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Gods and sacrifices in the bog

Video Gods and sacrifices in the bog
From "People of the Iron Age" 1,26 minutes - Broadband.
© Lejre Experimental Centre

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Why did He have to Die?

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Was the Tollund Man a sacrifice to a god you wanted to stay on good terms with? Extra large picture.
More illustrations. © Niels Bach
Was the Tollund Man a criminal? Was he hanged in order to get rid of him? Or was he a sacrifice to a god you wanted to stay on good terms with?

We have no written records from the time period when the Tollund Man was alive in Denmark, but around the same time in the Roman Empire in Italy there were people who could read and write. One of them was Cornelius Tacitus who wrote down the accounts he heard from people who went to Northern Europe to trade goods. The traders told him about the wild tribes - which is how the Romans regarded them - who lived up north.

Among other things Tacitus wrote: "They hang traitors and renegades in trees, cowards (yellow), combat evaders (afraid to go to war) and unnaturally immoral people they lower into filthy swamps and cover them with branches". Another account written down by Tacitus describes how a Germanic tribe, the Semnonans (from the northern part of Germany), sacrificed human beings.

Both accounts apparently apply to the Tollund Man and many of the other bog bodies. However, Tacitus wrote down the accounts approximately 400 years after the Tollund Man had died. If any of the information Tacitus provides us with is true in regards to the Tollund Man then it is probably the second of the two accounts. Because one thing is certain - the people who hanged the Tollund Man were not on bad terms with him - despite the fact that they actually hanged him! It is impossible to imagine that they would have carried him to the bog and carefully placed him in the sleeping position in which he was found, if they had regarded him as a criminal.

Sacrificial scene on Gundestrupkarret
Sacrificial scene on Gundestrupkarret.
Big picture. Photo: Lennart Larsen
A number of forensic examiners also believe that it is very likely that they closed his eyes and mouth after death.
When we take everything into account it means that the most likely explanation is that he was sacrificed to one or more gods.

We cannot say for sure who this god (or these gods) was but the distribution of bog bodies in Denmark reveals that they appear in the areas where people used to dig peat in the iron age. Therefore it is easy to imagine that these people are offerings to the god(s) in return for the peat that was taken from the bog.

A huge silver vat or cauldron, Gundestrupkarret, which was sacrificed to the bog Rævemosen in Himmerland in the northern part of Jutland, displays a sacrificial scene where a person is drowned in a vat. The vat was made in Southern Europe and must have been extremely valuable. But only the best was good enough for the gods, and it was sacrificed around the same time as the Tollund Man was sacrificed.

 Related Stories
Who discovered the Tollund Man?

Who discovered the Tollund Man?
The two brothers, Viggo and Emil Højgaard, came from Tollund...

Transporting the Tollund Man
In order to provide the best possible protection of the Tollund Man a big box was built around him...

The bog where the Tollund Man was discovered
Bjældskovdal is a bog area west of Silkeborg...

The last meal
The meal consisted of a kind of porridge or gruel made primarily of grain and seeds...

  More about Death
Was the man hanged?

Was the man hanged?
"The way the rope was placed around the body's neck indicates that it was most likely not used to strangle..."

  More Info
What did people believe in during the iron age?
When somebody died in the village...

Gundestrupkarret. Big picture
Photo: Lennart Larsen

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