Chapter 12 On the Road to the Great Hof: Moving through Space and Time at Old Uppsala

In: Art, Architecture, and the Moving Viewer, c. 300-1500 CE
Meghan Mattsson McGinnis
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The center of Svealand’s political, social, economic, and ritual life from the early Vendel period (500–800 CE) through the Viking Age (to c. the mid-1100s) was the great mounds and sprawling plains of Old Uppsala, which remain one of the most famous monuments in all of Scandinavia. With its heroic kings, grand temple, and fabulously bloody rites so vividly described in semi-legendary tales recorded by later medieval authors and early modern antiquarians, it is a place forever encircled by myth as much as history. Thanks to recent excavations, however, details of this iconic area’s topography and the activities carried out within its precincts are becoming increasingly clear. In particular, the discovery of mysterious rows of posts, deposits of enigmatic amulets, and traces of processional routes now provide opportunities to investigate the different ways in which visitors moved through—and experienced and interacted with—the hallowed site’s performative architecture throughout its early medieval heyday. This chapter uses this new information, in conjunction with earlier archaeological finds and literary accounts, to explore one very significant aspect of this experience: namely, how bodies moving through this monumentalized landscape generated and reinforced a sense of mythical history that served to link the past to the present and the living with the dead, and thus legitimized the local sociopolitical order. These issues are central not only to what went on at Old Uppsala, but to the whole world of lively pre-Christian religious practice that took place in this region.

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