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Biarmia as illustrated on Carta Marina (1539) by Olaus Magnus.

(also spelled Bjarmland and Bjarmia) was a territory mentioned in Norse sagas up to the Viking Age and beyond in geographical accounts until the 16th century. The term is usually seen to have referred to the southern shores of the White Sea and the basin of the Northern Dvina River (Vienanjoki in Finnish) and - presumably - some of the surrounding areas. Today, these territories comprise a part of the Arkhangelsk region of Russia.

In the account of the Viking adventurer Ottar who visited Bjarmaland in the end of the 9th century AD, the term "Beorm" is used for the people of Bjarmaland. According to the account, "Beormas" spoke a language related to that of the Sami people, and lived in an area of the White Sea region.[1]

Accordingly, many historians assume the terms beorm and bjarm to derive from the Uralic word perm, which refers to "travelling merchants" and represents the Old Permic culture.[2] However, some linguists consider this theory to be speculative.[3]

The recent research on the Uralic substrate in northern Russian dialects suggests that several other Uralic groups besides the Permians lived in Bjarmaland, assumed to have included the Viena Karelians, Sami and Kvens.[4] According to Helimski, the language spoken in the northern Archangel region ca. 1000 AD, which he terms Lop', was closely related to, but distinct from the Sami languages proper.[5] This would fit Ottar's account perfectly.

Based on medieval sources, Bjarmaland's closest neighbor in the west was Värmland there are "two Kvenlands (Kvenlönd), which extend to north of Bjarmia (Bjarmalandi)".[6]

Bjarmian trade reached south-east to Bolghar by the Volga River where the Bjarmians also interacted with Scandinavians and Fennoscandians, who adventured southbound from the Baltic Sea area.[2]


  • Identification 1
  • Early contacts 2
  • Background 3
  • Later Use 4
  • See also 5
  • Notes 6
  • References 7


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 an account of the travels of Ohthere of Hålogaland, which was written in about 890.[7]

The name Permian is found in the oldest Rus', Nestor's Chronicle (1000–1100). The names of other Uralic tribes are also listed including Veps, Cheremis, Mordvin, and Chudes.[8]

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. The Bjarmian god Jomali [9] is Finnic but the description of the god is more Siberian. Especially the crown adorned with twelve stars in gold is characteristic to Siberian shaman caps.

Olaus Magnus located Bjarmaland in the Kola Peninsula,[10] while Johannes Schefferus (1621–1679) argued it was equal to Lappland.

Early contacts

A Norwegian map of the voyage of Ohthere

According to 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 Northern 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. In fact, burial sites in modern Perm Krai are the richest source of Sasanian and Sogdian silverware from Iran.[11][12] Further north, the Bjarmians traded with the Sami.

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 around the Malangen fjord, 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.

Later Use

The collaborationist Quisling regime planned to build Norwegian colonies in Northern Russia following Operation Barbarossa to be named Bjarmaland but, it never came to be.[13]

See also


  1. ^ Helle, 1991, p. 21
  2. ^ a b Steinsland & Meulengracht 1998:162
  3. ^ Saarikivi, Janne: Substrata Uralica. Studies in Finno-Ugric substrate in northern Russian dialects. Doctoral dissertation. Tartu 2006: 28
  4. ^ Saarikivi, Janne: Substrata Uralica. Studies in Finno-Ugric substrate in northern Russian dialects. Doctoral dissertation. Tartu 2006: 294-295.
  5. ^  
  6. ^ Rafn, C.C. Antiquités Russes II, pages 404-405. Translation provided here is by the author of the article.
  7. ^ Ohthere's voyage to Bjarmaland. Original text and its English translation.
  8. ^ The Uralic Language Family: Facts, Myths and Statistics., p21-23 ISBN 0-631-23170-6
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ Olaus Magnus Map of Scandinavia 1539. See section C.
  11. ^ "Stroganoff - collectors of antiquities in Perm". ARTinvestment.RU. 2010-11-28. 
  12. ^ Svetlana Kameneva. "Enigmatic relationship of Ancient Ural Culture And Sassanid dynasty" (PDF). Iran Zamin (Vancouver: The Ancient Iranian Cultural & Religious Research & Development Center) 1 (3): 2–4. 
  13. ^ Norway's Nazi Collaborators Sought Russia Colonies. The Associated Press. Oslo April 9, 2010. [2]


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 91-7324-591-7
  • Тиандер К.Ф. Поездки скандинавов в Белое море. [Voyages of the Norsemen to the White Sea]. Saint Petersburg, 1906.
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