The Emergence of the North

The Emergence of the North

Jakobsson, Sverrir

Scandia, Vol 75, Nr 2 (2009)


The North existed as a self-projection in Scandinavia as early as the Middle Ages.This much is clear from the terminology used by those who wrote about the history of the North. One such historian, the Icelander Sturla Þórðarson (1214–1284) informs us that in 1247 a special emissary from Pope Innocent IV came ‘hither to the Nordic countries’ (hingat í Norðrlönd) to consecrate King Hákon of Norway. In this instance, the North (Norðrlönd) is viewed from the perspective of an important power centre in the Mediterranean region. The North is contrasted with the South.

The term Norðrlönd presupposes an ultimate system of direction, rather than a proximate system. The direction North is seen as a constant; an attribute possessed by certain lands. In a similar way, Rome was defined as the South in Icelandic terminology, leading pilgrimages to be known as ‘walks to the South’(suðrgöngur).This definition of North and South was influenced by Latin terminology, in which the peoples of the North were known as gentes septentrionales. Within this system, the North was not confined to Scandinavia. Indeed, in some Old Norse texts, France, Germany, and England are seen as parts of Norðrlönd.

Click here to read this article from Scandia

Sign up to get a Weekly Email from

* indicates required

medievalverse magazine