Here below follow a list of words and names that I use in my writing, which some might feel need an explanation. Please note that this list is in no way scientific. As a writer setting my story in an environment unknown to most of my prospective readers, I had to make some decisions as to which words to use when I found no apparent equivalents in English. The list is formatted as such:
First, the word in Bold; then the way I use the word in regular style; and lastly my own explanation as to why I chose it, in Italics.
Bergfridh; asylum offered to a convicted criminal for as long as he/she remains within the domain of the mining community which offered it; Swedish=bergsfrid, which would directly translate into something like the peace of the mountain. The Swedish word berg, however, has a much broader meaning than just mountain. Things related to mining is often named from berg, for example, bergsbruk=mining, Bergslagen=areas governed by the law of miners, bergmästare=mine-inspector, and to things to do with rocks, as in bergart=(kind of) rock, berggrund=bed-rock, bergkristall=rock-crystal, bergskred=landslide. In this case, I chose to retain the Swedish root (berg) in the term with all its ambiguity, especially as so much of Nordic mining was and is done far from any lofty mountain peaks.
Deja; the female foreseer of the female thralls and maids in a household. Herself mostly unfree, she, all the same, held a high standing in the community since she was a direct representative of her mistress. If the mistress was rich and important, her Deja could be more influential than many of her free neighbours; the word Deja in old Norse or Germanic comes from deg, the word for dough. It probably meant (female) baker, and the English lady owes its origin to the same in the OE form hlæfdige=lev-deja=loaf-kneader.
Earl; for an extended period in the history of the three Kingdoms of Svitjod, Goethia and the Smallands, the king was always seconded by a jarl. There was only one jarl at any given time, so the office should not be mistaken for a regional feudal title, as it was in Anglo-Saxon England. One rather has to see it as a balancing office, since the jarl often stemmed from another kinship group than the elected king. I decided to use the English word earl instead of its Norse root jarl, even though the offices were slightly different since the English word is so well known and similar to jarl. Furthermore, I don’t think the differences between the earls of England and the jarls of Svitjod had anything to do with the meaning of the word. In old Norse, it merely meant chieftain or leader, which in separate regional contexts can develop into very different offices.
Fallmonth; September; Swedish=höstmånad. The Julian calendar came in use in Svitjod and its neighbouring regions during the middle ages, but only among the clergy and the very top of society. The country population continued to use the old Norse names for the months well into the nineteenth century.
Flowermonth; May; Swedish=blomstermånad. See Fallmonth.
Freela; a woman who is living together with a man without being married but as if she was. It was especially common that men of high standing and means had a freela before they, later on, entered a marriage of convenience, with a party of comparable social standing. Bishops could also have a freela since they were not allowed to marry, and some people of lower means also chose not to marry officially for different reasons; Swedish=frilla, is derived from a root which means both ‘to be fond of’ and ‘free, available, unbound’. I chose to go in the direction of the latter meaning, implying the free and unbound nature of the freela more than just as ‘the dear or loved one’.
Grassmonth; April; Swedish=gräsmånad. See Fallmonth.
Haymonth; July; Swedish=hömånad. See Fallmonth.
Housefridh; The peace of the house. In the Nordic societies, particular weight was afforded a man’s home. Every free man was lord in his own home, and thus, entering without being invited was seen as a severe crime. Furthermore, any crimes committed against a man within his own home was seen as incrementally worse the closer to its centre the crime was perpetrated. Fines or punishments were marked up accordingly, with a slight increase for accosting someone on their own fields or meadows, more around the farm itself, even higher indoors. Attacking someone in the places where everyone would most feel a need to be safe, like in their bed or at the privy, was considered especially cowardly and was punished harshly; Swedish=hemfrid~husfrid, meaning home/house-peace. I have emphasised the ‘house’ over the ‘home’ as the law ascribed the walls of someone’s own home a particularly protective status.
Hundred; a regional division of land in districts used for military drafting, but also for legal and political decisions. Each hundred should rally 100 armed rowers for the following summer if the king called together the levy at the Kyndilting during Candlemass in late winter. The free men of Svitjod didn’t pay any taxes to their king. Instead, they had a duty of following him to war; Swedish=Hundare, which is derived from the word hundra, meaning hundred. Since ‘hundreds’ were also used in England, I decided to settle for the clearly English word instead of the Nordic variant, even though the exact meanings were not the same.
Husbond; The master of a household. A free man who owns land and buildings. Society in Svitjod very much revolves around these people, the owners of the farms, as the farm was the smallest unit of rights and obligations. A man was quite literally the lord in his own home and had the right to judge and discipline both free and unfree servants and dependents living with him. This could include his younger brothers or grown-up sons if they were part of his household. Even if such people were seen as freemen in the eyes of the law, there really was no real place where they could exercise their freedom to make decisions that had any bearing. The husbond, on the other hand, was not only the master of his own farm, but he was also an equal partner in a village and had a right to vote in the village-moot as well as is the parish-assembly; Swedish hus=house, bonde=farmer. The Nordic word for farmer or peasant, ‘bonde’ has a very different root to the English words. Bonde stems from ‘bo’ which means ‘to live’, ‘to be settled’ as in ‘var bor du’=’where do you live’. That the word for home or to live is so closely related to the word for farmer is probably because it was unthinkable in early Nordic society to have a home without farming the land. Back then, there were no craftspeople or professionals who could live on their talents alone.
Husby; One of the king’s farms, part of Upsala Öd, which was a number of farms spread over the Three Kingdoms, set aside to support the king, whoever he happened to be at the time. Upsala Öd was not the personal property of the king. He could not do anything that would diminish or damage it but was free to use their revenue as he saw fit. When one king died or departed the throne, the entire Upsala Öd would pass on to the next king. Since the king of the Sweons, Geats and Smallandings, didn’t originally have the right to raise taxes, an official domain like this was necessary to help support the king and his retinue. As a consequence, the king was mostly underway, travelling between his many Husby’s and his own personal farms, when he wasn’t the guest of some wealthy bishop, monastery or other important landowner. Each Husby is managed by a reeve, who is the direct representative of the king on his land, but who apart from that didn’t hold other legal rights than other landowners in the region; Swedish hus=house, by=village. Upsala was used as a place name for more places than the most prominent Upsala, which over the course of history became the seat of the Archbishop of the Three Kingdoms. Öd stems from ‘wealth’ as well as ‘oath’. Thus Upsala Öd was likely the wealth sworn or given to the king, maybe first at a place called Upsala. Directly translating the word Husby to English would sound awkward and silly, and wouldn’t make any sense since it is so specific for the Three Kingdoms.
Freyday; Friday; There is a controversy among scholars as to whether Friday takes its name from Frigg, the wife of Odin, or Freya, the Vanir goddess of love and fertility. Some think that both goddesses descend from the same proto-Germanic deity, some not. The problem is that no written sources from within Nordic society exist from the time when these beliefs were dominant. My own interpretation is that old Norse religion was not only pre-literary, but also highly localised, and often happily influenced by outside inspiration. It is hard for us who have grown up in a society where a written and highly organised religion has held sway for almost a millennia and a half, to imagine a cult with loose and fluid borders and content. The Norse, however, was not a highly organised society, but rather a very regional and flexible grouping, where both religion and law were carried forth by storytelling and anecdote. Several scholars have suggested that the Æsir and Vanir we encounter in the Edda or the Sagas, were massively influenced by the common knowledge among both the authors of those texts as well as other learned men, of the pantheons of ancient Greece and Rome. Just looking at the similarities between the Norse and the Greek gods and goddesses, as they are presented from the high middle ages and onwards, I cannot help but agree. I would guess that the Norse deities had started out as much more localised and disparate cults, with different gods and goddesses having their strongholds in separate localities. At a time when little more than common language and custom held the people together, no one saw any problem in every region having ‘their own’ god and were probably also more than happy to worship the other gods when on a friendly visit. Remember, ‘no other gods than me’ wasn’t a tenet in old Norse worship. When more and more travellers returned with detailed stories of a much more impressive culture with their at the same time different and similar religion (people travelled down south from the high north long, long before the so-called Vikings), it is hardly surprising that the disparate local mythologies and cults slowly moulded itself after its coherently formulated southern cousins. All this to say that I would agree with those scholars who assume that Frigg, Odin’s wife, is a reinterpretation of Freya, the goddess of love and fertility, to better fit in with the Greek pantheon where Hera has an important place. Did Odin even have a wife before people started comparing him to Zeus? In my writing, I wanted to give Freya her, in my opinion, deserved importance, so I have kept the ‘e’ from the Swedish ‘fredag’ as well as from Freya, instead of the ‘i’ from Frigg and the ‘frigedæg’ of Old English.
Moonday; Monday, the second day of the week, after Sunnenday; Swedish=måndag, meaning moon day. The moon is the second most important heavenly body and thus gets the second day of the week.
Odinsday; Wednesday; Swedish=onsdag, or Odin’s day. The English Wednesday got its name from Woden, the continental version of Odin, which in those countries where ironically later changed to Mittwoch=‘middle of the week’.
Reeve; foreman, head of the servants of a household. The reeve is either free or unfree, which is irrelevant as he acts as the direct representative of his master. A large landowner like for example the king or a chieftain would have one reeve for every holding, to run the day to day business of that farm. Even those landowners who had just the one farm, often had a reeve if they commanded enough thralls and servants to make this necessary for the practical delegation of work. A husbond with but the two or three thralls wouldn’t bother with a reeve. A reeve can also be a temporarily elected official charged with leading and coordinating a communal activity. This could be for example a reeve of the hunt, or reeve of the ditches (for a large-scale irrigation project), or a reeve of the fair to keep order during trade and exchange; the old Swedish term would not be reeve at all, but ‘bryte’ which derives from breaking, as in ‘breaking bread’. The Bryte was the one who handed out the food to the other thralls. I decided to instead go with the English term reeve, since it has a lively history with a very similar meaning in Anglo-Saxon England, to avoid confusing the reader with new terms when not necessary.
Stave Man; a wandering beggar. In old Norse society, the custom of hospitality was strictly upheld. A traveller had the right to claim food and shelter for one night from any farm where he stopped on his way. To refuse was a crime. The reason for this was the lack of organised Inns, as well as the difficulty in preserving food for travel. Without such a law, no one would have ever dared taking to the roads, and visiting your relatives for weddings and burials as well as going to the Tings would have been unnecessarily perilous. The law of hospitality also had the beneficial side effect of providing a rudimentary social care system. If your crops failed, or for any other reason you were unable to provide for yourself, you simply had to take to the road. By staying on the move, and never asking for more than a simple meal and shelter for the night, you wouldn’t have to starve. Needless to say, these wandering beggars were not well seen and were hardly treated to the same hospitality as another freeman on his way to a celebration, but they were nevertheless accepted; Swedish=stavkarl. I liked the old Nordic way of naming the wandering beggars after their visible attribute, their walking stick, and not after their activity, as in English, so I kept it. It goes in keeping with how I think people would judge you in a harsh but straightforward society like theirs: anyone could be forced to beg at some point, but the old men and women with their staves had accepted begging and also the constant walking as a way of life.
Sunnenday; Sunday; Old Norse=Sunnudagr, Sun’s day. The first day of the week, as it was counted up until modern times.
Thorsday; Thursday; Old Norse=Þorsdagr, Thor’s day. After the god of thunder.
Thrall; An unfree in Norse society. Thralls could be either captured, bought, have given themselves up to thraldom, or were born from thrall parents. A thrall that was born on the farm, a foster, was considered more trustworthy than a captured or traded thrall. Of course, they had no home somewhere they could run back to. A foster was often afforded their own little cottage when they grew up and given more responsibilities than the other thralls. At the time of this story, thralls were still common in Svitjod and higher up north, but in Goethia, Danmark and Northway, the customary unfree thralls had been slowly replaced by dependent but technically free crofters, often with their own humble dwellings not far from the farm that once granted them their freedom. Thralls can be bought or sold, they have no voice in the dealings of society, and committing crimes against one is fined at a much lower rate than had it been against a freeborn; it has been debated whether there is really any difference between a slave and a thrall, significant enough to warrant their own terms. Thralls were an integral part of old Norse society from as far back as we know anything at all about it. What we don’t know much about, however, is what it meant to be thrall. There are some sources, of course, notably the Icelandic Sagas, and from the 13th and 14th centuries, the first written collections of laws, gives us a glimpse of the final fading away of thraldom. We can assume that this institution has changed and adapted over the centuries at least as much as the rest of these societies had, and that being a thrall to a 9th century Viking Sweon was nothing like being the thrall to that same freeman’s ancestors 400 years later. The word thrall has its root in the word for ‘running errands’, implying a servant, while our modern word slave is derived from the ethnic group of Slavic peoples. I went with the Scandinavian term, since the thralls of the era and region I am writing about, had already started to morph and transform into what would later become the servants and dependants of the free and wealthy. Sweon slave raids towards the East was mostly a thing of the past in the 1240s, so most of the thralls would have either been fosters born into servitude, or unfortunate people so poor that they saw no other way of feeding themselves than to give themselves into thraldom at a farm that would have them.
Ting; A highly regulated and organised meeting of free men for reading the law, negotiating and solving conflicts, addressing the consequences of crimes, discussing matters of great common importance and even making new law; Ting is usually spelt Thing in English. This would be formally correct since the Swedish and Germanic words also share the exact meaning with ‘things’ as in ‘a coming together of parts’. To avoid the obvious confusion, however, I went with the Swedish spelling, which secondary meaning should still remain reasonably obvious to the English reader.
Tyrsday; Tuesday; the day of the god Tyr, in Old English Tiwesdæg, in Swedish Tisdag. Tyr is the god of duelling and justice.
Vittr; a magical people living in parallel to human settlements but in secrecy. They are not naturally malicious, and make their living pretty much like their human counterparts, by farming, animal husbandry and wood-craft. They are on the other hand extremely shy and hates any kind of contact with the big folk, who would stumble through their carefully constructed barns and byres, and make a swift end to their delicate fences by unknowingly trampling them under clumsy feet. Vittr will react really badly at any such tendencies; In Swedish, the spelling would be Vittra, with an ‘a’ at the end. This is a typical ending for many Swedish nouns in the nominative case, but not really in English, so I decided to strike it. Other names for the invisible people (very much like the fairy in the Anglo-Saxon and Irish tradition, although never as grand), used in other parts of Scandinavia would be Huldrafolk, Vättar, Landrå, Jolbyggar (=earthbuilders), or ‘di sma undar jordi’ (=the small ones under the ground).
Waterday; Saturday; Swedish=lördag, from Norse laugr=bath. It was the habit of the Norse to take their bath on this day, which has given the name to the day. The root to laugr would be the same that has ended up in the English lye, as in the detergent, but this wasn’t very fitting since it would much more imply a washing day than a bathing day. I went with Waterday, partly because of its connotation with bathing, and partly because it has a similar ring to it to Saturday.
Withy fence; In Svitjod, a fence constructed from pairs of standing spruce posts, set at a distance of about a meter all along the course of the fence, with about 4 meters long, young spruce trunks leant at a shallow angle and tied fast at their upper end between one of the post pairs. The withy fence was ubiquitous on the Norse farm, except for some coastal or plains regions, where forest was scarce; The fence type I am referring to is the Swedish Gärdesgård, which means pasture-gate. It is very different from an old English withy fence, but I see no reason to invent a new word for it. In the middle ages, large regional variations would be found everywhere of how people solved their everyday problems, resulting in a fascinating range of house-types, fences, ways of dividing fields, village-layouts, and much more. When Scandinavian readers see the word ‘withy fence’ used in my text, I believe that most of them will get an image of a typical ‘gärdesgård’ in their mind’s eye. The English reader more likely a traditional medieval English fence, if anything. There is no way I can change this by inventing a new word, and for the sake of the story, it is perhaps not so important. Because of this, I decided to keep the English term and add this note to help those who want to, to find images and references illustrating what I mean with withy fence.