Bjarm and Perm in the 9th - 15th Centuries
Translated by Osmo Joronen from Suomen Suvun Tiet, (Finnish People's Tracks) by Eero Kuussaari, 1935


The Finnish/Karelian fur trading area reached far Eastward, past Dvina Karelia and Lake Onega all the way to the Zyrian lands of Perm. This Greater Karelia was called Bjarm, which is a Viking name derived possibly from the Finnish Perämaa, (hinterland) which also gave Perm its name. The arctic held a bounty of treasures such as Walrus and Sable furs, and Walrus ivory, which the Norwegians were after, and the reason why they travelled to the Arctic shores of the White Sea/Barents region beginning in 870. The Slavs had begun their travels into this region already early in the second millennium, but the various Finnish tribes had been successful in chasing them away from their land.

The Finns, who often fought amongst themselves for rights to the hunting and fur-rich lands, were successful in coming together to drive off the new wealth-seeking adventurers from the South. Furs were traded with foreigners such as Arabs, and this fur trade was firmly in the hands of the Finns. (Karelians/Veps) The Slavs wanted it and the first wave of attacks to the Viena (Dvina) area began in 1212. They captured the Perm trading base of Ustjug in the region where Suhona and Jug Rivers join, with the goal of driving a wedge between Perm and Karelia.

But the Slavs found out early that Finns would not give up what is theirs easily and they chased the Slavs away. The area remained at least for some time thereafter in the hands of their kings. But in 1217 and 1220, the Slavs renewed their attacks with the result that the Bjarm Karelian power began to falter.

Norwegian traders stopped coming to this area in 1222 and inhabitants (with various names) from the east side of Lake Onega began moving West. Along their ancient waterways they escaped from the destruction that awaited. They settled in Eastern Finland and especially Western Karelia.

To replace the lost fur trade to the East, the Karelian people had to now look increasingly Northward and Westward (Northern Bothnia) for new fur and hunting grounds. The Slavs were able to consolidate their strength in the aforementioned strongholds but at the same time, Tatar invasions from the East forced their armies to move and fight elsewhere. (This harrassment from the rear by Mongolians and Tatars saved the Finns from total genocide many times.)

However, Novgorod renewed their taxation raids to Perm in 1265 and consolidated further their acquisitions of Perm, Jugrian, and Samoyed lands among others. But in many areas they did not constitute a lasting presence for a long time. When Novgorod became involved in war with Sweden in the closing years of 1200's, the Perm Finns took back control of their lands. This situation continued until 1323 after which Novgorod again renewed its conquest of Perm, and lost it again in 1333 and 1337, forcing Moscovites to back off again for a time. In 1342, Novgorod again took control of Ustjug and Viena areas after forcing various Finns on the East side of Onega to join the Novgorod forces. To conquer the North, the Slavs resorted to forcing the local population to fight against their own brothers.

At this time, the Vepsä Finns,(Veps) who live South of and on the Southwestern shores of Lake Onega, lost their independence and Novgorod forces conducted a scorched earth policy in these areas. Although in 1364 the "Chuds" resisted and even attacked the Orthodox monasteries on the shores of Onega, they were finally destroyed.

The Slavic conquests now spread and by the end of 1364, even the Jugrian tribes moved East behind the Ural Mountains to avoid destruction by the Slavs. The result was that the Perm Finns (Zyrians and Votyaks) joined Moscow's forces in 1383 which were in competition with Novgorod for control. At this time, a bishop by the name Tapani the Holy skillfully dealt with the Zyrians and even wrote a reader for them in their own text. Novgorod forces continued their looting and destruction in Jugra (Jugrians are also a Finno-Ugric people) and Vjatka, the Jugrians and Votyaks rose up against them in 1392 with promises by Moscow to join in.

Torsok and Valgetjärvi forces joined in revolt against Novgorod in 1397 but the promised aid from Moscow did not come. They were therefore defeated in 1398 by a large army from Novgorod. Valgetjärvi Vepsä villages and towns were utterly destroyed, burned to the ground. The inhabitants were sold as slaves and their property confiscated. Russian historians wrote in their chronicles that the plague had wiped out the towns. The destruction of the Finns along the Dvina (Viena) and Vologda increased without mercy. Ustjug was burned to the ground. But Perm, with its highly developed culture and scores of cities went untouched at this time.

These were the events that set the stage for the 14th - 15th Century in the White Sea and Barents Sea regions of Russia in which time more or less permanent Slavic settlements were established in these regions. Having established their control of this region, the Slavs turned Westward to take as much of Karelia and Finland as they could.

The friction between Sweden-Finland and Novgorod's westwardly pushing power during the beginning of 1400's in Finland's Savo province and Pohjanmaa led to continuing border problems, even though the border had been defined in the Treaty of Pähkinäsaari. The Swedish king had interpreted it to include Savo and western Karelia. However, he was wrong, the Czar wanted these areas and in 1450's Russian pressure continued westward.

Moscow consolidated its gains in Karelia by establishing the Solovetskii Monastery on an island in the White Sea. A temporary peace was established when Ivan III (1462-1505) conquered Novgorod in 1471. The undefined borders became a focus of Ivan's attention and Sweden built a wall around Viipuri (Vyborg), and in 1475 began construction of Olavinlinna for the protection of Savo. This activity broke the aforementioned treaty in which the construction of new fortifications was forbidden in Karelia. The new fortress of Olavinlinna was, in the opinion of Moscow, on the wrong side of the border. After Moscow put down rebellions in Novgorod in 1479, Ivan attacked Savo and North Pohjanmaa areas, and a new peace was made in 1487 that redefined the borders.


Early Bjarm History

The Bjarm's riches were furs of course, but also Walrus ivory - which the Norwegians valued most. The Vikings had always valued the strong Walrus hide for making ropes, but the rich south wanted the ivory tusks. Much of what we know about early Bjarmland comes from the Haalogaland (Hålogoland) Norwegian Ottar from about ce 870 and from Arabian traders from the south. In 1133 Abdullah Hamid ben Muhammed travelled to Vepsä and traded sword blades to "a land which is located at bahr muzlimin "Dark Sea" (=Arctic Ocean) shores, where sword blades were exchanged for Sable skins. He related that the local residents took the blades and threw them into the sea so that God would allow them to catch a fish as big as a mountain, according to Abdullah.

Vepsä middlemen traded between the Bjarm trappers and the Bolgarians on the Volga until the Slavs destroyed their business. In earlier times, tales of trips to trade with Bjarm come from the likes of astronomer and matematician Abu-r-Raihan Muhammed al-Birun ce 1000 : "From Isö (Vepsä) the trip takes twelve days. But from the Bulgars to Isö it is a twenty day trip which is made in the winter by wooden sledges pulled by the traders or by dogs. They bring all their provisions with them in the sledges. He states that other types of sledges are made of bone, which are fixed to their feet.
Who Were the Bjarm?

The Norwegian Ottar states that the language of the Bjarm and Saamis were of the same type. Most likely the Finno-Ugric people, which were dispersed over a very large area in the first millennium were affected by the movements of Mongolian soldiers in the 1200's. It most likely started a chain reaction as those further south moved north out of their way. Vepsä people, who are basically eastern Karelians, controlled much of this trade in Bjarm between Valkeajärvi and from the mouth of the Viena (Dvina), and Karelia. Their neighbours were the Zyrians and Votjaks to the east. In Kola, the Saami, or "terfinns" formed the Northwestern edge of Bjarm. Therefore, Bjarmland was in essence a very large area which was controlled and settled by Veps (Vepsä people).

Culturally, the Bjarm and Vepsä are connected eastward in the sense that they tended to use dogs as draught animals, and as Adam Bremen states, "also used in battle." The use of dogs as draught animals comes all the way from northern Siberia and the uncharted Bjarm lands, westward. The Saami began using reindeer for the same purpose approximately ce 1000.
Vikings vs. Bjarm

The Norse Sagas have something to say about contacts between the Bjarm and Vikings. Saxo Grammaticus writes that the Bjarm were at war with the Vikings. They apparently fought with both the Bjarm and the Slavs as they travelled by land. Of course the Vikings always won, but once in awhile suffer from Bjarm witchcraft.

Viking interest in this area began to decrease when new sources of Walrus ivory were found, for example in Greenland. Further, the tansportation of goods for trade from the south became increasingly unreliable, and trade in that direction began to falter. The safe transport of the products of the silver mines in the south controlled by the Kaliffs declined with their loss of control, and there was therefore less to trade. At the same time, the furs from Bjarmland started to become increasingly scarce.

As new ivory became available from Africa, Walrus ivory became less important. The wealth of Bjarm began to decrease. It became increasingly unprofitable for Norwegians to make the effort to trade there and even to travel south along their established trade routes. When Novgorod and Kiev joined forces, this further decreased the Svealanders influence in Russia and the trade stopped completely in the middle of 1000 ce.

The take-over of Bjarm was completed by the Slavs between 1100 and in 1200. Slavic encroachment resulted in the Bjarm moving to Finland and Karelia. Bjarm henceforth was under the control of Slavs. The Mongolian invasions in the early 1200's also had some effect in this westward movement of Bjarm to Western Karelia. Kuussaari writes that the Mongolians took the pressure off the Bjarm for a few years by harrassing the foe from the rear.



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