Vikings in Greenland


The Viking era in Greenland began when Gunnbjørn Ulf-Krakuson first saw the island sometime during the early 10th century. Gunnbjørn was blown off course while sailing from Norway to Iceland, an event that would happen to several ships who were trying to cross the North Atlantic.

It was not until 982 when the Vikings tried to settle the island. Erik the Red, an Icelander who had been exiled from that country as the punishment for the crime of murder, came here. He decided that the land would be a place to colonize, and he named it Groenland (Green Land) on the pretext that if he gave this island an attractive name more people would want to settle here. After returning to Iceland, Erik organized settlements on the extreme south-west coast (Vestribyggd, around the present Godthåb) and on the extreme south-east coast (ʼEystribyggd, near the present Julianehåb).

Although the community probably very small, attempts were made at farming, which were largely unsuccessful, a trade in walrus Ivory was established, which saw the tusks exported to Europe. A bishopric was founded at Gardar and the ruins of its church are still visible. Two convents were added, and a dozen churches.

One of the great mysteries of the Middle Ages is what was the fate of Greenland. By the fourteenth century the settlement was in decline, with the colony on the western side of the island being abandoned around 1350. In the early 15th century their were sporadic mentions of the colony, and the Papacy was worried that the settlers had fallen into paganism.




Articles about Viking Greenland

What did the Viking Discoverers of America Know of the North Atlantic Environment?, by Thomas Haine

Viking Expansion Northwards: Mediaeval Sources, by Tette Hofstra and Kees Samplonius

Norse Greenland Settlement: Reflections on Climate Change, Trade, and The Contrasting Fates of Human Settlements in the North Atlantic Islands, by Andrew J. Dugmore, Christian Keller, and Thomas H. McGovern

Cows, Harp Seals, and Churchbells: Adaptation and Extinction in Norse Greenland, by Thomas H. McGovern

Codfish and Kings, Seals and Subsistence: Norse Marine Resource Use in the North Atlantic, by Sophia Perdikaris and Thomas H. McGovern

The  Evangelization of the  Arctic  in  the  Middle  Ages:  Gardar,  the  “Diocese of Ice”, by Louis Rey

Why did Norse Greenland fail as a colony?, by Alexandra Slack

An Eleventh-Century Farmhouse in the Norse Colonies in Greenland, by C.L. Vebaek

Enduring Impacts: Social and Environmental Aspects of Viking Age Settlement in Iceland and Greenland, by Orri Vésteinsson, Thomas H McGovern and Christian Keller

News about Medieval Greenland

Did Elephants doom the Norse in Greenland?

Scholars examine Viking Life in Greenland through soil samples, music

The Northern World, AD 900-1400 – new book examines the arctic region in the Middle Ages

Medieval Greenland abandoned but not forgotten, study finds

Vinland Map is authentic, expert confirms

Archaeological discovery of Norse presence on Baffin Island

Videos

Links

The Saga of Erik the Red

Papal Letters concerning the Bishopric of Gardar in Greenland during the 15th century

 

 

Sharan Newman