How Did the Norsemen in Greenland See Themselves? Some Reflections on ‘Viking Identity’

How Did the Norsemen in Greenland See Themselves? Some Reflections on ‘Viking Identity’

By Anne-Sofie Gräslund

Journal of the North Atlantic, Vol. 2:2 (2009)

Abstract: The concept of identity can be seen from different angles and understood on different levels. In the context of Viking identity, we can contrast two possibilities: 1) that there was an overarching Scandinavian cultural unity in the Viking Age, or 2) that there were distinct cultural identities in different parts of what is often called the “Viking world.”

In fact these options are not mutually exclusive; both could easily be true and probably are. In this paper, identity is discussed based on archaeological, literary, and iconographic sources. The focus is on the North Atlantic settlements, especially Iceland and Greenland, and the extent to which Norsemen regarded their connections with Scandinavia as homeland connections. Many factors affected the sense of belonging of a Norse group with Scandinavian roots, including language, names, religious customs, and material culture. House constructions suggest that building traditions were transferred even if the materials needed were not always locally available.

Comparisons are drawn with other, more recent situations, and examples are given from the emigration of Swedes to America in the 19th and 20th centuries. The Swedish-Americans have a dual identity. they feel both as Swedes and (above all) as Americans. It is suggested that something similar was true for the Norse settlers in Greenland; they were Greenlanders, but at the same time, their Scandinavian roots continued to be significant.

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Top Image: The ruins of the banquet hall at the Hvalsey Church in Greenland – Photo by Number_57 / Wikimedia Commons

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