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Olaus Magnus

1. Dates
Born: Linköping, Sweden, Oct. 1490
Died: Rome, Italy, 1557
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 67
2. Father
Occupation: Unknown
The sources say only that Olaus came from a middle class family and that hie father Magnus Peterson was a burger of Linköping. Note that family names apparently did not exist yet in Sweden. Olaus' brother was Johannes Magnus, that is, Johannes son of Magnus.
No information on financial status.
3. Nationality
Birth: Swedish
Career: Swedish, Italian
Death: Italian
4. Education
Schooling: Cologne, Rostock; M.A.
He attended school in Linköping. He studied and travelled with his bother almost seven years on continent, among other places probably at the University of Cologne (although there is no record of his registration there). He also studied at the University of Rostock, where, probably in 1513, he received his baccalaureate.
Although details of Olaus' education are unclear, it appears that he did receive a Master of Arts degree, though it is not known from where.
He studied geography and the history of civilization, as well as the nature and "peculiarities" of fish.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Catholic
He was ordained a priest in 1519.
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Geography, Cartography
Subordinate: Natural History
His Carta marina (Venice, 1539), the monumental map of the Scandinavian countries, and the Historia de gentibus septentrionalibus (1555), his great description of the Scandinavian people, give him a pioneering position in the geographical research of Scandinavia. Although the description was wholly subjective, the book remains one of the most important sources of knowledge about Sweden's geography and civilization during the early 16th century.
The Historia, based largely on two years of travel, 1518- 20, with Arcimboldi, the vendor of indulgences, has a lot of natural history of Scandanavia and northern Europe as well.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Church Life
Secondary: Government
He obtained a canonry about 1510.
In 1518 he became a deputy to Arcimboldi, the papal vendor of indulgences. Later he was a vicar in Stockholm (1520) and cathedral Dean in Strengnäs (1522).
In 1523 the King, Gustav Vasa, sent him to Rome on a diplomatic mission, and later sent him to Lubeck to negotiate with the Netherlands and then to Bremen and the Netherlands around 1527. In 1528 he went to Poland to visit Sigismund, grandson of Gustav Vasa and King of Poland and Sweden. About this point the Reformation intervened, and Olaus remained a loyal Catholic. He was expelled from Poland because of his Catholicism. In 1530 he broke with the King and all of his property in Sweden was confiscated.
Before 1534 he spent several years as a refugee in Danzig. In 1534 he settled in Italy. He and his brother (Archbishop of Sweden) stayed with Hieronimo Quirino, Patriarch of Venice, for three years. When his brother died in 1544, the Pope appointed Olaus archbishop of Sweden in his place.
In 1546 he received a grant from a fund for poor prelates. He was still writing to the Swedish King as late as 1554 about returning as Archbishop--without result, of course.
He participated in the Council of Trent in the first (1545-7) and second (1551-2) periods.
While in Rome he was the manager for the House of St. Birgitta. Here he started a printing operation and printed a number of books--along with other books concerned with Scandanavia, his Historia.
8. Patronage
Types: Court Official, Eccesiastic Official
The ecclesiastical patronage appears somewhat ambiguous because it is obvious that Olaus did not prosper after the Reformation. Nevertheless, all of the arrangements that sustained his life came through the Church. Moreover, Quirino, the Patriarch, supported him and financed the publication of the map.
At Trent the nephew of the Pope, Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, was referred to as his protector.
He dedicated Historia to the Archbishop and Elector of Cologne, Adolf von Schauenburg, whom he had met in Trent, where the Cardinal showed great interest in Olaus' work.
He was also close to Cardinal Viovanni Pietro Caraffa, later to be Pope Paul IV, with whom he worked toward the restoration of Catholicism in Sweden.
9. Technological Involvement
Types: Cartography, Hydraulics
When he was young he developed a way to pump water out of mines.
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: None
  1. Hjalmar Grape, Olaus Magnus, (Stockholm, 1970).
  2. Svensk Uppslagsbok.
  3. Leo Bagrow, A. Ortelii Catalogus Cartographorum, 2 vols. Ergänzungsheften Nr. 199 & 210 zu "Petermanns Mitteilungen," (Gotha, 1928-30), 2 (Nr. 210), 41-5.
  4. Hilding Lidell, [Über Olaus Magnus und seine Quellen], in Swedish, Lychnos, 1 (1936), 316-18.
  5. Johan Nordstrom, "När skrev Olaus Magnus sin Historia de gentibus septentrionalibus?" Lychnos, (1943), 255-68.
Not Available and Not Consulted
  1. Herman Richter, Olaus Magnus Carta marina 1539, Lychnosbibliotek, 11, 2, (Stockholm, 1967).
  2. Karl Ahlenius, Olaus Magnus och hans framstallning af Nordens geografi, (Uppsala, 1895).
  3. O. Brenner, "Olaus Magnus und seines Karte des Nordens," Histor.
  4. Tidsskr. 2. R, 5, 401-5.
  5. H. Hildebrand, "Minne of Olaus Magnus," Svenska Akad. Handl. 12 (1899), 93-290.
  6. Kurt Johannesson, The Renaissance of the Goths in Sixteenth- Century Sweden: Johannes and Olaus Magnus as Politicians and Historians, tr. James Larson, (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1991).
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University

Note: the creators of the Galileo Project and this catalogue cannot answer email on geneological questions.

©1995 Al Van Helden
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