The maps used in this on-line Advent Calendar are loosely based on the famous ‘Carta Marina’ of Olaus Magnus, first published in 1539.
Olaus Magnus was the last Roman Catholic archbishop of Uppsala, in Sweden. Born in 1490 Olaus and his elder brother Johannes (who was also, for a while, Archbishop of Uppsala) were caught up in the turbulent events of the Swedish reformation. As in England, the reformation in Sweden was tangled up with political intrigue. The early sixteenth century saw the native Swedish nobleman Gustav Vasa lead a revolt against Danish control of the region. Again, as in Henry VIII’s England, Gustav Vasa saw the massive landholdings of the church as a potential source of revenue in his struggle with the Danes. The Magnus brothers, who had been groomed for a career within the Roman Catholic Church, served Gustav Vasa but eventually found themselves excluded from power. Olaus left Sweden in 1523 and Johannes in 1526. Neither of them returned to Scandinavia.
In their long exile in Rome both brothers tried to draw the attention of the Papacy to their plight. They did this partly by trying to enlighten southern Europeans about the geography, history and society of Scandinavian Europe. Johannes wrote (in Latin) a history of the Goths, who were thought to derive from southern Sweden. Olaus produced his map and also, in 1555, a huge book about the geography and society of the area. Johannes died in 1544 and Olaus in 1557.
Olaus’s map is a fascinating document, full of vignettes which are drawn from both direct knowledge (Olaus travelled through the far north in 1518) and from fantasy. It should always be remembered that it is, in part, a piece of propaganda – for example, Sweden is shown as central and dominates over a puny Denmark; Swedes, too, are shown as defending the area against marauding Russians (who just happened to be Orthodox Christians – almost as bad as the Protestants!) If you want a closer look at this endlessly absorbing map then the James Forbes Bell library have a website devoted to it. It can be found at http://bell.lib.umn.edu/map/OLAUS/indexo.html
The animations on the Advent Calendar map are sometimes derived from Olaus’s map, sometimes from his book Historia de Gentibus Septentrionalibus … and sometimes are just plain fantasy!