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Norse Voyages and the Landing in North America
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Ill-behaved Norsemen

Viking marauders of ill-gotten gains became ancestors of royalty and noblesse in Europe and Great Britain. The Chronicle of the Kings of Norway, written in the first half of the 1200s on Iceland, furnishes more or less accurate details. Also, many Norwegians who were unwilling to put up with the reign of Harald Fairhair, settled on islands in the west. And already in the 1000s there is a mention of America was discovered by Norsemen too: Adam of Bremen was a German historian and geographer of the 1000s. When he came to Bremen, Adam was a young man. Shortly after he made a journey to the Danish King Svend Estridson (1047-76) [Svend Ulfssen was called Estrithson in English sources], who had knowledge of the history and geography of the Northern lands. The king received Adam well and gave him much information for the historical work Adam intended to write. The king "remembered all the deeds of the barbarians as if they had been written down" (II, 41)T. he work itself, at least in part, was finished before the death of King Svend, in 1076.

The fourth and last book of Adam's work is a geographical appendix and describes the Northern lands and the islands in the Northern seas. It contains the earliest mention of America found in any geographical work. The passage is as follows (IV, 38):

Furthermore he [King Svend] mentioned still another island found by many in that ocean. This island is called Winland, because grapevines grow there wild, yielding the finest wine. And that crops grow there in plenty without having been sown, I know, not from fabulous report, but through the definite information of the Danes.

Adam based his knowledge partly on written sources, partly on oral communication. His most valuable information was had orally from persons who had actually visited the lands he describes.

Adam also learned much from Archbishop Adalbert, who was informed about the lands where the Northern missions were. In addition Adam was informed by traders and missionaries passing through Bremen to and from the North. Adam assured that he has taken great pains to make his account both truthful and accurate. "I have at any rate written truthfully, using as authorities those who are best informed about the subject," he writes in the epilogue. ◦More]

Fleeing Men and Explorers

Norsemen and Vikings spread in many countries, and crossed the Atlantic Ocean.

Greenland, Iceland, Ireland (built Dublin, Cork etc.), Man, Norhumbria, North-west Scotland, Novgorod and Moscow (in Russa), Pommern, The Hebridees, The Orkneys, The Shetland Islands, Vinland (of North America), Wales (called Bretland), York (in a period).

These may be considered controversial still:

Spitzbergen, The Canary Islands.

Norsemen captured slave women from among Celts, as genetic studies of Icelanders show. A large part of their female genes are Celtic of origin.

Einar Árnason and his colleagues of the University of Iceland present evidence that the original founding population was genetically quite diverse. Iceland shows a genetic amalgamation of the original Norwegian Vikings and Celtic slaves. About 60 to 80 percent of the founders were from Nordic countries and the rest were Celtic stock from the British Isles. Also, "Vikings in Iceland really did import their wives from Ireland and Scotland.", says Bryan Sykes in the book Saxons, Vikings, and Celts: The Genetic Roots of Britain and Ireland .. (New York: Norton, 2006).

[(1) CBS News. 'Gene Frenzy' Heats Up Iceland. May 26, 2008. []

(2) Bijal P. Trivedi. Icelanders, a diverse bunch? GNN. August 11. 2000.

What Snorre and Other Icelanders Tell

Many Norwegians found the tyranny of Harald Fairhair so cruel that they fled the country. Some built Jamtland and Harjedalen. Others fled to islands in the wes. That is much of how Iceland was colonised, the Faeroe Islands and more islands still, according to several sagas. A forefather of British and French royalty, Rolf Ganger, was outlawed by Harald Fairhair. Rolf's arsonist of a father, Ragnvald Earl of More, had helped Harald on his way up, and was his best companion. Rolf Ganger, son of Ragnvald, subdued for himself a great earldom, which he peopled with Northmen, from which that land is called Normandy. From Rolf Ganger are descended the earls in Normandy and English kings after William the Conqueror. [Section 24]

From a British Historian's Work

The Norse name Hrolfr (Rolf) in time became Rollo. His descendant William conquered England in 1066 AD. Normans also rode out and conquered the best (southern) half of Italy, setting up [a kingdom in Sicily and a duchy in Apulia and Calabria in Southern Italy and so on, to the end of establishing a state that existed in the south of Italy from its founding by Roger II in 1130 until 1816 - and (WP, "Kingdom of Sicily")] later established effective vassal states around the Mediterranean Ocean: In Antich in Syria, Palestine, in Tunisia they ruled in Oriental splendour, the historian Reginald Allen Brown says in his The Normans and the Norman Conquest (1985, 11-14). Offspring of the Norman dynasty in Palermo were wed into such as the Habsburgers of what is now Austria, and Constantinople rulers, the saga of Sigurd the Crusader tells. [Link]

Brown further:

"Vikings in origin and established in their province from 911 by the grant and "treaty" of St. Clair-sur-Epte [when Rolv Ganger caught hold of the first of three domains to rule over in that region], they made of Normandy in the next one hundred and fifty years one of the most powerful states . . . Thus established, they conquered the far larger kingdom of England in 1066, and in due course rode out from there into Wales and southern Scotland, and ultimately into Ireland. . . . (Brown 1985, 11)

"Of all the centuries in the history of the West, the eleventh is perhaps the most exciting. . . . Most serious of all . . . were the Vikings, whose raids, by reason of their extreme mobility, seemed to range over almost all Latin Christendom and to come from every direction at once." (Brown 1985, 6)

Going forward at the same time, was their piecemeal conquest of southern Italy and Sicily, which in some respects was even more remarkable than their English enterprise. (Brown 1985, 11; WP, "County of Apulia and Calabria")


Going Westward

The following is from the sagas.

Snorre Sturlason writes in the 1200s that (Lucky) Leif, a son of Eirik the Red, who first settled in Greenland, came this summer (999 CE) from Greenland to Norway; and as he met King Olaf he adopted Christianity, and passed the winter (1000 CE) with the king. (section 93) [Link]

In the Saga of Olav Haraldson (St. Olav) there is talk of relationships in Normandy, including: "From Rolf Ganger are descended the earls of Rouen, who have long reckoned themselves of kin to the chiefs in Norway." (From section 19). Also see section 25, Section 104. Thorgils was the son of Are Marson, who visited America (Vindland). Thorgils . . . was still alive in the year 1024. (Section 86, endnote)

In Greenland

In 982 CE, Eric the Red was outlawed from Iceland for three years. He decided to explore the country to the west. The land was rich in wild life, fish and birds, so he and his men marked sites for future farms there. He returned to Iceland, called the country Greenland, and sailed again to Greenland in 986 AD, accompanied by 25 ships. Only 14 of them arrived safely.

The Greenlanders exported furs, hides, rope, cable oil, woolens and sea ivory and imported corn, iron, timber, garments and assorted luxuries.

The Icelandic Annals for the year 1121 record that Bishop Eric of Greenland set out in search of Vinland. The results of his voyage are not recorded.

In the 1400s temperatures went down, and before 1500 the settlements in Greenland were gone.

Norse footprints in America

In 1000 CE, Leif Eriksson ("Leif the Lucky") discovered parts of North America and named the territory Vinland. Leif was a Norwegian-born Catholic of Greenland, where his father Eirik the Red settled after being outlawed on Iceland - Those who settled on Greenland never thought of themselves as a nation. They were Norse. Stories of Northern discoveries were written down in Iceland in some books.

Norwegian Dr. Helge Ingstad (1899-2001) and his archaeologist wife Anne Stine Ingstad discovered the remains of a small 11th century Norse community at L'anse Aux Meadows on the northern peninsula of Newfoundland.

"Are there any ruins here?" Ingstand asked a man who came walking down to the water's edge. It was the fisherman George Decker, and they year was 1960.

"Follow me," said George and showed the way. Some minutes later Decker and Ingstad were in front of a mound - it had been there for a thousand years.

"These mounds had something spooky about them, Ingstad told. "They were hardly visible above ground, but were just like the mounds I had seen on Greenland. They lay high on a field with a view to green pastures and the sea." [◦Norwegian source]

It is also told that the Ingstads were working from an Icelandic map from the 1500s, showing part of North America. The location fits the "Promontorium Winlandiae" of some medieval maps.

Their work started in 1961. The long houses excavated resemble those of the eastern settlement in Greenland. Also, a building believed to be related to ship repair and a smithy with a hearth for a forge, a stone anvil and hundreds of slag and iron fragments were found. [More: WP "L'Anse aux Meadows"]

Norse Voyages evidence
Helge Ingstad holding up evidence that "Size doesn't matter all that much." somehow.

Artifacts discovered at the site confirm the Norse origin. They found a ring-headed bronze pin, commonly used as a cloths fastener by Norse men, in one of the houses. This was definite proof. They later found a fragment of a bone needle of the type used by Norsemen. It was found along with a piece of copper that turned out to have been formed by a primitive smelting process unknown to Native Americans at the time.
      Several lumps of iron slag were found in one of the houses that was excavated in the first seasons. This indicated that the people there were extracting bog iron. The process for doing it was known in Norway by 400 BC and was widely used during the Viking age and in the later middle ages in Norway.

Radio carbon analysis of samples from the site yielded dates from about 700 AD to 1000 AD. Dates of turf samples used in building the walls of the long houses yields the span AD 920-1120, which corresponds with saga records.

After seven excavation seasons, Helge Ingstad concluded:

An evaluation of the archaeological material can hardly lead to any other conclusion than that the site at L'Anse aux Meadows must be Norse and pre-Columbian.

Historians have arrived at highly different conclusions with respect to the location of Vinland (from Labrador to Georgia), but Ingstad localized ancient house sites on L'Ans aux Meadows, a small fishing village on the Northern beaches of Newfoundland. From 1961 to 1969, Ingstad and his wife led several archaeological expeditions that revealed Viking turf houses with room for approximately 100 people. They also excavated a smithy, outdoor cooking pits, boathouses, a bathhouse, and enclosures for cattle, in addition to several Viking artifacts. The finds were C dated to AD 990 +/- 30.

Today L'Anse aux Meadows is on ◦UNESCO's list of heritage sites along with Egyptian pyramids. And President Lyndon B. Johnson, backed by a unanimous Congress, in 1964 proclaimed October 9th "Leif Ericson Day". Leif Erikson Day honours the first Scandinavian known to have set foot on American soil.

In Short

Vikings explored and settled areas of the North Atlantic, including the northeastern fringes of North America. Continental North American settlements did not develop into permanent colonies. There is evidence of Norse trade with natives.

According to the Icelandic sagas ("Eirik the Red's Saga" and the "Saga of the Greenlanders" - chapters of the Hauksbók and the Flatey Book), the Norse started to explore lands to the west of Greenland only a few years after the Greenland settlements were established.

The sagas describe three separate areas discovered during this exploration: Helluland, which means "land of the flat stones"; Markland, "the land of forests"; and Vinland, "the land of wine" (or as suggested by modern linguists "the land of meadows"), found somewhere south of Markland. It was in Vinland that the settlement described in the sagas was founded.

The location of the various lands described in the sagas is still unclear however. Many historians identify Helluland with Baffin Island and Markland with Labrador. The location of Vinland is a thornier question. Most believe that the L'Anse aux Meadows settlement is the Vinland settlement described in the sagas; others argue that the sagas depict Vinland as being warmer than Newfoundland and that it therefore lay farther south.

In 2012, possible signs of Norse outposts in Nanook at Tanfield Valley on Baffin Island, as well as Nunguvik, Willows Island and the Avayalik Islands, were identified by Canadian researchers.

[All from WP, "Norse colonization of the Americas"]

Norse people sailed there, traded furs and found timber and built settlements, having over 300 years of sporadic contact with various Indian, Inuit, and other Native American peoples.

Norse Voyages and Discoveries, Landing in America, Literature  

Barthelemy, Ch. Histoire de la Normandie ancienne et moderne. Tours: Mame, 1862.

Bayle, Maylis. Les origines et les premiers developpements de la sculpture romane en Normandie.. Caen: Art de Basse-Normandie, 1992.

Brown, Reginald Allen. 1985. The Normans and the Norman Conquest. 2nd ed. Woodbridge, UK: The Boydell Press.

Dasent, Sir George Webbe. 1984. The Orkneyingers Saga: With Appendices etc. London: Eyre and Spottiswoode.

Dolley, Michael. 1972. Anglo-Norman Ireland 1100-1318. Dubin: Gill and MacMillan.

Freeman, Edward. 1974. The History of the Norman Conquest of England. London: University of Chicago. London.

Gibberd, Frederich. 1962. The Architecture of England from Norman Times to the Present Day. 4th ed. London: Architectural Press.

Horsman, Valerie et al. 1988. Aspects of Saxo-Norman London 1, Building and Street Development near Billingsgate and Cheapside. Special Paper.. London: London and Middlesex Archaeological Society.

Hødnebø, Finn and Magerøy, Hallvard eds. 1979. Norges kongesagaer. Vols 1-4. Oslo: Gyldendal.

Kapelle, William. 1979. The Norman Conquest of the North: The Region and Its Transformation, 1000-1135. London: Croom Helm.

Larsen, Laurence Marcellus, tr. 1917. The King's Mirror (Speculum regale Konungs skuggsjá). New York: American-Scandinavian Foundation.

Marongiu, Antonio. 1972. Byzantine, Norman, Swabian and Later Institutions in Southern Italy. Collected Studies. London: Variolum Reprints.

Matthew, Donald. 1963. The Norman Monasteries and Their English Possessions. London: Oxford University Press.

Parker, Geoffrey ed. 1986. The World. An Illustrated History. London: Times.

Renaud, Jean. 1989. Les Vikings et la Normandie. Rennes: Editions Ouest-France.

Rowley, Trevor. 1983. The Norman Heritage. 1055-1200. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Simonnæs, Per. Normannerne kommer. 1994. Oslo: Grøndahl Dreyer.

Steenstrup, Johannes. 1876. Normannerne, bd 1. Copenhagen: Klein.

Woodward, E. 1965. A History of England. London: University Paperback/Methuen.

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