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Review of Marcus, G. J. "The Greenland Trade-Route" The Economic History Review, New Series, Vol. 7, No. 1. (1954), pp. 71-80

Areas outside of Scandinavian lands were becoming more and more populated in the 10th century and became more protected from Viking raids through the rise in local powers. With internal pressure and the increase of protection the Vikings were forced to explore uncharted territories in search of resources and space in which to live. In this article G. J. Marcus argues that the economic interactions between Greenland and other Norse settlements are of great importance to the purposes behind the exploration of the northern lands. He bases his arguments on the Norwegian need for resources such as iron and their exportation of other precious materials such as ivory, sealskin and polar bear in order to trade for other items in Europe. Animals such as polar bear were not seen in Europe before they were traded away from Norse lands making them very unique and valuable. Marcus also briefly discusses the livestock which pastured there including sheep which created the opportunity for wool trade.

As mentioned, this article discusses the interaction between mainland Norway and the Greenland colonies. It concentrates on the Viking period from the very beginning of the 11th century onward and discusses the view of written documents such as the Fostbroedhra Saga and Eirik's Saga Raudha (Marcus 1954:72). The focus is primarily on relating the resources of the Greenland colonies and the use they had to the Norse of mainland Norway and visa versa. There is also an analysis of the shipping vessels which were constructed during this period and those of which were seaworthy in the North Sea.

The Fostbroedhra Saga and Eirik's Saga Raudha provide a good view into the world of Greenland during the later Viking age but these writings by themselves cannot allow us to make a complete interpretation of the culture of the Scandinavians. Because of this it is important to examine other areas of scholarship in order to fully establish an acceptable interpretation. Upon viewing the footnotes made by Marcus it can be seen that he incorporated many extra explanations to areas which were not entirely relevant or too long to attach to his argument. He also uses many sources from 'Copenhagen' from the decade of the 1930's. A problem with this article's sources is that the formulae of the footnotes in this article are not quite as easily recognizable to modern scholars because of its age.

The methodologies which Marcus uses follow a path directed towards the usage of sagas and other written histories in order to emphasis the importance of Greenland-Norway trade routes. Much focus was what was transported from Greenland to areas of Norway and who was doing the shipping. Marcus uses a good amount of sources on each and every page in his article to support his argument. However, there are sources that he does not agree with, mainly by means of the misinterpretation of ship design and construction type of ships which were used on the trade routes between Greenland and Norway. Of course it is commonly known now that the Norse did in fact have ships which differed in construction and purpose this might not have been the case when this was written. Limitations, which Marcus included in his footnotes and aside comments, were the general interpretations which have been made about certain aspects of his research and the writings in the sagas. What is seen as common sense or educated guessing about where some land mass is, or how long it took for a ship to sail from one place to another, or weather issues in the Viking age is a limitation to research to Marcus in 1954 and still is to some extent.

The author found that the climate of Greenland was beginning to deteriorate about the time of the fifteenth century becoming much harsher to live in and resulted in the colonization and trade routes of Greenland so seize. (Marcus 1954:79) Marcus also concludes that archaeological evidence that there was minimal communication to Greenland even after the collapse of the Viking age through cemetery finds at Herjolsnes. His goal of proving the importance of Greenland trade was completed though the evidence remaining in Greenland and through the written evidence in the Sagas stating that Greenland was a very valuable source of not just furs and skins but also flacons and other exotic animals. The Viking colonies here prove that trade became essential to the Norwegian economy after the raiding of Christian lands discontinued.

This article will assist my research because it provides a direct interpretation based out of primary sources. The sagas give insight into the life of the long distance merchant, and the shipping routes which they underwent. What they traded to the mainland Europeans is also of importance to the modification in ship design and construction. In the Saga of Ref the Sly it can be seen that it is very much a story which cannot be found archaeologically. I now can prove that the trade routes mentioned in the saga are in fact true. However there are implications that this article assists me in identifying writing which has obviously been fabricated. In Ref the sly there was mention of forests in Greenland which Ref uses to build a fortified house with a unique water defense system. Clearly this is just a part of the story to make the character of Ref, slyer.

      Updated: 4 Dec, 2007
Text © M. Rhys Stevenson, 2007
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