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Status av kvinnor i Sverige år 600 - 1200

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#1  Status av kvinnor i Sverige år 600 - 1200 Pasi
2006-08-23 18:27:07

Sorry for opening new threads all the time, but I would need some references and opinions about the status of women in Sweden between 600 and 1200 CA.

I have been reading the Ynglinga saga at http://omacl.org/Heimskringla/ynglinga.html and made the following observations:

- Women were described as "daughters of Frey and mistresses of their own property"

- Swedish women were told to drink beer with their husband on an equal basis, while Norwegian men drank in all male company, without their wives

- Swedish sons of kings were often described as boasting, aggressive and somewhat stupid which showed in the dozens of bizzarre ways they met their death (drowned in urine, falled into psychosis and run into a crack of stone, drank berserk potion and were killed in 10 seconds in a combat, etc)

- Swedish women, on the other hand were always presented as really wise, strong and justful. Only vice they had was that they tended to kill their husbands or fathers, if the man broke a serious promise that had been given to the wife/daughter.

- There were several detailed descriptions about how women inherited, and controlled their inherited lands and buildings.

- Although fathers officially decided about the marriage of daughters, they often made the decision in agreement with their wife, asking the daughter's opinion.

Do you know any scientific references to the status of women in Sweden in that time? I know a lot of litterature that describes the bad status of women in years 1400- 2000, but that is not what I am asking for.

(And please, do not suggest Vägen till Jerusalem for me as a reference :)

Also I would be interested in your interpretations of the saga.

#2  Sv: Status av kvinnor i Sverige år 600 - 1200 olaberg
2006-08-24 13:17:28

Since the discipline of history in Sweden, since the Weibull brothers, doesn't regard the sagas as historical evidence at all, I presume there is none.

But my 2 cents: the sagas are all about the upper class. Sigrid Storråda and the likes are not your common woman.

#3  Sv: Status av kvinnor i Sverige år 600 - 1200 toffte
2006-08-26 03:00:39

Perhaps "women in old norse society" by jenny jochens could give you some help...

#4  Sv: Status av kvinnor i Sverige år 600 - 1200 Danne
2006-08-28 17:58:42

Forgive my ignorance, but wasn't the ynglingasaga written (or compiled) by Snorre Sturlasson (spelling?) in the 13th century? If so, the sagas may not accurately reflect actual conditions in the periods they are meant to describe. Just a word of caution...

#5  A word of caution Estudiante
2006-08-28 18:34:01

The period in question is possibly the least well documented in Swedish history, and the Norse sagas are not very useful as credible historical sources, to say the least (as has been stated above). If your Swedish is decent it might be worthwhile to have a look at this book:


#6  Sv: Status av kvinnor i Sverige år 600 - 1200 Pasi
2006-08-28 20:03:27

Thank you for your comments!

I think that the sagas are unreliable, but they can yet be used as a source of information, if combined with other (more reliable) sources of information. Therefore, I am a bit surprised about the categorical denial of the value of sagas. For example, professor Kyösti Julku from the university of Åleaborg, has written the history of Kvenland, which was a horse shoe shaped area at the top of the Bothnic Sea. He combined together
- geographic names of places
- linguistics
- Icelandic sagas
- Swedish sagas and chronicles
- European maps and writings of Kvenland
- old rune carvings
- archaeological findings
- athe Finnish Kalevala
and some other sources to build a full and rich picture of the history of Kvenland. In this context, the sagas have no value alone. However, if the Swedish sagas and Icelandic sagas confirm same facts and geographical descriptions independent from each other, and if these findings are in line with archeology and other sources, the evidence will cumulate due to the sagas.

In the same way some egyptologists are able to derive some important information from the hieroglyphs which are made "at the favour of the magnifigance of pharaoh X" and which therefore have a strong bias in their political message.

According to professor Julku, we must also note that the Icelandic language has no other word for history than "saga". Therefore, sagas are historical documents in the same sense as the hieroglyphs. This applies at least the icelandic sagas, which are so accurate in their geographic desriptions that you need no map of iceland to hike around the island: A pile of sagas tells it all.

The same accuracy which is found in geographic descriptions will most likely appear in the description of family lines. The most unreliable parts of the sagas are the heroic acts of kings and some other main characters of the sagas. When evaluating the reliability of a picture that is given by a saga, we may take the picture presented by the sagas as a hypothesis and then evaluate, whether this hypothesis is supported or contradicted with some other evidence.

For example, if the sagas tell that women in the old Norse society were permitted to inherit land, and to control their inherited property, this may be compared to latter historical documents which describe how women were gradually taken away this right. These documents, meaning the early medieval court trial documentations, are mentioned, for example, by Pylkkänen & Nousiainen in their book concerning the status of women in the old Swedish-Finnish society.

Therefore, if we want to know whether women truly controlled their property as described in Norse sagas, we should also try to find documents which mention that "the historical right of women to inherit was ceased by the order of king XXXX or the meeting of the bishops year YYYY". Does anyone have any references to such documents?

I will check the books that you already mentioned to find some answers. Thanks, in any case!


#7  Sv: Status av kvinnor i Sverige år 600 - 1200 Pasi
2006-09-07 18:38:59

The picture given by the Ynglinga saga seems to be supported by archeology, linguistics and old middle European and Arabic historical documents.

I found the book "Vikingernes verden" by Else Roesdahl. In her book she reports that the status of women in the Old Norse society was very stong and good:

1. Women were permitted to inherit and to control inherited property

2. Women were permitted to divorce their husband whenever they wanted

This means that we should pay attention also to the descriptions of Ynglinga, telling that Swedish wives drank beer at parties in couples with their husbands, while the Norwegians tended to drink in all male company.

I also found a curious historical piece of evidence of the status of women in Finland : The topic of Birger Magnusson's declaration from year 1316 was "the declaration for ceasing all violence and discrimination against women in Carelia".

Sounds like the United Nations ripped this piece of text almost directly from Birger Magnusson, when the CEDAW treaty of 1979 was being written :)

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