Previously, I had asked a question on what point of departure I would need to make the Norse's presence in North America permanent. Perhaps the best answer I got was summarized right here:

If one man had not fallen off his horse, if the Norsemen would have shown a minimum of diplomacy, and if the colonization attempt had been just a little more serious, a Norse empire in the west could have arisen to rival their success in the east, where the Rurikids created what would later be the Russian Empire.

Ultimately, right at the start, it would mean interbreeding between the Europeans and Americans, potentially butterflying the physical ethnicity of the American body plan, but that is not all it would mean.

Consider the reality that the Norsemen were merchants and traders more often than the romanticized pirates who came before the romanticized Golden Age pirates (Black Bart, Blackbeard, Henry Morgan, just to name a few for clarification's sake.) Their influence had covered the whole of Europe and expanded down south to places like Baghdad. Surely, if the Norse had established a stable empire far to the west, the rest of Europe would have heard of it and wanted their share of the "western lands", thus pushing the Age of Exploration 500 or so years earlier than in our timeline. Would that last statement be true or false?

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    $\begingroup$ Musings: Among European nations the Norsemen were exceptional as long distance navigators in a time when nobody else did it. And even for Norsemen, the North Atlantic route was the only practicable route to the Americas; at that time nobody in Europe had ships which could sail straight across the ocean. And don't forget how Europe looked like in the time in question. Great Britain was a mosaic of small kingdoms. France had almost no ports. Spain was an Arabic-speaking Muslim country. The Italian city-states were busy trading in the East... $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Mar 26, 2019 at 21:52
  • $\begingroup$ Does the Little Ice Age still happen in your alternate scenario, and the Norsemen are just able to stick it out in Vinland (somehow)? $\endgroup$
    – Michael W.
    Mar 27, 2019 at 0:01
  • $\begingroup$ If I get time later, I'll post an actual answer, but the premise is false. It would take more than the promise of Norse gold (so to speak) to push technological and social advancements forward 500 years. That's a honking long time and the Norse would have been just another trading partner among many. Remember, the age of exploration was also a function of sailing developments that would not have been advanced significantly just because of a western-hemisphere presence (at least I'd need to see a really good analysis to believe it). $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Mar 27, 2019 at 0:25
  • $\begingroup$ the influx of european livestock and crops will have the biggest impact. depending on how fast they spread it may give the natives a chance to actually hold out against later european colonists. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Mar 27, 2019 at 13:41
  • $\begingroup$ Just think how the British would have furthered their empire if they had just... oh, they did, did they now? Well obviously the split had a lot to do with the physically imposed disconnect resulting from that age's modes of transport, whereas the Norsemen ... well ok $\endgroup$
    – bukwyrm
    Mar 27, 2019 at 16:19

4 Answers 4


I think the best model for this would be from the east. The Norse settled in Novgorod and the Kievan Rus and while their contribution was significant, they never made an effort to rule these lands from Scandinavia or to replace or "Norsify" the locals. Instead these native realms with tight connections to the Norse, Norse traders and rulers who either came from Scandinavia or just had some Norse blood.

Similar patterns would happen in Normandy and Sicily. And England and Ireland for that matter. Even Finland. The Norse would come, build settlements, rule the land, start dynasties, have large political and cultural impact, but the country would stay native.

So what would probably have happened in the west IMHO is that the Vikings would have started settlements along the coast all the way to the Caribbean. They would have traded and mingled with the locals. The settlements would have evolved to small kingdoms with mostly native population and aristocracy of mixed blood. These kingdoms would then have founded new settlements and eventually evolved into larger kingdoms.

The response of the rest of Europe to this? Well, there would have been some travellers to the new kingdoms. There would have been interest in the trade, starting probably with the Arabs in Iberia and northern Africa then by the Hanseatic League. Things like furs and tobacco I think. This would be increased after the new kingdoms find Mexico with more advanced civilizations and precious metals.

By the time exploration of the Atlantic came practical due to better ships everybody in Europe would know about the Americas and the Norse Kingdoms there. People would rush to emigrate and trade. With better sailing ships the kingdoms would suddenly be lot more attractive.

The difference would be that Norse Kingdoms with Norse weapons and administration, populations of people who would already be resistant to European diseases would not really be something for a bunch of Spanish adventurers to topple and take over. There would be lots of trade and immigration but the Americas would stay native American with strong Norse influences. Local historians would probably even argue that the impact of the Norse was minimal as the underlying societies were native.

I am not sure this actually answers your question because quite frankly I think people really would not have cared about the Norse settling some faraway shores until much later.

  • $\begingroup$ "There would be lots of trade and immigration but the Americas would stay native American with strong Norse influences." Could you specify on what you mean by that? $\endgroup$ Oct 18, 2019 at 4:04

The norse kingdoms would be like the kievan rus, as Ville Niemi said in another answer - natives with a nobility that descended from the norse. Trade in the Atlantic would begin much earlier but would be limited due to shipping costs. Norse boats were small and had to hop from Canada to Greenland and then to Iceland so american products would be quite expensive. Which products would be traded?

From America to Europe: Tobacco, furs, ivory[from the polar fauna],whale oil, slaves, gold/silver. It would be more efficient to send the cigars then the dried tobacco leaves, the coats and capes then the raw furs, the many useful things made of ivory then the walrus and narwal tusks, and jewelry then raw gold and silver.

From Europe to America: Iron tools and weapows, horses, cloth, silk and spices (from the silk road).

The main trade hubs would be in England and, due to that, England would prosper but would still probably be a saxon christian England instead of a norse pagan England. Also, Novgorod and Denmark would prosper too, as the silk road would branch north. That would mean that when the crusaders destroy Constantinople during the fourth crusade the russians won't go bankrupt and will have better chances against the mongols. So, in europe, England, Denmark and Novgorod will be more powerful then they were. That could mean that the english might be able to conquer and keep France, the danes could keep the swedes under the danish crown and some kind of Russia would form earlier, maybe as a giant merchant republic instead of an autocratic monarchy.

The demand for better ships to do this trade would bring about big ships like the north european cogs. But true ocean ships would still take a long time to appear due to the lack of compass and good astronomical instruments. They may have galleons 2 century earlier but won't dare to do a direct cross due to lack of navigation tools, instead, they will keep doing the island hopping from Canada to England.

Also, religion: Christian (and muslim) missionaries would find their way to America much earlier. Christianity and Islam was useful to tribal societies because it gave them a worldview that favored monarchical centralization, helping the tribal petty kings become feudal kings. So, the american norses (and the native americans that interacted with them) would probably adopt christanity or islam. But there is an alternative...

"Pagan" religions began as tribal, limited to what the tribe knew about the world. As the tribe's horizons expands, the pagan religion becomes more and more universal, as the priests see the similarities between the varius spirits worshipped by the other tribes. The final result is something similar to neoplatonism, taoism or the egyptian religion: a complex religion, with a deep, developed, worldview capable of orienting it's followers in all phenomena in the world. The ancient greek religion evolved like that, from the greek dark ages to the Plato, the african religions are evolving like that today as result of the african diaspora in America, that mixed the african tribes, the american tribes and the european magical systems. So, the norses, in contact with christianity and islam, with the slavic tribes and the american tribes, could develop a new great world religion.


Changes could be minimal.

Central Europe obviously knew about Scandinavia. A few centuries later, the Hanseatic League had trading posts in what is now Norway, Sweden, and Russia. They also knew about Iceland, which featured as a fabled foreign land in the Nibelungenlied.

Greenland would be known as a minor land beyond Iceland. Vinland was farther still. If the Vikings were Christian, Vinland might take some aspects of Prester John and his kingdom.

Consider how Europe was, in principle, aware of lands beyond Russia and Persia. Traders and diplomats went there. But there was no sudden rush of European kings and nobles to conquer land east, so why should they rush west? Africa was comparable to the Americas in the sophistication and size of the native populations. Yet Europeans did not go there much and Arab trade and conquest was also limited.

Changes could be greater.

The crusades were not just about the liberation of Jerusalem. A significant effort was spent in Europe. It would a relatively small point of departure to have some cleric or king direct people towards the Americas. For several centuries, Europeans might send "excess martial ambition" there. A non-inheriting second son, an ambitious underling, they could all be encouraged to carve a princedom out of the vast plains beyond Vinland.


You could certainly have very interesting characters in your story from Europe - emissaries, pilgrims, cartographers, etc - but if you're looking for conflict, look no further than the First Nations.

The indigenous people of North America were far from a monolith; culturally, they were vastly more different than people in America today, and you can see what sort of strife current beliefs can bring. The Norsemen, with some decent trading skills and diplomacy, would very likely ally with one or more First Nations people(s). It may even over time morph into a very - though I'd argue never fully - enmeshed society. But, their new allies' enemies are now their enemies. And, indeed, in time that will mean Spain, England, et al... but the wars and battles within pre-colonized America were nothing to be sneezed at.

Many of the real-world Norse learned how fierce the "skraelings" were, and they didn't get that way without pre-existing animosities and enemies. Depending on how far south and west this alliance spreads, they're going to encounter some pretty entrenched and powerful nations like the Iroquois Confederacy or the "Mississippian Culture".

  • $\begingroup$ Could you clarify on how "vastly different" they were back then? $\endgroup$ Mar 30, 2019 at 0:01
  • $\begingroup$ I have a background in history but the First Peoples aren't my specialty - I can only tell you that there were thousands of different nations, tribes and subsets within those, all of them with different beliefs and values, some of which were infinitely at odds with one another (the Huron and the Iroquois are a good example, and not too far from your speculative settled lands). $\endgroup$ Mar 30, 2019 at 1:42

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