Tag Archives: Place-names

Saltwiik – Boo – Kvarnbo (PART 4)

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 😉

Saltwiik – Boo – Kvarnbo (PART 3)

Some reflections on the Early Medieval Åland – settlement reduction or continuity

by Jan-Henrik Fallgren

If we return to the question of discontinuity or continuity, and consider what place-names can say about this matter, it is obvious that the majority of the place-names of Åland are of younger types. Above all, the many –böle, –bo names, and the numerous –by names with a person name as the first element, which are considered to have been popular during the high medieval and late medieval periods (but still, there are also a few other names, topographic names, that might be of older origin). Thanks to new pollen investigations, supporting the older ones, and a few new excavations, it is equally obvious today that there were continuous cultivation and settlement in large parts of the archipelago, as well as an intensified clearing of the landscape and an increase in land use during the Viking Age and the high medieval period.  How can one understand this contradictory information? Is it possible to understand these conflicting data at all? Well, I actually think it may be possible.

First, one must accept the idea that settlements could change their original names, and that this could affect villages/hamlets in an entire region. If we extend our gaze slightly further afield to other parts of Europe, this phenomenon appears to be much more common than one might first imagine. The British Isles can serve as a good example. Firstly, when the Anglo-Saxons invaded the eastern parts of Britain during the 5th and 6th centuries, they took over already existing settlements, villages and hamlets named with British or Roman names, and gave them new Anglo-Saxon names. Furthermore, they built a few completely new settlements. The same thing happened when Gaelic people or culture spread from western Scotland to the Pictish eastern and northern parts of Scotland, during the 9th century. The same happened when the Vikings from Norway conquered and settled in the northern and western parts of Scotland during the 9th and 10th centuries, and again when Danish Vikings invaded the eastern Anglo-Saxon regions, and renamed a large number of villages and hamlets. A large proportion of the latter were given names of the same type as the Ålandic –by names, that is by-names with a personal name as the first element! Then again, after the battle of Hasting 1066, it was time to rename a bunch of settlements again. Now, it was added a large number of Norman, Flemish and French names to the “British names flora”. It is possible to line up a lot of other examples from Central Europe, Eastern Europe, the Mediterranean, the Iberian Peninsula and others, but I shall confine myself with these examples. What is important with these examples is to show that the settlements that changed names, or had relatively young names, need not to have suffered a prolonged devastation and depopulation. Instead, the new younger names were caused by conquest, changed sovereignty, migration or cultural fusion. The majority of the settlements as such, and the farmlands, have in those examples survived several invasions, re-naming and changed lordship or sovereignty, even though in many instances the people living in the villages could have changed during these dramatic events. This is shown very illustratively in the case of Wharram Percy in Northumberland, England’s most excavated village. The settlement started as an Iron Age hamlet around 50 BC. It survived the Roman, Anglo-Saxon, Viking and Norman conquests, but changed size and layout after most of them, and was finely abandoned in the 16th century.  It is also known that the name of the settlement was amended several times.

If we then return to Åland and consider when, and under what circumstances, the archipelago acquired its relatively young place-names, it is obvious that it must have happened between the end of the early medieval period and the middle of the high medieval period. This is exactly the period when the Baltic Crusading was taking place (this was also the time period suggested by Lars Hellberg, but he thought that the colonists arrived to a deserted group of islands). It is well known that both Danes and Swedes made several crusades/raids from the 1100’s onwards in the Finnish speaking areas. The political map in the Baltic region changed gradually from the year 1147, when Bernhard of Clairvaux proclaimed that the Christians in the region should pursue war against their ‘own heathens’, and thus the Baltic Sea would be ‘their Jerusalem’. Germans, Danes, different orders of knights and eventually Swedes, all representing the western Catholic Church, began to compete over land areas in the southern and eastern parts of the Baltic Sea, additionally encouraged by a religiously sanctioned ideology. From the east, the Novgorodians, representatives of the Orthodox Church also beset them. These where ruff times for the, not yet Christianized, eastern tribal societies and stateless kingdoms, that were not organized in larger political units with administrative structures, and therefore lacked access to any professional military apparatus. Furthermore, they were often in conflict with each other.

…to be continued 🙂

Saltwiik – Boo – Kvarnbo (PART 1)

Some reflections on the Early Medieval Åland – settlement reduction or continuity

by Jan-Henrik Fallgren

There are some major unresolved and frustrating problems when it comes to Åland’s Iron Age, and the early historical periods. In particular, whether or not there has been continuity between the Viking Age settlement and the settlement known from the earliest written sources. There is today, and has been for some time, various opinions concerning this subject. However, since Lars Hellberg’s classical study of the place-names on Åland from 1980, many researchers believe that the archipelago was deserted between c. AD 1000 to at least the 12th century. Others have pointed out that at least some of the settlements show continuity from the Viking Age to the end of 13th century. The fact that no coins are found on Åland from the end of the Viking Age, has also been put forward as an important argument for the former opinion, or at least showed that the Ålanders suffered economically from a serious loss from the geopolitical map, due to the collapse of the earlier important east-western trade route during this century.

Lots of islamic coins have been found on Åland – all dating before AD 950. No coins* are found on prehistoric Åland from the end of the Viking Age.  *with one certain exeption of a fragmentary Anglo-Saxon penny of King Athelstan (924-939) (there are “rumours” of more).

Strangely enough, also the speedy shore displacement during the late Iron Age/Medieval Period has sometimes been mentioned in connection with the presumed desolation, or as one of the causes of population decline. This is really odd. In other geographical contexts, for instance the Mälaren Valley, a speedy shore displacement has always been regarded as something positive and beneficial for the contemporary agrarian economy and for the growth of the population. Both osteological and paloebotanical analyses reveal that the agrarian Viking Age economy on Åland was based on the same kind of farming practise as everywhere else in north-western Europe during this time period; that is an agricultural system based on cattle breeding, alongside with crop growing on a minor scale. Therefore, this land elevation must have been similarly beneficial to the agrarian economy of Åland, as rightly pointed out previously by Birgitta Roeck Hansen, Johan Callmer and Kristin Ilves.

As mentioned above, the Iron Age and Viking Age agrarian economy on Åland appears to have been exactly of the same type as in other parts of north-western Europe during the early medieval period, i.e. farming based mainly on animal husbandry together with small-scale cultivation of essentially barley, on few and very small fields. Actually, this was characteristic for all north-western early medieval kin-based, tribal societies, stateless petty kingdoms, ranked societies, traditional societies, or whatever you would like to call them, before what has been labelled the “cerialization” and “manoralization” of Europe occurred, when the feudal estate-system was born.  These transformations started in the western parts of Europe (Frankish) during the 8th century, but accelerated strongly only when the reformed Catholic Church from the 10th century onwards got a firmer grip on the political and ideological situation in Europe and thus could incorporate several larger kingdoms and regions in their economic and administrative system. However, these momentous changes did not arrive to our part of the world until the 13th and 14th centuries.

Before these radical economical and agrarian changes during the early medieval period, all social contracts, bonds and agreements within kin-based, tribal societies and petty kingdoms with their gift-giving economies, was confirmed and sealed by the receiving or giving of basically three different types of media; ale, livestock and women (neither pre-feudal nobility or kings built their wealth or social positions by some major land ownership or estates, instead it was food-rent and hospitality from free clients, and these clients obligations to participate in war and plundering, that gave pre-feudal lords and kings their social positions and economical resources). And of course, if there were access to exotic objects, like glass vessels, silver or other precious metals in the form of foreign coins, or melted down and remoulded coins to prestige objects; these were also part of such socio-economic transactions and situations, such as tribute, payment or fiefs by lords or kings to clients. However, absence or lack of coins or precious metals in those kinds of societies was not a problem or a catastrophe, and, above all, it would never have made people to abandon their fields and farms, and it did not lead to starvation. They did not live in a market economy. So any drop off from the geopolitical map, or the fact that the silver trade was interrupted for the people on Åland during the 11th century, could hardly have caused any serious crisis in the agrarian economy or society at large (except, perhaps to a few individuals). Above all, it would not have been the cause of any possible depopulation of the islands.

…to be continued 🙂

All our faith in… what?

One of the most recent works related to the question of settlement continuity on Åland between Late Iron Age and early medieval times was published in 2007, by Paula Wilson, and was yet again using place-names as the source material (Röster från forntiden – gamla ortnamn berättar). Unlike the established elite of place-name researchers, Wilson questioned the dominating interpretation on the medieval origin of Finnish-Swedish place-names in Finland suggesting much older origin in the Iron Age Germanic-Scandinavian migrations; thereby, she argued for the settlement continuity on Åland. Wilson’s book received a disastrous critique as her interpretations were based on quite so arbitrary speculations. And the idea of depopulation and later re-colonization of Åland is still the one that is being in circulation. “Swedish” and “Finnish” on Åland are depicted exclusive one another, while “Ålandic” is not even in consideration.

It is not only the repeated political dimension of the whole debate on discontinuity versus continuity of settlement between LIA and early medieval times that disturbs me, more than that, I am stricken by the firm belief among many place-name researchers that place-names do not change trough time. But -hello- New York was not named New York from the beginning and there was no depopulation of the place when the name of the settlement was changed to New York! I do not see any source-critical discussion going on in regard to place-names on Åland as the statements emanating from place-name research are just assumed to be true and generated all over and over again. Furthermore, the fact that the whole idea of depopulation in the late 10th century is basically based on place-names only is very alarming. Because, sure, there is this gap in the traditional archaeological material, but this gap can also be explained other than by all people suddenly leaving the whole archipelago. Moreover, there exists material that definitely refutes (or strongly challenges) settlement discontinuity. Ella Kivikoski emphasized house foundations being diagnostically the same from the beginning of LIA well into the medieval times. There is pollen data in favor of settlement continuity. But most importantly, one of the backbones of modern archaeology – radiocarbon dating (C14) – suggests settlement continuity on Åland during the contested time period. Now, there are only 64… 😦 …archaeological C14 dates from the whole Iron Age on Åland and I am painfully aware that this constitutes an enormous methodological issue in using summed probability plot in my argument. Still, summing the probability curves of all the calibrated dates related to Iron Age, there is no settlement discontinuity to infer; furthermore, this information correlates with raw data as well.

All calibrated C14 dates related to the Iron Age on Åland on summed probability plot

All calibrated C14 dates related to the Iron Age on Åland on summed probability plot

In terms of our understanding of the Iron Age on Åland, no question that there is an immense need for more archaeological investigations on Åland, and there is urgency for more data to be published. But most of all, there is a need for syntheses of the data collected so far. In this regard, compared to the neighboring regions, Åland has fallen behind gravely. And this might be the reason why statements that are quite so obsolete still dominate despite the growing evidence against.

Coming and going and coming and?

The events in the end of the Late Iron Age on Åland as portrayed by researchers provide a great deal of inspirational drama for the movie 🙂 – the plot might be centered around hypotheses about historical events or on fractions these cause(d) among scholars. It all started in 1980s….

movingIn 1980, Lars Hellberg published his research on place-names and the Swedish settlement on Åland (Ortnamnen och den svenska bosättningen på Åland). He concluded that Åland – having had an unusually dense (Swedish) population during LIA – was for some unknown reasons depopulated in the late 10th century. About 150 years later and initiated by the state of Sweden, there was a rapid (re-)colonization of the archipelago. And when the Swedes came, they pushed out or “swedified” the sparse Finnish population that had managed to establish itself on Åland during the intermediate period.

Less dramatically and mainly on the basis of the archaeological material, the idea about depopulation and (Swedish) re-colonization of Åland has actually been suggested already before 1980s. However, the idea was then found unlikely by archaeologists such as Ella Kivikoski. Using house foundations as a supporting source material, Kivikoski was firm on the continuity of settlement and culture on Åland. But when Hellberg stated the hiatus idea some 20 years later, it sparked heated debate.

Hellberg’s understanding was bound to irritate Matts Dreijer, who had from the beginning of his career stated that Åland was one of the earliest Christianized lands in this part of the Baltic Sea region, and had had an important role to play in the Christianization of the surrounding territories – no way that it was depopulated! But many other researchers took the floor as well. For example, Erik Bertell could be mentioned putting forward evidence against the settlement discontinuity theories; and the work of Birgitta Roeck Hansen must be introduced. Cultural-geographer Roeck Hansen’s research had its starting point in the question of continuity or discontinuity between LIA and early medieval period and resulted 1991 in the dissertation titled Township and Territory: A study of rural land-use and settlement patterns in Åland c AD 500-1550. Roeck Hansen studied patterns in the settlement development using old maps, shore displacement models and place-names; she also conducted minor archaeological excavations. As the result of her studies, Roeck Hansen dismissed the hiatus demonstrating, among other things, the LIA origin of many place-names. But she did argue for the partial abandonment of settlement due to the culturally peripheral position of Åland in the end of the LIA as well as because of the worsening climatic conditions and positive shore displacement that blocked many waterways.

moving_2Roeck Hansen’s statements on settlement continuity were, however, considered to be supported just by indicia and, therefore, not really reckoned with, which is clearly exemplified, for example, by the research of Lars Huldén, one of the leading figures in the place-name research in Finland. And when the Grand Old Man of the place-name research himself states that the oldest settlement names on Åland are undoubtedly and consistently of medieval character, which does not match with the idea of unbroken (Swedish) settlement at all, depopulation and later “invasion” must be the case (I’m sarcastic here). To be continued….