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Lapland

by Friar Thomas Bacon (David Moreno)
Orignally published in the January 1997, A.S. XXXI issue of the Dragonflyre, a publication of the Barony of Vatavia.

On the edges of medieval civilization were a number of peoples. Isolated by a number of reasons, they make brief appearances then fade into obscurity, leaving historians to wonder who they were. Some of these lasted long enough to be described by modern observers. The Laplanders are one of these peoples.

The Lapps call themselves Samer, occupying the land they call Sameatnam. The source of the name is unknown, its earliest written appearance is in a 1328 Swedish document. It has been suggested it is of Finnish origin from around the twelfth century. Other names these people have been known by are: Fenni, Skrithifinoi, Finnr, and Scritofini.

Archeological evidence is sparse, but it appears that their iron using ancestors arrived in the upper Scandinavian Peninsula sometime before 300AD from somewhere to the east. Hunters and fishers, they semi-domesticated the reindeer. What is meant by this is that the bulk of the reindeer remained in a wild state but became accustomed to the prescience of man. The Lapps could influence the movement of the herd but could not control it. Occasionally a single deer would be cut out of the herd to be killed or fully domesticated to pull sleds. Reindeer were never ridden. The current domesticated herds of the Lapps arose with the extinction of the wild herds around 1600.

The Lapp culture has two branches, an eastern and a western. The principal difference is that the western branch was influenced by the Norwegians, while the eastern branch was influenced by the Finns. But during the Middle Ages, these influences were minor as contact was limited to trading missions, usually for fur.

The earliest report of the Lapps is attributed to Conelius Tacitus in his Gemani. His description is that of the stereotypical savage tribe with the unusual twist that both men and women hunted. They next appear in Procopius's description of Byzantium's Gothic wars as peopling the land of Thule. They are mentioned in passing in the Poetic Edda and in an old Icelandic law book.

The first first-hand description of the Lapps was by Ottarr (known in England as Ohthere) a Norwegian landowner, who, driven by curiosity, sailed around the top of the Scandinavian Peninsula, the first known to do so. These observations were written down when Ottarr visited the court of Alfred the Great.

The first detailed descriptions were made by Johannes and Olaus Magnus in their book "Scandia" in 1532. The publication of this book brought an end to the old Lapp ways as it brought attention to the Lapps. A number of missions were launched. The western branch was baptized as Lutherans, while the eastern branch was taken in by the Russian Orthodox. The Swedish kings and Russian tsars extended their rule north to include them. The Lapps were no longer an independent people on the margins of Europe.

 

Bibliography

Collinder, Bjorn. The Lapps. New York: Princeton University Press, 1949.

Hoff, Ingeborg and et al. Lapps and Norsemen in Olden Times. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 1967.

Marker, Ernst. People of Eight Seasons. New York: Viking Press, 1963.

 

Copyright © 1997 - present His Lordship Friar Thomas Bacon (David Moreno). All rights reserved.

 

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