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 😉