Vikings Locations in the Real World - Götaland

Götaland (also known as Gothia, Gothland, Gothenland, Gautland or Geatland) is the southernmost of the three lands of Sweden, bounded to the north by Svealand (Sweden proper), with the deep woods of Tiveden, Tylöskog and Kolmården marking the border. It’s named after the Götar or Göter, one of the two North Germanic tribes from whom modern Swedes are descended. It is generally agreed that these were the same as the Gēatas, the people of the hero Beowulf in England’s national epic, Beowulf

The earliest known mentions of the Götar is Ptolemy (2nd century AD) who mentions the Goutai. In the 6th century, Jordanes writes of the Gautigoths and Ostrogoths (the Ostrogoths of Scandza); and Procopius refers to Gautoi. The Norse Sagas knows them as Gautar; Beowulf and Widsith as Gēatas. Norwegian and Icelandic sources sometimes use Gautar only for the people of Västergötland (Westrogothia), or the western parts of today’s Götaland, but sometimes as a common ethnic term for both the people of Västergötland and those of Östergötland (Ostrogothia).

Västergötland and Östergötland, once rival kingdoms themselves, constitute Götaland proper. The small countries to the south of Finnveden, Kind, Möre, Njudung, Tjust, Tveta, Värend, Ydre were merged into the province of Småland (literally: [the] “small countries”). Off the coast of Småland was the island of Öland, which became a separate province. Dal to the north west became the province of Dalsland. Småland, Öland and Dalsland were already seen as lands belonging to Götaland in (Scandinavian) medieval times (12th–15th century). In the Treaty of Roskilde (1658), the Danish kingdom ceded Blekinge, Halland, Scania, and Bohuslän to Sweden. These provinces are since then counted as parts of Götaland. The island of Gotland shifted allegiance between the Swedes and the Danes several times. Although the island may be perceived to have closer links to Svealand, it is counted as part of Götaland.

Before the consolidation of Sweden, the Geats were politically independent of the Swedes or Svear, whose old name was Sweonas in Old English. When written sources emerge (approximately at the end of the 10th century), the Geatish lands are described as part of the still very shaky Swedish kingdom, but the manner of their unification with the Swedes is a matter of much debate. Today, historians believe that the medieval kingdom of Sweden was created as a union to oppose foreign forces, mainly the Danes, where the mainly inland Västergötland was easier to defend and be protected in than in the coastal areas.

The Geats were traditionally divided into several petty kingdoms, or districts, which had their own things (popular assemblies) and laws. The largest one of these districts was Västergötland (West Geatland), and it was in Västergötland that the Thing of all Geats was held every year, in the vicinity of Skara. In his Gesta Danorum (book 13), the Danish 12th century chronicler Saxo Grammaticus noted that the Geats had no say in the election of the king, only the Swedes, but Saxo did not know how kings were chosen in Sweden around 1120. When in the 13th century, the West Geatish law or Westrogothic law was put to paper, it reminded the Geats that they had to accept the election of the Swedes: Sveær egho konong at taka ok sva vrækæ meaning “It is the Swedes who have the right of choosing ["taking”] and also deposing the king" and then he rode Eriksgatan “mæþ gislum ofvan” – “with hostages from above [the realm]” through Södermanland, the Geatish provinces and then through Närke and Västmanland to be judged to be the lawful king by the lawspeakers of their respective things. The king was “taken” by the first thing possibly similar to the customs in early medieval Norway where the king was chosen by acclamation.

After the 15th century and the Kalmar Union, the Swedes and the Geats appear to have begun to perceive themselves as one nation, which is reflected in the evolution of svensk into a common ethnonym. It was originally an adjective referring to those belonging to the Swedish tribe, who are called svear in Swedish. As early as the 9th century, svear had been vague, both referring to the Swedish tribe and being a collective term including the Geats, and this is the case in Adam of Bremen’s work where the Geats (Goths) appear both as a proper nation and as part of the Sueones. The merging/assimilation of the two nations took a long time, however. In the early 20th century, Nordisk familjebok noted that svensk had almost replaced svear as a name for the Swedish people.

Today, the merger of the two nations is complete, as there is no longer any tangible identification in Götaland with a Geatish identity, apart from the common tendency of people living in those areas to refer to themselves as västgötar (West Geats) and östgötar (East Geats), that is to say, residents of the provinces of Västergötland and Östergötland. The city Göteborg, known in English as Gothenburg, was named after the Geats (Geatsburg or fortress of the Geats), when it was founded in 1621.

Götaland is mentioned in connection to Ragnar Lodbrok in Ragnarssona þáttr (Tale of Ragnar’s sons), Ragnars saga Loðbrókar (Ragnar Lodbrok’s Saga) and the skaldic poem Krákumál (‘Lay of Kraka’, Ragnar’s death-song as he’s dying in Ælla’s snake pit) as well as Bósa saga ok Herrauds and Gesta Danorum. Ragnar met his second wife, Þóra borgarhjörtr, in Gautland (Västergötland) where he saved her from a lindworm (a wingless, venomous serpent or dragon) which her father, the jarl of Gautland had given her as an egg. In order to protect himself from the venom he covered his legs in animal furs treated with tar and sand, which earned him the nickname Loðbrók “hairy-breeks”.

As recounted in the first stanza of Krákumál:
Hjoggum vér með hjörvi.
Hitt vas æ fyr löngu,
es á Gautlandi gengum
at grafvitnis morði;
þá fengum vér Þóru,
þaðan hétu mik fyrðar,
es lyngölun lagðak,
Loðbrók at því vígi;
stakk á storðar lykkju
stáli bjartra mála.

“We swung our sword;
that was ever so long ago
when we walked in Gautland
to the murder of the dig-wulf.
Then we received Þóra;
since then
(at that battle when I killed the heather-fish)
people called me Furry-pants.
I stabbed the spear
into the loop of the earth.”

('Dig-wulf’, 'heather-fish’, and 'loop of the earth’ are all kennings for the serpent.)

Viking Expansion:

An image illustrating the Viking expansion really well. Most of Europe have been under Old Norse influence by one way or another. As an example, there were trade rutes around modern day Spain and Portugal, and Sicily were literally under Viking control.
- Also note that the “Rus’ States” is what were later to become Russia, and that some Vikings actually were all the way down around Turkey and Greece, as some were mercenaries for the Byzantine Empire.

(Picture from Wikipedia)