MEDIEVAL BOHUSLÄN: On the history of place names

   My previous posts (part 1 and 2) have been concerned with a castle ruin called Karlsborg, to the south of Hamburgsund. I have tried to put this rather unexplored ruin into a historical and economic context. More questions have been raised than answered by my investigations, and it is necessary to further explore this castle using both microscopic and macroscopic forms of research. Today, we will be investigating the historic place names of Bohuslän in general, in order to see what this information might tell us about the context of Karlsborg.
   The use of place names in historical research is, according to me, somewhat controversial, at least in more deterministic forms of toponomy. We need to exercise caution when using this information as a base for our interpretations, as it is sometimes difficult to know exactly when a place was named, and why. However, toponomy in Sweden is based on profound research, both linguistic and historical, and it is an intriguing material to use.
   Beneath, I have selected some general elements in place names, from different periods, and tried to analyse their geographical patterns through the use of GIS. As I am quite the novice in the use of place names in historical research, I ask you not to take this analysis too seriously. The material used is heavily generalized, and a closer investigation would be needed in order to use this in more serious research. However, I think that even this shallow analysis have provided me with a nice picture of the historical development of Bohuslän’s settlement patterns.

Prehistoric Place Names

A map showing prehistoric place names in Bohuslän. The white line marks the border of Bohuslän to neighboring counties.
Blue: -by
Purple: -hem
Light green: -landa

According to traditional toponomy, there are certain place names that can be traced back to a pre-christian period. In Bohuslän, these are names ending with either “-by”, “-hem” or “-landa”, e.g. “Svenneby”, “Solhem” or “Kavlanda”. The map shown above is made by selecting present day communities with these elements present in their names. It is clear that “-by” is the most common prehistoric element in Bohuslän’s place names. We should also note, as seen in the map above, that inland Bohuslän is quite devoid of communities with prehistoric place names. This might illustrate that settlements, at least in the late iron age, were shaped by the fact that most arable soils in this region are located close to the coast. We can also assume that these rural communities, though mainly agricultural, also considered fish an important part of their sustenance.

Medieval Place Names

Map showing settlement development in the middle ages. The white line marks the border of Bohuslän to neighboring counties.
Blue: Prehistoric names
Purple: -hult
Orange: -rud
Brown: -röd
Pink: -torp

   Place names from the medieval period in Bohuslän usually contain the elements “-röd”, “-rud”, “-torp” and “-hult”. Most of the medieval names in Bohuslän contain the element “-röd”, referring to cleared ground, and often cultivation. The map above shows a potential development from prehistoric to medieval times, were most of the densely forested area have been colonized. Usually, this phenomenon have been connected to the population growth of the High Middle Ages which, along with technological development, allowed previously quite uninhabited areas to be settled. The initial expansion was halted in the middle of the 14th century, with the outbreak of the Black Death and the following economical decline, also in combination with the environmental change to what have been called “The Little Ice Age”.
   The redoubled amount of settlements seen in the map should not be interpreted as a redoubling of the population during the High Middle Ages. Most of these new settlements were small, lacking the more extensive farmlands found in older communities. Perhaps, we can connect this new settlement pattern to an increased use of the forest itself, but this requires further investigation. Timber was important trade goods in medieval Scandinavia, but whether the settlement expansion in Bohuslän is connected to this, we cannot at the moment tell.   

Karlsborg and Place Names

Place names around Karlsborg
Blue: Prehistoric names
Brown: -röd
Pink: -torp

   This investigation has not clearly shown any connection to the region around Karlsborg. We cannot observe any community name in the immediate area containing the historic elements under study. The closest settlements are Svenneby, Smedseröd, Skogby and Allestorp, all presumably existing simultaneously with the castle and within a 8km radius.. However, they do not indicate any certain importance connected to the location of Karlsborg. This might be explained by the fact that we have excluded many historic places in our investigation (important places such as Dynge, Apelsäter, Hallinden and Vettland are not included), where we have sought a general pattern rather than interesting particularities. More local place names, among them the names of rivers and natural features, should be taken into account when conducting a more localized analysis.

   If we ignore the above criticism, however vital it may seem, we can assume that the region was not particularly important or special in the High Middle Ages, and that the importance can be connected to the later middle ages. Many of the place names in the investigation above defines settlements founded in the initial expansion of the earlier middle ages, and the pattern may have changed during the later middle ages. If the area around Karlsborg had been previously unimportant, it would explain why the site was not extensively fortified until the middle of the 15th century. This, at least in a very generalized way, supports the idea of seasonal fishing, caused by a herring period, as a foundation for the importance of Hamburgsund and Karlsborg. While written history does not support this theory, it is not unlikely. Maybe be the lack of documentation of this period can be traced to a high degree of international activity in the area. More on this in coming posts!

   That was all for now! As usual, you are more than welcome to share your thoughts and ideas on the topic discussed. If you found this post interesting, feel free to leave a comment!


Karlsborg: A castle by the sea pt.2

KARLSBORG: A castle by the sea pt.2

Some thoughts on Seasonal Fishing
  In my last post, I introduced the ruin of Karlsborg castle, just south of modern day Hamburgsund. We explored the archaeological features of this castle, mainly through LIDAR data, and did a summary of what historical sources can tell us about this place. It seems like this was an important location, at least in the late middle ages and the early renaissance. Both Swedish and Danish kings obviously had an interest in controlling the area, and Karlsborg castle.
In this post, I am going to discuss the role that seasonal fishing might have played in defining the importance of this region. Using data from FMIS (Fornminnesregistret = lit. the register of ancient memories (ancient monuments)), we will explore what traces this activity left in the landscape.

   Bohuslän have, at least in more recent centuries, long been associated with the fishing industry. The herring periods brought economic development to this otherwise quite marginalized area. Historical sources indicate that the fishing of herring was common already in the 11th century, and from Vestlandet (Western Norway) and Viken (the earlier name for Bohuslän) herring was exported to Germany and England in the late 12th century. However, it was not until the late 16th century that this fishing reached larger and more important proportions. From the middle of this century, fishermen from other parts of Denmark (which then included Norway) came to the coast of Bohuslän, establishing seasonal fishing settlements where they stayed from autumn till late winter. The large amount of herring that were drawn to Bohuslän during this period also attracted fishermen from abroad, both from the Baltic area and from North-western Europe. The city of Marstrand, located just north of Gothenburg, became a centre for international herring trade. Permanent coastal fishing stations were also established during the late 16th century, marking a change in habitation from earlier centuries. The herring period of the 16th century lasted for 40 years, after which the activity in the area ceases quite abruptly.

 Picture showing some typical examples of what a "tomtning" might look like. Photo from: Bohusläns Museum.

  The type of seasonal fishing settlements discussed above are called “tomtningar” (singular = “tomtning”) in Swedish. These are features usually found in connection to beaches of different kinds, identified by a low stone wall enclosing a space usually about 1-10 meters wide. While there are some inland examples, almost all tomtningar are located on islands. The geometrical shape of a tomtning may vary from circular to quadratic. It is not unusual that several of these features lie side by side, like a row house. Archaeological investigations have shown that tomtningar usually can be dated to a period between the 13th - 16th centuries. Investigations on Söö island, south-west of Gothenburg, have also shown that bones from cows and sheep are commonly found in these features, indicating that fish were considered important trade goods, and not meant for personal sustenance. In addition, English coins dating to the 13th century have been found in tomtningar on Söö island, indicating the presence of international fishermen.

A map created in ArcGIS showing remains in the area related to the sea and fishing. You will see this map again in coming posts, but for now we are mainly concerned with "tomtningar". Click for larger picture.

  We can see, in the map, that there are 23 tomtningar on the islands outside Karlsborg. From the above material, we can assume that at least some of these are from the active period of the castle. But does this really give us a clue to the importance of this region? Why would Kings care about this?

  According to medieval law, all local inhabitants had the right to use the beach for their boats, nets and to bring up the catch. But the King owned all land defined as “Forstrand” (foremost beach?). What is meant by this is somewhat unclear, though a common interpretation is that the king owned a part of the beach, and presumably all islands without a farming population. The King would then be the only person with the right to allow fishermen from other parts of the kingdom and abroad to use these islands and beaches for seasonal fishing. We can also assume that this would give him the opportunity to collect tax from these fishermen, thus increasing his revenues and giving him control of international trade. 

 A Point Density analysis done in ArcGIS showing the geographically dense areas of "tomtningar" in the County of Västra Götaland. Click for larger picture.

  The Point Density Analysis of Tomtningar in the county of Västra Götaland shows that the area just north of Hamburgsund is an area with a large amount of tomtningar, an amount only bested by denser concentrations in the archipelago outside of Gothenburg. While tomtningar in the area of Gothenburg have been the focus of some research, the concentration found to the north of Hamburgsund and to the west of present day Fjällbacka, have been largely ignored. In my opinion, this concentration, in relation to the political history of the area, can provide a plausible explanation for the importance of Karlsborg.

  This, however, must be explored on a deeper level, especially as we cannot give a definite dating for these seasonal fishing settlements. Given the archaeological investigations in other areas, we can presume, but not of course be entirely sure. We have to delve deeper into the historical and geographical characteristics of this area, in order to see what other features that define the region. For this, see my upcoming posts!
  Till then, I would very much appreciate my readers insight and ideas. Here are some questions I would like to raise:
  • What do you think of the above theory?
  • Would the prospect of economic revenues be enough motivation for controlling this specific area?
  • Why were the islands north of Hamburgsund, as compared to other areas in Bohuslän, so dense in seasonal fishing?

FURTHER READING (Sorry, most of it's in Swedish)

Ersgård, L. (2001). Människan vid kusten – fiskebebyggelse från Skagerack till Bottenhavet under senmedeltid och början av nyare tid. In Andrén, A., Ersgård, L. & Wienberg, J. (ed.) (2001). Från Stad Till Land: En medeltidsarkeologisk resa tillägnad Hans Andersson. Almqvist &Wiksell Internation: Stockholm.

Svedberg, V. & Jonsson, L. (2006). Medeltida urbanisering och fiske i Västsverige. Göteborgs universitet: Nossebro.

Stibéus, M. (1997). Medieval Coastal Settlement in Western Sweden. In Andersson, H, Carelli, P. & Ersgård, L. (ed). Visions of the Past: Trends and Traditions in Swedish Medieval Archaeology. Lund Studies in Medieval Archaeology 19. Riksantikvarieämbetet, Arkeologiska Undersökningar, Skrifter nr 24. Lund.

Stibéus, M. (2004). Medeltida Tomtningar På Söö. UV Väst rapport 2004: 35 
Link to this report, here


Karlsborg: A castle by the sea


Just south of Hamburgsund in Bohuslän lies a place commonly known as “Slottet”. This is in an area nowadays mostly inhabited by summer guests, due to the exclusive attraction of Bohuslän's extensive archipelagos. In summertime, this area is full of life, but during the long and harsh winters only a few natives remain. This is nothing new, really, as the coast of Bohuslän have been inhabited seasonally in the past as well, especially during the herring periods of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, when seasonal fishing stations where formed on the islands and the coastline. But perhaps, in more distant times, this area was much more active. This can be seen by the many archaeological traces left in the landscape, where we especially can discern a rich Bronze Age culture. Among other things left from this period, we find a large amount of rock carvings and cairns (“röse” in Swedish) in the area close to Hamburgsund and Slottet. But it is not these highly interesting Bronze Age remains that we shall discuss now, but rather the traces of historical times, of the medieval and early renaissance activities in this area.

The beautiful view from Karlsborg, where you can see a part of the earth-works in the foreground. The actual walls of Karlsborg were probably wooden palisades, for which the earth-works that remain served as a foundation. Photo taken from: wadbring.com

The name “Slottet” is derived mainly from a ruin on a small mountain just by the southern cove leading into the modern community of Hamburgsund. This mountain is surrounded by steep cliffs on all sides, except in the west where what could be either a natural or a humanly constructed ( though quite steep) slope leads up to the top, where the ruin is situated. In modern times, a staircase has been built on this slope, enabling less fanatical visitors to access the ruin as well. When I mention “ruin”, most people would expect this to be a sort of “classical” castle ruin, with clear remains of walls, towers etc. This is not the case. All that remains are some earth-works surrounding the top of the mountain, and for the trained eye it is also possible to detect the remains of what could be two barbicans (“förborgar” in Swedish) in the slope.
An archaeologist named Wilhelm Berg excavated the castle in the early 20th century. Among the artefacts where the backside of a canon, canon balls, gun bullets, points from arrows, crossbow bolts and lances. While these artefacts point to military functions, we can of course not depend entirely on the inadequate documentation and excavation methods from this early period in the history of Archaeology. Nevertheless, these findings are interesting.

A Digital Elevation Model made with LIDAR data. The two potential barbicans are marked with blue rings, and the path up to the top is marked with green. The blue area roughly corresponds to the sea level of the late medieval period. Note the highly visible earth-works that surround the top of the mountain, and the iron age mounds visible where the path starts.

According to written history, the proper name for this castle ruin is “Karlsborg”, and was fortified in 1455 by the marshal of Sweden, Tord Bonde. Entire Bohuslän had in 1455 been taken by the marshal on king Karl Knuttson Bonde's orders, and Karlsborg was built in order to gain control over the fairway between Denmark and Norway, which passed the islands just outside Hamburgsund. However, Tord Bonde was murdered in 1456 by the castle's bailiff, a Dane called Jösse Bosson. After this, Sweden lost control over Bohuslän to the Union (at the time between Denmark and Norway). During the reign of Gustav Vasa, northern Bohuslän was attacked by Swedish troops once more in the 1520s. Karlsborg was restored to it's former glory in 1525, after which the castle became the administrative centre of the region. This secured the connection of Sweden to the North Sea and the trade routes to England and western Europe, if the estuary of Göta Älv, close to present-day Gothenburg, had been ceased by the Union. In 1531, the castle was attacked and razed by the troops of the former Danish king Kristian II ( known in Sweden as “Kristian the Tyrant”), and the castle was never restored again.

The location of Karlsborg in Hamburgsund's strait.

That was all for now! In the next post, I will use further GIS analysis to investigate why this place was so important. Karlsborg obviously played an important role in controlling Bohuslän, but there is no clear urban central place in this region, from this period. I will use a mainly quantitative geographical material, through a long-time perspective, to see if we can find some clues. Till then, I hope you have enjoyed this brief introduction to a very interesting site!