Since the 1920s or 1930s, all good Estonian
patriots have been convinced that Sigtuna, the centre of ancient
Svealand, was destroyed in 1187 by Estonians.
This conviction is based on Evald Aav's opera,
Vikerlased (The Vikings), plus the results of
research work carried out by the historians Hans Kruus and Jüri
Uluots, and thanks to popular novels by August Mälk and Karl
The act was carried out by the men of Saaremaa,
the Osilianer - who else? Through Karl August Hermann (1886) and
Jaan Jung (1878), the basis of this instinctive, patriotic approach
reaches back to Carl Robert Jakobson's fundamental first patriotic
lecture in 1868.
However, the current archaeological surveys at
Sigtuna by Sten Tesch in 2005 have not provided decisive proof of
the town being emptied during the height of the medieval period,
and the written evidence originates from relatively late dates,
such as the details covering the event in the medieval chronicles
No specific culprits have been determined, with
the blame being placed on pagans, paganes, in general.
There is no doubt, however, that the authors of the annals believed
that the incident really did occur: combusta or incensa erat.
Examining the sources
Firstly, the anonymous Eric's Chronicle
from the 1320s, which was a courtly hero's tale that originated in
western Sweden or Åbo/Turku, far from Sigtuna in any case, suspects
the arch enemies of the Swedes of the time of committing the violent
act. These would have been the Karelians or the Russians, who were
quite eager to slaughter their enemies and torch cities around 1187.
However, there is no way that they would not have been christened in
this era and, even more crucially, they did not have the ships with
which to make a crossing of open seas, which is something they very
much would have needed to do to have been able to reach Lake Malar
from around the mouth of the River Neva.
In the sixteenth century, a new era began with
Olaus Petri, the man who translated the Bible into Swedish and who
not only reshaped church life and the linguistic landscape of
Sweden, but who was also an uncompromising reformist of the Swedish
way of chronicling history.
Olaus worked in the Malar valley for decades,
initially for the bishop of Strängnäs, who was in charge of the
Swedish national archive, which at this time was still at the
embryonic stage. Following that, Olaus worked as the annalist
for the city of Stockholm and was finally promoted to the position
of personal secretary to King Gustav Vasa. Finally, in 1530, he
started work on his own chronicle, the Svenska chroeneka.
In order to be able to complete his work he had
all of the known sources of that time at his disposal, including
Eric's Chronicles and the documents in the national archives.
These included those documents which were destroyed in the great
fire at the royal castle in 1697. As we know, he was very familiar
with the Malar valley, which is also where Sigtuna is located, and
where one can find ancient Estonian place names and a local heritage
which covers a good many decades.
Unlike Eric's Chronicles, Olaus claimed
simply and clearly that Estonians (Estar) had been the ones not
only to destroy Sigtuna, but were also feared enemies of the people
of Svealand at the time, on dry land and at sea.
These statements are indirectly proven by historical
remains, such as a well-developed system of protective barriers on
the archipelago at the mouth of the Malar and the long line of tower
strongholds lining the eastern coast of Svealand, but also by
remains on Öland and, especially, on Gotland, which originate from
the late twelfth century.
St Olof's Church was built in Sigtuna around 1100, showing a
strong Christian presence in the region by this date, even if
many ordinary Swedes would have continued to practise their
everyday pagan duties (External Link:
Creative Commons Licence)