Identification. The Saami (Lopari) of Russia number 1,800, about 85 percent of them living in their ancient territory on the Kola Peninsula in the Murmansk Oblast of Russia; 40 percent live in cities. The name "Lopari" apparently comes from neighboring Finns and Scandinavians—from whom the Russians also took it. The name "Lappia" appears in Saxus Grammaticus (end of the twelfth century). In Russian sources the term "Lop'" appears toward the end of the fourteenth century. Finnish linguists derive the word "Lop'" or "Lopas'" from the Finnish "Lape" or "Lappea" (T. Itkonen) or relate it to the Swedish "Lapp" (E. Itkonen). Sometimes the Saami are called the "Kola," after the peninsula. Recently, both in the literature and in everyday life, they have preferred to be called by their own name of Saami.
The Saami are of a singular physical type that combines features of the European and Mongoloid races, with a predominance of the former. There is a series of hypotheses for the genesis of this type. One of these rests exclusively on ancient mestization ( metizatsia ) of the Europeans by a Mongoloid population that had penetrated the European North in the Mesolithic and early Neolithic periods. According to another hypothesis, the specific character of the Saami type cannot be explained by mixture alone. The proponents of this hypothesis raise the possibility of a third component reflecting certain ancient physical characteristics of the populations of eastern Europe and Scandinavia.
Location. The Saami are the original people of the extreme north of Europe. In the past their ancestors occupied regions significantly to the south and east of their current distribution, but they were gradually pushed northward by other peoples (Russians, Karelians, Finns, Scandinavians). As various sources indicate, the Saami at the turn of the first to second millennia had settled a very wide area, including the northern regions of Scandinavia, the Kola Peninsula, and a significant part of Finland and Karelia, including the shores of Lakes Ladoga and Onega. To the east the basins of the Onegin, Northern Dvina, and, possibly, the Mezen rivers were apparently part of Saami territory. Into the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the Kola Saami occupied the land of contemporary Karelia. We find evidence of this in the Novgorodian cadastres, which mention the Lopskie pogosts (a complex of country church, churchyard, and cemetery) in the Zaonezh' area. By the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries, the Saami occupied almost all the Kola Peninsula, with the exception of the southern part—the Terpsk shore of the White Sea, where Russians predominated. At present the Saami live primarily in the Lovozersk region of the Murmansk Oblast of Russia, with their center in the village of Lovozer.
All of the territory that is settled by Russian Saami today lies beyond the Arctic Circle in the zone of tundra and wooded tundra or the border of the northern taiga. The climate is cold but relatively gentle and moist owing to the moderating influence of the Gulf Stream. The year-round average is about 0° C but the average in July, the hottest month, is 13.7° C. The flora of the tundra is dwarf birch, willow, bushes, mosses, and lichens; in the wooded zone it is fir/spruce, birch, pine, alder, aspen, and rowan. Animal life is quite varied, consisting of diverse mammals: the wild northern reindeer; furbearing animals such as Arctic foxes, red foxes, rabbit, stoats, musquashes, and so forth; ptarmigan; and waterfowl. The natural reservoirs are rich in fish: in the lakes there are whitefish, perch, pike, trout, and the kumzha; in the rivers that fall into the Arctic Ocean, the syomga salmon.
Linguistic Affiliation. The Saami language belongs to the Baltic-Finnic Branch of the Finno-Ugric Language Family but occupies a special place. Linguists have revealed a substratum within it going back, in their opinion, to the Ugro-Samoyedic languages. The language of the Kola Saami falls into four main dialect groups (Iukangsk, Kil'dinsk, Notozersk, and Babensk) and a series of other dialect divisions, the differences among which are sometimes so great as to preclude mutual intelligibility. All the Russian Saami today know Russian.