neljapäev, oktoober 26, 2006

When Estonia was 'Eistland'

It's kind of funny to think that the best name Estonians could come up with for their people until the mid-19th century was maarahvas - the country people. Because if you look at the saga of Olaf Tryggvason, an early Norwegian king who lived in Estonia for some time, the name Eistland is clear to see. In fact, the Icelanders who use the language of the sagas today refer to Estonia by its 1,200 year old name - Eistland.

In some historical references, the term "Estonian Vikings" is used to describe the Eistlandic activities on the Baltic seas during the era of Norse invasions. But really, I think the term 'pirates' better suits the situation. Here's the text from the original Heimskringla sagas, which includes the saga of Olaf.

Þar skildist Ólafr við móður sína, ok tók við honum Klerkon, eistneskr maðr, ok þeim Þórólfi ok Þorgilsi. Klerkon þótti Þórólfr gamall til þræls, þótti ok ekki forverk í honum ok drap hann, en hafði sveinana með sér ok seldi þeim manni, er Klerkr hét, ok tók fyrir hafr einn vel góðan. Hinn þriði maðr keypti Ólaf ok gaf fyrir vesl gott eða slagning; sá hét Reas, kona hans hét Rekon, en son þeirra Rekoni. Þar var Ólafr lengi ok vel haldinn, ok unni búandi honum mikit. Ólafr var 6 vetr á Eistlandi í þessarri útlegð.

Olaf Tryggvason (c. 960 - 1,000 AD) was the great-grandson of Harald Fairhair - the first King of Norway. Due to some typical Viking blood fueding, Olaf had to escape to Novgorod where is uncle was in service to the king. However, he didn't get there on time.

The journey was not successful -- in the Baltic sea they were captured by Estonian vikings, and the people aboard were either killed or taken as slaves. Olaf became the possession of a man named Klerkon, together with his foster father Thorolf and his son Thorgils. Klerkon considered Thorolf too old to be useful as a slave and killed him, and then sold the two boys to a man named Klerk for a stout and a good ram. Olaf was then sold to a man called Reas for a fine cloak.

Reas proved to be a better host to Olaf in Eistland than Klerkon. Together with his wife Rekon and son Rekone, they lived as a family unit until six years later when Sigurd Eiriksson spotted Olaf at a market and bought him back from Reas. Olaf later met up with Klerkon at a market in Novgorod and killed him with an axe. Later they had some beer. And all was right with the world.

For you Estonian readers, there is a version of Olaf's tale available in Estonian here.

22 kommentaari:

oliver ütles ...

You impress me with your wide range of interests :)

But really, I think the term 'pirates' better suits the situation.

Well I would still call them "vikings... with smaller ambitions"
They were probably less advanced, fewer in numbers and not so great (I mean "Atlantic Ocean"-great) explorers. But everything else was the same: traders and warriors with similar ships, short term settlements in foreign lands..

Either way I think that men from Saaremaa and Kuremaa (Courland) deserve to be at least mentioned in Wikipedia Viking article. How I see it they were the last vikings - Scandinavia was christianised in the 11th century and I guess the hole being viking thing wasn't simply IN any more...
Prime time for "Eastern Vikings" came in the 12th century and ended when Saaremaa was finally conquered by Livonian Order in 1227.

Giustino ütles ...

There seems to be such little knowledge about this era in Estonia, so the sagas are a good resource about what Estonia may have been like at this time.

I'm guessing that since they were on their way to Novgorod that they were going through south Estonia.

Do those names - Reas, Klerkon, Klerk, Rekone - sound familiar at all? Reas sounds like a shortened version of Andreas.

Jens-Olaf ütles ...

What about archaeology? There must have been excavations on the old centres of Estonia during the last decades. The knowledge one get out of the few written pieces before 1200 is very limited. But every year they dig new things out to interpret the history. There must be newer stuff.

Giustino ütles ...

What about archaeology? There must have been excavations on the old centres of Estonia during the last decades. The knowledge one get out of the few written pieces before 1200 is very limited. But every year they dig new things out to interpret the history. There must be newer stuff.

I'm sure there is. Because of 19th century romantic nationalism it's hard to tell how important certain ideas/figures were.

For example, I have read some publications on old Estonian gods, like Vanemuine, Uku, Taara, but I don't know if these were imbued with more meaning during the 1860s and 70s or if they are the genuine article.

Estonian history books generally start with the Northern Crusades. At least the ones available in English.

Jens-Olaf ütles ...

Strange. Example: We have a chronicle about our big old medieval city in Germany. The chronicle that based on written history was published again and again over the last 100 years. Now there is a new one out. With the newest information. That means: The years 800 to 1200, 400 years! describes the chief archaelogist of the last decades in our city. The historians have the next chapters after 1200/1300 until today.

Aaro ütles ...

Estonian god Vanemuine.. Can you give some reference to where we could read more about it. To me it sounds the same as Väinämöinen, the Finnish hero of the old times from Kalevala (Kalevipoeg in Estonia, Kalevala in Finland.. must be the same...)

Giustino ütles ...

I have no idea. So much has been borrowed from Finland that it's hard to tell what's Finnish and what's Estonian. Estonians will probably tell you it's fictional.

It would be interesting if any Estonian God names were transmitted organically. Did any of you readers ever hear anything from an older relative instead of reading it from a book?

What's also interesting is the Scandinavian influence on days of the week. "Friday" is Reede after the Norse God "Freya" and "Saturday" is "Laupäev", which is similar to "lördag" in Swedish and "laugardagur" in Icelandic - literally "washing day."

Jens-Olaf ütles ...

I've got a 'Kalewipoeg' saga written by an Estonian 1935, a present for a teacher, German language. It starts:' In Vorzeiten konte man in Kalewala an manchen Orten Männer treffen, die stark waren wie die Eichenstämme.' ...
Still I have to find out if it's written after the official epos or not. But she was refering to Kalewala. That sounds finish.

notsu ütles ...

When we are talking about 12th c. (and earlier) inhabitants of Estonia, there wasn't such a clear division between "Finnish" and "Estonian". There were several tribes - for instance, häme, savo, karjala, viru, ugandi, sakala... I cannot count them all... on both sides of Gulf of Finland - who supposedly spoke somewhat similar dialects, not different enough to call them separate languages. Most probably they shared mythology as well. So it is quite reasonable to believe that people of Eistland and Finland once had common gods.

There has always been so much traffic between northern coast of Estonia and southern coast of Finland (with a 50 years break due to the iron curtain) that about 100 years ago those dialects had more similarities with each other than with those of their inland relatives (even today, there is much common).

About pirate-theme - I heard somewhere that one very strong reason for Teutonic crusaders to come here was that pirates from Estonian coast, specially from Saaremaa had become a real problem to commercial traffic on Baltic Sea.

Eppppp ütles ...

to aaro: Vanemuine was the Estonian singing and dancing god. Like your Väinämöinen ;)

Eppppp ütles ...

Ferom wikipedia:

Vanemuine is a god of music in the artificial Estonian mythology created by Friedrich Robert Faehlmann and Friedrich Reinhold Kreutzwald. His name is probably derived from the Finnish Väinämöinen.


It says here "artificial Estonian mythology" - seems like an exaggeration for me.
I have read that we dont know exactly how much was made up by these two gentlemen and how much was authentic. They were collecting stories from Estonians and "made them nicer" and published these stories as books.
We dont know if Vanemuine name was from original stories or did they just get some stories about a music god and thought "lets use the same name as Finns do".

We dont know because there are no original transcripts. What stories did people really tell them.

Doris ütles ...

some of it is artificial, some of it real... most of the "Kalevipoeg" actions and a big part of the characters have been simply stolen from the Finns, but who cared/s because the epic still lifted the estonian national movement to new heights.

as for Eesti/Eistland/Estonia, there's another mention: in 98, Tacitus mentions in his "Germania" a tribe called Aesti, who live to the North and East of all the Germanic tribes. now, if you think of the classical Latin pronounciation of the ae combination, you get the sound ä -> a people called "Ästi" or, maybe, "Hästi"? explains a lot, huh? does to me, and that's just common sense ;)

Giustino ütles ...

some of it is artificial, some of it real... most of the "Kalevipoeg" actions and a big part of the characters have been simply stolen from the Finns, but who cared/s because the epic still lifted the estonian national movement to new heights.

There's a whole subclass of Estonian mythology that is probably unavailable to English readers.
How many books are there that discuss Leiger and Suur Tõll?

helsinkian ütles ...

I was just thinking, which came first "Estland" in Swedish, "Estland" in Danish or "Estland" in German, but I suppose that's all irrelevant. What came first was "Eistland", as the Icelanders still call it, the others have then evolved from that.

helsinkian ütles ...

Icelandic is probably the only language to still use this word "Eistland". I was checking out the wikipedia articles on the country and there were entries on "Estland" (not Eistland) at least in Afrikaans, Anglo Saxon, Plattdüütsch, Lëtzebuergesch and both variants of Norwegian (who cannot agree what to call Norway but for both Estonia is "Estland"). Danish, Dutch, German and Swedish of course all use "Estland" as well (and there are wikipedia articles on the matter).

The Finnish wikipedia article on "Viro" says that right-wingers and nationalists preferred "Eesti" during Estonian independence, whereas leftists preferred "Eesti" during the Soviet era. These days of course "Viro" is the officially preferred and politically correct term but "Eesti" is still used by many in Finland of different persuasions, understood that it is the Estonian rather than the originally and truly Finnish word for the country. It no longer is a political issue in Finland what to call our neighbor to the south but it used to be (first the left said "Viro" and the right "Eesti" and then the right said "Viro" and the left "Eesti").

Giustino ütles ...

(first the left said "Viro" and the right "Eesti" and then the right said "Viro" and the left "Eesti")

The old names are swell. It's interesting that the name 'Viro' is reflected in the Finnish language, because I never thought of Virumaa as being a significant location of cross-Gulf transit.

However, in Rein Taagepera's Return to Independence, he notes that after the Great Northern War, settlers from Finland were brought to work in what is now Lääne and Ida Virumaa.

So perhaps this is the source of the connection to this region.

Anonüümne ütles ...

Just for clarification.
If you can't understand estonian why are you itching for it?
May be you itching more for Soviet Union?

Giustino ütles ...

Kuule Anonymous - ma saan aru, aga see on üks blog eestist inglise keeles. Vaja ei ole, et ma proovin kirjutada eesti keeles. Las eestlased kirjutavad oma keeles. Las mina - ameeriklane - kirjutan inglise keeles. Saad aru?

Ando ütles ...

Hello, there is nothing strange about Estonians calling themselves 'maarahvas' for long time. As Hungarians have never called themselves Hungarians like they have been known outside of their country but Magyars. So were maarahvas known as Eistlanders by their neighbors.
Also interpret maarahvas as 'country people' is one way to look at it. The fact is -maarahvas in Estonian or Magyars in Hungarian is derived from Proto-Ugric *mańć- ('man', 'person').

Ando ütles ...

OK, I've read the comments and there seems to be a lot of confusion going on regarding what and how and why Estonia has been called ... Lets set things straight for once and for all.

Estland or Eistland historically is called by Estonian western neighbors as a country in the East literally means -Eastland. Estonia was never officially called Estland because Estonians were not too happy about the 700 years of German domination and therefore a Latin Estonia was chosen for the country by Estonians to differ from the Germanic origin of the name.

Now, Estonia has been historically called Viro by Finnish people because the northern ancient county of Estonia was and is Viru-maa. The same reason why Latvians call Estonia Igaunia, because the most southern ancient county of Estonia is Ugandi. Now, since the Russians knew Estonian ancestors as Chuds, sometimes Estonians are referred to as Chuknas even nowadays by Russians.

Now, lets look another way around. Estonians call Sweden Rootsi because of Roslagen the name of the coastal areas of Uppland province in Sweden. It is speculated that the name Russia also comes from the same origin since the Vikings aka Variagians founded the Russian State.

Now, Estonians call Russia Vene because of Wends AKA Vends, Slavic people from north-central Europe that the ancestors of Estonians most likely first encountered speaking a Slavic language. Because of the language similarities, all Slavic- now Russian speaking people got the name -Vene. Hope that it helps to sort out the things regarding names.

Ando ütles ...

One more thing:
Actually eistneskr maðr, from the Old Norwegian text here has the same meaning as maarahvas or Magyar. maðr or Madr in Old Norwegian. that basically means people. Other Names/Spellings: Madhr, Madthr, Madthur, Mann, Manna, Mannar, Mannazold
please see

eistneskr maðr from the text therefore means simply Estonian people.

kirilind ütles ...

Väinämöinen (Finnish pronunciation: [ˈʋæinæˌmøinen]) is the central character in the Finnish folklore and the main character in the national epic Kalevala. His name comes from the Finnish word väinämö, meaning minstrel. Originally a Finnish god, he was described as an old and wise man, and he possessed a potent, magical voice.
The first mention of Väinämöinen in literature is from a list of Tavastian gods by Mikael Agricola in 1551. He and other writers described Väinämöinen as the god of chants, songs and poetry. In many stories Väinämöinen was the central figure at the birth of the world. The Finnish national epic, Kalevala tells of his birth in the creation story in its opening sections. This myth displays elements of creation from chaos and from a cosmic egg, as well as earth diver creation.