Map 1e. Eastwards to Greenland and Vinland

Map 1e. Eastwards to Greenland and Vinland


Associated text:  The Last Viking III. Three Steps Back


In view of the complexities associated with the Greenland Duality it may be useful to consider next the implications of a possible eastern route to "Greenland" and the Pacific Northwest. In short, instead of voyaging
westwards through the Northwest Passage, consider now an alternative passage from Norway that is largely and essentially an "overland" trip to the east, (see Map 1e) i.e.,

A. Jón Jóhannessen
 "A brief description of the world preserved in a manuscript from about 1300 (A.M. 736 I, 41o) contains the following paragraph:

To the  north of Norway lies Finnmark (Lapland); from there the land sweeps  north-east and east to Bjarmaland (Permia)which renders
 tribute to the king of Russia. From Permia there is uninhabited land stretching all the way to the north until Greenland begins.   To the
 south of Greenland lies Helluland and Markland; and from there it is not far to Vinland, which some people think extends from Africa . . .33

 Different versions of this geographic sketch are contained in a few other manuscripts. The date of the original version is not known, but the geographic concepts it reflects can be traced back to the Commonwealth Period.
 The description of a circular and unbroken land mass extending from Bjarmaland (Permia) to Greenland, and south from there to Africa, is the chief characteristic of these accounts. The earliest source in which this feature may
be quite clearly detected is Historia Norwegiae, and as a whole its underlying concept is based on amazingly extensive knowledge of geography, even though in places it is tinged with superstition. The idea of lands extending from Greenland to Russia may imply previously obtained information about Spitsbergen and Novaja Zemlja. The southern edge of the polar icefield is only a short distance away from these lands and, in part, may have given rise to the idea of a continuous land mass in these regions.
33 Grønlands historiske Mindesmaerker. III, pp. 216-218; Alfraeði Islenzk. I, p. 12.
 (Jón Jóhannessen,  Íslendinga Saga: A History of the Old Icelandic Commonwealth. Trans. Harald Bessason, University of Manitoba Press, Winnipeg 1974:104-5; emphases supplied).

B. Arthur Middleton Reeves
"Somewhat similar in character to the above notices is the brief reference written in the vellum fragment contained in AM. 764, 4to.
This fragment comprises a so-called ' totius orbis brevis descriptio,' written probably about the year 1400. Upon the second page of this ' brief description' is the passage:

' From Biarmaland uninhabited regions extend from the north, until Greenland joins them.
South from Greenland lies Helluland, then Markland. Thence it is not far to Wineland....'

(Arthur Middleton Reeves, The Finding of Wineland the Good: The History of the Icelandic Discovery of America. Burt Franklin, New York 1895: 17; emphases supplied)

In spite of uncertainities concerning Norse geographical knowledge during the period in question Jóhannessen's final observations may reasonably be extended eastwards below Novaya Zemlya given that the route from Norway is initially north to "Finnmark," after which "the land sweeps north-east to "Bjarmaland" (Permia), which renders tribute to the king of Russia." Moreover, we are told next that from this region onwards: "there is uninhabited land all the way north until Greenland begins," whereas the Reeves' variant states "uninhabited regions extend from the north until Greenland joins them."

But either way, after we reach "Greenland" we find ourselves--if not on familiar ground per se--then at least on a familiar route described by familiar phrases, for Nicholas, Abbot of Thingeyre's:

 "South of Greenland lies Helluland, next lies Markland, and from there it is not a great distance to Vinland the Good"

is clearly echoed in the translations provided above by Jóhannessen and Reeves, i.e.,

A. Jón Jóhannessen: "To the south of Greenland lies Helluland and Markland; and from there it is not far to Vinland."
B. Arthur Middleton Reeves: "South from Greenland lies Helluland, then Markland. Thence it is not far to Wineland."

In other words, proceeding northwards from Norway, then basically eastwards via Finland and Russia, the "overland" route (shown on Map 1e adjacent to the Arctic Circle for simplicity) readily terminates at the Bering Straits. Once across the latter and on to the "Western Greenland" region (Icy Bay--Hanes Alaska, perhaps) we again reach the starting point for the voyages south to Helluland, Markland and Vinland. Thus, (theoretically at least) we have "arrived" in the Pacific Northwest en route to the same western Viking lands as before, but this time from the east....

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John N. Harris, MA (Cmns).   Last Updated February 15, 2004
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