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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 is 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:

Depictions in modern culture[edit]

Television series[edit]

  • In Episode 1 of Norsemen, a 2016 Norwegian comedy TV series about a group of Vikings living in the village of Norheim around the year 790, a comedic depiction of this practice is shown. A number of older men who are expected to perform the ättestupa refuse to do so after witnessing the results after the first man in line does so.
  • In Season 1, Episode 3 of Dinosaurs, a 1991 American family sitcom comedy series about a family of anthropomorphic dinosaurs (portrayed by puppets), men have the honor (and pleasure) of throwing their mother-in-law off a cliff into a tar pit.

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]