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The Nordic ‘civil wars’ in the High Middle Ages from a cross-disciplinary and comparative perspective

The project is guided by two hypotheses: The ‘civil wars’ were not particular destructive or chaotic, and they should be studied as regional conflicts and not as national ones.

Warriors and horses fighting in the snow.

King Sverre crossing the mountains at Voss.

Photo: Peter Nicolai Arbo, painting

About the project

The ‘civil wars’ started around 1130 in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. In Denmark they ended c. 1160, whereas in Norway and Sweden they continued until the middle of the 13th century, when strife reappeared in Denmark. In Iceland, ‘civil wars’ raged in the period 1220-1262/64. Similar conflicts occurred in other European kingdoms. In order to gain new perspectives on the ‘civil wars’ in the Nordic Middle Ages, we want to use some of the ideas and theories that have been put forward regarding the ‘civil wars’ in Europe in the Middle Ages and ‘civil wars’ fought in different places across the world in the last 50 years.


The social elite will be the focus of our enquiry, because its members possessed the most important positions in society, and their decisions and networks affected the political development decisively. Some key questions we raises are:

  • To what extent were conflicts a part of stabilizing the society?
  • How strong was the rivalry within the elites affected by the introduction of new career opportunities within the royal and ecclesiastical administration?
  • In what way did the conflicts under the ‘civil wars’ differ from conflict in more peaceful times?

We will adopt a cross-disciplinary and comparative perspective. By co-operating with medieval scholars working on English, French and German medieval history, we will gain a deeper understanding of how the Nordic ‘civil wars’ can be situated in a broader contemporary European context. This perspective has been almost completely lacking in earlier Nordic medieval scholarship. By involving political scientists and anthropologists working on ‘civil wars’ in a more contemporary setting, we will obtain insight into new approaches and theoretical perspectives on the nature of ‘civil wars’.


The Project is financed by The Research Council of Norway.


University of Gothenburg, Roskilde University, University of Copenhagen, Danish Institute for International Studies, Emory University, University of Münster, Cardiff University


September 2016 - July 2020


Tags: Nordic
Published May 26, 2016 12:23 PM - Last modified Apr. 16, 2020 10:28 AM


Project managers:

Jón Viðar Sigurðsson

+47 22 84 19 55 / 22 84 19 00 / 97 14 99 14

Hans Jacob Orning

+47 22 84 19 30


  • Jon Vidar Sigurdsson
  • Hans Jacob Orning
  • Louisa Taylor
  • Max Naderer
  • Hilde Andrea Nysether
  • Kim Esmark
  • Helle Vogt
  • Lars Hermanson
  • Auður Magnúsdóttir
  • Fredrik Rosén
  • Ebrahim Afsah
  • Henrik Vigh
  • Stephen D. White
  • Gerd Althoff
  • Jenny Benham
Detailed list of participants