Land existed before man. Man
cannot exist without land, but land can exist without man. It is the land,
the earth, the globe which provides man with food, raw materials, and sources
The relationship between the enduring but inert
soil, and the passing but living generations of a people is a most important
element in history. The eternal bedrock of a people is the territory. Here
is the beginning of human life, of national life and of economic life. Here
is one of the constant factors giving rise to class warfare and wars among
Denmark existed before the Danes. The land
in which they live, was cleared of stones and stumps by their ancestors.
They erected dwellings, villages and towns, linking them together with
track, road and waterway.
The soil of Denmark is good, but not rich.
Providence intended Denmark to be a farming country, as Denmark is a country
without raw material, without metals, without minerals, coal or oil.
In all those periods of history wherein the
Danes had access to the soil of their fathers, homes were built, land was
plowed, and productive activity flourished, so that the population grew
strong and rich. But when the climate deteriorated or methods of agricultural
technique failed, then mighty men, Kings, Church Prelates, or great landlords
sometimes would seize the land and drive a wedge in between man and earth.
Then it was as if the soil was washed away from beneath the roots of the
people so that the growth was stopped, production hampered; and labor reaped
but poor fruit. The people then were in danger of sinking into serfdom and
villeinage, bondage and socage, or being weighed down under the pressure
of mortgages, taxes, and debt.
The Danes live in a land where no people other
than their own ancestors has ever lived. All other nations in Europe have
migrated and intermingled. They live in lands where other tribes have lived
before them. Today Denmark is the land with the highest percentage of its
surface under plough and with the highest percentage of its farmers living
in occupying ownership.
The sea, grey and restless, cuts deeply into
the flanks of Denmark, dividing the country by sounds and belts and fjords
into islands and peninsulas. About 500 islands, some smaller, some larger,
lie between the peninsula of Jutland to the west and the peninsula of Scania
to the east. Three hundred years ago Denmark lost this eastern part through
her abuse of the important international channel, the Sound. Town after
town and harbor after harbor, lie along the coasts. Few other lands have
as many harbors in proportion to their population, and few countries have
as large an import and export per capita.
Providence intended that Denmark should not
alone be a farming country but also one of shipping and trade. The shores,
the harbors and the sea around us are indirectly part of the land problem,
because the means of transportation to a great extent influence the value
of land. Seen from above one should never have expected that such a divided
medley of islands and peninsulas could ever be assembled to a united realm.
But as soon as man could assemble a raft or hollow out the trunk of a tree,
he could cross the fjord and the sound to other islands. There, perhaps, he
discovered a new method of chipping an arrowhead or a fresh way of tanning
a deer skin. He exchanged goods and experience, and shipping developed initiative
and inquisitiveness and inspired a spirit of daring and a desire to see and
explore new parts of land across the sea.
The Swedish historian, Curt Weibull, says:
"The Sound, the Belts and
Kattegat did not separate the various parts of Denmark. On the contrary,
they served as great connecting highroads. These waters and the ease of communication
they offered, created a means by which the Danish lands could coalesce
into political unity in early times."
In all those periods of history
wherein the seas were open and trade was free, the goods and riches of other
countries could flow in across the borders. This brought prosperity, so
that the goods imported were to be found on the counter of every merchant,
and on the table of every housewife. But when in severe winters the waters
froze, or when hostile fleets blockaded the seas, there was a shortage of
commodities, prices rose and affluence declined. Exactly the same conditions
occurred when the Danish government in regrettable protectionist periods isolated
herself by means of artificial customs barriers and unnatural restrictions
In the affinity between the people, the land
and the sea lies the other fundamental component of Danish history. The
sea united the kingdom. The sea established useful connection with other
The Danes like other human beings
were consumers long before they learned to produce. The land gave fruits
and roots, seeds and weeds, deer and fish. Collecting satisfied the appetite.
Storing reserves gave a feeling of security against rainy days and dreary
The creative power developed concurrently with
the division of labor into several disciplines such as hunting and fishing,
agriculture and cattle breeding, construction of pottery, tools and weapons.
The meaning of production is to make goods that can be consumed, or stored
for future consumption; or to make things that cannot be consumed, but
can facilitate the creative faculty. The tools, the machines are what we
call capital. They cannot be consumed today, but they can help in producing
more and better consumer goods for tomorrow.
It is the land that gives building site, raw
materials and motive power for productive labor. To collect, to save, to
produce and to invest in order to plough the invested capital back into
the producing organization of society is the secret of progres.
Trade, transport, and commerce serve production
in bringing the raw materials from where they are found to where they can
be worked up, and serve consumers in bringing the finished products from
where they are manufactured to where they are to be used.
These fundamental economic functions are common
to most nations. All nations have their problem concerning the relationship
between the people, the land, and its resources.
From the long dark period of the older Stone
Age we know little about the land problem, but from the younger Stone Age
we know more. It began about 5,000 years ago with the introduction of agriculture
and cattle breeding. The Megalithic graves of the farmers are numerous
and their flint implements are so numerous that they must be reckoned in
wagon loads. The Norwegian archaeologist, A. W. Brogger, says:
"The Megalithic graves are in fact large cemeteries where the village
families were buried in a common grave. They present the picture of small
communities with a communal sharing of food, property and work which not
even death could separate. As a fragment of the early history of communities
and society, it is symbolic of what has been the strongest element in Danish
history right down to our time."
The Bronze Age lasted through
a millennium from about 1500 to about 500 B.C., a period in which the Danes
made the remarkable feat to create the finest Bronze Age implements in Europe
north of the Alps, in a country without metals. Every piece of copper, tin,
bronze and gold was bought from distant lands, transported and transformed
and paid for by an export. They understood that import is important. Export
is the secondary payment for the imported goods. The Swedish historian,
Curt Weibull, says:
"The Bronze Age is a period
of greatness in the history of the ancient Danish lands. A leading expert
has stated that the Bronze Age in these lands attained a unique perfection
such as had never before been seen nor will be again. Along with the Creto
Mycenaean era, it is one of those remarkable periods in the history of man
kind when culture rose to a pinnacle and in which were established values
which will endure for all time."
At the end of the Bronze Age
the climate deteriorated, and created difficulties for the farmers. The
trading facilities deteriorated due to the Celtic cutting through of the
old trading routes along the rivers from the Baltic to the Mediterranean
thus hampering import and trade. The new metal, iron, jeopardized the handcraft
and the export of fine bronze tools and weapons, so that in some way an industrial
crisis aggravated the agricultural and commercial crises. When a densely
populated area undergoes three simultaneous crises,the densely populated area
will be over populated and consume more than the land can provide for. Here
we find some of the causes behind the succession of tribes in the migration
of the peoples from the north. They overran Europe and the western Roman
The most interesting of the migrations are the crossing of the
North Sea by the Jutes from Jutland, the Angles from Angel in southern Jutland,
and the Saxons from Holstein and Hanover. Professor John Richard Green
"It is with the landing of Hengest and his warband at Ebbsfleet on the
shores of the Isle of Thanet that English history begins. No spot in Britain
can be so sacred to Englishmen as that which first felt the tread of English
1500 years ago there were no
Englishmen in England. There were Britons in Britain but the landing in
449 A.D. of Hengest, King of the Danish Jutes, started the westward movement
of the English speaking nations. Dr. Gordon Ward says about Hengest:
"He even left intact the taxation
system, the land tax, which was the basis of political economy. This was
collected from the units set up before the Romans left. In due course these
units fell into the hands of the Jutes, but no other basis for taxation was
needed or devised."
The Danes and their Scylding
Kings were a tribe on Sealand from which island, in the years between 400
and 600 A.D. they seem to have taken control of Scania to the east and Jutland
to the west. Among their ancient place names the towns with the termination
'lev' take an interesting position. The meaning of the word 'lev' is closely
related to the English word 'leave', meaning property handed over or given
in trust, a sort of official property, perhaps a fief. Some historians
believe that they reflect the traces of an ancient military or administrative
organization, being the basis of assessment and land taxation or recruitment
of warriors. It is a hypothetical, but attractive, explanation.
The Danish Viking Period, often considered
an attack from the Danes, in fact started as a defensive measure and retaliation
against Charlemagne's aggressive military policy and restrictive commercial
policy. Charlemagne, who controlled the six countries which today constitute
the Common Market of deGaulle, closed the entrance to the important trade
routes, the rivers. For centuries Danish shipping and commerce had been able
to use these water ways. The extermination of the Saxon nation just south
of the Danish border, the conquest of the river Elbe, and the threatening
advance towards the river Eider, which served the same purpose as the Kiel
Canal of today, was an imperialistic provocation against Danish shipping
Hodgkin said: "Charlemagne had stirred up a wasp's nest" and Baker
said, that the long ships of the Vikings were "the military answer of the
North to the empire of Charlemagne".
The Danish King Gudfred, who opposed Charlemagne,
ruled from about 790 to 810. His realm had military and land statutes
which must have been one of the reasons for the kingdom's strength and
cohesion. He ruled a realm which had Kattegat as its center, thus comprising
southern Norway, where in the districts around the Oslo Fjord, we have
clear traces of old Danish administrative divisions for levy of land taxation
in peace time, or military recruitment in war time. Professor Poul Johannes
"There has been a tendency
to place the system of summons to arms in the late Viking Period and to
regard it as a consequence of the levy statute of the Viking expeditions.
It is more likely, however, that it belongs to an earlier period, some think
possibly to the 10th century and perhaps to an even earlier time. Directives
issued by the State or the King must have been necessary to give it the uniform,
compulsory, and universal character which appears in the sources."
With the clash between Charlemagne
and Gudfred the long and dramatic Viking Period began. During two or three
centuries a swarm of shippers, traders, explorers, warriors, pirates and
conquerors lifted a continent off its narrow door case and opened the doorway
to a new world and a new time, full of energy, activity and enterprise.
The Scandinavian invasions in England have
two culminating points. One is the period of the Sons of Lodbrog from about
840 to 880 when three fourths of England were conquered and colonized, the
other is the period of the Jelling Dynasty from about 950 to 1045 when all
England was made a part of Canute's mighty Anglo Danish Empire.
Presumably Iver Lodbrog's son was the brain
behind what Professor Collingwood calls a resolute scheme of conquest played
with the skill of a chessplayer on the field of Empire. He says:
"We cannot but suspect, however,
that on the side of the Vikings there was one who, if we knew more about
him, would deserve mention with the Hannibals and Napoleons of history."
Iver died in 873 and his brother
Halfdan then became the leading spirit. His land reforms have put the hallmark
of his genius on English history ever since.
In 875 he ordered the land of Northumberland
to be surveyed and parceled out in smallholdings. In 878 the land of Mercia
in the Midlands was similarly distributed, and in 880 Gurthrum in East
Anglia followed suit. These land reforms are interesting because it is
very unusual that conquerors build up their power on small, independent
farmers. Sir Frank Stenton and his school have studied the practical policy
of the Danes. He says:
Professor A. F. Pollard says,
"Individually, they were men
of small estate, possessing only one or two plough oxen and farming on an
average some twenty to thirty acres. But they were certainly independent of
anything that can be called manorial discipline. The plan of the Domesday
survey shows that they were responsible for the taxes due from their land,
and they were scattered over the land in a way which shows that they cannot
have been subject to any heavy agricultural service to their lords. They
gave no opportunity for any general extension of seignorial control nor for
the development of severer forms of customary labour."
"It was upon the land and not the person that the service was imposed."
Professor Trevelyan says:
Professor Dorothy Whitelock observes:
"So far were they from enslaving
their neighbours, that their Danelaw contained many freemen and no slaves,
in sharp contrast to Wessex."
"It proved particularly difficult
to prevent slaves from running away to join the Danish forces during periods
of Viking ravages. The English slave who joined the Viking forces ravaging
his district might seize the opportunity to turn the tables and pay off
old grudges on his former master..."
The Domesday survey of William
the Conqueror shows that in the old Anglo Saxon parts of England most of
the land was owned by great landlords and priestly magnates, the majority
of the population living as slaves or tenants, while in the districts under
Danish law - the Danelaw most of the population were free men
with occupying ownership, obliged to pay their land tax but no other taxes.
Sir Winston Churchill says,
There we find one of the important causes explaining
why the Danes were able to conquer England. The common man had nothing to
defend. He did not own any part of his own fatherland. In a way the Danes
appeared as liberators.
The Danish sailors from the
long ships who fought ashore in England as soldiers brought with them into
England a new principle represented by a class, the peasant yeoman proprietor.
The sailors became soldiers, the soldiers became farmers. The whole of
the East of England thus had seen a class of cultivators who, except for
purposes of common defence, owed allegiance to none; independence and discipline
were thus conjoined."
In the days of King Svend Forkbeard
(986 1014) and Canute the Great (1015 - 1035) all land in England was taxed
to the King and the people. Most of the ground rent was collected in the
so called Danegeld, a land tax, a single tax, which became the cornerstone
of English finance from the days of Canute until modern times when political
democracy is considered more important than economic democracy.
"The Danegeld holds indeed
a great place in our social, financial and administrative history. Direct
taxation began in this ignominious form. Under the weak Ethelred it was
the normal way of buying off the Danes. Under the strong Canute it became
a war tax for the defence of the realm. Under William the Conqueror its levy
was regarded as so important a source of revenue that the first great inquisition
into landed property was with this end in view. Domesday Book was originally
drawn up for the purpose of teaching the State how to levy Danegeld."
"They were in fact the first
forms of that land tax which constituted the most important element in the
national revenue, from the days of Ethelred to the days of the Georges.
As a national tax levied by the Witan of all England, this tax brought home
the national idea as it had never been brought home before."/
"The establishment of a land
tax has been attributed in popular fancy to the need of paying Danish tribute,
as its name of Danegeld shows. But its continuance from this moment, whether
Danes were in the land or not, shows that the need of meeting their demands
had become inevitable, and which was necessarily carried on under Ethelred's
successors. The land tax thus imposed formed the chief resource of the
Crown till the time of the Angevins; and though the taxation of person ality
was introduced by Henry II, the land tax still remained the main basis of
English finance till the beginning of the eighteenth century. Its direct
effects from the first in furnishing the crown with a large and continuous
revenue gave a new strength to the monarchy, while its universal levy on
every hide in the realm must have strengthened the national feeling."
Little is known about land taxation in Denmark proper from
the Viking Period, but when a century later we see the well developed land
valuation and land value taxation of the Danish Valdemar Kings (1157 1241),
founded on ancient traditions, and we find that in England the Danes brought
with them a similar system across the North Sea in the days of Regner Lodbrog's
sons and during the reigns of Svend and Canute, it is a sound conclusion
that in the Viking Period, Denmark had a similar system of land taxation.
This land tax seems to have been a single tax with the effect that the
capitalized selling price of land was kept down and that personal skill
and industry were not hampered by taxes.