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Furs, Fish, and Ivory: Medieval Norsemen at the Arctic Fringe
Christian Keller

Journal of the North Atlantic, Volume 3 (2010): 1–23

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Furs, Fish, and Ivory: Medieval Norsemen at the Arctic Fringe Christian Keller* Abstract - Why did the Norse Icelanders colonize Greenland in the late tenth century A.D., and why did they explore the coasts of Labrador and Newfoundland? Was it a desperate search for farmland at the margins of the known world, or was it a market-driven economic strategy applied to sub-arctic territory? To address these questions, the author gives a brief introduction to the Norse expansion and economic strategies in three regions: the Sami territory in Northern Scandinavia, the Finnish and Russian territories east of Scandinavia, and Greenland and Labrador in the western North Atlantic. The purpose of the expansion north and east of Scandinavia was to buy or extort furs from the hunter-gatherer communities. This strategy is unthinkable without a European and even Middle Eastern demand for furs, and must generally be seen as market-driven. The author suggests that the Norse explorations of Labrador and the colonization of Greenland was equally market driven, with walrus tusks as the most successful export commodity. In the twelfth century, the Norse economy transformed from a Viking Period high-status trade with luxury articles to a low-status bulk trade with foodstuffs. Stockfish from the north was exchanged for grain from the south. Norwegian stockfish export started ca. 1100 A.D., while Iceland commenced almost a century later. This shift caused structural changes to both Norwegian and Icelandic economies, and must also have affected the Norse Greenland economy. The author recommends that the regional and national investigations that have dominated the research be supplemented with North European studies of the Viking and Medieval cash and trade economies, spanning from acquisition to consumption. *IKOS (Institute of Culture and Oriental Languages), University of Oslo, PO Box 1010, Blindern, NO 0315 Oslo, Norway; christian.keller@ikos.uio.no. Introduction Why did the Norse inhabitants of Iceland go to Greenland to set up a colony towards the end of the tenth century AD? And why were the Norse Greenland colonies abandoned 400 years later? Nineteenth-century Danish and Icelandic scholars blamed the abandonment on the Norwegian government, by pointing to the submission of Iceland and Greenland to King Hákon Hákonsson 1262–63 A.D., and the royal Norwegian trade monopoly (first argued in 1838 in GHM I:VI). The latter was an embargo on all foreign trade North and West of Bergen, originally introduced to harness the influx of English and Hanseatic traders (Helle 1982:484–485, 731, 806; Stefánsson 1986:81), and extended by later regents. Modern authors have tended to see the failure of the Norse Greenlanders as evidence that they did not understand the nature of their new homeland, that they overreached ecologically, and succumbed when the climatic conditions turned against them. In contrast, the Inuit hunters are often promoted as the true masters of the Arctic environment (Diamond 2004:212–213, 219–221, 246–247, 261–276), surviving the climatic fluctuations which (some argue) brought the Norse to their knees. In line with the Icelandic written sources from the Middle Ages, scholars have normally assumed that the Norse settled in Greenland to live from pastoral farming, although they were obviously prepared to replenish their supplies with wild resources such as birds, fish, seals, and caribou. In addition, the walrus hunts up north provided the Greenlanders with ivory for export, raising the cash needed to purchase certain commodities from Europe. This paper takes a totally different view of the raison d’être of the Norse Greenland colonies. To modern people, the idea of leaving Iceland to become a farmer in Greenland around 1000 A.D. borders on the insane. It also defies logic: Iceland was first settled from the 870s A.D., and the island could hardly have been overpopulated as early as 1000 A.D. More likely, the colonization of Greenland was economically motivated; at the time, the Norse in northern Norway had already expanded into Sami territory, and had performed exploratory journeys to the White Sea for pelts and walrus ivory (Fig. 1). The period for chiefly, and later royal, export of furs from Norway to the European market has traditionally been considered to span 300 years, from the late 800s to the early 1200s A.D. (KLNM [Nordic Encyclopedia for the Middle Ages] vol.15:529), but in fact and as detailed below, the industry kept going into the seventeenth century. Before 800 A.D., traders from eastern Sweden had entered the Gulf of Finland and the river Neva to plug into the trade-networks of the Russian river systems. Both the Norwegian and Swedish traders were extorting tribute in furs from the Sami and Finnish-speaking hunter-gatherers. What was initially a peaceful trade developed during the Viking Period into a typical coercion-extortion cycle (for definition, see Bagge 1989, with reference to Finer 1975). This transformation must have been a response to an increasing demand for furs on the European luxury market. The colonization of Greenland, and the exploratory journeys down the coast of Labrador and New- 2010 Journal of the North Atlantic 3:1–23 2 Journal of the North Atlantic Volume 3 foundland (Ingstad, A.S. 1977; Ingstad, H. 1985), must have had similar purposes: to locate sources for luxury items that could be exported to the European market. The Greenland input to the European luxury trade was obviously the walrus ivory from the Disko Bay area; however, we do not know whether furs from Greenland and Labrador were traded as well. Compared to walrus ivory, furs have a low archaeological visibility. Around 1100 A.D., and only a century after the voyages to Newfoundland, the economic systems in Scandinavia transformed, and Norway started to export huge amounts of dried cod—stockfish—to the European market (Amundsen 2004; Amundsen et al 2005; KLNM vol. 4:366–370; Krivigorskaya et al. 2005a, 2005b; Nielsen 2010; Perdikaris and McGovern 2007, 2008a, 2008b). In Iceland, stockfish was produced from very early on for home consumption and distribution, as is clear from the zoo-archaeological evidence from the sites of Sveigakot, Hrísheimar, Hofstaðir, and Selhagi, all in the Mývatn region, 50–60 km from the coast (Amundsen et al. 2005, McGovern 2009:226–236, Perdikaris et al. 2004a, Vésteinsson et al. 2002). Zoo-archaeological analyses also confirm that Iceland started commercial export of stockfish from the West Fjords to Europe ca. 1200 A.D. (Edvardsson and McGovern 2005, Edvardsson et al. 2004; but see Thór 2009:323). With this endeavor, the number of European ships in the West Atlantic increased. The climatic instability from the fourteenth century brought hardships to both Icelandic and Greenlandic farming, but even more so, it affected the voyages to the northern hunting grounds in Disko Bay in Greenland; ice-core analyses suggest increased ice cover in the Strait of Davis (Dugmore et. al. 2006, 2009). Drift-ice and/or fixed sea ice may simply have barred access to the walrus-hunting grounds, which may have had a devastating effect upon the export economy. The present work is an attempt to show the Norse Greenland colonies, and their fate, in a larger context than that of pastoral farmers trying to survive in a country less than suited for animal husbandry. Figure 1. The Norse settlement areas in the Viking and Early Middle Ages (in black). Neighboring hunter-gatherers and potential trading partners are named in call-outs, their settled areas suggested by horizontal hatching. Known Norse voyages are indicated. (Based on Fitzhugh and Ward 2000:198, and Hansen and Olsen 2004:58, 81, 137.) 2010 C. Keller 3 The walrus hunt in northwest Greenland is seen as a market-driven activity, and so is the eleventhcentury exploration of the Canadian east coast. Early Iceland is not seen as a simple, selfsupplied agricultural community which could only attract some imports by exporting vaðmál (woolen cloth). It is also seen as a nation dependent on marine resources, with an entrepreneurial desire to access the Arctic to export furs and ivory to the European (and Oriental) luxury markets. The colonization of Greenland was just another logical step in this strategy. The Norse in Iceland and Greenland Iceland was settled in the late ninth century A.D. by Norse immigrants, either directly from the Norwegian west coast, or indirectly from the Norse areas in Ireland and Scotland (Sawyer 2000). This colonization was part of a larger expansion from Scandinavia during the Viking and Middle Ages. The Norse immigrants brought with them the traditional European host of domestic plants and animals, and established farms based on pastoral farming. Cereal production was tried in Iceland, but apparently never became much of a success. Wild resources, such as berries, salt- and freshwater fish, marine mammals (including whales), eggs, and birds were harvested from the start. Once the initial pioneering was over, the Icelanders must have enjoyed a comfortable subsistence economy. Iceland itself did not, however, have much in terms of export-friendly commodities (but see Perdikaris et al. 2001). Without goods to attract traders from abroad, Iceland would suffer a degree of isolation. Medieval written records tell that a century after the original landnám1, a small fleet of ships left Iceland to set up a colony on the west coast of Greenland2, establishing a thriving community which at some point comprised maybe 2000–3000 souls, a cathedral at Garðar3, and quite a few churches (Gjerland and Keller, in press; Gulløv 2004; Krogh 1982; Nørlund 1936). The seemingly tragic disappearance of the Norse Greenlanders some 400 years later has been a recurring mystery in the literature, recently discussed in an international perspective (Diamond 2004:178– 276; but see Gulløv 2004; McAnany and Yoffee 2010; Seaver 1996, 2010). Why were the Greenland colonies established in the first place? Did the settlers seriously believe that Greenland would offer them a better life as pastoral farmers and part-time hunters than would, for instance, Iceland? The sagas describing the venture seem to indicate so, but they were written centuries after the colonization and are of limited accuracy. Some sources mention the elusive Norðrsetur, the northern hunting grounds. With reasonable certainty, this has been identified with the Disko Bay area with its walrus populations (Gulløv 2004:211–213, but see McGovern 1985). Many of the theories concerning the collapse of the Norse Greenland society in the fourteenth to fifteenth centuries take for granted that the primary cause was the climatic deterioration of the Little Ice Age (Dugmore et al. 2006, 2009), and that it was the subsistence economy that suffered. Indeed, an increased climatic instability seems to have occurred, although the precise consequences for southwest Greenland are diffi- cult to estimate. It is, however, not hard to imagine that cattle-breeding and sheep-farming would have been vulnerable to increased cold. This hardship may well have occurred, but there are other aspects to consider. A useful approach is to look at Iceland and Greenland as two economically interdependent societies. To put it simply: prior to 1200 A.D., Iceland had a sufficient subsistence economy but an insufficient export economy. In the pastoral economy, sheep yielded vaðmál, a labor-intensive export commodity for which Iceland was famous (KLNM vol.19:409–412, Þorláksson 1991). Greenland’s subsistence economy must have been considerably more marginal than Iceland’s, but with better access to seals than fish. Its access to walrus tusks provided a potential for a viable export economy. Cooperation between the two countries would make perfect sense. The colonization of Greenland may therefore be seen as an attempt by the Icelanders to establish an export economy based on walrus ivory and perhaps furs from the Greenland west coast. We do know that the walrus ivory was keenly sought, and that it fetched high prices on the European market (Gaborit-Chopin 1978; Goldschmidt 1914–1926; Gulløv 2004:277–278; Liebgott 1985; McGovern 1992; Pirenne 1939; Roesdahl 1995, 2000, 2005; Sawyer 1987; Sawyer and Sawyer 1993:144, 153; Seaver 1996:30–31, 48, 57; Seaver 2009 [a comment on Roesdahl 1995]; Tegengren 1962). Considering the large number of sheep in the Norse Greenland economy, it is quite possible that vaðmál was also exported from there. In 1327 A.D., a load of walrus tusks from Greenland was sold in Bergen (Munch 1864:45). This payment was the Peter’s Pence and the six-years’ tithe, a crusade tax which eventually helped finance King Magnus Eiriksson’s 1340s crusade against Novgorod (Christiansen 1997:189–195). The load of tusks may be estimated to 802 kg, suggesting ca. 520 tusks representing some 260 animals (McGovern 1985 writes 668 kg based on Gad 1967:168, but Gad probably used an incorrect weigh-unit; see Keller 1989:278 with reference to Steinnes 1936/1982:29). According to Kåre Lunden (1978:95), Norwegian prices from 1306–1337 A.D. were quite stable. 4 Journal of the North Atlantic Volume 3 Recalculated to early fourteenth century Norwegian currency, the value of the tusks can be estimated to 260 marks of burnt silver (Keller 1989:279), basically one mark per pair of tusks, each equaling the value of 3 cows. This amount does not sound like much, but the computed value of the 520 tusks from 1327 A.D. runs into something like 780 cow equivalents, or nearly 60 metric tons of stockfish. To put this in a perspective: after the Norwegian king took over Iceland and Greenland in the 1260s, each Icelandic farmer was to pay an annual tax of 20 ells of vaðmál. The Faroes payed a similar tax, and Greenland also promised to do so, but the details concerning the Greenland payments are not preserved. Half was going to the King, and half to the local officials. A record from 1311 A.D. shows that a total of 3800 Icelandic farmers paid their 20 ells of vaðmál. The value that went to the king has been estimated to 317.5 cow equivalents, making the total payment twice as much, i.e., 635 cow equivalents (from Helle 2005:13, with reference to Stefánsson 1993:312, and Helle 1974:198–199). Thus, the value of the Greenland tusks from 1327 A.D. (representing the six years’ tithe) was worth more than the annual tax from nearly four thousand Icelandic farmers4. A walrus weighs 1–2 metric tons. In addition to its valuable skin, which was used for rope, an animal would yield 2–5 barrels of blubber (oil) (Sivertsen 1980:346), an essential source of light in the Greenlandic winter. A small coaster such as the Danish Viking ship Skuldelev 3 had a cargo capacity of 4.5–5 metric tons. Being a light, 14-meter-long vessel, it was mainly driven by sail, but up to 7 oars could be used. Built in the 1040s A.D., it was typical for a class of small coastal traders that were in use from the mid-tenth to the mid-twelfth centuries (Christensen 2000:93; Crumlin-Pedersen and Olsen 2002:195– 243, in particular 240–241)5. What types of vessels were used to get to Norðursetur is not known, although six-oared boats are mentioned. Although written records of walrus ivory export are few and far between, the archaeological evidence for ivory extraction is plentiful. Perdikaris and McGovern wrote (2008a): “The Norðursetur hunters seem to have transported only limited portions of the walrus back to the home farms, as walrus bone finds from both the Western and Eastern settlement areas are made up almost entirely of fragments of the maxilla from around the deep-rooted tusks.” The walrus ivory does, in other words, have a better archaeological visibility than blubber and furs, despite the fact that the tusks themselves were never found on any Norse sites. The maxillary chips are the signatures of a large tusk production. It is hardly accidental that the Norse houses at L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland were erected within the same generation as the initial settlements in Greenland. It is tempting to see these activities as expressions of the same efforts, i.e., to establish a supply of exotic commodities for export to Europe, from the edge of the Arctic world. Was this a unique historic situation, or did the Icelanders emulate economic strategies known from other parts of the Norse culture area, i.e., north and east of Scandinavia? Information from an eleventh-century source suggests that the Icelanders at the time were actively exploring new land: an agreement between the Icelanders and Norwegian King Ólafr Haraldsson (died 1030 A.D.) is recorded in a version which Helgi Þorláksson suggests might stem from the 1080s A.D. (Þorláksson 1991, 2001:85). It concerns the Icelanders’ duty to pay tax on arrival in Norway, “unless they were going to Greenland [i.e., from Iceland] or were looking for new land, or drifted from Iceland” [literally: from taking ships between harbors in Iceland]. “Ef þeir menn verða sæhafa i noreg er vart hafa til græn landz eða fara í landa leitan. eða slitr þa út fra islandi þa er þeir vilde færa scip sin mille hafna.” (Published in Bagge et al. 1973:13–15, Norwegian translation 12–14, my underlining.) The agreement may be contemporary with the Norse ruins at l’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland, or slightly younger. There seems to be no doubt that the Icelanders of the eleventh century were active explorers. Why? As mentioned, the Scandinavian Norse explored the land of the Sami, lying north and east of their own land. This activity implied interaction with the indigenous populations, i.e., trade, and extortion of tribute. To what extent the Icelanders took a similar approach to the natives of the western Atlantic is not known, but they would have had to be careful. For the Norse explorers, it would have been potentially dangerous to approach a group of Native Americans on their own territory. A way to minimize the risk of unfriendly encounters is silent trade: The Islamic scholar Abu Hamid visited Bulgar 1135–36 A.D., and described how the merchants “bring goods with them, and each merchant puts his property down in a separate place, makes his sign on it and goes away. Then after a while they return and find goods that are needed in their country. And each man finds some of these things near his own goods; if he agrees [to the exchange], then he takes them; if not, he gathers his own things and leaves the others and no exchange takes place. And they do not know from whom they are buying these goods.” (Martin 1986:22 and notes, 176–177. She quotes a similar description from the 1320s, p. 29). 2010 C. Keller 5 The Sami/Norse Fur Trade The Norse colonization of Greenland should be seen as the ultimate extent of the Norse colonization of the North Atlantic. While the settlements further east and south in the Atlantic were motivated by the opportunities for fishing and pastoral farming, the push into the Greenland and Canadian Arctic should be compared to the Norse expansion into the northern parts of Scandinavia (i.e., the northern parts of present-day Sweden and Norway), and to the east (into present-day Finland and the northern parts of European Russia). Way before the Viking Period, these areas were inhabited by Sami- and Finnish-speaking hunter-gatherers. The Iron Age Norse lived in hierarchic farming societies, and in the Viking Period their settlements stretched as far north as the present-day town of Harstad, north of the Lofoten and Ofoten archipelagos. This northern settlement limit has often been regarded as the ecologically determined agricultural boundary, i.e., it coincided with the northern limit for cereal cultivation. More and more, it is also being regarded as the old ethnic boundary between the Norse and the Sami (Hansen and Olsen 2004:77–82, with special reference to Schanche 1986; but see Hansen 1990 for an extensive discussion of the issue). Cereal production was not vital to the Norse farmers, except for production of beer for ritual (?) purposes (KLNM vol. 20:689–698). Pastoral farming (Icelandic style) was probably common in most of Hålogaland (i.e., the coast north of Trøndelag6) and sufficient to sustain the sedentary farming lifestyle far outside the climatic limits for cereal cultivation. The Sami, mentioned in Medieval sources as Finns or Scriðfinnas, were mainly hunter-gatherers and reindeer pastoralists. Their land was called Finnmọrk, and during the ninth and tenth centuries, a profitable trade between the Sami and their neighbors developed from older, more symmetric exchange systems. The Sami provided furs to the Scandinavian Norse, and to peoples of the Baltic, Karelia, and northwest Russia (Hansen and Olsen 2004:136–139). Another popular trade item was blubber oil, produced in stone-lined pits in Sami territory. The production of this commodity dropped during the eleventh century (loc. cit., with reference to Henriksen 1995:90–93), possibly substituted by cod liver oil from the Lofoten fisheries. Incidentally, the Old Norse word lýsi means oil, and is related to ljós—light. The Norse chief Ohthere, who visited King Alfred’s court in Wessex some time at the end of the ninth century, told the king that he lived in Hålogaland, and furthest north of all Norwegians. He described the Finns (Sami), and a journey he had taken to the north and east (around the Kola Peninsula to the White Sea), to a people he called the Beormas (Biarmas) (Lund 1984) (Fig. 2). This tale is consistent with the descriptions of Biarmaland in later sources7. Modern research suggests that the Biarmas were a Baltic-Finnish tribe, either the Veps or the Ves. They might be among the tribes called Čuds or Tsjuds (i.e., “stranger” in pre-Slavonic) by the Novgorodians (Hansen and Olsen 2004:159, Sawyer 1987:121, Vilkuna in KLNM I: 647–651, while Mervi Koskela Vasaru [2003] suggests a Baltic Finnish group of Häme origin). Then Ohthere’s account goes on: “His main reason for going there, apart from exploring the land, was for the walruses, because they have very fine ivory in their tusks—they brought some of these tusks to the king—and their hide is very good for ship-ropes.” (Lund 1984:19–20). He also described how the Finns (Sami) paid him tribute in marten skin, reindeer pelts, bear-skin, otter-skin, feathers, whale-bone (probably walrus ivory), and ship-ropes (i.e., from walrus hide) (loc. cit.). Voyages to Biarmaland are often described in the medieval sources. In the Saga of The Sons of Eiríkr (i.e., the sons of Eiríkr Bloodaxe, who ruled Norway 959–974 A.D.), Snorri Sturlusson describes King Haralðr’s voyage to Biarmaland and a battle at the Dvina estuary, i.e., at the location of presentday Archangel on the eastern shore of the White Sea (Hollander 1999:140). Snorri explains Haralðr’s nickname Gráfeldr—a literary translation is difficult: grey fleece, or a coat made from grey pelts, perhaps even squirrel skins—with an anecdote that Haralðr got a sheepskin cloak from an Icelandic merchant (Hollander 1999:136, for translation see Fritzner 1954 vol. I:401). Scholars have suggested the nickname rather reflected Haralðr’s interest in the northeastern fur trade. According to Lars Ivar Hansen and Bjørnar Olsen, the last Biarmaland expedition took place in 1222 A.D., but the King’s representative Gissur Galle undertook an expedition in 1310–11 A.D. to extort tribute from the Sami (Hansen and Olsen 2004:154, for details op. cit.:219, with reference to Bratrein 2001:1). However, as late as in 1611 A.D., the Dano-Norwegian King Christian IV triggered the Kalmar War because Sweden wanted to transform the old rights (to tax the Sami) to territorial claims in present-day Finnmark. During the Viking and Middle Ages, the Sami and other peoples on the supply-side of the furtrade became subject to harsh and violent extortion of “tax”, i.e., tribute, often from three countries at the same time. The conversion of the neighboring Norse and Karelian societies to Christianity during the tenth and eleventh centuries provided an excuse for a ruthless exploitation of the pagan Sami. The development of the Scandinavian kingdoms with 6 Journal of the North Atlantic Volume 3 their central authorities had a similar effect, as the old chieftains along the borders were replaced by representatives of the king, who were given the royal privilege of Finnkaup, i.e., the right to trade with the Finns/Sami. This change increased the asymmetric relationship with the Sami as the weaker party, which again propelled an extremely profitable furtrade based on extortion, first by the Scandinavian Norse, and later by the Karelians, with Novgorod as the hub of the High and Late Medieval fur trade (Birnbaum 1996, Brisbane 1992, Brisbane and Gaimster 2001, Christiansen 1997, Martin 1986). The Sami/Norse fur trade of the ninth to the twelfth centuries, with products meant for the European market, can be classified as belonging to the Viking Period type of trade. Typical for this system was a long-distance trade with expensive commodities, run by and for the upper echelons of society. The suggestion promoted here initially is that when the Norse people of Iceland decided to colonize southwest Greenland sometime around 1000 A.D., it was not due to a shortage of farmland in Iceland, but in order to establish base-camps for the Norðrsetur cash hunts. Whether they intended to actively emulate the Sami/Norse fur trade and extortion racket is hard to tell, but in the delivery end, they eventually plugged into the same networks and markets in Europe and the Middle East. The Greenland Norse collected walrus ivory in the Disko area. Whether they ever traded with or extorted walrus ivory and/or furs from the pagan Skrælings (i.e., the Dorset and/or later Thule cultures) is not known (but see Seaver 1996:37–38). Extortion would not have been beyond them, with potentially dangerous and unknown consequences, but there were peaceful alternatives, provided they had something to give the Skrælings in return, such as iron. Furs are hard to track archaeologically, and are only mentioned briefly in a thirteenth century (?) written record: in the Saga of the Greenlanders, the Skrælings of Vinland come to trade furs—grávara, safvali (squirrel and sable), and other pelts (The Complete Sagas I:28). These furs were not native to Iceland or Greenland, but were well-known commodities on the Scandinavian and European markets, originating from the Sami territories and from the Novgorod fur trade, as far back as the eleventh century (Martin 1986:52). The skins (or at least their names) must have been known to Norse traders, and apparently also to the saga scribes in Iceland. It is quite likely that the Norse exploration of Greenland and eastern Canada were attempts to find furs and other exotic commodities that could be sold on the European market. The radiocarbon dates from L’Anse aux Meadows from ca. 1000–1030 A.D. (Nydal 1977), suggest the houses were contemporary with the initial settlement of Greenland, and the Icelanders’ agreement with King Ólafr Haraldsson about exploration dates from about the same time. Perhaps they were even looking for people from whom they could collect tribute? In Íslendingabók (the Book of Icelanders from ca. 1130 A.D.) (Benediktsson 1986b), Ári fróði suggests that the traces of people that the Norse settlers observed when they first came to Greenland, must have been from the same kind of people they had met in Vínland (i.e., the Dorset, the Beothuk or the Innu, see Fig. 1). These people were called Skrælingar. The meaning of this name is not totally clear, but scholars indicate a degenerative: an unhealthy or pitiful person (skral, skrælling svakelig person in Falk and Torp 1992:735–736, 743). The etymology is uncertain, and maybe there is room for some speculation: the Old Norse word skrá means a hard, dry skin (Heggstad et al. 1997:386), which might relate to their dress, their looks, or their activity. Vowel-mutation is common in Old Norse. It is not known for certain whether the lead characters in the thirteenth century Vínland sagas, such as Leiv Eiriksson and Þorfinn Karlsefni, ever existed (Halldórsson 2001, Keller 2001, Þorláksson 2001), but archaeology certainly confirms that some Norse people did go to L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland ca. 1000 A.D. There is little doubt they came from Iceland or Greenland. This expedition was only a little more than a century after the chief Ohthere performed his exploratory journey to the White Sea. Both Ohthere and the L’Anse aux Meadows Norse crossed ethnic and climatic boundaries. Both groups must have been aware of indigenous people, and both were far from home. Ohthere certainly managed to acquire goods suited for the European market; less is known about the revenue of the L’Anse aux Meadows Norse. The Norse and the Stockfish Another commodity in northern Norway was stockfish. Stockfish is cod which has been freezedried without the use of salt; either hanging on racks or spread on cobble-stones. It can only be processed within a limited climatic window with the temperature fluctuating around the point of freezing. The best climatic conditions for this process are found in the late winter at the Lofoten and Ofoten archipelagos in North Norway, which are also the winter spawning grounds for the skreið—the Barents Sea cod. Studies of fish-bones from Iron-Age middens in northern Norway suggest that the production of stockfish goes back to the Old Iron Age (Perdikaris 1998), and the early date for professional fishing is supported by recent archaeological discoveries of Migration Period fishing booths in Nusfjord (Lundebye 2005:9). 2010 C. Keller 7 Early commercial trade in stockfish appears to have taken place within the region and it does not seem to have become a commodity of the international commercial markets until after the trade of furs was established; it was only in the Middle Ages that the trade between Scandinavia and Europe came to involve bulk commodities and large amounts of foodstuffs. The commercial fishing and stockfish production in Lofoten did not take off until the mid-twelfth century. The fish were then exported to Europe by way of Nidaros (present-day Trondheim) and Bergen (KLNM vol. 4:366–370; for zoo-archaeological evidence see Nielsen 2010 and Perdikaris 1996, 1998, 1999; see also Nielsen 2010 for Norwegian fishing and and Lajus 2010 for fishing in Northern Russia). Before this time, the stockfish was produced for local storage and consumption, and probably also for local and regional trade. It may be attributed to the Viking Period type of trade. As already mentioned, in this system, expensive, low-volume commodities traveled far, while large-volume foodstuffs were typically exchanged regionally, but not long-distance. Still, storable foods could have vital importance as strategic resources. Already during the Late Iron Age, the stockfish made its impact on North Norwegian economics and politics. It is the perfect staple food, it preserves well (four to six years), and it could feed armies. The Viking Period chieftains of the Lofoten and Ofoten regions (see Näsman and Roesdahl 2003:292–294) thus occupied a unique geographical location with access to two major sources of power: the Sami trade and a steady supply of stockfish. Not without reason, the Lofoten and Ofoten regions feature a concentration of court-sites and chieftain’s seats. The site at Borg in the island of Vestvågøy is a house-hold name to northern archaeologists, due to the excavations of a hall of over 80 m—the largest skáli8 in Scandinavia (Munch et al. 2003). It is important to understand that this hall did not symbolize the fringe of the civilized world, but was an economic focal-point in its own right, representing a surplus of a very different nature than the agrarian surplus of South Scandinavia. Readers of Snorri Sturlusson’s Heimskringla— The Sagas of the Norwegian Kings (Hollander 1999) will recognize that members of the aristocratic families of northern Norway were powerful agents in the politics leading to a unified Norwegian kingdom. Politically speaking, what was eventually to become the State of Norway consisted of several centers of gravity. The Southwest Coast was the starting-point of the unification process, and the engine in the political development. The decisive (and semi-mythical) battle allegedly took place at Hafrsfjord, near present-day Stavanger some time during 870–900 A.D. There were two challenges to this west Norwegian claim to supreme kingship. One came from the north, from Hålogaland and Trøndelag. The other came from the east and south, from Viken and Denmark/England. Viken was the name of the larger Oslo fjord, which was periodically subject to the Danish kings, being part of or close to the Danish home waters. Hålogaland was the name of the coastal region north of Trøndelag. The Bjarkey chiefs (the northernmost chieftain’s seat and court-site) and the Håløyg chiefs (i.e., from Hålogaland) were active in the quest for royal supremacy in Norway. The Håløyg chiefs moved south to settle at Hlaði (present-day Lade) on the Trondheimsfjord, and at times allied with Danish kings to rule as their vassals. They appear in the sagas as the Earls of Hlaði based in Trøndelag, but they originated in northern Norway (Hansen and Olsen 2004:152). A famous character was Eirik of Lade, a warrior chief who joined Danish King Svend forkbeard in his 1014 A.D. conquest of England and was an ally of Svend’s son Cnut the Great (1014–1035 A.D.) (Haywood 1995:121). Ólafr Haralðsson, the Norwegian King from 1015–1028 A.D. and the later Patron Saint of the Norwegian Church, was killed in the battle of Stiklestad 1030 A.D. (in Trøndelag) when challenging the Dano/ English King Cnut the Great, who was also King of Norway from 1028 A.D. Cnut’s Norwegian allies were the Earls of Lade. Eventually, the Earls of Lade and the local chiefs in Lofoten and Ofoten lost out to the Norwegian king, and their control with the Sami fur trade was passed on to the king’s representatives (Hansen and Olsen 2004:153–155). The Icelanders must have been familiar with the value of the Sami trade and its potential for the European market. If we are to believe the Icelandic Landnámabók (The Book of Settlements from the thirteenth century) (Benediktsson 1986a), distinguished people from Lofoten migrated to Iceland in pagan times. The manuscript version in Melabók says (in translation): “Ólafr Tvennumbruni went to Iceland from the island named Lófót, it lies close to Finnmọrk.” Other manuscripts (Hauksbók and Sturlubók) have longer entries, describing that Ólafr settled at Ólafsvöllur, at Skeið, between Þiorsá and Sandlækur. (Translation in Nielsen 2003:278, slightly modified by me). The link between Lofoten and the land of the Sami was worth noting, even as far away as in Iceland. The crucial element here is the geographical setting of these Norse peoples, on the Arctic fringe, near the boundaries between sedentary farmers and mobile hunter-gatherers. The position allowed them to harvest Arctic and sub-Arctic resources, either directly or indirectly, and profit from the distribution of these goods to the high end of the European luxury market. This situation was possible due to a 8 Journal of the North Atlantic Volume 3 describes how the Rus settled and started extorting tribute on a regular basis. The Viking Period Norse were not after fur as such; they shipped the fur east in exchange for Oriental silver. Sawyer and Sawyer (1993:146) observe that by the ninth and tenth centuries, Scandinavians did more trade with the Muslims than with the Byzantine Christians. They traded in slaves, fur, amber, arrows, swords, armor, falcons, wax, and honey, in addition to walrus tusks, which in the twelfth century were also exported to Iran and India (Lewicki 1962:8, Sawyer 1987:114). Peter Sawyer wrote: “The written evidence from Islam, Byzantium and Franks is remarkably consistent. Scandinavians, known as Rus, established themselves in Russia in the first half of the ninth century, apparently attracted by the prospect of gathering furs and slaves, as well as other produce of the forests and the Arctic to sell in the flourishing markets on the Volga.” (Sawyer 1987:117) The true origins of the Rus may never be found, but the Viking town Birka in eastern Sweden was the Scandinavian gateway to the eastern trade. Birka was located on the island Björkö in the landscape of Uppland. It succeeded Helgö as a trading center in the Mälardalen, a lake-and-valley system near presentday Stockholm. Björkö was a fortified, nucleated settlement in style with contemporary North European emporia (ports-of-trade) such as Haithabu (Heiþabu) in Schleswig (Callmer 1994; Clarke and Ambrosiani 1995:46–89; Jankuhn 1986; Clarke and Simms 1984; Maixner 2010; Müller-Wille 1988, 1989; Resi 1979, 1987, 1990; Schietzel 1969–, 1981, 1985), Dorestad in Frisia (Clarke and Ambrosiani 1995:24–29; Kars 1985; Sarfatij et al. 1999; Van Es 1969; Van Es and Verwers 1980, 2009; Van Es et al. 1999), and Wolin in the Pomeranian Bay in the Baltic (Clarke and Ambrosiani 1995:112–115; Filipowiak 1981, 1985, 1986, 1989, 1991). Birka is mentioned in Rimbert’s Vita Ansgari from the mid-ninth century (Odelman 1986, Robinson 1921) and in Adam of Bremen’s History of the Archbishops of Hamburg-Bremen from ca. 1070 A.D. (Tschan 2002). The pagan cemetery at Birka contained ca. 1600 graves (some give higher numbers), many of which show influence from the east, both in burial customs, dress, and artifacts. By the mid-eighth century, the Norse sailed into the Gulf of Finland to where St. Petersburg was built much later, and up the river Neva to Lake Ladoga, where the trading center Staraja Ladoga (Old Ladoga) on the river Volchov developed. It was called Aldeigjuborg by the Norse (Kirpichnikov 1989, Lindquist 1985, Sawyer 1987:113–130, Sawyer and Sawyer 1993:146). The Scandinavian pagan cemetery is located at Plakun on the opposite bank, while the Slavic graves (called sopkij) adorn several high features in the area. From Staraja Ladoga, the stratified social structure and the existence of a viable European trade network. Margins and ethnic boundaries are often scenes of conflict, but also of profit. When the Icelanders pushed west into regions dominated by Arctic drift-ice and the Greenland ice-cap ca. 1000 A.D., they too crossed ecological and ethnic boundaries. They too came in contact with pagan hunter-gatherers, the Skrælings (whoever they were). They too could harvest extreme riches from the sub- and high-Arctic regions. In the delivery end, they plugged into the same European markets as did the fur traders from North Norway, Sweden, Staraja Ladoga, and Novgorod (see below). They probably obtained roughly the same type of goods in return. In the Early Middle Ages, the Norse Greenland walrus hunts were therefore not a unique phenomenon, just another arena for the European harvesting of the Arctic (see Perdikaris and McGovern 2008b). In 985 or 988 A.D. (i.e., contemporary with the colonization of Greenland), the Arab geographer and resident of Jerusalem, Al-Mukadassi, wrote a treatise on geography where the trade-goods from Bulgar (on the Volga bend) were described: “… sables, miniver, ermines, and the fur of steppe foxes, martens, foxes, beavers, spotted hares, and goats; also wax, arrows, birch bark, high fur caps, fish glue, fish teeth, castoreum [a perfume fixative derived from beaver glands], prepared horse hides, honey, hazelnuts, falcons, swords, armor, khalanj wood, Slavonic slaves, sheep and cattle. All these come from Bulgar …” (quoted from Martin 1986:12, also notes 46 and 47 op. cit. p. 179, my underlining). Fish teeth was a common medieval term for walrus tusks (Sawyer and Sawyer 1993:146). Even in the Norwegian medieval work The King’s Mirror, the walrus was classified as a fish, although its nature as a whale or a seal was subject to debate. (GHM III:320–321, or Larsson 1917). Christian Europe was, in other words, not the only market for walrus ivory. The Fur Trade in the East Janet Martin makes this presentation of the early Norse (Rus) in Russia: “The market in Bulgar [on the Volga bend; my comment], where fur contributed by the Bulgar populace, their neighbors, and the Ves’, was sold, attracted one final group of suppliers, the Rus. Almost as soon as they arrived in eastern Europe, they became the most prominent fur suppliers in Bulgar’s fur trade network … The Rus took their captives and other booty they seized from the native Slav and Finn tribes, conducted them to Bulgar, and sold them. Among the booty was precious northern fur. In this manner the Rus entered the fur trade.” (Martin 1986:8–9). She then 2010 C. Keller 9 in the form of Byzantine coins in the hoards (Noonan 1980a, 1980b, 1980c, 1981; Sawyer 1987:124). Around 1000 A.D., the silver stream from the east ground to a halt as the silver mines dried out, roughly at about the same time as the exploratory journeys from Greenland to Newfoundland. The implication is that closing trade-routes to the east helped stimulate search for new trade-routes or sources of trade-goods to the west. The main source on early Russia is the Primary Chronicle or The Account of the Bygone Years, also known as the Nestor Chronicle. Its first, semilegendary part states that in the year 6367 (reckoned from Adam in the Russian Orthodox chronology, equaling 859 A.D. in Roman Catholic terms), “the Varangians came from the other side of the ocean and extorted tax among the Čud’, and Slovenians, among Merja and Vepsians plus the Krivičians. The Kozars extorted tax from the Poljanis, the Severs, and the Vjatičians; they demanded one white squirrel per household.” (From Svane 1983, my translation from Danish). The legacy of the Rus remains in the name Russia. Still, the role of the Rus in the making of a Russian State has been contested: the controversy is known as the Normanist debate, the issue being whether the state was originally established by people of Norse descent, or by Slavic peoples (Noonan 1997:138; Schmidt 1971; Stalsberg 1979, 1982; see Franklin and Shepard 1996 chapter 8 and p. 415 for dynastic overviews). Any which way, a Russian state was established by Rjurik (862–879 A.D.), and the ensuing dynasty was to last for nearly eight centuries. Different manuscript versions of the chronicle suggest that he either settled at Staraja Ladoga, or at Gorodiŝĉe (Norse Holmgarðr); the original fortress was 2 km upstream from the later Novgorod (Fig. 2). Novgorod means the new fortress. Novgorod lies on the river Volkhov 6 km downstream from the Lake Ilmen, which by many scholars is considered the nodal point of the Russian river trade-routes. Through short portages, the rivers Dvina, Dnieper, and Volga can be accessed; they lead to the White Sea, the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea—entrances to the northern as well as the Byzantine and Muslim worlds (Clarke and Ambrosiani 1995:121–122). Rjurik’s son Oleg (Old Norse name Helgi) shifted the center of the Rus state to Kiev on the Dnieper in present-day Ukraine. Dnieper drains south into the Black Sea. This dynasty, and the Kiev state, was Christianized when Grand Prince Vladimir converted to Orthodox Christianity, but many of the Finnishspeaking tribes further north remained pagans. The Scandinavian way of extorting “tax” from the Sami Norse could plug into the already existing trade networks that connected Eastern Europe to the Middle East and the Orient by way of the large rivers, as occurred in the eighth century. The first hoard of Islamic dirhams was deposited at Staraja Ladoga in the 780s A.D., and there was evidence of glass-bead production, meant for trade with the Finnish tribes (Noonan 1986:222–223 and 341, 1989b, 1997:142). The Scandinavians who went east were known by two terms; the Rus and the Varjagr (Varangians). The etymology and exact meanings of the terms are unclear. The Rus may initially have been Swedes; the Nestor Chronicle (below) states that they came “from the other side of the ocean” (the Baltic?). In Finnish, “Ruotsi” means “Swedish”, but the etymology for Rus is contested, as is the ethnicity of the people it refers to. The Varangians seem to have been associated with mercenaries, many of whom came to serve in the Varangian guard in Byzantium. The majority was Norse, but they recruited from many nationalities (Avdusin 1970; Franklin and Shepard 1996; Hannestad et al 1970; Noonan 1986 (with an overview of Norse finds in the East), 1985, 1989a, 1989b, 1992, 1994a, 1994b, 1997:135–138, 1998; Schmidt 1971; Stalsberg 1979, 1982). Some Old Norse words and phrases have interesting implications about connections and contemporary perceptions: Svíþjóð was the Old Norse name for Sweden, and a related term Svíþjóð hin mikla (Greater Sweden) sometimes referred to Scythia in southeast Europe, and sometimes to the land of the Rus, i.e., the region between Ladoga and Kiev. Another contemporary term, Garðaríki, also indicated the Novgorod/Kiev region, but went out of use in the thirteenth century. The ultimate target for the Norse appears to have been oriental silver, much of which ended up in innumerable hoards in the Baltic and in Scandinavia. Silver had been mined and minted in the Middle East from early on, but had disappeared from circulation in the Caucasus in the seventh century. A revolution in the Caliphate ca. 750 A.D. introduced a new dynasty, the Abbasids, who improved the relations with the Khazars on the lower Volga. Through what is sometimes called “Pax Khazarica”, the trans-Eurasian trade flourished between the White Sea and the Baltic in the northwest, and the Black and the Caspian Seas in the southeast. Countless finds of Perm-type silver rings, Cufic coins, and hacksilber9 suggest the east Scandinavians emulated Oriental weight systems (Hårdh 1996:169–170; Franklin and Shepard 1996:3– 70 in a chapter aptly named “The Silver-Seekers from the North [c. 750–c. 900]”; Martin 1986:60; Noonan 1986,1997:145–147). The written sources suggest there was also a substantial trade between Kiev and Constantinople, but this has not left much evidence 10 Journal of the North Atlantic Volume 3 Figure 2. The modern Baltic and Scandinavian states. Ohthere, who according to Orosius lived “furthest north of all Norwegians”, travelled to the “Land of the Biarmas” in 15 days, and to Sciringshael (Kaupang in Vestfold) in 1 month. His voyages took place towards the end of the ninth century. His voyages are indicated in line with the common interpretation of his tale, but the description contains some logical inconsistencies, and may be subject to debate. The Baltic route from Birka (earlier from near-by Helgö) to Staraja Ladoga was established at least one hundred years earlier, at the end of the eighth century. This route gave access to the great trade systems on the Russian rivers, opening up for two centuries of cash-flow from the oriental silver mines to the Scandinavian countries. The towns of Vágar, Bergen, and Nidaros were established later, but are indicated here in brackets. 2010 C. Keller 11 outlook and political culture, which was to leave trace till the present day From the 1260s A.D., two German orders (The Livonian Knights and the Teutonic Knights) launched crusades against Prussia, Lithuania, and Livonia (in present-day Estonia and Latvia), and thereby gave the German merchants a leverage in the Baltic trade. By the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the German Hanse had merchant houses in the Peterhof District of Novgorod and de facto control of the trade in the Baltic (Martin 1986:61–62). The western Europeans were not the only ones to use religion as an excuse for territorial expansion: from the eleventh to the sixteenth centuries, Orthodox monasteries were “colonizing” the regions north was applied by the Rus in the Kiev state, extorting tax from the Finnish tribes (Noonan 1989b). Throughout the Middle Ages, the “right” to tax the Sami and the Finns led to a series of confrontations between the Scandinavian countries and the Kiev State, and later also with Kiev’s successors Novgorod and Moscow. Kievan sovereign Jaroslav the Wise (978–1054) anticipated the competition from Scandinavia. He converted the Finnish-speaking Karelians en masse to Orthodox Christianity, in order to create a Christian buffer against the recently converted Roman Catholic Norse. It was a curse disguised as a blessing, and it brought disaster to the Karelians. With the Great Schism in 1054 A.D., i.e., the permanent separation of the Roman Catholic and the Greek Orthodox churches, the Karelians became the eternal border-population between East and West. Jaroslav’s Christianization strategy backfired. The Karelians established themselves as the primary collectors of furs from the Sami and Finns, partly on behalf of Novgorod, partly on behalf of Scandinavians. They also launched armed attacks on Northern Norway to stall Norwegian tax collectors, for example in 1278 and 1322–26 A.D. (which included abductions) and in 1349. In 1323 A.D., they burned the estate of Bjarkøy in Ofoten. The owner was Erlingr Víðkunnsson, who also owned the Giske and Svovreim estates in West Norway and was regent for the child- King Magnús Eiríksson. He retaliated, which ended with the treaty of Nöteborg (below). (Christiansen 1997:189). Scandinavian kings and German orders launched a series of crusades and invasions south and east of the Baltic, from 1142 to 1349 A.D. (see Christiansen 1997 for a full presentation). The fact that the Sami and many of the Finnish tribes were pagans was used to entice the Pope’s support for crusades which were in fact trade wars in disguise. Orthodox Christians were not spared from attacks, and so during the Christian Middle Ages, the Baltic became the battlefield between the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox worlds. The northern crusades are less known than the Levantine ones, and although smaller in scale, they were numerous and far more successful. They imposed the Roman Catholic belief upon the Baltic and Finnish populations, and secured a Western European Figure 3. The northern expansion of Orthodox monasteries (shining stars) into Finnish and Sami territories, from the eleventh to the sixteenth centuries. The numbers indicate the century in which each monastery was founded. The economy of the monasteries was closely linked to the fur trade. (Redrawn from Hansen and Olsen 2004:221 plate 44, who reference Storå 1977). 12 Journal of the North Atlantic Volume 3 Kiev was overrun in 1241 A.D., and Novgorod suddenly found itself independent of the Kiev State. This turn of events allowed Novgorod to create its own fur-trading empire by expanding north, all the way to the Barents Sea. In the 1250s A.D., an agreement between the Norwegian King Hákon Hákonsson and the Principal of Novgorod Alexander Nevsky was negotiated, giving the Norse the rights of free passage “as before”. As already mentioned, a Swedish-Norwegian peace treaty with Novgorod at Nöteborg (German name: Schlüsselburg) in 1323 A.D. was followed by the two Agreements of Novgorod from 1326 A.D., between Sweden and Novgorod, and between Norway and Novgorod, respectively (Hansen and Olsen 2004:169–175, Sawyer and Sawyer 1993:68–69). As a result, the peoples of Finnmọrk and the Kola Peninsula were double-taxed by fur traders from both Novgorod and Norway/Sweden between 1326 and 1493 A.D. (Fig. 5). Novgorod accepted the sovereignty of Moscow in 1478 A.D., but the interest in taxation of the Sami did not evaporate. of Lake Ladoga, up to the White Sea and westwards on the Kola Peninsula to Petsamo (Hansen and Olsen 2004:220–223) (Fig. 3). The decline of Byzantium and the disruption of the river trade routes by the Mongols in the thirteenth century (Fig. 4) triggered a shift of focus. Novgorod had previously exported furs in three directions: to Bulgar in the east, to Kiev in the south, and to the Baltic in the west. Janet Martin writes: “In response to the demands of all three markets, Novgorod extended its realm, carved out new trade routes across northern Russia, and subjected non-Russian tribes to tributary status. From those tribes, Novgorod collected luxury fur. From the northern population in districts subject to direct Novgorodian administration, it collected squirrel pelts.” (Martin 1986:60) (Fig. 4). Around 1240 A.D., an invasion of Mongols led by Batu Khan (Djenghis Khan’s grandson) assaulted Eastern Europe through Russia (Fig. 4). They sacked Poland, Schlesvig, and Hungary, only to pull back to the Volga later on. This huge Khanate or state was called The Golden Horde after its main camp. It survived until 1360 A.D., when it started deteriorating. Figure 4. The major trade routes (dotted lines) from the Baltic to the Black Sea, Byzantium, and the Caspian Sea. By establishing Staraja Ladoga in the late eighth century, the Norse plugged into this vast trade network.When Kiev was overrun by the Golden Horde (grey shaded arrows) in 1241 A.D., opportunity knocked at the gates of Novgorod. Finding themselves independent of the Kiev State, they established a fur-trading empire that reached to the Barents Sea. 2010 C. Keller 13 Novgorod, and in principle, controlled the Western European fur trade (KLNM vol. 6:199–200). Despite the fact that the fur trade to a great extent was a luxury trade, it developed to something like an industry during the Middle Ages, with a typical Novgorod not only controlled the fur trade to Western Europe, but also to the Middle East, using the same river routes as the Norse had done during the Viking Period. From the mid-fourteenth century, the German Hanse established an office in Figure 5. Novgorod’s five administrative districts (numbered 1–5) and its network of fortified support points (black diamonds) for trade and tax-collection. The grey shaded area up north indicates the region that was double-taxed from Norwegian-Russian and Swedish-Russian sides respectively. (Based on Hansen and Olsen 2004:156, Fig. 28). 14 Journal of the North Atlantic Volume 3 The economic structure behind the power of the fish-trading Hanse was the imbalance of foodresources between the Baltic and northern Norway. A surplus of grain in the south was exchanged for a surplus of fish in the north. This trade relationship had consequences for the settlement pattern and the cultural landscape in northern Norway, and subsequently also in Iceland. While a sort of local subsistence economy was always maintained, the market economy demanded that more and more labor be invested in commercial fishing. Labor-intensive tasks in the subsistence economy, such as cereal cultivation, were largely abandoned, creating an increased dependency on imported grain. (Based on KLNM vol. 4:366–370). It is interesting to note that furs and lýsi (lamp oil, which at this point in time was almost certainly made from cod liver) were often riding with the stockfish cargoes. Not all furs were luxury items— some were simple pelts for lining, bedding, etc., i.e., ordinary consumption goods. (KLNM loc.cit.). During the Middle Ages, the old ethnic boundary between the Norse and the Sami was overrun. Norse fishermen settled in fishing-stations on the outer coast, often in locations devoid of vegetation (and pasture), in what was previously Sami territory, all the way east to the Varangerfjord (Hansen and Olsen 2004:165–169). By 1307 A.D., Norwegian King Hákon V. Magnusson erected a fortress Vardöhús at the entrance to Varangerfjord11, to block Karelian attacks. This territorial expansion was motivated both by the fur trade and the commercial fishing alike, and could not have happened without solid backing from the international trade network, which provided these northerly regions with a steady supply of grain in exchange for furs and fish. A long-distance interdependency between ecologically diverse regions had been created. With time, however, more and more of the furs from the Sami area went to the southeast, to the Bay of Bothnia. From the fourteenth century, the Bothnian trade became increasingly directed towards Stockholm and Åbo (Turku in present-day Finland) as the export harbors (KLNM vol. 4:358). At the same time, more and more of the fish from Lofoten and Finnmọrk went to the southwest, to Bergen and Western Europe. With the risk of oversimplifying, one might say that the furs were headed for the Hanse in the Baltic, while the stockfish was headed for the Hanse in Bergen (Hansen 1990). The Norse and the Stockfish in Iceland Among historians, the traditional view has been that the Icelanders fished for domestic trade, but did medieval system of coercion and extortion, protocapitalism, and feudal-style militarism working hand in hand. The fact that the Hanse was running the European delivery end of the trade makes it belong to the high medieval type of trade, with its highly sophisticated exchange networks. The Norse and the Stockfish in Norway With the coming of a different economy during the Middle Ages, the Viking Age luxury trade gave way to low-status bulk-trade with foodstuffs such as grain and fish. This shift allowed the stockfish from the Lofoten archipelago to enter the European market, where it became a popular commodity, not the least because it was an acceptable food during lent. The first written evidence of commercial export of stockfish is a court order in the Frostaþing Law10 from ca. 1115 A.D. Additional sources indicate that the commercial fishing and stockfish export increased throughout the century. Vágar (Fig. 2)—in the present-day island of Vestvågøy—was a short-lived town in the Lofoten archipelago, created as a shipping and taxation point. It declined during the fourteenth century, as other towns took over as taxation-points further south (Bertelsen 1985:168–181). Nidaros (Fig. 2)—present-day Trondheim—became the center of the newly established Norwegian archdiocese from 1153 A.D., and was a thriving town for national and international trade. The archbishop himself was engaged in the stockfish trade. Some of the stockfish was shipped by way of Nidaros, but the location of this town was not altogether favorable for the larger fish trade. The town of Bergen (Fig. 2) on the Norwegian west coast had much better location, close to the sailing-routes and with a generous harbor. From the late thirteenth century, official Norwegian policy was to concentrate all foreign trade to the towns, and Bergen became the official staple town for the stockfish trade. From 1294 A.D., foreign ships were not allowed to sail north of Bergen to buy fish, and in 1361 A.D., King Hákon VI confirmed that the burghers of Bergen had the unique privilege to trade on all Norway, including the Norwegian tax-lands, i.e., the Faroes, Iceland, and Greenland. It sounded better than it was. After the 1320s A.D., most of the Norwegian fish sent to Europe went on German ships. From 1344 A.D., the Hanse had a permanent “kontor” in Bergen (as it did in London, Brügge, and Novgorod, with Lübeck as the hub). As mentioned, the Hanse ships were not allowed north of Bergen, which became the fiscal point for the king and the church, as well as the major international transit harbor. 2010 C. Keller 15 (KLNM loc. cit. and vol. 9:155–156), while at the same time, the climate in the North Atlantic was becoming less favorable for local cereal production. It is possible that the escalating fishing industry in Iceland may have left the Norse Greenland colonies in an economic backwater. It has been argued that ivory was no longer in fashion in Europe, or that it could be obtained from alternative sources, such as the White Sea (Roesdahl 2000:146 but see Seaver 2009) or from African elephants (Pirenne 1939, Tegengren 1962). This may have been the case, but it is just as likely that the increased traffic on the Icelandic West Fjords led to an increased number of ships in the Denmark Strait, from where Greenland was in plain sight. It is possible, therefore, that foreign ships trading illegally in Iceland may have paid occasional (and equally illegal) visits to Norse Greenland. If they did, they had all the reasons in the world to keep quiet about it. On the other hand, the climatic records suggest increased drift-ice in Greenland waters from the mid-fourteenth century, making it difficult to cross the Denmark Strait (Dugmore et al 2006, 2009). The KLNM vol. 3:665 says: “The English commenced their navigation on Iceland in ca. 1408, first in search of fishing banks, but trade started from ca. 1412. The English trade in Iceland was a violation of the trade privilege of the Bergen burghers, and a threat against the King’s income from Iceland” (my translation from Norwegian). The King in question was in casu the Danish-Norwegian King Erik of Pomerania, who accordingly was also the King of the Faroes, Iceland, and Greenland. It is worth noting that the wedding at Hvalsey Church 1408 A.D., which was well documented in Iceland, represents the latest recorded sign of life in Norse Greenland (Seaver 1996:155–156). Conclusions The basic idea in this paper is that there was nothing extreme about the Norse colonization of Greenland, even though establishing pastoral farming in the Arctic is unusual by any standards. Nor were the exploratory journeys to L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland all that extreme when compared to other, well-documented exploratory journeys conducted by the Norse in the same period, north and east of Scandinavia. Such voyages were not made for king and country as the much later Arctic explorations, but were typical for a period when luxury trade was combined with extortion of the (often pagan) hunter-gatherers. The expeditions to the Arctic fringe of the North American continent must be seen as a quest for commodities that could be exported to the European not start commercial export of stockfish until the fourteenth century (KLNM vol. 4:370–371). Over the last couple of decades, systematic efforts to identify the archaeological signatures of commercial fishing in the North Atlantic have been made (Amundsen 2004; Amundsen et al. 2005; Krivigorskaya et al. 2005a, 2005b; Perdikaris and McGovern 2007, 2008a, 2008b; Perdikaris et al. 2004b). Zoo-archaeological investigations under the NABO (North Atlantic Bio-cultural Organization) cooperative have yielded evidence that Icelanders were already involved in stockfish production from the initial settlement before 900 A.D. This production was partly done for local consumption and partly for regional exchange (but see Thór 2010 for an extensive history of Icelandic fishing, and Lajus for Russian fishing). Commercial fishing for international export seems to have started in the Icelandic West Fjords around 1200 A.D., bringing Iceland in contact with the medieval trade systems of Europe (Edvardsson and McGovern 2005; Edvardsson et al. 2004; Krivigorskaya et al. 2005, 2005b; Thór 2010; for fishing ecology of the North Atlantic, see Starkey and Nielsen 2010). This shift was a transition from the Viking Period type of trade, with its emphasis on chiefly endeavors, as celebrated (retrospectively) in so many Icelandic sagas. Iceland had joined the production end of the medieval bulk trade with foodstuffs. Compared to this development in medieval Iceland, the Norse Greenland society, with its dependence on the northern cash-hunts, begins to look old-fashioned or even obsolete. After the 1260s A.D., the stock-fish from Iceland was formally required to be shipped by way of the Norwegian fiscal point in Bergen. Still, it did not take long before foreign ships started illegal traderuns directly on the Icelandic fishing stations to pick up their cargo, without paying dues to the Danish- Norwegian king. In the thirteenth to the fifteenth centuries, the Icelanders owned only a few ships of their own, and despite a substantial stock-fish production, they became hostage to foreign traders: to the Norwegians in the fourteenth century, to the English in the fifteenth century, and to the Hansards from the 1470s A.D. (KLNM vol. 4:370–371). During this time, few items were taken abroad on Icelandic keel. Accordingly, even Norse Greenland was beyond the reach of the Icelanders. Like in North Norway, the increased stockfish export must have had consequences for Icelandic agriculture and its cultural landscape. Iceland was probably never self-supplied with grain, but cereal imports may still have reduced the investment in grain production. From the fourteenth century, cereals were imported to Iceland in larger quantities 16 Journal of the North Atlantic Volume 3 Ocean on the other hand, with its generous ecosystems teeming with life, offered opportunities both to local communities and for food export. Large quantities of fish that fed and grew in distant waters could be harvested at the spawning grounds. This bounty is what the Norse people of the Lofoten archipelago exploited, and this is what the Icelanders did in the West fjords. The Norse Greenlanders may go into history as the first Europeans to penetrate the North American Arctic for commercial reasons: in order to acquire the furs and ivory which, at the time, was fancied by the European and Middle Eastern elites. The Norse colonies in Greenland were founded for such a purpose, and when the European craving for walrus ivory faded, or the supplies dried out, or the trade routes collapsed, the Greenlanders had to close the shop. As such, the history of the Greenlanders may symbolize the activities of the civilized world in the Arctic: brave economic adventures ending with collapse. In this paper, the transition from a Viking Period luxury trade to a high medieval bulk trade with foodstuffs has been emphasized. It has also been simplified. The arguments can be expressed in two points. First, that Iceland appeared to have had limited resources for export prior to the 1200 A.D. development of the stockfish trade. Their main alternative—vaðmál—was a labor-intensive export commodity based on sheep. It is therefore tempting to see the colonization of Greenland and the exploration of the Canadian east coast as initiated from Iceland, with exports for the European luxury market in mind. Second, that with the change of the European trade economy, and the establishment of large-scale commercial fishing in North Norway and in the Icelandic West Fjords, the economic framework that Norse Greenland was a part of, transformed with disastrous consequences. The demographic and economic impact of the Black Death upon the European economy, and the increased climatic instability in the North Atlantic (Dugmore et al 2006, 2009), must have hurt both the Norse Greenland subsistence economy and the overseas market for walrus ivory. Besides, the Greenland goods met fierce competition from Novgorod after ca. 1250 A.D. As previously emphasized, the trade with expensive goods continued through the Middle Ages. It was an upper-class phenomenon, but eventually even the upper classes got involved in bulk trade with foodstuffs, leather, skins, cloth, beer, and semiindustrial products. The actual exchange took place in towns, under royal and ecclesiastical control, often regulated by privileges. For North Norway and Iceland, the king tried at least periodically to maintain a food-for-food balance, in order to prevent a negative export of food in times of starvation luxury market, rather than attempts to establish permanent settlements based on animal husbandry. The colonization of Greenland as well as of Sami and Finnish territories were probably triggered by the same type of economic thinking. Traditionally, the feudal economies in Central Europe, where the liege lords combined military obligations with large-scale land-ownership and extortion, has been regarded as the archetype of the predatory medieval economy. The so-called coercion-extortion cycle (Bagge 1989) was not limited to agricultural societies, and the commodities obtained need not have been agricultural produce. Luxury articles such as furs, ivory, falcons, and live polar bears were probably among the first commodities in the Norse world to be paid for in cash, albeit the coins were silver dirhams from the Abassid dynasty. It is typical that the supply of such luxury articles was obtained at the margins of the civilized world (civilized in this context meaning societies that were hierarchically organized), with a certain military capacity, and above all, with established trade networks, and a proto-capitalistic market. With the development of commercial fishing throughout the Middle Ages, Sami territory was again invaded, but this time it was the Norse themselves who settled to harvest the ocean for its riches in cod. In present-day Finnmark in northern Norway, this colonization continued into the sixteenth century. From the time of the Vikings till today’s globalized economy, the developed world has raped the Arctic for commercial reasons. The local huntergatherers were taxed, exploited, displaced, converted, and enslaved. Today, travelers to the Arctic will find the Arctic landscape a junk-yard for past economic adventures, spanning from sixteenth-century whaling stations to twentieth-century oilrigs, gas-pipes, and strip-mines. Abandoned installations from the Cold War as well as older conflicts are found in unexpected places. Norway in the Viking Period was a typical example of a land with a dual economy: a consumption- based agricultural economy in the south, and an export-based fur-trade economy in the north. It is almost a paradox that these northern economies were more tied to the commercial sphere and the monetary exchange system of Central Europe than were the agricultural economies further south. However, when the opportunities for commercial fishing arose within the Scandinavian economies during the twelfth century, the Norse entered the European sphere of large-scale food-production for the first time. On dry land, whether Arctic or Sub-Arctic, the marginal ecology simply could not produce enough biomass to sustain anything but a scattered population, not to mention food export. The Arctic 2010 C. Keller 17 Special thanks also to Svend Erik Albrethsen of Miljøstyrelsen, Danish Environmental Protective Agency, who taught me most of what I know about Norse Greenland, and Jette Arneborg of SILA, National Museum of Denmark, who has continued my education through numerous exchanges. Lars Ivar Hansen, University of Tromsø, has generously shared his knowledge about Sami history over the years, and duly deserves my gratitude. Literature Cited Amundsen, C. 2004. Farming and maritime resources at Miðbær on Flatey in Breiðafjord, northwest Iceland. Pp. 203–210, In R. Housley and G.M. Coles (Eds.). Atlantic Connections and Adaptations: Economics, Environments, and Subsistence in Lands Bordering the North Atlantic. Oxbow, Oxford, UK. Amundsen, C., S. Perdikaris, T.H. McGovern, Y. Krivogorskaya, M. Brown, K. Smiarowski, S. Storm, S. Modugno, M. Frik, and M. Koczela. 2005. Fishing booths and fishing strategies in Medieval Iceland: An archaeofauna from the of Akurvík, northwest Iceland. Environmental Archaeology 10(2):141–198. Avdusin, D.A. 1970. Material culture in the towns of ancient Rus. Pp. 95–106, In K. Hannestad (Ed.). Varangian Problems: Report on the First International Symposium on the Theme “The Eastern Connections of the Nordic peoples in the Viking Period and the Early Middle Ages”, Moesgaard, University of Aarhus, 7th – 11th October 1968. Scando-Slavica, Supplementum 1. Munksgaard, Copenhagen, Denmark. Bagge, S. 1989. State building in Medieval Norway. The origin of the state. Pp. 129–146, In Forum for utviklingsstudier. NUPI (Norwegian Institute of International Affairs and Norwegian Association for Development) no. 2 1989. Oslo, Norway. Bagge, S., S. Holstad Smedsdal, and K. Helle. 1973. Norske Middelalder dokumenter i utvalg. 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Lincoln, UK. Brisbane, M., and D. Gaimster (Eds.). 2001. Novgorod: The archaeology of a Russian medieval city and its hinterland. The British Museum Occasional Paper Number 411. London, UK. (KLNM vol. 4:366–372). There are no indications that the Norse Greenlanders were ever subject to a similar policy. Compared to Scandinavia proper, the development of trade in the North Atlantic demonstrates a delay. The Greenland tusk trade became a dinosaur, and since the Greenlanders had no more ships than the Icelanders, they became hostages to foreign merchants who had no obligation to (and were not even allowed to) trade in Greenland. It is no coincidence that Norway stagnated politically and economically more or less at the same time as Greenland. There were political reasons for this coincidental downturn: there was the Black Death and the economic collapse which followed, there was the issue of Danish vs. Norwegian regents, and there was the change in trade patterns and the coming of the Hanse. Still, the bottom line is that research on the Norse world has suffered from national compartmentalization; if each country stuck to its “own” history, everybody would be happy. But today’s world is one of globalized economy, geopolitical issues, and global environmental problems. History is getting globalized, too, and the old national narratives do not have the explanatory capacity to answer the basic question: how did we get into the situation we are in now? It is very simple, really: to understand Norse Greenland, we must understand the economy and culture of medieval Europe. Norse Greenlanders were not freaks, nor were they larger-than-life explorers; they acted within the economic and mental framework of their fellow Europeans. And their behavior towards indigenous people at the edge of the world was, after all, not that different from ours. Acknowledgments Many scholars have influenced and inspired this paper. First of all, Anne Stalsberg of the Museum of Natural History and Archaeology, NTNU (University of Science and Technology, Trondheim) deserves great thanks for her never-ending support, and for being a mine of information about the Norse in Eastern Europe. Great thanks are also due to friends and members of the North Atlantic Biocultural Organization (NABO) cooperative: in particular, Thomas H. McGovern, Hunter College, CUNY, Sophia Perdikaris, Brooklyn College, CUNY, Orri Vésteinsson, University of Iceland, and Andrew J. Dugmore, Edinburgh School of Geoscience, for being inspirational discussion partners and for constantly supplying new data. Perdikaris’ and McGovern’s 2007, 2008a, 2008b works are directly relevant to the present paper. Kirsten A. 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There is a good chance that the price of the walrus tusks increased tremendously on their way across the North Atlantic. Still, the examples give an indication of the value of tusks in Europe. 2010 C. Keller 23 5In comparison, the near contemporary Skuldelev 1 was a fully fledged, ocean-going cargo ship with a length of 16 meters, i.e., only 2 meters more than Skuldelev 3, but with an estimated cargo capacity of ca. 36 tons (Crumlin-Pedersen and Olsen 2002:97–140, in particular 136–137). 6The region around the Trondheims Fjord and the city of Trondheim (medieval Nidarós). 7Lee Hollander translates Ohthere’s Biarmas and Biarmaland with Permia and Permians in the English version of the text (Hollander 1999:140), suggesting a link with the fur trade network in the Perm and Bulgar region, much further east (see section 4, below). Sawyer (1987:121) references Vilkuna (1956), who explains that the Finnish word perm indicates a travelling merchant. 8Skáli = Norse traditional long-house. 9Pieces of silver jewelry or coins cut into small bits, often corresponding to local weight units of the time, see Hårdh (1996) for regional distribution. 10The regional law of the Trøndelag, the area around the Trondheim Fjord in mid-Norway. 11In the present-day town of Vardø, not far from the present- day Russian-Norwegian border.