Pre Viking-Age Fortresses

Often when I take a walk in the forest, where it is peaceful and relaxing, I get a reminder of a troubled past. Ancient fortresses from the Migration Period. They`re almost everywhere, on every natural stronghold, typical steep mountains. Hard accessible and with a stunning panorama, like a lookout tower.

These silent witnesses were mostly used around 400-500 A.D. Most of them appear like piles of stones which many people today would hardly notice. Back then, they were the best protection the local people could get if they were under attack.

Basically, they were probably built by “doomsdays preppers”. Maybe frightened by the “breaking news!” at that time. Huns who invaded and raided large parts of Europe. Barbarian invasions who made the Western Roman Empire falling apart. All that stuff.

But the Scandinavian peninsula was a stronghold too. Surrounded by the ocean, it was likely spared from the worst. Still, like with anything else nowadays, the academics have a lot of theories regarding its possible purposes. Like: fortress for soldiers or a Safe Haven for the local farms. Some have even suggested a spiritual explanation — a cult place of some sort.

I find them intriguing, anyhow, and they trigger my imagination.

Stenerødborgen, Sarpsborg. Photo: Tom Thowsen 2020

A portion of the wall at Stenerødborgen fortress in Sarpsborg. Located on the weakest point, where the mountain was less steep. Inside, the mountain top was relatively flat—good space for houses and storage. I can imagine this wall had those pointy timbers poles. The same system as illustrated on three pictures below.

Stenerødborgen. Photo: Tom Thowsen 2020

The view is stunning at the edge of the cliff, who sticks out in Tune lake. In the background you can see Tune church were the famous Tune runestone was found. And to the left side, around three kilometres from the church founded the Viking king Olav Haraldson his town Borg in 1016 A.D. Today Sarpsborg.  We`re on an island called Tunøya — slightly larger than Manhattan with its 82 square kilometres — located in Norway’s largest river Glomma. An old highway so to speak.

Photo: Tom Thowsen 2020
Vestvannet lake, Sarpsborg. Photo: Tom Thowsen 2020

Lake Vestvannet lies about 500 meters from the fortress, and here you can travel on Glomma river up to Mjøsa, Norway’s biggest lake, and further up to Lillehammer if you want. As I already stated, there are a few records here. Besides the fact that the Glomma is the largest river and Tunøya is the largest freshwater island in Norway, the Sarp Falls has one of the greatest flows of any waterfall in Europe.


Nevertheless, I feel grateful to live here in this district where some of the smallest things amaze me as much as the big ones. Throughout this winter, if there is no snow, I will go looking for more of these fortresses. There`s more than 70 in my old county Østfold, they say.
It looks like I have some heck of mountain climbing ahead of me.