Carl Christian Rafn

Carl Christian Rafn.

Carl Christian Rafn (January 16, 1795 – October 20, 1864) was a Danish historian, translator and antiquarian. His scholarship to a large extent focused on translation of Old Norse literature and related Northern European ancient history. He was also noted for his early advocacy of the recognition of Viking explorations of North America.[1][2]


Carl Christian Rafn was born on the island of Fyn, in Funen County, Denmark. After attending the Cathedral School in Odense (Odense Katedralskole), he entered the University of Copenhagen where he earned his law degree and graduated (1816). After having been employed as a lieutenant with the Funen light dragoons in Odense, in 1820, he became a teacher at the 1820 Army Cadet Academy (Landkadetakademiet) in Copenhagen in Latin and grammar.[3]

Rafn was particularly interested in discovering the location of the Vinland mentioned in Norse sagas. With Finnur Magnússon and Rasmus Rask, he founded the Royal Norse Ancient Writings Society (Det Kongelige nordiske Oldskriftselskab). He was a member of the Arnamagnæan Commission (Den Arnamagnæanske Kommission) which managed the Arnamagnæan Foundation ( Det Arnamagnæanske Legat), custodians for the collection of manuscripts from Icelandic scholar Árni Magnússon.[4][5]

Rafn published much of his work in 1837 in the Antiquitates Americanæ. It is considered the first scholarly exposition of the Pre-Columbian Norse exploration. At the time of Rafn's research, the Norse sagas concerning Vinland were considered by most scholars to be mere legends. The ideas advanced by Rahn found new support since the 1960s with the discovery of the Viking settlement at L'Anse aux Meadows in northern Newfoundland, Canada.[6]

In 1836, he was admitted as a member of the Royal Danish Society of Homeland History (Det kongelige danske Selskab for Fædrelandets Historie). In 1836 he was also elected a member of the American Antiquarian Society.[7] He was a member of numerous other foreign associations and societies and received the philosophical and legal doctorate from abroad.[8]

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