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  • Roman Coins in Iceland December 16, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Medieval
    Roman Coins in Iceland

    Roman coins have been found within and without the Empire. Denarii and solidii turn up in Scandinavia, Free Germany, Ceylon, Mainland India and Ethiopia, there is even one fascinating outlier in Madagascar (another post, another day). These coins will have arrived in two separate ways. Some will have been brought by Roman traders and some […]

    An Early Icelandic Fairy December 5, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    An Early Icelandic Fairy

    Iceland has often featured on this blog for two reasons: first, because it is a part of the formula by which the thuggish Vikings made it to the New World five centuries before Columbus; and, second, because it retains in its traditions some particularly old pagan customs, customs that have been absorbed or overlaid by […]

    Three Forgotten Democratic Tools from History November 24, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Medieval
    Three Forgotten Democratic Tools from History

    Western democracies run on a fairly limited model with relatively little variety from country to country. There follow three features that have disappeared from our contemporary democracies but that worked (and worked well) in the three most significant strands of historical democracies: ancient Greece, the medieval Italian communes and Viking ‘controlled anarchy’. Ostracisim Ancient Athens […]

    Human Trousers from Iceland April 8, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Human Trousers from Iceland

    Regular readers of this blog will know the name ‘Leif’, who always sends in excellent copy about Viking culture, correcting my excesses and offering new perspectives. Leif recently sent in these reflections on Lappish breeches (extraordinary and horrific picture at the foot of this post) after my post on a human drum. Here we return […]

    Migrating Birds and the Edge of the World April 3, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Medieval, Prehistoric
    Migrating Birds and the Edge of the World

    Year in year out birds follow migratory routes from north to south and from south to north. These travelling birds have long intrigued humans who have looked amazed as waves upon waves of birds fly to destinations unknown. These birds have entered human legend: the storks going to Africa to fight the pygmies, the wild […]

    Medieval Shamanic Account from Iceland January 17, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    Medieval Shamanic Account from Iceland

    ‘Shaman’ is a much misused word. But here is a medieval account of shamnism from northern Europe that is, to the best of this blogger’s knowledge without parallel. The text is a saga: Vatnsdaela Saga, a thirteenth-century Icelandic text. The author tells of Ingimundr the Old who was born and brought up in northern Norway. […]

    A Newland to the West of Iceland 1285? December 28, 2013

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    A Newland to the West of Iceland 1285?

    Those stray British, Scandinavian and Dutch references to exploration in the medieval northern Atlantic have frequently been set out on this blog: remember the inventio fortunatatae, or the incest island, brave bishop Erik or, for that matter, Vinland the Good?  Occasionally there is a hint that adventurers or, more typically, storm-driven sailors had stumbled into […]

    Pre-Viking Vikings in the Faroes? August 27, 2013

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Medieval
    Pre-Viking Vikings in the Faroes?

    F ***Special thanks to PGR, Chris and Wade for signaling this*** Beach has never hidden his dislike for the Vikings and so was particularly happy to hear that Faroe, those lonely islands, between Shetland and Iceland are having their history rewritten (or rather their archaeology because history was in short supply back then). Orthodox history […]

    Zen Letters and Names March 10, 2013

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval, Modern
    Zen Letters and Names

    The Zen letters are the now lost and the perhaps never existing fourteenth-century missives that described a Venetian visit to the northern Atlantic and perhaps to New England or Canada. A supposed outline of them survive in a sixteenth-century publication by Nicolò Zen, a scion of the family. NZ describes the northern Atlantic and offers […]

    A Fisherman’s Tale or a Venetian Invention? February 28, 2013

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval, Modern
    A Fisherman's Tale or a Venetian Invention?

    Lots of emails received in the last week about the Zen brothers and the possibility of a pre-Columbian crossing of the Atlantic by a northern route in the fourteenth century. We have decided to put up the most interesting passage in this respect that relates to some wind-blown fishermen from Europe who end up ‘over […]

    A Mysterious Island, Incest and a Twelfth-century Papal Letter February 21, 2013

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    A Mysterious Island, Incest and a Twelfth-century Papal Letter

    Greenland certainly had contact with the New World in the late tenth century. Did though this contact continue into the eleventh, twelfth, thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth century? This controversy is one we have looked at before, showing that there is some evidence that it did: though the evidence is intermittent. Here is a further document […]

    The Lost Zen Letters: A Cautionary Tale about Children and Archives February 15, 2013

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval, Modern
    The Lost Zen Letters: A Cautionary Tale about Children and Archives

    ***Dedicated to KR who pointed Zenwards*** The story (as always) is a simple one, perhaps deceptively, perhaps dishonestly so. In 1558 in Dello scoprimento dell’ isole Frislanda, Eslanda, Engrouelanda, Estotilanda e Icaria fatto sotto il Polo artico da’ due fratelli Zeni, M. Nicolo il K. e M. Antonio (Of the Discovery of Frisolanda, Eslanda, Engrouelanda, Estotilanda and Icara […]

    Viking Zombie February 6, 2013

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    Viking Zombie

    A Viking zombie story from medieval Iceland courtesy of Chris from Haunted Ohio Books: thanks Chris!! Glam is an uncouth and enormous Swede who is taken on as a shepherd in a ‘haunted’ part of Iceland (Vatnsdal): he is rash enough to guard the sheep from whatever beast comes out in the Icelandic moonlight. This […]

    Bishop Erik’s Unorthodox Trip, 1121 January 14, 2013

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    Bishop Erik's Unorthodox Trip, 1121

    Let’s start with historical orthodoxy. From c. 950-1000 Viking Greenlanders crossed the Davis Strait and set up a settlement or perhaps several small settlements in Canada. This settlement or these settlements may or may not have been just for the summer, but the fact is that, in any case, they were shortlived. The Greenlanders simply […]

    Thirteenth-century Viking Legend in Canada? January 10, 2013

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
    Thirteenth-century Viking Legend in Canada?

    Did the Vikings believe that mythical outlaws dwelt on Canada’s Baffin Island, perhaps parallel to the outlaws of the Icelandic interior that we have looked at before on this blog? It seems unlikely given that Greenlanders – the closest ‘Vikings’ to Baffin – are not supposed by some to have visited North American after about […]

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