Tamdrup – Kongsgård og mindekirke i nyt lys


  • Lars Pagh


Tamdrup, Kongsgård, mindekirke



Royal residence and memorial church in a new light Tamdrup has been shrouded in a degree of mystery in recent times. The solitary church located on a moraine hill west of Horsens is visible from afar and has attracted attention for centuries. On the face of it, it resembles an ordinary parish church, but on closer examination it is found to be unusually large, and on entering one discovers that hidden beneath one roof is a three-aisled construction, which originally was a Romanesque basilica. Why was such a large church built in this particular place? What were the prevailing circumstances in the Early Middle Ages when the foundation stone was laid? The mystery of Tamdrup has been addressed and discussed before. In the 1980s and 1990s, archaeological excavations were carried out which revealed traces of a magnate’s farm or a royal residence from the Late Viking Age or Early Middle Ages located on the field to the west of the church (fig. 4), and in 1991, the book Tamdrup – Kirke og gård was published. Now, by way of metal-detector finds, new information has been added. These new finds provide several answers, but also give rise to several new questions and problems. In recent years, a considerable number of metal finds recovered by metal detector at Tamdrup have been submitted to Horsens Museum. Since 2012, 207 artefacts have been recorded, primarily coins, brooches, weights and fittings from such as harness, dating from the Late Viking Age and Early Middle Ages. Further to these, a coin hoard dating from the time of Svein Estridson was excavated in 2013. The museum has processed the submitted finds, which have been recorded and passed on for treasure trove evaluation. As resources were not available for a more detailed assessment of the artefacts, in 2014 the museum formulated a research project that received funding from the Danish Agency for Culture, enabling the finds to be examined in greater depth. The aim of the research project was to study the metal-detector finds and the excavation findings, partly through an analysis of the total finds assemblage, partly by digitalisation of the earlier excavation plans so these could be compared with each other and with the new excavation data. This was intended to lead on to a new analysis, new interpretations and a new, overall evaluation of Tamdrup’s function, role and significance in the Late Viking Age and Early Middle Ages.

Old excavations – new interpretations
In 1983, on the eastern part of the field, a trial excavation trench was laid out running north-south (d). This resulted in two trenches (a, b) and a further three trial trenches being opened up in 1984 (fig. 6). In the northern trench, a longhouse, a fence and a pit-house were discovered (fig. 8). The interpretation of the longhouse (fig. 4) still stands, in so far as we are dealing with a longhouse with curved walls. The western end of the house appears unequivocal, but there could be some doubt about its eastern end. An alternative interpretation is a 17.5 m long building (fig. 8), from which the easternmost set of roof-bearing posts are excluded. Instead, another posthole is included as the northernmost post in the gable to the east. This gives a house with regularly curved walls, though with the eastern gable (4.3 m) narrower than the western (5.3 m). North of the trench (a) containing the longhouse, a trial trench (c) was also laid out, revealing a number of features. Similarly, there were also several features in the northern part of the middle trial trench (e). A pit in trial trench c was found to contain both a fragment of a bit branch and a bronze key. There was neither time nor resources to permit the excavation of these areas in 1984, but it seems very likely that there are traces of one or more houses here (fig. 9). Here we have a potential site for a possible main dwelling house or hall. In August 1990, on the basis of an evaluation, an excavation trench (h) was opened up to the west of the 1984 excavation (fig. 7). Here, traces were found of two buildings, which lay parallel to each other, oriented east-west. These were interpreted as small auxiliary buildings associated with the same magnate’s farm as the longhouse found in the 1984 excavation. The northern building was 4 m wide and the southern building was 5.5 m. Both buildings were considered to be c. 7 m long and with an open eastern gable. The southern building had one set of internal roof-bearing posts. The excavation of the two buildings in 1990 represented the art of the possible, as no great resources were available. Aerial photos from the time show that the trial trench from the evaluation was back-filled when the excavation was completed. Today, we have a comprehensive understanding of the trial trenches and excavation trenches thanks to the digitalised plans. Here, it becomes apparent that some postholes recorded during the evaluation belong to the southernmost of the two buildings, but these were unfortunately not relocated during the actual excavation. As these postholes, accordingly, did not form part of the interpretation, it was assumed that the building was 7 m in length (fig. 10). When these postholes from the evaluation are included, a ground plan emerges that can be interpreted as the remains of a Trelleborg house (fig. 11). The original 7 m long building constitutes the western end of this characteristic house, while the remainder of the south wall was found in the trial trench. Part of the north wall is apparently missing, but the rest of the building appears so convincing that the missing postholes must be attributed to poor conditions for preservation and observation. The northeastern part of the house has not been uncovered, which means that it is not possible to say with certainty whether the house was 19 or 25 m in length, minus its buttress posts. On the basis of the excavations undertaken in 1984 and 1990, it was assumed that the site represented a magnate’s farm from the Late Viking Age. It was presumed that the excavated buildings stood furthest to the north on the toft and that the farm’s main dwelling – in the best-case scenario the royal residence – should be sought in the area to the south between the excavated buildings. Six north-south-oriented trial trenches were therefore laid out in this area (figs. 6, 7 and 13 – trial trenches o, p, q, r, s and t). The results were, according to the excavation report, disappointing: No trace was found of Harold Bluetooth’s hall. It was concluded that there were no structures and features that could be linked together to give a larger entity such as the presumed magnate’s farm. After digitalisation of the excavation plans from 1991, we now have an overview of the trial trenches to a degree that was not possible previously (fig. 13). It is clear that there is a remarkable concentration of structures in the central and northern parts of the two middle trial trenches (q, r) and in part also in the second (p) and fourth (s) trial trenches from the west, as well as in the northern parts of the two easternmost trial trenches (s, t). An actual archaeological excavation would definitely be recommended here if a corresponding intensity of structures were to be encountered in an evaluation today (anno 2016). Now that all the plans have been digitalised, it is obvious to look at the trial trenches from 1990 and 1991 together. Although some account has to be taken of uncertainties in the digitalisation, this nevertheless confirms the picture of a high density of structures, especially in the middle of the 1991 trial trenches. The collective interpretation from the 1990 and 1991 investigations is that there are strong indications of settlement in the area of the middle 1991 trial trenches. It is also definitely a possibility that these represent the remains of a longhouse, which could constitute the main dwelling house. It can therefore be concluded that it is apparently possible to confirm the interpretation of the site as a potential royal residence, even though this is still subject to some uncertainty in the absence of new excavations. The archaeologists were disappointed following the evaluation undertaken in 1991, but the overview which modern technology is able to provide means that the interpretation is now rather more encouraging. There are strong indications of the presence of a royal residence.

The perception of the area by Tamdrup church gained a completely new dimension when the first metal finds recovered by metal detector arrived at Horsens Museum in the autumn of 2011. With time, as the finds were submitted, considerations of the significance and function of the locality in the Late Viking Age and Early Middle Ages were subjected to revision. The interpretation as a magnate’s farm was, of course, common knowledge, but at Horsens Museum there was an awareness that this interpretation was in some doubt following the results of the 1991 investigations. The many new finds removed any trace of this doubt while, at the same time, giving cause to attribute yet further functions to the site. Was it also a trading place or a central place in conjunction with the farm? And was it active earlier than previously assumed? The 207 metal finds comprise 52 coins (whole, hack and fragments), 34 fittings (harness, belt fittings etc.), 28 brooches (enamelled disc brooches, Urnes fibulas and bird brooches), 21 weights, 15 pieces of silver (bars, hack and casting dead heads), 12 figures (pendants, small horses), nine distaff whorls, eight bronze keys, four lead amulets, three bronze bars, two fragments of folding scales and a number of other artefacts, the most spectacular of which included a gold ring and a bronze seal ring. In dating terms, most of the finds can be assigned to the Late Viking Age and Early Middle Ages. The largest artefact group consists of the coins, of which 52 have been found – either whole or as fragments. To these can be added the coin hoard, which was excavated in 2013 (fig. 12) and which primarily consists of coins minted under Svein Estridson. The other, non-hoard coins comprise: 13 Svein Estridson (figs. 15, 16), five Otto-Adelheid, five Arabic dirhams, three Sancta Colonia, one Canute the Great, one Edward the Confessor, one Theodorich II, one Heinrich II, one Rand pfennig, one Roman denarius (with drilled hole) and nine unidentified silver coins, of which some appear however to be German and others Danish/Anglo-Saxon. Most of the single coins date from the late 10th and early 11th centuries. The next-largest category of finds from Tamdrup are the fittings, which comprise 34 items. This category does, however, cover a broad diversity of finds, of which the dominant types are belt/strap fittings of various kinds and fittings associated with horse harness (figs. 17-24). In total, ten fittings have been found by metal detector that are thought to belong to harness. In addition to these is a single example from the excavation in 1984. The majority of these fittings are interpreted as parts of curb bits, headgear and stirrups. One particularly expressive figure was found at Tamdrup: a strap fitting from a stirrup, formed in a very characteristic way and depicting the face of a Viking (fig. 20). The fitting has been fixed on the stirrup strap at the point where the sides meet. Individual stirrup strap fittings are known by the hundred from England and are considered stylistically to be Anglo-Scandinavian. The fitting from Tamdrup is dated to the 11th century and is an example of a Williams’ Class B, Type 4, East Anglian type face mount. A special category of artefacts is represented by the brooches/fibulas, and enamel brooches are most conspicuous among the finds from Tamdrup. Of the total of 28 examples, 11 are enamel brooches. The most unusual is a large enamel disc brooch of a type that probably has not been found in Denmark previously (fig. 24). Its size alone (5.1 cm in diameter) is unusual. The centre of the brooch is raised relative to the rim and furnished with a pattern of apparently detached figures. On the rim are some alternating sail-shaped triangles on a base line which forms four crown-like motifs and defines a cruciform shape. Between the crowns are suggestions of small pits that probably were filled with enamel. Parallels to this type are found in central Europe, and the one that approaches closest stylistically is a brooch from Komjatice in western Slovakia, found in a grave (fig. 25). This brooch has a more or less identical crown motif, and even though the other elements are not quite the same, the similarity is striking. It is dated to the second half of the 10th century and the first half of the 11th century. The other enamel brooches are well-known types of small Carolingian and Ottonian brooches. There are four circular enamel cross-motif brooches (fig. 26a), two stellate disc brooches with central casing (fig. 26b), one stepped brooch with a cruciform motif, one cruciform fibula with five square casings and two disc-shaped brooches. In addition to the enamel brooches there are ten examples that can definitely be identified as animal brooches. Nine of these are of bronze, while one is of silver. The motifs are birds or dragons in Nordic animal styles from the Late Viking Age, Urnes and Ringerike styles, and simpler, more naturalistic forms of bird fibulas from the Late Viking Age and Early Middle Ages. Accordingly, the date for all the animal brooches is the 11th and 12th centuries. A total of 21 weights of various shapes and forms have been found at Tamdrup: spherical, bipolar spherical, disc-shaped, conical, square and facetted in various ways. Rather more than half are of lead, with the remainder being of bronze, including a couple of examples with an iron core and a mantle of bronze (so-called ørtug weights), where the iron has exploded out through the bronze mantle. One of the bipolar spheres (fig. 28) has ornamentation in the form of small pits on its base. Weights are primarily associated with trade, where it was important to be able to weigh an agreed amount of silver. Weights were, however, also used in the metal workshops, where it was crucial to be able to weigh a particular amount of metal for a specific cast in order to achieve the correct proportions between the different metals in an alloy. Eight bronze keys have been found, all dated broadly to the Viking Age (fig. 29). Most are fragmentarily preserved pieces of relatively small keys of a very simple type that must be seen as being for caskets or small chests. Keys became relatively widespread during the course of the Viking Age. Many were of iron and a good number of bronze. Nevertheless, the number of keys found at Tamdrup is impressive. A further group of artefacts that will be briefly mentioned are the distaff whorls. This is an artefact group which appears in many places and which was exceptionally common in the Viking Age. In archaeological excavations, examples are often found in fired clay, while metal distaff whorls – most commonly of lead – are found in particular by metal detector. Nine distaff whorls have been found at Tamdrup, all of lead. The finest and absolutely most prestigious artefact is a gold ring, which was found c. 60 m southwest of house 1. The ring consists of a 2 mm wide, very thin gold band, while the fittings comprise a central casing surrounded by originally eight small circular casings. In the middle sits a red stone, presumably a garnet, mounted in five rings. In a circle around the stone are the original eight small, circular mounts, of which six are preserved. The mounts, from which the stones are missing, alternate with three small gold spheres. The edges of the mounts have fine cable ornamentation. The dating is rather uncertain and is therefore not ascribed great diagnostic value. In the treasure trove description, the ring is dated to the Late Middle Ages/Renaissance, but it could presumably also date from the Early Middle Ages as it has features reminiscent of the magnificent brooch found at Østergård, which is dated to 1050. Two other spectacular artefacts were found in the form of some small four-legged animals, probably horses, cast in bronze. These figures are known from the Slav area and have presumably had a pre-Christian, symbolic function. Common to both of them are an elongated body, long neck and very short legs. Finally, mention should be made of four lead amulets. These are of a type where, on a long strip of lead, a text has been written in runes or Latin characters. Typically, these are Christian invocations intended to protect the wearer. The lead amulets are folded together and therefore do not take up much space. They are dated to the Middle Ages (1100-1400) and will therefore not be dealt with in further detail here.

What the artefacts tell us
What do the artefacts tell us? They help to provide a dating frame for the site, they tell us something about what has taken place there, they give an indication of which social classes/strata were represented, and, finally, they give us an insight into which foreign contacts could have existed, which influences people were under and which networks they were part of. Most of the artefacts date from the period 900-1000, and this is also the dating frame for the site as a whole. There is a slight tendency for the 10th century finds to be more evenly distributed across the site than those from the 11th century, which tend to be concentrated in the eastern part. A number of the finds are associated with tangible activities, for example the weights and, especially, the distaff whorls. Others also had practical functions but are, at the same time, associated with the upper echelons of society. Of the material from Tamdrup, the latter include the harness fittings and the keys, while the many brooches/fibulas and pendants also belong to artefact groups to which people from the higher strata of society had access. Some of the harness fittings and brooches suggest links with England. The stirrup-strap fitting and the cruciform strap fitting in Anglo-Scandinavian style have clear parallels in the English archaeological record. The coins, on the other hand, point towards Germany. There are a number of German coins from the end of the 10th century and the beginning of the 11th century, but the occurrence of Otto-Adelheid pennies and other German coins is not necessarily an indication of a direct German connection. From the second half of the 11th century, Svein Estridson coins dominate, but they are primarily Danish. Other artefacts that indicate contacts with western Europe are the enamelled brooches in Carolingian-Ottonian style. A number of objects suggest some degree of trade. Here again, it is the coins and the hack silver, and also the relatively large number of lead weights, that must be considered as relatively reliable indicators of trade, at least when their number is taken into consideration. In the light of the metal-detector finds it can, in conclusion, be stated that this was a locality inhabited by people of middle to high status. Many objects are foreign or show foreign inspiration and suggest therefore that Tamdrup was part of an international network. The artefacts support the interpretation of Tamdrup as a magnate’s farm and a royal residence.

Tamdrup was located high up in the landscape, withdrawn from the coast, but nevertheless with quick and easy access to Horsens Fjord. Tamdrup could be approached from the fjord via Nørrestrand and the river Hansted Å on a northern route, or by the river Bygholm Å on a southern route (fig. 33). A withdrawn loca­tion was not atypical in the Viking Age and the Early Middle Ages. At that time there were also sites directly on the coast and at the heads of fjords, where early urbanisation materialised through the establishment of the first market towns, while the king’s residences had apparently to be located in places rather less accessible by boat and ship. As withdrawn but central, regional hubs and markers between land and sea. One must imagine that Tamdrup had a high status in the 10th and 11th centuries, when the king had a residence and a wooden church there. A place of great importance, culminating in the construction of a Romanesque basilica to commemorate the Christianisation of Denmark. Tamdrup appears to have lost its significance for the monarchy shortly after the stone church was completed, which could fit with King Niels, as the last of Svein Estridson’s sons, being killed in 1134, and another branch of the royal family taking over power. At the same time as Tamdrup lost its importance, Horsens flourished as a town and became of such great importance for the Crown that both Svein Grathe and Valdemar the Great had coins minted there. Tamdrup must have been a central element of the local topography in the Viking Age, when Horsens functioned as a landing place, perhaps with seasonal trading. In the long term, Horsens came out strongest, but it must be assumed that Tamdrup had the highest status between AD 900 and 1100.

Lars Pagh
Horsens Museum





Pagh, L. (2016). Tamdrup – Kongsgård og mindekirke i nyt lys. Kuml, 65(65), 81–129. Hentet fra https://tidsskrift.dk/kuml/article/view/24843