Last updated
UNESCO World Heritage Site
Wikingerhaeuser Haithabu.jpg
Reconstructed houses in the area of the old settlement
Location Busdorf, Schleswig-Holstein, Germany
Part ofArchaeological Border Complex of Hedeby and the Danevirke
Criteria Cultural: (iii), (iv)
Reference 1553
Inscription2018 (42nd session)
Coordinates 54°29′28″N9°33′55″E / 54.49111°N 9.56528°E / 54.49111; 9.56528 Coordinates: 54°29′28″N9°33′55″E / 54.49111°N 9.56528°E / 54.49111; 9.56528
Schleswig-Holstein relief location map.jpg
Red pog.svg
Location of Hedeby in Schleswig-Holstein
Relief Map of Germany.svg
Red pog.svg
Hedeby (Germany)
Site of the former town of Hedeby. Haithabu Haddebyer Noor WT2005.jpg
Site of the former town of Hedeby.
Map of Viking Denmark with Hedeby at the southern edge. Denmark vikings 3.jpg
Map of Viking Denmark with Hedeby at the southern edge.
Bilingual map of the Schlei (German and Danish placenames) SchleiSlien.png
Bilingual map of the Schlei (German and Danish placenames)

Hedeby (Danish pronunciation:  [ˈhe̝ːðəˌpyˀ] , Old Norse Heiðabýr, German Haithabu) was an important Danish Viking Age (8th to the 11th centuries) trading settlement near the southern end of the Jutland Peninsula, now in the Schleswig-Flensburg district of Schleswig-Holstein, Germany. It is the most important archaeological site in Schleswig-Holstein. Around 965, chronicler Abraham ben Jacob visited Hedeby and described it as, "a very large city at the very end of the world's ocean." [1]


The settlement developed as a trading centre at the head of a narrow, navigable inlet known as the Schlei, which connects to the Baltic Sea. The location was favorable because there is a short portage of less than 15 km to the Treene River, which flows into the Eider with its North Sea estuary, making it a convenient place where goods and ships could be pulled on a corduroy road overland for an almost uninterrupted seaway between the Baltic and the North Sea and avoid a dangerous and time-consuming circumnavigation of Jutland, providing Hedeby with a role similar to later Lübeck. Hedeby was the second largest Nordic town during the Viking Age, after Uppåkra in present-day southern Sweden, [2] The city of Schleswig was later founded on the other side of the Schlei. Hedeby was abandoned after its destruction in 1066.

Hedeby was rediscovered in the late 19th century and excavations began in 1900. The Hedeby Museum was opened next to the site in 1985.

Hedeby is mentioned in Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale, "The Marsh King's Daughter."


The Old Norse name Heiða-býr simply translates to "heath-settlement" (heiðr "heath" and býr = "yard; settlement, village, town"). The name is recorded in numerous spelling variants. [3]

Sources from the 9th and 10th century AD also attest to the names Sliesthorp and Sliaswich (cf. -thorp vs. -wich ), and the town of Schleswig still exists 3 km north of Hedeby. [9] However, Æthelweard claimed in his Latin translation of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle that the Saxons used Slesuuic and the Danes Haithaby to refer to the same town. [10] [11]


Two reconstructed houses at Hedeby Haithabu-msu-2020-9-8561.jpg
Two reconstructed houses at Hedeby


Hedeby is first mentioned in the Frankish chronicles of Einhard (804) who was in the service of Charlemagne, but was probably founded around 770.[ citation needed ] In 808 the Danish king Godfred (Lat. Godofredus) destroyed a competing Slav trade centre named Reric, and it is recorded in the Frankish chronicles that he moved the merchants from there to Hedeby. This may have provided the initial impetus for the town to develop. The same sources record that Godfred strengthened the Danevirke, an earthen wall that stretched across the south of the Jutland peninsula. The Danevirke joined the defensive walls of Hedeby to form an east–west barrier across the peninsula, from the marshes in the west to the Schlei inlet leading into the Baltic in the east.

The town itself was surrounded on its three landward sides (north, west, and south) by earthworks. At the end of the 9th century the northern and southern parts of the town were abandoned for the central section. Later a 9-metre (29-ft) high semi-circular wall was erected to guard the western approaches to the town. On the eastern side, the town was bordered by the innermost part of the Schlei inlet and the bay of Haddebyer Noor.


based on Elsner [12]
793Viking raid on Lindisfarne - traditional date for the beginning of the Viking Age.
804First mention of Hedeby
808Destruction of Reric and migration of tradespeople to Hedeby
c. 850Construction of a church at Hedeby
886The Danelaw is established in England, following Viking invasion
911The Vikings settle in Normandy
948Hedeby becomes a bishopric
965Visit of Al-Tartushi to Hedeby
974Hedeby falls to the Holy Roman Empire
983Hedeby returns to Danish control
c. 1000The Viking Leif Erikson explores Vinland, probably in Newfoundland
1016-1042Danish kings rule in England
1050The Norwegian King Harald Hardrada destroys Hedeby
1066Final destruction of Hedeby by a Slavic army.
1066Traditional end of the Viking Age


Hedeby became a principal marketplace because of its geographical location on the major trade routes between the Frankish Empire and Scandinavia (north-south), and between the Baltic and the North Sea (east-west). Between 800 and 1000 the growing economic power of the Vikings led to its dramatic expansion as a major trading centre. Along with Birka and Schleswig, Hedeby's prominence as a major international trading hub served as a foundation of the Hanseatic League that would emerge by the 12th century. [13]

The following indicate the importance achieved by the town:

A Swedish dynasty founded by Olof the Brash is said to have ruled Hedeby during the last decades of the 9th century and the first part of the 10th century. This was told to Adam of Bremen by the Danish king Sweyn Estridsson, and it is supported by three runestones found in Denmark. Two of them were raised by the mother of Olof's grandson Sigtrygg Gnupasson. The third runestone, discovered in 1796, is from Hedeby, the Stone of Eric (Swedish : Erikstenen). It is inscribed with Norwegian-Swedish runes. It is, however, possible that Danes also occasionally wrote with this version of the younger futhark.


Life was short and crowded in Hedeby. The small houses were clustered tightly together in a grid, with the east–west streets leading down to jetties in the harbour. People rarely lived beyond 30 or 40, and archaeological research shows that their later years were often painful due to crippling diseases such as tuberculosis. [14]

Al-Tartushi, a late 10th-century traveller from al-Andalus, provides one of the most colourful and often quoted descriptions of life in Hedeby. Al-Tartushi was from Cordoba in Spain, which had a significantly more wealthy and comfortable lifestyle than Hedeby. While Hedeby may have been significant by Scandinavian standards, Al-Tartushi was unimpressed:

"Slesvig (Hedeby) is a very large town at the extreme end of the world ocean... The inhabitants worship Sirius, except for a minority of Christians who have a church of their own there.... He who slaughters a sacrificial animal puts up poles at the door to his courtyard and impales the animal on them, be it a piece of cattle, a ram, billy goat or a pig so that his neighbours will be aware that he is making a sacrifice in honour of his god. The town is poor in goods and riches. People eat mainly fish which exist in abundance. Babies are thrown into the sea for reasons of economy. The right to divorce belongs to the women.... Artificial eye make-up is another peculiarity; when they wear it their beauty never disappears, indeed it is enhanced in both men and women. Further: Never did I hear singing fouler than that of these people, it is a rumbling emanating from their throats, similar to that of a dog but even more bestial." [15]


The town was sacked in 1050 by King Harald Hardrada of Norway during a conflict with King Sweyn II of Denmark. He set the town on fire by sending several burning ships into the harbour, the charred remains of which were found at the bottom of the Schlei during recent excavations. A Norwegian skald , quoted by Snorri Sturluson, describes the sack as follows:

Burnt in anger from end to end was Hedeby[..]
High rose the flames from the houses when, before dawn, I stood upon the stronghold's arm [16]

In 1066 the town was sacked and burned by West Slavs. [17] Following the destruction, Hedeby was slowly abandoned. People moved across the Schlei inlet, which separates the two peninsulas of Angeln and Schwansen, and founded the town of Schleswig.


20th-century excavations

After the settlement was abandoned, rising waters contributed to the complete disappearance of all visible structures on the site. It was even forgotten where the settlement had been. This proved to be fortunate for later archaeological work at the site.

View of the Viking Museum File Haithabu Wikinger Museum 3 28-03-2010.jpg
View of the Viking Museum

Archaeological work began at the site in 1900 after the rediscovery of the settlement. Excavations were conducted for the next 15 years. Further excavations were carried out between 1930 and 1939. Archaeological work on the site was productive for two main reasons: that the site had never been built on since its destruction some 840 years earlier, and that the permanently waterlogged ground had preserved wood and other perishable materials. After the Second World War, in 1959, archaeological work was started again and has continued intermittently ever since. The embankments surrounding the settlement were excavated, and the harbour was partially dredged, during which the wreck of a Viking ship was discovered. Despite all this work, only 5% of the settlement (and only 1% of the harbour) has as yet been investigated.

The most important finds resulting from the excavations are now on display in the adjoining Haithabu Museum.

Reconstructed houses Hedebyhouses010.jpg
Reconstructed houses

21st-century reconstructions

In 2005 an ambitious archaeological reconstruction program was initiated on the original site. Based on the results of archaeological analyses, exact copies of some of the original Viking houses have been rebuilt.

See also


  1. "Zur Geschichte - Wikinger Museum Haithabu". haithabu.de (in German). Retrieved 2020-04-08.
  2. Sveriges riksdag, Motion 2009/10:Kr327 Fornlämningen Uppåkra 2009-10-05
  3. Elsner, Hildegard (1989). Wikinger Museum Haithabu: Schaufenster einer frühen Stadt. Neumünster: Wachholtz., p. 13
  4. Project Samnordisk Runtextdatabas Svensk - Rundata entry for DR 1.
  5. "Old English Orosius". The British Library. Digitised image 18 f. 9v. Retrieved 27 October 2018.
  6. Orosius, Paulus; Alfred, King of England; Bosworth, Joseph; Hampson, Robert Thomas (1859). King Alfred's Anglo-Saxon version of the Compendious history of the world by Orosius. London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans.
  7. Unser Amt (haddeby.de)
  8. "Haddeby, vormals Heidabu, Haithabu, Heidebo, Hethäbye" Heinrich Karl Wilhelm Berghaus, Schweden, Norwegen u. Dänemark die 3 skandinavischen Reiche Hasselberg (1858), p. 890.
  9. von Steinsdorff, Katja; Grupe, Gisela (2006). "Reconstruction of an Aquatic Food Web: Viking Haithabu vs. Medieval Schleswig". Anthropologischer Anzeiger. 64 (3): 285. JSTOR   29542750.
  10. Hardy, Thomas Duffus; Petrie, Henry, eds. (1848). Monumenta Historica Britannica, Or Materials for the History of Britain from the Earliest Period (in Latin). Eyret. p. 502.
  11. Giles, John Allen, ed. (1906). Old English chronicles: including Ethelwerd's chronicle, Asser's Life of Alfred, Geoffrey of Monmouth's British history, Gildas, Nennius, together with the spurious Chronicle of Richard of Cirencester. London: G. Bell. p.  5.
  12. Elsner, Hildegard (1989). Wikinger Museum Haithabu: Schaufenster einer frühen Stadt. Neumünster: Wachholtz.
  13. Smith, Jillian R. (May 2010). "2". Hanseatic Cogs and Baltic Trade: Interrelations Between Trade, Technology and Ecology (Thesis). University of Nebraska at Lincoln. Retrieved 1 July 2019.
  14. Consulate General of Denmark in New York. "Factsheet". Archived from the original on January 13, 2006. Retrieved January 14, 2006.
  15. Consulate General of Denmark in New York. "Factsheet". Archived from the original on January 13, 2006. Retrieved January 14, 2006.
  16. "Sagan af Haraldi harðráða – heimskringla.no".
  17. Nancy Marie Brown (6 October 2008). "The Far Traveler: Voyages of a Viking Woman". p. 95. ISBN   9780547539393 . Retrieved 6 March 2016.

Bibliography and media

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