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Research article2011Peer reviewed

Power and paradise : Swedish deer parks in a long-term perspective

Ahrland, Åsa


Many landscapes designated as nature reserves, Natura 2000 sites or national interest areas for nature conservation consist of former deer parks. Relevant to future conservation, is their social and cultural context. The article discusses the purpose and symbolic value of Swedish deer parks in relation to the concept of power and the concept of paradise by analysing them in a long-term perspective. Throughout history, hunting has served as a political instrument when claiming power over land and people. In the ancient Asian empires, royal hunts could be performed publicly in the open countryside or privately in parks, in Persia pairidaeza, which would include hunting grounds, gardens, orchards, arable land, forests and villages. When described in Greek, they were called paradeisos, a term also used for the Garden of Eden in Genesis. In medieval Europe, hunting became the ultimate form of courtly life. The parks of the élite provided not only game, but agricultural produce, fodder, timber and fuel. In Sweden the first parks mentioned in the written sources are those of the Vasa dynasty in the 16th century. Early 17th century large-scale maps (1630 - 1655), show parks with wooded grassland, fields, meadows, lakes, roads, barns and homesteads, mirroring the needs of the animals: water supply, fodder production for winter feed, shelter, and a habitat where they would feel secure and breed. Suecia Antiqua et Hodierna presents hunting as part of the lifestyle of the nobility and, like 18th century maps, depict parks as pleasure grounds. Restricted hunting rights have secured the hunt for the élite. In Sweden the concept of konungx parkum was introduced in 14th century legislation, along with the monopolisation of some of the hunting. Wild animals could now be considered be somebody’s possession and hunting an exclusive pursuit. Punishments were introduced for unlawful shooting or trapping of high game in deer parks and hunting reserves, mirroring the symbolic power of the deer park, hunting high game and eating venison. There was also a campaign for the eradication of large predators. The study shows that deer parks formed a significant part of the manorial landscape of the outmost élite in Sweden in the 17th and 18th centuries. It demonstrates that Swedish deer parks served various purposes and were laid out and used in different ways, and that this flexibility is part of the general history of parks. Its versatility might be the very reason for the deer park remaining an important manifestation of the élite for such a long time through history. It expressed superiority and power and was at the same time a place of beauty, an earthly paradise where the animals were kept secluded and, ideally, without interference from outside. It can be concluded that parks with animals represent a longue durée through Eurasian history and that deer parks in Sweden deserve to be studied further within this context.


deer parks; hunting; power; paradise; versatility

Published in

Bebyggelsehistorisk tidskrift
2011, Volume: 61, pages: 68-89 Publisher: Föreningen Bebyggelsehistorisk tidskrift

    UKÄ Subject classification

    History of Ideas
    Landscape Architecture

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