Is there a word in Old Norse vocabulary for Balts (Baltic people)? How about regions of nowadays Latvia, particularly for Courland?

  • I believe that especially when it comes to spelling, Old Norse is very close to the modern Icelandic. Eystrasalt is the Baltic sea, Eystrasaltslöndin are the Baltic countries, list: Eistland, Lettland og Litháen. Jan 25, 2016 at 17:44
  • I am aware of that, it's close, but not the very same.
    – user11290
    Jan 25, 2016 at 19:41
  • The differences will probably be dominated by the Old Norse speakers' confusions about geography. On history SE, I just had a discussion about the Roman/Latin words for blacks and Africa etc. They imagined Africa to be the same as "Ethiopia", which Greek word comes from "burned faces", and didn't distinguish people in the South much. In the same way, they didn't distinguish the "barbarians" in the North much. My guess is that Old Norse had the same words Icelandic uses today but with some shifted/confused meanings. Jan 26, 2016 at 6:57
  • 2
    I think the question was whether such a name actually exists in the extant Old Norse texts, not what it might or should have been.
    – fdb
    Jan 26, 2016 at 13:05
  • not exactly what you wanted but a good start en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Prussians and en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aesti
    – Alex B.
    Jan 27, 2016 at 15:45

1 Answer 1


Not exactly what you're asking, but an Old English text reporting the journey of two Scandinavians through Finnish and Baltic territory uses the phrase "Estland" for the region on the east coast of the Baltic Sea (http://www.oereader.ca/Wulfstanfram.html). Since the text was supposedly transcribed from Norse visitors, we might assume that "Estland" was an Old Norse term borrowed by Old English scribes. This word is cognate to many modern Germanic words for Estonia, which might suggest that it does refer to the Finno-Ugric-speaking people living in the Baltic region that would later become Estonia, but not the Baltic people you are asking about.

Then again, the Old English text describes this territory as a vast region with many cities and rulers ("Þæt Estland is swyðe mycel, and þær bið swyðe manig burh, and on ælcere byrig bið cynincg"). Given this, it seems like the term might be vague enough to refer to the whole region and not just to the part inhabited by Estonians. This is made more plausible by the fuzziness of ethnolinguistic boundaries in early medieval times, especially to a foreign visitor to the Baltic region like the Norse narrator of the text.

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