Scandinavia in “Chapters 24-25, 32-33 & 38”

Chapter 24

[ Map of northern Europe as envisioned by Adam of Bremen ]

Map of northern Europe as envisioned by Adam of Bremen, Norge — Norway Skridfinner — Saami Riphæiske Mountains — Mountains of the giants Kyklopernes ø — The island of the Cyclops De enbenede — The Unipeds Menneskeæderne — The Cannibals De længelevende — The Long=lived people Hundehovederne — The Doh-headed people Kvindernes land — Land of the Amazons Danmark — Denmark Skåne — Scania [now southern Sweden] Kurland — northern Germany Estland — Estonia Rusland — Russia, Axel Anton Bjørnbo,

Between Norway and Sweden are the Värmlanders, Finns and other people who now all are Christian and belong to the church in Skara. In the border regions between the Swedes and the Norwegians are the Skridfinns [the Saami], who are said to be able to run faster than wild animals [on their skis]. Their biggest town is Helsingland [Adam is mistaken — Hälsingland was a ‘country’, a ‘land’]. The first ordained bishop by the archbishop in this town was Stenfin, a name he changed to Simon. Also Simon converted many of these people to Christianity. There are also numerous Swedish tribes, but I know for sure about only a few that they have converted to Christianity: the Göter [Goths], the Värmländer and a few of the Skridfinns and their neighbours.

Chapter 25

This is a short description of the Land of the Swedes or Sweden: there are the Göter [Goths] in the east and the town of Skara. In the north is Vämland and the Skridfinns; their main town of which is Helsingland [Värmland is in the west, Hälsingland in the north]; in the east the Baltic Sea, which I mentioned before, and there is a big town, Sigtuna. To the east the country borders on the Ripæan Mountains where there is a vast wilderness and immense masses of snow, with hordes of human monsters set a stop for anyone going further. Up there one finds the Amazons and the Dog Heads who have only one eye — in their foreheads! And there is the people whom Solinus calls the Himatopodes. They run around on one leg and eat human flesh rather than regular food. Thus it is better to say no more about them, and it is wise to avoid them. The King of the Danes, to whom I refer frequently, told me about a people who formerly came out from the mountains down into the lowlands. They were small in size but the Swedes could not measure up to them in strength and speed. It is not known from where they came. But periodically — every year, or every third year or so, they appear. And if one does not resist them with all one’s might, they raid the whole region and then disappear. [...]

Chapter 32

Many places in Norway and Sweden it happens that the shepherds are prominent people, who, like the patriarchs, live from the work of their own hands. Everyone in Norway have embraced Christianity except those who live in the far north by the Ocean. People say that they continue to be clever in witchcraft and magic to the point that they know what everyone on the earth is doing. And with their magic chants they manage to attract large whales onto the beach and they do other things just as easily as the Scriptures tells us about sorcerers. I have heard that in the forbidding mountains up there are women who have beards while the men live in the forests and will let themselves be seen only seldom. They use the skins from wild animals for clothes, and when they speak together, it sounds more as if they are grinding their teeth than pronouncing words which results in their neighbours not understanding what they say. The Roman authors call this mountainous land the Ripæan Mountains — a horrible region with perennial snow. The Skridfinns [the Saami], who can run faster than wild animals across the high masses of snow, cannot live without snow and cold. In these mountainous regions there is so much game that the inhabitants live almost exclusively from hunting. One catches there -as one does in Sweden — aurochsen [here walrus], wild oxen, and reindeer, while one in the Land of the Slavs and Russia catches bisons. But Norway is the only place that has black foxes [silver fox] and hares, white marten [ermine] and bears of the same colour [polar bears], who live in the water just like the aurochsen. As there are many other things which may seem strange and foreign to my compatriots, I will leave a more complete description of these things to the inhabitants of the country.

Chapter 33

The spiritual centre in Norway is Trondheim which today enjoys two churches attended to by numerous parishioners. There are the relics of the martyr Saint Olaf. By his grave the Lord exposes prominent miracles and because of this people come from afar in the conviction that Saint Olaf can help them. One can get there the following way: If one boards a ship in Ålborg or Vendsyssel in Denmark one can sail to Viken [Oslo] in one day. From there one sails to the west along the coast of Norway which makes one arrive on the fifth day in Trondheim. One can also take another route which begins in Skåne in Denmark over land to Trondheim. But this takes a longer time because of the mountains, and this route is avoided by travellers because it is associated with considerable dangers.

Chapter 38

The third island is Halagland, which is closer to Norway, but not smaller than the others. On this island one can in summer see the sun for 14 days on end while in winter during the same span of time there is no sun. This seems baffling and mysterious to the barbarians [the local inhabitants] because they do not know that the length of the day depends on the distance of the sun from the earth. Because the earth is a globe, the sun must create daylight one place as it comes closer in its circling while it creates night when it is farther away. And while the sun is farther up during summer solstice, it makes longer days for those people who live far north and shortens the night. Correspondingly, when it is lower as it approaches winter solstice, it creates the same conditions for people farther south. As the pagans do not know this, they call their country blessed and miraculous because it provides such an amazing existence for its people. This — together with many other things — the King of the Danes has sworn to me that this is the situation in both Sweden and Norway as well as the other islands there.

Source: Adam of Bremen, "[Scandinavia in] Chapters 24-25,32,33 & 38" in Beskrivelse af øerne i Nordern [Description of Islands in the North], (Copenhagen: Wormianum, 1978), 47,55-56 & 60-62. Notes: Original Latin text and Danish translation, with commentaries by Allan A. Lund English translation by B. Wallace Original tile: Descriptio insularum Aquilonis. Written c. 1075

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