Ancient Power Nodes

Anglophones find it really funny that one of Sweden’s oldest towns is named Sick Tuna — spelled Sigtuna. However, -tuna has nothing to do with fish, being instead a cognate of Eng. town and Ge. Zaun. It has something to do with enclosed areas. As a reply to a question from my friend Per Vikstrand, here’s a snippet about these place names from the Migration Period chapter of my book manuscript about political geography in 1st Millennium Östergötland.

Of the place-name categories in Östergötland suggested as indicating a status above the ordinary, only one is likely to have been productive as early as the Migration Period: the -tuna names. There are eight of them, and when juxtaposed with the Migration Period’s elite indicators they do not correlate well. Only one is inside a Migration Period elite cluster, coinciding with one of the period’s three best candidates for an elite settlement site: Sättuna in Kaga. Surprisingly, the -tuna names correlate better (but overall not very strongly) with Late Roman Period elite indicators, coinciding closely at Tuna in Heda, Luntan/Luntuna in Viby and Tuna in Östra Husby. As we shall see in the next chapter, in the context of political geography the -tuna farmsteads of Östergötland as a group are mainly relevant to the Vendel Period, when four of them coincide closely with elite indicators. But regardless of their later fate, it appears that four of the eight were already important places before the end of the Migration Period. I would suggest that at least these four were named Tuna at the time, and that the name type was productive over several centuries.

In the Viking Period, all eight appear unimportant. We should note that three of them do not coincide closely with any elite indicators whatsoever from the period AD 150-1000. But five out of eight over a period of 650 years does support the long-established notion that there is something unusual about Tuna.


8 thoughts on “Ancient Power Nodes

  1. Hello, I’ve been reading your blogs for some little while as our areas of interests sometimes cross, as in this blog item today. You have called the article Ancient Power Nodes. Can I take it from that you think these tunas or enclosures had a similar purpose to the Megalithic wood and stone (henge) enclosures found elsewhere?


  2. No, they are aristocratic manor sites, like Théoden’s compound at Edoras in The Lord of the Rings. A group of buildings where powerful people live with their retainers and servants.


  3. Thanks. The Late Roman Period seems crucial for the tuna-names also in the Lake Mälaren valley. Waiting impatiently for your book.


  4. The tuna names are scarce south of Öster- and Västergötland, right? What do you think is the reason for that?


  5. Pierre, I think they’re scarce there for dialectal reasons. South of Götaland, places with a Tuna function were simply called something else. Place names form their own dialectal vocabulary.


  6. Interesting that the Tuna names in Östergötland correspond with elite sites dating back as far as Late Roman times. If I remember correctly, there are hints in Holmberg (1969) that some Tuna names further north, as far away as Hälsingland, also might be of the same age.

    It’s also quite remarkable if the Tuna names would have it’s first emergence in Late Roman time, only to be missing (?) in the Migration period and then flourish in the Vendel period.

    The Tuna names surely must have been of some significance throughout a long period of time, and maybe there is some truth in the idea of them as an indication of a widespread aristocratic network, a proto-state?


  7. They aren’t missing from Östergötland in the Migration Period. It’s just that they don’t correlate as strongly with various elite indicators from those 150 years as with such from the previous and succeeding 250-year periods. It may be a simple question of how long the periods are.

    I see no reason to believe in any proto-state network. The inhabitants of one Tuna in AD 400 most likely hated the guts of the people at the next Tuna over and frequently fought petty wars with them.


  8. Some comments from Västergötland. Both Västra (west) Tun-hem and Östra (east) Tun-hem are based in places with rich finds from the roman iron age and onwards. Maybe even more intriguing; both are based in close vicinity to two of Sweden’s largest hillforts, (Halleberg and Mösseberg). They are also very close to some of the heaviest gold finds from the roman iron age (Vittene) and migration period? (Jettene).


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