Ericus Olai

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by Biörn Tjällén

Ericus Olai or Erik Olofsson (d. 1486), Uppsala ecclesiastic, theologian and liturgical poet, was the first to write a history of the Swedish realm from the birth of Christ to his own time (i.e. 1471).


The date and the place of his birth are not known. However, his matriculation at the University of Rostock in the year 1447 as “Ericus Olaui de Upsalia” suggests that he was born in the later 1420s and had his first education at the cathedral school of the Swedish arch see. His grave slab (now lost) bore no indication of a noble birth. In 1452 Ericus passed his degree of magister artium in Rostock and he possibly also obtained his Baccalaureate in Theology there a few years later. In his later years, in 1475, Ericus travelled to the University of Siena in Italy where he was made Master of Theology. The progression of Ericus’s ecclesiastical carrier can be abstracted from charters pertaining to the Uppsala cathedral. In 1456 he appears as prebendary and in 1459 as a canon at the cathedral chapter. After 1472 Ericus obtained the dignity of scolasticus and in 1479 he advanced to the deanery. At some point in the 1460s, during the hardships caused by Archbishop Jöns Bengtsson’s involvement in the political power struggles of the time, Ericus appears as a representative of the Uppsala chapter. His later years were devoted to teaching. From its first year in existence in 1477 and up until 1485 Ericus taught theology at Uppsala University. As a theologian Ericus was not very original. He was not influenced by nominalist theological notions but can rather be characterized as a conservative and as a Thomist (PILTZ 1977).

After his death Ericus acquired a reputation of sainthood. Instances of pilgrimage to Ericus (helge doktor Erik) – presumably to his grave in Uppsala – are known. Notions of his sanctity also appear in manuscripts or early prints of his works. It is attested that God performs miracles in recognition of Ericus’s merits (per cuius merita deus iugiter facit miracula), he is invoked (O pie Pater […] sancta tua conscientia) and he carries an epithet to this effect (beatus dominus Ericus).


Ericus was a prolific author. His known works cover areas of historical writing, liturgical poetry, biblical hermeneutics and commentaries on Scripture and theological writings. His doctoral oration in Siena, Oracio de laudibus sanctissime theologie, is known to us only by name. At least five of his theological texts are however preserved through lecture notes taken by one of his students in Uppsala, Olaus Johannis Gutho (ed. PILTZ 1977). Ericus commented on the New Testament (Matthew), Bonaventura’s Breviloquium, Hugh of St. Victor’s De tribus diebus and on Peter of Blois’s De confessione. The commentaries on the Sunday Gospels and on Revelation preserved by this student are possibly also of his hand. In his most original contribution in the field of theology, the Regulae sacrae theologiae (ed. STEGMÜLLER 1953), Ericus put forth a set of rules to apply in interpretation of Scripture. In this text he emphasizes ecclesiastical authority as the ultimate basis of the credibility of revelation. Ericus also wrote poetry. He composed a sacred song in Swedish, Een rikir man (A wealthy man; ed. princeps Uppsala ca. 1515). The Latin historia (a versified officium) in honour of the patron saints of Sweden, Festum patronorum regni Suecie (Iocundare mater ecclesia; ed. HELANDER 1989), is anonymously transmitted but probably also his work.

Ericus’s post-medieval fame is principally founded on his Chronica regni Gothorum or Chronicle of the Realm of the Goths, the first Latin prose chronicle of Swedish history. It provides an account of the history of the Swedish realm from the birth of Christ up to the early 1470s.

Chronica regni Gothorum


Corpus Cristi misticum, quod est ecclesia, cuius ipse caput est principale,


Sed in uanum laborauerunt, quotquot ad hanc iniquitatem extenderunt manus suas.


170 pages.


  • MESSENIUS, J. 1615: Historia Suecorum Gothorumque, Stockholm.
  • LOCCENIUS, J. 1654: Historia Suecorum Gothorumque, Stockholm.
  • FANT, J. 1828: "Chronica Erici Olai", in SRS 2.
  • • HEUMAN, E. & ÖBERG, J 1993: Ericus Olai Chronica regni Gothorum. Textkritische Ausgabe, Stockholm.


  • (Swedish) SYLVIUS, J. 1678: The Swenskes och Göthers Historia, Stockholm.
  • (Swedish) BERGGREN, P.G. 1901: Svensk historia enligt samtida skildringar, ser. 2, Stockholm, 7-42 (extract: the Engelbrekt uprising).
  • (Swedish) AILI, H., FERM, O., GUSTAVSON, H. 1990: Röster från svensk medeltid, Stockholm, 304-21 (extracts from the prologue and the Engelbrekt uprising).

Date and place

An allusion to the Battle of Brunkeberg in 1471 at the end of the narrative marks that year as a terminus post quem for the last section of the Chronica. The more precise dates of origin and completion of the work and the questions of its possible instigators and of the intended audience remain debatable. FERM (1993) polemized with the traditional idea that King Karl Knutsson (king 1448-1457, 1464-1465, 1467-1470), supported by the Archbishop Jöns Bengtsson, ordered the Chronica to be written with European readers in mind and with the consequent dating of its completion to the years 1467-1470. Instead he argued that the Chronica was completed in the years 1471-1477, that the initiative came from the new Archbishop Jakob Ulfsson, and that the purpose of writing was to instruct the clergy of the Cathedral of Uppsala. ÖBERG (1995) argued for a protracted time of production of the text, begun in the 1450s and carried on until the years between the death of King Karl Knutsson 1470 and Ericus’s own journey to Siena in 1475. ÖBERG held that Ericus was inspired in this undertaking by the archbishop of his youth, Nicolaus Ragvaldi (d. 1448) and intent on circulating his work to the learned public of Europe.

Summary of contents

Ericus declares the organizing principle of his compendium of the history of the Swedish realm in the beginning of chapter 4, and then again in the beginning of chapter 6: "Cronicam regni Gothorum" vtcumque scripturus et, qui archipresules Vpsalensem metropolim rexerant cum regibus illic presidentibus, vel breui relatu dicturus exordium narrandi a Cristi […] natiuitate […] presumendum institui. This intended programme, to depict the history of the realm from the birth of Christ and according to the succession of kings and bishops exercising authority from Uppsala, follows the ecclesiological considerations put forth by Ericus in the beginning of his prologue. There, Ericus declares that God has instituted a twofold government, spiritual and temporal, and that he has chosen Uppsala as the locus for the exercise of authority of the royal and episcopal representatives (pontificalis auctoritas et regalis potestas) of this order in Sweden. This argument is not unique in medieval historical writing. It is likely that Ericus was inspired by Martin of Troppau’s Chronicon summorum pontificum imperatorumque whose historiographical schema of successive Roman popes and emperors could be repeated on the level of national history in the guise of arch bishops and kings ruling from Uppsala. This programme, however, has been unevenly realized throughout the text. This is largely a consequence of Ericus’s dependence on historical writing representing an institutional stance different from his own: in his sources he has found more to retell concerning the kings than the archbishops, and all kings concerned have not resided in Uppsala. Ericus adhered to contemporary Gothicist views on history, according to which Sweden was the home of the ancient Goths. He provides remarks to this effect in his prologue and when discussing the kings of the earliest, mythical, time of the realm.

Composition and style

As a Latin stylist Ericus has kept to the traditional late Medieval Latin and has not been influenced by the ideals of the Italian renaissance (ÖBERG 1995).


The parts of the Chronica that are devoted to the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth centuries constitute an important source for Swedish historians. Ericus used earlier chronicles well known to us like the Historia Norwegie (ca. 1200), the Danish and Swedish Annales (Annales Danici, Annales Suecici), the Compendium Saxonis & Chronica Jutensis (about 1350), the Old Swedish Prose- and Rhyme-chronicles, and the Revelaciones celestes of >Sancta Birgitta (d. 1373). However, he also had at his disposal at the Cathedral Archives and Library of Uppsala documents, letters and records which have since been lost. Some of this material was in Swedish and at some instances quotations, expressions or even whole letters that Ericus has inserted into his narrative still remain in the vernacular.

Purpose and audience

From Uppsala, Ericus himself witnessed the last four decades or so of the period treated. The Chronica provides insights into attitudes and ideas circulating in the clerical milieu at the Uppsala cathedral at the time of its composition. With his goal to single out the importance of Uppsala in the history of the realm and to focus on episcopal and royal authority alike, Ericus vindicated an ambitious self-image for the Uppsala Cathedral in its relation to the Swedish realm as a whole. Instances in the text (FERM 1993) also indicate that the clerics at his own cathedral were the audience primarily intended for the Chronica. With the dualist notion of societal authority and the insistence that kings and bishops are not to transgress the boundaries of their respective offices, Ericus catered for the needs of his contemporary cathedral chapter. Such a theme was relevant to an Uppsala chapter concerned with the interventionist policies of the kings into the affairs of ecclesiastical appointments throughout the century. And it was of acute importance in the 1460s through the involvement of Archbishop Jöns Bengtsson (towards whom Ericus is fairly critical) in temporal affairs. Also, in the 1460s, the conflicts within the Scandinavian Union were particularly fierce. With his national history, stressing the existence of the Swedes as an ancient people (through Gothicism) with a long and unbroken line of kings (up until the time of Magnus Eriksson after which the realm was governed by unjust foreign rulers), Ericus affirmed the legitimacy of the Swedish claims of sovereignty towards the Danish rulers of the union. Through the composition of the Chronica Ericus contributed to the political mobilization that occurred within leading circles of Sweden in the 1470s. At the same time, he sought to secure the role of his own ecclesiastical institution as the prime spiritual ward of the realm.

Medieval reception and transmission

The Chronica has been preserved in only three medieval manuscript copies from the first decades of the sixteenth century (on which the modern critical edition is based): Uppsala, University Library, E3; Stockholm, Royal Library, codex Regius D 9, and Stockholm, National Archives, cod. E 8946 (Skokloster I 4° 48). The E 3 from 1528 is known to have been copied by a prebendary in Uppsala, Laurencius Laurencii. Nothing is known about the provenance, scribes or possible commissioners of the D9 from 1508 and E 8946 from 1517-19.


Literature prior to 1951: see NYGREN 1951 below.

  • FERM, O. 1993: “När och för vem skrev Ericus Olai sin Chronica regni Gothorum,” in Lychnos, 151-67.
  • FERM, O. & TJÄLLÉN, B. 2004: “Ericus Olai’s Chronica regni Gothorum,” in Scandinavian Journal of History 14, 79-90
  • GRÄNSTRÖM, C. 1969: Studier kring några av källorna till Ericus Olais verk Chronica regni Gothorum (unpublished licentiate thesis, University of Lund).
  • HELANDER, S. 1989: Ansgarskulten i Norden, Stockholm, 259-65.
  • HEUMAN, E. & ÖBERG, J. (eds.) 1993: Chronica regni Gothorum, Stockholm.
  • HÄRDELIN, A. 2005: Världen som yta och fönster. Spiritualitet i medeltidens Sverige, Stockholm, 256-258.
  • JOHANNESSON, K. 1984: “Adam och hednatemplet i Uppsala,” in Adam av Bremen. Historien om Hamburgstiftet och dess biskopar, Stockholm, 385-86, 389.
  • KÄLVEMARK, A.-S. (Ohlander) 1974: “Ericus Olai, Engelbrekt och Karl Knutsson,” in Personhistorisk Tidskrift, 44-50.
  • KUMLIEN, K. 1979: Historieskrivning och kungadöme i svensk medeltid, Stockholm.
  • LINDROTH, S. 1975: Svensk lärdomshistoria 1, Stockholm, 139-42, 164-66.
  • LÖNNROTH, E. 1961: “Ericus Olai som politiker” (1952), in Från svensk medeltid (1961), Stockholm, 127-42.
  • NYGREN, E. 1951: “Ericus Olai,” in Svenskt Biografiskt Lexikon 14, Stockholm, 216-42.
  • NYGREN, E. 1957: “Cronica regni Gothorum,” in KLNM 2, Malmö, cols. 603-4.
  • NYRIN-HEUMAN, E. 1944: Källkritiska, textkritiska och språkliga studier till Ericus Olai: Chronica Gothorum, Lund.
  • ÖBERG, J. 1995: Ericus Olai. Chronica regni Gothorum II. Prolegomena und Indizes, Stockholm.
  • PILTZ, A. 1977: Studium Upsalense, Uppsala.
  • ROSÉN, J. 1956: “Till diskussionen om Ericus Olais källor,” in Archivistica et Mediaevistica E. Nygren oblata, Stockholm, 312-20.
  • SCHÜCK, H. 1976: Rikets brev och register, Stockholm, 40-59.
  • STEGMÜLLER, F. (ed.) 1953: Analecta upsaliensia, Uppsala.
  • TJÄLLÉN, B. 2007: Church and nation: the discourse on authority in Ericus Olai's Chronica regni Gothorum, Stockholm.