The Danish Peace Academy

Holger Terp: Danish Peace History

Working paper 1

Forced conscription during the Viking age

Around the year 700 the Danes developed a ship building technique, which made it possible to travel long distances. Some predictably aggressive persons used the ships to plunder northern Europe. As time went by, records shows that it became increasingly unpopular to partake in the plundering. To get the Viking ships manned a national conscription register system called leidang or skipæn, was created33. The Scandinavian country laws had punishment for neglect or absence from leidang. Rich persons could by themselves to stay home during leidang. This was called Qwærsæth. Only ‘learned men’, priests were exempt from the duty of leidang. Even though there are no records of early conscientious objection, the creation of the conscription system proves, that the farmers and fishers did not volunteer.

As we move up in the European middle age before 1200, the printed research material about conscription become greater. The historian C. A. Christensen wrote in 1980, that the church in Roskilde became rich, because of local collective draft resistance. The only lawful way to avoid the draft was to give up land and farms to the church, which then was in charge of the draft. Even though Christensen is investigating only one bishopric, Roskilde, one could with caution conclude, that there were similar draft systems and resistance to them in the other countries of Denmark. However, this has still to be researched.

In the 13, century the country laws in Denmark (Sweden and Norway), which introduced the international laws of the church became effective34. And with the new laws came the growing influence of the church and the kings as the leidang system were later transformed into the qwærsæth (military) tax system.


33Lund, Niels: Kværsæde : Fast demobilisering eller almindelig ledingsafløsning. In: Historisk Tidsskrift, 1999:2 pp. 376-385.

34 Landskabslove ie Jyske lov.

Christensen, C. A.: Roskildekirkens jordegods før år 1200 : Fra skibengods til bispegods. In: Historisk tidsskrift, 1980:1 pp. 29-39.

See also: Ulsig, Erik: Landboer og byder, skat og landgilde : de danske fæstebønder og deres afgifter i det 12. og 13. Århundrede. In: Middelalder, metode og medier : Festskrift til Niels Skyrum Nielsen, 1981, pp. 137-166.


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