Lejre is the name given to a small village more or less near southwest of Roskilde on the Island of Sealand in Denmark. This small settlement was the stage of a very important part in the cycle of legends around the ancient Danish history. Norse sagas placed the residence of the oldest Danish royal house, the Scyldings, in this place. However, most of these traditions and tales have been rejected by recent critical research as mere legends, that is what happens when people start to forget their past and things start to seem a little bit impossible to be real, almost fairytale-like, and those times go from history to myth unfortunately. It has been proved that most of the tales told about this place,especially the ones from medieval times, and such accounts have been built upon common migratory legends, among which the Old English poem Beowulf plays a central part.
Scientific archaeological investigations were started around the area after the Second World War and the results, especially those of recent years, have once more stirred up the discussion concerning the importance of Lejre during the late Iron Age and Viking Age of course.
This place is located in the north coast of Sealand where the two inlets Isefjord and Roskilde Fjord cut their way approximately forty kilometres more or less towards the south into the central part of the island. Lejre is situated five kilometres south of the bottom of Roskilde Fjord at a place where a system of larger and smaller streams meet, and later divide into two streams, which both of them flowing into Roskilde Fjord to the north. The locality lies topographically on the boundary between the fertile plain “Heden” in the eastern part of Sealand, situated between Copenhagen, Køge, and Roskilde and the rather inaccessible woodland to the west.
The excavations of the 1940’s started at one of the few visible monuments of the Viking Age, which is a large stone ship, or as i have spoken here before, a kind of stone circle in the shape of a long boat. During the times of this excavation a burial-place from the late Viking Age – l0th Century A.D.- was excavated here, as it was to be expected, and among these burial places there were several well equipped women’s graves, also the grave of a blacksmith and a man’s grave including a decapitated slave, probably killed in a ritual to Odin and to serve his master on the after life by the looks of it. This was a rich and great example of a burial-place. On the same occasion a large burial mound, Grydehøj, only a little north of the stone ship, was investigated. It proved to contain one of the rare chieftain’s graves of the Germanic Iron Age of 550 A.D. . During the 1970’s the excavations were started in the village of Lejre itself and here it was possible to reveal a settlement from the late Iron Age and Viking Age approximately around 700 – 1000 A.D. Closer investigations showed that the settlement area was not limited to the present village, but spread out to the hills west of Lejre. Only a minor part of this great area, has been excavated during the campaigns of recent years, but even these limited investigations give a basis for a description of the structure and function of the settlement.
On the hills west of the village the greater part of the settlement consisting of long houses of different sizes have been constructed there in the Viking period. It is only to the north that a proper limit to the settlement, in the form of a strong fence, has been found, while the settlement to the west and south is bounded by the presence of structures in the search trenches as well as by the natural landscape. A great hall was there once, in principle, constructed in the same ways as the houses or fortresses of the Danish Viking Age. With internal ridge posts, probably a construction necessary for obtaining considerable width. It is this dimension in particular that makes the building a unique monument in Danish ancient history.
During the excavation of the wall trench of this house a distinctive feature was noticed. At intervals of about 38-40 centimetres pointed posts were driven down to approximately 50 centimetres below the surface of the trench. These posts may represent the remains of the wall planks firmly anchored in the subsoil during the erection of the building. This great building was divided into several sections, each with their own entrance. A cellar at the east end seems to have been a storeroom probably. The great room in the central and western part of the building may have been the central hall for in this part of the building the remains of a fireplace were found.
Part of the settlement is situated below and south of the present village. It is characterized by an approximately one metre thick black cultural layer containing artefacts from the late Iron Age from the7th to the 8th Century A.D. Viking Age and early Middle Ages. The small excavations made in this area have revealed a number of pit houses, a type of house and of settlement that seems to be characteristic of this area. The remains of a smithy were also found in this part of the settlement. They were recognizable by a solid layer of iron slag covered by a layer of turf which must have been part of the construction. A large heap of stones, approximately 1,5 metres high, 20 metres wide and at least 40 metres long, consisting of small fired stones mixed with soot and ashes is an unique phenomenon which is difficult to explain. The structure may be interpreted as a deposit of “used fireplaces”.
This was a very busy town of the Viking Age and probably the most famous places of that time that held a very importante figure, a chieftain along with his family, lots of people might have also worked here, serving this chieftain.
A lot of artefacts were found and selected, those are both rich and varied in excellent conditions of preservation. The settlement displays a row of interesting features apart from the categories of artefacts which are always present such as pottery, plain metal pieces etc. There is also the presence of waste from different sorts of productions: Apart from those from the smithy, there was antler from the comb maker and cores, a matrix, and semi-manufactured articles from the bronze founder. In addition a large quantity of jewellery and ornamental pieces came to light, some of which were exquisite work. Another part of the general picture of the site was shaped by a series of weights, a few pieces of scrap silver as well as an early Viking Age coin. Fragments of soapstone vessels imported from Norway and Sweden and fragments of green glasses from the Rhine are examples of the imported goods which form a minor part of the material.
The dating of the settlement is set by the artefacts found. They are related to the period approximately 600 – 1000 A.D. with the great majority within the 8th to l0th centuries. So it seems that the settlement was in use from sometime in the 7th-8th Century till about 1000 A.D.
The structure of the settlement at Lejre might be compared to the contemporary Danish manors situated in Jutland. This settlement is similare to the house from below the Viking Age fortress Aggersborg at the Limfjord as well as a house at the settlement Runegärd on the Island of Bornholm.
In Denmark we have no knowledge of royal manors of the Viking Age, although they must have existed. However, royal manors are well known from Denmark’s neighbouring countries.
From an archaeological point of view there is nothing to prevent the Impression that Lejre was the seat of a local princely house that may have ruled Sealand. Lejre belongs to the absolute “top” of Danish settlements in this period. It is still, however, impossible to prove that the Scyldings lived here. In spite of the fine archaeological material they still belong to the world of legends for now.