A Medieval Deer Park in Sweden – Dalby Hage

One of the more important elements in the Medieval Landscape was the deer park.

One of the more important elements in the Medieval Landscape was the deer park. It has been estimated that there were approximately  3200 deer-parks in England in the 14th century, ranging in size from 5 – 485 ha and with an average of 35 – 75 ha. The statement might as well apply to the medieval landscapes in Germany and France, where abundant traces of deer parks have been located and described.

Hunting might of course be pursued “wildly”. However, already in Carolingian time, the hunt was carried out inside carefully fenced areas, where carefully staged hunts might be organised, ending in the obligatory feats, which was often partaken al fresco. Because of the importance of these martial rituals it has been suggested that some royal palaces were even located where it made sense to erect deer parks.

Traditionally, however, such deer parks were not believed to have existed in late Viking – Early Middle Ages in Scandinavia (late 10th to 11th century during the reign of Canute the Great and his successors). Even though it was well known that hunting was an important Viking activity, it was believed that this was primarily “wild” hunting in unfenced forests and in the wilderness.The Stream in Dalby Hage in spring

However, in the 1990s archaeologists succeeded in identifying a very early example of a royal deer park near Dalby Hage, close to the royal city of Lund. Here – 1 km east of what was in all probability a royal palace from the 11th century. The park was as far back as the history can be traced divided into three parts: The Northern and Southern forests with a flat pasture ground between them. Through this landscape is a rampart, which surrounds an area of app 18 ha. Inside the area was originally only a birch forest, while outside the rampart ash trees were abundant. Through the flat pasture flows a stream, which has been dammed in two locations, providing water for the wild animals in the area.

Canute the Saints' Seal 1080s
The seal of the Danish King, Canute the Saint. It is believed his father – Sweyn Estridsson – was active in the building of the royal complex at Dalby. He may have learned how to hunt in England at the court of his uncle, Canute the Great. Or through his political relations with the holy Roman Emperor, Henry IV

Later historical sources tells us that the peasants belonging to the local manor (originally the monastery which was erected in Dalby on top of the former royal palace) were obliged to fence the pasture as part of their corveee. In 1670 more than 6000 loads of brushwood were needed to maintain the fences of Dalby Hage. Measures of phosp

hate levelse have shown that their probably was a small settlement in the Northern part of the forest (a hunting lodge?). Finally local topographic names refer to locations were deer may be found (Hjortarummet and Hjortasulan). It is in this connection probably pertinent that most crafts in the nearby city of Lund until mid 12th century were made entirely of antlers from red deer. Since red deer antlers are eaten up as soon as a deer dies naturally, the horn must have been a by-product of hunting.

Finally the archaeologist, Anders Andrén, has speculated about whether the complex of Dalby and Dalby Hage might constitute a cosmological vision of “Paradise”. This is hinted by the fact that the church in Dalby (perhaps modeled by Hildesheim) was thought of as a celestial, heavenly Jerusalemme, while late folklore points to Dalby Hage as the place where the first Christians met and celebrated (to the acute discomfort of the local trolls, perhaps aka the last pagans).

Whatever the fact behind these stories, there is no doubt that the deer park in Dalby Hage must be considered one of the earliest documented in a Scandinavian setting.


Paradise Lost. Looking for Deer Parks in Medieval Denmark and Sweden
By Anders Andrén.
In: Visions of the Past. Trends and Traditions in Swedish Medieval Archaeology. Ed. by Hans Andersson, Peter Carelli and Lars Ersgård pp. 469 – 490
Series: Lund Studies in Medieval Archaeology 19.
Published by Riksantikvareämbetet. Arkeologiska undersökningar. Skrifter nr 24



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