Terra Feminarum

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Terra feminarum ("Women's Land") is a name for an area in Medieval Northern Europe that appears in Gesta Hammaburgensis Ecclesiae Pontificum (Deeds of Bishops of the Hamburg Church) by Adam of Bremen 1075 AD.

Terra Feminarum in Gesta[edit]

"Woman Land", terra feminarum, appears four times in various chapters of Gesta Hammaburgensis Ecclesiae Pontificum (Deeds of Bishops of the Hamburg Church) by Adam of Bremen in 1075 AD.[1]

"In the meantime Swedes (Sueones), that 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 Woman 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 Woman Land (terram feminarum). Living east of these are said to be Wizzi, Mirri, Lamiy, Scuti and Turci[2] up until the border of Russia (Ruzziam)." (IV 14)
"Furthermore we have been told that there are many islands in that sea, one of which is called the Great Estland (Aestland) -- And this island is told to be quite close to the Woman Land (terrae feminarum), which is not far away from Birca of the Swedes." (IV 17)
"In this sea there are many other islands, all full of savage barbarians, and that is why navigators avoid them. It is also told that there are Amazons on the coasts of Baltic Sea, which is the reason that they are called Woman Land (terra feminarum)." (IV 19)

There is also "scholia 119" that is marked as an amendment to IV 19. The scholias are not written by Adam himself, but by later copyists.

"When Emund, the King of the Swedes (Sueones), had sent his son Anund to enlarge his powers, he arrived by sea to Woman Land (terram feminarum). The women immediately mixed poison to spring water and this way killed the king and his army. We have mentioned this earlier, and bishop Adalvard himself has assured us that this and the rest as well are true."

Source of Adam's information[edit]

Adam had spent some time at the court of the Danish king Svend Estridson where he may have gathered information on northern people and events from various persons and now lost documents.

Adam's information on Woman Land probably originated from a German bishop Adalvard the Younger (as hinted by IV 19's amendment scholia 119) who had been a bishop in Skara and spent time in Norway in the court of king Harald Hårdråde, most probably in the then-capital Trondheim. This would also explain Adam's detailed knowledge about certain parts of Norway, since he mentions Trondheim (Trondemnis) several times (Gesta III 59, IV 16, 32, 33, 34) and even Hålogaland (Halagland) from northern Norway (IV 37). Sami people (Scritefinnis, Scritefingi) are also mentioned several times (IV 24, 25, 31) and usually at the same time when he discusses Norwegians.

It must also be noted that Woman Land and Sami people are discussed altogether separately in Gesta.

Background of the name[edit]

The text gives no apparent reason for the name in its literal meaning. Adam and his colleagues themselves seem to have thought the name to derive from the legendary Amazons taken from classical Greek mythology. This is clearly said in the text itself to be their own thinking, even though Adam later in his publication seems to forget that and presents it as a common rumor originating from bishop Adalvard.

Location of Woman Land[edit]

The location of Woman Land is not given in exact terms, and several possible locations lie "quite close" to Estonia, reachable "by sea" from Sweden and also "not far" from Birka, and thus fall within Adam's loose words, with one of the possible locations being the small Estonian island of Naissaar, whose name means "women's island".[3]

Historical consequences[edit]

According to Gesta, Anund was the son of King Emund the Old who ruled Sweden 1050-60 AD. Anund's death in Woman Land led into a long-lasting internal chaos in Sweden, as Emund died without an heir apparent and so did the House of Munsö, the last branch of the Yngling family.


  1. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2005-02-07. Retrieved 2005-02-07.  Adam of Bremen, Gesta Hammaburgensis ecclesiae pontificum, online text in Latin. English translation of the selected sections is provided by the author of the article, since translations are not available in public domain. Discussion about translation is welcome.
  2. ^ Probably Finnic tribes living in present-day northwestern Russia. Wizzi is usually regarded as Veps and Mirri as Merya.
  3. ^ Naissaar — Nargen, Nargö, Terra Feminarum: Nature and nature conservation. Estonian Ministry of Environment, 1997.