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Birkarlar and Sámi - inter-cultural contacts beyond state control: reconsidering the standing of external tradesmen (birkarlar) in medieval Sámi societies
Umeå University, Faculty of Arts, Department of language studies.
2016 (English)In: Acta Borealia, ISSN 0800-3831, E-ISSN 1503-111X, Vol. 33, no 1, 52-80 p.Article, review/survey (Refereed) PublishedText
Abstract [en]

It is not until the fourteenth century that written records offer a glimpse into the coastal societies of Northern Sweden. Records include references to a social stratum referred to as the birkarlar, who were tradesmen engaged in trading with the Sami. The origin of the birkarlar, their prominent status and the meaning of the term, is an enigma that has been much disputed among scholars although there is consensus about the economic and fiscal supremacy of birkarlar vis-a-vis the Sami. However, the paradox of tradesmen employing force against their most important circle of suppliers and customers remains a puzzle. The birkarla institution is analyzed by means of alternative reading of historical records from the perspective of the indigenous Sami and coastal farming communities. The postulated animosity between Sami and the birkarlar is critically examined in light of the social and economic context of interior and coastal communities during the Late Iron Age and Early Medieval period, and in relation to historically known Sami kinship relationships and marriage traditions. Data are analyzed with regard to demography and social structure, and from a landscape perspective including the logistics and practicalities of inter-cultural contact. Analyses corroborate that birkarlar were deeply rooted in the coastal communities and fully involved in the regular subsistence activities. They were representatives given a commission of trust and contacts between the birkarlar and the Sami were characterized by mutuality and inter-dependence.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2016. Vol. 33, no 1, 52-80 p.
Keyword [en]
Sámi, trade, coastal communities, Birkarl, tally sticks, northern Sweden
National Category
History Specific Languages Human Geography
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-120669DOI: 10.1080/08003831.2016.1154676ISI: 000373959600003OAI: diva2:938077
Available from: 2016-06-16 Created: 2016-05-18 Last updated: 2016-06-16Bibliographically approved

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Edlund, Lars-Erik
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