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This article is about ancient Kvens and Kvenland. For contemporary ethnic group in Norway, see Kven people.

Kvenland, known as Cwenland, Kænland or similar terms in medieval sources, is an ancient name for an area in Fennoscandia and Scandinavia. Kvenland, in that or nearly that spelling, is known from an Old English account written in the 9th century, which used the information provided by the Norwegian adventurer and traveler Ohthere, and from Nordic sources, primarily Icelandic. One possible additional source was written in the modern-day area of Norway — all the known Nordic sources date to the 12th and 13th centuries. Other possible references to Kvenland by other names or spellings are also discussed on this page.

Since the 17th century, most historians have placed the heartland of the ancient Kvenland, particularly during the latter medieval period, around and near the Bay of Bothnia, primarily in the present-day regions of Swedish Norrbotten and Finnish Ostrobothnia. The traditional Eastern Finnish and Northern Sami names for this area were Kainuu (the Sami name with slightly different spelling). Accordingly, it has been suggested that the Scandinavian name Kvenland and the Finnic name Kainuu share etymological roots. However, more varying views exist about the boundaries of the ancient Kvenland at various points in history.[citation needed]

Old English Orosius[edit]

A Norwegian adventurer and traveler named Ohthere visited England around 890 CE. King Alfred of Wessex had his stories written down and included them in his Old English version of a world history written by the Romano-Hispanic author Orosius. Ohthere's story contains the only contemporary description about Kvenland that has survived from the 9th century:[1]

[Ohthere] said that the Norwegians' (Norðmanna) land was very long and very narrow ... and to the east are wild mountains, parallel to the cultivated land. Finnas inhabit these mountains ... Then along this land southwards, on the other side of the mountain (sic), is Sweden ... and along that land northwards, Kvenland (Cwenaland). The Kvens (Cwenas) sometimes make depredations on the Northmen over the mountain, and sometimes the Northmen on them; there are very large [freshwater] meres amongst the mountains,[2] and the Kvens carry their ships over land into the meres, and thence make depredations on the Northmen; they have very little ships, and very light.

As is emphasised in the text, Ohthere's account was an oral statement, made to King Alfred, and the section dealing with Kvenland takes up only two sentences. Ohthere's information on Kvens may have been second-hand, since, unlike in his other stories, Ohthere does not emphasise his personal involvement in any way. Ohthere's method of locating Kvenland can be interpreted to mean that Kvenland was located in and around the northern part of the modern-day Sweden and in the mid-western part of the modern-day Finland, when the difference in the Viking compass is taken into consideration (see more further below). Other, somewhat later sources call the land adjacent to the northern part of Norway "Finnmark."[3]

Ohthere's Finnas may be a reference to the Sami people, but not all historians agree on this.[4] Although Ohthere does not give any name for the area where his "Finnas" lived, he gives a lengthy description of their lives in and around Northern Norway, without mentioning Kvens.[5]

Ohthere's mention of the "large [freshwater] meres" and of the Kvens' boats are of great interest. The meres are said to be "amongst the mountains", the words used in the text being geond þa moras.[2] Ohthere may be referring to the Southern Norwegian lake district, which is also referred to in Orkneyinga saga. This way, the reference would have included Lake Mjøsa, an area which is known to have been inhabited at that time: the Orkneyinga saga tells how these inhabitants were attacked by men from Kvenland.[6]

The mention of the "very light ships" (boats) carried overland has a well-documented ethnographic parallel in the numerous portages of the historical river and lake routes in Fennoscandia and Northern Russia. According to the philologist Irmeli Valtonen, "[the] text does not give us a clear picture where the Cwenas are to be located though it seems a reasonable conclusion that they lived or stayed somewhere in the modern-day areas of Northern Sweden or Northern Finland."[7]

The name "Kven" briefly appears later in King Alfred's Orosius. The Kven Sea is mentioned as the northern border for the ancient Germany, and Kvenland is mentioned again, as follows:

... the Swedes (Sweons) have to the south of them the arm of the sea called East (Osti), and to the east of them Sarmatia (Sermende), and to the north, over the wastes, is Kvenland (Cwenland), to the northwest are the Sami people (Scridefinnas), and the Norwegians (Norðmenn) are to the west.[8]

The term Sarmatism was first used by Jan Długosz in his 15th century work on the history of Poland.[9] Długosz was also responsible for linking the Sarmatians to the prehistory of Poland, and this idea was continued by other chroniclers and historians such as Marcin Bielski, Marcin Kromer and Maciej Miechowita.[9] Miechowita's Tractatus de Duabus Sarmatiis became influential abroad, and for some time it was one of the most widely used reference works on the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.[9]

The Viking compass is believed to have had a 45 degree rotation of cardinal points.[10] If the territories listed in King Alfred's Orosius are examined with that in mind, the Norwegians would be to the northwest of Sweden, and the Sami people would be to the north. These points are correct after rotation based on the difference between the Viking and modern compasses. Kvenland is then situated to the northeast of Sweden and might be placed somewhere around the present-day Swedish Norrland or the western part of the present-day Finland. The information of Kvenland being situated "over the wastes", northwards from the Viking-period "Sweden" (corresponding roughly to the south-central part of present-day Sweden) matches the idea of Kvenland extending to Norrland.[4] There is no "Finland" mentioned anywhere either in the original or the updated version of Orosius' history.[citation needed]

Hversu Noregr byggdist and Orkneyinga saga[edit]

For more details on this topic, see Kings of Kvenland.

Three medieval Icelandic accounts discuss Kvenland. They are Egils saga and the more legendary Hversu Noregr byggdist[11] and Orkneyinga saga.[6]

Orkneyinga saga was written around 1200 CE by an unknown Icelandic author. Hversu Noregr byggdist is only known from one copy in the Icelandic Flateyjarbók from 1387 CE, but may have been written earlier. According to Orkneyinga saga, early medieval Norse (Norwegian) rulers descended from king Fornjót, who "reigned over Gotland, which we now know as Finland and Kvenland." The Hversu account states that a descendant of Fornjót "ruled over Gothland, Kvenland (Kænlandi), and Finland."[citation needed]

A DNA study conducted on the prehistoric skeletal remains of four individuals from Gotland supports the area having been ethnically interconnected with Finland and Kvenland during the primeval era:

"The hunter-gatherers show the greatest similarity to modern-day Finns", says Pontus Skoglund, an evolutionary geneticist at Uppsala University in Sweden.[12]

Recent archaeological discoveries made in Finland have further emphasized the close ties which Gotland and the modern-day area of Finland have had during the primeval era. In the late spring of 2013, a Merovingian period (600-800 AD) silver plate, believed to be a piece of a sword scabbard, was discovered in Rautjärvi, Finland. The origin of the silver plate has been traced to Gotland, based on its Gotland-style ornamentation. According to the teaching assistant Jukka Luoto from the Museum of South Karelia, "this indicates that these areas have independently conducted trade with Gotland."[13]

"The item has ornamentation originating from Gotland, which in itself is not rare in Finland," says museum teaching assistant Jukka Luoto from the Museum of South Karelia.[14]

Whether or not Fornjót and his closest followers, mentioned in other sagas as well, were actual historical people has been debated. Kyösti Julku notes that no geographical errors have been found in the descriptions of the Orkneyinga saga. He asks why, therefore, the people described in the account should be considered not to have existed.[4] Also noteworthy is that Fornjót's great-grandson Old Snow is briefly mentioned in Ynglingasaga, in relation to Finland.[15]

The Orkneyinga saga contains a realistic description of Nór traveling from Kvenland to Norway. Based on the saga's internal chronologies, this would have happened around the 6th or 7th century CE,[citation needed] but the dating is very insecure. Locations of Kvenland, Finland and Gotland are given rather exactly:

"to the east of the gulf that lies across from the White Sea (Gandvík); we call that the Gulf of Bothnia (Helsingjabotn)."[16]

It has been disputed whether Gandvik is the White Sea or the Baltic Sea. Orkneyinga saga, however, uses Eystrasalti as the name for the Baltic Sea.

The saga is correct in placing the Gulf of Bothnia "across" (i.e., "on the other side of" the isthmus between the two seas) from the White Sea. The saga does not say that Kvenland was on the coast, but just east of the Gulf.

A possible location of Kvenland and Nór's route to the fjord of Trondheim. Kvenland can be placed elsewhere east of Gulf of Bothnia, as well. The selected location on the map is the one with most archaeological finds. Most interpretations locate Kvenland in the less well researched northern coastal area on the Bothnian Bay.
Kvenland in 814 AD. Old Norse sagas suggest that Kvenland covered the entire Fennoscandian area.

This is how Nór started his journey to Norway:

But Nor, his brother, waited until snow lay on the moors so he could travel on snow-shoes. He went out from Kvenland and skirted the Gulf, and came to that place inhabited by the men called Sami (Lapps);[17] that is beyond Finnmark.

Having traveled for a while, Nór was still "beyond Finnmark." After a brief fight with Sami people (Lapps), Nór continued:

But Nor went thence westward to the Kjolen Mountains and for a long time they knew nothing of men, but shot beasts and birds to feed to themselves, until they came to a place where the rivers flowed west of the mountains. — Then he went up along the valleys that run south of the fjord. That fjord is now called Trondheim.

Starting somewhere on the eastern coast of the Gulf of Bothnia, Nór had either gone all the way up and around the Gulf, or skied across; it was winter, and the gulf might have been frozen.[18] Nór ended up attacking the area around Trondheim in central Norway and later the lake district in the south, conquering the country and uniting it under his rule. There is no mention of Kvenland after that. Again only a handful of words are devoted to Kvenland, mainly telling where it was.

Nór's journey from Kvenland to Norway is missing from Hversu, which in fact does not even mention that Nór came from Kvenland at all, only stating: "Norr had great battles west of the Keel". The journey may have been lifted from some other context and added to Orkneyinga saga in a later phase by an unknown author who wanted to make the saga more adventurous. However, the conflict itself between Kvens and Norwegians remains a fact as verified by Ohthere even though it might not have ended in the conquest of Norway.[citation needed]

Egil's saga[edit]

Egils saga is an epic Icelandic saga possibly by Snorri Sturluson (1179-1241 CE), who may have written it between 1220 and 1240 CE. The saga covers a long period, starting in Norway in 850 CE and ending around 1000 CE. It contains a short description of Egil's uncle Thorolf Kveldulfsson co-operating with a Kvenland king, Faravid, against invading Karelians. Rather accurate geographical details about Kvenland's location are given in chapter XIV:[19]

Finmark is a wide tract; it is bounded westwards by the sea, wherefrom large firths run in; by sea also northwards and round to the east; but southwards lies Norway; and Finmark stretches along nearly all the inland region to the south, as also does Hålogaland outside. But eastwards from Namdalen (Naumdale) is Jämtland (Jamtaland), then Hälsingland (Helsingjaland) and Kvenland, then Finland, then Karelia (Kirialaland); along all these lands to the north lies Finmark, and there are wide inhabited fell-districts, some in dales, some by lakes. The lakes of Finmark are wonderfully large, and by the lakes there are extensive forests. But high fells lie behind from end to end of the Mark, and this ridge is called Keels.

The Finnmark of Egils saga extended much further than it does today, covering all of northern Fennoscandia south to Hälsingland and Karelia. Kvenland is said here to exist alongside Finnmark as well, most probably on the same borderline asother listed areas, which may indicate that Kvenland is in a rather southern location, at least in this text.[citation needed]

Like Hversu Noregr byggdist, Egils saga clearly separates Finland and Kvenland, listing them as neighboring areas. However, Finland is not listed in any of the saga's surviving versions, indicating that it might be a later addition by someone who did not recognize Kvenland any more. The saga says "eastwards from Namdalen is Jämtland", but actually the direction is southeast. Also Hälsingland is southeast, not east, of Jämtland. Since it is widely assumed that the Viking compass had a 45 degree rotation of cardinal points, the saga's "east" seems to correspond to the contemporary southeast.[10]

In chapter XVII Thorolf goes to Kvenland again:[20]

That same winter Thorolf went up on the fell with a hundred men; he passed on at once eastwards to Kvenland and met king Faravid.

Had Thorolf gone up to the mountains around his homeland Namdalen and then straight "eastwards", i.e., southeast, he would have first reached Jämtland and then Hälsingland. These are the same lands that were listed earlier in the saga. If the passage about going "southwest" is taken literally and directly, continuing from Hälsingland across the Gulf of Bothnia Thorolf would have arrived in the southwestern tip of present-day Finland, the center of Finland's Viking period population (see map). Again, as with Ohthere, Sami people and Kvens are not discussed at the same time. The saga tells how Norwegians taxed the Sami people,[21] but there is no indication in the saga that the Kvens would have competed with the Norwegians for control of the Sami or lived near or among them. Much debate has taken place concerning whether the saga provides truthful information of Iron Age Kvenland by mentioning that the Kvens had a real-sounding 'king' and a 'law' to divide the loot. The saga places the confrontation of Norwegians and Karelians in the 9th century.[citation needed]

Other sources[edit]

Besides Old English Orosius, Hversu Noregr byggdist, Orkneyinga saga and Egil's saga, Kvenland or Kvens are very briefly mentioned in four Icelandic texts from the same era. One of the texts may have been written in Norway.

Norna-Gests þáttr[edit]

Norna-Gests þáttr has a brief mention of the king of Denmark and Sweden, Sigurd Ring (ruling in the mid-8th century), fighting against invading Curonians and Kvens:

Sigurd Ring (Sigurðr) was not there, since he had to defend his land, Sweden (Svíþjóð), since Curonians (Kúrir) and Kvens (Kvænir) were raiding there.[22]

The short mention of Kvens has little other relevancy except that it is the only known reference to Kvens in a Swedish context; however, the story was written in Iceland. The text suggests that the Curonians and Kvens were co-operating, although their simultaneous attack may be understood as a coincidence. The Curonians were a Baltic people living in present-day Latvia. It has also been suggested that Kúrir does not refer to Curonians at all, but to the Finnish inhabitants around the River Kyrönjoki. This would explain the Kvænir and Kúrir being grouped together.[23] The text does not mention Finland or Finns.

Historia Norwegiae[edit]

Historia Norwegiae was written sometime between 1160 and 1175 CE in an unknown location, although Eastern Norway is suspected. It contains a list of peoples in the North:

But towards north many pagan tribes—alas!—stretch from the east behind Norway, namely Karelians (Kiriali) and Kvens (Kwæni), corneous Sami people (cornuti Finni) and both peoples of Bjarmia (utrique Biarmones). But what tribes dwell behind them, have we no certainty.[24]

Leiðarvísir og borgarskipan[edit]

Kvenland appears once in a list of countries found in Leiðarvísir og borgarskipan, which was basically a guidebook for pilgrims about the routes from Northern Europe to Rome and Jerusalem, written by an Icelandic abbot, Níkulás Bergsson, in the monastery of Þverá (Munkaþverá) in the late 1150s CE. The publication contains two descriptions of lands around Norway that the Abbot seems to have acquired for his book from independent sources.

Götaland (Gautland) is east of the River Göta (Gautelfi), and closest to it is Sweden (Svíþjóð), then closest is Hälsingland (Helsingaland), then Finland (Finnland); then come the borders of Russia (Garðaríki), which we mentioned earlier. But on the other side of Götaland is Denmark.

Closest to Denmark is little Sweden (Svíþjóð), there is Öland (Eyland); then is Gotland (Gotland); then Hälsingland (Helsingaland); then Värmland (Vermaland); then two Kvenlands (Kvenlönd), and they extend to north of Bjarmia (Bjarmaland). From Bjarmia, uninhabited lands stretch in the north to the borders of Greenland (Grænland).[25]

The first description of the two is more correct.[citation needed] It lists Finland but not Kvenland. The second seems badly convoluted. It mentions Kvenland but not Finland. Kvenland seems to be in the vicinity of Helsingland and Värmland, but on the other hand north of Bjarmia; and yet the area north of Bjarmia is said to be uninhabited lands. Greenland is described as if it were connected to the continent.[citation needed]

Icelandic Annals[edit]

The Icelandic Annals have a late mention of Kvens clearly active in the North. Around 1271 CE, the following is said to have happened:

Then Karelians (Kereliar) and Kvens (Kvænir) pillaged widely in Hålogaland (Hálogaland).[26]

Whether the two Finnic tribes co-operated or just otherwise happened to fight against the Norwegians at the same time is left open. However, the short mention seems to confirm that both the Karelians and the Kvens were battling over the control of the northern lands against the Norwegians at the end of the 13th century. This is the third reference to Kvens and Norwegians fighting against each other.[citation needed]

Records on Fornjót's offspring[edit]

According to the medieval Orkneyinga saga, Fornjót was a "king". It is stated that he "reigned over Gotland, which we now know as Finland and Kvenland". According to the account of Hversu Noregr byggðist, Fornjót's great-grandson Snær (Old Snow) and his son Thorri were also kings. Snær is also mentioned in Ynglingasaga, in relation to Finland. According to Hversu Noregr byggdist, Thorri "ruled over Gothland, Kvenland (Kænlandi), and Finland". According to the information given, the Kvens made sacrifices to Thorri.[citation needed]

The medieval accounts which discuss the lineages sprung from Fornjót and his descendants — mainly Nór and Gór — leading to the later rulers of Sweden and other countries, include the following:

Beowulf (8th-10th century), the Íslendingabók (8th-10th century), the Poetic Edda (c. 800-1000), Ynglingatal (late 9th century), Historia Norvegiæ (late 12th century), Skáldskaparmál (c. 1220), Hyndluljóð (13th century), the Gesta Danorum (started c. 1185, finished c. 1216), Ynglinga saga (c. 1225), the Orkneyinga saga (c. 1230), Hversu Noregr byggðist (c. 1387), Ættartolur (1387).[citation needed]

Possible other sources[edit]

In some pre-medieval and medieval texts, it is not clear which groups of people the authors are referring to by the titles used. According to historians, terms used for either the Kvens, Finns and/or Sami in texts written during the 1st millennium AD include the following:

Whereas the term Finn, in varying spellings, appears to have been used in reference to the members of Finnish tribes in historical texts during the 1st millennium CE, a term meaning "Skiing Finn" - with spellings such as "Screrefennae", "Scridefinns", "Skridfinnar" - in the same texts was likely used in reference to the Sami people, according to a view shared by many historians.[citation needed]


Historians have suggested that the Sitones mentioned in Tacitus' Germania in 98 CE are the Kvens. Kyösti Julku is convinced of this, and states: "There can be no confusion about the geographical location of the Sitones."[28][29][30] (See also: Origin of the name Kven)


It has been suggested that the terms Qwnio and Qwens used by Ulfilas (in Gothic: Wulfila) in c. 352 are references to the Kvens.

De origine actibusque Getarum[edit]

It has been suggested that the Vinoviloth mentioned by Jordanes in De origine actibusque Getarum in the 6th century CE were the Kvens.[31]

Gesta Hammaburgensis Ecclesiae Pontificum[edit]

A likely reference to Kvenland is believed to be Terra Feminarum (Land of Women), mentioned by Adam of Bremen in his Gesta Hammaburgensis ecclesiae pontificum (Deeds of Bishops of the Hamburg Church), written in 1075 CE. Terra Feminarum is believed to be a synonym for the name Kvenland.[citation needed]

Gesta Danorum[edit]

In 1216, Danish Saxo Grammaticus wrote in Gesta Danorum about Finnish and Scandinavian royal families. Based on medieval accounts, many Scandinavian rulers descended from the rulers of Kvenland, Finland and Gotland, i.e., King Fornjót and his offspring.

Saxo's writings resemble and share many characters and stories with the writings of Snorri Sturluson. Based on Saxo's account, too, many heroic Scandinavian figures have Finnic roots. Of the legendary Battle of Bråvalla (c. 750) - Swedes against the Geats - Saxo writes:

"Now the bravest of the Swedes were these: Arwakki, Keklu-Karl ..."


In addition to all the above-mentioned references to Kvenland and/or Finland by these or close to these spellings in medieval texts, it is possible that other terms may have been used for Kvenland and/or Finland by the neighboring and/or other peoples in medieval or earlier accounts.[citation needed]

One such case is believed to be the Skáldskaparmál section of the Prose Edda of c. 1220, where Snorri Sturluson discusses King Halfdan the Old, Nór's great-grandson, and his nine sons who are the forefathers of various royal lineages, including:

"... Yngvi, from whom the Ynglings are descended". "One war-king was named Skelfir; and his house is called the House of Skilfings: his kindred is in Eastern Land."

In the 13th century, the term Österland (Eastern Land) was used in reference to Finland by those inhabiting the western part of the recently born Realm of Sweden (today's southern Sweden). At the time, the area of Österland (Finland) consisted of the southwestern part of the modern-day Finland.[citation needed]

14th-century Icelandic manuscript[edit]

Another reference to a north-bound land of women is in a 14th-century Icelandic manuscript which describes a kuenna land (Woman Land) "north of India" and "near ... Albania", that would only have women with both reproduction organs.[32] As the name appears in a geographical list of countries in which Finland is nowhere to be found, it may also be a misunderstanding or interpretation from an era that no longer recognized Kvenland any more. The text is however so convoluted, that relation to Kvenland is considered speculative.[citation needed]

Charles IX of Sweden[edit]

It has been suggested that one of the titles of King Charles IX of Sweden was equivalent[citation needed] to "King of the Kvens". The king expanded his already lengthy title in 1607 CE to be as follows:

Carl then nijonde, Sweriges, Göthes, Wendes, finnars, carelers, lappers i nordlanden, the caijaners och esters i Lifland, etc. Konung [Charles IX, King of the Swedes, Goths, Wends, Finns, Karelians, Lapps in the Northland, the Caijanians and Estonians in Livonia, etc.][33][34]

Instead of "Kvens", the title uses "Caijaners", a Swedish name for the inhabitants of Kainuu. However, some historians have seen an etymological link between Kven and the Finnic term kainulainen/kainuulainen.[4][source needs translation][29][source needs translation]

As a name for a country, Kvenland - with that or close to that spelling - seems to have gone out of ordinary usage around the end of the 13th century, unrecognized by scholars by the 14th century. As the first ever account written in Swedish, Eric's Chronicle, was published as late as the 14th century, no medieval references to "Kvenland" or the "Kvens" are available from Swedish literature.[citation needed]

Charles IX's son dropped the term "Lappers j Nordlanden, the Caijaners" from the title in 1611, when he succeeded his father as king, and it was not re-added. Charles IX's use of it is seen as related to the construction of the Kajaani castle in 1604 close to Sweden-Finland's border with Russia. According to Kyösti Julku, after this Kainuu "occupied a separate position from the rest of Finland for a long time to come".[4]

Different interpretations[edit]

Kvenland and Kainuu[edit]

Like all countries lost in history, Kvenland has generated many theories about its origin. However, the location of Kvenland around or near the Bay of Bothnia has been an unchanging feature of most interpretations since the 17th century, when the Swedish historians Johannes Messenius and Olaus Rudbeckius first noted the concept of Kvenland in Old Norse sources. In 1650, Professor Michael Wexionius from Turku became the first to associate Kvenland with the Finnish Kainuu. In the 18th century the Finnish historian Henrik Gabriel Porthan, among others, focused attention on the Ohthere passage mentioning the Cwenas. Whereas Porthan suggested that the ancient Kvens may have been Swedish, many others came to view the Kvens as an ancient Finnish tribe.[29][30][35]

Nowadays Kainuu is a name of an inland province in northeastern Finland. In the past the name Kainuu was often used of the more western coastal area around the Bay of Bothnia, even up to the 19th century. That is the area seen by most historians to have been the heartland of the ancient territory of Kvenland. Accordingly, the view most commonly shared by historians today is that the names "Kven" and "Kainu(u)" likely share common roots. In the early Umesaami dictionaries the terms Kainolads and Kainahalja described respectively Finnic men and women inhabiting the northern parts of the modern-day areas of Norway, Sweden and Finland.[36]

People of Kvenland were in the past — and are usually today — seen as the Finnish tribe of kainulaiset, known to the Norse people as the Kvens, who supposedly inhabited and traded, raided and took tribute over much of Northern Fennoscandia and Scandinavia.[citation needed]

A problem in identification of the Kvens was that the area usually interpreted as Kvenland did not seem to have a sufficient amount of archaeological signs of sedentary Finnish settlement from the life-time of Ohthere. Some have pointed to the lack of funding for archaeological research. However, some historians have suggested that the Kvens or kainulaiset lived in southern Finland, although they would have regularly traveled in northern Fennoscandia as long-range wilderness users, raiders, traders and tribute exacters, perhaps settling permanently there in some cases. These views have not affected the localisation of Kvenland. In these hypotheses, as the Finnish groups supposedly traversed the region known as Kvenland during their journeys to the North Atlantic coast, the Norse, who were only dimly aware of the southern homeland of these Finns, came to call them Kvens — possibly borrowing the term from the Sami, who may have used it long before.[citation needed]

Kvenland and Pohjola[edit]

In a theory somewhat closely related to the Kainuu theory, Kvenland has also been associated with the legendary Pohjola.[4] Pohjola is an other-worldly country in Finnish mythology, ruled by a fierce witch called Louhi.[4] Pohjola is best known from the Kalevala, a 19th-century Finnish work of epic poetry compiled by Elias Lönnrot from Karelian and Finnish oral folklore and mythology, collected largely in the Finnish region of Kainuu.[37]

Different interpretations of the origins of the mythical Pohjola exist. Some include parts of Lapland and the ancient Kainuu (same as Kvenland according to common view today[4][29][38]) in Kalevala's Pohjola. Some point out a similarity with the name Pohjanmaa (Ostrobothnia in English), a region in western Finland.

Other interpretations[edit]

An original view has been provided by a Finnish historian and Helsinki University professor, Matti Klinge, who has placed Kvenland/Kainuu not only in southern Finland, but around the Baltic Sea as a kind of Finnish-Swedish "maritime confederation". Klinge has presented a hypothesis of Kvenland as a naval power on the Baltic, located on both the present-day Finnish and Swedish sides of the Gulf of Bothnia as well as in some of the surrounding areas.[39] The folklorist and professor of literature Väinö Kaukonen calls it "fantastic fabulation" and a "dream-wish".[40]

Woman Land[edit]

Different views exist of why ancient scholars have made references to Kvenland as an area dominated by women. Some have suggested that there may have been misinterpretations of terminology. Whatever the origin of the term kven is, it effortlessly translates to "woman" in Old Norse. Proto-Germanic *kwinōn, *kunōn, *kwēni-z and *kwēnō for "woman" developed into kona, kvǟn, kvān, kvɔ̄n, kvendi, kvenna and kvinna in Old Norse.[41] Among sources used in the related debate by historians is the following statement of Tacitus from c. 98 CE:

"Upon the Suiones, border the people Sitones; and, agreeing with them in all other things, differ from them in one, that here the sovereignty is exercised by a woman. So notoriously do they degenerate not only from a state of liberty, but even below a state of bondage."

According to a view shared by many historians, the term Sitones (Kvens[28][29]) shares etymological roots with Sigtuna, which much later had a Latin spelling Situne.[42][43][44] According to Disas saga, the Sitones were ruled by a queen. According to a common view, the "queen" of the Sitones either derives from or is a possible linguistic confusion of an Old Norse term used for "woman", which shares linguistic origins with the term used in reference to the Kvens.[45][46] According to Thomas William Shore, the English language term "queen" derives from the term "qwen", a spelling used for the Kvens e.g. by Wulfila in c. 352 CE and King Alfred the Great of Wessex in c. 890 CE.[47] In 1075 AD, in Gesta Hammaburgensis ecclesiae pontificum, the German chronicler Adam of Bremen calls Kvenland Women's Land, stating the following:

Meanwhile Swedes (Sueones), who had expelled their bishop, got a divine revenge. And at first King's son called Anund, whose father had sent him to enlarge his kingdom, after arriving to Women's Land (patriam feminarum), whom we consider to be Amazons, was killed along with his army from poison, that they had mixed to the spring water. (III 15)

"After that come the Swedes (Sueones) that rule wide areas up until the "Land of Women" (terram feminarum). Living east of these are said to be Wizzi, Mirri, Lamiy, Scuti and Turci up until the border of Russia (Ruzziam)." (IV 14) [4]

In the related debate references are sometimes also made to the Finnish epic Kalevala, according to which Pohjola was ruled by a woman called Louhi or Pohjan-akka. The ancient Norse knew the Northern ruler-goddesses by the names gýgjar (singular: gýgr) and íviðjur (singular: íviðja). There is also a reference to a northern land of women in an Icelandic manuscript from the 14th century, which describes a kuenna land ("woman land").

Different theories on the origins of the Kvens[edit]

In 1958, a Finnish historian, politician and University of Helsinki professor, Kustaa Vilkuna, suggested that Kainuu or Kvenland was originally in Southern Finland, on the Gulf of Bothnia and covering just northern Finland Proper and coastal Satakunta.[48] A small local area called as "Kalanti" (Kaland in Swedish) would have been a remnant of the earlier name Kvenland. Because of the trading and tribute-taking expeditions as well as settlement expansion of the kainulaiset, the territorial concept of Kainuu was gradually moved northward. This idea was not generally accepted, and many other historians maintained that Kvenland was a northern region in the first place.[citation needed]

Another mid-20th-century historian, Professor Jalmari Jaakkola, considered the Kvens or kainulaiset as long-range hunters and tribute-takers coming from Upper Satakunta, from the inland region surrounding the present-day city of Tampere.[49] This theory was supported by Professor Armas Luukko.[50]

In 1979, Professor Pentti Virrankoski of the University of Turku presented a hypothesis according to which Kainuu was originally the sedentary Iron Age settlement in Southern Ostrobothnia. After the settlement was supposedly destroyed by tribal warfare during the early 9th century, the kainulaiset became dispersed along the western coasts of Finland, leaving only place-names and some archaeological finds as permanent traces.[51]

In 1980, the University of Oulu professor Jouko Vahtola pointed out that there is no evidence of the name Kainuu being of Western Finnish origin and considered it to have Eastern Finnish roots. However, he suggested a common Germanic etymology for the names Kainuu and Kvenland. Like most of his predecessors, Vahtola viewed Kainuu/Kvenland as the name of the coastal Ostrobothnia, meaning roughly "low-lying land". Based on the archaeological knowledge of the north, Vahtola did not believe that there was a separate Iron Age tribe called Kvens. He considered the Kvens to be mainly Tavastians hunting and trading in northern Ostrobothnia, thus partially reproducing the view of Jaakkola and Luukko (Upper Satakunta being a part of traditional Tavastia).[52] This theory is nowadays widely adopted in Finland, Sweden and Norway, and it is cited in many studies and popular works. Supporters of this theory sometimes want to see Birkarlar as Kvens' successors in the north, but this is not a necessary conclusion.[citation needed]

In 1995 the Finnish linguist Jorma Koivulehto gave support for the theory of common etymological roots of the names Kainuu and Kvenland. He suggests a new etymology meaning roughly "marine gap-land", the "marine gap" being the northern sea-route on the Bothnian Gulf.[38]

Increasing archaeological fieldwork in northern Finland has cast some doubts on the idea of Kvenland having almost no sedentary settlements. Encouraged by the new findings, Professor Kyösti Julku of Oulu University presented a theory of the Kvens being early permanent Finnish inhabitants of Northern Finland and Norrbotten (a part of modern-day Sweden).[4]

Some Swedish historians have suggested that the ancient Kvens were actually a Scandinavian and not a Finnish group, but these views have little support nowadays. The Swedish archaeologist Thomas Wallerström suggests that the Kvens/kainulaiset was a collective name for several Finnic groups participating in the west-east fur-trade, not just southern Finns but ancestors of Karelians and Vepsians as well. In this case, the land of the Kvens would have extended from the Bothnian Gulf in the west to the Lake Onega in the east.[53]

Kvenland and Kvens later in historical time[edit]

Main article: Kven people

As a name for a country, Kvenland seems to have gone out of ordinary usage around the end of the Viking Age, unrecognized by scholars by the 14th century. As the first ever account written in Swedish language, Eric's Chronicle, was published as late as the 14th century, no medieval references to "Kvenland" or the "Kvens" are available from Swedish literature.[citation needed]

In 1328, Tälje Charter ("Tälje stadga") - the oldest known record written in Swedish - mention the Birkarls ("bircharlaboa"). Based on the information revealed, the Birkarls then inhabited areas, e.g., in Northern Hälsingland, which covered the western coast of the Gulf of Bothnia, and from there all the way up and around the gulf to Oulu River. Tälje Charter is a state treaty ratified between the Kvens and the Swedish crown, in which the king of Sweden guarantees the Brkarl Kvens trading and tax-collecting rights as chief enforcement officers (Swedish term: Fogde) in the North.[54]

In his 1539 map Carta Marina, Swedish Olaus Magnus places Birkarl Kvens ("Berkara Qvenar") on the Norwegian North Atlantic cost, roughly in the middle in between the archipelago of Lofoten and the modern-day city of Tromsø. In his 1555 Historia de Gentibus Septentrionalibus (A Description of the Northern Peoples), he also mentions both terms: the Finnish traders who commuted between and inhabited the general area of Tornio and the modern-day area of Norway are said to have been called Kvens.[4][55]

Most historians consider it likely that for the medieval inhabitants of the modern-day area of Norway the term Kven included all Finnish people inhabiting and operating in Scandinavia and Northern Fennoscandia, including the Finnic traders known as Birkarls and later Finnish migrants. Whatever the case, most of the Kven minority in the present-day Northern Norway originates from - or has immigrated from - the same area on which the Birkarls are known to have been active from the ending of the Viking Age - and possibly before - until the start of the 17th century. Most historians consider that area to be or to include the heartland of Kvenland.[citation needed]

Around the ending of the Viking Age, a new kingdom was born, which became known as Sweden. From the start or from early on, it is likely to have consisted of areas on the modern-day Swedish and Finnish sides of the southernmost part of Gulf of Bothnia, covering areas of Finland Proper (today "Southwest Finland") on the eastern side of the Gulf. Over centuries, Kvenland and the territories which today are part of Finland were incorporated to the kingdom of Sweden. Finland Proper, which historically consisted of the southwestern part of the modern-day area of Finland, ceased to exist as an independent geographical region around the time of the alleged Second Swedish Crusade.[citation needed]

In the ancient past, the Norse (later Norwegians) may have used the term "Finn" in reference to members of both Finnish tribes and the Sami.[56] Today, the Sami are commonly considered indigenous people in Norway. Whether or not the Kvens should be legally recognized as indigenous people in Norway and Sweden is currently debated.[citation needed]

Today, the term Kven is used in Norway in reference to the descendants of Finnish-speaking people who have inhabited or migrated to the present-day area of Norway anytime before World War II. Migration waves from the 16th century onward have brought Finnish settlers to Northern Norway from the modern-day areas of Northern Sweden and Northern Finland, mostly from the northern coastal areas of the Bay of Bothnia - an area which most historians consider to be the epicenter of the ancient Kvenland.[citation needed]

The so-called Forest Finns are a separate Finnish group from the Kvens. The Forest Finns were Finnish farmers from Savonia and Northern Tavastia, who settled in large numbers to Sweden in c. 1580-1650 and to Southern Norway starting in c. 1620.[citation needed]

Modern recognition[edit]

The flag of "Kvenland" was raised at the Kiruna City Hall in Sweden on March 16, 2013, at 11:00, in celebration and honor of the first annual Day of the Kvens. Hereafter, March 16 is meant to be recognized widely in the Kven communities of the north and others. The date was chosen from the March 16, 1328, signing of a state treaty between Sweden and Kvenland, known as the Tälje Charter (Tälje stadga in Swedish). In that treaty, the king of Sweden guaranteed the Kvens ("Birkarls") trading rights in the north.[54][57]

The city of Kiruna is a part of Kiruna Municipality. It is the northernmost municipality of Sweden, and geographically it is Sweden's largest, covering roughly 4,604% of the total area of Sweden.

In the past, the Kven language spoken in Norway was considered a dialect of Finnish, much like the Finnic Meänkieli language spoken in northern Sweden. Today, both are officially recognized minority languages in the areas where they are spoken. Finnish, Meänkieli and Sami are all officially recognized minority languages in Kiruna Municipality.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Online edition of Ohthere's description of Kvenland. A more faithful edition of the original text is in Thorpe, B., The Life of Alfred The Great Translated From The German of Dr. R. Pauli To Which Is Appended Alfred's Anglo-Saxon Version of Orosius, Bell, 1900, pp. 250-52. Note that in translations here the names of places, countries and people have been harmonized to forms used in Wikipedia, while forms used in the text are presented in parentheses.
  2. ^ a b Given the context, "geond", with a range of possible meanings in "throughout", "over" and "as far as", is best understood as "amongst"; and "moras", with a range of possible meanings in "moors" or "mountains", is best understood as "mountains", though "moors" may be intended. The word mór [] m (-es/-as) used in the original text can be translated as moor, morass, swamp; hill, mountain. See e.g. [1].
  3. ^ For example Egil's Saga.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Julku, Kyösti: Kvenland - Kainuunmaa. With English summary: The Ancient territory of Kainuu. Oulu, 1986.
  5. ^ Ohthere's description of Sami people. Earlier in the text Ohthere is reported to have said that "that land is very long north from thence, but it is all waste, except in a few places, where the Finnas dwell here and there".
  6. ^ a b Orkneyinga saga. See also original text.
  7. ^ Irmeli Valtonen: A Land beyond Seas and Mountains: A Study of References to Finland in Anglo-Saxon Sources. A paper in the book Suomen varhaishistoria [Proto-history of Finland]. Edited by Kyösti Julku. Rovaniemi 1992.
  8. ^ Cf. Geography of Alfred
  9. ^ a b c Andrzej Wasko, Sarmatism or the Enlightenment: The Dilemma of Polish Culture, Sarmatian Review XVII.2.
  10. ^ a b See e.g. Weibull, Lauritz. De gamle nordbornas väderstrecksbegrepp. Scandia 1/1928; Ekblom, R. Alfred the Great as Geographer. Studia Neuphilologia. 14/1941-2; Ekblom, R. Den forntida nordiska orientering och Wulfstans resa till Truso. Förnvännen. 33/1938; Sköld, Tryggve. Isländska väderstreck. Scripta Islandica. Isländska sällskapets årsbok 16/1965.
  11. ^ Hversu Noregr byggdist. See also original text.
  12. ^ DNA study published in nature.com on April 26, 2012. Pontus Skoglund on prehistoric Gotlanders: "The hunter-gatherers show the greatest similarity to modern-day Finns."
  13. ^ Yle News, "Amateur archaeologists have made huge discoveries during the springtime," published on June 4, 2013 (in Finnish).
  14. ^ Yle News, "Mystical silver plate discovered in Rautjärvi may change history writing," published on May 30, 2013 (in Finnish).
  15. ^ Ynglingasaga
  16. ^ The text in the original language.
  17. ^ It is not sure if this is a reference to Sami people or some other group. Finnic-based "Lapp" does not appear in any other saga. It became a common name for Sami people only later in Middle Ages, and Norwegians never really adopted it.
  18. ^ Olaus Magnus map of Scandinavia 1539 CE. Taking benefit from the frozen Gulf of Bothnia was still habitual in the 16th century, as described in the map, see section F.
  19. ^ Egil's Saga, Chapter XIV
  20. ^ Egil's Saga, Chapter XVII
  21. ^ Egil's Saga, Chapter X
  22. ^ Norna-Gests þáttr, chapter 7.. See also English translation.
  23. ^ http://www.porstuakirjastot.fi/files/922/pohjanmaa.pdf
  24. ^ Storm, Gustav. Monumenta Historica Norwegiae, pages 73-75. See also page 204. Translation provided here is by the author of the article.
  25. ^ Rafn, C. C. Antiquités russes II, pages 404-405. Translation provided here is by the author of the article.
  26. ^ Íslenzkir annáler sive Annales Islandici ab anno Christi 809 ad annum 1430, pages 140-141. Translation provided here is by the author of the article.
  27. ^ Jaakkola, Jalmari: Suomen varhaishistoria" ("Proto-history of Finland"). Werner Söderström. Porvoo, 1956
  28. ^ a b c d Julku, Kyösti: Kvenland - Kainuunmaa, page 51. With English summary: The Ancient territory of Kainuu. Oulu, 1986.
  29. ^ a b c d e f Korhonen, Olavi: "Håp - vad är det för en båt? Lingvistiska synpunkter. Bottnisk kontakt I. Föredrag vid maritimhistorisk konferens i Örnsköldsvik 12-14 februari 1982. Örnsköldsvik 1982."
  30. ^ a b Tacitus' Germania.
  31. ^ De origine actibusque Getarum. See also English translation. See also Svennung, J. Jordanes und Scandia. Kritisch-exegetische Studien. Uppsala (1967).
  32. ^ Manuscript "AM 764 4to". See also entire text in Icelandic, page 414.
  33. ^ Nils Chesnecopherus, Fulkommelige skäl och rättmätige orsaker, så och sanfärdige berättelser, hwarföre samptlige Sweriges rijkes ständer hafwe medh all fogh och rätt afsagdt Konung Sigismundum uthi Polen och storfurste i Littowen, etc. sampt alle hans efterkommande lijfs arfwingar ewärdeligen ifrå Sweriges rijkes crone och regemente, och all then hörsamheet och lydhno, som the honom efter arfföreeningen hafwe skyldige och plichtige warit, och uthi stadhen igen uthkorat, annammat och crönt then stormächtige, höghborne furste och herre, her Carl then nijonde, Sweriges, Göthes, Wendes, finnars, carelers, lappers i nordlanden, the caijaners och esters i Lifland, etc. Konung, sampt alle H. K. M.s efterkommande lijfs arfwingar, til theres och Sweriges rijkes rätte konung [The complete reasons and rightful causes, and likewise truthful accounts of how all of Sweden's Imperial States justifiably revoked King Sigismund of Poland and Great Prince of Lithuania, etc. and also eternally all of his consecutive heirs from the crown and reign of the Swedish realm, as well as all allegiance and obedience, which they owed him of heritage, and how the States again elected, accepted and crowned the mighty, noble prince and lord, Sir Charles IX, King of the Swedes, Goths, Wends, Finns, Karelians, Lapps in the Northlands, the Caijanians and Estonians in Livonia, etc.], Stockholm: Gutterwitz, 1607 OCLC 247275406.
  34. ^ 1608 example: Titles of European hereditary rulers - Sweden Konung Christoffers Landslag. Edictum Regis Caroli IX eius iussu edito textui praescriptum. (not in cited page)
  35. ^ Julku, Kyösti: Kvenland - Kainuunmaa. With English summary: The Ancient territory of Kainuu. Oulu, 1986. See pages 11-24.
  36. ^ Lexicon Lapponicum, 1768
  37. ^ Anneli Asplund; Sirkka-Liisa Mettom (October 2000). "Kalevala: the Finnish national epic". Retrieved 15 August 2010. 
  38. ^ a b Jorma Koivulehto. Ala-Satakunnan Kainu ja pohjoisen Kainuu. [The Kainu of Western Satakunta and the Kainuu of the north.] A paper in the book Kielen ja kulttuurin Satakunta. 1995.
  39. ^ Klinge, Matti. Muinaisuutemme merivallat (1983). The book is in Finnish, also published in Swedish as Östersjövärlden (1984) and in English as Ancient Powers of the Baltic Sea (2006).
  40. ^ Kaukonen, Väinö: Kalevala Lönnrotin runoelmana II. Tosiasioita ja kuvitelmia. [The Kalevala as an epic of Elias Lönnrot. Facts and imaginations.] Snellman-instituutin julkaisuja 7. Kuopio 1988. See pages 200 - 209.
  41. ^ Etymology of kwen.
  42. ^ Svenskt Diplomatorium I nr 852. Originalbrev. Pope Alexander III's address to king Knut Eriksson and Jarl Birger Brosa in the 1170s.
  43. ^ Heinrich Gottfried Reichard took this view in his edition of the Germania; Pauly's Real-Encyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft in alphabetischer Ordnung, ed. August Pauly, Christian Walz and W.S. Teuffel, Volume 6.1 Pra - Stoiai, Stuttgart: Metzler, 1852, OCLC 165378771, p. 1226 (German)
  44. ^ Charles Anthon, A classical dictionary containing an account of the principal proper names mentioned in ancient authors and intended to elucidate all the important points connected with the geography, history, biography, mythology, and fine arts of the Greeks and Romans: Together with an account of coins, weights, and measures, with tabular values of the same, New York: Harper, 1841, repr. 1869, OCLC 52696823, p. 1244.
  45. ^ Gudmund Schütte, tr. Jean Young, Our Forefathers, the Gothonic Nations: A Manual of the Ethnography of the Gothic, German, Dutch, Anglo-Saxon, Frisian and Scandinavian Peoples, Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1929–33, OCLC 2084026, p. 126.
  46. ^ Gwyn Jones, A History of the Vikings, 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University, 1984, ISBN 9780192851390, pp. 24–25.
  47. ^ Origin of the Anglo-Saxon Race. Thomas William Shore. First edition, 1906. Reissued by Kennikat Press, 1971.
  48. ^ Vilkuna, Kustaa. Kvenland. Missä ja mikä? (1958). Book is in Finnish, Swedish translation published in 1969.
  49. ^ Jaakkola, Jalmari: Suomen varhaishistoria. [Proto-history of Finland]. Helsinki 1935, second edition 1958
  50. ^ Pohjois-Pohjanmaan ja Lapin historia II [History of Northern Ostrobothnia and Lapland, II.] Oulu 1954.
  51. ^ A paper by Pentti Virrankoski in the journal Faravid, 1979.
  52. ^ Vahtola, Jouko. Tornionlaakson historia I. Kveenit, kainulaiset. Malungs boktryckeri AB, Malung, Sweden. 1991. See page 216.
  53. ^ Thomas Wallerström: Norrbotten, Sverige och medeltiden. Problem kring makt och bosättning i en europeisk periferi. Lund Studies in Medieval Archaeology 15:1. 1995. With English summary: Norrbotten, Sweden and the Middle Ages. Problems concerning Power and Settlement on a European Periphery. See pages 213-238.
  54. ^ a b Schefferus bok LAPPONIA (LAPPLAND), published in 1673 in Latin. A translation from Latin last printed in 1995 by Wallerström in Sweden. Page 48.
  55. ^ Vahtola, Jouko. Tornionlaakson historia I. Kveenit, kainulaiset. Malungs boktryckeri AB, Malung, Sweden. 1991.
  56. ^ Oslo University online Norwegian dictionary. Search for the word "finn".
  57. ^ Tälje stadga (Translation from Latin). Wallerström, 1995. Sweden. Page 48.

Further reading[edit]

  • Edgren, Torsten - Den förhistoriska tiden. Finlands historia 1. 1993.
  • Hallencreutz, C.F. - Adam, Sverige och trosskiftet. 1984.
  • Huurre, Matti - 9000 vuotta Suomen esihistoriaa. 1979, 1995.
  • Jutikkala, Eino, with Kauko Pirinen - A History of Finland. 1979.
  • Vahtola, Jouko - Suomen historia / Jääkaudesta Euroopan unioniin. 2003.
  • Zetterberg, Seppo / Tiitta, Allan - Suomi kautta aikojen. 1997.