Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Bishop's Sea, II: Eirik the Red's Land

Source: Anglican Diocese of British Columbia. I knew the then-Bishop's son in grad school, and he knew  my Victoria second cousins. Connections!

Let's see. Where to begin?

Oh, I know: Margaret Craven's 1967 novel, I Heard the Owl Call My Name, in which an Anglican bishop is made aware that one of his priests. Naturally, the bishop conceals this from the priest, and instead sends him to a mission church in Kingcome Inlet, where "he learns from the Indians, and they from him." And then he dies.   Kingcome Inlet is (very loosely) in the catchment of my high school (W00t NISS, rhymes with a rude word less than our rival, PHSS!) So I knew some kids from there, children of an old Kingcome Inlet family, the Halladay girls, who roomed in Port McNeill during the school year. So that's a personal connection with a story so famous that it actually got made into a General Electric Theater Movie of the Week! Craven was a member of that Bay-area Stanford-San-Francisco quasi-aristocracy which has so many odd connections with the Northwest Coast on account of being our informal metropolitan for so many years, and Kingcome Inlet is "home to people of the Dzawa̱da̱'enux̱w tribe of the Kwakwaka'wakw nation (who are given the now-archaic name “Kwakiutl” in the book)." So, connections.

No, wait, that's just a bit about little mission churches in remote Indian reservations way up the chuck. We're dealing with important things here. Like the Kaiserdom Speyer, the largest Romanesque cathedral in Germany, which label does not even begin to capture the scale of the design.

I could not find an image that really captured the Kaiserdom's majesty, so I went with Romantic pencils instead, courtesy of Wikipedia.) 

Given the way that a tour of Europe can degenerate into "another day, another cathedral," I'll just point out that Speyer is a small village in the ancestral lands of what we choose to call the Salian family, not a city. Under Gregory VII, it was taken to be an explicit challenge of the papal power. Whether Conrad II intended it as such when he began work is another matter entirely. Much more likely, its key role was to provide an appropriate scale of burial place for the eventually century-long descent of the Salian emperors. In that sense, it's about family. Eleventh Century German-Imperial high politics is a story of family connections told without genealogies or family names. The former were first set down a century later, and the latter often coined even later and then fitted back onto the noble clans. These are matters which can be obscured, denied and problematised, and one can see why the Salian emperors took steps to steadily render their dynasty more concrete, monumental, and permanent, by erecting it in stone. 

Wait. Greenland? Wasn't this about Greenland? Since Greenland is an island dependency of the Kingdom of Denmark with a nice little Wikipedia article which summarises, amongst other things, its inexpressibly romantic history as the further westermost and arguably only North American Viking settlement, I would ordinarily direct the reader there. Not this time, though, because it would be in contempt of the bench of the International Court of Justice, which, in a judgment given on 5 April 1933, defined "Greenland" for us. Did you know that the International Court of Justice decided what Greenland was. (Justices Anzilotti and Vogt dissenting, and Justices Shuecking and Wang concurring. Unfortunately, the dissents and concurrent opinions are omitted in the online PDF. I can't remember if they appear in the printed proceedings, which I haven't looked at in years.)

What the heck? You ask yourself politely. In a nutshell, on 1 June 1931, Norway acceded to a longstanding pressure campaign to "annex" a chunk of the far northeastern coast of Greenland as its very own Arctic colony. Norwegian whalers and fur traders being the only Europeans (and for the most part only humans) active in the area, there was some shadow of an economic claim, but it really comes down to Norway being upset that all the cool Viking stuff got taken from it while it wasn't being a country. Hence the fact that the putative colony was dubbed "Eirik the Red's Land," notwithstanding the fact that even Norwegian nationalist opinion had receded from the full wingnut position that Erik the Red's Eastern Settlement had been on the east coast of Greenland (in Erik the Red's Land, as opposed to further south at Amassalik Island), and that therefore Denmark was bad and wrong, and should be ashamed of itself.  Also Sweden. And, really, pretty much everybody except Norwegians, and even some of those. 


"[Eirik the Red's Land], the the "taking possession" of which "is officially confirmed" and which is "placed under Norwegian sovereignty" is "sjtuated between Carlsberg Fjord on the South and Bessel Fjord on the North, in Eastern Greenland", and extends from latitude 71" 30' to 75" 40' N. By "Eastern Greenland" is meant the eastern coast of Greenland. . . . It should be added that only in the last years of the xrxth century was it definitely established that Greenland is not connected by land with the other parts of the continent of America, i.e. that Greenland is an island.

The climate and character of Greenland are [awful, especially East Greenland, and impede travel.] According to the information supplied to the Court by the Parties, it was about the year 900 A. D. that Greenland was discovered. The country was colonized about a century later. The best known of the colonists was Eric the Red, who was an inhabitant of Iceland of Norwegian origin ; it was at that time that two settlements called Eystribygd and Vestribygd were founded towards the southern end of the western coast. These settlements appear to have existed as an independent State for some time, but became tributary to the kingdom of Norway in the ~11th century. These settlements had disappeared before 1500. Information as to these early Nordic settlements and as to the extent to which the settlers dominated the rernainder of the country is very scanty. It seems clear that the settlers made hunting journeys far to the North on the western coast, and records exist of at least one expedition to places on the East coast. The historian, or saga writer, Sturla Thordarson tells (about 1261) how the men of Greenland undertook to pay tribute, and how, for every man murdered, a fine should be payable to the King whether the dead man was a Norwegian or a Greenlander and whether killed in the settlements or in the districts to which people went for the summer even as far North as under the Pole Star. In 1380, the kingdoms of Norway and Denmark were united under the same Crown; the character of this union . . . changed to some extent in the course of time [but not necessarily with respect to Greenland]. . . The disappearance of the Nordic colonies did not put an end to the King's pretensions to the sovereignty over Greenland. . . .Though at this time no colonies or settlements existed in Greenland, contact with it was not entirely lost, because the waters surrounding it, especially on the East coast, were regularly visited by whalers, and the maps of the period show that the existence and the general configuration of Greenland, including the East coast, were by no means unknown . . . In 1721, the pastor Hans Egede, of Bergen in Norway, formed a "Greenland Company", went to Greenland as a missionary and founded a new colony there, which was soon followed by other settlements . . . Attempts to reach the East coast and effect a landing there were made from the West coast of the island, but led to no results.. . . In the course of the xrxth century and the early years of the xxth, the coasts of Greenland were entirely explored. For the purposes of the present case, it is only necessary to note two dates : first, in 1822 the Scottish whaler Scoresby made the first landing by a European in the territory covered by the Norwegian declaration of occupation ; secondly, about 1900, thanks to the voyages of the American Peary, the insular character of Greenland was established. . .  Several Danish expeditions explored portions of the noncolonized part of Greenland during the x~xth century ; first in 1829-1830, the Graah expedition explored the East coast south of Angmagssalik. Approximately the same part of the East coast was again explored in 1883-1885 by the Holm expedition which led, after some years, to the colonization, in 1894, of Angmagssalik. . .[Other Danish expeditions explored the whole of the east coast. Various other things were done which bear on Denmark's ability to show that it exercised sovereignity over these unpopulated territories under the Palmas Island precedent.]
[Against this]. . . It has been argued on behalf of Norway that after the disappearance of the two Nordic settlements [which might be argued to be an Inuit conquest, which extinguished Danish rights], Norwegian sovereignty was lost and Greenland became a terra nullius. [Also, it might be argued that historic Danish claims to sovereignity over Greenland cannot apply to East Greenland, as it was then unknown. Also, it might be argued that the Inuit of Greenland are not Danish subjects during this period of lapsed direct rule, since the Inuit and Norse maybe didn't interbreed or something.]
This isn't entirely a comic opera. Telegraph relays, overflights on the circumpolar route, and even economically important fishing rights were at stake. For the Norwegians, the steady narrowing of their viable legal claims had the unfortunate result of edging them out of the one actual inhabitable area of East Greenland (Amassalik Island and its environs) to the far north, although to be fair the Independence I and II paleo-Eskimo cultures seem to have reached this far to the southeast, although not the historic Arctic Highlanders, and certainly not Dorset, although the Thule Inuit had obvioiusly reached Amassalik Fjord by the time they were discovered there by Gustav Holm's expedition in 1884, and, what's more, knew the way back to the rest of Greenland so well that a single firsthand encounter with European luxuries like clean underwear was enough to send the population of the area decamping back to the east coast. (Which doesn't say much for Danish rule's ability to "read" Greenland!) 

For reasons to be discussed below, however, we have to assume that the and certainly not the Saqqaq reached Amassalik.  

Tasiilaq town, on Ammassalik Island, East Greenland' home of the Tunumiit People, 65 degrees, 36 minutes north. [Source]
   So here are the strands to be brought together: the barely-history character of mission churches way up fjords; the mighty Kaiserdom, the instantiation in stone of the preferred version of the history of the Salian dynasty, so profoundly identified with a long struggle with the reforming "Gregorian" papacy now known as the Investiture Controversy, relevant here because the original historic reference to "Vinland" comes in the 1075ish biography of a key player, Bishop Adalbert of Bremen;  just about the only humanly inhabitable region on the coast of east Greenland; and an intervention from the bench to seize the contested facts at issue and establish a history of Greenland that would forestall a potential falling out of the Great Powers over the potential of the circumpolar air or radio-relay route. 

To begin with, let's do the lazy thing and look at the Cambridge New Medieval History:

For our volume editors, it comes down to the papacy placing itself at the head of a tremendous force for change with the election of Leo IX in 1049. (Notice that Leo is also our first historical source for Greenland, a land of "savages" who "live by piracy," so-called because the constant sea-spray makes their skin green, and who have recently received Christianity. Unfortunately, our source for this is, as far as I can tell, not independent. It's the same Adamof Bremen "History of the Deeds of the Archbishops of Hamburg and Bremen in which Vinland comes to light.) 

Leo brought with him a group of reformers representing  movement which had been growing in “the monasteries” for half-a-century. We are at the mercy of our sources in sorting out exactly who the advanced opinion is emanating from, and who is patronising it, but the "monk, Hildebrand," later Gregory VII, appears repeatedly, and I think that a case can be made for it being the Lotharingian-Canossan dynasty, rulers in both Tuscany and Upper Lorraine -- a conjunction which will raise an Eighteenth Century historian's eyebrows

The reform movement challenged the Byzantine empire and the patriarchate of Constantinople; to establish free papal elections; to revive “half-forgotten legislation on clerical celibacy, episcopal schools and legations”; to claim lordship over “important regions” of western Europe. It invented crusading; and tried to subject all episcopal hierarchies, including the eastern patriarchates. “In a remarkably short time the sacramental and penitential theology of the Latin church was transformed, much of it in a way that directly affected ordinary Christians such as the geographical location of purgatory and the establishment of universal rules for canonization and for the verification of relics.” The reformers rejected the role of lay protection and patronship entirely, daringly given that they had to fear the Roman nobility above all, so that by renouncing the Imperial protector, they had to look at a ragtag assortment of allies who were powerful enough to dislodge whichever noble clan sought to dominate “their local bishop,” yet not powerful enough to dominate them. The energy of the reformers, our authors tell us, Is best attested by the sheer number of stone churches built in the central Middle Ages, so that every village, if the dismal collection of huts could be called such, acquired such an edifice. It was a building programme of unimaginable scale, unseen since Roman times. A huge effort, in other words, of making communities.Notice that, by analogy, mighty parish churches in straggles of hovels will serve by comparison with the grandiose rise of the Kaiserdom above the village of Speyer. 

Or of Gardar Cathedral above Brattihild.

Uta-Renate Blumenthal, the author who actually gets the chapter on the Papacy (8—37), notes that the chosen timeframe requires the historian of the papacy to cover the violently opposed ages of the Adelspapsttum and the period of the Gregorian reformers. The earlier period is one in which succession to the apacy, formerly controlled by the east Roman Emperor's representative, the Patrician of Rome, had devoled, along with that title, on what we think are family dynasties of Roman local nobles, the Crescentii and Tusculari. 

In 1046, Henry III descended on Rome, put a German bishop into the office, and returned to the north bearing the official regalia of the Patrician --a hint, perhaps, that he regarded the source of his new-found power to regulate the papal succession as that traditional office. 

It was not easy, however, to finally establish the reformer's grip, as the frequently-interrupted papacy of Benedict IX shows. The key issue of the 1046 reform had been attacks on simony (the sale of church functions such as fees for admission to a monastery as well as the conventional “sale of offices”) and clerical marriage, while the importance of these reforms was magnified by increasing resort to the papacy, as a remote and well-organised --by the appallingly low standards of the time-- appeal court for disputes within the local, German church.  It is amazing, given the practices that then applied, that the central church was finding clerical marriage and simony to be a new problem. The vexed question of the disposal of ecclesiastical revenues made it almost impossible to elect a new bishop without "simony" being involved; meanwhile, at the parish level, it was literally incomprehensible that anyone except the father of the new priest would train him to be a priest. That was just how village society worked, and he could hardly be anyone but the parish priest! It is therefore likely that the reformers were not uncovering new heresies as they were redefining old practices as heresies. 

Moving on, Hanna Vollrath, the editors' choice to write “The Western Empire under the Salians,” begins with a historiographic note. Just like his predecessor, Otto III in 1002, Henry II died without issue in 1024. But whereas Otto died young and unexpectedly, Henry’s death came at great age and after many years on the throne. So while Otto’s heir might have been seen as something left to the ripening of time, the succession of Henry III must have been a pressing concern before his death.
Yet historian Wipo, writing some twenty years later, suggests that it was only with the convocation of the magnates, assembled at Kamba on the Rhine at the summons of Archbishop Aribo of Mainz, that any thought was given to the succession. Wipo tells us that they eventually chose Conrad the Elder, an illiterate (“idiota”), like many secular magnates, but neglects to mention that Conrad was the great-grandson of Otto the Great by his first (English) wife, Eadgyth (Edith), and thereby the closest kin to the late king. 

As I have already noticed, it is going to be another  century before the royal geneaologies were written down, without them --without even the ananchronistic family names we use to keep these noble factions sorted out-- it is easy to believe that Wipo could have got some of the details confused. But on the one hand, this is unlikely. On the other, what the heck does it mean that a royal historiographer writing in the mid-1000s does not have access to a royal genealogy? Turning to my Maori sage, via James Belich, I can only again quote that genealogies are for maintaining taboo. 

Crescentii? Salians? "Lotharingians-Canossans?" Who are these people? Apparently, the eleventh century empire is not in a state yet where taboo can be maintained. Hence the Kaiserdom. Genealogies will emerge when it is possible to sort out the past. 

Meanwhile, we have the history of Greenland. Gunnbjørn Ulfsson, we are told, sailing from Norway to Iceland, was blown westward to "Gunnbjörn's skerries," a chain of islands off the coast of Greenland, long a favourite stopping place for voyagers bound for Greenland, at approximately the latitude of Amaasalik. Per Wikipedia, the Skerries held 18 farms in 1391, but, like Atlantis, they are now lost, due to a volcanic eruption or something. Look: I'm not making this up, although I suspect that someone is. 

The crucial point here is that the route to Greenland consists, around the turn of the 9th Century, in sailing west from the westernmost promontory of Iceland in the latitude of Amassalik, reaching Greenland, and then turning south to reach Cape Farewell, then north and westerly again to the Norse settlements, nestled deep in the fjords of southern Greenland. Later, we are told, new sailing directions were established: sail west from Nidaros with the Faeroes to one hand and the Shetlands to the other, just south of Iceland to the northern horizon, until you reach Cape Farewell. On the one hand, given the ice pack off east Greenland, this sounds like a much saner and safer way of going about things, and if the number of Vinland-farers of the sagas who end up swept all the way east to Ireland is any indication, it is hardly outside the sailing capability of these northern craft, at least in high summer. On the other, the way that these sailing directions conduct us across the Bishop's Sea of the archbishop of Trondheim is suspicious in the extreme. Wouldn't Bergen make a better point of departure?

One more thing about the far east coast of Greenland. In the story of Snøbjørn Galte Holmsteinsson, the first man to attempt to establish a colony on Greenland, the east coast is found to be uninhabited, as well as borderline uninhabitable, but when one Thorgills Thordson was shipwrecked there, about the time of Erik the Red, he found "witches" living there. Not to be too specific about location or identity, but we assume that these were Saqqaq people, because who else could they be, and leave the question of how they got there, as a mystery that admits no solution. 

At this point, I want to haul one fundamental point up the flagpole, just to see who salutes it: first you have the parish, the establishment of community; then you have disputes over origins and the nature of property and power; only once these have been nailed down, can you have a genealogy. 

Our history of Greenland and Vinland is based on two sources that we read as complementing each other. The first is the reference to remote and recently Christianised lands of semi-savages, as given to us in the great archbishop and participant in the Investiture Controversy, who clearly wishes to be seen, and will be seen, if Leo IX has anything to say about it, as "the metropolitan of the North." Then, and much later --at three centuries departure from the actual "colonisation" of Greenland, we have a genealogical history which claims to tell us just who, and when, established those colonies. 

I've put "colonisation" in quotes here to prepare the way for the usual move: to transform the Norse colonisation of Greenland into an ethnogenesis as Norse of the already resident population. This is a hypothesis right now. It is, I think, a defensible one. It will need developing as an argument about demographics and economics in the high Arctic, but it starts with putting history into question: and not written history, which is subject to reading, after all, but the kind of written history which looks like it cannot be contested at all: buildings, erected, permanent, the landscape of human memory. Thirty years on, I'm a little unclear about exactly who the Halladay sisters were, and are. This  I'm sure I could find out if my curiosity rose to even the slightest level of seriousness. On the other hand, we're probably never going to know who the Crescentii and the Salians were, if only because sorting out a single line of family descent from the enormous jungle that is the descent of all humans everywhere requires establishing what lineages we are going to look for in advance. In this case, Erik the Red has been eluding us long enough. 

The International Court of Justice is wrong (but, then, so is the Norwegian Crown). Erik the Red has been hiding in Amassalik all along. 


  1. Missing clause watch:

    Oh, I know: Margaret Craven's 1967 novel, I Heard the Owl Call My Name, in which an Anglican bishop is made aware that one of his priests.

    Made aware of what? The obvious sort of thing that gets priests shipped out to the middle of nowhere on a disciplinary transfer?

    knew the way back to the rest of Greenland so well that a single firsthand encounter with European luxuries like clean underwear was enough to send the population of the area decamping back to the east coast. (Which doesn't say much for Danish rule's ability to "read" Greenland!)

    Do you mean the east or west coast here? The Thules were in the east, but navigated "back" to the east? Or you mean the west? Or the rest of them navigated over to the east now something interesting was happening?

    For reasons to be discussed below, however, we have to assume that the and certainly not the Saqqaq reached Amassalik.

    the who?

    anyway, the church in the village where I grew up was repeatedly bothered by archaeologists who wanted to dig up the Viking settlement directly under it. we are the masters now, as Hartley Shawcross said. also, that lawsuit over eastern Greenland is batshit crazy.

  2. Me [edit] good! I Heard the Owl Call My Name is an old-fashioned Young Adult novel. The story is that the bishop was told that the Reverend Mark Brian is dying of something, and that instead of telling Brian, he sends the young man to Kingcome to, you know, learn important lessons about life. Before he dies.

    I thought about riffing on this as something that actually happened in the Old Days, then asked myself just exactly how long I'd like to wander off on that digression. So he offending introductory clause is a archaeological remain of a more primitive version of the post.

    As for the Amassalik settlement (east coast! East coast!), our current understanding of "Paleo-Eskimos" in Greenland is pretty vague. We've got ill-defined cultural horizons, timelines based on relatively few digs, and often by only a single expedition. Also, those darn Danes keep writing in Danish. And Count Knuth was rich and owned a mansion and a yacht, so he could archaeologise as he pleased, and where he wanted to do it was in Peary Land, which counts as the "northeast coast," and not down in the far southwest, where most of the people have lived for most of the time.

    So we know that the Independence I and II cultures were all over Peary Land, including down the east coast, but far to the north of Amassalik Island. They're also much earlier than Viking times, and according to our radiate-settle-radiate-die-off model of hunter-gatherer communities, we expect them to have experienced mass extinction events at the "end" of both cultures.

  3. So the c. 950 "big house" settlement of "witches" that our buddy Thorgills found isn't Indepdence, nor is it Saqqaq, which is a 2500BC--800BC northwestern Greenland cultural horizon. There are Saqqaq archaeological remains at Amassalik, but they're a thousand years too early. "Early Dorsets" are out, too, but since they're on the west coast just opposite Amassalik at this time, we are assuming a long coast-wise migration northabout. If it turns out that sledge crossings of the central ice cap weren't just something that crazy Nineteenth Century explorers did, our ability to generalise about "isolated east Greenland" communities blows up real good. Maybe the historical linguists can help out here?

    Just to complicate things, as mysterious as the premature Amassalik Islanders are, there are also extensive Paleo-Eskimo remains at Ittoqqortoormiit, at the mouth of Scoresby Sound on the east coast, at a balmy 70 degrees north (so well within Eirik the Red's Land). Apart from insane colonialist schemes to extend settlement and sovereignity, the motivation behind the 20th century colonisation was precisely these remains. Tent rings and structures tell successor populations where good hunting is likely to be found.

    This observation, by the way, sent me off on a Google search for the archaeology of Ittoqqortoormiit.

    I managed to find a breezy summary by Spenser Apollonio, Lands That Hold One Spellbound. It ain't science, but he's read the reports, so you don't have to.

    Bullet-point summary: Amassalik was occupied by "Late Dorsets " coming around the top as late as maybe 800AD --before Thorgills, and by Thules from c. 1300 coming around from the bottom, after Thorgills. The technologically-determinist position holds that the Thules invented skin boats, so it is interesting that Apollonio notes a 476 year old (+/-100 years) umiak frame found in Peary Land with repairs by iron nails and oak, found with various whaling paraphenalia, including bowhead whale remains. The archaeological case is that the Ittoqqortoormiit settlement isn't a "Thule" cultural horizon, but rather one showing mixed features of hybridisation of purestrain northaround Thules and Nordic-contaminated-with-their-oak-lumber-and-iron southaround Thule. Just to make things more complicated, this "mixed cultural" phases is thought to extend from around the 1500s to the horizon of anthropological contact in 1823, leaving the Amassalik community contacted in 1884 distinct from these guys, too.

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