Norway's coast is long and jagged, and its fjords cut far into the land. From early history, the sight and sound of the sea has beckoned to its inhabitants, who have made only a meagre living from the soil. Small wonder that when tilling their small fields they lifted their eyes to the horizon; to the sea that could not only provide them with more food but could also bear them to richer lands and more benevolent climates.
Norway may well have had its daring explorers in prehistoric times, but their stories remain untold. Not until written history is there any account of early discoveries, and even after people started to record their travels, there is scant mention of their first ventures into the unknown.
During the Middle Ages, the Church – the only real unifying power in Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire – did little to stimulate a spirit of adventure and inquiry. The geographical world concept was based strictly on the Bible. The Church frowned upon discoveries that might disprove accepted beliefs, or inspire people to question age-old tenets. But in non-Christian Norway the people were hungry for land. There was little to cultivate among the precipitous mountains and myriad lakes and fjords. Although coastal traffic was common amongst this seafaring people, they were unable to seek out new lands until they had vessels suited to the open seas. This problem was solved with the development of the longships. These high-prowed, swift and graceful vessels could be rowed as well as sailed. Furthermore, their broad, flat-bottomed construction enabled the crews to draw them ashore on both coast and river bank, making it possible to penetrate far inland. Thus, around 800 AD, the Vikings struck out from their fjords, in search of land and booty, and no doubt adventure and renown as well. They were among the few peoples of the mediaeval world to venture out of their own territory.