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Between sea and river: Water in medieval Scandinavian towns

New publication by Professor Bjørn Poulsen and PhD student Olav E. Gundersen.


The general climate and topography of medieval Scandinavia, with high levels of rainfall and snow on a yearly basis, combined with an abundance of lakes, rivers, and smaller streams, meant that freshwater was easily available for most people. In this paper, we present an overview of how people interacted with water—both freshwater and salt water—in medieval (ca. 1050–ca. 1500) Scandinavia's towns. By describing how the supply of freshwater was organized and what it was used for, how shipping and fishing was regulated, and the use and impact of watermills, we are able to identify some actors and attempt to discern their motivation when they engaged in a wide range of activities involving both fresh and salt water in medieval Scandinavia. We argue that understanding water and water management in medieval Scandinavia necessitates a different approach compared to more arid regions, an approach which considers water as simply one resource among many, deeply embedded in a wider economic web.   

Poulsen, B. & Gundersen, O. E. (2019). Between sea and river: Water in medieval Scandinavian towns. WIREs Water 2019. doi: 10.1002/wat2.1346