While all other sciences have advanced, that of government is at a standstill - little better understood, little better practiced now than three or four thousand years ago. — John Adams

Eric the Red - George Upton




Arctic Expeditions in 1266.
More Markland Expeditions

A letter written by the priest Halldor to another clerical, named Arnold, contains an account of an expedition to the Arctic regions in 1266. This Arnold, who had previously been stationed in Greenland, was Court Chaplain to Magnus VI, King of Norway, surnamed "Lagaboeter" ("Reformer of the Laws ").Several clericals of Gardar were at the head of this expedition. To secure a vessel for such an undertaking was not a difficult task, for as the Chronicles tell, every well-to-do man in Greenland owned "a great ship," which was used not only in fishing but for hunting seals and bears.

The high northern regions which they proposed to visit and explore were called "Nordsetur." Their principal stations were Greipar and Kroksfjarheidi. It is conjectured that the first of the stations was directly south of the island of Disco, which lies in the seventieth degree of north latitude. As to the geographical position of the second station, it is supposed to lie north of the other and served as the summer quarters of the Greenland fishermen. This was the place they intended to find.

They first reached Kroksfjarheidi and then set out for the region farther north, which was the goal of their ambition. They soon found themselves in a dense fog which compelled them to let their vessel go before the wind. After the fog lifted, they beheld many islands and various kinds of creatures, such as seals, whales, and many bears. They discovered traces which showed that the Skraellings in earlier times had lived there, but they could not land on account of the bears. Then they turned and sailed back for three days, discovering more traces of Skraellings on some islands which lay south of a mountain which they named Snidfell. After this, it was on St. James' Day, they went farther south, and rowed industriously all that day. During the night it froze in these regions, but the sun was above the horizon both day and night, and when it entered the southern meridian it was no higher but cast a shadow on that part of the vessel which was next the sun. At midnight the sun was as high as in the northwestern part of the Greenland colony when it is at its highest. Thereupon our adventurers sailed back to their home at Gardar.

The next important event was an exploring expedition made by two brothers, the Icelandic priests, Adalbrand and Thorwald Helgason. The reports of their contemporaries contain only the brief announcement that in 1285 they discovered a new country to the west of Iceland. Some years later King Erik, the priest-hater, commissioned the priest Rolf, who went by the name of Landa-Rolf, or Land-seeker, to undertake a journey to this country, which was believed to be Newfoundland. Prof. Rafn is of opinion that the two priests discovered the island called Dunejar on account of the great quantity of eiderdown found there. The outcome of Rolf's commission is not known, but the name of Landa-Rolf was preserved in token that he had carried out his purpose to the limit. The discoveries of the Scandinavians are preserved in the geographical publications of a later period and the charts of the fifteenth century contain traces of those of the priest Rolf.

Another report concerning America contained in the old Chronicles shows that an expedition was made from Greenland to Markland in 1347. The vessel had a crew of seventeen, and the object of the voyage probably was to secure timber and other useful articles. On the return from Markland the vessel was overtaken by a storm. The crew lost their way and their anchor and were finally driven upon the west coast of Iceland. From the scanty account which was written by a contemporary nine years after the event, it may be assumed that there was regular communication between Greenland and America at that time, as it expressly says that the vessel sailed to Markland, which shows that there was a specified country of that name and that it was well known.