Body-Politics: Personhood, Sexuality and Death in the Iron and Viking Ages

This ERC-funded research project runs from 2021-2026. The overall objective of BODY-POLITICS is to provide an original and creative analysis of body-politics and personhood in first millennium Northern Europe. It is the first large-scale research project that seeks to understand political development through the battleground of the body and through the construction of the person in the Scandinavian Iron and Viking Ages. BODY-POLITICS will combine natural science methods with core social and philosophical concerns. The project will moreover provide problematizing research on challenging topics: sexualilty, subalterns as non-persons, and ritual violence, in an era that is frequently romanticized and has never seen more popular attention.

Anthropomorphic bronze figurine, back and front, from Rällinge, Sweden.
Image: Statens Historiska Museer, CCBY2.5 SE

Through an interdisciplinary research programme, the body will be centred as a political medium targeting three core themes: personhood, sexuality, and death. To operationalize the overall objective, BODY-POLITICS will conduct multidisciplinary analyses of five interlinked datasets: a never-before studied database of bodies deposited in settlements in the first millennium; an in-depth study of infants, who are situated between sentient object and full social persons; a novel dataset of sexuality in texts and things; body imagery as it exposes body concepts; and textual evidence of distinctions in personhood. In combination, these analyses provide glimpses of radically diverse concepts of the body: of ‘proper’ death, of sexuality as an instrument of violence and medium for power, of complex interplay between bodies and body imagery, and of blurring between bodies as social subjects and meaningful objects.

Ultimately, the question of who could be a person in Iron and Viking Age Scandinavia is not marginal but integral to understand social and political development. It is a question that would – through migrations, raids, and violence – fundamentally shape the history of Europe.