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Terra Feminarum: Wikis


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Terra feminarum ("Women's Land") is a name for a land in Fennoscandia that appears in Gesta Hammaburgensis Ecclesiae Pontificum (Deeds of Bishops of the Hamburg Church) by Adam of Bremen 1075 AD. It was probably a mistranslation of Kvenland and located in southern Finland.


Terra Feminarum in Gesta

"Woman Land", terra feminarum, appears four times in various chapters of Gesta Hammaburgensis Ecclesiae Pontificum (Deeds of Bishops of the Hamburg Church) by Adam of Bremen in 1075 AD.[1]

"In the meantime Swedes (Sueones), that had expelled their bishop, got a divine revenge. And at first King's son called Anund, whose father had sent him to enlarge his kingdom, after arriving to Woman Land (patriam feminarum), whom we consider to be Amazons, was killed along with his army from poison, that they had mixed to the spring water." (III 15)
"After that come the Swedes (Sueones) that rule wide areas up until Woman Land (terram feminarum). Living east of these are said to be Wizzi, Mirri, Lamiy, Scuti and Turci[2] up until the border of Russia (Ruzziam)." (IV 14)
"Furthermore we have been told that there are many islands in that sea, one of which is called the Great Estland (Aestland) -- And this island is told to be quite close to the Woman Land (terrae feminarum), which is not far away from Birca of the Swedes." (IV 17)
"In this sea there are many other islands, all full of savage barbarians, and that is why navigators avoid them. It is also told that there are Amazons on the coasts of Baltic Sea, which is the reason that they are called Woman Land (terra feminarum)." (IV 19)

There is also "scholia 119" that is marked as an amendment to IV 19. The scholias are not written by Adam himself, but by later copyists.

"When Emund, the King of the Swedes (Sueones), had sent his son Anund to enlarge his powers, he arrived by sea to Woman Land (terram feminarum). The women immediately mixed poison to spring water and this way killed the king and his army. We have mentioned this earlier, and bishop Adalvard himself has assured us that this and the rest as well are true."

Source of Adam's information

Adam had spent some time at the court of the Danish king Svend Estridson where he may have gathered information on northern people and events from various persons and now lost documents.

Adam's information on Woman Land is probably originating from a German bishop Adalvard the Younger (as hinted by IV 19's amendment scholia 119) who had been a bishop in Skara and spent time in Norway in the court of king Harald Hårdråde, most probably in the then-capital Trondheim. This would also explain Adam's detailed knowledge about certain parts of Norway, since he mentions Trondheim (Trondemnis) several times (Gesta III 59, IV 16, 32, 33, 34) and even Hålogaland (Halagland) from northern Norway (IV 37). Sami people (Scritefinnis, Scritefingi) are also mentioned several times (IV 24, 25, 31) and usually at the same time when he discusses Norwegians.

It must also be noted that Woman Land and Sami people are discussed altogether separately in Gesta.

Background of the name

Woman Land is generally considered to be a mistranslation of Kvenland. Carefully read, the text itself gives no apparent reason for the name in its literal meaning. Adam and his colleagues themselves seem to have thought the name to derive from the legendary Amazons taken from classical Greek mythology. This is clearly said in the text itself to be their own thinking, even though Adam later in his publication seems to forget that and presents it as a common rumor originating from bishop Adalvard.

Speculation that Kvenland and Woman Land are the same, seems the most probable background for the name. This hypothesis is not usually challenged[3] and can thus be considered rather certain.

A possible interpretation of lands and people mentioned by Adam. Terra Feminarum was said to be "quite close" to Estland and "not far" from Birca, bordering areas ruled by Swedes.

Location of Woman Land

Location of Woman Land is not given in exact terms, but it seems to have existed in southern Finland. That is "quite close" to Estonia, reachable "by sea" from Sweden and also "not far" from Birca. Finland also started from the Swedish border of that time which was east of Åland. This seems to be inline with other sources from that era about Kvenland. Naturally some other locations fall within Adam's loose words. Furthermore, there is no "Finland" or "Finns" mentioned anywhere in Gesta.

However, what Adam actually meant with "Birca" is not fully clear. The Björkö settlement near present-day Stockholm usually considered to be Birca mentioned also in Latin Vita Ansgari written around the end of the 9th century was deserted and never rebuilt around 975 AD, 100 years before Adam of Bremen. Also, "Birca" never was the Swedish name for a city, since the name appearing in Latin documents was just derived from an Old Norse term bierk which roughly means "commerce". The real name of the place (if such existed), is not known. Birca mentioned by Adam of Bremen could thus have been some other location in Sweden, another bierk. It is also fully possible that the Björkö settlement has nothing to do with Birca at all.

Historical consequences

According to Gesta, Anund was the son of King Emund the Old who ruled Sweden 1050-60 AD. Anund's death in Woman Land led into a long-lasting internal chaos in Sweden, as Emund died without an heir apparent and so did the House of Munsö, the last branch of the Yngling family.


  1. ^ Adam of Bremen, Gesta Hammaburgensis ecclesiae pontificum, online text in Latin. English translation of the selected sections is provided by the author of the article, since translations are not available in public domain. Discussion about translation is welcome.
  2. ^ Probably Finnic tribes living in present-day northwestern Russia. Wizzi is usually regarded as Veps and Mirri as Merya.
  3. ^ Kyösti Julku has claimed in his publication Kvenland - Kainuunmaa (1986) that "there is no reason whatsoever for this conclusion" (page 87). However, Julku did not explain his own reasoning further.


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