Vikings Pedal Narwhal Tusks as Unicorn Horns

It can be confusing to us now how people could accept anything coming from a narwhal as belonging to a unicorn. The mythological unicorn was meant to be a beautiful horse, with a single horn out of the middle of its head. Meanwhile, the very real narwhal is a toothed whale, growing up to 5.5 meters long. The males of the species have a large swordlike, spiral tusk, which is actually an extended tooth. [ref] [/ref] Yet people paid large sums of money for the tusk of the narwhal thinking they were buying the horn of a unicorn. However, the unicorn was thought to come from a land far away from Europe, and the narwhal certainly did come from a place difficult for most Europeans to reach. The narwhale dwells in arctic waters, in northern Greenland, Canada and Russia, [ref] [/ref]. These arctic waters would be beyond the reach of most sea going vessels. However, the Vikings did fish in these waters, and would catch narwhals themselves and would also trade with Indigenous populations in the far north for tusks. [ref] [/ref] The tusks were then traded through the Vikings’ vast network throughout Europe as unicorn horn.… Continue reading

The Unicorn, a wild donkey from India?

The early description of Unicorns from the ancient Greek writers differs significantly from that of a pristine white horse with a long horn. Take for instance this description by Ctesias, a Greek philosopher writing in the 4th century BC. “In India there are wild asses as large as horses, or even larger. Their body is white, their head dark red, their eyes bluish, and they have a horn in their forehead about a cubit in length. The lower part of the horn, for about two palms distance from the forehead, is quite white, the middle is black, the upper part, which terminates in a point, is a very flaming red.” [ref] excerpt of Ctesias by Byzantium scholar Photius reproduced in Indica, translation J.H. Freese [/ref] The ancient Greeks thought the Unicorn came from India, just like they thought the Griffin did. This was a place a little too far away for a person to verify the details themselves, so they had to rely on second hand information. There is a theory that the idea of the unicorn came from stories of the Indian rhinoceros. Ctesis was travelling in Persia when he heard travellers’ stories of the creatures of India, and… Continue reading