Some reflections on the Early Medieval Åland – settlement reduction or continuity
by Jan-Henrik Fallgren
The large number of young names on Åland, together with the fact that we still can detect a settlement and farming continuity from the high medieval period and backwards, strongly suggest that the submission of Åland into the Swedish realm was violent and involuntary. Exactly when this might have happened is of course very difficult to say, but it must have happened some time during the Crusades. According to a legend, the Swedish king Erik Jedvardsson, together with bishop Henrik, made a crusade to Finland in 1155. Later on, bishop Henrik became a saint and the apostle of Finland. However, it is certain that the Danes sent military expeditions to Finnish areas in 1191 and in 1202. The first mention of a bishop in Finland is in a letter, dated to the year 1209, written by the Pope Innocentius III to Archbishop Andreas Sunesen in Lund. Per Olof Sjöstrand has suggested that the Swedish king Sverker Karlsson, who was married to a daughter of Andreas brother Ebbe Sunesen, was involved in the Danish expedition in 1202, and that the Finnish bishopric was created at that occasion. This is highly likely. Sverker Karlsson, and the Sunesen brothers, had several common projects, both in Sweden and in the Baltic. Sverker’s successor on the throne, Knut Eriksson, conducted several war expeditions to Finland, and received the pope’s blessing for this in 1216, the same year he died. 1249 Birger jarl made a crusade to the eastern parts of Finland, and during the reign of Magnus Ladulås at the end of 13th century, a number of castles were built in Finland, and the Swedish control increased considerably over this new part of the country. He also placed his brother as the Duke of Finland. Perhaps it was after these events, that the majority of Swedish colonists came to Åland and Finland. “They possessed the country with Christian men”, as is said in Erikskrönikan from the 1320s, glorifying Birger jarl and his lineage. Anyhow, the time period between 1202 and the beginning of the 14th century, seems to me as the most probable period for the Swedish crown to attract or force people, from Öland, Hälsingland, Gästrikland and probably other parts of Sweden, to settle down in the archipelago of Åland. This must also have been the time period, when a large number of older settlement names disappeared, and the many place-names with –by as suffixes came to be.
When speaking about place-names with –by as suffixes, and villages, something short must be mentioned about the Swedish word and concept by. The Swedish word by has for a very long time, and in everyday speech denoted the opposite of a single farmstead, i.e. a village/hamlet. Etymologically, the word is derived from an Old Norse word that formed the stem of the verb bo (live/stay), with the meaning: ‘put in order’, ‘prepare to take possession of and cultivate’. Originally, the word was designed for either a farm or a village, but eventually the concept came to denote only larger settlements. This seems to have taken place during the Viking Age, at the latest, since there are several rune stones in Sweden, whose wording and content clearly shows that the word by was used to contemplate a village. Thus, all these Ålandic settlement names with a suffix –by must have designated villages/hamlets from the beginning. In historical times there were quite a large number of villages on Åland, and even some really large villages, which strongly indicate that there existed favourable topographical and ecological conditions for the occurrence of villages also from at least the end of prehistoric times (the Merovingian and Viking periods). This is also confirmed by the many large burial sites on Åland, for example at Saltvik/Kvarnbo, Lagmansby and Godby.
…to be continued 😉
This is where the “threads are knit together” or the Gordian knot is cut to pieces. “The large number of young names on Åland, together with the fact that we still can detect a settlement and farming continuity from the high medieval period and backwards, strongly suggest that the submission of Åland into the Swedish realm was violent and involuntary.” This gives a not wholly new but nevertheless but an intriguing perspective on the whole riddle of the Ålandic settlement at the beginning of the second millennium, or to be more specific, the meaning of “continuity”. Those who have hitherto advocated a continuance have quite automatically depicted the one and the same people of Scandinavian stock living in Åland since prehistoric times and onwards and the place names have mostly been ignored, declared to be of no value or treated unseriously. Such a theory of a violent submission and demographic invasion would in fact – rather be version of the depopulation theory with a somewhat changed causation and the de- and repopulations drawn to the same point in time.
Looking into the book of Lars Hellberg on the Ålandic place names where elaborates the depopulation theory he also mentions a number of times the possibilty of a violent conquest from the Swedisg mainland driving away older settlement but he says he does not want to take that track. I wrote myself in “The Viking Åland” (2014) concerning Gesterby ‘the township of the Gästrikar’, that is people from Gästrikland in Sweden, in Sund that “If one does not want to labour with theories of violent conquest from the the Swedish mainland……” When this violent and involuntary submission of Åland into the Swedish realm would have happaned is not fixed closely, but som time beween 1202 and and the beginning of the 14th century.
Is that however not a very strange dating for such an event?? Åland must by then certainly have been Christian och organized ecclesiastically. Churches – of wood – have already been built at least in the first part of the 13th century. The oldestc church inventories are dated to the last quarter of the 12th century. The stone church of Jomala is probably from the first half the 13th century. This violent submission – if a such have occurred – would rather to be placed in the latter part of the 12th century. The theory is however vaguely presented. Is it perhaps meant that the inital submission and the moving over of people to Åland did not happen simultaneously? And as it is very hard to find any settlement names that certainly would be pre-medieval, this moving over of people over to Åland would been done very thoroughly as no verbal traces of the older settlement seem to have survived. Another question that awakens is: what language is the older people supposed to have spoken – some dialect of Scandinavian or of Finnish?? If there already was a unbroken and thriwing Scandinavian Christian settlement here – what would the point to direct some type of “crusadic” action against the islands and wholly change the population? It must also be pointed out that royal pessessions in Åland were quite rare.
*) It is said that King Sverker Karlsson’s successor was Knut Eriksson, Actually, Knut Eriksson (d, 1195) was the king before Sverker (d. 1210), who was followed by Knut’s son, Erik Knutsson (d. 1216). As you believe the Finnish bishopric having been founded in 1202 and Sverker’s successor having directed actions against Finland – would it not be presumable Åland by then already was in “Swedish” hands?. Birger Magnussons “crusade” to Tavestia was more likely made in 1239 and was the next year stretched further to the mouth of the Neva river (where today S:t Petersburg is situated), where the Swedes however were driven out by the Novgorodian prince Alexander (d. 1263) who from this was given the praise name Nevsky. As far as it can be read from the sources it was a question of a Tavestian rebellion against an already ongoing ecclesiatical organization..(see esp. John Lind in Scand. Journal of Hist. 1991).
You also say concerning the concept and word by (you use here the term suffix. but that means someting else; the correct term would be postfix). You say the word ny would have become to denote only larger settlements, which would seem to have taken place durig the Viking Age, at the latest, since there are several rune stones in Sweden that mention settlements named -by in such a manner that clearly a village was meant.
To this you say “Thus, all these Ålandic settlement names with a suffix [sic!] –by must have designated villages/hamlets from the beginning.” This is hard to grasp. How can such a conclusion drawn from Swedish rune stones automatically be applied on Åland? Hew can anything at all be known about place names in Åland as otherwise the place names on -by (or allmost alll settlement names together) are supposed to be from long after the Viking ge and be a result of a violent conquest? (btw, it is impliead here that the pre-subjugation population in Åland would have been Scandinavian)
When rune stones mention settlements on -by, these are of the older type with a natural feature in the first part (e.g. Ekeby), not the younger type with a parsonal name in the first part. From this material one can not draw the conclusion that the villages in question consisted of several farms when they once were founded and received their names (“genuine” and spontaneous name givining is not done by the inhabitants themselves but their neighbours). One can only tell that when they are mentioned in an existing form they consisted of several farms.
The usual type in Åland is the one with a personal name in the first part, whereas the older type with a natural feature is very rare and it is uncertain if it really exists in any genuine case at all. This feature with a personal name in the first part is ostententatively medieval and denotes singe farms. Of course, as time has gone by, such farms have been shifted into parts and thus formed villages, but that does not change the intital meaning of their names. On the other hand there are also settlemenet with names on personal name + by that only have consisted of one farm, most probably due to narrow natural limitations. This name type is very dominant in the Swedish speaking areas of Finland, whoich have been established in in the period c. 1150-1350. The medival character is stressed the more when the personal name is a Christian one or or German or Danish orgin. THis feature of a personal element is also closely connected with colonisation, it concerns also settlement names with other postfixes (-näs, -ö etc)
In theory of course such names would be connectable with an idea of some sort of violent subjugation of Åland involving also the imposition of a new settlement. What on the other hand becomes very unclear is what would have been the point of replacing an old Scandinavian and already Christian people in the islands??