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Sámi (Finno-Ugrics)
Incorporating the Saami & Screrefennae

The borders of the modern nations of Finland, Norway, Russia, and Sweden encompass the far northern reaches of Scandinavia, an area which lies largely within the Arctic Circle. However, prior to the early centuries of the second millennium AD, Scandinavians were contained entirely within the southernmost third of their modern territory. The rest was part of a poorly-defined (and poorly understood) territory known sometimes as Kvenland, which stretched all the way east into modern Russia's Murmansk Oblask.

The Sámi homeland of Sápmi (meaning 'Northern Sámi') was itself a poorly-defined region. The Norwegians formalised the northernmost part of it as the Finnmark, a border area with the Finns and Kvens (essentially the same people - especially in Norwegian eyes - but generally divided between south and north of Finland and beyond, respectively). But the Norwegians only occupied coastal ports for a long time after their first arrival. The rest of the Finnmark was generally the preserve of the Uralic-speaking Sámi, a people who by this time had adopted the Finno-Ugric language and who are largely indivisible from the early Finns in Norse sagas.

Egil's saga contains a long description of the Finnmark, showing the variety of Finno-Ugric groups there and the extent of this territory which seemingly is indivisible from concepts of Kvenland or Sámi tribal territories: 'Finnmark is a vast territory, bordered by the sea to the west and the north, and all the way to the east with great fjords, while Norway lies to the south of it. It extends as far south along the mountains as Hålogaland does down the coast. East of Naumdal lies Jamtland, then Halsinland, Kvenland, Finland, and Karelia. Finnmark lies beyond all these countries, and there are mountain settlements in many parts, some in valleys and others by the lakes. In Finnmark there are incredibly large lakes with great forests all around, while a high mountain range named Kjolen extends from one end of the territory to the other'.

The Sámi themselves (often shown in English text without the accent as Sami or Saami, the double-'a' serving to account for the lost accented letter) were a Uralic-speaking people of northern Scandinavia who reached there from the Uralic homeland in the Ural Mountains and along the Volga. The name itself, however, may have a proto-Balt origin (according to a general consensus of scholarly opinion). The Kainu were a Neolithic people who occupied territory around the Gulf of Bothnia, close to the modern Finno-Swedish border. Today they are regarded by Finns as a major component of their modern nation. Originally, though, they were Sámi hunter-gatherers whose numbers were later bolstered by the arrival of Finnic Kvens from the Savo region (central south-eastern Finland).

The arrival of Finnic tribes meant that the Sámi gradually lost their previous freedoms and were instead culturally (to an extent) and linguistically (almost entirely) absorbed into the Finno-Ugric group of speakers. Later they became largely indivisible from Finno-Ugric-speakers, even in their core northern region of Finnmark. The Byzantine writer Jordanes referred to them as Screrefennae, essentially meaning Sami-Finns or Sami-Kvens. The more recent historical names of Lapps or Laplanders which were ascribed to the Sámi are generally considered to be offensive by at least some Sámi.

The cultures and ancestry of the Sámi and Finns were only related in the most ancient sense, given their shared origins in the Ural Mountains, but both peoples, in the north and south of Kvenland respectively, formed the ancestral basis of modern Finland. The Tavastians, Savonians and Karelians also formed the basis for the modern country, and fellow Sámi peoples were labelled the Scritobini, Screrefennae or, mostly tellingly, the Scridefinni by medieval writers (particularly by Paul the Deacon in his eighth century history of the Langobards). Paul paints them as being particularly barbaric, so undeveloped that they ate raw meat and wore shaggy animal skins. This would appear to be a rather derogatory snapshot of them, perhaps based on a misunderstanding of their hunting traditions and the need for warmer clothing in the far north.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from The Heimskringla: Or, Chronicle of the Kings of Norway, Volume 1, from Egil's saga, from Etymological Dictionary of the Slavic Inherited Lexicon, Rick Derksen (Brill, 2007), from Uralic Evidence for the Indo-European Homeland, Jaakko Häkkinen (2012), from On the Edge of the World, Nikolaĭ Semenovich Leskov, and from External Links: Problems in the taxonomy of the Uralic languages in light of modern comparative studies, Tapani Salminen (2002 - dead link), and Kvenland, and Sacred Texts (Egil's saga), and Finnmark (also available in English), and Samis don’t want to be 'Lapps' (Aftenposten, archived with Way Back Machine).)

c.2000 BC

Around this time the Finno-Permic group of languages further divides into the Finno-Volgaic and Permic languages. Proto-Uralic languages between the Ural Mountains and western Siberia now experience some expansion (this date being considerably later than previous views of proto-Uralic expansion). Speakers of the many various groups of proto-Uralic daughter languages still follow a largely peaceful existence. In general they remain untroubled by conquerors and invaders for the next three thousand years, and only briefly intrude upon written history in that time.

Rybynsk Sea, on the Volga
The upper Volga basin to the west of the Urals - roughly midway between Ryazan and St Petersburg in modern Russia - has been occupied by modern humans since at least 14,000 BC

c.2000 - 1250 BC

The proto-Sámi begin to migrate out of their Ural Mountains homeland, following the river systems to head westwards towards today's Finland. Modern genetic testing reveals the likelihood that they are generally isolated during this period, even from other Uralic-speakers, while assimilating various indigenous hunter-gather communities as they find them. This contributes to a genetic signature which is unique.

Along they way some groups drop out in the regions of Karelia, Ladoga, and Lake Ilmen to form Sámi groups which are later largely assimilated by related Finno-Ugric groups. The remainder reach northern and central Norway and Sweden, plus northern Finland and Russia's Murmansk Oblast, by the beginning of the first millennium AD, having formed a Sámi cultural and linguistic identity within the previous millennium-and-a-half.

c.750 - 500 BC

FeatureWhile the Celts are beginning to expand from their traditional territory in southern Germany, the Germanic peoples still seem to be occupying a possible original homeland in southern Sweden and the Jutland peninsula (as suggested by Edward Dawson), where they would be surrounded on three sides by Kvens and Sámi and are subtly influenced by them in ways which, even today, are sometimes hard to define.

One of those influences may be in the way the northern Germanic pagan groups (the later Scandinavians) are influenced by Sámi and Kven shamanistic rituals (as seen in the possible origins of the 'god', Odin - see feature link).

Map of Scandinavia c.AD 100
This map of late tribal Kvenland helps to illustrate just how much of Scandinavia and north-western Russia was occupied by the various Finnic and Sámi tribes (click or tap on map to view full sized)

AD 550s

Jordanes, a bureaucrat in the Byzantine capital of Constantinople, writes of the barbarian tribes in Eastern Europe and Scandinavia, mentioning a wide number of them which include the following:

In 'the island of Scandza' (Scandinavia), there dwell nineteen tribal groups, only some of whom are named. In Sweden, there are the Screrefennae (Sámi peoples) and the Suehans (Swedes) on the eastern edge, the latter being noted for their splendid horses. Further south there are far more tribes living shoulder to shoulder, most of whom go on to form various Scandinavian kingdoms.

600s

The Finnic-speaking tribes of the Baltic coast are beginning to change. They have recently begun to enjoy a period of relative wealth and prosperity earned through strong trading contacts with the heart of Europe, notably with the court of the Ostrogothic king of Italy, Theodoric the Great. This extends equally to their neighbours, the tribes of the Balts (such as Lats and Lithuanians).

Farther north, the Sámi group of (now) Finno-Ugric speakers is still pursuing its traditional hunter-gather mode of living, although now these tribes are coming into contact with Norse traders along the coast of Norway. Trading posts crop up, usually during the summer, but in time these turn into permanent posts and then minor kingdoms, such as that of Finnmark in the northernmost reaches of Norway.

Map of Norway
This map shows a host of the many petty Norwegian kingdoms in eighth and ninth century Scandinavia, most of them arranged along the coastline, although penetration into the interior is clearly beginning (click or tap on map to view full sized)

866 - 872

There is internecine war between the minor Norwegian kingdoms before a single unified kingdom appears, largely contained in southern Norway. It is only after this date and the creation of a functioning pan-Norwegian central authority that the permanent presence of Norsemen is established in the 'Finn march', Finnmark, the borderland between Norse settlement or trading posts in the far north and the indigenous Sámi tribes.

The Norse sagas state that the new Norwegian monarchy imposes tribute on the Finnmark. It remains unoccupied by Norsemen to any great or permanent extent but royal agents are appointed to collect the tribute from the region's Finno-Ugric tribes.

873 - 874

In this year, the Kvens and Norse cooperate in battles against the invading Karelians, again according to Egil's saga. Thorolf Kveldulfsson, head of taxes for the king of Norway from 872 (and later the tax agent in the Finnmark), enters Kvenland, going 'up on the fell with a hundred men; he passed on at once eastwards to Kvenland and met King Faravid.' Based on medieval documents, this meeting takes place during the winter of 873-874.

c.900

Egil's saga relates that the mysterious Kylfings (of highly uncertain origin - possibly the Ylfings of the Geats) are trading and plundering in Finnmark around this year. The Norse king's agent there, Thorolf Kveldulfsson, employs Sámi scouts to monitor their movements and report back to him. He provides the only effective opposition to their plundering by killing over a hundred Kylfing marauders.

Sami folk circa 1900
The Sámi people began inhabiting northern Scandinavia from at least 1500 BC, occupying a land they called (and still call) Sápmi, covering areas of modern Norway (Finnmark and beyond), Sweden, Finland, and Russia - the traditional English version of the name was Lapland, although this is now frowned upon in some quarters

c.1000

Beginning around this time, a good number of southern Finns of the Tavastian group migrate to the Torne Valley region of Kvenland, near the modern Swedo-Finnish border territory and modern northern Sweden. The Norse call these people and their descendants Kvens, along with the already ancient populations of Kvens in the north who still live alongside the Sámi.

1013

Norse King Olaf Haraldson is allied to King Ethelred of England, and fights with him against the Danes in this year. Olaf also reunites Norway and achieves hegemony over the Sámi of Kvenland who border the earldom of Lade along a long coastal strip to the north of Sweden and Norway.

1028

Karli is the tax collector in the Finnmark for Olaf II of Norway. Tasked with collecting revenue for the king (a profitable venture as the tax collector keeps half of everything), he travels through Oppland and north through the mountains to board a vessel that will take him to the Finnmark. He is joined on the long voyage by Thórir Hund, king of Hålogaland, who brings along a greater number of men than the tax collector, despite agreeing to equal numbers for an equal share of the gain. It seems that Karli collects the taxes from the Finnmark before the pair sail further to Bjarmaland.

Thorir Hund
This woodcut depicts Thórir Hund and his men returning to their ship after raiding the wealth of a recently-deceased 'Permian', with Karli's vessel also shown alongside it

Thórir acquires an abundance of furs there, but once the trading is over and the agreed truce for the period is also ended, he leads the other Norsemen into a night raid to plunder the wealth of a deceased man before it can be shared out according to the custom of the 'Permians' (the Finno-Ugric Finn or Sámi inhabitants). This they do, but they also plunder from a statue of the native god, Jómali (from the Finnish Jumala, effectively meaning 'God').

Escaping from the vengeful natives, Karli refuses to handle the redistribution of their gains until they reach a safe port. Thórir  runs him through with a spear and steals the rest of the loot, while Karli's brother, Gunnstein, and his men avoid being killed themselves.

1100s

The Finnmark as a border entity appears to recede from use, even though Norse settlement here is clearly only just beginning. The process probably follows the same path as with the Swedes in Finland. Raiding turns to domination and then settlement. The native Kvens largely become an integral part of the kingdom of Sweden (which the Swedes call Österland or Osterlandia) while the bulk of the Sámi population remain in Finnmark, the westernmost section of 'Kvenland'.

This eventually becomes a Norwegian county (after being dominated by Sweden to begin with). Norse settlement tales place from the thirteenth century, with the first church being consecrated in Vardø in 1307. A fortress is built around the same time, and this still survives, albeit with extensive rebuilding dating from the 1730s.

2005

Following almost thirty years of disputes with the Norwegian government over the management of Sámi native land in Finnmark, a satisfactory agreement is reached. Beginning as 'the Finnmark' - the border region which had come under increasing Norwegian control from the ninth century onwards - the region had been formalised as Norway's northernmost county.

Sámi protest against the 1978 hydroelectric dam construction in Norway
Sámi protests against the intended flooding of one of their villages in order to construct a dam served as a kind of trigger for the 2005 signing of the momentous Finnmark Act

In 1978 plans to inundate a Sámi village as part of a new dam and hydroelectric plant had met with vociferous Sámi protests. Now, in 2005, the government agrees the Finnmark Act. It signs over to the inhabitants of Finnmark approximately ninety-five per cent of the county's total land, to be managed as part of the 'Finnmark Estate'. Even today the Sámi seek greater self-management rights but have shown no wish to form their own Sámi state.