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Bjarmaland and interaction in the North of Europe from the Viking Age until the Early Middle Ages

BjarmalandBjarmaland and interaction in the North of Europe from the Viking Age until the Early Middle Ages

Mervi Koskela Vasaru

JOURNAL OF NORTHERN STUDIES: Vol. 6 • No. 2 • 2012, pp. 37–58

Abstract

The medieval Scandinavian written sources locate Bjarmaland to the White Sea. The words Terfinna land connect the location with the Kola Peninsula and the environs of the Varzuga River whereas the name Gandvík guides our interest towards the Kantalahti Bay of the White Sea. The name Vína can be connected with either the Northern Dvina River or Viena Karelia. The Bjarmians as portrayed in the written sources seem to have been a permanently settled group of Baltic Fennic speaking people that lived in the north of Europe since the Viking Age (first mentioned in writing in the ninth century) until the early Middle Ages (mid-thirteenth century). They seem to have been involved in the international fur trade and had continuous contacts with Norwegians with both looting and trade as integral part of interaction.

The Bjarmians cannot be connected ethnically with any existing group of people but must be considered as a group of their own. The origin of the specific ethnical identity most likely lies in economical interaction (trade with furs and possibly other items) with neighbouring areas. Since the twelfth and thirteenth centuries new settlers moved to the northern areas and many political and economical changes occurred in Northern Fennoscandia and Russia, all of which would have contributed to a change that left the Bjarmians out of written sources.

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