Bjarm and Perm in the 9th - 15th Centuries
Some parts translated from Suomen Suvun Tiet, (Finnish People's Tracks), by Eero Kuussaari, 1935.
© Osmo Joronen 2000 - 2004 - all rights reserved.
|Riches of White Sea Area
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 word
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 Norwegians
wanted, and the reason why they traveled to the Arctic shores of the White Sea/Barents
region beginning in 870. The Slavs began their travels into this region
early in the second millennium, but the various Finnish tribes had been successful
in chasing them away from their land.
The Finnish tribes further south on the Volga who traded with their brothers in
the north took the earliest Slavic blows. The Slavs killed, drove away or enslaved the inhabitants, with the aim of taking over the trade. The Merja, Muroms and
related tribes were among the first to encounter these conquerors.
The Finns, who often fought amongst themselves for rights to the
hunting and fur-rich lands, were successful for a long time 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 (Slavic pronounciation, Sukhona) and Jug Rivers join, with the goal of driving a wedge between Perm and Karelia.
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 harassment
from the rear by Mongolians and Tatars saved the Finns from total genocide
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 Muscovites 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
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 (St. Stephen of Perm) introduced the Russian Orthodox religion to Perm. He skillfully dealt with the nature worshipping Zyrians and even wrote a reader for them in their own text. Henceforth their images of worship would be, not wooden idols, but the icons of the church.
Novgorod forces continued their looting and destruction in Jugra (Jugrians
are not the same as Ugric or Ugrian although are 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 from Swedish control. Finns and Western Karelians were called "Swedes" by Russians, while Orthodox Karelians were called "Russians" by Finns and fought on the side of the Czars. The Czars considered themselves at war with Sweden over control of Finnish/Savo/Karelian territories. They had already won over Eastern Karelians by conversion to the orthodox religion.
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, in the 1450's Russian pressure continued westward.
A temporary peace was established
when Ivan III (1462-1505) conquered Novgorod in 1471. The vague borders
became a focus of Ivan's attention. Sweden built a wall around Viipuri
(Vyborg), and in 1475 began construction of Olavinlinna for the protection
This activity broke the 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.
a result of Moscow's continued increase in power, a papal crusade bull
was announced by Pope Innocentius III in 1487 in which he called for western
nations to unite against the pagan Russians. (Suomi Kautta Aikojen =
Finland Through the Ages)
The Treasures of Perm
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 in about ce 870 and from Arabian traders from the south.
In 1133 Abdullah Hamid ben Muhammed traveled 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 tappers 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 mathematician 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 neighbors 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) and related Karelian people who the Norwegians traded with.
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. Sirpa Aalto asks the question: what can we learn from the Icelandic sagas regarding Finns, Kvens and Bjarm? She concludes that the contemporary opinion is that Icelandic sagas represent both free prose and novelistic schools of thought, and there continues to be opposing schools of thought that have existed for several hundred years. Sagas have not been used extensively in Finland as historical source material, but Sirpa believes it is possible that if they are used correctly, they may yield new information. The problem is that they were sometimes written several hundred years after the events, so that the history they depict might be framed in the writer's contemporary period. The writings also bear a nationalistic stamp which must be transcended in gleening new information. Sirpa's quest for new information ends with the opinion that sagas cannot be used as reliable historical sources. Despite this, sagas are not totally useless as historical sources as long as we keep in mind that they were written for particular purposes, some of which were to create a believable story which might not be connected with actual events or depict the correct period.
Saxo Grammaticus writes that the Bjarm were at war with the Vikings.
They apparently fought with both the Bjarm and the Slavs as they traveled
by land. Of course the Vikings always won, but once in awhile suffered from
Viking interest in this area began to decrease when new sources of Walrus
ivory were found, for example in Greenland. Further, the transportation
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 Caliphs 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 decline of Bjarm was therefore completed by the Slavs between approximately 1100 and 1300's. Slavic encroachment resulted in the Bjarm moving to Finland and Karelia.
Bjarm henceforth was under the control of Slavs. As previously mentioned, 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 (and Tatars) took the heat off the Bjarm for a few years by harassing the foe from the rear. The Mongolians were, I suppose, giving the Slavs some of their own medicine, though Russian historians see it differently.
14th - 15th Century Finno-Ugric Lands. (This is not a map of "Russia,"
since the Slavs had not conquered these lands yet and there were few borders
in the North, just areas controlled by various Finnish related people.
Russians slowly occupied their lands over 7 Centuries, right up to 1944.)
Note the location of Samoyed (red dots - handles show direction of migration)
and Saami (red circles) migration.
Map of 16th- 17th Century Finno-Ugric Lands. Finns had occupied more areas of
Sweden and Norway, and the Saami people too had moved further north, even
into Kola. The Samoyeds had stopped where they were. A border between "Russia"
and Finland appears. What pressures forced the Finns/Karelians, Samoyeds
and Saamis to relocate according to the maps? Red color represents permanent
Finno-Ugric residence, while slashed red areas represent the hunting and
trapping areas they controlled.
Bjarmlander's Daydream: A little Story.
Lähteet - Bibliography
Jutikkala, Eino, with Kauko Pirinen, A History of Finland,
Amer-Yhtymä Oy, Espoo 1979
Zetterberg, Seppo, ja Tiita, Allan , Suomi kautta aikojen,
Kuussaari, Eero, Suomen suvun tiet, F. Tilgmann Oy, Helsinki
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