1902 Encyclopedia > Geography > Norse Travellers. Early Knowledge of America.

Geography
(Part 8)



Norse Travellers. Early Knowledge of America.

The Northmen of Denmark and Norway, who were the terror of all the coasts of Europe, and who established themselves in England and Ireland, in France and Sicily, were also great promoters of geographical discovery during the darkest period of the Middle Ages. The Northmen were far from being always Vikings, bent only on rapine and plunder. They were very often peaceful merchants. King Alfred sent Ulfsten and the Norwegian Ottar on voyages of discovery towards the White Sea; and the Scandinavian merchants brought the products of India to England and Ireland. From the 8th to the 11th century a commercial route from India passed through Kharism and Novgorod to the Baltic, and immense quantities of Arabian coins have been found in Sweden, and particularly in the island of Gothland, which are preserved at Stockholm. Five-sixths of them were from the mints of the Samanian dynasty, which reigned in Khorasan and Trausoxiana from about 900 to 1000 A.D. It was the trade with the East that originally gave importance to the city of Visby in Gothland.

In the end of the 9th century Iceland was colonized form Norway; and in 985 the intrepid Viking Erik, surnamed the Red, discovered Greenland, and induced some of his Icelandic countrymen to settle on its inhospitable shores. In 986 young Bjorni, son of one of Erik’s comrades, sailed from Iceland to join his father in Greenland, but shaped his course too far to the south, and was the discoverer of America. He sailed along the coasts of Connecticut, Messachusetts, and Nova Scotia, before he eventually found the fjord on the Greenland coast where his father dwelt. Then Leif, the son of Erik, bought the ship form young Bjorni and made another voyage of discovery, and once more the coast of America was visited. Other expeditions were undertaken by his two brothers, intercourse was kept up between Greenland and Norway, and the saga of Thorfinn tells us of other voyages to America. The last that was heard of the Norwegian colonies in Greenland was in a brief of Pope Nicolas V. in 1448, where it is stated that, 30 years before, the settlements had been destroyed by the attacks of savages. Two noble Venetians, Nicolo and Antonio Zeno, who were in the service of the prince of the Faroe Islands in the end of the 13th century, recorded their observations respecting the Norse colonies. Antonio actually went to Greenland, and heard of the visits of fishermen to two parts of North America called Estotiland and Drogeo.





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