Joseph Fischer.

The discoveries of the Norsemen in America : with special relation to their early cartographical representation online

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The discoveries of
the Norsemen in America

Joseph Fischer, Basil Harrington Soulsby

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Title-page of the Wolfegg Ptolemy Manuscript.

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Professor of Geography Jesuit College Feldkirch Austria

Sronslatell from tire iBermatt
By basil H. SOULSBY B.A,

Superintendent of the Map Room British Museum
Hon. Sec. of the Hakluyt Society

St. LOUIS. Mo.
B. HERDER 17 South Broadway




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Bibliographia, quasi stillae de arbore

scientiae manantes collectae et

ad conservandum asportatae.

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HE " Antiquitates Americanae,*' that epoch-
making work by Carl Chr. Rafn (1837),
has now for over sixty years enjoyed a
decided influence in the answer to the
question — " What did the Norsemen dis-
cover in America?"
Rafn seemed to have a complete mastery of all the
Norse literature bearing on the subject, and it is quite
intelligible that many peculiar dicta should have been
accepted, merely on his authority, though subsequent in-
vestigations have proved them unsound. The followers of
Rafn were numerous and uncritical, and went much further
than their master. Some of the arguments, which he
employed merely as a secondary support to his theories,
were twisted by them and described as incontestable and
indisputable evidence.^ Such a breach of all laws of criticism
did not fail to arouse a storm of opposition. The pseudo-
authority claimed for the alleged Runic inscription on the
Dighton Rock drove Bancroft into an exaggerated opposition
of cynical scepticism, or, rather, total disbelief in the dis-
covery of America by the Norsemen.^ Since the time of
Bancroft there has been a large party of almost too eager
partisans of Rafn, as well as a strong opposition, of whom
Justin Winsor has been the most distinguished leader.^

{\) cf. Soph us Ruge, "Z?/> Weinlandsfahrten^^ p. 9.

(2) cf, E. Loeffler, " The Vineland- Excursions'^ 1884, p. 73, n. 22.
G. Bancroft, " History of the United States'' vol. I. c. i.

(3) J- Winsor, ^^ History of America'^ I. 66, sqq., 87; II. 33.
There is also a characteristic cut in the illustrated description of the
historical collection in the World's Fair at Chicago, according to which
the claim of the Normans to have discovered America " rests entirely

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In Germany, France and England, the experts were as
diametrically opposed as in America. It required a Heinrici
to out-Herod Horsford's wildest claims, in the literary
supplement to the Allgemeine Zeitung (Munich), of April 12,
1892, and yet even Bancroft finds a rival for scepticism in
Professor Gelcich, when he writes : " News had reached
Iceland that in the south or south-west, it was not quite
certain which, was situated a Vine-land (Spain !}, where the
sailor passed by wondrous cliffs (Fingal's Cave!), and in
Ireland white-robed priests led processions with banners
flying, etc.y etc. This was all jumbled up in a l^end dating
from voyages to Helluland and Wineland." ^

Such were the conflicting views eight years ago, when
Hofrath Dr. von Wieser induced the author to make further
inquiry into the discoveries of the Norsemen in America.

The author undertook the task with considerable reluc-
tance, but he found such material assistance in the learned
works of G. Storm and A. M. Reeves, that only one year
had elapsed before Dr. von Wieser considered the result
worth printing. But then so many questions arose, espec-
ially as to the maps of the Norsemen's discoveries, which
necessitated a thorough examination of ancient archives,
that I deferred publication year after year, and, perhaps,
should never have come to publication, had not Dr. von
Wieser spurred me on by providing me with the newest
literature on the subject, and by. opening to me all the store
of his library, as rich in geography as in history. The
author would here express his deep sense of gratitude, not
only to his highly esteemed patron and master. Dr. von
Wieser, but also to Professor Dr. Gustav Storm, of Christiana,
whose courtesy in answering all questions was only equalled
by his kindness in presenting to the author his works, both
large and small, which were those of a giant and pioneer
in research. In the translation of the Scandinavian works
of Storm and J6nsson Finnur, etc.^ I am much indebted to
my colleague in the Society of Jesus, Father H. Klene. I

upon tradition, poetic legends, and some slight circumstantial evidence."
W. Curtis : " The Relics of Columbus^ Souvenir of La Rabida^ WorhPs
Columbian Exposition, an Illustrated description of the historical col-
lection^^ {Washington, 1893), p. 7.
(i) Gelcich, Materialien, p. 104,

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must not forget to mention the esteemed librarian of the
Vatican, Father Francis Ehrle, S.J., who took so much
interest in my researches and assisted me both verbally
and by letter. It is to him that I owe the four important
maps of Greenland {Plates L to IV) from the two hitherto
unknown Vatican Ptolemy MSS., by Donnus Nicolaus
Germanus. I must also thank Father H. Hafner, S.J., who
kindly consented to search for Ptolemy MSS. in Wolfegg
Castle, belonging to Prince Waldburg-Wolfi^g, and was
fortunate enough to discover a valuable MS. by Donnus
Nicolaus Germanus, whose maps of Greenland [Plates V.
and VL) corresponded to those of the Ulm editions of
Ptolemy of 1482 and i486. I paid a visit to Wolfegg Castle
to determine the relation between the Wolfegg MS. and the
printed Ulm editions. I met with the best possible reception.
I was able to identify the Wolfegg MS. as the prototype of
the Ulm editions. Last, but not least, came a most im-
portant discovery: the long lost large World Map and
"Carta Marina" of the cartographer, Martin Waldseemiiller
(Ilacomilus), 1507 and 15 16, covering some 24 large folio
sheets. This lucky discovery was remarkable, if only for its
bearing on the maps of the discoveries made by the Norse
men (Plates VII, and VIII) y as well as on their relation
to the later discoveries of Columbus and his successors.
It has still greater consequences as regards the repre-
sentation of the discoveries of Columbus and Amerigo
Vespucci. The long lost first map of America of 1 507 has
at last been unearthed, and with the equally important
"Carta Marina" of 15 16, helps to mark an epoch in carto-
graphy, which will be more apparent when these two maps
are reproduced in facsimile.

The author and his co-workers. Father A. Manganotti,
S.J., of Modena, and Father Joseph Richard, S.J., of Nancy,
are greatly indebted for the elucidation of many knotty
points to the librarians and archivists of the libraries of
Brussels, Florence, Innsbruck, Modena, Munich, Nancy, Paris,
Rome, and Wolfegg.

Where I have formed my conclusions on the basis of the
researches of G. Storm, A. M. Reeves, D. Bruun, J6nsson
Finnur, Baron A. E. Nordenskiold, etc,^ I have endeavoured

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to refer to original authorities, and to bring forward fresh
arguments to support accepted conclusions. It has also
been my aim to make more accessible to general circles the
discoveries of Scandinavian savants, — discoveries not so
widely known in Germany as they deserve — e,g, the re-
markable excavations in Greenland, of the highest value to
ethnography (cf. Plates IX. mid X,, for permission to repro-
duce which I am indebted to " The Danish Commission on
Reseslrch in Greenland.")

As for my laborious researches into the personality and
the works of my countryman, Donnus Nicolaus Germanus,
I hope I may inspire others to inquire further into the life
of this eminent cartographer.

The Author.

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Preface -. - -.. v

Bibliography - - - - xi

Chapter I. The earliest accounts (nth and 12th centuries)

of the discoveries of the Norsemen in America - - i

Chapter 11. More detailed accounts (13th and 14th cen-
turies) of the discovery of the Norsemen in America - 1 1
Chapter III. The development of the Norse colony in

Greenland - - - - - - 20

Chapter IV. The latest authenticated account of the fate of

the Norse colonies in America - - - - 41

Chapter V. Description and representation of the discoveries
of the Norsemen in America. The Cosmographers,
Claudius Clavus, Donnus Nicolaus Germanus, and
Martin AValdseemiiller - - - - - 56

Appendices - - - - - - - 108

Index - - - - - - - 124

Colophon - - - - - - - 131

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Title-page of the Wolfegg Ptolemy Manuscript.


I. Greenland on the Map of the World by Donnus Nicolaus
Germanus (after 1466).

II. Greenland on the Map of the Northern Regions by Donnus

Nicolaus Germanus (after 1466).

III. Greenland on the Map of the World by Donnus Nicolaus

Germanus (about 1474).

IV. Greenland on the Map of the Northern Regions by Donnus

Nicolaus Germanus (about 1474).

V. Map of the World by Donnus Nicolaus Germanus showing

Greenland (before 1482).

VI. Greenland on the Map of the Northern Regions by Donnus

Nicolaus Germanus (before 1482).

VII. Second sheet of Waldseemiiller's Map of the World, 1507,

showing Greenland {a) on the inset map ; (d) on the main

VIII. Greenland on Waldseemiiller's " Carta Marina,^* 15 16.

IX. Eastern Settlement of the Norsemen in S.W. Greenland.

X. Western Settlement of the Norsemen in W. Greenland.

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