Historical Roots of the North

The earliest history of the Barents Region can be traced back to Stone Age cultures, around 36,000 BC, in Mamontovaya Kurya in the Ural Mountains of the Republic of Komi. The oldest traces of human habitation in Scandinavia date back to the Komsa culture of 8,000 BC in the Finnmark region. In AD 98, Cornelius Tacitus wrote about the Fenni, a people who lived in the north and were probably the forebears of the latter-day Sami.

For thousands of years there have been extensive relations among the peoples in the region. Sagas relate that Viking families in Northern Norway had regular dealings with the peoples in areas around the White Sea. The areas were called Bjarmeland. One of the oldest travel descriptions talks of the northern Norwegian chieftain Ottar, who journeyed from the court of King Alfred in London to Bjarmeland around 890 AD to trade with and collect tax from the population. Ottar tells of the journey from his own area, Hålogaland, and describes the sparsely populated coast as far as the land of the Bjarmer where the Finns (Saami) paid tax in natural products.

A Region in the Middle of East and West

In the conflict between the Orthodox and the - Roman Catholic Church during the 9th and 10th centuries, the northern areas sometimes periods of experienced unrest between east and west. The building of fortresses, churches and monasteries close to the border, e.g.,Valamo, Savonlinna, Solovki, Oulu, Gammelstad and Boris Gleb, became an important strategy of the colonisation of the area.

The reason for this problem was that the Treaty of Nöteborg, signed in 1323 between Novgorod and the Swedish kingdom, did not exactly define the borders between the countries. The North was at this time a virgin territory both economically and politically, and Denmark/Norway, Sweden and Novgorod claimed the right to levy taxes on the people of this unclaimed land.

A Trading Centre of the North

In the 16th Century, the market in Torneå became a meeting-place for extensive trade between peoples in the region. The main product from the Swedish side was leather. King Gustav Vasa demanded his part of the trade through leather duties. The peasants in other words paid a "Russian duty". The light Russian boats came on inland waterways for example from the White Sea via Uleträsk or the Kemi River to Torneå.

Interest in the Barents Sea and its costs grew in the 16th centry when the Europeans were searching for sea routes to China and America.  Willem Barentz (1550- 97) was a Dutch navigator who made three voyages (1594, 1595, 1596-97) in search of a Northeast Passage to Asia.

In 1584, the town and  port of Arkhangelsk was established by Ivan the Terrible and in 1693, on the initiative of Peter I, the first shipyard on Salombola Island was established. The inhabitants, called Pomors, became merchants, seafarers, explorers, naval seamen and officers. The Pomor trade was of great importance for the economic and cultural development of northern Norway and of Arkhangelsk. The Pomor trade between Northern Norway and Murmansk-Arkhangelsk can be traced back to the end of the 17th Century, but developed properly in the 18th Century. Russian merchant ships from the White Sea area came loaded with goods that were in short supply in Northern Norway, such as grain and flour, canvas and linen, hemp and rope, iron goods and tar. They exchanged these for fish, in which the Russians were not self-sufficient.

The barter trade developed into ordinary trading in the 19th Century. There were regularly 250-400 Pomor sailing ships a year in Northern Norway, and close cultural Russian-Norwegian ties developed. It was not uncommon, for example, for sons and daughters of northern Norwegian traders to travel to Arkhangelsk to learn Russian commerce, culture and language. A special Norwegian-Russian-English trade language also developed, "RussianNorwegian". The Russian Revolution put an end to the legal trade and personal contacts between Northern Norway and Russia, and from 1920 on they were banned, but the trade continued, albeit on a fairly limited scale, until 1926. 

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