts and rarely directly affected by the fighting. Society in the Nordic countries during this time experienced what we refer to as a constant crisis. That is, the tensions within the social elite were great, because it competed for the same resources and positions in the royal hierarchy. At the same time, tensions were limited by the social overlaps, whether it was friends or family members. Friends and friends had a great duty to support and help each other. The extensive overlaps of friendship and kinship reduced tensions, although they were sometimes not strong enough to prevent fights from occurring.
The social elite was international and not national in its nature, and it drew exchanges of support from friends and relatives abroad. In the power play that took place in the Nordic countries during this period, the Danish kings were the most important actors and relations with them were particularly important for kings, kings and chiefs of Norway. The Danish involvement in conflicts in Norway was therefore great, and without it the conflicts in Norway would hardly have been so lasting.
Medieval civil wars in the Nordic countries have been compared to modern civil wars, particularly in Guinea Bissau and Afghanistan. We considered it a strength to focus the comparison on two cases rather than making a more general comparison. The differences between the civil wars of the Middle Ages and modern times are of course enormous now in terms of weapons equipment and financing, etc., but they were smaller than we initially thought. Many of the same mechanisms have a heavy impact on both periods, such as the constant crisis, social overlaps and foreign influence.
The project has resulted in a number of books and articles. Among the most important are: Krig uten stat: hva har de nye krigene og middelalderkrigene til felles? Dreyer perspective 14. Oslo, Dreyers forlag, 2020. Medieval and Modern Civil Wars. A Comparative Perspective, History of Warfare 135. Brill, Leiden, 2021; Dei norske borgarkrigane 1130-1240. Oslo: Samlaget, 2021. The 'Civil Wars' in Scandinavia in the High Middle ages: A New Perspective, and Peacemaking and the Restraint of Violence in Medieval Europe (1100-1300). Norms and
Prosjektet vil, og har allerede bidratt til å, forandre norsk og nordisk middelalderforskning. Dels har det forskjøvet forskningsfokus fra statsutvikling i et nasjonalt perspektiv til en bredere diskusjon av politisk utvikling i et bredere nordisk og europeisk perspektiv. Dels har det gjennom prosjektet og dets publikasjoner helt konkret bidratt til økt samarbeid på tvers av landegrenser. Dertil har det bidratt til tverrfaglighet gjennom et tettere samarbeid med antropologer og statsvitere.
This project will study the 'civil wars' in the Nordic realms between c. 1130 to 1260. The 'civil wars' of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden begun around 1130. In Denmark they ended c. 1160, whereas in Norway and Sweden they continued until the middle of the 13th century, when strife reappeared in Denmark. In Iceland, 'civil war' raged during the period 1220-1262/64. Similar conflicts occurred in other European kingdoms. England experienced 'civil war' between 1135 and 1154, but turmoil characterised much of the period up to c. 1265. In the Holy-Roman Empire, the political culture was characterised by substantial strife and rivalry, particularly in connection with dynastic changes such as 'The Great Interregnum' 1254-73.
In order to gain new perspectives on the 'civil wars' in the Nordic Middle Ages, we want to use some of the ideas and theories that have been created and used for some of the civil wars fought in different places across the world in the last 50 years. We believe that this will shed a new light on the 'civil wars' in the Middle Ages. Even though the sources regarding the 'civil wars' in the Nordic realm are good, they do have their limits and restrictedly show how conflicts worked in practice. In this instance a comparative perspective may prove productive.