University of Oulu

Samu Sarviaho (2021) The elusive Finn: ethnic identities, source criticism and the early history of Northern Sweden in seventeenth-century Swedish historiography, Scandinavian Journal of History, 46:1, 21-41, DOI: 10.1080/03468755.2020.1788633

The elusive Finn : ethnic identities, source criticism and the early history of Northern Sweden in seventeenth-century Swedish historiography

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Author: Sarviaho, Samu1
Organizations: 1History of Sciences and Ideas, University of Oulu, Oulu, Finland
Format: article
Version: accepted version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 0.3 MB)
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Language: English
Published: Informa, 2021
Publish Date: 2022-02-10


The earliest history of the Swedish Realm’s northern regions has long been contested in historiography. This article primarily analyses views in seventeenth-century Swedish historiography concerning the origins of Finns in this region, in terms of source usage and ethnic identities. Gothicist views, emphasizing Swedish greatness were based on biblical notions of a postdiluvial settlement, linking sources from classical antiquity to Sweden via etymological comparisons. Combined with a reliance on Icelandic sagas and the uncritical use of secondary sources, these notions gave rise, among others, to the idea of an ancient, partially Finnish, Amazon warrior realm in Ostrobothnia. Conceptions surrounding the origins of Birkarl tax collectors were mostly based on traditions collected in the early 1600s, and later that century, they became associated with a migration of Finns to the north thought to have taken place in the late 13th century. Finns were given a role in the region’s history even within Gothicist historiography too. The ethnicity of these early settlements does not seem to have been overly emphasized though — indeed the boundary between Finns and Swedes was seen more as something fluid — indicating that ethnosymbolist theories of nationalism overstate the importance of ethnic identity in early modern Sweden.

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Series: Scandinavian journal of history
ISSN: 0346-8755
ISSN-E: 1502-7716
ISSN-L: 0346-8755
Volume: 46
Issue: 1
Pages: 21 - 41
DOI: 10.1080/03468755.2020.1788633
Type of Publication: A1 Journal article – refereed
Field of Science: 615 History and archaeology
Funding: This work was supported by the Finnish Cultural Foundation (Grant no. 00180988).
Copyright information: © 2021 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Scandinavian Journal of History on 10 Aug 2020, available online: