A new hypothesis about the location of the Viking Jomsborg on Hangman’s Hill near Wolin (West Pomerania) has been put forward by archaeologist Dr. Wojciech Filipowiak from the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology PAS.
According to this concept, Jomsborg was a fortress, and at its foot was the city of Jom.
Hangman’s Hill is one of the largest early medieval cemeteries in northern Europe, located south of Wolin.
‘During the research we conducted there in 2021 and 2022, we were surprised to discover almost entire burial mounds under a half-meter layer of sand. The hill was covered with forest until World War II, the sand was carried there by the wind. This means that there may be more objects that still have their original form, but they are not visible on the surface’, Dr. Filipowiak tells PAP.
He adds that that the archaeologists also found two objects that did not resemble burials. One of them is located on the top of the hill, on the side of the city, and has the shape of a ring(in cross-section there are two embankments). The second one, several meters away, is a linear embankment with burn traces and fragments of wood on both banks.
‘They could be a part of a burnt fortification, for example an embankment,’ says Dr. Filipowiak. He adds that the possible course of the embankments is difficult to determine without further research. The archaeologist explains that he compared the topography of Wolin with two Viking centres – Hedeby in Denmark and Birka in Sweden, and points out that there are great similarities between the three.
In Hedeby, there is Hochburg hill covered with burial mounds to the north of the centre, and there is also a small rampart dating back to the Viking period. ‘According to one theory, there was a garrison on the hill that controlled the city,’ says Dr. Filipowiak.
To the south of the center of the trade centre Birki, on a rock, surrounded by a 350-meter semi-circular embankment, there is the Borgen Fortress. Next to it, on the terrace, there was (as confirmed) a garrison of warriors.
Hangman’s Hill is located south of the city, at the entrance of the waters of the Zalew Szczeciński to Dziwna, i.e. on the main shipping route to Wolin; it offers a panoramic view of the entire city. This – as the archaeologist noted – is an ideal place to locate a fortress controlling a trading center.
‘I hypothesised that there was a center of power controlling Wolin on Hangman’s Hill, and in the 10th century Jomsborg was located here. I emphasise: this is a hypothesis – we have a lot of evidence that this is the best place to look for remains of these structures,’ says Dr. Filipowiak.
He explains that after formulating the hypothesis, he also looked at the earlier findings of researchers (work on the hill had been carried out since the 19th century) and written sources about Jomsborg.
Hangman’s Hill is the location of the only alleged Scandinavian burial under the barrow. A skeletal grave without a head with tied hands was also found nearby – it was previously associated with the name of the hill and interpreted as the grave of a convict. ‘It is possible, however, that this is a ritual burial performed by the Vikings,’ the archaeologist says.
One of the arguments for the location of Jomsborg on Hangman’s Hill is the topography.
‘The power of Wolin was based on sea trade. The main route to it runs not through Dziwna from the north and through Świna and Piana from the west. Controlling the entrance to Wolin would therefore be most effective from Hangman’s Hill,’ Filipowiak says.
He adds that in the sources there is also the name ‘Jom’, which caused interpretation problems for chroniclers, skalds, and researchers. The proximity of the fortress and the city may have been the reason for confusing the names Jom and Jomsborg. The archaeologist extended the hypothesis to include this issue, pointing out that Jomsborg is a fortress on Hangman’s Hill, and the city at its foot is Jom, after which the entire region was also named.
He also says that in his opinion, the establishment of the fortress in the place of burials was neither accidental nor dictated only by defensive value. ‘I think there was also symbolic violence at play here. Placing military force literally on the graves of ancestors must have carried a huge message for the local population,’ he says.
Researchers are currently planning an extensive project, consisting of several stages, including large excavations in the city centre and Hangman’s Hill, which could clarify the relationship between the city and the fortress (if it did exist). One of the elements of the project will be related to tourism – the excavations would be combined with a tourist path, where visitors could see the progress of archaeological work.