New centre will dispel Viking myths

Who were the Vikings? For most people, thoughts of raping and pillaging probably spring to mind, as do images of busty women called Brunnhilda with blonde plaits and horned helmets.

The Vikings sailed from the Nordic countries to Britain, Ireland, North America, Russia and even Turkey. Yet for visitors to Scandinavia and locals alike, there are currently precious few opportunities to find out the truth about the extraordinary people who spread their culture over most of the known world.

This could soon change, as plans have now been unveiled to start an interactive museum in Stockholm to satisfy tourists’ hunger for the medieval Scandinavians.

“There is a big interest worldwide in the Vikings,” says Marie Nork, one of those trying to set up the Stockholm Viking Center. Quite apart from countries actually visited by Vikings, there is huge interest in both the United States and Japan.

“They are used in commercials – they’ve even been used in propaganda. During the 19th century they really became romanticized: that’s when they acquired their horns.”

The Stockholm centre, which is still in the planning stages, will look at these myths and compare them against the reality of Viking life – a reality that was more usually centred around trade and farming than the art of war.

“East-bound Vikings particularly did lots of trading, rather than fighting and pillaging,” she says.

Nork, herself an archaeologist, believes that the lack of a modern Viking centre in Stockholm has been a glaring gap in the capital’s offering to tourists.

“People are often surprised that we don’t have more on offer. Maybe we Swedes don’t quite understand what a big deal the Vikings are internationally,” she says, and compares the lack of a Viking centre with the lack of any museum about Abba, a gap which other entrepreneurs recently announced plans to fill.

Her eyes were opened, as were those of fellow Viking enthusiast Veronica Ekberg, when they were both studying archeology at York University in England. York is home to the hugely successful Jorvik Viking Centre, which Nork and Ekberg are holding up as an inspiration.

Like the Jorvik Viking Centre, in which visitors travel back in time through mock-ups of Viking York, Nork wants the new centre to be more accessible than a normal museum. The aim is to site it in central Stockholm on a 6,750 square metre site. Glass display cases will be conspicuous by their absence.

“We’re looking into how we can use virtual reality to tell the Viking story,” Nork says.

Nork and Ekberg expect the centre to attract up to 800,000 visitors a year, and bring new tourists to the Swedish capital:

“Stockholm is a natural place to site a museum like this – the city is something of a showroom for Scandinavia.

“And if you can use the Vikings to attract people to northern England, then it won’t be a problem for Stockholm,” she reasons.

The centre will also have an academic research element, including collaboration with other universities. It could even end up organizing archaeological digs, something that Jorvik already does.

Preliminary estimates suggest that getting the project off the ground will cost 230 million kronor, but those behind it believe that they will soon be able to recoup their expenses. The project has received valuable support from Stockholm University’s commercialization experts, consultants, architects, designers and figures from the Swedish culture world.

Nork says that the huge international interest in the Vikings means that the search for finance and other forms of support is being carried out abroad as well as in Sweden, with help from the Swedish consulate in Los Angeles and international Swedish women’s network Swea.

While Nork admits that the Viking centre is a long-term project – she reckons that it will take four years from securing finance to the museum opening – there is no doubt in her mind that it will happen.

“The question is not whether a Viking centre will be built, but when.”


Why is Sweden called Sweden? The Local answers Google’s questions

Why is Sweden called Sweden? Why is Sweden so depressing? Why is Sweden so rich?  In a new series of articles, The Local answers some of the most common questions that appear when you type "Why is Sweden..." into the Google search engine.  

Why is Sweden called Sweden? The Local answers Google's questions
Why is Sweden actually called Sweden? Let's find out. Photo: Google screenshot

The short answer to “why is Sweden called Sweden?” is that it’s not. It’s called Sverige

When The Local asked Henrik Williams, a Professor of Scandinavian Languages at Uppsala University, he also gave the question a short answer: “Because it’s inhabited by Swedes.” 

We can trace some form of the name back to at least the 13th century, when it was called Swearike in Old Swedish. That translates to “the kingdom of the Swear”.

Two thousand years ago, some of the people living in what is now known as Sweden were called Svear or Suiones, depending on which language you spoke and on how you spelled things (spelling varied greatly). 

The Roman historian Tacitus gives the first known description of the Svear in a book written in the year 93 CE, Germania

Everything comes down to this word, Svear, the name of the people. It means ‘we ourselves’. The Svear lived in Uppland just north of where Stockholm is now, until about the 11th century when they started expanding their territory. 

“It’s very common that people call themselves, either ‘we ourselves’ or ‘the people’” said Professor Williams. 

“We are ‘the humans’ and everybody else is something else. Everyone else is ‘them'”.

Of course, nobody uses the word in that way now, but it still forms the basis of the word Sweden.

The 8th century epic poem Beowulf gives the earliest known recorded version of the word Sweoland, land of the Swear

But at that time, there was no Sweden. Instead, the land was occupied by little kingdoms of Swedes and Goths (in present-day Götaland) and warring tribes of Vikings.

It’s unclear when the King of the Swear started referring to himself as the king of a country called Sweden, but it was probably around the time the country adopted Christianity in the 11th century. 

“Sweden” only came into regular use after 1750, when it replaced “Swedeland” in English. But in Scotland, “Sweden” had been used since the beginning of the modern era.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary in the early 17th century, people would use Sweden as the name of the people, and Swedeland as the name of the country. 

The first attested use of ‘Sweden’ was in a Scottish timber accounting log in 1503, which refers to “Sweden boards.” 

Most countries went from the Old Norse word Svíþjóð (which is still used to describe Sweden in Icelandic today) and turned it into something in their own languages, like the Old English Swíoríce, the Middle Dutch Zweden and High German Schweden

But it’s not called Sweden everywhere. 

In Finnish, Sweden is Ruotsi, in Estonian it’s Rootsi, and in Northern Sami Ruoŧŧa.

This comes from the root-word Rod, as in modern day Roslagen the coastal part of Uppland. It means rowing, or people who row. And because Finland was invaded by people from Roslagen, that’s how Finns referred to them.