Thinking about Urbanity, Urban Settlements, Literacy and Exclusion: The Case of Medieval Scandinavia

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterAcademicpeer-review


From Antiquity onwards, town dwellers have prided them on a set of values which were often called urbanitas. They ‘othered’ peasants living in the countryside, whose values they called rusticitas. Urbanites valued their forms of literacy, while they considered peasants to be illiterate. In medieval Scandinavia, however, town and countryside coexisted apparently peacefully. The word rusticitas was known, but without the condescending meaning found in other parts of Europe. Two models of literacy existed side by side. Runic literacy could be acquired without attending schools. Latin literacy using parchment and ink could be found from the ninth century onwards, as a consequence of Christianisation. The two types of literacy were acquired in different ways. Only Latin literacy and its vernacular (urban) offshoot required attending schools for a considerable period. Formal school education also provided pupils with the basics of dialectic. Because in Scandinavia schools could almost exclusively be found in towns, this might lead to a condescending attitude towards peasants on the part of those town dwellers who had benefited from a period of education in school. Even if literacy itself may not have contributed to the ‘othering’ of peasants, schooling that could only be found in towns may have.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCity, Citizen, Citizenship, 400-1500
Subtitle of host publicationA Comparative Approach
EditorsE. Rose, R. Flierman, M. de Bruin-van de Beek
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
ISBN (Electronic)978-3-031-48561-9
ISBN (Print)978-3-031-48560-2, 978-3-031-48563-3
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2024

Publication series

NameThe New Middle Ages
ISSN (Print)2945-5936
ISSN (Electronic)2945-5944


  • urbanity
  • urban settlements
  • literacy
  • exclusion
  • Scandinavia
  • Middle Ages


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