Milanese Friar Knew about North America 150 Years before Columbus Voyage, Researchers Say

by johnsmith

The Cronica universalis, written in Latin by the Milanese friar Galvaneus Flamma (in Italian, Galvano Fiamma, 1283 – c. 1345), contains an astonishing reference to a land named Marckalada (terra que dicitur Marckalada), situated west from Greenland. This land is recognizable as the Markland mentioned by some Icelandic sources and identified as some part of the Atlantic coast of North America. Galvaneus Flamma’s reference, probably derived by oral sources heard in Genoa, is the first mention of the American continent in the Mediterranean region, and gives evidence of the circulation — out of the Nordic area and 150 years before Christopher Columbus — of narratives about lands beyond Greenland, according to a paper published in the Terrae Incognitae, the Journal of the Society for the History of Discoveries.

Planisphere made by Rumold Mercator, 1587.

Planisphere made by Rumold Mercator, 1587.

“We are in the presence of the first reference to the American continent, albeit in an embryonic form, in the Mediterranean area,” said Professor Paolo Chiesa, a researcher in the Department of Literary Studies, Philology and Linguistics at the University of Milan.

“Galvaneus Flamma was a Dominican friar who lived in Milan and was connected to a family which held at the lordship of the city.”

“He wrote several literary works in Latin, mainly on historical subjects. His testimony is valuable for information on Milanese contemporary facts, about which he has first-hand knowledge.”

First discovered in 2013, the Cronica universalis is thought to be one of Galvaneus Flamma’s later works — the approximate date is 1339-1345 — and was left unfinished and unperfected.

It aims to detail the history of the whole world, from the Creation to when it was published.

“The news reported by Galvaneus about Marckalada/Markland, just like those about the less evanescent Greenland, remain isolated, and there is no trace of an early reception either in Latin geographical treatises or in the Mediterranean cartography,” Professor Chiesa said.

“If Genoa was the gateway for these news, it remains to be explained why no mention of these lands seems to be found in the Genoese mappae mundi or portolans of the 14th century, nor in those produced in Majorca and Catalonia, closely linked with the Genoese tradition — actually, these charts do not disdain to use notions gathered from oral sources, as travelers and merchants are.”

“This fact suggests a scenario of informality: the Genoese were interested in exploiting the seafarers’ rumors about the lands of the extreme north-west for eventual commercial benefit, but these rumors were too vague to find consistency in cartographic or scholarly representations.”

Galvaneus’ narrative brings unprecedented evidence to the speculation that news about the American continent, derived from Nordic sources, circulated in Italy one and half centuries before Columbus.

“The Marckalada described by Galvaneus is ‘rich in trees,’ not unlike the wooded Markland of the Grœnlendinga Saga, and animals live there,” Professor Chiesa said.

“These details could be standard, as distinctive of any good land; but they are not trivial, because the common feature of northern regions is to be bleak and barren, as actually Greenland is in Galvaneus’ account, or as Iceland is described by Adam of Bremen.”

“We have no evidence that Italian or Catalan seafarers ever reached Iceland or Greenland at that time, but they were certainly able to acquire from northern European merchant goods of that origin to be transported to the Mediterranean area,” he added.

“The marinarii mentioned by Galvaneus can fit into this dynamic: the Genoese might have brought back to their city scattered news about these lands, some real and some fanciful, that they heard in the northern harbors from Scottish, British, Danish, Norwegian sailors with whom they were trading.”


Paolo Chiesa. 2021. Marckalada: The First Mention of America in the Mediterranean Area (c. 1340). Terrae Incognitae 53 (2): 88-106; doi: 10.1080/00822884.2021.1943792

Source link:

Related Posts

Leave a Comment