Vikings are often associated with attacks, aggression and the spread of fear in Europe. So far, little attention has been paid to the material remains of the Vikings' own fears and preparedness, expressed through an extensive warning system; beacons at high positions in the landscape. These were ignited at the risk of attack and war and played a crucial role in alerting the population and mobilizing military responses. Written, archaeological and toponymic sources confirm the importance of beacons and lookouts to the local and regional networks that existed in the Viking and the Middle Ages. Nevertheless, the beacon system has not been systematically investigated.
The hypothesis is that the Viking beacons systems were an important driving force behind the increasing concentration of power to the ruling elites in the period between 500–1600 AD. The drive for survival is one of the most fundamental predispositions encoded in our genetics, and in conditions of fear, the pursuit of actions that ensure survival will reign supreme. The project will uncover the deeper social organisations at work when a society is facing recurrent threats and explore how war and fear-driven reactions affects and institutionalises societies.
The project aims to characterise and map the beacons and the ancillary structures, and an important and ambitious part is to provide dateable evidence for beacon structures. The evidence will shed light on the frequency and the geographic extents of conflicts in the Viking era, and the degree of militarism in society. The outcome will provide a basis for a discussion regarding to what extent fear shaped Viking society, thereby potentially contributing to reverse the stereotypical image of the aggressive Viking society.
The project links history and archaeology with paleoenvironmental modelling, neuroscience and philosophy.
The B-CON project is the first major study of Viking Age beacon systems in northern Europe. By focussing on this hitherto neglected monument type, B-CON will create new state-of-the-art knowledge about how war facilitated the emergence of power at local to supra-regional scales in northern Europe during the early historic period (AD 500-1600). The main hypothesis is that the Vikings beacon system was an important driving force in the shaping of centralised power in early historic Europe. We ask: what was the role of war in the creation, consolidation and maintenance of collective identities, emergent polities and kingdoms in early medieval northern European populations and communities? The B-CON project, via 3 interlocking strands of multi-disciplinary research, addresses this fundamental question, key to our academic understanding of the emergence of nation states in early Historic Europe:
The project will identify beacon sites and beacon networks in the Viking homelands (strand 1) through analysis of archaeological, historical, linguistic and geographical evidence from selected case studies. An important and ambiguous part is to provide dateable evidence for the beacons through core sampling from varved lakes. This will establish a new chronology of war for Scandinavia. Importantly, to build the chronology, beacon networks must be analysed in a wider context.
The second supporting strand focuses on systems of military communication (strand 2). This strand will, for the first time, integrate, compare and discuss, disparate literature and unpublished data, and create a cohesive account of how beacon systems developed in regions of medieval Norway. Finally, the B-CON will write a new history of warfare for the Viking homelands by applying the findings of strands 1 and 2, combined with a theoretical framework of emotions and fear (strand 3).