From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

This is an old revision of this page, as edited by Lucasbfrbot (talk | contribs) at 14:59, 20 February 2010 (Replaced File:Bjarmaland, Carta Marina.jpg by its duplicate on Commons File:Bjarmaland,Carta Marina.jpg). The present address (URL) is a permanent link to this revision, which may differ significantly from the current revision.

Jump to navigation Jump to search
Biarmia as illustrated on Carta Marina (1539) by Olaus Magnus.

Bjarmaland (also spelled Bjarmland or Bjarmia) was a territory mentioned in Norse sagas up to the Viking Age — and beyond. The term may have referred to the south shores of the White Sea and the basin of the Northern Dvina River. Today, these areas comprise the Arkhangelsk Oblast of Russia.

It is assumed that the name is derived from a Fenno-Ugric word perm which meant "travelling merchants".[1] However, some linguists consider this theory to be speculative.[2] Bjarmian trade reached south-east to Bulgar at the Volga where they also interacted with Scandinavians, who came from the Baltic Sea.[1]


The name Bjarmaland appears in old Norse literature, possible for the area where Arkhangelsk is presently situated, and where it was preceded by a Bjarmian settlement. The first appearance of the name is in the Voyage of Ohthere, which was undertaken ca 890. According to Ohthere, it was the first Scandinavian voyage to the Bjarmians, but this information is not reliable.[3]

The name Permian is found in the oldest Rus', Nestor's Chronicle (1000-1100). The names of other Finno-Ugric tribes are also listed including Veps, Cheremis, Mordvin and Chudes.[4]

The place-name was also used later both by the German historian Adam of Bremen (11th century) and the Icelander Snorri Sturluson (1179-1241) in Bósa saga ok Herrauðs, reporting about its rivers flowing out to Gandvik. It's not clear if they reference the same Bjarmaland as was mentioned in the Voyage of Ohthere, however. Bjarmian god Jomali [5] is Finnic but the description of the god is more Siberian, especially the crown adorned with twelve stars in gold, characteristic to Siberian shaman caps.[citation needed]

Olaus Magnus put Bjarmaland in the Kola Peninsula[6], while Johannes Schefferus (1621 - 1679) argued it was equal to Lappland.

Early contacts

A Norwegian map of the voyage of Ohthere.

According to the saga about the Voyage of Ohthere, the Norwegian merchant Ottar (Ohthere) reported to king Alfred the Great that he had sailed for several days along the northern coast and then southwards, finally arriving at a great river, probably the Northern Dvina. At the estuary of the river dwelt the Beormas, who unlike the nomadic Sami peoples were sedentary, and their land was rich and populous. Ohthere did not know their language but he said that it resembled the language of the Sami people. The Bjarmians told Ohthere about their country and other countries that bordered it.

Later several expeditions were undertaken from Norway to Bjarmaland. In 920, Eirik Bloodaxe made a Viking expedition, as well as Harald II of Norway and Haakon Magnusson of Norway, in 1090.

The best known expedition was that of Tore Hund (Tore Dog) who together with some friends, arrived in Bjarmaland in 1026. They started to trade with the inhabitants and bought a great many pelts, whereupon they pretended to leave. Later, they made shore in secret, and plundered the burial site, where the Bjarmians had erected an idol of their god Jomali. This god had a bowl containing silver on his knees, and a valuable chain around his neck. Tore and his men managed to escape from the pursuing Bjarmians with their rich booty.


The Northern Land (Viktor Vasnetsov, 1899).

Modern historians suppose that the wealth of the Bjarmians was due to their profitable trade along the Dvina, the Kama River and the Volga to Bolghar and other trading settlements in the south. Along this route, silver coins and other merchandise were exchanged for pelts and walrus tusks brought by the Bjarmians. Further north, the Bjarmians traded with the Sami who are said to have been tributaries to the Bjarmians.[citation needed]

It seems that the Scandinavians made some use of the Dvina trade route, in addition to the Volga trade route and Dnieper trade route. In 1217, two Norwegian traders arrived in Bjarmaland to buy pelts; one of the traders continued further south to pass to Russia in order to arrive in the Holy Land, where he intended to take part in the Crusades. The second trader who remained was, however, killed by the Bjarmians. This caused Norwegian officials to undertake a campaign of retribution into Bjarmaland which they pillaged in 1222.

The 13th century seems to have seen the decline of the Bjarmians, who became tributaries of the Novgorod Republic. While many Slavs fled the Mongol invasion northward, to Beloozero and Bjarmaland, the displaced Bjarmians sought refuge in Norway, where they were given land in Malangen, by Haakon IV of Norway, in 1240. More important for the decline was probably that, with the onset of the Crusades, the trade routes had found a more westerly orientation or shifted considerably to the south.

When the Novgorodians founded Velikiy Ustiug, in the beginning of the 13th century, the Bjarmians had a serious competitor for the trade. More and more Pomors arrived in the area during the 14th and 15th centuries, which led to the final subjugation and assimilation of the Bjarmians by the Slavs.

See also


  1. ^ a b Steinsland & Meulengracht 1998:162
  2. ^ Saarikivi, Janne: Substrata Uralica. Studies in Finno-Ugric substrate in northern Russian dialects. Doctoral dissertation. Tartu 2006: 28
  3. ^ Ohthere's voyage to Bjarmaland. Original text and its English translation.
  4. ^ The Uralic Language Family: Facts, Myths and Statistics., p21-23 ISBN 0631231706
  5. ^ Most probably originally the same as the Finnish jumala, meaning god, or its alternative in some other Finnic language. Based on this information, Finnic origin has often been proposed for Bjarmians.
  6. ^ Olaus Magnus Map of Scandinavia 1539. See section C.


Logo för Nordisk familjeboks uggleupplaga.png This article contains content from the Owl Edition of Nordisk familjebok, a Swedish encyclopedia published between 1904 and 1926, now in the public domain.

  • Steinsland, G. & Meulengracht Sørensen, P. (1998): Människor och makter i vikingarnas värld. ISBN 9173245917
  • Тиандер К.Ф. Поездки скандинавов в Белое море. [Voyages of the Norsemen to the White Sea]. Saint Petersburg, 1906.