Monday, September 07, 2009

Medieval Greenland abandoned but not forgotten, study finds

A new article on late medieval Greenland finds that several attempts were made to return to the northern island in the 15th and 16th centuries.

Janus Moller Jensen, who teaches at the University of Southern Denmark, examines what happened in "The Forgotten Crusades: Greenland and the Crusades, 1400-1523." Greenland was first settled by Icelanders and Norweigians in 986, but during the early 15th century contact between the Greenland settlers and the rest of medieval Europe was cut and the community disappeared.

Jensen's article examines attempts by the rulers of the Kalmar Union (which consisted of the kingdoms of Norway, Sweden and Denmark) to send an expedition to the island, which they considered to be part of their territory.

Chronicles and sources claim that the settlers in Greenland as being at war with a race of people known as the Karelians (or pygmies), who may have been the Inuit. The attempts to return to Greenland was portrayed as a crusade to regain the land taken by heathens.

Jensen also finds evidence that the Kalmar Union and the Portuguese cooperated and may have even lauched a joint expedition to Greenland in the 15th century, with their goal not only to reach Greenland, but also to find a northwest passage to India.

Unfortunately, little is known about what happened in these expeditions. That might be explained by the words of one 16th century Portuguese writer, who noted "But as most of those who made discoveries were ruined thereby, there is no recollection left by any of them so far as we know, particular those who steered northward."

Jensen's article can be found in volume 7 of the journal Crusades, which is published by the Society for the Study of the Crusades and the Latin East.

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