Iron Age societies

What did Grauballe Man’s village society look like? How was it organised and what roles did different people play? Such questions are difficult to answer, but information from houses, villages, graves and the material culture found within these different contexts, gives us some insight into how farming societies in Early Iron Age Denmark may have been organised.

A village life

Most people in the Early Iron Age were farmers, living a simple village life, in which people mostly provided for their own needs. These village communities were small, generally between 50-80 people. They build their own houses, using tools they had made themselves. They grew their own crops and raised and tended their own animals. They made their own clothes as well, and cooked simple meals in home-made pots. In this way a household or family could probably be self-sufficient. Yet people within the village would have worked together during many activities and tasks, like house construction or repair, the ploughing of and tending to the fields or the processing of the harvest. This collaboration between households led to close-knit village communities.

Social differentiation - A warrior aristocracy

The uniformity in burial, the lack of wealthy grave goods and the general similarity between houses within Early Iron Age villages suggest that there was little social differentiation between people. However, the larger size of some farms suggest that some households may have owned more cattle than others. We do not know of this also meant they had a certain status within the village. We do see that such differences between households became more pronounced later on in the Iron Age. We also see different types of villages appear. The larger ones may have been home to leading or ruling families. This increasing social differentiation is probably related to the development of a warrior aristocracy in the later Iron Age. People of high status were buried with high quality and beautiful weaponry, as well as horse trappings and feasting equipment like cauldrons. Many of these treasures were made outside Denmark, by craftspeople as far south as Italy.

Skill and knowledge

Yet wealth was not everything in the Iron Age. Other factors, including age, and skill may also have given some people within the community a particular status. Blacksmiths for instance, practiced a trade that required a very specialised knowledge and skillset that probably gave them some status. Other craftsmen and women, or people with a good knowledge of the gods, religious matters or healing may also have been respected. Elderly people, with a lot of life experience and knowledge may equally have enjoyed some standing within their communities. Thus, although they may not have been rulers or leaders, such people would still be respected by their communities.