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Ancient Uppsala

See Uppsala for the modern Swedish city.

Table of contents
1 Ubsola, mythical seat of the Sveas of old Sweden
2 Conclusions
3 External links:

Ubsola, mythical seat of the Sveas of old Sweden

Upsalum, or Ubsola, is the name stated as the main cult center of pagan (heathen) Asa-faith in ancient Scandinavia and Sweden, generally translated into modern day language as Uppsala. This is were the supposed 'golden covered temple' should have been located, as described amongst others by Adam of Bremen and Snorri Sturluson.

The common belief today is that the origin of the tribe of Sveas as well as the ancient pagan Asa cult- and temple sites were located in Gamla Uppsala, Old Uppsala, in the county of Uppland, Sweden.
An opposing belief however states that the original site for the pagan Asa-temple was not located here, but in the county of Västergötland, in western Sweden.

This article disclose some interesting points raised in a debate about the possibility of keeping a wider scope for finding the "truth" behind the myths - in essence, whether the original site of the Asa cult was really Uppsala in Uppland, Sweden (the Svealand theory), or if Ubsola was located elsewhere (e.g. in Västergötland, according to the Götaland theory).

The Svealand theory

Whereas there exist several places in Sweden bearing the name Uppsala, the original seating of the tribe of Sveas as well as the mythic place for the old swedish pagan culture of Asas is mostly believed to have been located in Gamla Uppsala (Old Uppsala), just outside the modern city of Uppsala. (Uppsala was former called Östra Aros (East Aros) and this place is in fact historically known from sources older than the ones that identify Gamla Uppsala.). This belief may be referred to as the Svealand theory.

Within the forespokers of this theory, a debate is held as to whether the heathen temple was located in Gamla Uppsala, or in Uppsala.

Main arguments for placing Ubsola in Uppland

Generally, this is based upon the following facts:

1 Gamla Uppsala holds several mounds, of which the most famous, the three great mounds known as the kings mounds are visible from far away. These are said to be the mounds of three famous mythological kings, Ane (Aun), his son Egil - also known as Ongentheow and sometimes Angantyr - (father of Ottar and Ale), Adils (Ottars son), living sometimes around 450 - 550 A.D.
2 Also, it is an indisputable fact that the county of Uppland holds several findings from around the 10th and 11th century A.D. that indicates that a kingdom was ruled from here.
3 Furthermore, an often named place in the myths and sagas is Fyrisvallarna, supposedly a vast field near the temple site of Uppsala - and the river passing the modern city Uppsala is in fact called Fyrisån, the Fyris river.
4 In Snorri Sturluson's Heimskringla, the Ynglinga saga being part of the history of ancient Norwegian kings, the place Ubsola (Upsalum) is said to be located by the lake Lagen/Logen, which Snorri means should be the lake Mälaren, dividing Uppland and Södermanland and hosting the capital of Sweden, Stockholm, at its eastern shores. The ancestor of the Ynglinga family is said to be Frey, the God that came to Scandinavia together with Oden. When Oden found the place to be, he named that country (or place, castle, town...) Sigtuna. In the days of Snorri, this town existed (and is archeologically proven to have existed around 1000 A.D.) to the north of Mälaren.
5 The same location is pointed out by Adam of Bremen, who was a bishop in Hamburg that wrote the history of the great arch bishop domain of northern Europe, including Scandinavia until Lund was given an arch bishop seat in the 12th century. He, however, did not actually state that the temple was located in Uppland.

Adam of Bremen relates the missonary Ansgar who is said to have visited the trade town Birka, located not far from Upsalum and Sigtunir (Sigtuna).

The Götaland theory

An intense opposing interest from non-scholars from Västergötland have long tried to present indications, and evidence, for placing the ancient Ubsola not in Uppland, but in the county of Västergötland. This theory might, with correspondence to the above used headline, be called the Götaland theory. Historically, stemming from the 19th century, these theories have been referred to as 'Västgötaskolan', the school of Västergötland orgins for ancient Sweden. Some adherers to Västgötaskolan are conspiracy theorists accusing the academic scholars of lying and falsifing for example documents and runic stones to disprove Västgötaskolans theories.

Opposing notes of interest for not placing Ubsola in Uppland

Several interesting notes have been raised against the common theory of
Svealand being the ancient home of Sveas and the Asa cult, e.g. the following:

1 When the first really determined bishop of old Sweden, bishop Egino of Dalby (county of Skåne, Scania, located just outside Lund) sets out to destroy the pagan monuments, he goes to Skara (county of Västergötland, Western Gotaland) and crushes the sculptures of Frey, Oden and Thor.
Why go to Västergötland if the ancient temple was located in Uppsala, Uppland?
2 In some ancient sources (Tacitus Germania), the tribe or country of Suiones, Sveoner or Sveas, are said to be living side by side with a different people, the Sitones, who is ruled and governed by women.
Jordanes in his The origin and deeds of the Goths calls these two tribes suehans (the Sveas) and suetidi. Near the old town Sigtuna (being most certainly proven to have existed at the time of Olof Skotkonung) an ancient rune stone have been found, stating the name sithone.
3 The content of the kings mounds have not shown any remains that indicates the burial of great kings. On the contrary, the content of the two outer mounds that have been investigated instead indicates the burial of very prominent women. It is shown that the mounds does stem from the period around 500 A.D., but there is actually no evidence found from ancient remains in Gamla Uppsala that verifies the theory of this place being the actual Ubsola mentioned in the old documents(!).
The western mound contained an urn with burned ashes from two humans, and some melted golden jewelry, apparently worn by the deseased at the time of cremation. There are no clear evidence of weaponry or the like to suggest a powerful ruler that matches the otherwise given picture of warfare Sveas.
4 The same type of burial customs, the big mounds containing ashes in an urn, is not known in other parts of south and middle Sweden prior to the big mounds in Gamla Uppsala, but there are in fact the same type of mounds found further to the north, securely dated to the 3rd century A.D. Similar mounds are also dated to 200-300 A.D. in western Norway. This might indicate that the customs of big mounds had come from the north of Sweden to the south, rather than the opposite as could be expected for an expanding tribe of Sveas in Uppland. In fact, the burial customs could well indicate that they are the remains of the Sitones, perhaps stemming from the bronze age since the burial customs corresponds with those of the urn field culture in Europe during the younger bronze age and pre-roman iron age.
5 There is a certain group of women mentioned in ancient sources of Sweden, called diser, who were believed to be female witches or the like spiritual beings (most likely thought to be human, though). They were part of the ancient world, and were able to interact in human activities, such as battles, but also when children were born. In Uppsala (Östra Aros), a square has been called Distingstorget, the square of thing for Diser. There is also an ancient ceremoni called Disablot, when sacrifacies were made at the beginning of winter. There are said to be different kind of 'diser'', basically from different parts of the old country, and possibly these female spritualists were representing another, perhaps older, mythological or religious belief. They are also known to have existed in other parts of the German hemisphere.
Possibly these were the true ancestors of Uppland, later being included or engulfed by the expanding Sweas?
6 No remains at all have been found that indicates that there was actually a pagan temple located in Gamla Uppsala.
Rather, some supposed pole holes found at the place of the old church in Gamla Uppsala (believed to be the place of the pagan golden temple) has most certainly been used as poles for holding the set when building the old church - there are absolutely no remains of timber found in the holes, and they seem to have been filled up immediatly after the church was built.
7 Also, an 8 m deep well believed to be the ancient holy [[Well of Urd|well of Urd]], and Mimer, found on a ledge facing the kings mounds, was during the 1940s proved to be covered with oak tree that were cut down in the 1650s, A.D.
(Interestingly enough, this complies with the time of the famous Olof Rudbeck, who in 1678 presented the most "convincing" evidence for Scandinavia, and Uppland, being in fact the lost Atlantis, thus having Scandinavia harboring the whole ancestory of mankind... To say the least, he was eager to present the proud country of Sweden as well as he ever could, to the rest of the world.)
The well was plugged in during the 1860s, and amazingly - if it actually was the spring of Urd - it was not filled up and destroyed when the bishops during the 1000s and 1100s raided the country hunting for pagan cult objects...
Is it possible that, along time, the theory of Uppsala being located in Uppland has become so monumental that any other alternatives no longer can be sought?
8 Another interesting fact is that the river Fyris changed its name during the 17th century, and was former called Salaån (Sala being a small city further to the north of Uppsala).
The name Fyrisvallarna is not at all known to be located near the city of Uppsala prior to this!
9 If you were to take Snorri's Ynglinga saga literally, when Odin and his people, the Asas, moved from Fyn and travelled to the new won land somewhere north of here - where is it most likely that they ended up?
In Uppland, going first south, east and then north - around the Scandinavian peninsula?
Or in Västergötland/Bohuslän, Sweden, or Norway (Oslofjorden)?
Is it possible that there can be traces of immigrating tribes in western Sweden or southern Norway, dated around 50 B.C. to 200 A.D.?
10 When Oden came to the kingdom of Gylfe, he got the land by help of Gefjon, who 'ploughed the land westwards into the sea, leaving a whole in the land that became a sea', and that this land became Själland, said to be the increase of Denmark. Furthermore, the myth says that 'bays of Själland lies like capes in the sea'. Even today, any professional would find it hard to fit Själland of Denmark into Mälaren of Sweden.
With the lake Vänern, bordering Västergötland, on the other hand, is not at all hard to see the similarites of Själland as being 'taken from the land' of Sweden.
How can any bit of land from Mälaren be drawn westwards into the sea - crossing the whole landmasses of

Sweden - and become Själland?
(Naturally, the inclination here is not that the land was actually taken from Sweden to form Själland - but rather that the land the invaders/immigrants accomplished was exchanged for Själland)

According to Jordanes, the danes expanded - or where forced - southwards, in turn forcing the Heruliis (a German tribe, thought to be located at Själland around the first century A.D.) to emigrate southwards.

11 Written in english, the name Logen/Lagen for the great sea in Snorri's sagas is very easily deducted to be just that, not a name of a special lake, but the only real notion needed; it is the lake - the greatest of them all, Vänern.
Is it possible that Snorre got the name Mälaren to mean Logen due to the fact that Sigtuna, and Birka, was located here...?
12 In the recapitulation of Adam of Bremen (who, accidentally, never visited Sweden himself), the pagan temple is said to placed 'in front of a large, horse shoe shaped hill', forming what is best described as a large theater scene, with the temple being set as the stage for the public to attend the ceremonies.
There is absolutely no such physical surroundings near Gamla Uppsala!
13 Adam of Bremen also described the trade center Birka, as the town where the first bishop Ansgar during the 9th century was supposed to have come to declare Christianity among the heathen people of the north.
  • He seem to have had several sources, but the places referred to in these sources must not nescessarily have been the same.
  • One theory states that the epithet Birka in fact rather defines a general market location, rather than being the name of a specific town.
  • The trade town was supposedly placed with a harbor to the north, facing the Baltic Sea - which is not really the case for Birka at Björkön in Mälaren.
  • Furthermore, there are several known trade centers in ancient Sweden, and the one at Björkön is not nescessarily the one referred to by Adam of Bremen. One possible location is Köpingsvik in the county of Öland in the Baltic Sea, that not only have several remains from the 9th and 11th century, but actuallt lies 'in a bay to the north into the Baltic Sea'.

So, if Uppland is not the place of origin for the Sveas - where is it to be found?
The original advocateours for the Götaland theory or Västgötaskolan is willing to seek evidence for Västergötland, and the lake Väner region in particular, to be the origin of both the different people called Sweas, Danes and Goths/Geats/Götar, and furthermore the location of all ancient myths, including Oden's Sithun (Sigtuna), Valhall, the ashtree Yggdrasil etc. and myths of e.g. Helge Hundingsbane and Sigurd Fafnersbane.


Naturally, to hold any view at all regarding the existence, first, and the location, second, of these ancient places of cult and religion, one have to be very well read of the actual historical sources, and of the findings in archelogical and linguistical science being conducted over the years.

From a scientific viewpoint, the content of old myths and sagas cannot be

held as historically valid sources. For one thing, they are written down centuries after they are supposed to have happened, following oral traditions that at best have added some flavour to the original tales - if there are any real matter to them at all. More often, the tales have lend from one another and the final versions are likely to contain additions that can only render them untrustworthy as historical sources. They can, however, disclose elements that have bearing and references in known and alleged sources from other parts of Europe, and hence some traces of the original (again, if ever existed) deeds and people may be identified from them.

Especially, the story of Odin and the Asas emigration according to Ynglinga saga is generally considered non valid by the offical views and scholars. Other parts of the extensive work of Snorri (and other saga writers) may however be considered valid references for finding elements of the ancient history of Scandinavian people and their religious customs and beliefs.

The importance of keeping an objective view

To find any 'real' truth in historical myths and sagas, you are bound to have to take into account all possible aspects of science, not just the religious, historical, archeological and linguistic scholar domains. It have to be put together, and viewed objectively. In this, also geographical and natural sciences should be taken into account. The inclination of this, of course, is that the myths and sagas and historical sources must be considered to have actual geographical bearing also for studying our ancient history.

Another example of the importance to do this, is the admirable, now late, Thor Heyerdahl. Being non-historian, but a biologist, he has driven hypothesis to the limit in a vast number of areas, where the scholars of those affected disciplines have consequently ignored, and ridiculed, his hypothesis. Where different discipline scholars have been mostly concerned by their own field of expertise, Heyerdahl has found new approaches to solutions from simply combining knowledge from different scientific disciplines, and put them together as a whole.
His last project, Jakten på Odin was aiming at finding out whether Snorri actually could be trusted when he states in Ynglinga saga that Odin and the Asas actually had emigrated from the Black Sea around 60 BC.

Offical view on the location of Ubsola, ancient Uppsala

Not much attention have been paid from the scholars as to whether there could be any bearing in the reflections made and the arguments raised by the Götaland theory. There are as of today very little archeological findings to support the idea that Västergötland should hold the original site of Ubsola.
Never the less, it remains a fact that very little evidence exists for Uppsala, Uppland to be the actual location for the original site of Asa faith ceremonies, prior to the second millennium AD.

It is quite clear, however, that from 700 AD and mainly 800 - 900 AD the town of Birka was surrounded by a strong settlement of viking era Sveas. The big question is whether they originated in Uppland, or if they originated in the oldest agricultural areas in Sweden, the Väner area in Västergötland. As of today, the offical view stands unchanged: Ubsola was located in Uppland.

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