What problems have unicorns caused historically?

Narwhals and unicorns share a lucrative story

Unicorns are known as colorful dogs. In films, books or as kitschy cuddly toys, the mythical creatures have become part of (pop) culture. Their characteristics are similar across national borders: As beautiful, gentle horses, they now embody the pure and noble of this earth. Equipped with magical abilities and a single, coiled horn on the forehead, they enchant young and old.

In contrast to the popularity of the unicorn, the narwhal swims largely unnoticed by children and their adults as real marine life through the Arctic Ocean. Its outward appearance may not seem nearly as graceful to unicorn fans, although narwhals carry the same unique trait as unicorns: a horn. Although this is not entirely correct, because what looks like a horn in the narwhal is actually a single tusk that screws its way through the upper lip of the male narwhal. Such a narwhal tooth can be up to three meters long and ten kilograms.

That was it with the similarities between the two creatures. However, it does not need more for the story of the unicorn, because their common characteristic has much more in common than one might think at first: It is the same, so to speak.

Trading in narwhal teeth

In the early Middle Ages, Greenland traders brought narwhal's teeth to Europe, where they were sold as the horns of the unicorn. The demand for the material "Ainkhürn" (literally: one-horns) was great around 1200 AD, the teeth were temporarily sold for twenty times the weight of gold.

“After Greenland was settled around 985 AD, trade with Europe gradually began. Everything that was in Greenland was traded - and there wasn't much. It started with polar bears, which were also very valuable. In the High Middle Ages, around 1200 AD, narwhal teeth began to be imported because the demand in Europe for the supposed unicorn horn was high. Shrewd businesspeople quickly discover that a narwhal tooth looks like a unicorn's horn and sell it as such. There was a lively trade in teeth. The pan-European market was large and was satisfied, ”explains Prof Dr. Simek, Austrian philologist, Scandinavian and Germanic Medievalist. “There were enough royal courts, princely courts or chambers of curiosities that wanted to afford a horn of the unicorn. Trade was probably carried out via the diocese of Trondheim via intermediaries in Iceland and Norway, as trade was an ecclesiastical monopoly in the 13th and 14th centuries. Unfortunately, there are no records of trade in Scandinavia. But if you look at the illustrations of the 12th century manuscripts, the twisted horns of the unicorns shown look like narwhal's teeth - and these optical similarities are no coincidence. "

High demand because of the miracle effect

The high demand was due on the one hand to the magical powers that were ascribed to the horn of the unicorn: grated one-horns were used as an ingredient for alchemical and medicinal products and sold in pharmacies: in powder form as a remedy against poison, the plague, bites, Fever, as a drink against convulsions or epilepsy and as an aphrodisiac - which is why there are still many pharmacies today that have the word “unicorn” in their names.

Gallery: Simply great: The Horn Bearers Club