Eastward and northward: a geographical conception of ‘Norðmannaland’ in Ohthere’s Voyage and its analogues in old Norse/Icelandic literature
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionScandinavian Journal of History. 2022. 10.1080/03468755.2022.2123036
The Old English account known as Ohthere’s Voyage preserves a ninth-century description of ‘Norðmannaland’ (the land of the Northmen) given by Ohthere, a sailor from northern Norway, at the court of Alfred the Great. In a little-discussed quirk of terminology, Ohthere’s description of the dimensions of Norðmannaland juxtaposes its north (OE norðeweard) with its east (OE easteweard), rather than its south. In this article, the phenomenon is compared with similar juxtapositions of east and north in Old Norse skaldic verses and sagas from the tenth to thirteenth centuries, demonstrating that this was not simply an error that crept in with the report’s transmission in an Old English context; instead, it is evidence of an Old Norse colloquialism which characterized northwestern Scandinavia in terms of its perceived northern and eastern extremities. This colloquialism is compared to similar geographical conceptions found in late- and post-medieval Norwegian texts, such as the division between nordafjells (north of the mountains) and sønnafjells (south of the mountains); however, it is concluded that the juxtaposition of east and north did not originate in the dividing line of Norway’s central mountain ranges, but in the shape of its southern coast.