Valsgärde: The Vendel Period - The Viking Age

About 1400 years ago, a man was buried in a boat at Valsgärde, just north of Uppsala. He was accompanied by rich grave goods including weapons, household utensils and domestic animals. Meet him and other discoveries in the exhibition Valsgärde: The Vendel Period - The Viking Age

The burial fields at Valsgärde, 7 km north of Uppsala by the Fyris river, rises above the clay of the surrounding plain. Traces of about 80 graves can be seen as mounds or oblong depressions. These are the remains of chamber tombs, cist tombs, cremation burials and boat burials. 

Those who were buried at Valsgärde belonged to the social elite. Conservative funerary traditions were maintained through several centuries and the graves can be seen as expressions of an aristocratic lifestyle and identity.

Time periods

The burial field at Valsgärde was used over a period of 700 years, from around 400 AD to 1100 AD.This part of the Iron Age is usually subdivided as follows:

  • Migration period, 375-550 AD
  • Vendel period, 550-800 AD
  • Viking period, 800-1050 AD

The burial fields

The burial tradition at Valsgärde begins with a number of chamber tombs from the Migration period. They were probably richly furnished, but the graves were opened and objects removed from them shortly after they were constructed. The chamber tombs demonstrate the early existence of an elite at Valsgärde.

At the beginning of the 7th century, the first boat burial took place. During the following centuries this tradition continued at Valsgärde. In total fifteen people were buried in boats, furnished with rich grave goods. Five are from the Vendel period, the others from the Viking period. Only men appear to have been buried in boats, and the numbers suggest that only one man in each generation was buried this way. Towards the end of the Viking period, the boat burial tradition ceased and the dead were once again interred in chamber tombs or cist tombs. 

The burial field also contains some 60 cremation burials which are contemporary with the boat graves. Many of these belong to women, but men and children are also represented.

Boat burials in Sweden and abroad

Boat burials are only known from a few places in Sweden, mainly in the provinces of Uppland and Västmanland. The most famous boat burial field, besides Valsgärde, lies by Vendel church in northern Uppland and was excavated at the end of the 19th century. This was the discovery that gave its name to the ”Vendel period”. Other boat burial fields are at Ultuna, Gamla Uppsala and Tuna Alsike in Uppland, and Tuna Badelunda in Västmanland. Cremation burials containing remains of boats have also been found in a number of places.

Famous examples of boat burials in other countries include the Viking period ship burials in Oseberg and Gokstad in Norway, and the 7th century boat burial at Sutton Hoo in England. There are a number of similarities between Sutton Hoo and Valsgärde, in particular the mode of burial itself, but also the grave goods, especially the design of the shield and the helmet.

In one of the boat burials from the grave field at Valsgärde a rich nobleman is buried. The grave is from the Vendel period and about 1500 years old. The undisturbed graves show us that the people who lived in the area between 550 and 800 AD were wealthy. Valsgärde was strategically placed by the Fyris river, a major traffic artery for long-distance travel to continental Europe. The men in the graves embarked on their last journey equipped with war gear, household utensils, tools and many animals. Resting in comfort on eiderdown mattresses they departed for eternity. 

Take the opportunity to have a closer look at the magnificent swords and the pressed metal sheets that embellish the helmets. They bear witness to extraordinary levels of craftsmanship.

The Nordic prehistoric collections

Read more about the museum’s Nordic prehistoric collections