Scandinavia - Etymology - Pliny The Elder's Descriptions

Pliny The Elder's Descriptions

Pliny's descriptions of Scatinavia and surrounding areas are not always easy to decipher, even though his writing of geography was what he considered a "clarior fama" ("a clearer story"). Writing in the capacity of a Roman admiral, he introduces the northern region by declaring to his Roman readers that there are 23 islands "Romanis armis cognitae" ("known to Roman arms") in this area. According to Pliny, the "clarissima" ("most famous") of the region's islands is Scatinavia, of unknown size. There live the Hilleviones. The belief that Scandinavia was an island became widespread among classical authors during the first century and dominated descriptions of Scandinavia in classical texts during the centuries that followed.

Pliny begins his description of the route to Scatinavia by referring to the mountain of Saevo (mons Saevo ibi), the Codanus Bay (Codanus sinus) and the Cimbrian promontory. The geographical features have been identified in various ways; by some scholars "Saevo" is thought to be the mountainous Norwegian coast at the entrance to Skagerrak and the Cimbrian peninsula is thought to be Skagen, the north tip of Jutland, Denmark. As described, Saevo and Scatinavia can also be the same place.

Pliny mentions Scandinavia one more time: in Book VIII he says that the animal called achlis (given in the accusative, achlin, which is not Latin), was born on the island of Scandinavia. The animal grazes, has a big upper lip and some mythical attributes.

The name "Scandia", later used as a synonym for Scandinavia, also appears in Pliny's Naturalis Historia, but is used for a group of Northern European islands which he locates north of Britannia. "Scandia" thus does not appear to be denoting the island Scadinavia in Pliny's text. The idea that "Scadinavia" may have been one of the "Scandiae" islands was instead introduced by Ptolemy (c.90 – c.168 AD), a mathematician, geographer and astrologer of Roman Egypt. He used the name "Skandia" for the biggest, most easterly of the three "Scandiai" islands, which according to him were all located east of Jutland.

Neither Pliny's nor Ptolemy's lists of Scandinavian tribes include the Suiones mentioned by Tacitus. Some early Swedish scholars of the Swedish Hyperborean school and of the 19th-century romantic nationalism period proceeded to synthesize the different versions by inserting references to the Suiones, arguing that they must have been referred to in the original texts and obscured over time by spelling mistakes or various alterations.

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