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Olaus Magnus' 16th-Century Map of Scandinavia

About Olaus Magnus



Carta Marina southern Sweden

Carta Marina, southern Sweden

Olaf Månsson (Latinized as Olaus Magnus) was born in Linköping, in southeastern Sweden, in 1490. His early schooling came at the cathedral school at Västeras. A lifelong love of travel was ignited when at age fifteen he made a trip to Oslo, about 240 miles from his home. Olaus and two of his brothers, Hans and Per (Latinized as Johannes and Petrus) became priests. From age twenty to twenty-seven Olaus studied in the German universities of Rostock and Greifswald; no doubt this was the period when he studied the 1482 printing of Ptolemy’s Geographia. He received a BA degree from the University of Rostock, probably in 1513 (Karrow 1993, 363).

Olaus gave up a position in Uppsala in 1518 to become a seller of indulgences in the north of Scandinavia. He later wrote that he asked to be sent to fight Lutheranism in northern Sweden, Finland and northwestern Norway. He may have visited the Lofoten Islands at this time. While on these journeys, he began to gather the information for his map and book. He was good at drawing, and it is believed that he drew many illustrations that appeared in them.

Olaus Magnus p. 75

Olaus Magnus, p. 75

Olaus returned to Uppsala sometime before the end of 1519. Four years later Sweden won independence from the Danes under Gustav Eriksson. Gustav was crowned king of Sweden in 1523 as Gustav Vasa. Olaus’ brother Johannes was named Archbishop of Uppsala and Primate of Sweden by the new king. Gustav Vasa sent Olaus to Rome to get confirmation of his brother’s appointment. Over the period of about four years, Gustav changed Sweden’s religion to Lutheranism. Despite this, during this time and to as late as 1534 the king employed the Magnus brothers on various diplomatic missions, particularly with the Netherlands. Olaus served as secretary to his brother. The brothers also visited Antwerp, Bremen, Cracow, and Hamburg.

Olaus Magnus p. 152

Olaus Magnus, p. 152

When King Gustav sent word that Johannes should return to Sweden, the brothers hesitated because of the religious situation. They were still Catholic, while the king was Lutheran. In 1530 the brothers’ property was confiscated and their income was cut off. Apparently they lived on their savings and at times on charity. Neither brother ever returned to Sweden again.