When Did the Vikings Reach America?
The Vikings discovered America about the year 1000, more than four centuries before Christopher Columbus was born. They were sea adventurers from Scandinavia who left their homes in search of conquest and plunder. Booty was their prize and the defenseless monasteries that thrived in splendid isolation on desolate shore line’s often their target.
The raiders used savage hit-and-run tactics. They would attack their victim, pillage as much treasure as possible and then demand a ransom to insure that they would not return again – a promise that was invariably broken. By the 10th century these raids had become a seasonal event and the Vikings feared as the “Scourge of Europe.”
Over time, the raiders settled in, rather than plundered some of the territories they visited such as Iceland, Ireland (where they founded the city of Dublin), Normandy in France (its name referring to the land of the “Norsemen”) and central Russia (its name derived from the Nordic term Rothsmenn, meaning seafarer and shortened to “Rus”).
The Viking’s reliance on the sea as their avenue of attack and escape motivated them to develop seaworthy ships and reliable navigational techniques with which they could travel vast distances over open water. These advantages enabled them to travel the cold, treacherous ocean to the west and reach the shore of America almost five hundred years before Columbus.
Information about the Viking discoveries comes from two sagas, or narrative ballads, the Saga of Eric the Red and the Saga of the Greenlanders. These differ considerably, but it seems possible that Bjarni Herjolfsson discovered North America in 986, when driven off course on a voyage from Iceland to Greenland. About 1000, Leif Ericsson sailed west from Greenland and gave the names Helluland, Markland and Vinland to sections of the American coast as he moved south.
The so-called Vinland Map, discovered and published in 1965, dated from 1431-1449 and supports the theory that Herjolfsson originally discovered America. In 1961, a Viking-style settlement was discovered at L’Anse au Meadow, Newfoundland. The Vinland Map itself is now held by some experts to be a clever fake.