ITILITIL Or : In his article on Itil Jaqût says Upon it the….

among the countries beyond which the voyage extended, it may have started from thence in Wytfliet’s authority.[102] On the L’Ecuy globe, of the sixteenth century, there is written in Latin between 70° and 80° N.


And in long.[Pg 132] 320°:[103] “These are the people to whom the Dane Johannes Scovvus penetrated in the year 1476.” The description of Scolvus as a Dane may indicate the same source as the English mention of him in 1576.[104] Finally it may be mentioned that Georg Horn in his work “Ulysses peregrinans” (Louvain, 1671), after speaking of voyages of the Icelanders (Thylenses) to “Frisland or Finmark” (sic!), to Iceland, Greenland, Scotland, and Gotland under “auspiciis Margaretæ Semiramis Dan., Sued., Norv.,” and then of the voyages of the Zenos in the year 1390, says: “Joh.

Scolnus Polonus discovered under the auspices of Christian I., King of the Danes, the Anian-strait and the country Laboratoris in the year 1476.” The Anian-strait was the mythical strait between Asia and north-western America, which was talked about and[Pg 133] which appeared upon maps more than a hundred years before Bering Strait was discovered by the Russian Deshenev in 1648.

But the name may sometimes have been extended to the whole of the strait, called above, p. 130, the Strait of the Three Brethren, which was assumed to go north of America to the Pacific.

What is new in Horn’s statement is that the voyage is said to have been made under the auspices of Christiern I.; it may be supposed that he knew enough of the history of Denmark to draw this conclusion from the date 1476.

This is what is known from old sources about this Scolvus and his voyage.

It must be remembered that the name of Labrador (in various forms) was used on the maps of the sixteenth century both for Greenland and Labrador, and was originally the name of the former.

It is therefore most probable that the statements about Scolvus’s voyage referred in the first instance to Greenland, which in the first part of the sixteenth century was known as Labrador.

Pining, Pothorst and Scolvus on the same voyage To sum up what has been said above, we have, on the one hand, statements, from wholly different sources, of one or more voyages to Greenland under the leadership of Pining and Pothorst, in the time of Christiern I.—IE, before 1481; on the other hand, we have statements, probably from several, but at least from two sources independent of each other, about a voyage, also to Greenland, with the pilot Johannes Scolvus, from Denmark or more probably from Norway, in the time of Christiern I., and this is even referred to a particular year, 1476.

One is therefore led to conclude, as G.

Storm has already done, that we are here concerned with the same voyage or voyages to Greenland, which were made under the leadership of the two “skippers” and freebooters Pining and Pothorst, with Johannes Scolvus (Jón Skolvsson ?) as pilot or navigator.

In some authorities of Scandinavian origin the voyage was connected with the names of the real leaders, while in Southern authorities it[Pg 134] was connected with that of the pilot or navigator, in the same way as, for instance, the name of William Barentsz was associated with the voyages in which he took part, instead of those of Hemkerck and the other leaders.

There seem thus to be sufficiently good historical documents in support of at least one expedition having reached Greenland in the latter part of the sixteenth century, possibly sent out by Christiern I.

In 1476, and perhaps there were more.

Possibly it was rumours of this new communication with Greenland that awoke a desire in the monk Mathias to go there as bishop.

But then we hear no more of it.

For a while longer bishops continued to be appointed to Greenland, a land which was no longer known to any one, and to these bishops least of all.

Thus ends the history of the old Greenland settlements.

Notices of them become rarer and rarer, with long intermissions, until after this time they cease altogether, and we know no more of the fate of the old Norsemen there. “The standing-stone on the mound bears no mark, and Saga has forgotten what she knew.”     [Pg 135]   51 CHAPTER XII EXPEDITIONS OF THE NORWEGIANS TO THE WHITE SEA, VOYAGES IN THE POLAR SEA, WHALING AND SEALING   EXPEDITIONS TO THE WHITE SEA Expeditions to the White Sea EVEN if Ottar was perhaps not the first Norwegian to reach the White Sea, his voyage is in any case a remarkable exploring expedition, whereby both the North Cape and the White Sea became known, even in the literature of Europe, nearly seven hundred years before Richard Chancellor reached the Dvina in the ship “Edward Buonaventura” in 1553, from which time the discovery of this sea has usually been reckoned.

In Ottar’s time, or soon after, the Norwegian king asserted his sovereignty over all the Lapps as far as the White Sea, and in the Historia Norwegiæ it is said that Hálogaland reached to Bjarmeland.

The headland Vegistafr is mentioned in the Historia Norwegiæ, in the laws, and elsewhere, as the boundary of the kingdom of Norway towards the Bjarmas (Beormas).

This may have been on the south side of the Kola peninsula by the river Varzuga, already mentioned,[Pg 136] or by the river Umba (see the map, vol.


P. 170).[105] After Ottar’s time the Norwegians more frequently undertook expeditions, doubtless for the most part of a military character, to the White Sea and Bjarmeland.

We hear about several of them in the sagas.

Harold Gråfeld’s expedition to the Dvina Eric Blood-Axe marched northward, about 920, into Finmark and as far as Bjarmeland, and there fought a great battle and gained the victory.

His son, Harold Gråfeld, went northward to Bjarmeland one summer about 965 with his army, and there ravaged the country and had a great fight with the Bjarmas on “Vinu bakka” [IE, the river bank of the Dvina (Vina)], in which King Harold was victorious and slew many men; and then laid the country waste far and wide, and took a vast amount of plunder.

Of this Glumr Geirason speaks: “Eastward the bold-spoken king intrepidly stained his sword red, north of the burning town; there I saw the Bjarmas run.

For the master of the body-guard good spear-weather was given on this journey, on Vina’s bank; the fame of a young noble travelled far.” Trollebotten At that time, then, the Norwegians must have reached the Dvina and discovered the east side of the White Sea, which was still unknown to Ottar.

They had thus proved it to be a gulf of the sea.

The Bjarmas probably lived along the whole of its south side as far as the Dvina, and the name of “Bjarmeland” was now extended to the east side also, and thus became the designation of the country round the White Sea.

As a people of strange race of whom they knew little, the Norwegians regarded the Lapps as skilled in magic; but it was natural that the still less known and more distant Bjarmas gradually acquired an even greater reputation for magic, and in these regions stories of trolls and giants were located.

The Polar[Pg 137] Sea was early called “Hafsbotn,” later “Trollebotten,” and the White Sea was given the name of “Gandvik,” to which a similar meaning is attributed, since it is supposed to be connected with “gand” (the magic of the Lapps); but the name evidently originated in a popular-etymological corruption of a Karelian name, Kanðanlaksi, as already shown (vol.


Pp. 218, f., note).

Thore Hund’s expedition to Bjarmeland Snorre Sturlason (ob. 1241) included in the Saga of St.

Olaf a legend from Nordland about an expedition to Bjarmeland, supposed to have been undertaken in 1026 by Thore Hund, in company with Karle and his brother Gunnstein from Hálogaland, men of the king’s bodyguard.

The tale may be an indication that at that time more peaceful relations had been established between the Nordlanders and the Bjarmas.

They went in two vessels, Thore in a great longship with eighty men, and the brothers in a smaller longship with about five-and-twenty.

When they came 52 to Bjarmeland, they put in at the market-town;[106] the market began, and all those who had wares to exchange received full value.

Thore got a great quantity of skins, squirrel, beaver and sable.

Karle also had many wares with him, for which he bought large quantities of furs.

But when the market was concluded there, they came down the river Vina; and then they declared the truce with the people of the country at an end.

When they were out of the river, they held a council of war, and Thore proposed that they should plunder a sanctuary of the Bjarmas’ god Jomale,[107] with grave mounds, which he knew to be in a wood in that part of the country.[108] They did so by night,[Pg 138] found much silver and gold, and when the Bjarmas pursued them, they escaped through Thore’s magical arts, which made them invisible.

Both ships then sailed back over Gandvik.

As the nights were still light they sailed day and night until one evening they lay to off some islands, took their sails down and anchored to wait for the tide to go down, since there was a strong tide-rip (whirlpool) in front of them (“r?st mikil var fyrir þeir”).

This was probably off “Sviatoi Nos” (the sacred promontory), where Russian authorities speak of a strong current and whirlpool.

Here there was a dispute between the brothers and Thore, who demanded the booty as a recompense for their having escaped without loss of life owing to his magical arts.

But when the tide turned, the brothers hoisted sail and went on, and Thore followed.

When they came to land at “Geirsver” (Gjesvær, a fishing station on the north-west side of Magerö)—where we are told that there was “the first quay as one sails from the north” (IE, east from Bjarmeland)—the quarrel began again, and Thore suddenly ran his spear through Karle, so that he died on the spot; Gunnstein escaped with difficulty in the smaller and lighter vessel; but was pursued by Thore, and finally had to land and take to flight with all his men at Lenvik, near Malangen fjord, leaving his ship and cargo.

Expedition to Bjarmeland, 1217 Even if this expedition is not historical, the description of the voyage and the mention of place-names along the route nevertheless show that these regions were well known to Snorre’s informants; and journeys between Norway and Bjarmeland cannot have been uncommon in Snorre’s time or before it.

Many things show that the communication with Gandvik and Bjarmeland continued through the whole of the Middle Ages, and was sometimes of a peaceful, sometimes of a warlike character; but of the later voyages only three are, in fact, mentioned in Norwegian authorities: one of them was undertaken by the king’s son Håkon Magnusson about[Pg 139] 1090; of this expedition little is known.

In Håkon Håkonsson’s time we have an account[109] of another expedition to Bjarmeland in the year 1217, in which took part ?gmund of Spånheim from Hardanger, Svein Sigurdsson from Sogn, Andres of Sjomæling from Nordmör, all on one ship, and Helge Bograngsson and his men from Hálogaland, on[Pg 140] another.

Svein and Andres went home with their ship the same autumn; but ?gmund proceeded southward through Russia to the Suzdal kingdom in East Russia, on a tributary of the Volga.

Helge Bograngsson and his Nordlanders stayed the winter in Bjarmeland; but he came in conflict with the Bjarmas and was killed.

After this ?gmund did not venture to return that way, but went on through Russia to the sea (IE, the Black Sea) and thence to the Holy Land.

He came safely home to Norway after many years.   Bjarmas and Skridfinns fighting on ski and riding reindeer (after Olaus Magnus, 1555)   Expedition to Bjarmeland, 1222 When the rumour of what had happened to Helge and his men reached home, a punitive expedition was decided on.

The king’s officers in Nordland, Andres Skjaldarbrand and Ivar Utvik, placed themselves at the head of it; and they came to Bjarmeland with four ships in the year 1222, and accomplished their purpose; “they wrought great havoc in plunder and slaughter and obtained much booty in furs and burnt silver.” But on the homeward voyage Ivar’s ship was lost in the whirlpool at “Straumneskinn,” and only Ivar and one other escaped. “Straumneskinn” is probably Sviatoi Nos (see p. 138).

Warlike and peaceful relations with the White Sea in the twelfth century and later This is the last Norwegian expedition to Bjarmeland of which Norwegian accounts are known; but that the White Sea traffic continued, though it was never very active, may be concluded from other sources.

The name of the Bjarmas themselves disappears after the middle of the thirteenth century, when it is related that a number of Bjarmas fled before the “Mongols” and received permission from King Håkon to live in Malangen fjord.

After that time in the districts near the Dvina we only hear of Karelians and their masters the Russians of Novgorod.

That there was considerable navigation, probably combined with piratical incursions, between the north of Norway 53 and the countries to the east, may also appear from a provision of the older Gulathings Law, where in cap. 315, in a codex of 1200-1250, we find: “The inhabitants of Hálogaland are to fit out thirteen twenty-seated and one[Pg 141] thirty-seated ship in the southern half, but six in the northern half; since they [IE, the inhabitants of the northern half] have to keep guard on the east.” This keeping guard might, it is true, refer to Kvæns in Finmark, but it seems rather to point to ships coming from the east.

In the negotiations of 1251, between the Grand Duke of Novgorod (Alexander Nevsky) and Håkon Håkonsson, there is express mention of disturbances from the east in Finmark, and after that time we hear more frequently of hostile incursions of Karelians and Russians in Finmark; they may have come by land, but occasionally also by sea.   On snow-shoes through the border-lands of Norway (Olaus Magnus, 1555)   A treaty of 1326 between Norway and Novgorod shows that Norwegian merchants traded with the people of Novgorod on the White Sea.

The erection of the fortress of Vardöhus, as early as 1307, also shows the importance attached to these eastern communications, and the fortress certainly afforded them a fixed point of support.

Thus about 1550 we see that “Vardöhus weight” (mark and pound) had penetrated into northern Russia and was generally used in the North Russian fish and oil trade.

The Norwegians chiefly bought furs in Bjarmeland, but what they exported thither is not mentioned in the Norwegian notices; it may even at that time have been to some extent fish, which in later times was the most important article of export to North Russia from the north of Norway.

As G.

Storm [1894, p. 100] has pointed out, the Russian chronicles tell of many hostile expeditions by sea between Norway and the White Sea in the fifteenth century.

In 1412 the inhabitants of “Savolotchie” (the countries on the[Pg 142] Dvina) made a campaign against the Norwegians.

A complaint from Norway of 1420 shows that the attack was directed against northern Hálogaland, without informing us whether it was made by land or by sea.

Some years later, in 1419, the Norwegians made a campaign of reprisal and came “with an army of 500 men in trading-vessels and sloops and ravaged the Karelian district about the Varzuga [on the Kola peninsula on the north side of the White Sea] and many parishes in Savolotchie [on the Dvina], amongst others St.

Nikolai [at the mouth of the Dvina], Kigö and Kiarö [in the Gulf of Onega], and others.

They burned three churches and cut down Christians and monks, but the Savolotchians sank two Norwegian sloops, and the rest fled across the sea.”[110] “In 1444 the Karelians went with an army against the Norwegians, and fought with them, and in 1445 the Norwegians came with an army to the Dvina, ravaged Nenoksa [in the gulf off the mouth of the Dvina] with fire and sword, killed some and carried off others as prisoners; but the inhabitants on the Dvina hastened after them, cut down their ‘voivods’ [leaders, chiefs] Ivar and Peter, and captured forty men who were sent to Novgorod.”[110] This will be sufficient to show that the White Sea voyage remained familiar in Norway.

This communication increased about the beginning of the sixteenth century, and this had a decisive influence on the so-called rediscovery of the White Sea by the English.

Early connection of the Bjarmas with southern civilisation In reading Otter’s narrative and the earliest Norse accounts of voyages to Bjarmeland it must strike us that the Bjarmas we hear about seem to have possessed a surprisingly high degree of culture.

As Professor Olaf Broch has also pointed out to me, this may be an indication that a comparatively active communication had existed long before that time along the Dvina and the Volga between the people of the White Sea and those on the Caspian and the Black Sea (by transport from the Volga to the Don).

In those early times, before the Russians had yet established themselves in the territory of the upper Volga, this communication may have passed to the east of the Slavs through Finnish-speaking peoples the whole way from the lower Volga and the Finnish Bulgarians (cf.

The Mordvin tribes of to-day). [Pg 143]It appears to me that various statements in Arabic literature may indicate such a connection.[111] The Arabs received information about northern regions through their commercial communications with the Mohammedan 54 Finnish nation of the Bulgarians, whose capital Bulgar lay on the Volga[112] (near to the present town of Kazan), and was a meeting-place for traders coming up the river from the south and coming down the river from the north.

Special interest attaches to the mention of the mysterious people “Wîsu,” far in the north.

This is evidently the same name as the Russian Ves[113] for the Finnish people who, according to Nestor[114] (beginning of the twelfth century), lived by Lake Byelo-ozero (the white lake) in 859 A.D.

They are mentioned together with Tchuds, Slavs, Merians and Krivitches, and were doubtless the most northerly of them, possibly spreading northwards towards the White Sea.

They are probably the same people that Adam of Bremen [iv., c. 14, 19] calls “Wizzi” (see vol.


P. 383; vol.


P. 64), and possibly those Jordanes calls “Vasinabroncæ,”[115] who together with “Merens” (Merians ?) and “Mordens” (Mordvins ?) were subdued by Ermanrik, king of the Goths.

But the Arabic Wîsu seems sometimes to have been a common name for all Finnish (and even Samoyed) tribes in North Russia and on the coast of the Polar Sea.

According to Jaqût,[116] Ahmad Ibn Fadhlân (about 922 A.D.)[117] stated in his work that [Pg 144]“the King of the Bulgarians had told him that behind his country, at a distance of three months’ journey, there lived a people called Wîsu, among whom the nights [in summer] were not even one hour long.” Once the king is said to have written to this people, and in their answer it was stated that the people “Yâ?û? and Mâ?û? [on the Ob ?] lived over three months’ journey distant from them [IE, the Wîsu] and that they were separated from them by the sea” (?).

The Yâ?û? and Mâ?û? lived on the great fish that were cast ashore.

The same is told by Dimashqî (ob. 1327) about the Yâ?û? and Mâ?û?, and by Qazwînî (thirteenth century) about the people “Yura” on the Pechora.

Jaqût (ob. 1229) in his geographical lexicon[118] has an article on “‘Wîsu’ situated beyond Bulgar.

Between it and Bulgar is three months’ journey.

The night is there so short that one is not aware of any darkness, and at another time of year, again, it is so long that one sees no daylight.” In his article on “Itil” Jaqût says: “Upon it [the river Itil or Volga] traders travel as far as ‘Vîsu’[119] and bring [thence] great quantities of furs, such as beaver, sable and squirrel.” Al-Qazwînî (ob. 1283) says:[120] “The beaver is a land- and water-animal, which dwells in the great rivers in the land of ‘Isu’ [IE, Wîsu, cf.

Al-Bîrûnî], and builds a home on the bank of a river.” He further relates that “the inhabitants of ‘Wîsu’ never visit the land of the Bulgarians, since when they come thither the air changes and cold sets in—even if it be in the middle of summer— so that all their crops are ruined.

The Bulgarians know this, and therefore do not permit them to come to their country.” Qazwînî also gives the information that “Wîsu” is three months’ journey beyond Bulgar, and continues: “The Bulgarians take their wares thither for trade.

Each one lays his wares, which he furnishes with a mark, in a certain spot and leaves them there.

Then he comes back and finds a commodity, of which he can make use in his own country, laid by the side of them.

If he is satisfied with this, he takes what is offered in exchange, and leaves his wares behind; if he is not, he takes his own away again.

In this way buyer and seller never see one another.

This is also the proceeding, as we have related, in the southern lands, in the land of the blacks.” The same story of dumb trading with a people in the north is met with again in Abu’lfeda (ob. 1321) and Ibn Batûta (cf.

Also Michel Beheim, later, p. 270).

Ibn Batûta (1302-1377) has no name for this people, any more than Abu’lfeda; but he calls their country “the Land[Pg 145] of Darkness,” and has an interesting description of the journey thither.[121] He himself, he says, wished to go there from Bulgar, but gave it up, as little benefit was to be expected of it. “That land lies 40 days’ journey from Bulgar, and the journey is only made in small cars[122] drawn by dogs.

For this desert has a frozen surface, upon which neither men nor horses can get foothold, but dogs can, as they have claws.

This journey is only undertaken by rich merchants, each taking with him about a hundred carriages [sledges ?], provided with sufficient food, drink and wood; for in that country there is found neither trees, nor stones nor soil.

As a guide through this land they have a dog which has already made the journey several times, and it is so highly prized that they pay as much as a thousand dinars [gold pieces] for one.

This dog is harnessed with three others by the neck to a car [sledge ?], so that it goes as the leader and the others follow it.

When it stops, the others do the same….

When the travellers have accomplished forty days’ journey through the desert, they stop in the Land of Darkness, leave their wares there, and withdraw to their quarters.

Next morning they go back to the same spot …” and then follows a description of the dumb barter, like that in Qazwînî.

They receive sable, squirrel and ermine in exchange for their goods. “Those who go thither do not know with whom they trade, whether they be spirits or men; 55 they see no one.”[123] Of special interest for our subject is the following statement in Abû Hâmid (1080-1169 or 1170) which may point to the peoples on the shores of the Polar Sea having obtained steel for their harpoons and sealing weapons from Persia: “The traders travel from Bulgâr to one of the lands of the infidels which is called Îsû [Wîsu], from which the beaver comes.

They take swords thither which they buy in Âdherbei?ân [Persia], unpolished blades.

They pour water often over these, so that when the blades are hung up by a cord and struck, they ring….

And that is as they ought to be.

They buy beavers’ skins with these blades.

The inhabitants of Îsû go with these swords to a land near the darkness and lying on the Dark Sea [the northern Atlantic or the Polar Sea] and sell these swords for sables’ skins.

They [IE, the inhabitants of that country] again take some of these blades and cast them into the Dark Sea.

Then Allâh lets a fish as big as a mountain come up to them, etc.

They cut up its flesh for days and months, and sometimes fill 100,000 houses with it,” etc. [Cf.

Jacob, 1891, p. 76; 1891a, p. 29; Mehren, 1857, pp. 169, f.] It is not credible that the swords which rang in this way[Pg 146] were harpoons, as Jacob thinks.

We must rather suppose that they were rough (“unpolished”) steel blades, which were used for making harpoons and lances (for walrus-hunting and whaling).

The blades having water poured over them must doubtless mean the tempering of the steel, through which, when it was afterwards hung up by a cord, it came to give the true ring.

Although Abû Hâmid is no trustworthy writer, it seems that there must be some reality at the base of this statement; and we here have information about some of the wares that the traders carried to Wîsu, and that were derived from their commercial intercourse with Arabs and Jews.

The people to whom the inhabitants of Wîsu or Vesses took the steel blades must have been fishermen on the shore of the Polar Sea, who carried on seal- and walrus-hunting, and perhaps also whaling, and this is what is referred to by the fish that Allâh sends up.

They may have been Samoyeds (on the Pechora), Karelians, Tver-Finns, and even Norwegians.

It might be objected that sables cannot be supposed to have been obtained from the last-named; but this is doubtless not to be taken too literally.

Ibn Ruste (circa 912 A.D.) thus says that the Rûs (Scandinavians, usually Swedes) had no other occupation but trading in sables, squirrel and other furs, which they sold to any one who would buy them.

It seems to result from what may be trustworthy in these statements that there was fairly active commercial intercourse from Bulgar with the Vesses and with the peoples on the White Sea, and perhaps in districts near the Polar Sea.

A shortest night of one hour would take us to a little north of the mouth of the Dvina.

In the land of the Vesses by Lake Byelo-ozero there was an easy way across from the Volga’s tributary Syexna to Lake Kubenskoye, which has a connection with the Dvina; and there was also transit to the river Onega.

There was thus easy communication along the great rivers; but besides this the traders seem also to have travelled overland with dogs; this was probably when going north to Yugria and the country of the Pechora, in the same way as traders in our[Pg 147] time generally go there with reindeer.

The trade in furs was then, as in antiquity, the powerful incentive; it was that too which chiefly attracted the Norwegians to Bjarmeland.

It is not likely that the Arabs themselves reached North Russia; one would suppose rather that travelling Jews assisted as middlemen in the trade with these regions.

But the finding of Arab coins on the Pechora would point to Arab trade having penetrated through intermediaries to the shores of the Polar Sea.[124]   THE POLAR EXPEDITION OF THE FRISIAN NOBLES AND KING HAROLD’S VOYAGE TO THE WHIRLPOOL The Frisian nobles’ Polar expedition Among mediæval voyages to the North there remain yet to be mentioned Harold Hardråde’s expedition[125] and the voyage of the Frisian nobles, related by Adam of Bremen in the descriptions already given (vol.


Pp. 195, f.).

That the latter voyage must be an invention, and cannot contain much of historical value, is obvious (cf.



P. 196).

The whole description of the abyss or maelstrom is taken from Paulus Warnefridi (as will be seen by a comparison of the descriptions on pp. 157 and 195, vol.

I.); the Cyclopes of marvellous stature, as well as the treasures of gold that they guard, are originally derived from classical literature, although Adam may have taken them from earlier mediæval authors, and Northern ideas about the giants in the north in Jotunheim may have helped to localise the story.[126] The great darkness, the stiffened sea, chaos and the gulf of the abyss at the uttermost end of the world or of the ocean are all classical conceptions,[Pg 148] and the description itself of the dangers of the voyage, of the darkness that could scarcely be penetrated by the eyes, etc., is just what we find in classical literature, and in many 56 points bears great resemblance to the poem of Albinovanus Pedo, for example (see vol.


P. 82).

It is possible, of course, that there may be thus much historical truth in the story, that some Frisian nobles made a voyage to the Orkneys or perhaps to Iceland, but even this is doubtful, and the rest is demonstrably invention.

In spite of this Master Adam asserts that Archbishop Adalbert in person had told him all this, and that it happened in the days of his predecessor, Archbishop Alebrand, who had the story from the travellers’ own lips; for they returned to Bremen and brought thank-offerings to Christ and to their saint “Willehad” for their safety.

One might suppose that these nobles themselves had invented the story and told it to the archbishop;[127] but it does not seem likely that they were acquainted with Paulus Warnefridi’s description of the maelstrom, and the Cyclopes with their treasures in the north seem also to be learned embroidery; they might have heard oral tales about them, but in any case we may doubtless suppose that the story has been much “improved” by Adam.

There is a mediæval folk-song about the dangers of sailors at sea which may also be supposed to have contributed to the description.

King Harold’s voyage to the maelstrom Be that as it may, this story must weaken our confidence in Adam’s credibility, or rather in his critical sense.

If his narrative of a voyage which started from his own adopted town of Bremen not long before his time is so untrustworthy, what are we to think of his statement about the experienced Norwegian king Harold’s expedition to explore the extent of the ocean? No doubt it may appear as though he had his information about this voyage from the Danish king Svein,[Pg 149] who is mentioned as his authority for the statements immediately preceding, and so far this information might have a good source; but it has received precisely the same decoration as the other voyage, with the mist or darkness that shuts out the uttermost end of the world, and the vast gulf of the abyss which was narrowly escaped.

This is certainly of older origin, and he has not even given himself the trouble to make a little alteration in the dangers of the two stories.

Another thing that weakens our confidence in his statements is his saying that the Danish king had told him that all the sea beyond the island of Winland was filled with intolerable ice and immeasurable darkness.

It may doubtless be supposed that classical conceptions had even at that time created superstitions of this kind in the North, and thus King Svein may have told him this; but it must be more probable that all these ancient book-learned ideas are due, not to the unlearned and travelled monarch, but to the well-read magister, who moreover himself quotes in the same connection Marcianus’s words about the congealed sea beyond Thule.

It would be entirely in Adam’s vein if some accidental resemblance or association had given him an opportunity of making use in this way of ideas he had from his learned reading, just as the name of Kvænland gave him the chance of bringing in the myths of the Amazons, Cynocephali, etc. (cf.



P. 383).

It was pointed out earlier (vol.


Pp. 195, 197) that the statements about the sea “beyond this island” and about Harold’s voyage are possibly a later addition by Adam himself, which has been inserted in the wrong place; “this island” might then mean Thyle (Iceland) and not Winland.

Whether we regard the latter as a newly discovered country in America or as the Insulæ Fortunatæ, it is difficult to understand why precisely the sea on the other side of this island should be particularly associated with the ancient conceptions of the dark or misty, and the congealed or ice-filled sea; ice and darkness are nowhere connected in this way with Wineland in later authorities.

It is true that in Arabian myth there[Pg 150] are islands in the west near the Sea of Darkness (cf.

Chapter xiii.) and that the Promised Land in Irish myth is surrounded by darkness (== fog) like the Norwegian huldrelands and the Icelandic elflands; but if Adam got his ideas in this way, it would only show more conclusively how mythical his narrative is.

If Adam confused the names of Vinland and Finland (IE, Finmark) (cf.



Pp. 198, 382; vol.


P. 31), it would also be natural for him to imagine that beyond it were ice and darkness.

Whirlpool The view has been held that the whirlpool in which King Harold and the Frisian nobles were nearly drawn down was of Scandinavian or Germanic origin [cf.


Lönborg, 1897, pp. 173, f.].

It seems undoubtedly to correspond to the Norse “Ginnungagap” [cf.


Storm, 1890, pp. 340, ff.]; but it is a question how early this idea arose.

I have already (vol.


Pp. 11, 12, 17) pointed out the probable connection between it and the Greek Tartaros (and Anostos) or Chaos, and have shown (vol.


Pp. 158, f.) that Paulus Warnefridi took his whirlpool from this source, and called it Chaos.

But now it is evident, as we have seen, that Adam took his description of the whirlpool from Paulus, and thus we have the full connection.

It may also be mentioned as curious that Lucian in his Vera Historia tells of just such an abyss: “We sailed through a crystal-clear, transparent water until we were obliged to stop before a great cleft in the sea….

Our ship was near being drawn down into this abyss, if we had not taken in the sails in time.

As we then put our heads out and looked down, we saw a depth of a thousand stadia, before which our minds and senses stood still….” Finally with great difficulty they rowed across a bridge of water that stretched over the abyss [Wieland, 1789, iv.

P. 222]. 57 With this may be compared that in the Irish legend (Imram Maelduin) Maelduin and his companions came to a sea like green glass, so clear that the sun and the green sand of the sea were visible through it.

Thence they came to another sea which was like fog (clouds), and it seemed to them that it could hardly support them or their boat; they saw in the sea beneath them people adorned with jewels and a delightful land, etc.; but when they also saw down below a huge monster which devoured a whole ox, they were seized with fear and trembling, for they thought they would not be able to get across this sea without falling through to the bottom, because it was as thin as cloud; but they came over it with great danger [cf.

Zimmer, 1889, p. 164]. [Pg 151]Although, as already mentioned (vol.


P. 362), Lucian does not seem to have been read in western Europe before the fourteenth century, I cannot get away from the impression that in some oral way or other (cf.



Pp. 362, f.) there must be a connection between the Irish tale (written down long before Adam of Bremen’s work) and the above-mentioned fable (as well as many others) which Lucian reproduces, whether the connection be with Lucian himself or with the authors he parodies.

But then it will not be rash to conclude further that there may also be a connection between the cleft in the sea or profound abyss of Lucian or of Greek fable, from which mariners escaped with difficulty, and Adam’s whirlpool, which King Harold avoided by turning back.

Maelstrom among the Irish But it is also conceivable that the various currents in northern waters may have furnished food for these constantly recurring ideas about maelstroms and whirlpools.

Such maelstroms appear also in Irish legends.

In the “Imram Brenaind” [cf.

Zimmer, 1889, p. 134] it is related that: One day the voyagers saw on the ocean deep, dark currents [whirlpools] and their ships seemed to be drawn into them with the force of the storm.

In this great danger all eyes were turned upon Brandan.

He spoke to the sea, saying that it should be satisfied with drowning him alone, but spare his comrades.

Thereupon the sea became calm, and the rushing of the whirlpool ceased immediately; from that time until now it has done no harm to others.

Maelstrom in Norway; the Moskenström The Historia Norwegiæ places “Charybdis, Scylla, and unavoidable whirlpools” in the north in “Hafsbotn” (cf.


This must have been a general idea in Norway; for about one hundred years later, in 1360, the Englishman, Nicholas of Lynn, who travelled in Norway in the middle of the fourteenth century, wrote his lost work, “Inventio Fortunata,” on the northern countries and their whirlpools from 53° to the North Pole; but unfortunately we do not know its contents.[128] The conceptions of these whirlpools may doubtless be connected with reports of dangerous currents[Pg 152] in the north.

The Moskenström by the Lofoten Islands may in particular have given rise to much superstition at an early time.

In winter with a westerly wind it runs at a rate of as much as six miles an hour, and with a rising tide it may be altogether impassable.

It may set up a high topping sea, which breaks over the whole current so that it can be heard three or four miles off.[129] In later times there are terrifying descriptions of this dangerous current.

Thus Olaus Magnus (1555) says that between Roest and Lofoten “is so great an abyss, or rather Charybdis, that it suddenly swamps and swallows up in an instant those mariners who incautiously approach” (see the illustration, vol.


P. 158)…. “Pieces of wreckage are very seldom thrown up again, and if they come to light, the hard material shows such signs of wear and chafing through being dashed against the rocks, that it looks as if it were covered with rough wool.” And the natural force here manifested exceeds all that is related of Charybdis in Sicily and other wonders.

The Englishman, Anthony Jenkinson, who made a voyage to the White Sea in 1557, writes of it:[130] “Note that there is between the said Rost Islands & Lofoot, a whirle poole called Malestrand, which from halfe ebbe untill halfe flood, maketh such a terrible noise, that it shaketh the ringes in the doores of the inhabitants houses of the sayd Islands tenne miles off.

Also if there commeth any Whale within the current of the same, they make a pitifull crie.

Moreover, if great trees be caried into it by force of streams, and after with the ebbe be cast out againe, the ends and boughs of them have bene so beaten, that they are like the stalkes of hempe that is bruised.” Schönnerböl in 1591 gives a more detailed description of the current, in which the same things are reported of the iron ring “in the house door …

It is shaken hither and thither by the rushing of the current”; of the whale, who when “he cannot go forward on account of the strong stream, gives a great cry, as it were a great ox, and then he is gone…”; and, finally, of great trees, spruce or fir, which disappear in this current, and when at last they come up 58 again, “then all the boughs, all the roots and all the bark is torn off, and it is shaped as though it had been cut with a sharp axe.” He says that “many people are of the opinion that there[Pg 153] is a whirlpool in this current or immediately outside it”; and “when the stream is strongest, one can see the sun and the sky through the waves, since they go as high as other high mountains.”[131] Peder Claussön Friis gives a similarly exaggerated description of the current (circa 1613), sometimes using the same expressions as the authors quoted.

The resemblance between these various descriptions is so great that it cannot easily be explained merely by their reporting the same oral tradition; what they have in common must rather be derived from an older written source (Nicholas of Lynn ?), which again has adopted ancient mythical conceptions.

It is strange how few more recent ideas have been added even in Schönneböl, who was sheriff of Lofoten and Vesterålen for at least twenty years (from 1570), and must have had plenty of opportunity for gathering information on the spot; but it is the usual experience that everything that could be got from old books was preferred.

That stories of the Moskenström may have been known in Adam of Bremen’s time is highly probable, perhaps even Paulus Warnefridi had heard of it (cf.



P. 158).

Possible truth in Harold’s ocean voyage When we have shorn Adam’s tale of all borrowed features, is there enough left to make it possible that the Norwegian king Harold undertook a voyage out into the ocean? It is not easy to form a definite opinion on this, but the probability must be that King Svein or the Danes told some such story, which was then adorned by Master Adam.

As the voyage was supposed to have taken place recently, it must be Harold Hardråde who was intended, otherwise one might be led to think of Harold Gråfeld’s celebrated voyage to Bjarmeland.[132][Pg 154] What the object may have been, and what direction the voyage took, we do not know.

As Adam says it was to explore “the breadth of the northern ocean” (“latitudinem septentrionalis oceani”), one must suppose that in his opinion it set out from Norway northward or north-westward over the ocean towards its uttermost limit, since according to the maps and ideas of that time he imagined the ocean as surrounding the disc of the earth like a ribbon (see vol.


P. 199), and he may then have sailed across this to find out its extent.[133] But it is quite possible, as P.


Munch [1852, ii.

Pp. 269, ff.] suggested, that Master Adam may have heard something about a northward voyage undertaken by Harold, during which he had been exposed to some danger in the Saltström or the Moskenström;[134] or if it was a voyage to Bjarmeland (Harold Gråfeld’s ?) that he heard of, then it might be the[Pg 155] current at Sviatoi Nos or Straumneskinn, often spoken of in the sagas, that Adam has made into the whirlpool.   WHALING AND SEALING VOYAGES OF THE NORWEGIANS IN THE POLAR SEA The Norwegians as whalers.

The skill of the Norwegians as fishermen, whalers and sealers had, of course, a great deal to do with the development of their seamanship and ability to travel and support themselves along unknown and uninhabited shores.

The accurate knowledge of the many species of seals and whales shown in the “King’s Mirror,” to which no parallel is met with earlier in the literature of the world, proves how important the hunting of these animals must have been; for otherwise so much attention would not have been paid to them.[135] When in speaking of the greater whales a distinction is made between those that are shy and keep away from the hunters, and those that are tamer and easier to approach, and when the longest of all (“reyðr”) is mentioned as being specially tame and easily caught, we can only regard this as showing that whaling was also carried on in the open sea; that is, not in a merely accidental fashion, as when the whales entered narrow fjords where they could be intercepted, or when they ran aground.   Cutting up a whale (from an Icelandic MS.

Of the fourteenth century of Magnus Lanabóter’s Icelandic Land Law)   [Pg 156]From Ottar’s statement to King Alfred (cf.



P. 172)—that “in his own land [IE, Norway] there is the best whaling.

They are forty-eight cubits long, and the largest are fifty cubits long”—we may conclude that the Norwegians, and perhaps the Lapps also, hunted the great whales as early as the ninth century, and doubtless long before 59 that time, while King Alfred does not seem to have known of any such whaling being practised in England.[136] We are not told in what way the whale was caught in those days, but from statements elsewhere it is probable that the Norwegians had several methods of taking whales, as is the case even to the present day in Norway: one way was with the harpoon and harpoon-line in open waters, that is, without cutting off the whale’s escape with nets.

The Arab cosmographer, Qazwînî (of the thirteenth century), quoting the Spanish-Arabic writer Omar al-’Udhrî[137] (of the eleventh century), says that the Norsemen in Irlânda (Ireland). “hunt young whales, and they are very great fish.

They hunt their young and eat them….

Of the method of catching them al-’Udhrî relates that the hunters collect in their ships.

They have a great iron hook [IE, harpoon] with sharp teeth, and on the hook a strong ring, and in the ring a stout rope.

When they come to a young one, they clap their hands and make a noise.

The young one is amused by the clapping of hands and approaches the ship, delighting therein.

Thereupon one of the seamen approaches and scratches its forehead, which the young one likes.

Then he lays the hook to the middle of its head, takes a heavy iron hammer and gives three blows with all his force upon the hook.

It does not heed the first blow, but with the second and third it makes a great commotion, and sometimes it catches some part of the ship with its tail, and knocks it to pieces, and it continues in violent agitation until it is overcome by exhaustion.

Then the crew of the ship draw it to shore with their combined force.

Sometimes the mother notices the movements of the young one, and pursues them.

Then they have a great quantity of crushed onions in readiness,[Pg 157] and throw it into the water.

When the whale perceives the smell of the onions it finds it detestable, turns round and retreats.

Then they cut the flesh of the young one in pieces and salt it.[138] And its flesh is white as snow, and its skin black as ink.”[139] This is, clearly enough, a layman’s naive description of whaling with harpoon and harpoon-line in open waters, a method which had therefore already been introduced into Ireland by the Norwegians at that time.

It may consequently be regarded as certain that the Norwegians were acquainted with harpooning.

That this was very usual appears also from the “King’s Mirror” and the ancient Norwegian laws, where whaling and whale-harpoons (“skutill”) are often mentioned.   Cutting up a whale (from an Icelandic MS.)   On the west coast of Norway, in the neighbourhood of Bergen, there is still practised to-day another method of catching whales which must be very ancient.

When the great whales enter certain fjords which have a narrow inlet, their escape is cut off by nets, and they are shot with poisoned arrows from bows which entirely resemble the crossbows of the Middle Ages.

The arrows used are old and rusty, and convey bacteria from one whale to another.

When the whale has been hit by these arrows it is rapidly weakened from blood-poisoning, so that it may easily be harpooned and then killed by lances, after which it is cut up and divided among the inhabitants of the fjord, according to ancient, unwritten rules.

In spite of the blood-poisoning, the whale’s flesh and blubber are eaten, and are regarded as very valuable provisions.

I have myself often taken part in this kind of whaling.

Possibly Peder Claussön[Pg 158] Friis [cf.

Storm, 1881, p. 70] refers to a similar method of whaling when he says that “in ancient times many expedients or methods were used for catching whales, which …

On account of men’s unskilfulness have fallen out of use.” They had “a spear with sharp irons, so that it could not be pulled out again.” This was hurled into the whale, which died in a short time, or became so weakened that it could be drawn to land; “which whales were then cut up and divided among those who had shot, and him who owned the land, or him who had first found the whale driven in, according to the provisions of the law.” We must suppose that this iron was poisoned with bacteria from former whales, in a similar way to the arrows mentioned above, whereby the animal’s wound was infected.

However, Peder Claussön’s description of the hunt is evidently taken in great measure from older literary sources, since similar descriptions are found as early as in Albertus Magnus (ob. 1280) [De animalibus, xxiv. 651], and in Vincent of Beauvais [Speculum universalis, i. 1272]. 60 In all three authors the whale dives after being struck, and tosses about on the bottom or rubs itself against it, thereby driving the spear farther in; but in Peder Claussön it does so in order to “get rid of the shot,” while in Albertus it is on account of salt water getting into the wound, and in Vincentius the salt water penetrates and kills the wounded whale.

As the descriptions of Albertus and Vincentius evidently refer to ordinary harpoon-whaling, it may be doubtful whether Peder Claussön’s statement really relates to a method of catching different from the usual one with harpoon and line, although one is disposed to believe that it does.

He also mentions in the same place other whales that they could “pursue with boats and drive into bays and small fjords, and kill them there with hand-shot and bow-shot.” This may be supposed to refer to a method similar to that mentioned above, with poisoned arrows; but, on the other hand, it may relate to a third method of taking small whales, which was certainly[Pg 159] practised from very early times in Norway, and which consists in schools of small whales being driven into bays and inlets, where they are intercepted with nets and driven ashore.

The method of whaling with poisoned arrows or throwing-spears must, as has been said, be very ancient.

Whether it was invented by the Norwegians themselves, or whether they did not rather learn it from the older hunter-people of Norway, the “Finns,” is difficult to determine.

Nor do we know how ancient whaling in general may be in the North; it may date from early times, though Ottar’s mention of it is the earliest known in literature.

Harpoon-fishing in the Mediterranean in antiquity It is evident that a high development of seamanship, skill in hunting, and resourcefulness were required before men could venture to encounter the great whales of the ocean in open fight with free sea-room, where the whale was not crippled by having run aground or into narrow fjords with no outlet.

This whaling in the open sea demanded the invention of special appliances, of which the harpoon with its line was of special importance.

It may be possible, though it is not certain, that the Norwegians were the first Europeans to practise this kind of whaling, and as, from numerous documents, we may conclude that whaling was actively carried on by the Normans in Normandy as early as the tenth and eleventh centuries, one is inclined to suppose that it was the Normans who first introduced the method of harpoon and line there,[140] and then passed it on to the Basques.

But we ought not to lose sight of the fact[Pg 160] that there are other possibilities, since the harpoon was probably known to and used on smaller marine animals by the neolithic people of Europe, and the taking of larger fish with harpoon and line was known in the Mediterranean in antiquity,[141] as appears, for instance, from Polybius’s description of the catching of swordfish at Scyllæum (on the Straits of Messina), which is reproduced in Strabo, i. 24: “A common look-out man goes at their head, while they collect in many two-oared boats to lie in wait for the fish; two in each boat.

One of them rows, the other stands in the bow with a spear, while the look-out man gives warning of the appearance of the fish; for the animal swims with a third of its body above water.

As soon as the boat has reached the fish, the spearman pierces it by hand, and immediately draws the spear out of its body again, with the exception of the point; for this is provided with barbs, and is purposely attached loosely to the shaft, and has a long line fastened to it.

This is paid out after the wounded fish, until it is tired by floundering and attempts at flight; then it is drawn to land, or taken into the boat if it is not very large.” No better description of harpoon-fishing is to be found in the Middle Ages.

The dolphin was to the Greeks Poseidon’s beast, and they did not take it; but from Oppian’s account we see that the barbarian fishermen on the coast of Thrace had no such scruples, but caught dolphins with harpoons to which a long line was attached [cf.

Noël, 1815, p. 42].

If the Iberian people of the western Mediterranean practised this kind of fishing, the Basques may also have been acquainted with it.

But if they used the harpoon on swordfish and small whales, the further step to using it for the Biscay whale was not insuperable to these hardy seamen, and they may thus have themselves developed their methods of whaling without having learnt from the Normans, even if no evidence is forthcoming of their having been acquainted with whaling so early as the[Pg 161] latter.[142] It may also be supposed that the Norsemen in the beginning, far back in grey antiquity, took their harpoon-fishing from the south, just as they obtained the form of their craft to some extent from the Mediterranean.

Thus, although we cannot regard it as certain that the Norwegians introduced the knowledge of whaling with the harpoon and line in Normandy, it is in any case probable that they were particularly active in practising and developing this method, and we may conclude that they must have been acquainted with whaling before they came there, since we see that the whalers of Normandy bore the Scandinavian name of “walmanni.”[143] If they had learnt their whaling in the foreign land, it goes without saying that they would also have taken the name from thence, and it is extremely improbable that they should have acquired a Scandinavian designation for an[Pg 162] occupation the knowledge of which they had not brought with them from their native land. 61 The Normans also took with them the knowledge of whaling as far as the Mediterranean.

In Guillelmus Appulus’s description (of about 1099-1111) of the Norman conquest of southern Italy it is related[144] that when Robert Guiscard comes to the town of Regina in Calabria he hears “the rumour that there is a fish not for from the town in the waves of the Adriatic, a great one with an immense body, of an incredible aspect, which the people of Italy had not seen before.

The winds of spring, on account of the fresh water, had driven it thither.

It was captured by the ingenuity of the leader [IE, Robert] by means of various arts.

It swam into a net made of fine ropes, and when it was completely entangled in the nets with the heavy iron, it dived down to the depths of the sea, but at last it was hit by the seamen in various projecting places, and with much pains dragged ashore.

There the people look at it as a strange monster.

Then it is out in pieces by order of the leader.

Thereof he obtains for himself and his men much food, and also for the people who dwelt on the coasts of Calabria.

And the Apulian people also have a share of it.”   Cutting up a whale (from an Icelandic MS.

Of the sixteenth century).   It looks as though the author’s view was that the whale was caught with nets and killed by the throwing of lances, which is not impossible; but it may also be supposed that the poetical description is somewhat misleading, and that the “nets with the heavy iron” were the harpoon with its line (?).

It may be regarded as doubtful whether the harpooning of great whales in open waters was ever so actively carried on and brought to such perfection during the Middle Ages in Norway, Iceland and Greenland as was evidently the case in Normandy and especially among the Basques, from whom[Pg 163] later the English and the Dutch learned it.

As in those days there was abundance of whales to be caught on the Norwegian coast (the nord-caper was then numerous there), this kind of whaling would not tempt the Norwegians to seek better hunting-grounds along other coasts in northern waters.

On the other hand, it is evident that practice in whaling must have been of great importance to them, wherever they settled in these regions.

Albertus Magnus on walrus-hunting Albertus Magnus (ob. 1280), who gives a detailed description of the harpoon and of whaling (cf.

Above, p. 158), has also the following description of walrus-hunting: “Those whales which have bristles, and others, have very long tusks,[145] and by them they hang themselves up on stones and rocks when they sleep.

Then the fisherman approaches, and tears away as much as he can of the skin from the blubber by the tail, and makes fast a strong rope to the skin he has loosened, and he binds the ropes fast to rings fixed in the rocks or to very strong posts or trees.

Then he throws large stones at the fish and wakes it.

When the fish is[Pg 164] awake and wants to go back [into the sea], it pulls its skin off from the tail along the back and head, and leaves it behind there.

And afterwards it is caught not far from the spot, when it has exhausted its strength, as it floats bloodless upon the sea, or lies half-dead on the shore.” He also tells us that walrus-rope[146] was commonly sold at the fair at Cologne, which shows that walrus-hunting must have acquired great importance at that time.

It can only have been carried on by the Norwegians (and Icelanders ?), the Finns or Lapps, the peoples of the north coast of Russia, and the Greenlanders.

It is unlikely that the ropes were brought all the way from Russia by land to Cologne; they must rather have come from Norway.

The Norwegians obtained a certain quantity of walrus-rope (“svarðreip”) through the trade with Greenland, and perhaps with North Russia, but they probably got most from their own hunting in northern waters.

The quantity of walrus they could kill in Finmark would not be sufficient to satisfy the demand, and, as suggested earlier (vol.


P. 177), they must certainly have sought fresh hunting-grounds, above all eastwards in the Polar Sea.

Hunting expeditions of the Norwegians eastward and northward in the Polar Sea Norse-Icelandic literature does not tell us that the Norwegians in their voyages to Bjarmeland went any farther east than “Gandvik” (the White Sea) and the Dvina.

But it is to be noted that the sagas as a rule only mention the expeditions of chiefs, with warlike exploits, fighting and slaughter of one kind or another; while peaceful trading voyages, which were certainly numerous, are not spoken of, nor walrus-hunting and hunting expeditions in general, 62

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