Men And The Sea

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The Polynesians have no written history. The vast majority of what we know today about the Polynesian culture has been passed down through an oral history of legends, songs, and ritual ceremonies.

Double Polynesian voyaging canoe

In the mid to late 1960s, scholars began testing the sailing and paddling lore related to Polynesian navigation: David Lewis sailed his catamaran from Tahiti to New Zealand using stellar navigation without instruments. Meanwhile, Micronesian ethnographic research in the Caroline Islands revealed that traditional stellar navigational methods were still in every day use. Recent re-creations of Polynesian voyaging have used methods based largely on Micronesian methods and the teachings of a Micronesian navigator, Mau Piailug.

It is probable that the Polynesian navigators employed a whole range of techniques including use of the stars, the movement of ocean currents and wave patterns, the air and sea interference patterns caused by islands and atolls, the flight of migrating birds, the winds and the weather. Scientists think that long-distance Polynesian voyaging followed the seasonal paths of birds. There are some references in their oral traditions to the flight of birds.

Modern Replica of double Polynesian voyaging canoe, “The Hokulea”

Launched in 1975, this replica of an ancient Polynesian voyaging canoe has logged more than 100,000 miles on voyages between Hawaii and the South Pacific and within the Hawaiian Islands. The longest voyage was a Pan-Polynesia campaign in which it was sailed from Hawaii to Tahiti, the Cook Islands, and New Zealand; returning by way of Tonga, Samoa, the Cook Islands, Tahiti, and the Tuamotu Islands — more than 16,000 miles. Almost all navigation was done without instruments, by using ancient methods.

The name Hokulea (star of gladness) is Hawaiian for the star Arcturus, which was useful for ancient navigators because it makes its zenith passage directly over Hawaii. The artist, Herb Kane was co-founder of the Polynesian Voyaging Society, principal designer and first captain of Hokulea.

The Malayo-Polynesian languages, sometimes also called Austronesian languages, are a family of languages estimated at from 300 to 500 tongues and understood by approximately 300 million people… a Maylao-Polynesian is spoken in Madagascar, in the far western Indian Ocean off the Southeast coast of Africa, indicating that the Polynesians and their ancestors ranged as far west as Africa (and may well have originated there), and as far east as South America; the Malay Peninsula; Indonesia and New Guinea; the Philippines; Taiwan (8,000 years ago, a people genetically related to the present day Taiwanese aborigines, populated the western coast of North America); the Melanesian , Micronesian, and Polynesian islands; and New Zealand. Today four Malayo-Polynesian languages have official status in four important states: Malagasy in Madagascar; Malay in Malaysia; Indonesian in Indonesia; and Pilipino (based on Tagalog) in the Philippines.

Early Polynesian Islanders used body art to express social and political standing. Clothing was minimal, and natural dyes were used to paint and tattoo the skin. Polynesian tattooing is considered the most intricate and skillful tattooing of the ancient world. Polynesian peoples, believe that a person’s mana, their spiritual power or life force, is displayed through their tattoos. Elaborate geometrical designs which were often added to, renewed, and embellished throughout the life of the individual until they covered the entire body.




Trade Winds of the Indian Ocean

The secret of sailing the Indian Ocean, has always been knowledge of the “Trade Winds”. These are winds that blow steadily in one direction for six months when the northern hemisphere tilts towards the sun, then reverse and blow in the opposite direction for six months when the northern hemisphere tilts away from the sun. The trade winds blow southwest in winter, and northeast in summer. These are the winds that bring the monsoon rains off the Indian Ocean onto the land, then reverse and take the rains back out to sea. The port of Aden on the south west corner of the Arabian Peninsula is a large volcanic crater with a gap on one side that is open to the sea. Since prehistoric times small boats have gathered here for shelter as they waited for the wind to change directions, so that they could set sail for India and southeast Asia. Any boat or raft that sets sail from Aden (or the east African coast) when the wind changes (or is blown to sea accidentally by a storm) will be carried to India (or the islands of southeast Asia). With a little knowledge it is not difficult to steer a boat to any desired destination… Even the most primitive boats or rafts could make the journey, so long as the people aboard had food and water. Even stone age fishermen could have made the journey carrying coconuts for food and water, or lived off the sea eating raw fish and catching rainwater. The trade winds of the Indian Ocean are the most ancient sea routes used by man.



The tribal people of southwest Arabia, living in the Arabian Desert, took to sailing ships. The speed at which they did this might be considered remarkable, if it were not for the fact that navigating in a featureless desert is very similar to navigating on a featureless ocean. Therefore, before the people of Saba became seamen they were already knowledgeable in navigation skills.

According to Arab history, the people of Saba are descended from a man named “Qahtan”, who was a fourth generation descendant of Noah (called Joctan in the Bible, born : circa 2267 BC)… He is the first Arabian Patriarch, and considered the “first Arab”… Qahtan & his wives, and his 24 sons, with their wives and extended families, slaves and servants, and other people with various skills, came to southern Arabia, and settled there, founding the Kingdom of Saba… Saba was Qahtan’s oldest son, and is credited with founding the cities of Saba.

From the 2st millennium BC, or even before, and into the Roman period, a prosperous civilization called the “Kingdom of Saba” based largely upon trade in incense, flourished in south Arabia (modern Yemen and parts of Saudi Arabia, Oman, Somalia, and Ethiopia). These Arabs had a monopoly on the production and trade of two of the most prized materials of ancient times: frankincense and myrrh. The stunted trees that produced these aromatic resins grew only in hot (140 degrees Fahrenheit in summer) dry waterless places, which were all part of the Kingdom of Saba.. Every temple and wealthy home in the Mediterranean and Near East burnt the resins on altars, and purchasers were prepared to pay its weight in gold. As a result of this monopoly, the South Arabians grew tremendously wealthy

The Incense Road

The Merchants of Saba, brought these incense resins as well as spices, gold, ivory, pearls, precious stones, and textiles from Africa, India, and the Far East to Roman markets. They carried their wares at first by donkey caravans, until camels were domesticated about 1800 BC, and then by camel caravans along the “Incense Road”, which ran north/south along the western edge of Arabia’s central desert, about 100 miles inland from the Red Sea coast, and behind the barrier mountains which protected the caravans from predation from pirates, and the Egyptian Pharaoh’s Navy . The incense “road” or “route” started in the Hadhramawt port of Qana located on the Arabian Sea in south Arabia, and ran north to the port of Gaza on the Mediterranean Sea… (Gaza was also the western terminus of the Silk Road. From Gaza the Silk Road went northeast to Jerusalem and Damascus, then turned east and crossed the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers at Babylon / later the site of Baghdad, then went on to China)… In places The incense road was paved to protect the feet of the camels, and in other place it crossed trackless sand dunes and required a “guide’ to lead a caravan across. Because the “incense road” crossed trackless desert and required a guide to lead the way, and all quides were from Saba, no foreigner could follow the road back to Saba. Any foreigners who found their way to Saba, were killed to prevent them from divulging to outsiders the knowledge of how to find Saba.

Ancient City of Petra, carved from living stone,
at North end of Incense Road.

After the Romans had control of the cities of Gaza and Petra, they were trying to find “Felix Arabia” (Happy Arabia) which they only knew as the source of the incense, Chinese silk, and other luxuries that they bought from the merchants of Saba. Caravans from Saba came across the trackless dunes of the Arabian Desert to Petra, so the Romans hired guides to lead them South to Saba. The guides lead the Romans far out into the Arabian Desert, then disappeared leaving the large Roman Expedition to die. Very few Romans made it back alive. To mislead foreigners searching for the source of incense, the Merchants said that “incense grew on giant trees (incense trees are only 10 or 12 feet high), that grew in a land in the far Southern Sea (southern Indian Ocean, where a ship would be lost if it ventured there, because it would be south of the trade winds), and that the trees were guarded by large poisonous flying reptiles of various colors”.

The Capitol City of Saba was the city of Marib, located on the incense road between the mountains and the sand dunes of the Arabian desert. The city of Marib had dammed a wadi (a river that runs during the winter monsoon) to supply itself with water, but around 800 BC it built a great high dam, 40 feet high & 60 feet thick in a narrow gap between two mountains, and created a huge lake … then with stone channels from the dam they irrigated more than 100 square miles… An ancient Arab historian who visited Marib said, “You walk in the shade, when you visit Marib”…

The “Queen of Sheba” (Queen of the South) who visited King Solomon in Jerusalem, was Queen Bilqis of Marib, the ruler of the Kingdom of Saba. Saba was a trade empire whose trade ships sailed the trade winds, south down the coast of Africa, and east to India and the islands of southeast Asia. She was an Arab woman, but she was also the Queen of Punt (present day Somalia) and Ethiopia in much the same way that Queen Victoria of England was Queen of Egypt and India. According to Arab historians, the merchants of Saba were complaining to Queen Bilqis because King Solomon had sent an expedition down the Red Sea to gather incense (frankincense and myrrh) and to prospect for gold. King Solomon did not realize that all the areas where gold was mined and the incense grew, were concessions that belonged to her people, and he was poaching. Her trip to Jerusalem was to solve this problem, and to establish trade relations with King Solomon. She traveled north up the incense road to Gaza, then up the silk road to Jerusalem with a caravan of 2000 camels (a fully loaded camel can carry 400 pounds) loaded with all the things that her merchants offered for sale. In addition to incense and gold, she brought him spices, ivory, ebony, sandalwood, pearls, gems, exotic furs & feathers, and so on. In short she brought him things from Equatorial Africa, India, and the Islands of Southeast Asia. She also gave him an incense concession where he could legally collect incense, and a mining concession (King Solomon’s Mines).

In 1st century AD, King Artar of Saba (because of a deteriorating economic and political situation) moved the capitol of Saba to the city of Sanaa and built the Ghumdan Palace, a square stone tower 20 stories tall. The top floor of the palace (the king’s quarters) which was reached by elevators (operated by ropes and pulleys) had an alabaster roof so clear that you could see birds flying over, and it had large bronze lions mounted on the four corners that roared when the wind blew… The ruins of palace were later used as a quarry to get stone for building projects (such as extending the city walls)… Travelers and historians reported that the ruins of the palace still existed until around 1000 AD.
By the end of the first century AD, The Roman Empire had engulfed and absorbed all the countries of the Mediterranean Sea, and had discovered the secret of the “trade winds”, so they were now sailing the trade winds themselves from Roman Egypt. The merchants of the Kingdom of Saba had lost all of their customers, and had lost their monopoly of the trade winds. Saba went into steep economic decline and political upheaval.

Ruins of Marib


Map showing Greek and Phoenician Colonies in the Mediterranean Sea

The Phoenicians were Canaanites (we know “Cana” from the Bible account of “the wedding feast at Cana” where Jesus preformed the miracle of turning water into wine). The Canaanites were a semitic people who were part of the wave of Semitic migration that hit the Fertile Crescent” between 2300 and 2100 BC. They originally lived on the Eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea. What sets the Phoenicians apart as different from the other local cultures of Canaan, is their remarkable seafaring achievements. The origin of the Phoenicians is still unclear, but Arab historians say that they were originally a nomadic shepherd tribe, that learned to navigate wandering in the trackless desert. That they then decided to give up their nomadic life as shepherds because it was too hard to survive, and that they moved to the sea coast, settled there and became fishermen. And that navigating a trackless sea was no different than navigating a trackless desert, so they prospered. The sea was dependable, and provided them with a reliable source of food. But they were still poor, so they became pirates. Then they realized that they could become richer, as legitimate traders and merchants. So they established Phoenician settlements along the coasts and islands of the Mediterranean Sea that grew into a league of independent city-state ports, that were ideally located for trade between the Levant area, rich in natural resources, and the rest of the ancient world. They also established settlements beyond the Strait of Gibraltar on the Atlantic coasts of Africa, Portugal, and the British Isles. Some time, during the early Iron Age , in around 1200 BC an unknown sudden event occurred, usually associated with the appearance of the Sea Peoples from the north who were perhaps driven south by crop failures and mass starvation following the gigantic volcanic eruption of the Greek island of Thera. The powers that had previously dominated the area, notably the Egyptians and the Hittites, became weakened or destroyed; and in the resulting power vacuum a number of Phoenician cities established themselves as significant maritime powers, notably Tyre and Carthage. In the centuries following 1200 BC, the Phoenicians became the major naval and trading power of the region.

Phoenician Woman

The Phoenician alphabet was developed around 1200 BC from an earlier Semitic prototype that also gave rise to the Ugaritic alphabet . It was used mainly for commercial notes. The Greek alphabet, that forms the basis of all European alphabets, was derived from the Phoenician one, hence the Greek word ”phoinikèia” for “writing”. The alphabets of the Middle East and India are also thought to derive, directly or indirectly, from the Phoenician alphabet. Ironically, the Phoenicians themselves are mostly silent on their own history, possibly because they wrote on perishable materials, papyrus or skins. Other than the stone inscriptions, Phoenician writing has largely perished. There are a very few writers such as Sanchuniathon quoted only in later works, yet the Phoenicians were described by Sallust and Agustine as having possessed an extensive literature, but of this, only a single work survives, in Latin translation… Mago’s ”Agriculture”. What we know of them comes mainly from their neighbors, the Greeks and Hebrews.

(Note : Alexander the Great destroyed the Phoenician city of Tyre during his conquests. And Rome fought three Punic Wars against the Phoecinian city of Carthage, during which Hannibal tried to invade Italy and march on Rome with his army of war elephants. But Rome defeated Carthage, and Carthage became a part of the Roman Empire.)

Phoenician Man

There was an awareness that Africa was navigable, for it was recorded that the Phoenicians had in fact accomplished such a journey in the 7th century BC.

Phoenician Trade Ship

Herodotus, the ancient Greek historian who lived in the 5th century BC, reported that the Phoenicians had circumnavigated Africa in the last years of the seventh century BC.

“Libya (Africa) is washed on all sides by the sea except where it joins Asia, as was first demonstrated, so far as our knowledge goes, by the Egyptian king (Pharaoh) Necho, who, after calling off the construction of the canal between the Nile and the Arabian gulf (Red Sea), sent out a fleet manned by a Phoenician crew with orders to sail west about (from the east to the west) and return to Egypt and the Mediterranean by way of the Pillars of Hercules (Straits of Gibraltar). The Phoenicians sailed from the Arabian gulf (Red Sea) into the southern ocean (Indian Ocean), and every autumn (spring in the Southern Hemisphere) put in at some convenient spot on the Libyan (African) coast, sowed a patch of ground, and waited for next year’s harvest. Then, having got in their grain, they put to sea again, and after two full years rounded the Pillars of Heracles (Straits of Gibraltar) in the course of the third, and returned to Egypt. These men made a statement which I do not myself believe, though others may, to the effect that as they sailed on a westerly course round the southern end of Libya (Africa), they had the sun on their right, to northward of them (Herodotus did not know that the sun shone from the North in the Southern Hemisphere). This is how Libya (Africa) was first discovered (explored) by sea”… Herodotus : The Histories 4.42

Route of the Phoenicians
around Africa


Pytheas’ Ship
Scientist and geographer Pytheas, set out from the Greek colony of Masallia (today Marseilles, France) to explore north-western Europe around 325 BC. He reached Britain, and continuing northwards was the first to describe the midnight sun and the polar ice. The book he wrote about his travels, “On the Ocean” (Peri tou Okeanou), does not survive but has been quoted by famous geographers, Strabo, Pliny and Diodorus.

It is not known where Pytheas’ three year long expedition started from. It is possible that he sailed through the Strait of Gibraltar, since the Carthaginians who controlled it at the time were on friendly terms with the Massaliotes, and that he then traveled north along the coast of Portugal.
Pytheas is said to have “ traveled over the whole of Britain that was accessible” but the distance he covered is debatable and is presumed to be between 7,700 km and 4,800 km approximately. He described the British Isles as “Britannia” or “Bretanike”. Pytheas described the natives of Britannia as people of “simple manners” who built their houses out of reeds or timbers, threshed their grain indoors (in a barn because of the rain) and used chariots in their wars. Of the inhabitants of Cornwall (Belerion), Pytheas said that they were civilized and hospitable to strangers and were involved in tin mining.

It is said that the ancient explorer visited Stonehenge but the report that reaches us through Diodorus cannot be connected directly to him. According to this report, there was “a stately grove and renowned temple of round form, and a city consecrated to the god Apollo whose citizens play on the harp, and chant sacred hymns to the god in the temple”.

Continuing with his explorations, Pytheas reached the most northerly part of the British Isles, a place named as Thule – an island six days’ sailing north of Britain, on the “solidified” sea. Thule, thanks to Pytheas, remained a mythical, remote land, on the edge of the imagination. Some say Pytheas’  Thule must have been Shetland or the Faroe Islands, others talk about Norway and Greenland and others support the theory that Thule must have been Iceland.

Voyage of Pytheas

Around Thule, Pytheas encountered drift ice – and described weather conditions as “nor sea nor air but a mixture of these things, … in which is said that earth and water and all things are in suspension”. He was also said to have observed that the sun set for only two to three hours (the midnight sun) in summer.

Strabo refers to Pytheas’ measurements of latitude. The explorer must have used a gnomon (sundial) and consulted with the natives to find his way. He also used a method of navigation based on the view of heavenly bodies, passed on to ancient Greeks from Babylonia.
At various points along his route Pytheas would take sun measurements at the summer and winter solstice to establish his geographical position, in addition to reckoning the distances travelled each day by boat. In Pytheas’s day Greek mathematics was not so advanced, but by the second century BC Greek mathematicians and astronomers, notably Eratosthenes and Hipparchos used sun measurements to establish that the earth was round. Pytheas made some important observations concerning latitudes and was the first to associate the tides to the phases of the moon.



By the first century BC after Egypt and Syria had succumbed to Roman Rule, Roman capital and appitite for the luxury goods of India, greatly stimulated trade with the East. However the existing trade routes had serious disadvantages. The Parthians , whose kingdom extended from the Euphrates River to the borders of Bactria, were levying heavy tolls on the caravan trade of the “silk road”, and the Sabaean Arabs of southwest Arabia had cut off the Red Sea route to Aden and were in control of much of the overseas trade with India. From Aden, the Sabaeans sent Indian goods north by caravan up the “incense road” to Petra, which grew rich as a distributional point to Egypt via Gaza and the north via Damascus.

The Roman Emperor Agustus

The Roman Emperor Augustus broke the hold of the Parthian and Arab middlemen on the eastern trade route by establishing direct commercial connections by sea with India. By 1 BC, he had reopened the Red Sea by clearing it of pirates, and forcing the Sabaeans out of Aden and converting it (the big volcanic crater that is its port) into a Roman naval base.

In the first century AD a Greek ship’s pilot (named Hippalus) discovered the secret of the trade winds from the the South Arabians, and for more than 500 years, Roman ships sailed from Roman Egypt every July, riding the trade winds to India (and sometimes as far as southeast Asia and China), and returned to Egypt by January.


The Periplus Maris Erythrea was a handbook written in Greek, in the middle of the first century A.D., for merchants and ship captains of Roman Egypt who carried on trade with the various ports of India, and beyond. It details the maritime trade routes; ports of the Red Sea, Persian Gulf, and the Indian Ocean… especially the Malabar Coast of India, where permanent communities of Roman merchants resided. And as early as 165 AD, there were Roman traders living in Canton, China.

Using the Periplus Maris Erythrea which is written in clear simple business man’s language, and clearly based on first hand experience, the merchants and ship captains of Roman Egypt could now make direct round trip voyages directly across the Arabian Sea themselves. They had totally eliminated the Parthian and Sabaean middle men, who had previously controlled trade with the east.

Roman Trade Ship in the Indian Ocean


The proper time to leave Egypt for India according to the Peripus would be in July. This would enable navigators to :

(1) Sail down the Red Sea with the northern wind that prevails over that body of water during the summer.

(2) Sail through the Gulf of Aden with the Southwest Monsoon.

(3) Sail with the same monsoon, as specifically counseled by Periplus, directly across the Arabian Sea or Western Indian Ocean to India. The return could be scheduled for any time after the beginning of November, when the Northeast Monsoon provides favorable winds right up to the entrance of the Red Sea.

Departure from Egypt in July as recommended by the Periplus would bring a ship into the open waters of the Arabian Sea or western Indian Ocean just when the Southwest Monsoon was at its height. The wind velocity during this season averages 22 – 33 knots and frequently rises to gale force (34 – 47 knots).

As the Periplus wrote “crossing with these (Southwest Monsoon winds) is hard going but absolutely favorable and shorter. The departure date together with swift crossing, resulted in the arrival off the Indian coast in September or early October when the tapering off of the Southwest Monsoon, makes the West Indian Coast open to maritime activity… Such an arrival also leaves a comfortable time before the onset of the Northeast Monsoon brings in contrary winds. By November that monsoon is well set in, so any skipper who had managed a quick turn around could shove off for home and thus be back in Egypt in well under a year from the time he left Egypt”.

The ships used for sailing to India by Roman Egyptians were of superior quality and strength, and were built for safety rather than speed. The hulls were supremely strong, for they were built in a very special fashion. The hulls of Arab ships were not strong enough, nor was the rigging of their sails fitted for the strong winds of the Southwest Monsoon, so their ships were forced to follow the coastline to India, avoiding the open sea. Only big ships dared to use the Southwest Monsoon over open waters. The Roman ships that sailed between Alexandria and Rome carrying Egyptian Grain could run up to 180 feet in length and over a thousand tons of burden. Likewise the Roman ships that sailed from Egypt to India were big ships. Unlike the grain ships, the Roman ships of the Indian Ocean carried huge cargoes of expensive products (silks, fine cotton, pepper, costus, spikenard, and similar items) that were the consignments of many merchants and partnerships, and represented a monumental investment.

The Muslim conquest of Egypt in 641 AD ended direct European access to the Indian Ocean and India, until Vasco da Gama, the Portuguese explorer, accomplish the goal of sailing to India, by sailing south, then east around the southern tip of the continent of Africa.



(Claudius Ptolemaios) lived in Alexandria, in Roman Egypt, between the reigns of Hadrian and Antonine in the second century AD. He is generally remembered as an Astronomer, Mathematician and Geographer.

Map of the World drawn by Claudius Ptolemaeus, a Roman geographer in second cantury A.D.

This map of Claudius Ptolemaeus was a compilation of what was known about the world’s geography in the Roman Empire during his time. It shows the world that the Romans knew, stretching from the British Isles and Cape Verde Islands in the Atlantic Ocean to the west… and to India, the Malay Peninsula and China in the East…



Gold Coin

Baghdad was the capital of the Abbasid caliphate. The Abbasid caliphs were the second of the Islamic dynasties, having defeated the Umayyads (whose capitol was at Damascus), and who had ruled from the death of Ali in 661 AD until 751 AD, at which time the first Abbasid acceded the throne. The Abbasid Caliphs moved the capitol to Baghdad in 762 AD, and ruled from there until the Mongol destruction of Baghdad in 1258 AD.

Baghdad was situated where the “silk road” crossed the two great rivers of Mesopotamia, the Tigris River and the Euphrates River. This put the city astride the major trades routes of the land, as well as giving it access (via the rivers) to the trade routes of the Indian Ocean. At Baghdad, the Tigris River was 750 feet wide. At Baghdad’s docks and wharves were hundreds of ships… warships, trading vessels including Chinese junks, and pleasure boats. It was the time fictionalized in the adventures of Sinbad the Sailor in A Thousand and One Nights, drawn from reports of actual voyages made by Muslim merchants.

A Caliph

Muslim trade by sea dominated both the Mediterranean Sea, and the Indian Ocean. Muslim traders and mariners spread their language and religion to Southeast Asia. In the 800s, residing in Guangzhou (Canton) China, were over 100,000 Arabs, Persians and Jews who had voyaged across the Indian Ocean on Muslim ships.

Chinese envoys had been sailing through the Indian ocean to India since the 2nd century BC, but it was during the Tang Dynasty that a strong Chinese maritime presence could be found in the Persian Gulf (stopping at Persian ports, and sailing up the rivers to Baghdad), the Red Sea (stopping in Arabia and Egypt), and in East Africa (Somalia and Ethiopia). During the Tang Dynasty, thousands of foreigners came and lived in Guangzhou (Canton) for trade and commercial ties with China, including Persians, Arabs, Hindu Indians, Malays, Jews, and Nestorian Christians of the Near East, as well as many others.

After Arab and Persian pirates captured, looted, and burned Guangzhou (Canton) in 758, the Tang government reacted by shutting the port down for roughly five decades. However, when the port reopened it continued to thrive.

Beginning in 785 C.E., the Chinese began to call regularly on the East African coast in order to cut out Arab middle-men, with various contemporary Chinese sources giving detailed descriptions of trade in Africa. In 863 the Chinese author Duan Chengshi provided a detailed description of the East African slave trade, ivory trade, and ambergris trade in a country called Bobali, which historians point to the possibility of being Berbera in Somalia. At Fustat (Cairo) in Egypt, the fame of Chinese ceramics led to an enormous demand for Chinese goods, hence Chinese often traveled there. It was during this period that the Arab merchant Shulama wrote of his admiration for Chinese seafaring junks, and noted in his writing that Chinese ships were often very large, large enough to carry 600 to 700 passengers each

The Ummayad Caliphate

Beginning in the Tang Dynasty, Arab traders brought East African slaves to China. Wealthy Chinese owned black slaves whom they used as door keepers. From the eighth to the fourteenth centuries the Arabs controlled this vast slave trade, which stretched not only along the entire coast of East Africa and throughout the Arab world, but as far east as China. Black slaves were just one of the many commodities in the Arabs large scale maritime trade with China, which peaked during the Tang and Song Dynasties. The Jiu Tang Shu (Tang history book) mentions that the Arabs sent delegates to the Chinese court in 651, marking the first recorded official contact between the Chinese government and the Arab Caliphate.

The Islamic golden age was inaugurated by the middle of the 8th century by the ascension of the Abbasid Caliphate and the transfer of the capital from Damascus to Baghdad. The Abbassids were influenced by the Koranic injunction that said, “the ink of a scholar is more holy than the blood of a martyr”, stressing the value of knowledge. During this period the Muslim world became the unrivaled intellectual center for science, philosophy, medicine and education as the Abbasids championed the cause of knowledge and sought to translate and gather all the world’s knowledge into Arabic. Many classic works of Roman and Greek antiquity that would otherwise have been lost were translated into Arabic. During this period the Muslim world was a cauldron of cultures which collected, synthesized and significantly advanced the knowledge gained from the ancient Egyptian,Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Chinese, Indian, and Persian civilizations.

By the middle of the ninth century, the Abbasid dynasty had begun to lose control over its empire. Rebellious states, military regimes, and religious dissenters broke apart the political unity of Islam. Mongol armies finally conquered the steadily diminishing Abbasid heartland in 1258. The Mongolian army led by Ghengis Khan’s grandson Hulegu, laid siege to the city of Baghdad, constructing a palisade and ditch, wheeling up siege engines and catapults. The siege started on January 29. The battle was swift, by siege standards. By February 5 the Mongols controlled a stretch of the wall. On February 10, Baghdad surrendered. On February 13 began a week of massacre, looting, rape, and destruction. An eyewitness reported that, “The Mongols swept through the city like raging wolves attacking sheep, with loose reins and shameless faces, murdering and spreading terror…beds and cushions made of gold and encrusted with jewels were cut to pieces with knives and torn to shreds. Those hiding behind the veils of the great Harem (the Caliph’s women) were dragged through the streets and alleys, each of them becoming a plaything…as the population died at the hands of the invaders”… Citizens attempted to flee, but were intercepted by Mongol soldiers who killed with abandon. Estimates of the death toll have ranged from 90,000 people to 200,000 people. The Mongols rolled the caliph up in a rug, and rode their horses over him, as they believed that the earth was offended if touched by royal blood… But at the intervention of the Mongol Hulegu’s Nestorian Christian wife, Dokuz Khatun, the Christian inhabitants were spared (Hulagu was the brother of Khubilai Khan, the Great Khan of China… and their mother was a Nestorian Christian as well)… Hulegu then had to move his camp upwind of the city, due to the stench of decay from the ruined city. After the Mongol destruction, Baghdad was a depopulated, ruined city for several centuries.

During the siege of Baghdad the Mongol army included a large Christian contingent, mainly Georgians. The Georgians had suffered tremendously from the cruelty of the Muslims during the invasion of Jalal al-Din Khwarazmshah a few decades earlier. Their churches had been razed and the population of Tiflis (Tbilisi) massacred. During the sack of Baghdad, the Mongols gave the Georgians a chance to take their revenge on the Muslims. Norman troops (Christianized Vikings) from the Principality of Antioch (a crusader kingdom) also participated.

During Military campaigns, Mongol officials exerted a conscientious effort to locate maps, atlases, and other geographic works found in enemy camps or cities. Under Khubilai Khan rule, scholars synthesized Chinese, Arab, and Greek knowledge of geography to produce the most sophisticated cartography known. Under the supervision of the Arab geographers brought in by Khubilai Khan, particularly Jamal Al-Din, craftsmen constructed terrestrial globes for Khubilai Khan in 1267, which depicted Europe and Africa, as well as Asia and the adjacent islands.

Khubilai Khan 1215 – 1294


In 1268 Khubilai Khan sent an envoy to Japan to demand surrender, but the Japanese refused. Khubilai Khan was still too engaged with the final conquest of the Southern Song Dynasty to launch an attack on Japan, so he continued to send more delegations to persuade them to surrender.

Mongol Empire

As Khubilai Khan incorporated the defeated Song Navy into his own, he acquired the personnel and skills needed to invade Japan. He revitalized and enlarged the Song navy, and he tried to transform the navy from guardians of the coastal and river districts into a bona fide ocean fleet capable of operating on the high seas in both commercial and military enterprises. He turned the Korean peninsula into a large ship building facility, and a military and naval base from which he attempted to conquer Japan. Although the ships were some of the largest in the world of that era, the speed with which they were built compromised their quality. Archaeological evidence reveals shortcuts such as attaching two large stones together to make an anchor rather than carving a single stone and thereby creating a much more stable anchor. the Mongols loaded the ships with food, armor, and ammunition, including a large number of melon sized pottery grenades filled with gunpowder and shrapnel to bombard the Japanese defenders

By 1274 Khubilai had assembled an armada of about nine hundred ships to transport an army of twenty three thousand Korean and Chinese infantry and an unknown number of Mongol horsemen. In November they sailed out into the treacherous waters that separated Korea from Japan by 110 miles. The Mongols easily captured Komota Island about halfway across the strait, and then Iki Island closer to Kyushu. The armada sailed into Hakata Bay and landed its men and horses.

Mongol Invasion Ship

Route of the Mongol invasion fleet
The Samurai Warriors rode out against the Mongol forces for individual combat, but the Mongols held their formation. As usual the Mongols fought as a unified force, not as individuals. Instead of coming out for duels, the Mongols bombarded the Samurai with exploding missiles and showered them with arrows. The Mongols slaughtered the famed Japanese warriors, and the remaining Japanese withdrew from the coastal zone inland to a fortress. The Mongol forces did not chase the fleeing Japanese into an area about which they lacked reliable intelligence. Instead they reloaded the men, horses, and supplies back on the ships… That night, with all the invaders on their ships, a series of violent storms blew in across the ocean. churned up the seas and shattered many of the hurriedly constructed ships against the rocks and shore. In an effort to escape and return to the safe harbors of the Korean Peninsula, some thirteen thousand of the invaders died, most by drowning, in the deadly channel they had to cross to reach Korea.

Kubilai prepared for another expedition. The Japanese began building a small fleet of ships to fight the invaders on water, and along the shore they erected a stone wall to block the Mongol soldiers and horses from landing… This time the Mongols would invade from two directions, with another Korean fleet of about the same size as the first. Following it would come the main fleet from China with 3,500 ships manned by 60,000 sailors to transport 100,000 soldiers; and this time they were coming in summer instead of sailing in the fall.

Defensive wall built by the Japanese at Hakata

At the end of May 1281 the Korean fleet sailed, and dispite heavy Japanese resistance, within a few days,they again conquered the islands in the channel. Mongol planning at sea however, was not as accurate and easily executed as on land. The Chinese fleet encountered numerous difficulties and delays. The Korean fleet sailed into Hakata Bay expecting to be backed up by their Chinese counterparts from the south, but they never came. The Japanese wall prevented a successful landing, and the invaders who remained cramped in their ships in the sweltering heat of June, quickly began to become ill as small epidemics of unknown diseases broke out. At night, the small Japanese boats came out to attack the large ships under cover of darkness, their intention being to spread panic and confusion more than to inflict decisive military harm. Unable to land and harried by the night attacks, the Korean fleet withdrew on June 30 to return to Takashima Island and await the southern fleet. Which finally arrived two weeks later. Disorganized, sick, and already at sea much longer than prepared or supplied to do, the entire armada sailed for Japan in mid-August. But a typhoon blew in off the South China Sea, capsizing and smashing boats, and perhaps more than one hundred thousand men died. Few ships survived to relate the story of the disaster.

Every temple in Japan had been ordered to pray and offer sacrifices to the Gods, asking the Gods to protect them from the Mongols. And the Gods had sent a “Kamikaze” (the typhoon) or “Divine Wind” to destroy the Mongol fleet.

A Mongol Horseman in Japan


Khubilai Khan then tried to invade the island of Java, but that invasion was unsuccessful as well. The failed invasions of Japan and Java taught the Mongols much about ship building, and when their military efforts failed, they turned that knowledge to the peaceful pursuit of commerce. Khubilai Khan made the strategic decision to transport food within his empire primarily by ship (by sea) because he realized how much cheaper and efficient water transportation was, which was dependent on wind and current, than the much slower land transport (the silk road), which was dependent on the labor of humans and animals that required constant feeding. In the first years, the Mongols moved some 3,000 tons by ship, but by 1329 it had grown to 210,000 tons per year. Marco Polo who sailed from China to Persia on his return home, described the Mongol ships as large four masted junks with up to three hundred crewmen and as many as sixty cabins for merchants carrying various wares. According to Ibn Battuta some of the ships even carried plants growing in wooden tubs in order to supply fresh food for the sailors. Khubilai Khan promoted the building of ever larger sea going junks to carry heavy loads of cargo and ports to handle them. They improved the use of the compass in navigation and learned to produce more accurate nautical charts. The sea route from the port of Zaytun (Canton) in southern China, to Hormuz in the Persian Gulf, became the main link between the far east and the middle east, and was used by Marco Polo and Ibn Battuta among others. En route to Hormuz, the ships also called in at the ports of Vietnam, Java, Ceylon, and India. From Hormuz, the ships continued on to Arabia, Egypt, and the east African coast. To expand the trade into new areas beyond Mongol control, the Mongols encouraged some of their vassals, particularly the South Chinese, to emigrate and set up trading stations in foreign ports. Thousands of Chinese left home and sailed off to settle in ports, and work in shipping and trade, and as merchants up and down rivers leading to ports, but they gradually expanded into other professions as well.

Marco Polo’s sea voyage aboard a Mongol trade ship from Zaytun (Canton) China,
to Hormuz on the Persian Gulf … 1290’s
– NOTE –

In 1332 bubonic plague struck Mongol China. The disease originated in the south, and Mongol warriors brought it north with them… by 1338 the plague at traveled down the Silk Road and crossed from China over the Tian Shan Mountains and wiped out a Christian trading community near Lake Issyk in Kyrgyzstan… Plague reached the capitol of the Golden Horde at Sarsi on the lower Volga River in 1345. At this time Vanibeg the Kipchak Khan, was laying siege to the Crimean port of Kaffa, a trading post established by merchants from Genoa primarily for the export of Russian slaves to Egypt. When plague broke out in the Mongol army, it forced Vanibeg to lift the siege and retreat. (Some historians say that Vanibeg in a rage used a catapult to fling bodies of dead Mongol plague victims into Kaffa before he lifted the siege). In any case, the disease readily spread from the Mongol camp to the port. When the Genovese and other refugees fled the port by boat, they took the disease with them to Constantinople , from which it easily spread to Cairo in Egypt and Messina in Sicily… In 1348 it ravaged the cities of Italy, and in June of that year reached England by boat… By the winter of 1350, the plague had crossed the north Atlantic from the Faeroe Islands on through Iceland and reached the Viking colony in Greenland.

Without understanding the disease’s true cause or method of transmission, people still quickly recognized its close association with commerce and the movement of people in and out of cities. Diplomatic delegations and letters ceased to flow. Without the Mongol transportation system, the Catholic Church lost touch with its missions in China. The plague not only isolated Europe, but it also cut off the Mongols in Persia and Russia from China and Mongolia. With the onslaught of plague, the center could not hold, and the complex system collapsed. The Mongol Empire depended on the quick and constant movement of people, goods, and information throughout its massive empire. Without those connections, there was no empire. In China the Mongol Khanate collapsed in 1368. The Great Khan Togoon Tumur and some sixty thousand Mongols managed to escape the Ming rebels, but they left behind approximately four hundred thousand Mongols who were captured, and many of them killed.



After the overthrow of Mongol rule, the triumphant Ming rulers issued edicts forbidding the Chinese from wearing Mongol dress, giving their children Mongol names, and following other “foreign habits”. They expelled the Muslim, Christian, and Jewish traders whom the Mongols had encouraged to settle in China.

Although the Ming Dynasty had expelled the Mongols from China, all trade routes by land were blocked by the Turko-Mongolian states that replaced the Mongol Khanates. China was as isolated as Europe. During the reign of the third Ming emperor, China tried to break out of it’s isolation. Using the maps commissioned by Khubilai Khan, and building sea going ships based on the design of the Mongol trade ships, the eunuch admiral Zheng He (he was a Mongol servant in the emperor’s palace, and became a trusted friend of the emperor), sailed the same route that the Mongol trade ships (and Tang trade ships) sailed to Hormuz and the East African coast. Whereas Khubilai Khan had a pressing need to move large amounts of cargo between Mongol China and Mongol Persia every year, Zheng He only sailed seven times in twenty eight years for an emperor who was looking for trade.

Zheng He’s Trade Ship compared to Christoper Columbus’ ship, the Santa Maria

After the death of the third Ming emperor, the fourth Ming Emperor burned their ocean vessels, banned foreign travel for Chinese, and spent a large portion of the gross national product on building massive new walls (the Great Wall of China that exists today) to lock foreigners out and the Chinese in. In so doing, the new Chinese government stranded thousands of its citizens living in the ports of southeast Asia, and the Indian Ocean.


The Vikings were Norse (Scandinavian) explorers, warriors, merchants, and pirates who raided, traded, and settled in wide areas of Europe and the North Atlantic islands from the late eighth to the mid-eleventh century. These Norsemen used their famed longships to travel as far east as Constantinople, the Black Sea, and the Volga River. And as far west as Iceland, Greenland, and Newfoundland. And as far south as Spain, Portugal, and Italy.

There were two distinct classes of Viking ships, the “longship” and the “knarr”. The longship, intended for warfare and exploration, was designed for speed and agility, and was equipped with oars to complement the sail as well as making it able to navigate independently of the wind. The longship had a long and narrow hull, as well as a shallow draft, in order to facilitate landings and troop deployments in shallow water. Whenever Viking longships ran aground in shallow waters, the Vikings could turn them on their sides and drag them across the land into deeper waters. The knarr was a dedicated merchant vessel designed to carry cargo. It was designed with a broader hull, deeper draft and limited number of oars (used primarily to maneuver in harbors and similar situations).

The Longships were extremely fast, and with a shallow draft so that the Vikings were able to travel from the sea up any navigable river. This allowed them to raid cities and towns far from the sea. They would appear suddenly, capture and loot a rich monastery or town, killing the men and carrying off the women and children to be sold as slaves (or to ransom), and disappear just as suddenly as they had arrived. They would be gone long before anyone could come to the aid of their victims.

Viking Longship

Despite its apparent simplicity, the Viking longship was a fine work of engineering, in its time the most advanced seafaring craft available. Ideally suited for transporting anywhere between 20 and 100 fully armed warriors (and often their horses), and able to sail or row with equal ease in the open sea or in shallow rivers.

Longship Toolbox

An original Viking longship toolbox, containing over 150 items including rasps, nail making tools, planes, chisels, hammers and shears for clipping metal. The Vikings buried important chiefs in large burial chambers along with their swords, axes, carts and in some cases with their boats. This longship toolbox was recovered from a Viking “ship burial” in Mastermyr, Sweden.

The Vikings were an Indo-European people from Scandinavia. The ancestors of the Vikings traded with the Romans. They exported furs, skins, walrus ivory and amber. After the fall of Rome the Scandinavian peoples slowly grew more united, and the first towns were formed. Meanwhile they started using sails. Before the mid-7th century Scandinavian ships were rowed but once they began using sails they could make the long voyage across the North Sea. At the end of the 8th century Scandinavians began raiding other parts of Europe. Then, in the 9th and 10th centuries they turned to conquest. These new raiders and invaders were known as Northmen, Norsemen, or Vikings. In 860 AD, another branch of Vikings from Sweden (called Varangians) migrated south into Russia to trade with Constantinople. In Russia, these Vikings founded the state of “Kievan Rus” with Kiev as its capitol, and gradually mixed with the Slavs who were living there. The Slavs called the Vikings “Rus” and thus the country became known as “Russia”. Together, the Slavs and the Vikings took their boats down the Dnieper river to the Black Sea, where they traded and also raided the Roman territory around Constantinople, though they could not take the city itself. But soon the Byzantine Empire was hiring Vikings as mercenary soldiers. By about 1100, most Vikings had converted to Christianity.

In Britain, the Viking Age began dramatically on June 8, 793 when Vikings destroyed the Abbey of Lindisfame, a center of learning famous across the continent of Europe. Monks were killed in the abbey, thrown into the sea to drown, or carried away as slaves along with the church treasures. In 794, according to the Annals of Ulster, there was a serious attack on Lindisfarne’s mother-house of Iona, which was followed in 795 by raids upon the northern coast of Ireland. From bases there, the Norsemen attacked Iona again in 802, causing great slaughter amongst the monks, and burning the abbey to the ground.

These raids were the beginning of the Viking invasions of England, made possible by the Viking longship. There was great violence during the last decade of the 8th century on England’s northern and western shores. The initial raiding groups were small, but in 839, a large Norse fleet invaded via the River Tay and River Earn in Scotland, both of which were highly navigable, and reached into the heart of the Kingdom of the Picts. They defeated the Picts destroying them as a political entity. During the winter between 840 and 841, the Norwegians raided during the winter instead of the usual summer. They wintered on an island off Ireland. In 865 The Great Heathen Army led by the Brothers Ivar the Boneless, Halfdan, and Ubbe, and also by another Viking called Guthrum the Old, arrived in East Anglia. They proceeded to cross England into Northumbria and captured York (Jorvik), where some settled as farmers. Most of the English kingdoms, being in turmoil, could not stand against the Vikings. By 870 the Great Summer Army arrived in England led by a Viking Leader called Bagsecg who aided the Great Heathen Army which already had overrun much of England. Bagsecg added his Viking Forces into this army rebuilding it, and making an alliance with Halfdan they together raided much of England until 871. A new wave of Norwegian Vikings appeared in England in 947 when Eric Bloodaxe captured York. The Viking presence continued throughout the reign of the viking King Cahute Sweynson who ruled all of England (1016–1035), after which a series of inheritance arguments weakened the power of his descendants.

In 1066, the invading Normans (French Vikings) conquered England, killing King Harold II (who was himself of Viking descent) at the Battle of Hastings, and they and their descendants replaced the Anglo-Saxons as the ruling class of England. The nobility of England were then part of a single French speaking culture and many had lands on both sides of the channel. Early Norman kings of England were, as Dukes of Normandy, vassals to the King of France. They may not have necessarily considered England to be their most important holding (although it brought the title of King, an important status symbol).

Richard the Lionheart

King Richard I (the Lionheart) is often thought to epitomise a medieval English King, but he only spoke French and spent more time at Aquitaine in France, or on Crusade in the Near East, than in England. Eventually, the Normans merged with the natives, combining languages and traditions. In the course of the Hundred Years War, the Norman aristocracy often identified themselves as English. The Anglo-Norman language became distinct from the French language, something that was the subject of some humour by Geoffrey Chaucer. The Anglo-Norman language was eventually absorbed into the English language of their subjects and influenced it, along with the Norse language of the earlier Viking settlers, and the Latin used by the church, to produce the English language we know today.

Viking Raid

The Vikings pillaged monasteries on Ireland’s west coast in 795 and then spread out to cover the rest of the coastline. The north and east of the island were most affected. During the first 40 years, the raids were conducted by small, mobile Viking groups. By 830, the groups consisted of large fleets of Viking ships In 832, a Viking fleet of about 120 ships invaded the kingdoms on Ireland’s northern and eastern coasts. During the mid-830s, raids began to push deeper into Ireland, as opposed to just touching the coasts. Navigable waterways made this deeper penetration possible. In 838, a small Viking fleet entered the Liffey River in eastern Ireland. The Vikings set up a base, which the Irish called a “longphort”. This longphort eventually became the city of Dublin. The Vikings also established longphorts that became the cities of Cork, Limerick, Waterford, and Wexford. The Vikings could sail through on the main river and branch off into different areas of the country. After 840, the Vikings had several bases in strategic locations dispersed throughout Ireland.


The Kingdom of the Franks under Charlemagne was particularly hard-hit by the Viking raiders, who could sail up the Seine River with near impunity. Near the end of Charlemagne’s reign (and throughout the reigns of his sons and grandsons, who were the Carolingian Kings), a string of Norse raids began, culminating in a gradual Scandinavian conquest and settlement of the region now known as Normandy. The French region of Normandy takes its name from the Viking invaders who were called “Normans”, meaning “North Men”.
The first Viking raids began between 790 and 800 along the coasts of western France. They were carried out primarily in the summer, as the Vikings wintered in Scandinavia. Several coastal areas were lost during the reign of “Louis the Pious” (814-840). And the Vikings took advantage of the quarrels in the royal family caused after the death of Louis the Pious to settle their first colony in the south-west (Gascony) of the kingdom of Francia, which was more or less abandoned by the Frankish kings after their two defeats at Roncevaux. The incursions in 841 caused severe damage to the cities of Rouen and Jumieges. The Vikings attackers sought to capture the treasures stored at monasteries, which were easy prey given the monks’ lack of defensive capacity. In 845 an expedition up the Seine reached Paris. After 851 Vikings began to stay in the lower Seine valley for the winter. Twice more in the 860s Vikings rowed to Paris, leaving only when they acquired sufficient loot or bribes from the Carolingian rulers.

The Vikings in the British Isles and other Vikings in continental Europe, were the primary menace affecting European rulers in the late ninth century, the middle of the Viking Age. Their depredations had gone as far South as the Mediterranean Sea, where they harassed Christian and Moslem alike, in the coastal plains and navigable rivers of France, Spain, and Italy. The worst hit areas in the vast but feeble Carolingian Empire were in the Low Countries and the adjacent regions in France and Germany, areas where many navigable rivers offered access.

THE SIEGE OF PARIS… In 845, the Vikings rowed up the Seine River and attacked Paris. This they did again thrice more in the 860s. In 864, by the Edict of Pistres, bridges were ordered built across the Seine at not only Pitres, but Paris as well, where two were built one on each side of the “Ile de la Cite” (the island in the Seine that Paris was built on). The chief ruler in the region around Paris was “Robert the Strong” the duke of Francia (also count of Paris), who controlled the lands between the Seine and Loire Rivers. He began fortifying the ancient capital and fought the Norsemen continuously until his death in battle against them at Brissarthe. His son, Odo, succeeded him and continued the fortification of Paris.

Meanwhile, West Francia suffered under a series of short-reigning kings until Charles the Fat, already King of Germany and Italy, became king. Hopes were raised with this reunification of Charlemagne’s empire, but a year after Charles’ succession (884), the Vikings launched a massive attack on Paris yet again. Sigfred, leader of the Danes, had demanded a bribe from Charles, but had been refused. Sigfred promptly led 700 ships up the Seine carrying more than 30,000 men. Paris at this time was a town on an island. Its strategic importance came from the ability to block any ship’s passage with its two low-lying foot bridges, one of wood and one of stone. Not even the shallow Viking ships could pass Paris because of the bridges. Odo prepared for the arrival of the Vikings by fortifying the bridgehead with two towers, one guarding each bridge. He was low on men, having no more than 200 men-at-arms available to him. He did have the aid of his brother, Robert, two counts, a marquis, and Joscelin, abbot of Saint-Germain-des-Pres, and the people of Paris.

Viking siege of Paris

The Vikings arrived on 25 November 885 and began by asking for tribute. This denied, they settled in for a siege. On 26 November, the Danes attacked the northeast tower with ballistae (a Roman military engine in the form of a crossbow for heavy missiles), mangonels (engine for throwing stones), and catapults peppering the tower with arrows and stones. They were repulsed by a mixture of hot wax and pitch. That day, all Viking attacks were repulsed and during the night, the Parisians constructed another storey on the tower. On 27 November, the Viking attack included mining, rams, and fire this time, but to no avail. On this day, the Abbot Joscelin valiantly entered the thick of the fray with a bow and an ax. He planted a cross on the outer defences and exhorted the people of Paris (his flock) to stand firm against the Viking attacks.

For two months, the Vikings dug in, making trenches and provisioning themselves off the land. In January 886, they tried to fill the river shallows with debris, plant matter, and dead animal and human (executed prisoners) bodies so as to get around the tower with their infantry, but no success met them, again. This they continued for the next two days, but on the third day they set three ships alight and guided them towards the wooden bridge. The burning ships sank before they could set the bridge on fire, but the wooden construction was nonetheless weakened. On 6 February, rains caused the river (filled with debris from the Viking attempts of weeks earlier) to overflow and the bridge supports gave way. The bridge gone, the northeast tower was now isolated with only twelve defenders inside. The Vikings asked the twelve to surrender, but they refused, and were all killed.

With the wooden bridge gone, the Vikings left a force behind, but most went ahead, beyond Paris, to pillage Le Mans and Chartres. At this time, Odo successfully slipped some men through Norse lines to go to Italy and plead with Charles to come to their aid. Henry, Count of Saxony, Charles’ chief man in Germany, marched to Paris. The Parisian defenders were then able to go forth and replenished their supplies. The morale of the vikings was low and Sigfred asked for sixty pounds of silver. He then left the siege in April. Rollo, the other Viking leader, and his men stayed behind.

In May, disease began to spread in the Parisian ranks and Joscelin, the great morale-booster and fighting churchman, died. Odo himself then slipped through Viking-controlled territory to petition Charles for support: Charles consented. Odo fought his way back into Paris. And Charles with an imperial army marched northward.

In summer, the Danes made a final attempt to take the city, but were repulsed. The huge imperial army arrived in October and scattered the Vikings. Charles encircled Rollo and his army and set up a camp at Montmartre. However, Charles had no intention of fighting. When the Vikings withdrew from France next spring, he gave them 700 pounds of silver as promised. But the Parisians and Odo refused to let the Vikings down the Seine River, and the invaders had to drag their boats overland to the Marne River. When Charles the Fat died in 888, the French elected Odo as their king. Odo’s brother was later elected king as well. Throughout the next century the Robertians, descendants of Robert the Strong, fought the Carolingians for the French throne. Their duchy (Francia) gave its name to the kingdom (later France) and the Carolingian Empire was never again reassembled.

William, Duke of Normandy

THE NORMANS… Then in 911 the Viking leader Rollo, forced Charles the Simple to sign the Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte, under which Charles gave Rouen and the area of modern Haute-Normandie to Rollo, establishing the Duchy of Normandy. In exchange, Rollo pledged vassalage to Charles, agreed to be baptized a Christian, and vowed to guard the estuaries of the Seine from further Viking attacks The merging of the Scandinavian and native elements contributed to the creation of one of the most powerful feudal states of Western Europe, The Duchy of Normandy. The naval ability of the Normans would allow them to play a major political, military, and cultural role in medieval Europe and even the Near East. They were famed for their martial spirit and Christian piety. They quickly adopted the French language of the land they settled in, their dialect becoming known as Norman, an important literary language. The Duchy of Normandy, which they formed by treaty with the French crown, was one of the great large fiefs of medieval France. The Normans are famed both for their culture, such as their unique Romanesque architecture, and their musical traditions, as well as for their military accomplishments and innovations. Norman adventurers established a kingdom in Sicily and southern Italy by conquest, and a Norman expedition on behalf of their duke (William the Conquerer, Duke of Normandy) led to the Norman Conquest of England in 1066. Norman influence spread from these new centers to Scotland and Wales in Great Britain, Ireland, and to the Crusader States in the Near East.

After 842, when the vikings set up a permanent base at the mouth of the Loire River in France, they could strike as far South as Spain and Portugal. The first navy of the Muslim Kingdom of Cordoba was built after the humiliating Viking ascent of the Guadalquivir River in 844 when the Vikings captured and sacked Seville. In 859, Danish Vikings sailed through the Strait of Gibraltar into the Mediterranean Sea and raided the little Moroccan state of Nekor, and the king’s harem had to be ransomed back. These and other raids prompted a ship building program at the dockyards of Seville.

By the reign of Alfonso III Vikings were stifling the already weak threads of sea communications that tied Galicia (northwest Spain) to the rest of Europe. There were raids on the Galician coast in 844 and 858. Alfonso III was sufficiently worried by the threat of Viking attack to establish fortified strong points near his coastline, as other rulers were doing elsewhere.
In 860, a new fleet attacked Galicia, the Portuguese shores, and Sevilla, and then entered the Mediterranean and wiped out the Balearic Islands. They attacked Pamplona after crossing the Ebru river and captured the king of Navarra, Garcia Iniguez, who in 861 paid a ransom of  60,000 gold pieces for his release.

Raiding continued for the next two centuries. Another great campaign took place in 968. The “jarl” (viking warlord, and origin of the English word “earl”) Gundraed attacked Galicia with 1000 ships and 8,000 warriors. Bishop Sasnando of Compostela was killed, the monastery of Curtis was sacked, and measures were ordered for the defense of the inland town of Lugo. The Vikings roamed freely for years and even occupied Santiago de Compostela, but were finally defeated by the troops of Count Gonzalo Sanchez.

After Tui was sacked early in the 11th century, its bishopric remained vacant for the next half-century. Ransom was a motive for abductions. Amarelo Mestáliz, was forced to raise money on the security of his land in order to ransom his daughters who had been captured by the Vikings in 1015. Bishop Cresconio of Compostela (ca. 1036 – 66) repulsed a Viking foray and built the fortress at Torres do Oeste to protect Compostela from the Atlantic approaches. The city of Povoa de Varzim in Northern Portugal, was settled by Vikings around the 9th century and their influence was strong well into the twentieth century, mostly due to the practice of endogamy (only marrying within their own group) in the community.

Sicily, mostly inhabited by Greek Christians, was under Arab control at the time of its conquest by the Normans. It had originally been under rule of the Aghlabids and then the Fatimids, but in 948 the Kalbids wrested control of the island from the Fatimids and held it until 1053, when Sicily fell into turmoil as petty fiefdoms battled each other for supremacy. Into this political vacuum the Normans, under Robert Guiscard and his younger brother Roger, came with the intent to conquer.

Robert and Roger first invaded Sicily in May 1061, crossing from Reggio di Calabria and besieging Messina for control of the strategically vital Strait of Messina. Roger crossed the strait first, landing unseen during the night and surprising the Saracen army in the morning. When the Guiscard’s troops landed later that day, they found themselves unopposed and Messina abandoned. Robert immediately fortified the city and allied himself with the Emir Ibn al Timnah against his rival Ibn al Hawas.

Robert, Roger, and at-Timnah then marched into the centre of the island by way of Rometta, which had remained loyal to at-Timnah. They passed through Frazzano and the Pianura di Maniace (Plain of Maniakes). They assaulted the town of Centuripe, but there resistance was strong, and they moved on. Paterno fell quickly and Robert brought his army before Castrogiovanni (modern Enna), the most formidable fortress in central Sicily. While the garrison was defeated in a sally, the citadel itself did not fall, and winter compelled Robert to return to Apulia. Before leaving he constructed a fortress at San Marco d’Alunzio, the first Norman castle in Sicily.

Robert returned in 1064, but bypassing Castrogiovanni, went straight for the metropolis of Palermo. His camp, however, had to be abandoned because of a plague of tarantulas and the entire campaign was called off. He again laid siege to Palermo in 1071, but only the city and not its citadel fell. The citadel fell in January 1072. In a partition of the island with his brother, Robert retained Palermo, half of Messina, and the Val Demone, leaving the rest, included what was not yet conquered, to Roger.

In 1077 Roger besieged Trapani, one of two Saracen strongholds remaining in the west of the island. His son Jordan led a sortie that surprised the guards of the garrison’s grazing animals. With its food supply cut off, the city soon surrendered. In 1079 Taormina was besiegd and in 1081 Jordan, with Robert de Sourval and Elias Cartomi, conquered Catania, a holding of the emir of Syracuse, in another surprise attack.

Roger himself left Sicily behind in the summer of 1083 to assist his brother on the mainland, but his son Jordan, whom he had left in charge, revolted and he was forced to return to Sicily, where he reduced his son to submission. In 1085, he was finally able to undertake a systematic campaign. On 22 May 1085 Roger approached Syracuse by sea while Jordan led a small cavalry detachment fifteen miles north of the city. On 25 May the navies of Roger and the Emir of Syracuse fought in the harbor of Syracuse (where the emir was killed), while the forces under Jordan began the siege of the city. The siege lasted throughout the summer, but when the city capitulated in March 1086, only Noto was still under Saracen dominion. In February 1091, after a short effort, Noto yielded as well and the conquest of Sicily was complete

The VARANGIANS, also called RUS, were Vikings mostly from Sweden, who sailed up and down the Russian rivers to trade with the Byzantine Empire and with the Abbasid Caliphate. In many places around the Baltic Sea, Viking period coinhoards have been found, many of which contain Arabic and Byzantine coins. Their Viking boats could sail or row up the shallow Russian rivers. The Varangians pulled boats over short stretches separating rivers flowing in different directions, thus crossing the watershed. The same technique was applied to get around cataracts. These stages were the most vulnerable stages of their route. Thus, the Varangians tried to establish permanent control over them. They had already explored the Russian river system by 830, and around 862 the Varangian leader, “Rurik”, established control over Novgorod. His successor, “Oleg”, established a state (known as “Kievan Rus”) with Kiev as it’s capital. It was based on a number of cities, each of which was ruled by a prince of the Rurikid family. In 989, the Viking Prince Vladimir converted to Orthodox Christianity, and married a daughter of the Byzantine Emperor (So that his descendants carried the blood of the Roman Emperors, and when Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1353, they saw themselves as heirs to the Roman Empire and adopted the title, “Tsar of Russia”…(“Tsar” meaning “Caesar”). But close contact with their Scandinavian (and still pagan) countrymen, was maintained into the 11th century. Russian historiography for a long time refused to accept the idea that the Russian state had been founded by “foreign” Vikings. But language historians trace the name “Rus” back to the Swedish region of Roslagen, located in Uppland, just north of Stockholm. The Finns, still today, call the Swedes “Ruotsi”

It was in 860, from Kiev, that the Rus leaders Askold and Dir launched the first Varangian raid on Constantinople. The Varangians continued their raids on the Byzantines as they regularly sailed down the Dnieper River into the Black Sea. The Rus’ raids into the Caspian Sea (via the Volga River) were recorded by Arab historians in the 870s and in 910, 912, 913, 943, and later. Although the Rus had predominantly peaceful trading relations with the Byzantines, the rulers of Kiev launched the relatively successful naval expedition of 907, as well as a large-scale invasion of the Balkans in 968–971.

Map Showing the major Varangian trade routes… Volga Trade Route (in red)… and Trade Route from Sweden to the Byzantine Empire (in in purple)… other trade routes of the eighth to eleventh centuries (in orange).



The Byzantine Emperor Basil II’s distrust of the native Byzantine guardsmen, whose loyalties often shifted with fatal consequences, as well as the proven loyalty of the Varangians, led him to employ them as his personal bodyguards. This new force became known as the “Varangian Guard”. Over the years, new recruits from Sweden, Denmark, and Norway kept it a predominantly Scandinavian organization until the late 11th century.


Meanwhile in the Mediterranean area of the Byzantine Empire, the Norman Vikings had already reached Sicily and Italy. Soon after the Normans first began to enter Italy, they entered the Byzantine Empire, and then entered Armenia against the Pechenegs, Bulgars, and especially the Seljuk Turks. The Norman mercenaries first encouraged to come to the south by the Lombards to fight against the Byzantines, soon fought in Byzantine service in Sicily. They were prominent alongside Varangian (the Vikings from Russia) and Lombard contingents in the Sicilian campaign of George Maniaces of 1038-40… A group of Albanian clans known as the Maniakates are descended from Normans who served under George Maniaces in the Sicilian expedition of 1038.

One of the first Norman mercenaries to serve as a Byzantine general was Herve in the 1050s. By then however, there were already Norman mercenaries serving as far away as Trebizond and Georgia. They were based at Malatya and Edessa, under the Byzantine duke of Antioch. In the 1060s, Robert Crispin led the Normans of Edessa against the Turks. Roussel de Bailleul even tried to carve out an independent state in Asia Minor with support from the local population, but he was stopped by the Byzantines.

Some Normans joined Turkish forces to aid in the destruction of the Armenians vassal-states of Sassoun and Taron in far Eastern Anatolia. Later, many took up service with the Armenian states further south in Cilicia and the Taurus Mountains. A Norman named Oursel led a force of Normans into the upper Euphrates valley in northern Syria. From 1073 to 1074, 8,000 of the 20,000 troops of the Armenian general Philaretus Brachamius were Normans.

According to the Sagas, the Western Vikings entered the service of the Guard considerably later than the Eastern Vikings. The Laxdoela Saga, says that the Icelander Bolli Bollason, born c. 1006, was the first known Icelander or Norwegian in the Varangian Guard. Travelling to Constantinople via Denmark, he spent many years in the Varangian Guard; “and was thought to be the most valiant in all deeds that try a man, and always went next to those in the forefront.” The saga also records the finery he and his followers received from the Emperor, and the influence he held after his return to Iceland… “Bolli rode from the ship with twelve men, and all his followers were dressed in scarlet, and rode on gilt saddles, and all were they a trusty band, though Bolli was peerless among them. He had on the clothes of fur which the Garth-king had given him, he had over all a scarlet cape; and he had Footbiter (his sword) girted on him, the hilt of which was bright with gold, and the grip woven with gold, he had a gilded helmet on his head, and a red shield on his flank, with a knight painted on it in gold. He had a dagger in his hand, as is the custom in foreign lands; and whenever they took quarters the women paid heed to nothing but gazing at Bolli and his grandeur, and that of his followers.”

Perhaps the most famous member of the Varangian Guard was the future King Harald Sigurdsson III of Norway, known as Harald Hardrade (“Hard-ruler”). He arrived in 1035. He participated in eighteen battles and during his service fought against Muslims in Anatolia and Sicily under General George Maniakes, as well as in southern Italy and Bulgaria… Harald Hardrade’s grandson, King Sigurd I of Norway, went on a crusade to the holy land. After fighting battles against the Muslims, and before he returned to Norway King Sigurd let the rest of his force, who originally numbered 6000 men, join the Varangian Guard. King Sigurd returned home with less than a hundred of his personal Guard.

They Varangian Gaurd were prominent in the defence of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade. Of the role of the guard, it is said that, “the fighting was very violent and there was hand to hand fighting with axes and swords, the assailants mounting the walls, and prisoners being taken on both sides”. The Varangian guard was still operating at least as late as the mid-fourteenth century, and people identified as Varangians were to be found in Constantinople around 1400.

The Vikings sailed to the north-west and west, founding vibrant communities in the Faeroe Islands, Shetland Islands, Orkney Islands, Iceland, Ireland, and Great Britain. Apart from Britain and Ireland, Vikings mostly found largely uninhabited land, and established settlements in those places. According to the “Saga of Erik the Red”, when Erik was exiled from Iceland he went west. There he found a land that he named “Greenland”, in order to attract people from Iceland to come and settle it with him.

In 874 Viking longships were beached on a promontory in the southwest of Iceland, where Reykjavik now stands. They had come from the coast of Norway, led by a chieftain, Ingólfur Arnarson, together with his family, dependents and livestock. Arnarson established a settlement, based on fishing and sheep farming. Other similar groups soon followed, staking out territories round the coast of the island. Two centuries later the population of Iceland had grown to about 75,000 people

The Viking colonization of the Americas began as early as the 10th century, when the Vikings explored and settled areas of the North Atlantic, including the northeastern fringes of North America. While the Norse colony in Greenland lasted for almost 500 years, the continental North American settlements were small and did not develop into permanent colonies. While voyages, for example to fetch timber, are likely to have occurred for some time, there is no evidence of enduring Norse settlements on mainland North America.
According to the “Sagas of Islanders”, Norsemen led by Erik the Red from Iceland first settled the Greenland Colony in the 980s. He sailed into the inner reaches of one long fjord, named Eiriksfjord after him, where he established his estate Brattahlid. Then he issued tracts of land to his followers. At its peak, the colony consisted of two settlements, the Eastern and the Western Settlement, with a total population of between 3000 and 5000; at least 400 farms have been identified by archaeologists. Norse Greenland had a bishopric and exported walrus ivory, furs, rope, sheep, whale and seal blubber, cattle hides, and live animals such as polar bears.
The colony began to decline in the 1300s. The Western Settlement was abandoned around 1350 (The Bubonic Plague reached Greenland in 1350, and killed a large part of the population), and by 1378 there was no longer a bishopic. After a marriage was recorded in 1408, no written records mention the settlers. It is probable that the Eastern Settlement was defunct by the late 1400s, although no exact date has been established. The most recent radiocarbon date found in Norse settlements (as of 2002) was 1430 A.D. (+/- 15 years)… The last reported ship to reach Greenland was a ship that was “blown off course”, reaching Greenland in 1406, and departing in 1410 with the last news of Greenland. However, there are some suggestions of much later unreported voyages from Europe to Greenland, possibly as late as the 1480s. The last reported account of a Norse inhabitant of Greenland was the body of a Norseman found lying face down on the beach of a fjord in the 1540s by a party of Icelandic seafarers. The Norseman had died where he had fallen, dressed in a hood, homespun woolens and seal skins.

The existence of the Greenland Colony was not forgotten. Not knowing whether the old Norse civilization remained in Greenland or not… and worried that if it did, it would still be Catholic 200 years after the Scandinavian homelands had experienced the Reformation… the missionary Hans Egede was sent to Greenland in 1721. This expedition found no surviving Europeans.


VINLAND AND L’ANSE AUX MEADOWS… According to the Icelandic saga, “Erik the Red’s Saga” and the “saga of the Greenlanders”, the Vikings started to explore lands to the west of Greenland only a few years after the Greenland settlements were established. In 985 while sailing from Iceland to Greenland with a migration fleet consisting of 400-700 settlers and 25 other ships, a merchant named Bjarni Herjolfsson was blown off course and after three days sailing he sighted land west of the fleet. Bjarni was only interested in getting to his father’s farm in Greenland, but he described his discovery to Leif Ericson who explored the area in more detail and planted a small settlement there fifteen years later. The sagas describe three separate areas discovered during this exploration… Helluland which means “land of flat stones”… “Markland, “the land of forests,” definitely of interest to settlers in Greenland where there were few trees; and… Vinland, “the land of wine”, found somewhere south of Markland. It was in Vinland that the settlement described in the sagas was planted. All four of Erik the Red’s children were to visit the North American continent, his sons Leif, Thorvald and Thorstein and their sister Freydis. One of the sons… and Thorvald, died there.

LIEF’S WINTER CAMP… Using the routes, landmarks, currents, rocks, and winds that Bjarni had described to him, Leif sailed some 1,800 miles to the New World with a crew of 35, sailing the same knarr Bjarni had used to make the voyage. He described Helluland as “level and wooded, with broad white beaches wherever they went and a gently sloping shoreline.” Leif and others had wanted his father, Erik the Red, to lead this expedition and talked him into it. However, as Erik attempted to join his son Leif on the voyage towards these new lands, he fell off his horse as it slipped on the wet rocks near the shore, thus he was injured and stayed behind.

Leif wintered in 1001, probably near Cape Bauld on the northern tip of Newfoundland, where one day his German foster father Tyker was found drunk, on what the saga describes as “wine-berries”. Squashberries, gooseberries, and cranberries all grew wild in the area. Leif spent another winter at “Leifsbodarna” without conflict, and sailed back to Brattahlid in Greenland to assume filial duties for his father.
THORVALD’S VOYAGE… In 1004, Leif’s brother Thorvald Ericson sailed with a crew of 30 men to Newfoundland and spent the following winter at Leif’s camp. In the spring, Thorvald attacked nine of the local people, who were sleeping under three skin-covered canoes. He killed eight of them, but the ninth victim escaped and soon came back to the Norse camp with a force. Thorvald himself was killed by an arrow that succeeded in passing through the barricade. Although brief hostilities ensued, the Norse explorers stayed another winter and left the following spring. Subsequently another of Leif’s brothers, Thorstein, sailed to the New World to retrieve his dead brother’s body, but he only stayed for one summer.

KARLSEFNI’S EXPEDITION… It was in 1009 that Thorfinn Karlsefni, also known as “Thorfinn the Valiant”, sailed in three ships with livestock and 250 men and women. After a cruel winter, he headed south and landed at Straumfjord, but later moved to Straumsöy, possibly because the current was stronger there. There were peaceful relations between the indigenous peoples and the Vikings, the two sides bartering with furs and gray squirrel skins for milk and red cloth, which the natives tied around their heads as a sort of headdress.
But on one occasion a bull belonging to Karlsefni came storming out of the wood, so frightening the natives that they ran to their skin-boats and rowed away. They returned three days later, in force, and attacked the Norsemen, and the Norsemen retreated. Leif Ericson’s half-sister Freydis Ericsdottir was pregnant and unable to keep up with the retreating Norsemen. She called out to them to stop fleeing from “such pitiful wretches”, adding that if she had weapons, she could do better than that. Freydís then seized a sword belonging to a man who had been killed by the natives. Confronting the natives, she pulled one of her breasts out of her bodice and struck it with the flat side of the sword, frightening the natives, who fled.

Evidence of continuing trips includes the “Maine Penny”, a Norwegian coin from King Olaf Kyrre’s reign (1066-80) found in a Native American archaeological site in the U.S. state of Maine, suggesting an exchange between the Norse and the Native Americans late in or after the 11th century; and an entry in the Icelandic Annals from 1347 which refers to a small Greenlandic vessel with a crew of eighteen that arrived in Iceland, after being blown off course by a storm, while attempting to return to Greenland from Markland with a load of timber… In addition, Norse materials have been excavated in several Inuit communities.

THE HEAVENER RUNESTONES – VIKINGS IN OKLAHOMA… 800 AD… Precisely how far the Vikings penetrated into the mainland of North America is not known, but four runestones inscribed with symbols from the Viking language were be found in the present day state of Oklahoma, USA.

The largest of the runestones is known as the Heavener Runestone. It is a sandstone slab, 12 feet high, ten feet wide, and 16 inches thick. It was first noticed in the modern era by bear hunters before 1874. This stone is carved with 8 letters from the oldest Viking language, the 24 rune Futhark, used from 300 until 800 AD, in Scandinavia.
In the immediate area, three other runestones have also been found: and at a small hill near Cavanal Mountain, 14 miles away, another smaller inscription of eight runes was found.

In 1986, the runes on the largest stone were deciphered as meaning G-L-O-M-E-D-A-L, meaning Glome’s Valley, a land claim. The other rune stones also refer to Glome, saying “Magic or protection to Gloie (his nickname)”. One of the smaller rune stones appears to have been a gravestone. The other two rune stones do not have enough runes for a translation, but the four stones were placed in a straight line, miles apart.

In order to enter Oklahoma, Vikings would have rounded the tip of Florida into the Gulf of Mexico, found the Mississippi River and sail up it, then sailed into its tributaries, the Arkansas and Poteau Rivers, around 750 AD. This date is indicated by the grammar used on the Rune stones.

MINNESOTA VIKINGS – AN ILL FATED EXPEDITION IN 1362… In November 1898, a further runestone was discovered near Kensington in the present day state of Minnesota. When deciphered, these runes revealed the story of an ill-fated Viking expedition to the area which occurred in 1362…

A translation of the runestone, on the front of the stone says : “8 Goths and 22 Norwegians on discovery voyage from Vinland over (the) west we had camp by 2 skerries one days journey north from this stone we were and fishe(ed) one day after we came home found 10 men red with blood and dead A(ve) V(irgo) M(aria) preserve from evil”… On the side of the stone it says : “have 10 men by the seas to see after our ship(s) 14 day-journeys from this island year 1362.” The stone has been the source of a fair amount of controversy. During the late 1940s, it was overwhelmingly considered authentic and was displayed in the halls of the Smithsonian Institution. The fate of the intrepid Vikings remains unknown.

THE NEWPORT TOWER… In Touro Park, Newport, Rhode Island, a stone tower, called the Newport Tower, may be the oldest fully existing Norse building in North America, probably built in the 12th Century. It has been claimed that the tower – most often referred to as Governor Arnold’s Mill – was built by Governor Arnold around the year it is mentioned in his will – 1677. However, the shape of the structure is most unsuited to that of a mill. The top of the building is obviously meant to be used as a lookout tower to look out over the bay; and the inside as an early church, complete with a place for an altar and a fireplace (all of which are incompatible with the inside of a mill). The structure’s design closely resembles other early Norse style churches which can be found in Europe.

The first mention of the existence of the tower comes in the account of the Italian explorer Giovanni de Verrazano, who, while in the service of the French, was the first 16th Century European to enter New York Bay in 1524. Verrazano noted the tower on his map of the area, calling it a “Norman villa” because of its obvious Norse design and construction. The most compelling evidence of the Norse construction of Newport Tower is however the existence of a Runic inscription on one of the walls, which has been translated to read HINKIRS or Henrikus – a Norse name. The explorer Verrazano also noted that the natives with whom he came into contact around the Newport area were “polite, cultured and of fair complexion”. Bernardo Carli, one of Verrazano’s men, wrote “This is the most beautiful and the most civilized people that we have found in our navigation. They excel us in size, are of a bronze color, some inclined to whiteness.” These physical characteristics are all clear evidence of Norse ancestry.

Numerous American Indian words are also of clear Norse origin. Many Iroquois words are said to have Norse origins. For example :
– In New England, the Indian name of the port of Halifax was “Chebuct” – in Norse a ‘Sjobukt” means a “sea bay”.
– In Martha’s Vineyard a pond called “Mennemsha” lies between Gay’s Head and Chilmark. In Norse the word “Mellemsjo” means “in-between pond”, or “body of water”.
– Near Pemaquid, Maine, a tribal branch of the Abnaki was called “Norridgewok”. In Norse, “Norrewg’s Folk” means “the people of Norway”.
– A hill in New Jersey was called “Espating” by the Indians; “Asp”, the Norse name for the Asp tree, has come into English unchanged; while the Norse word for a meeting place, a “ting” is the clear origin of the rest of the word Espating.

SOME VIKING WORDS THAT ENTERED THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE… Because of the Viking settlements in the British Isles, and the Norman invasion of 1066, more that a thousand Scandinavian words entered the English language including… landing, land, score, beck, berserk, fellow, take, hard, dale, busting, steersman, skirt, sky, skin; again, awkward, birth, cake, dregs, fog, freckles, gasp, knife, club, lathe, axle, plow, law, moss, neck, ransack, root, scowl, sister, son, daughter, seat, sly, smile, want, weak, window, both, same, get, give, they, them, their, are, to go, to come, to sit, to listen, to eat… and the third-person-singular ending -s in the present tense of verbs… The English expression, “Beyond the pale” comes from the viking city of Dublin. The “pale” was a defensive wall of sharpened wooden stakes around Dublin. If you were beyond the “pale”, you were beyond safety and out in the forest with the wild local Irish.



Who discovered America ??? Certainly not the Ming Dynasty admiral Zheng He in 1421, and certainly not Christopher Columbus in 1492… (1) To begin with, America was already full of people who had been living there for at least 18 thousand years, and maybe as long as 40 thousand years, or even longer. These people discovered America long before recorded history… (2) As early as 3000 BC, there was a village of European fishermen living on the Faroe Islands in the North Atlantic ocean, hundreds of miles from the European coast. In the next 4,000 years, any number of fisherman from Europe must have roamed as far as North America… (3) There are ancient “cairns” (piles of stones) on many of the headlands that protrude out into the ocean along the east coast of Canada. They are considered to have been built as landmarks for boats traveling up and down the coast. They are of unknown age and origin… (4) By the year 1000 AD, the Vikings had already populated the island of Iceland, and had established 2 colonies on Greenland, and one further south in “Vineland”, somewhere on the Canadian coast… (From as early as the twelfth century, Spanish whalers from northern Spain were sailing as far north as the artic ice pack, and hunted whales along the edge of the ice pack. And Spanish fishermen had fishing camps in Nova Scotia (Canada) which they sailed to from Spain every spring to fish the “Grand Banks”. All summer they would salt the fish to preserve them, and pack them in wooden barrels. Then they would load the barrels of fish into their boats and sail back to Spain before the winter storms set in. But who in Europe would have cared about where fishermen went, or where fish came from, except fishermen…)

Route of Columbus

As a sailor or seaman, Columbus must have known that the fishermen were sailing off to a strange coast to the west, and thought that the Spanish fishermen were sailing to a place on the coast north of China. This might have been what convinced Queen Isabella of Spain to finance his expedition. So Columbus sailed to a place further south expecting to reach China, or the “spice Islands”. Columbus even carried a copy of “Marco Polo’s Travels” to use as a guidebook when he got there. In his day, Columbus became famous because Europeans thought that he had discovered a new route to China and the Spice Islands of southeast Asia. Not because he had discovered America, which they already knew as just a place to go fishing.

Columbus, in his three small ships, the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria,
leaves Spain in 1492, and sets sail for China and the East Indies.


It is not known when or where Bartolomeu Dias was born, and no information has survived about his early life. He emerged from obscurity only in 1487, when he sailed from Portugal with orders from King John II to continue exploration beyond a landmark raised by Diogo Cão in 1486 on the coast of South-West Africa. The King instructed Dias to discover a sea route to India which bypassed Muslim dominated routes between the East and Europe and to seek information about the Christian empire of Abyssinia. In command of two caravels, each of about 100 modern tons, and of a storeship of about double that size, Dias left the Tagus River in August 1487. Beyond the farthest point reached by Cão, Dias made a close coasting. On Jan. 6, 1488, off the Serra dos Reis, in modern South Africa, Dias left the coast and was out of sight of land for 13 days. He steered eastward and found no land so altered course to the north. He closed the coast again opposite a river, the Gouritz of today. The coast ran eastward, and on February 3 he entered and named the bay of São Bras (modern Mossel Bay). Here he took in fresh water and bartered livestock from the local inhabitants, the Khoi-Khoi (Hottentots). Continuing east, Dias came to a bay which he called Golfo da Roca ; it was soon to be known as the Baia da Lagoa, a name subsequently corrupted to Algoa Bay. In this bay the crews verged on mutiny: they protested their shortage of provisions, pointed out that they had reached the extremity of the continent, and urged Dias to turn for home. A council agreed to this course, but Dias won consent to continue for a few more days. At the end of the stipulated term the caravels reached a river which Dias called the Infante (probably modern Keiskama) after the captain of the second caravel. The coast was running decisively to the northeast, the sea had became warmer, and it was clear that the expedition had indeed rounded Africa and reached the Indian Ocean.

Dias participated only in the first leg of Vasco da Gama’s voyage in 1497, until the Cape Verde Islands. He was then one of the captains of the second Indian expedition, headed by Pedro Alvares Cabral. This flotilla first sailed southwest discovering the coast of Brazil, and claimed it for Portugal, and then continued eastwards towards Southern Africa and the Cape of Good Hope, heading for India. Dias died on May 29, 1500, when the Portuguese ships encountered a huge storm while trying to sail around the Cape of Good Hope, and four ships were lost including Dias’ ship.



Vasco da Gama was the son of the governor of the Portuguese city Sines. His father, Estavao was called on by King John II to find a water trade route from Europe to India. However, when Estavao died, and Vasco’s brother Paulo decided against the voyage, Vasco was chosen as a last choice to make this journey.

His crew took four ships and started on their expedition in 1497. The voyage started from Lisbon, a city on the coast of Portugal. They sailed around the west coast of Africa and rounded the Cape of Good Hope . On their way up the eastern coast of Africa, Vasco and his crew made many stops at African ports and at these ports met conflict with Muslim traders. Mozambique and Mombasa were two of the stops, but the most significant place they stopped was Malindi. At Malindi, the Portuguese explorers found an Arab merchant by the name of Ahmad Ibn Majid. He was a very important addition to their expedition, because he guided Vasco da Gama and his crew to Calicut, which was the first stop the Portuguese made in India.

Vasco da Gama set sail for home on 29 August 1498. Eager to leave he ignored the local knowledge of monsoon wind patterns, which was still blowing onshore. Crossing the Indian Ocean to India, sailing with the monsoon wind, had taken Vasco Da Gama’s ships only 23 days. The return trip across the ocean, sailing against the wind, took 132 days, and Gama arrived in Malindi on 7 January 1499. During this trip, approximately half of the crew died, and many of the rest were afflicted with scurvy. Two of Gama’s ships made it back to Portugal, arriving in July and August of 1499.

Vasco Da Gama’s ships

Vasco da Gama was the first Portuguese explorer to accomplish the goal of sailing to India, by sailing south, then east around the southern tip of the continent of Africa. As a result, Portugal gained a monopoly on the eastern sea route (around Africa) from Europe to India for over a century. Vasco Da Gama’s expedition was successful beyond all reasonable expectation, his two surviving ships bringing in a cargo of spices that was worth sixty times the entire cost of the expedition.



The discovery by Columbus, of the New World to the west had been a bitter disappointment to the Spanish. Although riches of various kinds were found, the new land did not have the valued spices of the Orient. The Spanish search for a western sea route to the Spice Islands continued. Spices had a high value and were in great demand. Spices such as pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, or cloves in the European markets were worth their weight in gold. And all these spices were produced in India, Ceylon, and the Moluccas, known as the Spice Islands, where they could be procured very cheaply. Once Vasco da Gama and the Portuguese arrived in India in 1498, it became urgent for Spain to find a new commercial route to Asia. The Spanish Crown then decided to send out exploration voyages in order to again try to find a way to Asia by travelling westwards.

Magellan was Portuguese and had first approached the King of Portugal to finance his expedition. But the King of Portugal was not interested in his expedition, because Vasco Da Gama had found a route to the Spice Islands by sailing around the South of Africa. So Magellan went to Spain and approached the King of Spain to finance his expedition. The King of Spain agreed to finance his expedition, because Spain was searching for a sea route to the Spice Islands, so they could compete with the Portuguese. So on August 10, 1519, five ships under Magellan’s command – Trinidad, San Antonio, Concepción, Victoria, and Santiago – left Seville and travelled from the Guadalquivir River to Sanlúcar de Barrameda at the mouth of the river, where they remained for more than five weeks. Spanish authorities were wary of the Portuguese Magellan, and almost prevented the admiral from sailing, and switched his crew from mostly Portuguese men to men of Spain. Nevertheless, Magellan set sail from Sanlúcar de Barrameda with about 270 men on September 20. The King of Portugal ordered a Portuguese naval detachment to pursue Magellan (to prevent Spain from finding a competing sea route to the Spice Islands), but Magellan eluded them. After stopping at the Canary Islands, Magellan arrived at Cape Verde, where he set course for Cape St. Augustine in Brazil. On November 27, the expedition crossed the equator; on December 6, the crew sighted South America. He then sailed south along South America’s east coast, looking for the strait that Magellan believed would lead to the Spice Islands. The fleet reached Río de la Plata on January 10, 1520.

On March 30, the crew established a settlement that they called Puerto San Julian. On April 2, a mutiny involving two of the five ship captains broke out, but it was unsuccessful because the crew remained loyal to Magellan. The journey resumed. The Santiago was sent down the coast on a scouting expedition and was wrecked in a sudden storm. All of its crew survived and made it safely to shore. Two of them returned overland to inform Magellan of what had happened, and bring rescue to their comrades. After this experience, Magellan decided to wait for a few weeks more before again resuming the voyage.

At 52°S latitude on October 21, the fleet reached Cape Virgenes and concluded they had found the passage, because the waters were brine and deep inland. The four remaining ships began an arduous trip through the 373-mile (600 km) long passage that Magellan called the Estrecho (Canal) de Todos los Santos, (“All Saints’ Channel”), because the fleet traveled through it on November 1, or All Saints’ Day.

The strait was later named the Strait of Magellan. Magellan first assigned Concepcion and San Antonio to explore the strait, but the latter, commanded by Gomez, deserted and returned to Spain on November 20. On November 28, the three remaining ships entered the South Pacific. Magellan named the waters the Mar Pacifico (Pacific Ocean) because of its apparent stillness. Magellan was the first European to reach Tierra del Fuego just east of the Pacific side of the strait.

Heading northwest across the seemingly endless expanse of the Pacific Ocean, the crew ran out of food and was reduced to eating rats, sawdust, and pieces of leather. The little water that remained was slimy and yellow. Many of the crew died of starvation, and scurvy. The ships reached the equator on February 13, 1521. On March 6, they reached the Marianas and Guam. Magellan called Guam the “Island of Sails” because they saw so many sailboats (Polynesian voyaging canoes with sails). On Guam they were able to replenish their food and water provisions.

On March 16, Magellan reached the island of Homonhon in the Philippines, with 150 crew left, and became the first European to reach the Philippines. On the morning of April 17, 1521, Magellan was killed in a skirmish with a local tribe on Mactan Island. After losing 30 more crew men in the Philippines, the expedition had too few men to sail the three remaining ships. Accordingly, on May 2, they abandoned Concepción and burned the ship to ensure it could not be used against them. The fleet, reduced to Trinidad and Victoria, fled westward to the island of Palawan. They left that island on June 21, and were guided to Brunei, Borneo, by Moro pilots who could navigate the shallow seas. They anchored off the Brunei breakwater for 35 days, where Pigafetta, an Italian from Vicenza, recorded the splendour of Rajah Siripada’s court (gold, two pearls the size of hens’ eggs, etc.). In addition, Brunei boasted tame elephants and armament of 62 cannons, more than 5 times the armament of Magellan’s ships, and Brunei disdained cloves, which were to prove more valuable than gold, upon the return to Spain.

Map showing the voyage of Magellan’s ship, “The Victoria

After reaching the Moluccas Islands (the Spice Islands) on November 6, 115 crew were left. They managed to trade with the Sultan of Tidore, a rival of the Sultan of Ternate, who was a ally of the Portuguese. The two remaining ships, laden with valuable spices, were now ready to return to Spain. However, as they left the Spice Islands, Trinidad began to take on water. The crew tried to discover and repair the leak, but failed. They concluded that Trinidad would need to spend considerable time being overhauled, and the small Victoria was not large enough to accommodate all the surviving crew. As a result, the Victoria with some of the crew sailed west for Spain. As previously agreed, when the Trinidad was repaired and ready to sail, it went east back across the Pacific, in an attempt to guarantee that at least one ship would make it back to Spain. The Trinidad did not make it back. After recrossing the Pacific Ocean, and entering the Atlantic Ocean, the ship was seized by the Portuguese off the coast of Brazil, and most of her crew were killed.

A full scale replica of “The Victoria”

The Victoria managed to elude the Portuguese as it crossed enemy trade routes in the Indian Ocean. Staying as far away from the Cape of Good Hope as possible, for fear of attack, the Victoria rounded Africa and headed north towards Europe. On September 6, 1522, the Victoria and its 18 surviving crew members, sailed into the port of Seville, Spain. The first circumnavigation of the globe was complete. 

Upon returning they found that the ship’s calendars were a day behind those of Spain, even though they had faithfully maintained the ship’s log. However, they did not have clocks accurate enough to observe the very slight lengthening of each day while they were underway on the journey (and since they traveled west, after circumnavigation they had rotated about the earth’s axis one time less, hence experiencing one less night, than if they had remained in Spain). This caused great excitement at the time and a special delegation was sent to the Pope to explain the oddity to him. As a result of Magellan’s voyage, the need for an International Date Line was established.

Four surviving crewmen of the original 55 on Trinidad were released by the Portuguese and finally returned to Spain in 1525.

By 1522, Columbus had discovered the Americas… Vasco da Gama had discovered an eastern sea route to India and the Spice Islands, by sailing around Africa… and Magellan had discovered a western sea route to India and the Spice Islands, by sailing around South America. The trade monopoly of the Italians, Turks, and Arabs had been broken. Western Europe now had free access to the whole world, and its riches.

In 1500 the Portuguese crown had sent its second expedition to India, captained by Cabral. The 13 ships were well armed, for Vasco da Gama’s report on his reception in Calicut had convinced the crown that the Indian Ocean trading network could only be penetrated by force. But not much force, because da Gama had also reported an extraordinary fact… Indian Ocean merchant shipping was unarmed. Not so in the Mediterranean, where commerce and coercion had always gone hand in hand. The Italian merchant republics of Genoa and Venice waged their commercial wars at sea; Catalans, Majorcans, Maltese, Spaniards and French competed for markets and maritime routes by force of arms. By the middle of the 15th century, cannon were mounted on the great Venetian galleys, and other powers followed suit. Ships with superstructures strong enough to bear cannon were constructed, resulting in the galleons, the floating fortresses of the 16th century. By later standards, the Portuguese ships that rounded the Cape of Good Hope were lightly armed. Their cannon barrels were forged of iron rods, capable only of firing stones weighing fractions of a kilogram a couple hundred meters. They nevertheless proved effective against the unarmed shipping of the Indian Ocean. Although it is unlikely that Cabral’s two-day bombardment of Calicut caused much actual damage, the psychological effect was enormous.The Portuguese also quickly took advantage of local rivalries. Although unable to establish a warehouse in Calicut, Cabral found rivals of Calicut at Cochin and Cananore who were prepared to deal with the Portuguese.

The third Portuguese expedition, in 1502, was composed of 14 ships, again commanded by Vasco da Gama. He stopped at Kilwa on the East African coast, where he levied a yearly tribute of 1500 ounces of gold from the sultan. When he reached Calicut, he too bombarded the port, in retaliation for the killing of the Portuguese traders he had stationed there on his first voyage. The Muslim merchants of the Malabar coast mounted a fleet against him, but they were defeated by the Portuguese cannon. He returned to Lisbon with a large cargo of spices from Cochin, and King Manuel made the decision to establish a permanent naval presence in the Indian Ocean in order to gain control of the spice trade. In 1505, Francisco de Almeida, appointed viceroy with a tenure of three years, was sent with 21 ships to establish fortresses at key locations. In this way, first came the Portuguese and Spanish… then the Dutch… then the French and English… and then even later the Swedes, Germans, Belgians, and Italians. The Age of Discovery was a European invasion of the world…

English Map of the World… circa 1800

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