The Longing for Scandinavia


Swedish Olaus Magnus, the brother of the last archbishop in Sweden to be confirmed by the pope, lived in exile in Italy where he compiled the first detailed map of Scandinavia, Carta marina (1539) in a comparatively accurate manner.

As a young man Magnus traveled around in Norway and Sweden in order to sell indulgences. Believers could in this way pay for forgiveness. The trade was one of Martin Luther’s most powerful accusations against the papacy. After the Swedish Reformation in 1527 Olav Magnus fled south and ended up in Venice.

230915-history-of-the-nordic-peoples-olaus-magnusFrom the late-14th century, Denmark, Norway and Sweden had been united in a personal union. This so-called Kalmar Union continued to exist until 1523. Only a small number of copies of the Carta Marina were made and the map was forgotten about until a copy was discovered in the Hof- und Staatsbibliothek in Munich in the 19th century.

Even if Olaus Magnus (1490-1557) made his early career in Sweden he kept his Swedish identification during his many years in exile.

After he had drawn Carta Marina he started with his literary valiantly Historia de Gentibus Septentrionalibus (History of the Nordic Peoples). It was published in Latin in 1555, comprises 22 volumes and was translated into Italian, English, Dutch, French and German. It was however not translated into Swedish until the first years of the 20th Century. ”History of the Nordic Peoples” was the first edited major work about the Nordic countries and its inhabitants.

Olaus Magnus (Swedish Olaf Mansson)
was born in Linköping, Sweden 1490 and died in Rome, Italy 1557. He studied theology, became a parish priest in Stockholm and cathedral dean in Strängnäs. He had in the beginning a good relation with King Gustav Wasa, but when the king began to introduce the Lutheran faith, Olaus Magnus remained a Catholic. He settled permanently in Italy 1539. There he started a new career as a historic researcher, cartographer and writer.

After 1549 he was also director of St. Brigitta’s, a religious house in Rome.

Olaf Magnus also depicted one of the most famous of the many influential sea monsters, the terrifying Great Norway Serpent, or Sea Worm, which author Joseph Nigg explores in his book Sea Monsters.

The Longing for Scandinavia, written by Tor Kjolberg