Roman sailors reached the northern region of "THULE", actually called "Iceland". This is what is increasingly believed in the last decades, after the discovery of some roman coins and other things related to the presence of Rome in this artic island-nation.
Roman Plinius wrote in the first century on his famous "Naturalis Historia" that: "The most remote of all ...is Thule , in which, as we have previously stated , there is no night at the summer solstice, when the sun is passing through the sign of Cancer, while on the other hand at the winter solstice there is no day. Some writers are of opinion that this state of things lasts for six whole months together....At one day's sail from Thule is the frozen ocean, which by some is called the Cronian Sea." Of course these precise data confirm that the Romans had a good geographical knowledge of Thule/Iceland.
In the 1951 issue of "Antiquity" magazine an article by F.M. Heichelheim was published, supporting Eldjárn’s belief that the coins had arrived in Iceland during Roman times, around the year 300. However, Heichelheim did not support Eldjárn’s idea that these sailors were Roman soldiers. Instead, he was more convinced that the sailors had been Scandinavian or Saxon pirates, who had served in the Roman military in the Danube regions, or perhaps in the Orient. He argues that a large number of Germanic men were employed within the Roman army during the last years of the 3rd century, mostly serving within the Danube area.
Receiving payment in Roman coins for their services, any one of these Germanic men could have brought the Roman coinage on a journey to Iceland. He supports his theory that soldiers from Carausius' navy would most likely not been paid with coins minted in Rome or Asia Minor but with coins minted in Gaul or Britain. The theory is in many ways very good, and well supported. The main points that
support the theory are the following: Firstly, general/emperor Carausius and his Romans were attacking Saxon pirates in the Channel. As many ships were sailing around Britain at the time there is is the possibility of one ship getting caught in a storm and by accident sailed towards the north.
Secondly, the ships of the Roman times were definitely able to withstand the sail over the Atlantic. The Roman merchant ships were in many ways not very different from schooners used in the late middle age that sailed over the Atlantic to the USA and back in the
16th and 17th century. Thirdly, the soldiers on Carausius’ ships were a part of the Roman
Navy and therefore got paid in Roman coins before the split from Rome.
Fourthly it is known from written sources that learned men of the time could well have known of the
land in the north, called Thule.
However, there is some knowledge that does make the theory a bit less probable:
Firstly, the ships used in roman warfare were not made for sailing on open sea. They mostly
relied on oars to maneuver the ships and only had a small sail to move the ship out of battle if to many oars were disabled. These ships kept close to the shore and storms would most likely not get these ships to stray of course like ships sailing on the open
sea. Secondly, according to R. Reece it looks like Britain was isolated from the roman monetary supply in the 3rd century, because of military and political reasons. There are still some Denarii found in roman Britain in those decades, most likely because of payment to the military.
Thirdly, there are no known historical sources that tell of any ship sailing north of Iceland. Fourthly, there is the account of mr. Heichelheim about the origin of the coins where he states that these coins were a seldom sight in Britain at the time of Carausius.
Dr. R. Reece supports this theory by saying that still there are not many Roman coins found in Britain or NW Gaul from this time: those coins found are mostly Denarii, probably for paying the troops. Last but not least, prof. em. Hannested has expressed
his serious doubts of the Romans psychological capability of venturing so far from known waters by saying: “the Romans were afraid of the deep artic ocean”. But Hannested seems to forget that Roman sailors reached India and even China and this fact undeniably proves that they were not afraid of ocean waters
After reviewing these facts it seems unlikely, according to David Heidarsson, that these coins came from a Roman ship from the years 287-296 AD as mr. Eldjárn suggests. But it is still a concrete possibility and can be studied and probably accepted as true, if further discoveries will happen in the future and confirm it.
My personal conclusions