Kings of the North Sea. The development of kingship in West-Germanic societies during the dark ages (5th-7th century AD)
01 / 2007 - 12 / 2009
Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek (NWO)
Key words: kingship, power networks, (gift) exchange, valuables, formation processes. Since the 19th century, historians have intensively studied the socio-political structure of societies belonging to the Germanic culture region in the late-prehistoric and protohistoric period. Although some societies were ruled by dukes, kings (sometimes more than one) occupied the most prominent position in most societies even in late prehistoric times. The position of the king was determined on the one hand by his relations with other kings and his closest (warrior) retainers, also known as his Gefolgschaft, and on the other by his relations with the supernatural world. Both the interpersonal relations and those with the gods may, in the Germanic world, be defined as relationships of mutuality, in which the exchange of valuable gifts played a crucial role. Whereas historical evidence for the 'dark ages' (5th-7th centuries) is in short supply, an archaeological analysis of these valuables provides an opportunity to grasp the earliest development of the socio-political configurations, of which several rank in our collective memory as the precursors of today's European peoples and states (e.g. Frisians, Franks, Angles, Saxons). By studying valuable items in the archaeological record of various core regions, my aim will be to construct a picture of the early medieval power bases and their interconnections in the region around the southern North Sea. Particular attention will be given to factors determining the composition of the archaeological record in the various parts of this region.