May 25, 2015

1608 SWEDEN (Stockholm) - Birka and Hovgården (UNESCO WHS)

Gaming pieces from the grave 523 in Birka, 10th century

During the Viking Age, Birka, on the island of Björkö (literally: "Birch Island"), was an important trading center between Ladoga (Aldeigja) and Novgorod (Holmsgard) to the Byzantine Empire and the Abbasid Califate. Björkö is located in Lake Mälaren, 30km west of Stockholm. The archaeological sites of Birka and  Hovgården, on the neighbouring island of Adelsö, make up an archaeological complex which illustrates the elaborate trading networks of Viking Scandinavia and their influence on the subsequent history of Europe.

Generally regarded as Sweden's oldest town, it was founded in the middle of the 8th century, being also important as the site of the first known Christian congregation in Sweden, founded in 831 by Saint Ansgar. No texts survive from this area, but the settlement is mentioned in texts of some German clergymen, written in Latin. Several Swedish kings of the 9th century are mentioned to have spent time in Birka. It was abandoned during the later half of the 10th century, but the reasons for its decline are disputed.

Anyway, the  Varangian trade stations in Russia suffered a serious decline at roughly the same date. Ownership of Björkö is today mainly in private hands, and used for farming. The settlement site, however is an archaeological site, and a museum has been built nearby for exhibition of finds (mostly replicas), models and reconstructions. Approximately 700 people lived at Birka when it was at its largest, and about 3,000 graves have been found.

Among the objects retrieved from site are many sets of pieces of bone, bronze, iron, wood, amber or glass that are attributed to the game of hnefatafl. The game is one of strategy, played on a square board. A king and a small force of defenders occupy the centre of the board, and a larger force of attackers occupy positions around the edge of the board. The objective of the king is to escape to the periphery of the board, while the objective of the attackers is to capture the king.

The pieces move like rooks in chess. In the postcard is a set of 20 glass pieces found in grave 523 at Birka, which features a damaged king, formed from a sphere decorated with a face, mounted on a cone. The body of the king is decorated with a spiral pattern, as are 14 of the other pieces. The remaining five pieces are of dark plain glass.

About the stamps
The stamp is part of a definitive series of two, issued on March 24, 2010, designed by Gustav Mårtensson and depicting King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia.

Birka - Wikipedia
Birka and Hovgården - UNESCO official website
Hnefatafl, the game of the Vikings -

Sender: Ona Frantz and Michael Haulică
Sent from Stockholm (Stockholm / Sweden), on ??.07.2013

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