The Voyage of Ohthere

  • Country in which the text is set
    Norway, Russia, Denmark
  • Featured locations
    Hālgoland (Hålogaland)
    Hǣþum / Hæthum (Haithabu, Hedeby)
  • Impact

    Around 890 AD. King Ælfred translated the History of the World by Orosius from Latin to Anglo-Saxon – or had it translated, according to his literary programme: to “turn into the tongue which we can all understand the books which are most necessary for all men to know” (J. Raith).

    He added two travelogues, the first one by the Norwegian seafarer Othere (Ottar) from his homeland in Hålogaland in Northern Norway along the Northern coast and the Kola Peninsula towards the mouth of the Northern Dvina River. A second travel took him to the Danish trading town and fortress Hæthum (Haithabu, Hedeby, close to Schleswig).

    Another travelogue recounts the voyage of a man named Wulfstan (Ulfstein) that led from Hæthum to Truso (close to Elbing, Elbląg) across the Baltic Sea.

  • Balticness

    These are the earliest travelogues mentioning the countries of Norway, Sweden and Denmark and describing self-experienced voyages to the White Sea and across the Baltic Sea with accurate sailing distance specifications. Their impact on our knowledge of these regions has been strong and well-spread through numerous translations mostly into English, but also into other languages since the end of the 18th century.

    As one of the editors, Joseph Bosworth wrote in his comment: "It is the king's own record of Europe in his time. It is not only interesting, as the composition of Alfred, but invaluable, as an historical document, being the only authentic record of the Germanic nations, written by a contemporary, so early as the ninth century." and Johann Reinhold Forster, the father of the travellor around the world, added to the Barrington edition an interesting map and called Ohthere’s and Wulfstan’s voyages to be “die besten Nachrichten des mittleren Alters vom Norden, und geben der Erdbeschreibung ein grosses Licht” (in his German edition from 1784).

                                                                                                    Klaus-Jürgen Liedtke

  • Bibliographic information

    The Old English text was published in 1678 together with a translation into Latin and short notes by John Spelman as an appendix to his Latin biography over King Ælfred.

    The text appears according to: James W. Bright (ed.), An Anglo-Saxon Reader. New York 1913

  • Translations
    Language Year Translator
    Danish 1815 Rasmus Rask
    Danish 1983 Niels Lund et. al.
    English 1773 Daines Barrington
    English 1807 James Ingram
    English 1853 Benjamin Thorpe
    English 1859 Joseph Bosworth
    English   Grant Chevallier
    English 1997 rev. Murray McGillivray
    German 1784 Johann Reinhold Forster
    German 1822 Friedrich Christoph Dahlmann
    Norwegian 1969 Reidar Djupedal
    Swedish 1800 Henrik Gabriel Porthan
  • Year of first publication
  • Place of first publication
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