Dreams of Ancient Glory

A recent addition to the excellent Runeberg Project e-text repository is the 1931 re-issue of Sven Petter Bexell’s 1819 work Hallands historia och beskrivning. It’s a patriotic history and description of the province of Halland, a part of Sweden’s southwest coast that belonged to Denmark for many centuries. Below is a fine example of just how fanciful early 19th century place-name scholarship and historical writing could be. Source-criticism hadn’t really become a formalised set of techniques yet at this point.

“Already in the latter half of the ninth century, the Vikings of Halland, askemännerna, made conquests and colonies in the Netherlands. The memory of native soil, to which they still felt themselves connected by love and gratitude, followed them across the sea. This memory they wished often to recall. On a foreign shore, where they extended their conquests and begun new settlement, they therefore named several places after their native lands. In this manner the very land of the ancient Batavians underwent a change of names, and it was called Halland [i.e. Holland] after the motherland of its Hallandic conquerors.”

Forgotten early-19th century works like this sometimes re-surface in the debate when local-patriotic amateur scholars use them to argue that their neck of the woods has a particularly glorious history. They are quite oblivious to the fact that a main convention of the genre was to glorify the author’s home province at any cost. The most sustained and notorious example of this is Västgötaskolan, a group of amateurs who weren’t satisfied with the solid archaeological record showing that the fertile province of Western Gothia has been one of Sweden’s most populous and affluent parts since deglaciation. They also wanted to appropriate countless historical and fictional accounts about other places (including Atlantis, Birka and Old Uppsala) and re-locate them to their home area. So far, however, I don’t believe they have laid claim to the Netherlands.

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  1. #1 windy
    March 25, 2007

    In the dept. of fanciful theories, it’s hard to beat Fenno-egyptology 🙂

  2. #2 Martin R
    March 26, 2007

    It is a well-known fact that Ekhnaton and Vainamoinen were the same historical person and that the Great Pyramid is a likeness of the ski-slope at Lahtis.

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