Thursday, 23 September 2010

Ragnarok "and axe age, a sword age"

Ragnarok, the doom of the Gods, "the final destiny of the gods" if we listen to the probable translation of the term, a series of future events in where the gods were destined to be defeated and killed. The event is mainly narrated in two fundamental texts of the Norse mythology, the Poetic Edda compiled somewhere during the 13th century and the Prose Edda, compiled by Icelandic scholar Snorri Sturluson around the same time and both containing several references to Ragnarok

Brothers will fight
and kill each other,
sisters' children
will defile kinship.
It is harsh in the world,
whoredom rife

an axe age, a sword age (and the sun rises)

—shields are riven—
a wind age, a wolf age—
before the world goes headlong.
No man will have
mercy on another. . .

Brœðr muno beriaz
ok at bǫnom verða[z]
muno systrungar
sifiom spilla.
Hart er í heimi,
hórdómr mikill
—skeggǫld, skálmǫld
—skildir ro klofnir—
vindǫld, vargǫld—
áðr verǫld steypiz.
Mun engi maðr
ǫðrom þyrma



Odin riding to battle, on his mighty horse Sleipnir
(Tjängvide Stone, Sweden)

The evil Wolf Fenrir bounded, prior to the beginning of the Ragnarok, according to the Icelandic manuscript AM 738, Árni Magnússon Institute, Iceland

The Deeds.

After a terrible winter lasting three years, a period marked by terrible battles and wars through the whole world, a final battle would be fought between the gods and the giants on the Vigrid Plain. On the side of Odin and the gods were the "glorious dead" who has fallen in battle across the ages and that were taken to dwell the Valhalla, while with the fire God Loki and the giants fought the souls from "Hel", those who had dead on an unworthy way, as well as the fearsome wolf Fenrir and the sea serpent Jormungand.

Although Odin was aware of the events and final fate of the gods after the Ragnarok, there was nothing that he, as chief of the Aesir and Vanir, could do to prevent the catastrophe. His only consolation being the foreknowledge that Ragnarok was not the end of the Universe.

When the battle was about to begin, the god Heimdall blowed deeply his horn, as the sign that the final battle was about to start. Odin, wearing a gold helmet, carried his magical spear Gungnir, while Thor brought with him his mighty hammer Mjöllnir.

The Vanir God Freyr,ilustration by Johannes Gehrts

Heimdall guarding the Valhalla, on an Icelandic manuscript from the XVII century
Then, acording to the narration, the gods and the army of death warriors began to engage with the invaders. The battle was a fierce one. The terrible Fenrir, whose eyes and nostrils splited fire, swallowed the sun and the moon, the stars of the sky disappeared and the earth and mountains shaked on a violent way. Soon after, Odin was swallowed alive by the terrible wolf Fenrir, the terrible beast that at the same time was killed by Odin´s son Vidar. Meanwhile, Thor was fighting desperately against the terrible serpent Jormungand, to whom he managed to defeat, but at the cost of his own life.

After Odin had been killed by Fenrir, Thor overcame by Jormungand and most of the other gods had died in the mutual destructive battle with the giants, a new world was destined to "rise again,,fair and green.."

Before the battle two humans, Lif and Lifthrasir, had taken shelter in the sacred tree Yggdrasil and they emerged,,repopulating the Earth. Some other gods also survived, among them Vidar and Vali, sons of Odin, Thor´s sons Modi and Magni and Balder, who was finally able to escape from death in the underworld, where he has been kept captive. 

According to the narrations, just after the terrible battle that brought with it the end of the world as it was until then, the Earth reappered from water and the surviving gods discussed about the terrible events that had just happened. The most of the events, according to the Eddas, are narrated by a magical being named "Völva", that after having narrated the events of the Ragnarok "sank down" for never to appear again.

Odin and the wise Völva, illustration by Lorenz Frölich

The Icelandic scholar Snorri Sturluson, author of the Prose Edda
Ilustration by Christian Krohg for an edition of "Heimskringla"

Thor is trying to hunt the terrible serpent Jormungand in the SAM66 manuscript. The Árni Magnússon Institute, Iceland.

Ragnarok held a great appeal for the Vikings, whose rides on Western Europe are still material for legend, specially for its fierce and extreme violence. As a matter of fact, it is not difficult to stablish a clear link between the nature of the Ragnarok and the very reallity of the age where the Vikings lived. "No one is free from fear" remarked Alcuin in the VIII century, in the years after the raid of Lindisfarne, "never before in Britain" lamented him "has such terror appeared as this we have now suffered at the hands of the pagans of the North" But for the Vikings, it was like that "axe age, sword age" described in the Ragnarok, and it is not impossible to believe that many, if not all of them, fought with even more strength and determination, knowing that Odin had an eye on them, looking after the bravest warrior, for later to be brought to Valhalla, in where they will be delighted by the Valkyries, while awaiting for the final battle to be fight.

Thor and the Serpent by Emile Doepler

All pictures courtesy of Wikicommons

Sunday, 29 August 2010


Skagen, more than just a picturesque destination, was also the center of a particulat artistic movement that found on its characteristic light and landscapes the source of their inspiration and founded what later became to be known as the group of Skagen Painters (Skagensmalerne). Because of its Geographic location right in the Northernmost point of the Jutland Peninsula, Skagen was along the years a very remote and sparsely populated place, visited and inhabited almost exclusively by fishermen. Nevertheless the waters that surrounds Skagen have been always everything but calm, as this is the place where the Baltic and the North Sea meets, giving the place its very untamed athmosphere that captivate many people´s heart.

Nowadays, the place has become a quite picturesque one, and a favorite destination for visitors either from Denmark as well as from abroad. The combination of a wild landscape and cozy little colorful houses creates the magical postcards that first caught the atention of the founders of the Skagen artistic fellowship. Desertification, which was once a trouble, has been the origin of an unsurpassable Dune ecosystem that shelters several bird species. By far, the most atractive part when it comes towild environment is Grenen, the Northernmost point both of Skagen and Denmark, where the Skagerrak and Kattegat straits meet, creating a very turbulent sea zone that has seen not a little number of shipwrecks. Thus, Grenen has been the site where many lighthouses have been built since centuries ago, and evennowadays,,a lighthouse from the 1850´s still stands being a main touristic atraction and a memorial of the Skagen´s sea heritage.

The Råbjerg Mile

A huge dune with an area of ca. 1 km² and more than 4 million m³ of sand, The Råbjerg Mile is the largest moving dune in Northern Europe, that use to be moved by the wind several meters per year. Although this dune has less than 300 years of existance, the presence of several giant dunes like this was a problem for the local population in ancient times, producing desertification of the few inhabitable areas available. The desertification of the area which achieved its peak during the XVIII and XIX centuries indeed led to the abandonment of several houses and cabins, and also, the abandonment of the old church that was finally covered by the sand. This church "Den tilsandende Kirke" or "The Buried Church" still remain on its old location, only its tower protruding from the sand. In 1857 the Danish government began several actions in order to prevent the unstoppable movement of the dunes, like planting grass and conifer fields. It took almost a century to finally get into control the dunes. Nevertheless, it was decided to let the Råbjerg Mile to remain because of its scientific importance and because is an important ecosytem that shelters several bird species.

The rests of the old Church still remains,,under the unstoppable sand of the Dunes.

The original population of Skagen, fishermen and their tough life portraited in  Michael Ancher ´s"Vil han klare pynten" that was bought by the very king of Denmark.

The Skagen Painters.

But maybe the reason because Skagen is best renowned, is due of the group of artists that settled there from the late 1870´s until the beginning of the XX century and that were later known as the "Skagen Painters", that included some other artist besides from painters, like the Danish composer Carl Nielsen and the writer Henrik Pontopiddan. But it was definetively the name of Michael Ancher the one who remained definetively linked to the place.

Michael Ancher was an Art student in Copenhaguen that was looking for a source of inspiration diferent to that available in the Danish capital. Highly influenced by the Realist movement that was the trend during those days, Ancher went to Skagen to paint the local fishermen and their way of life. Almost inmediately, he became friend of the Brøndom family, who owned an managed a local Cafe and a sort of Guest House. Falling in love with the place, Ancher returned the following year, along with his friends Karl Madsen and Viggo Johansen who were also painters. They began to develop an style that was a certain mixture of impressionism and realism, that in the landscape of Skagen had a never ending source of subjects worth to be portraited.

 Anna Ancher "Solskin i den blå stue"

Michael Ancher "To fiskere ved"

The following years, several other painters began to arrive to the place, trying to paint the characteristic light of the place. The Brøndom´s guest house became the meeting point for the artists, and the seeds for the born of the new movement were planted. Ancher definetively settled in Skagen and became engaged with Anna, the daughter of the owners of the Brøndom house, for finally getting married in 1880. The success for the artists finally arrived when just a few time after the Danish King Christian IX bought one of Ancher´s paintings. Soon, some other renowned artist from whole Scandinavia began to arrive to Skagen, including names like Oscar Björck, Carl Locher, Holger Drachmann and most notably the norwegian Christian Krohg and the danish painter Peder Severin Krøyer, who became some of the most remarkable representants of the Skagen style. Even Anna Ancher bcame a remarkable painter, highly influenced by all those artists who joined in her Guest House, mainly assimilating Christian Krohg´s style in the way of painting people and their everyday life. Indeed, Christian Krohg, who was already a famous painter, brought with him the latest international artistic trends, highly influencing the other members of the fellowship, but being also influenced as well by the environment of the picturesque place, achieving the peak and the most mature point of his artistic career.

 Michael Ancher "En Skagensfisker siddende i en jolle"

One of Krøyer´s archetypical paintings, that perfectly caughts the light an environment that prevails in Skagen "Sommeraften på Skagen Sønderstrand" 

Peder Severin Krøyer

The artist that became the “de facto” leader of the group and maybe the most representative member of the Skagen school, because of his colorful and vibrant paintings that perfectly happened to caught the light ant the athmosphere of the place, was this man of Norwegian- Danish origin, educated in the most prestigious art institutes of the time. Krøyer first arrived to the then remote village in 1882, after having met the Anchers in Vienna, bringing with him, like did Krohg, several influences from the Paris´ mainstream, as he was close related with the impressionist scene in the French capitol.

The artist began as well to develop closer ties between each other and with the rest of the community of Skagen (A painting by Krøyer “Hip, Hip, Hurra!!” perfectly depict the tight union between them) As mentioned before, Michael ancher married Anna Brøndum while Viggo Johansen married one of Anna´s cousins and Karl Madsen did the same with a local schoolteacher named Helen Christensen. The new house of the Anchers became the center of the artist community and was many years later the first see of the Skagen´s Museum, dedicated to the works of the group. Krøyer did the same and married Marie Triepcke and spent almost all of his time living in the small village until his death.

 Christian Krogh "Til Vaers"
Depicting the rude life of a sailor man.

Marie Krøyer, painted by his husband Peder.

 P S Krøyer "Selvportrait from 1897"

The magical times came to its end.

The arrive of the railway in 1890 brought with it the beginning of the end for the artistic community. With the new railway Skagen began to become a popular touristic atraction and the visitors began to crowd the previously peaceful village. It is stated that the artist found no more reason to stay as the Skagen they had originally known was slowly fading. Even so,,many of them kept the houses that had previously purchased, only to use them for short periods.

Krøyer´s health began to deteriorate and his relation with Marie ended in divorce in 1905. Krøyer died 4 years later, in Skagen, alone and after having suffered several mental disorders. Michael Ancher died in 1927 and Anna in 1935. In 1964, their daughter Helga, the little cheerful girl in the Hip, hip Hurra! painting, kept the house of her parents, until her death in 1964, when she left it to a foundation whose goal was to create a museum, the Skagen´s museum, dedicated to keep alive the memory of the happy and wonderful deeds that happened once in that remote and picturesque fishermen´s village, covered by dunes, in the last decades of the XIX century, in the Northernmost tip of Denmark.

The house of the Anchers, now the see of the Skagen Museum 

The famous painting, that caught like no other the magical moments of the artistic community. P.S. Krøyer "Hip, hip, hurra!" Only memories in canvas were left, from those extraordinary times.

All pics by Wikicommons

Sunday, 22 August 2010

A loooong break.....

After a huge summer break,,the Nordic Culture Spot is about to resume its activities. I must admit that summer isn´t my best time by far, and although i have been regular with the photoblog, it is also true that it don´t require the amount of inspiration and energy necessary for running this blog. Anyway, as the Autumn is just around the corner and the fresh winds of which is my favorite season are starting to be felt again,,i think it is just now the right time as well to take the Nordic spot out of its hibernation. I am preparing by the way, something about one of the must picturesque places in Denmark, that has been source of inspiration for artist since ages (and yes,a favorite destination for those summer tourists looking for a good tannning) that go there looking after its characteristic light and landscapes. I am talking about Skagen. Meanwhile, i am posting this delightful painting by P.S. Krøyer, maybe the painting that has better depicted that athmosphere unique from Skagen.

Wish you all the best!!

P.S. Krøyer "Sommeraften på Skagen Sønderstrand"  (Summer Evening on the Skagen Southern Beach)


Saturday, 10 July 2010

Stamford Bridge, the end of an Era.

On a certain way, the battle that took place on Stamford Bridge England on September 25 1066, could be considered as the historical deed that symbolize the end of the Viking Age. This was indeed the last important event in which Scandinavic armies were impplied in Western Europe, prior to the formation and later consolidation of the modern Nordic Nations and the last attempt by a Norse chieftain to spread his sphere of influence on the continent, in this case, in the British Islands.

The event that triggered the chain of struggles was the death of the English king Edward The Confessor in January 1066. Inmediately after his death, and with the vaccum of power, a group of contenders in Europe embraced the ambition of claiming for the empty throne, among them, Harald Sigurdarson "Hardradi" king of Norway. Bishop Adam of Bremen called him the Thunder of the North, it is true that Hardradi was always so determined to achive the power that was the reason of his nickname, that could be roughly translated as "Severe Ruler".

Edward the Confessor

Harald the "Hard Ruler"

Harald Hardradi was step brother of Olaf Haraldsson, the king of Norway that was killed in Stiklestad on 1030, and that later became Saint of the young Nation. Hardradi had been present at the battle, when he was just 15 years and managed to scape to Sweden. Soon, Hardradi became an adventurer and traveled to Russia and later even to the Bizantine Empire, where he enroled to the personal guard of the emperor. After having achieved fame and experience fighting as member of the Bizantine armies, Harald got back to Norway and after many years, and battles, he recovered the throne. Once achieving it, he put his eye in the West, Norway wasn´t enough for his ambitions.

Harald Hardradi. Illustration from "Heimskringla" 


After the death of Edward the Confessor, Harold Godwinson, personal advisor of the king, was proclaimed as the new king of England the following day. Hardradi received the news with joy, as he found the perfect opportunity for his ambitions. Hardradi quickly found some allies within England, such as Tostig Godwinson, brother of the recently named king, who had unsettled affairs with his elder brother. Hardradi, with all his experience achieved as a member of the Bizantine armies, began to make plans in the most complete secret, so quicly that the army for the invation was ready in the summer. In September, King Godwinson, surprised, received the terrible noticed that a huge Nordic army had arrived to Humber. Soon, Tostig and his mercenary troops joined this army, forming a body of over 9000 soldiers that began to devastate everything in front of them. On September 22nd, Hardradi stablished his camp in Stamford Bridge, thinking that Godwinson still didn´t know about his presence in England.

King Harold Godwinson

The desperated counterattack.

Unnoticed by Hardradi, the King Harold Godwinson had begun a desperated march toward the North, joining as much troops as possible for facing the Norwegian army. It is said that Godwinson was so hurried that he and his troops made the whole distance to Stamford Bridge in just four days, marching day and night over 185 miles. They new the surpirse factor was their only chance to defeat Hardradi.

The Norwegians still ignored the presence of the English army when they surprised them sleeping the morning of September 25. According to the legend, it was the sun light reflected on the englih armors what woke up the surprised and terrified Norwegian soldiers. Completely astonished, Hardradi tried to make a truce or achieve an agreement of any kind. He even promised not to fight if he received all of the Northern territories. King Godwinson ignored it all and fell over the unaware Norwegians with fierce, annhilating them. Norwegians were reinforced by the troops that were guarding the fleet, which came running, but it was so late. Hardradi was killed by an arrow and all of the invation army ran away to the ships trying to save their lives. The result of the battle was terrible. Of 300 ships of the Norwegian fleet, only 24 came back to Norway. The bones of the annihilated invaders remained on the meadows for generations.

The Battle of Stamford Bridge by Peter Nicolai Arbo 

William of Normandy, a 5th generation Viking.

The English army was joyful, until they received the notice King Godwinson was afraid of. Duke William of Normandy had arrived to Pevensey, in the southern coast of England, with the intention of conquer the country. A new desperated march to the south began for the exhausted troops.

William was born in 1027, descendant of the Viking Rollo who had received the territory of Normandy in 911. William had fought many times against the French, developing a powerful army that had no match in Europe. The dinasties of Normandy and England had a certain degree of familiar relation. In 1064, Harold Godwinson had visited Normandy, probably by accident after his ship was deflected by a storm. It is said that Godwinson was forced to swear loyalty to William. Anyway, when William knew that it was Godwinson the one who had inhereted the English throne, became so angry that he refused to talk and covered his face for days. Inmediately gave orders for the construction of an inmense fleet and all the necessary for an invation. Godwinson had to pay for his betrayal. Everything was ready in September 1066, around the same time when Hardradi was arriving to England. It is ironic to know that the same powerful wind that had pulled the Norwegian fleet to England, was the same that avoided William to cross the English channel and that kept his fleet stuck until September 27th, when Hardradi was already death in Stamford Bridge.


Godwinson´s army met the Normans on 14 October. The battle was fierce and everything was pointing to a new English victory, 2 huge victories in a couple of weeks. However, the tiredness within the English troops began to take its toll, and the powerful Norman cavalry crushed Godwinson´s army as well as his chances to win. The very king was killed by an arrow and the englsh resistance fell to pieces. By the Christmas day of the same year, William was crowned as the new king of England in the very Westminster Abbey, thus, achieving, as a 5th generation viking, what his antescesors had been fighting for generations. The effects of the Norwegian disaster and the Norman victory had huge consequences. The lost in Stamford Bridge was so serious that no other Nordic king made any attempt of conquer for generations. There were some other attempts later, but none of them with success. The viking tradition, that of fight, raid and conquer in Western Europe had died with Hardradi, and was finally buried when his son brought his body to Norway on 1067. The sphere of influence in Northern Europe has been relocated from Scandinavia to the countries in both sides of the English channel. It was time for the consolidation of the young Nordic States, where Christanianism and the European model of government began to set its roots, and the development of England as a superpower. The times of those pagan warriors of the North, looking for fame and fortune onboard of his light ships, had became to an end.

                                 William the Conqueror, a fragment from the Bayeux Tapestry

All pics by wikicommons

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

L´Anse Aux Meadows, Vikings in America?

A map showing where L'anse aux Meadows was located.

Ever since the very instant of the discovery of the New World, many theories, some of them quite absurd, began to be forged by the surprised Europeans that couldn´t believe that a whole continent had remained undiscovered for those many centuries. Among the many legends of people or cultures that had previously (that is, before colombus and Cabot) visited the American continent, featured that of the Norsemen, whose Sagas mentioned a faraway land, West from Greenland and that in the Nordic literary sources was known as "Vinland". Despite some suspicious maps and conspiracy theories, there weren´t any prove of Pre Columbian expeditions to America by people from the Old Continent.

L ' Anse aux Meadows

The Ingstads and Vinland.

In 1960, Norwegian researchers and explorers Helge and Anne Ingstad, leading a multi-national investigation, discovered the remains of a Village in the northernmost cape of Newfoundland, in Canada. The name of the place is "L´Anse aux Meadows". Later excavations and research proved that were the remains of a settlement dated back to approximately 1000 years ago and of clear Norse Origin, probably the colony stablished by the Norse Leif Eriksson around the year 1000 and that the Sagas name as Vinland.

The Saga of the Greenlanders and The Saga of Eric the Red, describe the event in which some Greenlanders attempted to stablish a colony in a land west of Greenland. It is not clear what do the name "Vinland" really means, but some argue it could be interpreted as "Wine Land" or "Land of Meadows" being the first one highly disputed. The Saga of the Greenlanders mentions a man named Bjarni Herjolfsson that discovered Vinland by accident when on sail from Norway to Greenland. Some years later, Leif Eriksson, son of Eric the Red, founder of the Greenland Norse settlements, recalled Bjarni tales about a Land far to the West and decided to organize an expedition for searching the mentioned land.

"The Discover of America by Leif Eriksson" by Christian Krohg

After a few days of sailing to the West, Leif expedition discovered a long coastshore line and decided to follow it. The first part of the land discovered was a flat pebbled territory that the explorers baptized as "Helluland", followed by a territory covered by deep forests that received the name of "Markland". After sailing some other days, the expedition finally arrived to an island and stablished a settlement, probabily that of the L' Anse aux Meadows. Leif returned to Greenland and many other expeditions were sent later. But when even the colonies in Greenland disappeared during the period known as the little Ice Age, nothing more was mentioned about Vinland, excepet from some comments and maps made during the Middle Ages, in where Vinland and Greenland were considered as an extension of Russia.                                      

 Abraham Ortelius´ Septentrionalium Regionum

The Skálholt Map
Identification of Vinland as America.

In the XVI century, some Icelandic and Norse scholars began to believe that the recently discovered continent, America, could be what the Sagas described as Vinland. Around 1580, a map known as the "Skálholt Map" and drawn in Iceland, shows a territory more or less at the same latitude of Ireland and far West just on the other side of the Atlantic Sea. The Map shows the territories visited by Eriksson more or less at the same place where modern Baffin Island and Labrador are located.

Ever since, the idea of finding the place where the Norse settlement in America was located grew in the mind of many researchers. But it was only until the discovering of L' Anse aux Meadows that the presence of Europeans, in this case, Norsemen, could be proved conclusively.

But although it is nowadays widely accepted that the settlement in Newfoundland was of Norse origin, the southernmost limit of the Nordic explorations in America is subject of intense debate. Some scholars still want to see a reference to Grapes in the name Vinland, so, they suggest Norse explorers should have reached southern lattitudes. Theories embraces all kind of ideas from the highly plausible to the funny ones, in the most Dan Brown´s style, including one that states that Norsemen could have visited Central America and thus, be the foreign visitors some native cultures mention and considered to be the God "Quetzalcoatl.

The "Vinland" map.

But by far, the most argued and polemic object related to Vinland is the so called "Vinland Map", which claims to be a map from the XV century in where the territory of Vinland is depicted west from Greenland. The map was presented to the world in 1965 and was inmediately questioned by experts, who discovered several of contradictions and anachronism within it. Even the British Museum refused to bought it when first offered to the institution, because its experts considered it a complete hoax because of its evident mistakes when compared with contemporary maps. Even the ink was proved to be made in the XX century. Even so, many people still state, and try to prove, that the map is authentic. With map or not, the visit of Norse explorers to America 500 years prior to Columbus expedition has been proved and it is out of question, but such stuff like the Vinland Map definetively gives some color and folklore to the subject.

The polemic "Vinland Map". Experts claim that Greenland was not known to be an island but until the XX century.  

All pics by wikicommons

Friday, 11 June 2010

Ultima Thule

For us, people who were born in the XX century, geographic milestones represents not a huge special interest. The human kind imagination is no longer interested in the vasts white extensions of the poles, neither the deserts or the high peaks. However, there was a remote time when the men was no aware of the existance of many places that today are known even for an elementary school children.

Thule, the farthest north land, plenty of terrible dangers, monsters and unexplainable natural phenomenons, as it was depicted in the imagination of the ancient civilizations. Even when many seriously doubt about the veracity of his deeds, and even if he really ever managed to cross the Artic Circle, it may be considered as the first explorer of the North latitudes in the history of Western civilization to a greek man named Pytheas, who left Massilia, (actual Marseille) somewhere around the year 325 BC and sailed beyond the Hercules Columns.

"The Northern Land" by Victor Vasnetsov. 1899

According to his narrations, he put sail to the North after having left behind Gibraltar and arrived to England and Scottland. Later he sailed furthermore up to the North and after many days he finally arrived to a mysterious place that he named "Ultima Thule".

On his notes, Pytheas wrote that the inhabitants of Ultima Thule were skillfull beekeepers and several other wonders, for instance that in Summer the nights were just 2 or 3 hours long and that from Scottland it took only 5 or 6 days to arrive to Thule. Many contemporary and later authors rejected his statements, or took them with scepticism, among them Polybius and Strabon.

 But what it was "Ultima Thule", the most remote land?? In 825, the Irish monk Dicuil wrote that several Irish monks had discovered a huge island in the farthest west of the Atlantic Sea. It is known that such place is the current Iceland, and Dicuil named it Thule, stating that it was the land Pytheas had arrived many centuries earlier. Another scholar from the 6th century, Procopius, mention Thule as being an Island in the North, inhabited by some 25 tribes. Modern researchers says Procopius was really describing Scandinavia.

Dr. Fridtjof Nansen

Ever since, it has been discussed what was for real the place Pytheas visited. Along the Middle Ages, many European researches gave their own location for Thule, the Orkney Island, the Feroes, Iceland and even some island in the Baltic Sea.

But during the XX century, the famous and reknown Norwegian explorer Dr. Fridtjof Nansen had serious reasons for doubt that Pythea´s Thule was indeed Iceland. After having made a serious and careful research, Nansen stated and proved that Pytheas arrived to Norway, moreover, to the zone where the modern city of Trondheim is located. People became disappointed to know that Ultima Thule was nothing but a place just in the middle of Norway and many refused to accept Nansen´s straight and forceful theories. But even had him arrived to Iceland, or "just" to Norway, Pytheas journey was a milestone in history, since it represents the first expedition to the North by a person able to came back alive and write about it. And of course, he left a subject that would be source of polemics, legends, charads, art, argues and imagination for the centuries to come.  

All pics by wikicommons 

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

The Age of Settlement

"Ingólfur founds Reykjavik" by Johan Peter Raadsig

Unsettled until the IX century, the settlement of Iceland by Norse migrants arriving from Scandinavia began with very little and shy attempts by intrepid adventurers which spent some months in the rough and solitary territory for later to get back to their countries. A source of controversy among scholars is the claim found in Ari Thorgilsson´s "Islendingabók" about the presence of some monks of probable Gaelic origin already dwelling in Iceland at the time when the first settlers began to arrive, and known and described by the word "Papar". Nevertheless, archaeologists have not been able to find any evidence that could prove the existance of such individuals. Even so, the Islendingabók as well as the "Landnámabók" (both documents beig of a medieval origin) are the only sources available when it comes to try to understand and know about the first years of the settlement. Landnámabók even lists the name of the first 435 settlers, something that not that much countries can presume about.

Olaus Petri´s "Carta Marina" depicting "Thule" whose waters were surrounded by terrible monsters.

Except from the dark mention of the Monks, it can be assumed that Iceland was a completely unsettled land until the arrive of the Norse inmigrants. The period between the arrive of the first ettlers until the foundation of some institutions like the Thingvellir that would led to the origin of the future Iceland is thus named and known as the "Age of Settlement" in the history of Iceland.

If we assume Landnámabók as a reliable source, then the first man ever who visited Iceland was a viking named "Naddoddr" who spent just a short time in there but that gave a name to the territory: "Snæland" . Just a little time afterwards, the Swede Garðar Svavarsson was the first man to stay over a winter in Iceland and the first in circumnavigating the country. Later during the IX century, Flóki Vilgerðarson sailed to Iceland in order to settle himself in the virgin territory. He left from Norway arrived to the Faroe Islands, where, according to the legend, three ravens helped him in find his way to Iceland. Flóki landed in Iceland and noticed it was a very rough and cold territory that would be quite difficult to settle in. It is claimed that he was the one who gave the country its name “Island” as most of the surface was covered by ice. It is true that Flóki returned to Norway very disappointed, but it is considered to be the first man that deliberately attempted to dwell for good in the Island.

When watching the icy landscape that covers a big surface of Iceland is quite easy to understand why Flóki chose the name for the Future country, "The Land of Ice"

Ingólfur Arnarson

Landnámabók claims Ingólfur to be the first permanent settler of Nordic origin in Iceland. According to this source, he left Norway after being involved in some troubles with rival families. He knew about the land described by Svavarsson and Flóki and sailed with the intention to built a settlement. The legend claims that when he saw land, he threw some logs into the sea and promised to settle where they were brought ashore. After 3 years, the logs were found in a small bay that later would be the city of Reykjavik (roughly translated as “Bay of Smoke” perhaps because of the presence of hot springs) This deed marked the beginning of the Age of the Settlement.

Just after Ingólfur´s succesfull settlement, many other Norsemen followed him, so all the useful land had been taken in just a period of 60 years. Many theories have been exposed for explaining such an explosive migration but the most widely accepted is that which claims that the difficult conditions during the reign of King Harald Fair-Haired, a period of civil strife and scarcity, prompted many farmers and their families to left the territory of the modern Norway looking for a new life in the new country. Soon some inhabitants of the Faroe Islands joined the trend. The Landnámabók mention the name and location of 1500 farms and the owners. According to scholars, the estimated population of Iceland during the Age of Settlement could be of ca. 20000 people. As mentioned earlier, for academic and historical purpouse, the Age of Settlement is considerd to have come to an end by the year 930, when the first Althing was founded, and almost all of the territory had been occupied by the inmigrants. Just a century after the first attempts by some bold adventurers, the founds for the raising of a new nation had been stablished, however, Iceland got to wait until the XX century for finally claim its full sovereignity and independence after centuries of Norwegian and later, Danish dominion.

"The Althing" by W.G. Collingwood

All pics by wikicommons

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