Alternative History

Intentions With This Timeline

The goal of this timeline is to create a history where the colonization of Greenland and Vinland by the Norse succeeded rather than failed, and the U.S. and Canada are likely replaced by a Norse state. I've made a number of assumptions:

  • The Greenlanders' clinging to European ways significantly contributed to the failure of the Nordic colonies in the New World. Of the various ways in which that tie could be cut off, the most effective seems to me to be a refusal to adopt Christianity.
  • If the Greenlanders had made an effort to settle Vinland with sufficient commitment while they still had most of the armor and weapons their fathers had when they arived in Greenland, they could have succeeded there. Especially if the Indians were weakened by disease (see below).
    How about a Russian situation: the Norse become rulers and the aristocracy of native kingdoms, interbreading and adopting the languages of the peoples they conquered, while giving them weapons and a more European political system... — Carlos Th (talk) 15:06, 27 Jun 2005 (UTC)
    Hmmm, probably not. The Norse were primarily interested in finding farmland, not in conquest. Also, the Norse don't have much of a technological edge over the Indians, making ruling over a large population of them unlikely. Nor were the Norse (unlike the Russians) much for slaves; the Greenland colony had only a handful of slaves who were all remitted in the first generation.--TheFuzzy 15:49, 30 Jun 2005 (UTC)
    Anyhow I see here a reason to interbread: farmer oriented types with no much of a technological edge over a larger population of Natives. Now, if disease give the Norse and edge, they would become more influential, not yet displace the natives. Interbreading + nativization + influence over the native/norse/mixed population... this lead for the norse, or a deal of the norse and their mixed desendants, to become some sort of nobility for a population that might have forgoten the norse language. — Carlos Th (talk) 12:57, 3 Jul 2005 (UTC)
    That's probably exactly what would have happened. It's what happened everywhere else the Norsemen went: the British Isles, Normandy, Russia etc. On the other hand, it's also the reason they couldn't maintain a strong presence... Michael riber 19:00, 29 March 2007 (UTC)
  • Due to luck and living in colder climates, the Greenlanders apparently did not infect the Indians with any significant European diseases. With greater and more prolonged contact, infection would have been likely and cleared the way for more Norse settlements.
  • Given sufficient external enemies (such as the Indians and Christians) the Greenlanders would have been less plagued by internal strife and more prepared to fight the Inuit and Indians.
  • Wanting the Vinlanders to not be wiped out by Europeans in the 16th century, I've hypothesized continued rading on Iceland. This would have allowed the Vinlanders to almost keep up with European technology, particularly the invention of cannon. It also would have assured a sporadic supply of some items hard for the Vinlanders to produce, such as cloth.
    Note that this much probably means that no other Europeans would discover the Americas in the 15th-16th century. A continous contact would make more Europeans interested in what happens there, probably leading to more European settlers from much earlier. — Carlos Th (talk) 15:06, 27 Jun 2005 (UTC)
Yeah, I thought about that. Thing is, until the Greenland Crusade, mainland Europe would be unaware of the existance of Vinland; they would assume that the Norse were living on Greenland and similar Arctic islands. Note that Southern Europeans were apparently completely unaware of the Vinland expedition despite its being written down in Leif Erikssons saga.
One intriguing possiblility would be that many Europeans conclude that Greenland is actually the northen part of China, as Columbus may have (he knew of Iceland so could not have been completely unaware of Greenland). This could have led, in the 15th or 16th century, to a massive crusade intended both to put down the pagan Norse and to open up new trade routes. But in this case the Europeans would have taken the Northern route becuase it was known and mapped. It would take a later innovative thinker, probably Magellan, to come up with sailing by compass straight across the Atlantic. Remember that Columbus' journey was an incredible "leap of faith" and that one of his ships mutinied because they thought they'd never reach land.--TheFuzzy 17:10, 27 Jun 2005 (UTC)


Based on my reading of medieval history, surprisingly the loss of Greenland and Iceland off the map would not have significantly affected European events, except perhaps in causing the Danish to seize some Norweigan possessions a bit sooner (as in this timeline). These far-flung Norse colonies, despite representing the first European toehold on the New World, were insignificant to European society. So there would be little effect on European history until the 1400s.

The effect on the Indians and Inuit would be rather more dramatic. Inuit domination of the North would be halted at Baffin Island. Indians would be disposessed of Eastern Canada and New England much sooner. The Indians would be exposed to weaker forms of European diseases sooner, so that by the time the Spanish arrive, the Indians of North America would have recovered their numbers and have some resistance to smallpox. It probably would not have extended this benefit to mesoamerica or the Incas at all, though, given the tiny trickle of trade across the Southwestern Desert.

Odinism would remain alive and not vanish into history. Over time, it would likely grow into an institutionalized state religion designed to uphold the power of the Norse chiefs, with rituals and temples. As the new professional priesthood consolidated centralized power, Odin would become more powerful relative to the other gods to mirror political realities.

I'm not sure I understand this. What would cause Odinism to evolve into a semi-monotheistic faith? -- Nik 05:05, 27 Jun 2005 (UTC)
Historically, European polytheistic religions were evolutionarily inferior to monotheism, particularly Christianity. That is, the Roman, Greek, Celtic and Norse religions were easily and completely replaced by Christianity even in places where there was no conquest of the pagan peoples (Ireland, the Goths and Vandals, Scotland, etc.). There were many reasons for this, but among them were participation in a united European community, the pyramidal power of a professional clerical elite, and the role of Christianity in reenforcing the power of chiefs, nobles and kings. While the Vinlanders had rejected the first, the two other reasons still apply. Since the society had already made an identity-defining commitment to Odinism, it behooved them to aquire the qualities for Odinism that would make it "equal" to Christianity.
To look at it another way: the severing of social ties with Europe in order to uphold their religion would have triggered a marked increase in piety, as would the natural hardships faced by the Norse. Since the Norse already had the example of Christians to emulate, this would have led to the emergence of a professional priestly class, which (like the Bishop of Greenland in OTL) would have had a symbiotic relationship with the chiefs in upholding and increasing each other's power.--TheFuzzy 05:34, 27 Jun 2005 (UTC)
But what would make them focus on just one god? Especially given their rejection of Christianity? It seems to me that anything that smacked of monotheism would be as fiercely rejected as the iconoclasts in Christianity rejected anything that smacked of polytheism.
As for "evolutionary inferior", paganism survived in some form well into the late medieval period in many rural regions. The rise of Christianity has more to do with its connection with the political rulers, in a symbiotic relationship.
There's no reason that the Norse couldn't formalize their religion in a polytheistic way, probably involving reducing the pantheon to a specific defined group of deities. -- Nik 05:38, 27 Jun 2005 (UTC)
Yes, I guess I'm just going from history there where more institutionalized religions have tended towards fewer gods, mostly I think because of necessity for a unified and non-competing priesthood. A Carthegenian-style four-diety system, or a trinity (probably Odin, Thor and Freya with Loki as an anti-diety) would possibly have sufficed. However, Odin was even in period literature considerably superior to the other gods both in power and in intelligence, and thus would have supplied a ready-made chief diety. I could see things going either way.--TheFuzzy 06:00, 27 Jun 2005 (UTC)
Chief deity is no problem. Most polytheistic faiths that I know of have a dominant deity. However, the relationship between that god and the others tends to parallel their own political organization, i.e., the other gods aren't treated as non-divine, just the chief deity being their king.
Hinduism is a good example of a polytheistic faith combined with a powerful priesthood, though, admittedly, it is far less centralized than Christianity or Islam, and has (probably under the influence of Islam and Christianity) developed a quasi-monotheistic view. -- Nik 06:05, 27 Jun 2005 (UTC)
Hmmm, the Hindu religions are actually a pretty good counter-example. I can tell you from having lived in Nepal that Vaishnavism is pretty far from monotheistic. And the Indians certainly had lots of exposure to both Islam and Christianity but rejected monotheism. So, good plausibility theory, Nik!
I'll stick by the idea of evolving a professional priesthood (which the 10th century Norse pretty much lacked) as part of the evolution of Norse religion in Vinland.--TheFuzzy 06:08, 27 Jun 2005 (UTC)
You mean of course Odin, Thor, and *Frey* - although Týr might have played a significant role too. Michael riber 19:02, 29 March 2007 (UTC)

The effect of European exploration of the New World in the 15th and 16th century is harder to guess. In OTL, Southern Europe was largely unaware of the Greenland colony's existance, and those who did know knew of its failure. Hence the Genoese's lack of enthusiasm for Christopher Columbus' exploration plans. If there were a known thriving colony on the other side of the Atlanic, though, ideas of a crossing may have been regarded differently.

Most likely, I think, is that a Crusade would have been organized in the 16th century to attack the "Western pagans." This crusade would have followed the Northern route since it was known, and might have been devastated by icebergs since the Little Ice Age had made the Northern Atlantic largely impassable. The result could have been disaster for the Europeans, followed by another century of no contact.

Quite likely, Columbus' expedition never would have happened. Instead, Ferdinand Magellan would have sought a "Southern route to Vinland" and discovered the Caribbean twenty years later. Thus the Spanish might have been cut out of New World history entirely.

Interesting idea. Though, it seems likely to me that they would still have joined, just later on. Thus, they'd only have a few small colonies. -- Nik 05:05, 27 Jun 2005 (UTC)
Quite possibly. --TheFuzzy 05:34, 27 Jun 2005 (UTC)


  • Names: I don't know much Old Norse. We need likely names for colonies, places, people, and battles. Particularly, the Vinlanders would have stopped calling the Indians "skraelings" when they normalized trade relations with them, and would have come up with some other name. But what?
My guess is vestmaður (p. vestmenn) (engish: a man from the west). It could also be Varmenni, witch means a villain, that would be based on the old heathen belive that the trolls lived in the east and around miðgarður (e. middle earth (where humans lived)) was útgarður (outer earth (where the trolls lived)). But at the time when the norse realize that the skræling are not trolls (trolls weren't nesserely stupid green monsters), then the name Varmenni had stuck on them.
  • Events After 1400: By the 15th century, European politics should start to affect Vinland again. But I need much more research ... help?
  • Layout, Linking: I can't figure out how TOC etc. works. Pointers?
I made a Vinland template so you can now make sub-pages like this: LinkOne
I also filled out your "Vinland TOC" with empty holders. To get to it just edit your main page, then look at the bottom and you will see something like "Templates used on this page: Vinland TOC". Click on that and you will see the TOC by itself. Edit it as you see fit. Cheers, --AirshipArmada 17:12, 27 Jun 2005 (UTC) By the way: You have a good timelin going here.
  • Maps: Where do people get those nifty map templates?
Google 'Blank maps' on images. --Henneth 23:35, 26 Jun 2005 (UTC)
Thanks. Can't find one that covers the most relevant area, though. Will have to trace one. --Josh
  • Norse: Please! Someone help me with my Old Norse! Any Icelanders out there? Please?
Modern Icelanders don't automatically understand Old Norse. ;o)

Do you have some ideas for names that could be "translated"? Michael riber 18:56, 29 March 2007 (UTC)

Effects of the Little Ice Age on Vinland

The major factor that would have acted to maintain Vinland's existance as a pagan country in the crusade-happy middle ages would have been the Little Ice Age. From about 1350 to the mid 19th century, the Atlantic had more icebergs, ports in Iceland and Greenland spent more time iced over, and storms and fogs were considerably more of a menace to ships. (In OTL, Denmark abandoned sending ships to Greenland by around 1400 because of losses and the last private ship left in 1410)

This would have meant that attempts to assert Christian authority over the wayward colony would have met with far greater resistance from the elements than from armed Vinlanders. One could even hypothesize an entire "Iceland Crusade" vanishing without a trace.

The Vinlanders would have been less affected by the encroaching cold due to adaptation and adoption of Inuit technology. This could possibly allow, at least until the first parts of the 15th century, the Vinlanders to carry out a sporadic war with Norway Denmark over Iceland. Eventually Iceland and Greenland would have to be abandoned by everyone during the worst cold years (1650, for example). It would probably be fatal to Iceland regardless of who won the conflict.

Hmmm. Most probably Vinlanders would have dealed with the little Ice Age by moving southwards, rather than raiding Iceland and Norway... — Carlos Th (talk) 15:16, 27 Jun 2005 (UTC)
Check the timeline; I think they would have done both. Although not as far as Norway, just Iceland and the Faroes. My point above is that the dicey sailing conditions plus unrest and crop failures at home would have made it difficult for the Norweigans and Danish to bring the full force of their superior numbers and resources to bear. Add this to the fact that Iceland was a very marginal colony up until the 18th century, and you can picture Norway/Denmark making a few attempts to defend it and then giving up.
My hypothesis of Vinlander interest in Iceland is partly religious. That is, at the 11th-century conversion of Iceland to Christianity, there must have been many people, even chiefs, who weren't happy with it. So the Vinlanders would have seen the Icelandic conflict as both saving their fellow Odinists as well as capturing a stepping-stone back to Europe.--TheFuzzy 16:42, 27 Jun 2005 (UTC)

Unfortunately, I've been unable to find in my references or on the internet a relatively clear timeline of when the Little Ice Age closed off sailing routes to Iceland, Greenland and the Faroes, as it did several times in the 14th through 18th centuries. Since ATL posits an ongoing armed conflict between Vinland and Norway/Denmark over Iceland, knowing precicely which years is key. Pointers?--TheFuzzy 06:00, 27 Jun 2005 (UTC)

Inuit stuff

1170 The Norse establish trade relations with the Inuit for desired walrus ivory, kayaks, and whale products.

The Greenland ivory trade was for European consumption (because European access to elephant tusks was temporarily blocked). So in your TL the Newfoundlanders still trade with Europe?

Hmmm ... ivory should be dropped there and replaced with sealskin.

As Diamond mentions in "Collapse", Inuit kayaks have to be tailor made for their user. For the Norse to use kayaks implies that they have a very good relationship with the Inuit: they take Inuit wives and adopt Inuit culture. So you are not really talking about the Norse in North America and are now talking about a Norse/Inuit amalgam.

The inuit had a 2nd type of boat for transporting several people, whose name I can't locate right now. It was also sealskin over a wood frame. That would be the primary adopted boat by the Norse. I do think that some Norse at Helluland, though, would intermarry with the Inuit and thus act as a two-way conduit for technological exchange.--TheFuzzy 15:44, 30 Jun 2005 (UTC)
Found it on the internet: The umiak (also called the "woman's boat" or called a baydar) could get up to 60ft long. It was used by the Inuit to transport household goods and people who could not use a kayak. Said to be quite seaworthy. __AirshipArmada 20:45, 30 Jun 2005 (UTC)

1405 . . . European cannon clash with Inuit ship-building technology adopted by the Norse.

and from the Greenland Crusades

They were unprepared for the maneuverability of Eirikur's sealskin boats, however, and found them difficult targets for the cannon.

You lost me here. Your Norse/Inuit have two very good boat technologies. They have kayaks for personal travel and they have the Norse ships for moving cargo or large numbers of people. Once the Norse settle in North America they have access to lumber and can make their traditional Norse ships. Are you talking about some sort of extra large kayak? Why would they experiment with a large animal skin ship when wood is now available? Is such a ship possible? Is that what you had in mind? --AirshipArmada 06:16, 30 Jun 2005 (UTC)

I'll need to cover my ideas when I get to Vinlandic Technology. At that time, someone who actually knows boats will probably tell me they're stupid. But I was thinking Norse/Inuit hybrid boats ... that is, a large 12-person boat made of a combination of sealskin and wood, with a single triangular sail. Keep in mind that the Norse boats that Eirikur's people would have been familiar with were heavily-built Viking longboats with a single square sail.
Also, I could use some research help ... When were cannon first used on ships? Would the Danish have had cannon on boats in 1405, or is that too early?

A couple of points:

"The Wendish" often refers to a group of Slavs on the southern Baltic Shore. The tribe were included in the Scandinavian claims either when the Swedes chose a king from that region or when the Danes won a battle against them. Either way the Wendes themselves had little to do with the Scandinavian politics and ambitions, save involuntarily becoming hosts to battles over the coming canturies.

IIRC, cannons were a rare sight aboard ships until the 17th (or perhaps 16th) century.