Olaus Magnus

Olaus Magnus

Olaus Magnus (Olaus Magni or Olaus Magni Gothus) was a Swedish ecclesiastic and writer, who did pioneering work for the interest of Nordic people. He was reported as born in October 1490 in Östergötland, and died on August 1, 1557. Magnus, Latin for the Swedish Stor “great”, is a Latin family name taken personally, and not a personal epithet. His real surname was Månsson; son of Måns.


Dwarfs fighting Cranes in northern Sweden

Born in Skeninge in October 1490. Like his elder brother, Sweden's last catholic archbishop Johannes Magnus, he obtained several ecclesiastical preferments. Among them a canonry at Uppsala and Linköping, and the archdeaconry of Strängnäs. He was furthermore employed on various diplomatic services after his mission to Rome in 1524, on behalf of Gustav I of Sweden (Vasa), to procure the appointment of Olaus Magnus' brother, Johannes Magnus as archbishop of Uppsala. He remained abroad dealing with foreign affairs and is known to have sent home a document that contained agreed trade-relations with the Netherlands. On the success of the reformation in Sweden, his attachment to the Catholic church led him to stay abroad for good where accompanied his brother in Poland. They were both exiled and Magnus' Swedish belongings were confiscated in 1530.

Settling in Rome in 1537, he acted as his brother's secretary. At the death of the brother in 1544, Pope Paul III issued him as his brother's successor as Archbishop of Uppsala; admittedly nothing more than a title, as Sweden was not Catholic anymore and Olaus was banned. In 1545, Pope Paul III sent him to the council of Trent where he attended meetings until 1549. Later, he became canon of St. Lambert's Cathedral in Liège. King Sigismund I of Poland offered him a canonry at Poznań and he spent the remainder of his life with the monastery of St Brigitta in Rome, where he subsisted on a pension assigned him by the Pope. He died the 1st of August 1558 at the age of 67.


He is best remembered as the author of the famous Historia de Gentibus Septentrionalibus (History of the Northern Peoples), printed in Rome 1555, a patriotic work of folklore and history which long remained for the rest of Europe the authority on Swedish matters. This text on dark winters, violent currents and beasts of the sea rightly amazed the rest of Europe, who didn't know Sweden had sea monsters. It was translated into Italian (1565), German (1567), English (1658) and Dutch (1665), and not until 1909 into Swedish. Abridgments of the work appeared also at Antwerp (1558 and 1562), Paris (1561), Amsterdam (1586), Frankfort (1618) and Leiden (1652). It is still today a valuable repertory of much curious information in regard to Scandinavian customs and folklore. A translation of the Latin title page goes: "Olaus Magnus Gothus', the Upsala Archbishops', history of the nordic people's different manners and camps, also about the wonderful differences in customs, holy practices, superstitions, bodily exercises, government and food keeping; further on war, buildings and wonderful aids; further on metals and different kinds of animals, that live in these neighbourhoods (...)".

Following the death of his brother, he also let publish historical works that the brother had written. Olaus had already earlier written Carta marina et Descriptio septemtrionalium terrarum ac mirabilium rerum in eis contentarum, diligentissime elaborata Anno Domini 1539 Veneciis liberalitate Reverendissimi Domini Ieronimi Quirini, which translates as "A Marine map and Description of the Northern Lands and of their Marvels, most carefully drawn up at Venice in the year 1539 through the generous assistance of the Most Honourable Lord and Patriarch Hieronymo Quirino" (Lynam 1949, 3). The Italian title translates to "A little book, that more closely explains a map of the Nordic cold, beyond the Germanic sea located country, which presents its extremely peculiar, priorly known neither to Greeks or Latins, wonders of nature."

It included a map of Northern Europe with a map of Scandinavia, which was rediscovered by Oscar Brenner in 1886 in the Munchen state library and shown to be the most accurate depiction of its time. The map is referred to as "carta marina", and consists of 9 parts, and is remarkably large: 125 cm tall and 170 cm wide.

Present day oceanographers rediscovered Olaus Magnus' eye for detail (disregarding the sea monsters) and a series of scientific publications followed on Olaus' truthful depiction of currents between Iceland and the Faroe Islands.


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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Olaus Magnus —     Olaus Magnus     † Catholic Encyclopedia ► Olaus Magnus     Swedish historian and geographer, b. at Skeninge, Sweden, 1490; d. at Rome, 1 Aug., 1558 [or perhaps 1557 Ed.]. He belonged to the old and noble family of Store (i.e. great, magnus) …   Catholic encyclopedia

  • Olaus Magnus — (* 1490 in Östergötland; † 1557 in Rom; eigentlich Olof Måsson) war ein schwedischer katholischer Geistlicher, Kartograf und Geograph. Er war Bischof von Uppsala. Sein Hauptwerk waren die Landkarte Nordeuropas Carta marina und die Historia de… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

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