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Ättestupa in Västergötland.

Ättestupa (Swedish for kin/clan precipice) is the mythical practice of senicide during Nordic prehistoric times: elderly people are said to have thrown themselves, or were thrown, to their deaths. According to legend, this was done when the old people were unable to support themselves or assist in a household. Even though there are many places in the Nordic countries that are said to have been used as ättestupa, today it is not thought that the practice actually existed, but that the notion of ättestupa is a persistent myth.


Suicide precipices are mentioned in several sources from antiquity, e.g. Procopius in his description of the Heruli from the 6th century CE. Solinus wrote about the happy hyperboreans at the North Pole where it is daylight for half a year between the vernal equinox to the autumnal equinox, and described the climate as being so healthy that the people there didn't die but threw themselves from a precipice into the sea.[1]

In Sweden the term ättestupa was rediscovered in the 17th century when the old Icelandic saga Gautreks saga, in which Ætternisstapi ("Släktklippan"[2]) is mentioned, was translated to Swedish and published. The saga is the only known occurrence of the word ætternisstapi[2] making it a hapax legomenon. The Swedish linguist Adolf Noreen started questioning the myth at the end of the 19th century[2] and it now generally accepted among researchers that the practice of suicide precipices never took place.[3] [4]

The term ättestupa has been used often in modern times, in political contexts, to underline how bad an insufficiently funded social security program can be, especially for retirees. In the 1960s, the Swedish comedy radio program Mosebacke Monarki satirically introduced ättestupa, abbreviated ÄTP, as an alternative to ATP, a state-provided pension.

Associated locations[edit]

Several places in the Nordic countries are alleged to be former suicide precipices:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Caius Julius Solinus. "De Hyperboreis, et Hyperboreæ regionibus". 
  2. ^ a b c Adolf Noreen, Ättestupa
  3. ^ Birgitta Odén (interview) (29 September 1999). "Ättestupan bara en skröna". Dagens Nyheter. 
  4. ^ Odén, Birgitta (1996). "Ättestupan - myt eller verklighet?". Scandia - Tidskrift för historisk forskning (in Swedish). 62 (2): 221–234. ISSN 0036-5483. Retrieved 2011-12-25. 
  5. ^ a b Svenska Ortnamn (CD-skiva utgiven av Sveriges Släktforskarförbund)

External links[edit]