Ohthere and Wulfstan at the Court of King Alfred
Ohthere and Wulfstan were two traders who had sailed around areas of the Scandinavian Peninsula. Their travels were recorded at the court of King Alfred c. 890 AD.
The prose pieces generally known as “The Voyages of Ohthere and Wulfstan” are interpolations in the Old English translation of Orosius’ “Historiarum Adversum Paganos Libri-Septum”.
Othere, as he tells us, lived “furthest north of all the Norwegians,” probably somewhere around Tromsø in northern Norway. From there, he sailed south, down the length of Norway to Kaupang (directly north of Denmark), and north, around the North Cape and into the White Sea. Wulfstan sailed along the northern European coast from Hedeby to Truso, in Poland.
In addition to adding the accounts of Othere and Wulfstan, the ninth-century translator of Orosius also added a description of northern Europe to the opening passages of Orosius’ Histories. This description, along with the stories of Othere and Wulfstan, is included here.
The Description of Northern Europe in Orosius
Then to the north of the Danube’s source and to the east of the Rhine are the East Franks, and to the south of them are the Swaefas on the other side of the river Danube, and to the south and east of them are the Bcegware – the part called Regensburg – and directly east of them are the Baeme and northeast are the Thyringas. To the north of them are the Old Saxons and northwest of them the Frisians. West of the Old Saxons is the mouth of the river Elbe and Frisland, and northwest from there is the land which is called Angeln and Sillende and some Danish territories. North of them are the Afdrede and northeast the Wilte known as the Haefeldan; east of them is the land of those Wends who are called Sysyle, and southeast the Maroara who extend over a wide territory; the Maroara have to the west of them the Thyringas and some Behemas and half the Begware, and south of them on the other side of the Danube river is the land Carendre extending south as far as the mountains called the Alps. To that same mountain range lie the boundaries of the Begware and Swaefas. Then to the east of the land Carendre beyond the uninhabited district is the land of the Pulgare and east of that is the land of the Greeks. To the east of the land of the Maroara is the land of the Vistula, and east of that are those Datia who were formerly Goths. To the north east of the Maroara are the Dalamentsan and to the east of the Dalamentsan are the Horigti. North of the Dalamentsan are the Surpe and west of them the Sysyle. To the north of the Horigti is Maegtha land and to the north of Maegtha land the Sermende as far as the Riffen mountains. West of the South-Danes is the arm of the ocean surrounding Britain, and north of them is the arm of the sea called Ostsae. To the east and north of them are the North-Danes both on the main lands and on the islands. To the east of them are the Afdrede, and south of them is the mouth of the river Elbe and part of the Old Saxon lands. The North-Danes have to their north the same arm of the sea which is called the Ostsae, east of them are the tribe the Osti, and to the south the Afdrede. The Osti have to the north of them the same arm of the sea and the Wends and the Burgendan; south of them are the Haefeldan. The Burgendan have the arm of that sea to their west and Swedes to the north. East of them are the Sermende and to their south the Surfe. The Swedes have south of them the arm of the Ostsae and to their east the Sermende and to their north beyond the uninhabited land is Cwenland. Northwest of them are the Scridefinne and west are the Norwegians.
Translation from: “Two Voyagers at the court of King Alfred”, Christine E. Fell (York, 1984).
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