Temple at Uppsala

Temple at Uppsala

The Temple at Uppsala was a religious site in Gamla Uppsala (Old Uppsala), near modern Uppsala, Sweden, that was created to worship the Norse gods of prehistoric times. The cult site is sparsely documented, but it is referenced in the Norse sagas and Saxo Grammaticus' "Gesta Danorum", and most notably as a gilded temple in the work of Adam of Bremen.

urviving accounts

Adam of Bremen

Adam of Bremen wrote [Adam, von Bremen. "History of the Archbishops of Hamburg-Bremen." Francis J. Tschan (tr. & ed.) New York: Columbia University Press, 1959. OCLC 700044] that the Swedes had a famous temple named "Ubsola" near which there was a large tree with wide branches. It was always green, and no one knew what species it was. There was also a well where they apparently used to perform the sacrifices. One of these was to immerse a living man in the well. If the man disappeared the gods would answer the prayers. It was not far from the towns of Sigtuna and Birka.

A golden chain was around the temple hanging over its gables. The chain could be seen glittering far and wide for those who approached. It stood on flat ground surrounded by mounds like a theatre. Inside the temple, which was richly decorated with gold, there were three statues of gods. The most important god, Thor sat on a throne in the centre and beside him sat the gods Odin (called "Wotan" by Adam) and Frey (called "Fricco" by Adam).Thor was said to govern the air, thunder, lightning, winds, rain, good weather and harvests. Odin, which meant the furious, brought war and gave strength against enemies. Frey who gave peace and pleasure was represented by a statue with an immense phallos. Odin's statue was armed, and was likened to Mars and Thor was likened by Adam to Jupiter. The people also worshipped heroes who had been elevated to gods, such as king Erik about whom it is told in Vita Ansgari.

There were priests appointed for the gods, and if plague or famine threatened they sacrificed to Thor, whereas they sacrificed to Odin for war and to Frey for marriages.

The tradition was that every ninth year, there was a great feast at the vernal equinox which was attended obligatorily by all Swedes. Not long ago, a Christian king named "Anund" (Anund Gårdske) had refused to sacrifice to the gods and had left gladly for his faith.

All the kings and the people brought gifts to Uppsala and even the Christians had to redeem themselves by attending, which Adam found to be distressing. There were feasts and sacrifices for nine days and each day they sacrificed a man and animals so that when the nine days had passed seventy-two men and animals had been sacrificed.

They offered nine male heads of every living thing that was used in sacrifices, even dogs and horses together with the men (the remaining were probably rams, cocks, pigs, goats and bulls) and the bodies hanged in the sacred grove adjoining the temple. Every tree in the grove was sacred due to the death and decomposition of the corpses.

A 72-year-old Christian had seen the corpses hanging arbitrarily from the branches and reported that the songs sung were many and improper. Adam considered it best not to be more specific about their content.


13th Century Icelandic historian and mythographer Snorri Sturluson tells of a temple that was built in Uppsala by the god Freyr:

:"Odin took up his residence at the Maelare lake (Mälaren), at the place now called Old Sigtun. There he erected a large temple, where there were sacrifices according to the customs of the Asaland people. He appropriated to himself the whole of that district, and called it Sigtun (by some suggested to be the same as Tacitus's "Sitones"). To the temple priests he gave also domains. Njord dwelt in Noatun, Frey in Upsal, Heimdal in the Himinbergs, Thor in Thrudvang, Balder in Breidablik; to all of them he gave good estates."Sturluson, S. "The Heimskringla; or, Chronicle of the kings of Norway." Samuel Laing (ed.) London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1844. OCLC 2229301]

:"Frey built a great temple at Upsal, made it his chief seat, and gave it all his taxes, his land, and goods. Then began the Upsal domains, which have remained ever since."Sturluson, S. "The Heimskringla; or, Chronicle of the kings of Norway." Samuel Laing (ed.) London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1844. OCLC 2229301]

:"But after Frey was buried under a cairn at Upsala, many chiefs raised cairns, as commonly as stones, to the memory of their relatives."Sturluson, S. "The Heimskringla; or, Chronicle of the kings of Norway." Samuel Laing (ed.) London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1844. OCLC 2229301]

He also relates that there were human sacrifices in Uppsala, which may have taken place at the temple::"Domald took the heritage after his father Visbur, and ruled over the land. As in his time there was great famine and distress, the Swedes made great offerings of sacrifice at Upsal. The first autumn they sacrificed oxen, but the succeeding season was not improved thereby. The following autumn they sacrificed men, but the succeeding year was rather worse. The third autumn, when the offer of sacrifices should begin, a great multitude of Swedes came to Upsal; and now the chiefs held consultations with each other, and all agreed that the times of scarcity were on account of their king Domald, and they resolved to offer him for good seasons, and to assault and kill him, and sprinkle the stalle of the gods with his blood. And they did so. "Sturluson, S. "The Heimskringla; or, Chronicle of the kings of Norway." Samuel Laing (ed.) London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1844. OCLC 2229301]

:"After Ole's fall, On returned to Upsal, and ruled the kingdom for twenty-five years. Then he made a great sacrifice again for long life, in which he sacrificed his second son, and received the answer from Odin, that he should live as long as he gave him one of his sons every tenth year, and also that he should name one of the districts of his country after the number of sons he should offer to Odin."Sturluson, S. "The Heimskringla; or, Chronicle of the kings of Norway." Samuel Laing (ed.) London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1844. OCLC 2229301]

Moreover, he writes that many people gathered in Uppsala for these sacrifices::"Onund's district-kings were at that time spread widely over Sweden, and Svipdag the Blind ruled over Tiundaland, in which Upsal is situated, and where all the Swedish Things are held. There also were held the mid-winter sacrifices, at which many kings attended. One year at midwinter there was a great assembly of people at Upsal, and King Yngvar had also come there with his sons. Alf, King Yngvar's son, and Ingjald, King Onund's son, were there -- both about six years old. They amused themselves with child's play, in which each should be leading on his army."Sturluson, S. "The Heimskringla; or, Chronicle of the kings of Norway." Samuel Laing (ed.) London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1844. OCLC 2229301]

According to Snorri, there was a main blót at the Temple at Uppsala in February, and they sacrificed for peace and for the victories of the king. Then the "Thing of all Swedes" was conducted and there was a grand fair. This continued even after Sweden had been Christianized. The Dísablót was performed to see how large the next harvest would be."Disablot", "Nationalencyklopedin".]

Gesta Danorum

Like Snorri, Saxo writes of Frey's sacrifices in Uppsala:

:"Also Frey, the regent of the gods, took his abode not far from Upsala, where he exchanged for a ghastly and infamous sin-offering the old custom of prayer by sacrifice, which had been used by so many ages and generations. For he paid to the gods abominable offerings, by beginning to slaughter human victims." Grammaticus, Saxo. "The nine books of the Danish history of Saxo Grammaticus." Oliver Elton, et al (tr. & eds.) London; New York: Norrœna Society, 1905. OCLC 5784991]

He also writes that there were assemblies of people entertaining themselves::"And when he (Starkad) had done many noteworthy deeds among them, he went into the land of the Swedes, where he lived at leisure for seven years' space with the sons of Frey (House of Yngling). At last he left them and betook himself to Hakon, the tyrant of Denmark, because when stationed at Upsala, at the time of the sacrifices, he was disgusted by the effeminate gestures and the clapping of the mimes on the stage, and by the unmanly clatter of the bells."' Grammaticus, Saxo. "The nine books of the Danish history of Saxo Grammaticus." Oliver Elton, et al (tr. & eds.) London; New York: Norrœna Society, 1905. OCLC 5784991]


According to the written sources, Olof Skötkonung, the first baptised king of Sweden (ca. 1008 AD) wanted to have it destroyed, but other sourcesFact|date=July 2008 indicate that the Temple at Uppsala was probably destroyed by king Ingold I in 1087 during the last battle between the pagans and the Christians.


The popular image of Uppsala is mainly based on Adam of Bremens’ detailed description in his history of the Archbishops of Hamburg-Bremen. His account of the famous pagan centre has been studied and discussed vividly for centuries, and has stimulated the fantasy of many historians and laymen. In spite of the great risks involved in interpreting written sources like this clearly political and Augustinian work, Adam’s account has served and, perhaps unconsciously, still serves as a model for understanding ritual places and cultic acts elsewhere in Sweden, and even in Scandinavia as a whole.

Some scholars believe that the temple was confused with the mead hall of the Swedish kings (located some tens of metres to the north of the present church). In 2003 and 2004, scientists Neil Price and Magnus Alkarp, using ground penetrating radar and other geophysical methods, found the remains of what they interpreted as a wooden construction located directly under the northern transept of the medieval cathedral, and two other buildings, one of them a Bronze Age building, and the other possibly a Viking-age feasting hall.Citation| last =Alkarp| first =Magnus| author-link =| last2 =Price| first2 =Neil| author2-link =| title = Tempel av guld eller kyrka av trä? Markradarundersökningar vid Gamla Uppsala kyrka.| journal =Fornvännen - Journal of Swedish Antiquarian Research| volume =Vol 100| issue =| pages =| date =| year =2005| url =http://www.vitterhetsakad.se/fornvannen/?page=20050403| doi =| id = ]

Swedish archaeologist Magnus Alkarp has pointed out that Adam of Bremen at one point uses the word "triclinio" to describe the temple - which may indicate that the "temple" in fact was a hall-building rather than a temple. He also claims that Adams' description has its analogy in the Eddic poetry. All the elements in Adam's description – the golden chain, the grove, the idols, the well - appears word for word in descriptions of mythological sanctuaries in Grímnismál, Fjolsvinsmál, Voluspa and Gylfaginning. Alkarp has questioned the credibility of the Christian descriptions of the practice of human sacrifice as a cultic act in Viking-age Scandinavia.


ee also


External links

* [http://www.northvegr.org/lore/gesta/index.php Section of "History of Hamburg's Bishops" in English at Northvegr] .
* [http://www.kb.dk/elib/lit/dan/saxo/lat/or.dsr/ The Gesta Danorum in Latin (Olrik, 1931)]
* [http://omacl.org/DanishHistory/ The Gesta Danorum in English (Elton, 1905)]
* [http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/598 Heimskringla, eText on Project Gutenberg]
* [http://www.alkarp.se/ Current archaeological research on Gamla Uppsala]

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