By Birgitta Wallace
Newfoundland and Labrador Studies, Vol. 19:1 (2003)
Introduction: One thousand years ago, the Old World and the New stood face to face in the Strait of Belle Isle. The landing of the Norse on the shores of North America was not the result of a sudden journey but the endpoint of a step-by-step expansion stretching over two centuries. This expansion began in southwestern Norway, where chieftains and minor kings jostled for power over a growing population. In such a competitive context, migration across the North Sea to the Scottish Isles and the Faeroes was an attractive alternative to staying home. The contemporary development of seaworthy ships, capable of safely crossing open oceans and transporting people, their worldly belongings and livestock, made emigration possible. Note that the term “Norse” refers to all inhabitants of Viking Age and medieval Scandinavia, not just those of Norway (Webster 1988). Danes and Swedes were part of the migrations of this period, aptly named the Viking Age (c. 750-1050). Although they drastically affected the map of Europe, their role in the Norse ventures to North America was minor, and is therefore not discussed here. The term “Norse” is preferred here to the more popular “Viking”, which really refers to pirates or raiders. Although many men of the Viking Period would have been vikings at some time in their lives, women and children were not.