The world's largest island, Greenland is about 81% ice-capped. Vikings
reached the island in the 10th century from Iceland. The Norse colony
never numbered more than 5,000 people.
Greenland can hardly be said to possess any political history as the
small number of its inhabitants precluded its exerting any influence on
the destiny of other countries. Although many historians claim that the
Norse colony, which flourished there during the Middle Ages, was destroyed
by the Skralings (Eskimos), proof is wanting, and, considering the pacific
character of the Eskimos, it is more probable that the colonists, relatively
few in number, lost their identity by intermarriage with the aborigines.
It is, however, an established fact that the Eskimos were in Greenland
(at least transiently) at the time the Norseman Gunnbjorn set foot on the
island and when Eric the Red of Iceland settled there (983). Eric gave
the island its name. In the "Islendingabok", written about a century later
by Are Frothi, it is stated that there were found on the island numerous
deserted huts, parts of boats, and various stone implements such as are
in use even unto this day in the north-east and the west around Disko Bay
and the Umanak Fiord. Eric named his first settlement (the site is unknown)
Brattahild. Kinsmen and friends soon joined him, and in a short time the
Norse population grew considerably. When Norway took possession of
Greenland there were more than three hundred farms, supporting a population
of over three thousand, partly in Ostrabygd, partly in Westrabygd (both
places on the western coast.). The means of subsistence were practically
the same as those of to-day, except that cattle-raising was more general.
Greenland was considered a possession of the Norwegian Crown as late
as the time of the Union of Kalmar. The continued disturbances in the Scandinavian
kingdoms caused these remote colonies to be forgotten. Eventually, all
relations between the Norse settlers and their mother country ceased, and
Greenland kept only a shadowy existence in the European geographies. Tradition
had it that the island was rich in game (reindeer, polar bears, sables,
marten, fish, and certain monsters" -- perhaps walrus), and that it abounded
in marble, crystals, and so on. A general permission to settle there,
granted by King Christian III, was also fruitless; the perils of the sea
journey deterred his subjects.
The honor of having practically rediscovered Greenland belongs to the
English. Commissioned by Queen Elizabeth, Frobisher made several voyages
northwards, between 1576 and 1578, and at last succeeded in reaching his
goal. The work begun by him was continued by his countryman, Davis. The
Danish Kings, who, as sovereigns of Norway, claimed Greenland, also sent
expeditions there, the most successful of which was that of Dannels (1652-54).
In the beginning of the eighteenth century the settlement and Christianization
of Greenland recommenced. Factories were erected in Christianehaab (1734),
Jacobshavn (1741) and Fredrikshaab (1742). Commerce was developed partly
by individuals (e.g. the merchant Severin, 1734) and partly by commercial
companies (allmindelig Handelskompani, 1774). Since then the Government
itself has assumed control of the Greenland trade. In addition to the settlements
established by the Government, the Moravian Brethren have founded several
stations. The eastern coast of Greenland was not properly explored and
described until the nineteenth century -- by Scoresby (1822), Clavering
(1823), Graah (1829), the German expedition (1869), and the Danish expedition
Greenland was made an integral part of Denmark in 1953.
During World War II, Germany engaged in warfare around Greenland and the
United States of America was granted the right to build military bases
on the island.
It joined the European Community (now the European Union) with Denmark
in 1973 but withdrew in 1985 over a dispute over stringent fishing quotas.
Greenland was granted self-government in 1979 by the Danish parliament.
The law went into effect the following year. Denmark continues to exercise
control of Greenland's foreign affairs.
The economy remains critically dependent on exports of fish and substantial
support from the Danish Government, which supplies about half of government
revenues. The public sector, including publicly-owned enterprises and the
municipalities, plays the dominant role in the economy. Despite several
interesting hydrocarbon and minerals exploration activities, it will take
several years before production can materialize. Tourism is the only sector
offering any near-term potential, and even this is limited due to a short
season and high costs.
There is uncontested dispute between Canada and Denmark over Hans Island
in the Kennedy Channel between Canada's Ellesmere Island and Greenland.
(Part of the above history is from the 1907 Catholic Encyclopedia.)