Mapping Swedes and Geats

i-f71297f20a134be2440adc0c02169f5d-Sweden's core provinces 11th century lores.gif

How the mighty have fallen. I used to do all my plans and maps in a hard-core CAD program using a digitising tablet, but then WinXP came along and my mid-90s software would no longer run. For years now I’ve been tracing maps onto translucent film with a pencil, scanning them and editing them in PhotoShop and Windows Paint. Here’s an example of my handiwork, and a snippet of the paper I made it for, submitted last week.

The first decisive step in the formation of the Medieval state of Sweden appears to have been taken about AD 1000 when two ethnic groups, the Svear and the Götar, elected a shared king: Olof Eriksson skotkonungr. The Svear lived around Lake Mälaren, the Götar on either side of Lake Vättern (fig. 1), and their fertile lands were separated by the rugged forests of Tiveden and Kolmården. At any one time during the later 1st Millennium these two groups most likely had several petty kings each, warlike characters whose exploits appear to be reflected dimly in the Scilfingas and Geatas of Beowulf. Written sources for the land of the Götar in that era are so few that the field of study is just barely proto-historical.

When the area enters the first flickering historical torchlight in the eleventh century, the lands of the Götar are divided into two halves separated by Lake Vättern: Västergötland and Östergötland. They somehow belong together as lands of the Götar, but the western part is politically and culturally orientated towards the Danish kingdom to the south-west, and the eastern part shows affinities with the Swedish kingdom to the north-east. Viking Period settlement in Östergötland is largely confined to a wide west-east plains belt through the province and was expanding up two river valleys in the forests to the south. The easternmost quarter of the fertile plains belt is a peninsula, Vikbolandet, where the sea is never farther off than 9 km (5½ miles). Vikbolandet was densely settled at the time. It is highly accessible from the Baltic, and thus vulnerable, and it was orientated immediately towards the lands of the Svear.

In this paper I review the evidence for Vikbolandet’s relationship with powers from the sea in the Viking Period. We shall look at fortifications, boat burials, precious-metal finds, rune stones and the first royal manors of the united kingdom of Sweden.


14 thoughts on “Mapping Swedes and Geats

  1. Fascinating “teaser”, Martin. I’m interested because my mother’s ancestors were poor Swedish peasants; the family name is “Thorngren”, a name I’ve always liked. So medievally rural-sounding…

    So in what publication does your paper appear?


  2. Thörngren, it’s a name in the same genre as Rundkvist, probably 18th or 19th century, means “Branch of a thorny bush”. Back in the Middle Ages, peasants only used patronymics.

    The paper will appear in a conference volume appearing from York, titled probably “Maritime Societies in the Viking and Medieval Periods” or summat.


  3. Serendipity rules… Earlier this morning I just happened to read a paper about the settlement at Birka on the island of Björkö in Lake Mälaren.

    It’s a shame about the software incompatibilities. It frustrates me because one of my favorite genealogy software programs won’t run well (if at all) on anything beyond Win2K, and is no longer produced or supported. Of course, now I’m a Linux convert, and run that program on a virtual machine with Win2K installed.

    I do a bit of work with a graphics tablet on my current system, but don’t rely on it nearly as much as you must have done.


  4. Perhaps you can help me out here. For years I’ve been confused as to whether “Goths”, “Geats”, and “Jutes” are the same people with different spellings, related people with different spellings, or different people with coincidentally-similar names. Also, where “derek” (or “dietrich”, or “teodric”) comes from. Is it goth, or hun, or something else?


  5. Derek, the three are entirely different. Check out the Wikipedia article on “Goths”.
    As to the name, it’s definitely Gothic in origin; the Gothic form is Thiuda-reiks: the first element means “nation”, the second, “powerful”.


  6. I don’t like drawing on a computer in the first place, and no matter how good the software is, it has to go a long way towards speed and simplicity before it’s as easy as just drawing and scanning. There’s a reason why so many online artists work that way after all…


  7. Since you seem to be in Ubuntu these days, why not try Incscape and/or QCad and QGIS (Incscape and QGIS are avalible for Windoze as well). They are free as in speech and free as in beer.



  8. Good teaser, Im looking forward to reading more. I like the way you connected Göta Älv to Nossan in your map..


  9. I am just beeing a smartass. Your map leaves Göta Älv in Kinneviken which means it has to cross Nossan to end up in Lidan before an exit into Vänern. Concerning Västergötland and Östergötland i think we have to consider that you had easy access to the baltic coast from Västergötland by going through Vättern and then through the water systems that later were connected by Göta Kanal. A kingdom in eastern Östergötland could have fast support from Västergötland.The Härad Vad in Northern Västergötland has a lot of indications for a centre of power during the migration age.B.Nerman & Co saw Vad as an expansion zone of the Svear. I believe it becomes more “logical” from a united Götaland perspective.


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