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Image:Permic bear.jpg
A bronze idol representing a sacred bear. Found in the Perm Krai, dated to the 6th or 7th century.

Bjarmaland (also spelled Bjarmland or Bjarmia) was a territory mentioned in Norse sagas up to the Viking Age — and beyond. Most scholars believe that the term (probably related to Permia) refers to the south shores of the White Sea and the basin of the Northern Dvina River. Today, these areas comprise the Arkhangelsk Oblast of Russia.


[edit] Problems of identification

The name appears in old Norse literature, possible for the area where Arkhangelsk is presently situated, and where it was preceded by a Bjarmian merchant town. The first appearance of the name is in the Voyage of Ohthere, which was undertaken ca 890. According to Ohthere, it was the first Scandinavian voyage to the Bjarmians, but this information is not reliable.<ref>Ohthere's voyage to Bjarmaland. Original text and its English translation.</ref>

The place-name was also used later both by the German historian Adam of Bremen (11th century) and the Icelander Snorri Sturluson (1179-1241) in Herrauðs and Bosa saga, reporting about its rivers flowing out to Gandvik. It's not clear if they reference the same Bjarmaland as was mentioned in the Voyage of Ohthere, however. Bjarmian god Jomali<ref>Most probably originally the same as the Finnish jumala, meaning god, or its alternative in some other Finnic language. Based on this information, Finnic origin has often been proposed for Bjarmians.</ref> is probably Finnic but the description of the god is more Siberian, especially the crown adorned with twelve stars in gold, characteristic to Siberian shaman caps.

Olaus Magnus put Bjarmaland in the Kola Peninsula<ref>Olaus Magnus Map of Scandinavia 1539. See section C.</ref>, while Johannes Schefferus (1621 - 1679) argued it was equal to Laponia. Later scholars associated Bjarmaland with Veps or Karelians. Some speculated that Tschudins mentioned in Russian chronicles were identical to Bjarmians, but neither of these points of view has been endorsed in the academic mainstream.

[edit] Early contacts

Image:Ottars reise.jpg
A Norwegian map of the voyage of Ohthere.

According to the saga about the Voyage of Ohthere, the Norwegian merchant Ottar (Ohthere) reported to king Alfred the Great that he had sailed for several days along the northern coast and then southwards, finally arriving at a great river, probably the Northern Dvina. At the estuary of the river dwelt the Beormas, who unlike the nomadic Sami peoples were sedentary, and their land was rich and populous. Ohthere did not know their language but he said that it resembled the language of the Sami people (i.e., it was probably Finno-Ugric). The Bjarmians told Ohthere about their country and other countries that bordered it.

Later several expeditions were undertaken from Norway to Bjarmaland. In 920, Eirik Bloodaxe made a Viking expedition, as well as Harald II of Norway and Haakon Magnusson of Norway, in 1090.

The best known expedition was that of Tore Hund (Tore Dog) who together with some friends, arrived in Bjarmaland, in 1026. They started to trade with the inhabitants and bought a great many pelts, whereupon they pretended to leave. Later, they made shore in secret, and plundered the burial site, where the Bjarmians had erected an idol of their god Jomali. This god had a bowl containing silver on his knees, and a valuable chain around his neck. Tore and his men managed to escape from the pursuing Bjarmians with their rich booty.

[edit] Background

Modern historians suppose that the wealth of the Bjarmians was due to their profitable trade along the Dvina, the Kama River and the Volga to Bolghar and other trading settlements in the south. Along this route, silver coins and other merchandise were exchanged for pelts and walrus tusks brought by the Bjarmians. Further north, the Bjarmians traded with the Saami who are said to have been tributaries to the Bjarmians.

It seems that the Scandinavians made use of the Dvina trade route, in addition to the Volga trade route and Dnieper trade route. In 1217, two Norwegian traders arrived in Bjarmaland to buy pelts; one of the traders continued further south to pass to Russia in order to arrive in the Holy Land, where he intended to take part in the Crusades. The second trader who remained was, however, killed by the Bjarmians. This caused Norwegian officials to undertake a campaign of retribution into Bjarmaland which they pillaged in 1222.

The 13th century seems to have seen the decline of the Bjarmians, who became tributaries of the Novgorod Republic. While many Slavs fled the Mongol invasion northward, to Beloozero and Bjarmaland, the displaced Bjarmians sought refuge in Norway, where they were given land in Malangen, by Haakon IV of Norway, in 1240. More important for the decline was probably that, with the onset of the Crusades, the trade routes had found a more westerly orientation or shifted considerably to the south.

When the Novgorodians founded Velikiy Ustiug, in the beginning of the 13th century, the Bjarmians had a serious competitor for the trade. More and more Pomors arrived in the area during the 14th and 15th centuries, which led to the final subjugation and assimilation of the Bjarmians by the Slavs.

[edit] Notes

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[edit] References

Image:Small Sketch of Owl.png This article contains content from the Owl Edition of Nordisk familjebok, a Swedish encyclopedia published between 1904-1926 now in Public Domain.

  • Тиандер К.Ф. Поездки скандинавов в Белое море. [Voyages of the Norsemen to the White Sea]. Saint Petersburg, 1906.
Volkhov-Volga trade route: Lyubsha | Aldeigja | Álaborg | Hólmgarðr | Sarskoe | Timerevo
Dvina-Dnieper trade route: Pallteskja | Gnezdovo | Chernigov | Kænugarðr
Other locations: Bjarmaland | Khortitsa | White Shores | Miklagarðr | Særkland
Varangians | Rus' | Slavs | Merya | Bulgars | Khazars

ru:Бьярмия fi:Bjarmaland tt:Biarmia


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