An article published in the July issue of Terrae Incognitae, the journal of the Society of the History of Discoveries (of which former Reinhardt faculty member Anne Good is about to become president), has been getting a certain amount of attention. The full text may be read at the publisher’s website. Paolo Chiesa of the University of Milan has discovered, in the (currently unpublished) Cronica universalis of Galvaneus Flamma (1283-c. 1345), a reference to “Marckalada,” which Chiesa interprets as the “Markland” mentioned in several Viking sagas. The relevant passage:
Sailors who frequent the seas of Denmark and Norway say that northwards, beyond Norway, there is Iceland; further ahead there is an island named Grolandia, where the Polar Star remains behind you, toward the south. The governor of this island is a bishop. In this land, there is neither wheat nor wine nor fruit; people live on milk, meat, and fish. They dwell in subterranean houses and do not venture to speak loudly or to make any noise, for fear that wild animals hear and devour them. There live huge white bears, which swim in the sea and bring shipwrecked sailors to the shore…. Further westwards there is another land, named Marckalada, where giants live; in this land, there are buildings with such huge slabs of stone that nobody could build with them, except huge giants. There are also green trees, animals and a great quantity of birds. However, no sailor was ever able to know anything for sure about this land or about its features.
Unfortunately, the Cronica universalis does not also mention Helluland or Vinland, two other New World locations mentioned in the sagas, but the appearance of “Marckalada” does suggest that in fourteenth-century Milan some people knew about other places “beyond Greenland,” likely through information exchanged in the maritime entrepôt of Genoa.
It is always tempting to believe that this is where Columbus got his ideas about sailing westward to Asia, but keep in mind that there is a difference between information and knowledge. That is, “Marckalada” in this context is no more real than Prester John or the Cynocepaloi. Furthermore, note that Columbus did not sail to Greenland in order to recreate Erik the Red’s journey (indeed, for his first voyage he sailed south to the Canary Islands before turning west). The only thing that can really be said about this piece of information is that, if Columbus actually knew of it, it was only one of many suggesting to him that Asia was just over the horizon.