Your RDA of Irony

Leif Ericson Day

October 9, 1003:  Leif Ericson Lands in North America and Earns a Holiday in Minnesota

The Vikings are notorious for their vices, but they apparently possessed one fatal virtue: hygiene. Whether it was their fondness for saunas or the antiseptic cold of Greenland, the Vikings’ cleanliness ruined their chance to colonize North America. Starting with Leif Ericson in 1000, the Norse attempted to settle “Vinland.” Of course, the original inhabitants objected but the Vikings were never shy about other people’s property. Beyond their extrovert personalities, the Norse also had the tactical advantages of iron and steel armaments. The native American arsenal was still in the stone age. Nonetheless, the sheer number of the natives (Skraeling was the Viking name for them) made the prospect of slaughtering them rather demoralizing. And the Vikings’ damn hygiene eliminated the most effective weapon for depopulation: disease.

The Norse had nothing to infect their opponents, not a single small pox to share. Even their livestock was healthy. The “Skraelings” would have had no resistance to European germs; measles would have been a fatal plague. The Vikings then could have had Vinland to themselves. Just imagine how history would have changed: North America could have been one vast Minnesota. But the Vikings were too clean to succeed.

The Skraelings had a 500-year reprieve before they were introduced to the Spanish, French, English and small pox.

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