Please help support the mission of New Advent and get the full contents of this website as an instant download. Includes the Catholic Encyclopedia, Church Fathers, Summa, Bible and more all for only $19.99...
Of all the alleged discoveries of America before the time of Columbus, only the bold voyages of exploration of the fearless Vikings to Greenland and the American mainland can be considered historically certain. Although there is an inherent probability for the fact of other pre-Columbian discoveries of America, all accounts of such discoveries (Phoenician, Irish, Welsh, Chinese) rest on testimony too vague or too unreliable to justify a serious defense of them.
For the oldest written evidence of the discovery of Greenland and America by the Northmen, we are indebted to Adam, a canon of the Church of Bremen, who about 1067 went to Bremen, where he devoted himself very earnestly to the study of Norse history. Owing to the vigorous missionary activity of the Archbishop Adelbert of Bremen (1043-1072), this "Rome of the North" offered "the best field for such work, being the much frequented centre of the great northern missions, which were spread over Norway and Sweden, Iceland and Greenland". Moreover Adam found a most trustworthy source of information in the Danish King, Sven Estrithson, who preserved in his memory, as though engraved, the entire history of the barbarians (the northern peoples). Of the lands discovered by the Northmen in America, Adam mentioned only Greenland and Vineland. The former he describes as an island in the northern ocean about as far from Norway as Iceland (five to seven days) and he expressly states that envoys from Greenland and Iceland had come to Bremen to ask for preachers of the gospel. The Archbishop granted their request, even giving the Greenlanders assurances of a speedy visit in person. Adam's information concerning Vinland was no less trustworthy than his knowledge of Greenland. According to him the land took its name from the excellent wild grapes that abounded there. Grain also flourished there without cultivation, as King Sven and his subjects expressly assured him. Adam's testimony is of the highest importance to us, not only as being the oldest written account of Norse discoveries in America, but also because it is entirely independent of Icelandic writings, and rests entirely on Norse traditions, which were at the time still recent.
The second witness is Ari Thorgilsson (d. 1148), the oldest and most trustworthy of all the historians of Iceland. Like Adam, Ari is conscientious in citing the sources of his information. His authority was his uncle, Thorkel Gelisson, who in turn was indebted for the details of the discovery and settlement of Greenland to a companion of the discoverer himself. From his uncle, Ari learned the name of the discoverer, the origin of the name of the country, the date of the settlement, and other welcome details as to the degree of civilization among the people inhabiting Greenland before the advent of the Northmen. The discoverer was Eric the Red, who named the icy coasts Greenland, to induce his Icelandic countrymen to colonize the land. As to the date, Ari learned that it was the fourteenth or fifteenth winter before the formal introduction of Christianity into Iceland (1000), i.e., 985 or 986. Ari's information with respect to the civilization of the former population of Greenland is of peculiar importance, giving as it does a glimpse of conditions in Vinland. Besides traces of human habitation, Eric and his companions found in Greenland the remains of leather canoes and stone implements. "From this", concludes Ari, "it may be inferred that this was once the dwelling place of the same people who inhabited Vinland, and were called by the Greenlanders Skraelings". Ari, in his "Book of Settlements (Landnámabók), as well as in his "Book of Icelanders", goes into detail concerning the discovery and colonization of Greenland, but mentions the discovery of Vinland only incidentally in connection with the genealogy of the famous Icelandic merchant Thorfinn Karlsefni, who "found Vinland the Good".
In the Kristni saga, and Snorri's Kings' saga (c. 1150), the discovery of Vinland is attributed in almost identical words to Leif, son of Eric the Red. On his journey home from Norway, near Greenland, where he had been commissioned by King Olaf of Norway to preach the Catholic Faith, he found Vinland the Good. As Leif on the same voyage rescued some shipwrecked mariners from certain death, he was surnamed "the Lucky". It is quite significant that Vinland the Good is everywhere spoken of as a country universally known and needing no further explanation.
These historical data were happily completed in the middle of the twelfth century by a geographer, probably Nicholas, Abbot of Thingeyre (d. 1159). According to him, south of Greenland lies Helluland, next lies Markland, and from there it is not a great distance to Vinland the Good. Leif the Lucky first discovered Vinland, and then, coming upon merchants in peril of death, he rescued them by the grace of God. He introduced Christianity into Greenland, and it made such progress that a diocese was erected in Gardar. It may be remarked in passing that this took place about 1125. We also learn from the well-informed geographer that Thorfinn Karlsefni, setting out later to seek Vinland the Good, came to a country "where this land was supposed to be". but was unable to explore and colonize Vinland as he had wished. It should be expressly noted that the geographer speaks of only two voyages to Vinland, the accidental discovery of Leif, and Thorfinn's voyage of exploration; also that in addition to Vinland he mentions two other lands lying south of Greenland which he calls respectively Helluland and Markland. The accounts just cited constitute the oldest historical record of the Norse discoveries in Greenland and America, and have for the greater part been overlooked by earlier scholars, even Winsor. They were first given prominence, and justly so, by Storm and Reeves. Although containing but brief allusions to Greenland, they still bear witness to a consistent unanimous tradition throughout the North, reaching back to the eleventh century and giving proof positive that Eric the Red in 985 or 986 discovered and colonized Greenland, that his son Leif, returning from Norway to Greenland where he was to introduce Christianity, discovered Vinland the Good (1000), that Thorfin Karlsefni later attempted the colonization of Vinland, but after an unsuccessful engagement with the natives was obliged to desist; that these daring voyages brought to light two other countries lying south of Greenland, Markland and Helluland.
In addition to these earliest records, three sagas come up for consideration, inasmuch as they give detailed accounts of the important discoveries made by the old Vikings. If we consider the age of the manuscripts through which it has come down to us (or that now represent for us the originals), the most important of these sagas is the Karlsefni saga in "Hauk's Book" (1305-35); next King Olaf's saga in the Flatey-book (c. 1387); the third is the saga of Eric the Red in a manuscript dating from the fifteenth century. A comparison of these three sagas shows that the Thorfin Karlsefni saga agrees with the saga of Eric the Red in all important points, but differs from the King Olaf saga found in the Flatey-book. According to the first two sagas, Vinland was discovered by Leif, a son of Eric the Red, while on his homeward voyage from Norway to fulfill the commission of King Olaf to preach Christianity in Greenland. According to the Olaf saga, the glory of having discovered America belongs to Bjarni, son of Herjulf, who was believed to have discovered Vinland, markland, and Helluland as early as 985 or 986 on a voyage from Iceland to Greenland. As already observed, the Olaf saga is directly opposed by both the account of the twelfth-century geographer, who distinctly states that Leif discovered Greenland, and to the Kristni and Snorri sagas containing the same statement, with the additional information that it was during a voyage from Norway to Greenland wither he had been sent by King Olaf to preach Christianity. Unfortunately, the Olaf saga, preserved in manuscript only in the Flatey-book, was first used to narrate the discovery of America by the Northmen. This saga represents the Old Northmen sailing the Atlantic with a confidence to be envied by the most experienced captains of today, the leaders of seven different expeditions finding, apparently without difficulty, the buoir (huts) of Leif. This uncritical narrative, to which reference is constantly made, has long helped discredit the discovery of America by the Northmen. What a contrast is offered in the sober and direct account in the sagas of Thorfinn Karlsefni and of Eric, the former of which is preserved in twenty-eight manuscripts. The first attempts to find Vinland after its accidental discovery by Leif failed utterly. The second and last resulted after many difficulties of a land which from its products might be the Vinland of Leif, but no mention is made of Leif's buoir. The rules of historical criticism have, accordingly, given precedence to the Thorfinn and Eric sagas, but it must not be overlooked that the Olaf saga mentions in addition three lands discovered to the southwest of Greenland, of which the first was stony, the second wooded, and the third rich in wine. Taking as a basis the more detailed and historically trustworthy account given in the sagas of Thorfinn Karlsefni and of Eric the Red, the voyages to Vinland may be thus briefly summarized. In the year 999, Leif, son of Eric the Red, set out from Greenland to Norway. His course, although too far to the south, at last brought Leif to his destination, and he entered the service of Olaf Tryggvason, King of Norway. Having been converted to Catholicism while at court, the daring mariner was sent back to Greenland by Olaf in the year 1000 in order to co-operate with the priests of the expedition in propagating the faith. On his return journey, Leif was cast on the shores of a hitherto unknown land where he found the vine and wheat in a natural state, besides masur wood suitable for building purposes. The sailors took with them samples of all these products. Sailing northeast, they at last reached Greenland. In the winter of 1000-1, Christianity was introduced into Greenland. At the same time, measures were taken to find the newly-discovered Vinland. Thorstein, Leif's elder brother, took charge of the undertaking, and was joined by twenty companions. They did not reach their goal, and weary and exhausted returned to Greenland after roaming over the sea for months. In 1003, Thorstein's widow Gudrid, with her second husband, the rich Iceland merchant Thorfinn Karlsefni, undertook a new expedition to find and colonize Vinland, which seemed so promising a country. The starting place, which lay within the limits of the present Godthaab, was the manor of Gudrid, whose praises are sung in the saga. About one hundred and fifty took part in the expedition, among them two children of Eric the Red Thorwald and the virago Freydi, who was accompanied by her husband Thorward. The voyage began propitiously. The first land encountered was remarkable for long flat stones and was consequently called Helluland, i.e., stone land. After two days, another land was sited, unusually rich in timber, and was named accordingly Markland, i.e., Woodland. After a long voyage in a southerly direction, they reached a third country, where they landed. Here, two "swift runners" whom Leif had received as a gift from Olaf, after a long search, found grape-clusters and wheat growing wild. To reach the desired spot, Karlsefni steered south. As the vine land seemed well-adapted for purposes of settlement, huts were forthwith erected. Thereupon the natives came to trade with the new-comers. The Vikings took special note of the fact that they used boats made of skins. Unfortunately, friendly relations were soon broken off. A bellowing steer bursting from the woods struck such terror into the Skraelings that they took to their boats and hastily departed. In place of peaceful trading, the Skraelings now thronged about in great numbers and they engaged in a bloody combat in which the Icelander Thorbrand fell. Only after heavy losses did the Skraelings retreat. Karlsefni, fearing fresh misfortunes, abandoned his first settlement and attempted to found a new colony more to the north. The colonists were free from hostile attacks, but internal dissensions broke out and the undertaking was given up entirely in the summer of 1006. On his return trip to Greenland, Karlsefni again visited Markland. Of five Skraelings whom he encountered there, three escaped, a man and two women, but two children were captured, carried away, and taught to speak Icelandic. Karlsefni, with his wife Gudrid, who later made a pilgrimage to Rome, and his three year old son Snorri, the first child born of European parents on the mainland, was successful in reaching Greenland. His companion Bjarni and his crew were driven by storms from their course, their worm-eaten vessel sank, and only half the crew escaped to Ireland, where they related the heroic act of Bjarni, who sacrificed his life for a younger comrade. The ancient Icelandic historical sources say nothing of further attempts at colonization.
The last historical notice of Vinland relates to the year 1121. "Bishop Eric set out from Greenland to find Vinland" and "Bishop Eric was searching for Vinland"; such are the meager statements found in the Iceland annals. Lyschander, in his Greenland chronicle, is the first to give a poetic expansion of this story (1609). He represents Bishop Eric as bringing "both emigrants and the faith to Vinland. As Torfaeus (Torfeson) in his "Historia Vinlandiae antiquae" (1705) and Rafn in various works presented similar views, it is not a matter of surprise that men finally came to speak of a bishopric of Vinland and of the fruitful works of Bishop Eric as facts established beyond doubt. In reply to such statements, emphasis must be laid on the fact that the sources say merely that Eric set out in search of Vinland, but that they are silent as to his success, not even reporting that he found Vinland again. Nevertheless, those who uphold the theory of a permanent colonization of Vinland urge numerous arguments in support of their position, many of which were long considered incontrovertible, as for instance the Norman tower near Newport, Rhode Island, This, as a matter of fact, is merely the ruin of a windmill built by Governor Arnold (c. 1670). The runic inscription on Dighton rock, so often misinterpreted, proves no more. The inscription is merely Indian picture writing, such as is frequently found far to the south. In answer to arguments based on Mexican manuscripts, sculptures, and other remnants to prove the pre-Columbian existence of Christianity, careful critical research reveals the fact that all the evidence is unreliable. The worship of the cross practised in Mexico and Central America does not prove the Christianization of pre-Columbian America, either by St. Thomas the Apostle, or by Irish monks, or by the Northmen. This is clearly proved by the fact that the cross is found as a religious symbol among pre-Christian peoples. When opponents of this view point to the martyrdom of Bishop John of Ireland, the answer is that Bishop John (d. 1066) met his death not in Vinland the Good but in the land of the Wends as I have elsewhere proved from original historical sources. There is a twofold error in the statement that a valuable cup of Vinland masur wood is mentioned among the tithes of the diocese of Gardar dating from 1327. First, this (ciphus de nuce ultramarina) was not a part of the titles of the Vinland diocese of Gardar, but of Skara, a Swedish diocese; second this goblet was not of masur but of cocoanut. Nor are the arguments drawn from the amount and the character of the tithes levied in the diocese of Gardar for the Crusades more convincing. They are partly based on a faulty computation which estimates the tithes at triple the amounts, and partly on a mistaken conception of conditions in Greenland. As the sources testify, and modern excavations have shown, the Northmen of Greenland, as well as their Icelandic cousins, were active cattle breeders, and raised horses, cattle, sheep, and goats, so that they might easily pay their tithes in calf-skins. And lastly, the story related by Zeno the Younger of a fisherman having seen Latin books in the library of the King of Estotiland can no more be considered historical than the rest of Zeno's romance. It is a fiction, like the island Estotiland itself and Plato's Atlantis. The history of Vinland ends with the year 1121, but trustworthy accounts of Markland extend to a later date. The Iceland annals of 1347 have the following record: "There came a Greenland ship to Straumsfjord; the sail was set for Markland, but it was driven hither (Iceland) over the sea. There was a crew of eighteen men". The object of the voyage was not mentioned, but the most probable conjecture is that the ship was bound for the forest land to obtain wood, in which Greenland was entirely deficient. But whatever the unfortunate sailors sought on the shores of Markland, it is an undoubted fact that in the middle of the fourteenth century Markland had not been forgotten by the people of Iceland, who spoke and wrote of it as a country generally known. History is silent as to later voyages to Helluland, but the role played by the Land of Stone is all the more important in legend and song, in which its situation changes at will. The Helluland of history lay to the south of western Greenland, but the poetic Helluland was located in northeast Greenland. The reconcile both views, Bjorn of Skardza devised his theory of two Hellulands, the greater in northeastern Greenland, and the smaller to the southwest of Greenland. Rafn arbitrarily located greater Helluland in Labrador, and the lesser island in Newfoundland. His authority caused this arbitrary decision to find a wide acceptance, and in this way, the site of Vinland was laid unduly far to the south.
For the approximate determination of the geographical position of Helluland, Markland and Greenland, we find many clues in the original historical sources. "To the south of Greenland lies Helluland; then comes Markland, from which the distance is not great to Vinland the Good which some believe to be an extension of Africa. If this be true, then an arm of the sea must separate Vinland and Markland". If we except the rash conjecture on Vinland's connection with Africa, this view of the old twelfth-century Icelandic geographer corresponds to the details of the historical sagas concerning the situation of these lands with respect to Greenland and one another. The sagas, however, contain other clues. A detail in the Olaf saga with regard to the position of the sun at the time of the winter solstice formerly led many to believe that the position of Vinland could be definitely determined. As a matter of fact, the statement that "on the shortest day of winter the sun was between eyktarstaor and dagmalastaor" is too vague to permit an exact determination of the position. Only this may be deduced with certainty, that Vinland lay south of 49° north lat., a position that might easily be identified with the situation of central Newfoundland or the corresponding section of Canada. To determine the accuracy the position of Vinland it must be recalled that the members of Thorfinn's great expedition were looking for the region where Leif had found the vine growing wild. With this purpose in view, they set sail along the coast of America and discovered first a land which impressed them on account of its long flat stones. They called it Helluland. Taking into consideration the starting point of the voyage, its length and direction, one may well agree with Storm that the present Labrador is the Helluland of the saga, without, however, absolutely denying the claims of the northern peninsula of Newfoundland. Setting out from Helluland, after two runs of twelve hours each, the daring mariners came to a land remarkable for its wealth of timber which they reached "with the help of the north wind". The direction and length of the voyage, as well as the name "Markland" (Woodland), point to Newfoundland, which is distinguished by its dense forests. The third land after sailing for a long time in a southerly direction did not reveal at first the desired grape clusters. But further exploration of the land lying to the south had on the second or third day the wished-for result. Vinland the Good should therefore be located in the northern part of the vine belt, or almost 45° north lat. Nova Scotia, inclusive of Cape Breton Island, seems to satisfy best the requirements of the saga. Wild grapes and Indian rice (zizania aquatica), which is probably meant by the wild wheat of the Northmen, all growing in a natural state, are repeatedly mentioned by eyewitnesses as characteristic of Nova Scotia and the region about the Bay of St. Lawrence, e.g., by Jacques Cartier (1534) and Nicholas Denys (c. 1650). Thorfinn was prevented from settling Vinland by the onslaught of the Skraelings. The sagas give a vivid picture of the first encounter with these wild dark-skinned men, remarkable for their uncomely hair, large eyes, and high cheekbones. Opinions differ widely as to the ethnographic classification of these Skraelings, some maintaining that they were Eskimo while others unhesitatingly class them as Indians, The express mention of skin boats, coupled with the circumstance that the Markland Skraelings were most probably Eskimo, seem to support the theory that there were Eskimo in Vinland (Nova Scotia) at that period. They may have allied themselves with neighboring Indians against the Norse invaders. A definitive determination of the position of Vinland, Markland, and Helluland depends of the discovery of Norse ruins, runic stones, or other ancient remains from the time of the Vikings. Unfortunately, in spite of the efforts of Horsford and other champions of the Northmen such remains have not yet been found, and it is not unreasonable that those who deny a permanent Norse colonization should lay stress on the absence of Norse remains for proof that the Northmen did not succeed in establishing a permanent colony in the American mainland. The case in quite different in Greenland, where for some centuries there existed flourishing Norse colonies. Numerous ruins of churches, monasteries, and farm buildings, together with miscellaneous remains, enable us to recognize clearly, even today, the position and character of the colonies of Greenland.
First as to the location of the colonies, ancient documents are unanimous in speaking of an eastern and western colony, of which the first was by far the most important. The "east settlement" as the names seems to suggest, was formerly sought on the east coast of Greenland. Even after the researches of Graah (1828-31) and Holm (1880-85), Nordenskiold held fast to this view. It is true that even he during his most successful journey (1883) did not find the ruins expected to be on the east side of Greenland, but this in no way shook his conviction. He simply declared that the old Norse settlements had disappeared, leaving no trace. As to the ruins, so plentiful on the western coast, which he himself had visited, he held that they did not date back to the ancient Northmen, but were of later origin. This dogmatic assertion shook the foundation of the view, just then gaining ground, namely that both eastern and western settlements were situated on the west coast of Greenland. What proof was there that the many ruins of Greenland, so various in construction, owed their origin to the ancient Northmen? Was it right to ascribe such remarkably well-preserved stone buildings to the Viking period, or did only the confused heaps of stones belong to that time? The preliminary data for solving this question are furnished by Gudmundsson in his careful researchers in to the "Private Dwellings in Iceland during the Saga Period". With the help of the original authorities, the Danish scholar Bruun and his learned collaborators were enabled to produce proof (1894) that the numerous ruins of Greenland in the neighbourhood of Julianehaab really dated from Norse times, and that in consequence the eastern settlement of the saga was in reality located on the western coast of Greenland. Starting from these investigations, as thorough as they were interesting, Finnur Jonsson, a Dane, with the aid of the original sources, was able conclusively to reconstruct in all essential particulars the ancient topography of Greenland, and represent it by means of a map. This chart of Jonsson's shows, in the vicinity of Julianehaab the ruins of 117 churches and manors, large and small. The most remarkable are the episcopal See of Gadar and the manor of Eric the Red, renowned in the saga as the Brattahlid. The western settlements were situated with the limits of the present Godthaab, and is, as a matter of fact, much further west. Godthaab lies in 51° 30' west of Greenwich, while Julianehaab is approximately 46°. The less numerous ruins of the western district have not been thoroughly explored as yet but almost all their fjords have been determined, and the results obtained by archeological research up to the present time are in full accord with the original sources, especially with the circumstantial account of Ivar Bardsson (c. 1350), who for many years administered the Church of Greenland as the representative of the Bishop of Gadar.
Archeological investigations, taken in conjunction with ancient Norse legends, give evidence not only of the location of the settlements, but the number of churches, monasteries, and manors, the approximate numbers of the Norse population, their pursuits and mode of life. As to the churches, which average in length from fifty to sixty-five feet, and in breadth, twenty-six, and are built of large, carefully selected stones, the Gripla, an old northern chorography, fragments of which have come down to us, records twelve in the eastern settlement, and four in the western. In a list dating from the year 1300 the number of the former remains unchanged, but the number of churches in the western colony, which had been previously overrun by the Eskimos, was reduced to three, and in Ivar's list (c. 1370) is given as one, that of Steinesness, for a time the seat of "a cathedral and an episcopal residence". This statement of Ivar has given rise to the inference that there were two dioceses in Greenland, Gardar and Steinesness. According to the conjecture of Torfaeus, only Eric, the missionary bishop, who in 1121 set out for Vinland, had a cathedral in Steinesness. Greenland had but one bishopric, that of Gardar, and it had this [as is expressly stated in the "King's Mirror", one of the principal sources (c. 1250)] only because it was so far removed from other diocese. Had it been nearer to other countries, it would have been "the third part of a diocese". There were but two monasteries in Greenland, one of the Canons Regular of the Order of St. Augustine, dedicated to Sts. Olaf and Augustine, and a convent of Benedictine nuns. The Dominican monastery fantastically described by Zeno the Younger (1558) never existed in Greenland. During the most flourishing period, the number of manors in Greenland amounted to 280, 190 in the eastern, and 90 in the western settlement. Assuming that each manor had an average of ten to fifteen inhabitants, we have a sum total of 2800-4200 souls, which is probably near the truth. Dwelling house, shed and stable were single-story buildings. Generally the buildings for horses, cows, sheep and goats were not adjoining. The chief occupations of the inhabitants were cattle breeding and the chase. The Kjokkenmoddings which are often found to be a height of over three feet in front of dwellings, prove that the ancient Northmen were fearless in the pursuit of large game. In these heaps of bones and ashes, the greater part of the remains are those of seals. There are traces of the following domestic animals: a species of small horned cattle (bos taurus), goats (capra hircus), sheep (ovis aries), small horses (equus caballus), and well-developed dogs (canis familiaris). Of the other animals native to Greenland, the bone piles show traces of the polar bear (ursus maritimus), the walrus (trichechus rosmarus), three species of seal (erignathus barbatus, phoca vitulina, and phoca faetida) and especially the hooded seal (cystophora cristida). It is not surprising that the crusade tax leveled on the inhabitants of Greenland, who had no currency, consisted of cattle hides, seal skins, and the teeth of whales. Gronlandiae decima this was termed in a letter to Pope Martin IV to the archbishop of Trondhjem (4 March, 1282): "Non percipitur nisi in bovinis et phocarum corii ac debtibus et funibus balenarum." In perfect accord with this is Ivar Bardsson's emphatic mention, not only of the white bears and white falcons found everywhere in great abundance, but more particularly of the herds of cows, sheep, and goats, which were, next to the fisheries, the Greenlanders' principal source of income.
Cattle raising and the chase caused the inhabitants to explore their icy country on all sides. To quote from the "Kings Mirror", the people have often attempted in various places to scale the highest rocks to obtain an extensive view, and see whether they could find a place free from ice and suitable for habitation. Such a region, however, could not be discovered, except those parts already built up which stretched a long distance along the coast. They found both mountain ridges and valleys coated with ice". The daring Greenlanders not confining their attention to the interior showed a remarkable acquaintance with the ice-bound ocean and the peculiarities of the coast. According to the "King's Mirror" the ice of the sea is eight to ten feet thick, and is as flat as if it were frozen in that very place. As the ice extends a journey of four or five days from land, and farther toward the east and northeast than south or southwest, anyone wishing to reach land must sail toward the west and southwest, until he has passed all places where there is a possibility of finding ice, and then set sail landward. From the smooth ice rise icebergs "like a high cliff from the sea", not joined to the rest of the ice, but separate. All well-to-do peasants in Greenland had large and small boats for fishing. Nororseta, probably in the vicinity of the present Upernivik, was accounted especially favorable for seal fishing. Here too collected "all of the driftwood that floated across from the inlets of Markland". How far to the northwest the hardy fishers pushed their voyages we learn from a runic stone venerable for its age, which was discovered in 1824 and taken to the National Museum of Copenhagen. It was set up by three Northmen, 25 April, 1135, on the island of Kingittorsuaq (72° 55' north lat.). In the summer of 1266, a point even farther north was reached by the polar expedition of which Haldur, a Greenland priest, gives an account to Arnold, his former colleague, then court chaplain to Magnus, King of Norway. On their northern voyage, these men found traces of Skraelings only in the Kroksfdjaroarheioi, and the opinion therefore prevailed "that it must be the shortest way for them (the Skraelings) to go, no matter where they came from. Thereupon the priest sent a ship towards the north in order to have investigations made with regard to the conditions north of the most distant region which they had yet visited". Driven by a southern gale, the ship sailed northward from Kroksfdjaroarheioi, "right into the bay (hafsbotnin, bay of the sea, seems to correspond with Melville Bay) and then they lost sight of the whole land, both the southern stretch of the coast, and the glaciers". On the return voyage, a three days' sail brought them to a place where they found traces of Skraelings who had visited islands south of Snaefjall. "After that, they sailed south to Kroksfdjaroarheioi, a good day's rowing, St. James's day". They there took an observation which even today can serve as an approximate indication of the latitude. "It froze", they say, "there, then at nights but the sun shone both night and day, and it was no higher when it was in the south that that when a man laid himself cross-wise in a six-oared boat, stretched out against the railing, then the shadow of the railing which was nearest to the sun fell on his face; but at midnight it was as high as it is at home, in the colony, when it is in the northwest. Then they traveled home to Gardar". These statements formerly led to the belief that Kroksfdjaroarheioi should be sought for about 75° north lat., on the other side of Bafin Bay. Latterly, Thalbitzer has expressed the opinion that the "heioe" was situated on the western coast of Greenland. At all events, the Vikings clearly penetrated much farther than Upernivik (73° n. lat.).
The Northmen of Greenland explored also the eastern coast of the country during the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries. On one of these voyages of exploration in 1194, they reached Svalbaror or Svalbaroi. According to Storm's investigations, this island is thought to be Jan Mayen or Spitzbergen. Almost a hundred years later (1285), two priests, sons of Helge, named Aldalbrand and Thorvald, discovered, over against Iceland, a new country (the Dunen Islands). These voyages are rightly called the precursors of Nordenskiold, in as much as, like him, they set out from Denmark, and reached the eastern coast of Greenland (not Newfoundland).
These and similar discoveries of skilled Norse from the eleventh to the fifteenth centuries made it possible, long before Columbus, to draw so perfect a map of that part of America known as Greenland, but a cartographer to whom Nordenskiold showed such a chart declared emphatically that it must be a forgery of the nineteenth century. The first scholar who inserted the daring Norse discoveries into Ptolemy's map of the world was Claudius Clavus Niger (Swart), a Dane, who left two maps, and two geographical descriptions of the northern countries of Europe in Greenland appears as a peninsula of the continent. The first chart with subjoined description is preserved in the precious Ptolemy manuscript of Cardinal Filiaster of 1427, now in the city library of Nancy in France. In this manuscript, the learned cardinal expressly says of the eighth chart of Europe, "Ptolemy makes no mention of these lands (Norway, Sweden, and Greenland) and he seems to have had no knowledge of them. Hence a certain Claudius Cymbricus has described these northern parts, and represented them in charts". This precious cartographic treasure has been preserved only in the Ptolemy codex of Nancy. Both chart and description have long been known and often reproduced. The second description and the second map have come down in various manuscripts, but separated from each other.
The chart with its strikingly correct representation of Greenland was a riddle to cartographers from the time of its discovery, inasmuch as it contains many names of rivers and promontories which in no wise correspond to the statements found in ancient Norse sources. Only recently have the Danish scholar Bjornbo and Petersen succeeded in solving this riddle. In two mathematical manuscripts of the Hofbibliothek at Vienna they found the long lost description of the second chart of Claudius Clavus, from which it appears that Clavus (b. 1388) was once in Greenland, and that the fantastic names on this chart are merely the words of an old Danish folk song, of which the following is a literal translation:
There lives a man on Greenland's stream
And Spiledebodh doth he be named;
More has he of white herrings
Than he has of pork that is fat.
From the north drives the sand anew.
As Claudius Clavus used the names of the runes to designate places in Iceland, and the ordinal numerals, fursta (the first), etc., on the map of Eastern Europe, so for Greenland he made use of the words of the stanza quoted above, i.e. Thar (there) boer (lives) eeynh (a) manh (man) etc., to designate the succession of promontories and rivers which seemed to him most worthy of note.
From Claudious Clavus the strange names were adopted by cartographers Nicolas Germanus and Henricus Martellus. While Nicolas Germanus in his first copies retained the correct location of Greenland (west of Iceland and the Scandanavian peninsula), in his later works he transferred Greenland to the Scandanavian peninsula and eats of Iceland. On his small charts of the world he completed Ptolemy's map by first giving to Greenland its correct position but afterwards he placed in in northern Europe and located north of Greenland the insula glacialis or insula glaciei (Iceland). Both representations of Greenland were used by Martin Waldseemüller. The erroneous map of Nicholas Germanus he borrowed from the Ulm edition of Ptolemy, which is based on the Wolfegg parchment manuscript of Ptolemy, and presented it in his great wall chart of the world (1507), "America's certificate of baptism". The correct map appeared in conjunction with the marine map of Canerio on the first large marine map ever printed, the "Carta Marina" of 1516.
In consequence of the wide circulation of the world chart of 1507 (1000 copies, the only one of which now extant was discovered by myself in Schloss Wolfegg) the faulty representation is found in countless later charts. Henricus Martellus, whose fine manuscript of Ptolemy was executed in Florence some thirty years after Nicholas Germanus, has given us the correct representation of Claudius Clavus in his charts of the northern countries. The correct map, however, first obtained a wide circulation through the oft-overestimated Zeno map of 1558. In spite of its manifest inaccuracies for example, the younger Zeno represents the floating icebergs on the great northern map of Olaf Magnus (1539) as islands, to which he even assigns names the Zeno map has been defended even in recent times as an original map from Zeni, dating from the end of the fourteenth century. Since the successful clearing up of the mysterious Greenland names, and the discovery of Waldseemüller's chart (carta Marina, 1516), lost for three centuries, which likewise shows the configuration of parts of the eastern coast of North America, the last champions of Zeno must admit that the long celebrated Zeno chart is merely a compilation of the younger Zeno (1558).
While Claudius Clavus was the first to visit Norse Greenland in person and was the first to make a strikingly correct map (c. 1420), he himself was never in Helluland, Markland, and Vinland, and consequently did not introduce them into his fifteenth-century Ptolemy map of the northern countries. As a result these countries were not represented in the editions of Ptolemy's map of the world published in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. On a Catalonian marine map (portulana) dating from the fifteenth century, however, we find a large rectangular island named Illa verde, and to the south of it a smaller island almost circular, named Brazil which have been rightly conjectured to be Greenland and Markland (the wooded land) respectively. On a sea chart discovered by me in the Bibliotheque Nationale of Paris there is likewise to the northwest an island termed "Insula veridis, de qua fit mentio in geographia", and south of it the above-mentioned circular island. It is interesting to note that on his great map of the world (1507) Waldseemüller sets down a viridis insula northwest of Ireland. On the corresponding section of the "carta Marina" of 1516 there is no trace of the viridis insula but the round island Brazil appears. These divergences in cartographic representations arise from differences in conception of the territories discovered. The discoverers took the bodies of land they discovered for islands, a view which is also reflected on the sea charts of the fifteenth century. When the attempt was made to apportion these islands to the three then-known continents, Europe, Asia, and Africa, the fact that Svalbaror, i.e. Jan Mayen or Spitzbergen had been discovered in the twelfth century became of decisive importance, for by this discovery the theory that Greenland was in some way connected with the European mainland was apparently confirmed. This opinion was based on the fact that reindeer, arctic foxes, and other mammals which were found in Greenland, are not met with on islands, unless they were brought in. Since this was not the case in Greenland, it was inferred that these animals must have migrated there from some continent. This conclusion received support from the ice fields which covered the mare congelatum. So men arrived at the conviction that there existed a land connection between Greenland and Bjarmeland or northwestern Russia. Being uninhabited, this was called Ubygdear or the "uninhabited land". Accordingly, Bjarmeland is described as follows in the above mentioned geographical description of the twelfth century: "Uninhabited lands extend as far north as Greenland". A similar statement occurs in a thirteenth-century account: To the north of Norway is Finmarken whence the land extends northeast and east as far as Bjarmeland which is tributary to the Russian king. From Bjarmeland, the land stretches northward through unknown regions up to the borders of Greenland. Finally the author of the "Historia Norwegiae" (thirteenth century) sums up what is known of Greenland in the following noteworthy sentences: Some sailors wishing to return from Iceland to Norway were driven by adverse winds into the icebound regions. At last they landed between Greenland and Bjarmeland in a country which, according to their report has men of remarkable size, and in the land of the virgins who conceived by drinking water. Greenland is separated from them by rocks covered with ice; it was discovered, colonized, and converted to the Catholic faith by Icelanders; it is the western extremity of Europe and extends almost to the African islands. These words and others of similar import account for both the correct representation of Claudius Clavus who himself visited Greenland, as well as the faulty map of Nicholaus Germanus who pursued his geographical and cartographical studies in Florence about 1470. The recollection of Greenland was kept alive by charts and geographical descriptions even at the time when all communication with the Norse colonies had broken off. The eighteen sailors who were driven in 1347 from Markland to Iceland proceeded, according to Icelandic records, across Norway to Greenland. There seems to have been at that time no longer any direct communication between Iceland and Greenland. Intercourse was still kept up between Bergen and Greenland by the royal merchantman, the "Knorr", but only at irregular intervals. In the year 1346, according to Icelandic annals, the "Knorr" was in good condition, and "laden with a rich cargo", returned to Bergen from Greenland which from 1261 had been like Iceland under Norwegian rule. Not until 1355 did the vessel undertake its next voyage to Greenland. For this journey, extraordinary provisions were made, and a formal expedition fitted out. The purpose of the undertaking is said to have been the "preservation of Christianity" in Greenland, which could only be attained by means of a conflict with the Skraelings (Eskimo). It cannot be exactly ascertained when the "Knorr" returned, but it was probably about 1363 or 1364, as about this time Ivar Bardsson, who for many years administered the diocese of Gardar, makes his appearance in Norway.
We can gather from original sources how the Norsemen had gradually to retire before the advancing Eskimo. The first collision took place, according to the "Historia Norwegiae" (thirteenth century) in North Greenland. The passage (according to Thalbitzer) reads as follows in literal translation: Beyond the Greenlanders toward the north, the hunters came across a kind of people called the Skraelings; when they were wounded alive, their wounds became white, without any issue of blood, but the blood scarcely ceases to stream out of them when they are dead. They have no iron whatever, and use whale teeth for missile weapons, and sharp stones for knives. In the chart of Claudius Clavus (1427), accordingly we find the Careli, in the extreme north of Greenland, and the accompanying description is as follows: Tenent autem septentrionalis eius (Gronlandiae) Careli infideles, quorum regio extenditur sub polo septentrionali versus Seres orientales, quare polis [polar circle] nobis septentrionalis est eis meridionalis [in] gradibus 66. (The north of Greenland is occupied by the pagan Careli whose country extends from the North Pole to the eastern Seres; therefore the northern polar circle is to us north, to them south in the 66th degree of latitude.) It is interesting to know that in this very part of Greenland near the Umanak fjord there now exists a tradition among the Eskimo of a battle on the ice between Eskimo and Northmen. The Northmen were the attacking party, but the Eskimo were victorious. Thalbitzer gives the tradition according to the Rink (Eskimoiske Eventyr og Saga, Copenhagen, 1866): The Norsemen had pursued some little girls who had been out to fetch water. The girls came running home and shouted. "they are attacking us". The Greenlanders fled and hid themselves between the heaps of stones, yet the Norsemen managed to get hold of some of them and maltreated them. The Greenlanders, however, by means of artifice, lured their enemies out on the slippery fjord ice, where they could not stand firmly, and thus the Skraelings succeeded in overcoming them one at a time and killed them all. In the course of the fourteenth century, the Eskimo of Greenland advanced farther southward. About 1360 the western colony fell into their hands. Ivar Bardsson, an eyewitness, related how, under commission of the royal governor, he had taken part in an expedition to drive the Eskimo from the Western settlement. But no human being either Christian or heathen was found. Cattle and sheep ran wild. Having put them on shipboard they returned home (Gardar). In 1397 the Icelandic annals report a new attack: The Skraelings assailed the Greenlanders, killing eighteen men, capturing and enslaving two boys. Undoubtedly the many shipwrecks which took place at this time hastened the catastrophe. The government ship went down north of Bergen. Moreover in 1392 "a great plague" visited the whole of Norway. In 1393 Bergen was conquered and pillaged by the Germans who took with them all ships and anchors. After this we hear of no more voyages of the "Knorr" to Greenland. The last record in the Icelandic annals of the landing of a foreign vessel in Greenland is found under the date 1406. It was not until four years later that the ship which had been driven by storms to Greenland reached Norway. To the same period belongs a marriage certificate given, 19 April, 1409, by a priest in Gardar. Soon afterwards the final catastrophe must have befallen the eastern settlements. According to the letter of Pope Nicholas V (c. 1448) to the bishops of Iceland, the Christians of Greenland were attacked by the heathens of the neighbouring coasts, and the country was laid waste with fire and sword, but all persons who were fit to become slaves were made captives. The approximate date of the invasion is obtained by the mention of "thirty years ago" (1418). The efforts of Nicholas V were unfortunately without success, as appears from the letter of Alexander VI dated in the first year of his pontificate (1492-93). The inhabitants were deprived of religious ministration; there was no longer either bishop or priest and a great part of the population returned to paganism. Those who remained true to the faith possessed as a memorial of Catholic times only the corporal on which a hundred years before the Lord's Body had been consecrated by the last priest. Once a year this corporal was exposed for veneration. The date "a hundred years ago", is not entirely accurate, even if we agree with Storm in taking the last priest to mean the last resident bishop. The statement that "for eighty years no [European] ship had landed on the coast of Greenland" is not positively made. Bjornbo and Petersen inform us of a journey to Greenland hitherto unknown. In the text intended to accompany his second map of Greenland Clavus expressly states:
Grolandie insule chersonesus dependent a terra inaccessibili a parte septentrionis vel ignota propter glaciem. Veniunt tamen kareli infideles, ut vidi, in Grolandiam cum copioso exercitu quottidie, et hoc absque dubio ex altera parte poli septentrionalis.
(The peninsula of the island of Greenland projects from a land inaccessible from the north or unknown on account of the ice. However, the pagan Careli, as I have witnessed, invade Greenland every day with a numerous army and no doubt come from the other side of the polar circle.)
Clavus, therefore, seems to have been one eyewitness of the last hostile attacks which finally resulted in the destruction of the eastern settlement, which was the last Norse colony in America. It is true that many attempts were still made to convey assistance to the hard-pressed Norse settlers, particularly by the last Catholic Archbishop of Trondhjem, Eric Walkendorf (d. 1522), but all came to nought. So the last descendents of the old Vikings were left to their own resources and were gradually absorbed by native Eskimo population.
Reeves, The Finding of Wineland the Good (London, 1890); Heywood, Documenta selecta e tabulario secreto Vaticano (Rome, 1893); Adamus Bremensis, Adami Gesta Hammaburgensis ecclesiae pontificum ex recensione lappenbergi. ed. Waitz (Hanover, 1874); Gronlands historiske mindesmaerker (Copenhagen, 1838-45); Rafn, Antquitates Americanae (Copenhagen, 1837); Storm, Islandiske Annaler indtil 1587 (Christiana, 1888); Monumenta Historica Norwegiae (Christiana, 1888); Eiriks Saga Raudoa (Copenhagen, 1891); Aris Islendingabok, ed Jonsson (Copenhagen, 1887), ed. Golther (Halle, a. S., 1892); Werlauff, Symboliae ad Geographiam medii oevi ex monumentis Islandicis (Copenhagen, 1821); Anderson, America not Discovered by Columbus with a bibliography of the pre-Columbian discoveries of America by Watson, 4th ed. (Chicago, 1891); de Roo, History of America before Columbus (Philadelphia, 1900), a most complete account of all more or less probable discoveries of America before Columbus; Herberman, America before Columbus in U. S. Cath. Hist. Soc. Historical Records and Studies (New York, 1901), II; Winsor, Narrative and Critical History of America (Boston, 1886-89); Lucas, The Annals of the Voyage of the Brothers Niccolo and Antonio Zeno (London, 1898); Fiske, The Discovery of America (Boston, 2 vols., 1902), small edition of 1 vol. (Boston 1905); Storm, Studier over Vinlands reiserne Vinlands goegraphi og ethnografi (Copenhagen, 1888); abridged English edition, Studies on the Vinland Voyages (Copenhagen, 1889); Om Zeniernes reiser in Norske geor. selskabstarbog (Christiana, 1891); Nye Efterretninger om det Gamle Gronland in Hist. Tidskrift (Christiana, 1892); Fischer, Die Entdeckungen der Normannen in Amerika (Freiburg, 1902), tr. Soulsby, the Discoveries of the Norsemen in America (London, 1903), with rich literary details concerning the works of Humboldt, de Costa, Horsford, Norden Skiold. Maurer, Storm, Harrisse, Ruge, etc.; Herberman, The Northmen in America in Historical Records and Studies (New York, 1903), III, Part I; Fischer, The Tithes of the Crusades in Greenland, 1276-82, ibid. (New York, 1904), III, Part II; Bjornobo og Petersen, Claudius Clausson Swart (Copenhagen, 1904); Thalbitzer, The Eskimo Language, with an historical introduction about the east Eskimo in Meddelelser om Gronland (Copenhagen, 1904), XXXI, Skraelingerne i Markland og Gronlnad, deres Sprog og Nationalitet in Danske Videns kab. Selsk Forhandl. (1905); Jonsson, Gronland Gamle Topografi efter Kilderne in Meddelelser (Copenhagen, 1899), XX; Nielsen, Nordmaendog Skraelinger i Vinland in norske G. S. Aarb. (1905).
APA citation. (1907). Pre-Columbian Discovery of America. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01416a.htm
MLA citation. "Pre-Columbian Discovery of America." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01416a.htm>.
Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Michael Donahue.
Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. March 1, 1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.
Contact information. The editor of New Advent is Kevin Knight. My email address is webmaster at newadvent.org. Regrettably, I can't reply to every letter, but I greatly appreciate your feedback — especially notifications about typographical errors and inappropriate ads.