There were times when all Europe was trembling at the mention of Vikings. These brave sailors on their swift ships made bold raids on coastal towns and villages, collected tribute and destroyed the unruly. The Vikings not only felt at home in the British Isles, in the Netherlands and in France, but also reached Spain, Morocco and Italy.
Now, few historians doubt that in North America the Vikings had visited long before Columbus. According to legend, the Viking Leif Erickson (Leif Happy) reached the shores of America hundreds of years before Christopher Columbus. More recently, scientists have received evidence that the Vikings really swam so far.
A special page in the history of the Vikings is the development of Greenland by them. Excavations on this island showed that the Vikings flourished here for hundreds of years, trading with Europe and, probably, even with native American tribes.
The history of the development of the Vikings of the North Atlantic began with Iceland, near the shores of which around 860 the Norwegian Nadcod and Swede Gardar Swarvarsson visited each other independently. Their stories about the new land prompted the Norwegian Raven Floka to go there with a view to found a colony. The colonists could hardly endure the harsh winter, so the island was called Iceland – “Ice Ground”.
However, many colonists liked the island rich in game, with picturesque fjords and forests. Mass migration of Vikings to Iceland began. By the 70th years of the X century. in Iceland there were already about 50 thousand colonists. It was during this period that the colony began a terrible famine, when many wanted to leave the island and go in search of a better share. Soon such an opportunity presented itself to them.
In 982, Erik Torvalds, nicknamed Redhead because of his fiery hair and repeatedly accused of murder, in a quarrel with his neighbor, killed his two sons. For this crime, Eric was not executed, but sentenced to only three years of expulsion from Iceland. Eric decided to go on a trip.
From the familiar sailor, he knew that some 450 miles to the west is some kind of land. Ginger bought a ship and went with friends to search for her. In the summer of 982, Eric’s ship was already circling the southern extremity of the mysterious land. Soon he liked one picturesque place with meadows covered with thick grass and flowers, in addition, his fjords, it reminded travelers of their native places. Eric called this land Greenland – “Green Country”.
Three years were spent by travelers in the place they had chosen, and in 985, returning to Iceland, they began to collect an expedition to colonize the land they had discovered. 25 ships with 700 colonists went to Greenland, but the cruel storm made its own corrections: only 14 ships and 400 people reached the treasured land.
They founded the so-called Eastern settlement on the southern coast of Greenland. In the following 10 years, a group of settlers arrived several times in Greenland, some of which founded another colony, the Western Settlement, on the south-west coast.
Despite the fact that the living conditions of the colonists were very severe, the Vikings’ Greenland outposts began to flourish. The number of colonists gradually grew. According to archaeologists, there was a period when at least 3 thousand Vikings lived on the island.
Vikings settled some distance from the sea along the fjords, which reminded them of their native places. The construction of a farm in Greenland was difficult because of the lack of large trees. The source of the wood was practically one fin. Houses were built of fin, stone or turf.
To ensure sufficient insulation from severe frosts, the walls of some buildings made a thickness of 2 m and even more. Among the excavated archaeologists of the farms of the Western settlement there is a so-called farm under the sand.
Scientists have found here many interesting subjects that allow us to imagine the way of life of the Vikings in Greenland. One of the excavated buildings was truly gigantic: in order to erect such a structure from the turf, it was necessary to tear it down on an area of about 1000 square meters. m.
The summer in Greenland was too short to grow cereals, so the Vikings most likely did without beer and bread. Settlers bred domestic animals – goats, sheep and even cows, slaughtered them very moderately, mainly using secondary livestock products – milk and cheese.
At first, the settlers differed little from their compatriots left in Iceland and Scandinavia. They sniffed fish and hunted seals and deer. The Greenland Vikings made clothes from wool and flax, sometimes using fur of arctic hares.
Clothing was also used from the skin of bison and other exotic materials – apparently, there could not have been without the influence of American tribes.
To survive, the colonists supported trade with Scandinavia. In exchange for iron, grain and timber from Europe, they offered bears and polar fox skins, narwhal tusks and strong walrus skins. Whalebone also found a demand among European women of fashion. It is believed that the Greenland Vikings traded and … live bears.
It is possible that the Vikings from Greenland went for timber, even to North America. The remains of the Viking buildings in Newfoundland indicate their short stay on this continent.
In the XIV century, the climate in Greenland became colder. The glaciers slid onto the land of the Vikings, bringing with them sand, mud and gravel. These deposits gradually deprived the pasture colonists.
“Over time, the situation has worsened,” says archaeologist Jette Arneborg. – Black death (plague) mowed Norway, destroying two-thirds of the population. The plague also struck Iceland, killing a third of its inhabitants. ”
While there is no evidence that the plague reached Greenland, but on the development of trade, it has undoubtedly affected. The colonists gradually adapted to the new conditions. In their diet, seafood began to predominate. Scientists have found this, based on the ratio of the bones of the extracted skeletons of settlers of two different forms of carbon. It turned out that closer to the XIV century. In the food of the Greenland Vikings seafood began to account for about 80 percent.
Cooling caused the Eskimos to migrate closer to areas controlled by the Vikings. Some scholars suggest that the Vikings could not only meet with the Eskimos, but even live among them. However, no confirmation has been received so far. More likely the assumption that the Vikings began to clash with Native Americans: the legends of the Eskimos speak of this.
More adapted to the harsh conditions of the North, the Eskimos suffered a cooling more easily than the Vikings. Archaeologists were very surprised when they extracted from the graves of well-preserved garments of the Greenland Vikings. It turned out that the Vikings strictly followed the European fashion, it did not even occur to them to adopt some elements of Eskimo clothing more adapted to survival in the North.
About 1350 there was some mysterious event: the entire population of the Western settlement, about 1000 people, suddenly disappeared. A Norwegian priest from the Eastern Settlement, who visited the Western settlement of the colony, did not find there a single living soul other than feral domesticated livestock. No corpses have been found!
Among the hypotheses explaining the disappearance of so many people, there are versions of the plague, famine, the attack of the Eskimos or even pirates, mass resettlement. However, almost all these versions are crossed out by the absence of corpses and the presence of domestic animals. So far, there is no more or less appropriate explanation for this mystery.
The eastern settlement lasted until 1500. One of the last written sources of the Vikings of Greenland is the recording of the Christian rite of the wedding in the church in Hvalsy, which has survived to this day. Historians believe that the last Vikings of Greenland left their colony and moved back to Iceland.
And according to the legends of the Eskimos, the last Vikings of the Eastern settlement were attacked by pirates, but excavations have not yet confirmed this story.
In 1540 the team of the Icelandic ship no longer found any living soul in the colony, only the remains of a man in a hood. Perhaps it was the last Greenlandic Viking …
Their secret is still unsolved.