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  • Writer's pictureZoe Franznick

Thanksgiving Special: Saga of the Greenlanders (Pt. 1 & 2)

Updated: Dec 11, 2022

Happy Thanksgiving and Turkey Day! This year, we are revisiting the first European settlement of Greenland -- this time from another perspective. The Saga of the Greenlanders is the other account of the events portrayed in Erik the Red’s Saga, and it has a few… unique differences. Let’s dive in!

Thorvald and his son, Eric the Red, left Norway due to manslaughter. Eric was shortly after outlawed from part of Iceland and went to Breidafirth and founded Ericsstadir in the west of Iceland. Eric was declared an outlaw again in another district at the local Thing, so he left and decided to find the land Gunnbiorn had seen to the west once.

Thus, he founded two two main settlements in Greenland, one in the east and one in the west. Eric called this land Greenland so that he could attract folk there to settle. Thirty five ships then left and went to Greenland, but only a few successfully landed.

Another man, Bjarni, arrived on Iceland and planned to stay the winter with his father, as he was accustomed. However, his father had moved to Greenland with Eric. Undaunted, Bjarni collected his ships and men and decided to set out to Greenland to stay with his father, as he normally did, location notwithstanding.

Bjarni realized that such a journey was foolhardy, as winter was approaching, but he left anyway. The group sailed until they found land, but Bjarni said it could not be Greenland because it was too green and had forests, and no glaciers. They approached the land but Bjarni would not explore it since it wasn’t his chosen destination.

Finally, they sailed off again and found another land, this time with glaciers, but realized it was another, different island (likely Baffin Island). At long last, they found Greenland and went ashore and found Bjarni’s father. Years later, Bjarni spoke about his travels, but could not give any report of the land, since he did not go ashore.

Leif decided to go find that land, and Eric, his father, decided to go with him. While they rode to the ship, however, Eric’s horse struck a rock and he was thrown from the saddle. He took this as an ill omen and turned back, choosing not to go with Leif.

Leif retraced Bjarni’s steps in reverse and came to that same forested land, where they came ashore and made booths. They decided to winter there, and found many salmon and green grass throughout the winter. The days were longer, and the sun was up from around nine to three.

Leif suggested that half the group explore the land and the other half remain at the settlement. Leif alternated roles, but it was discovered one night that Tyrker, the German, had not returned home. Shortly after he arrived, but when Leif found him, he spoke only in German and his eyes rolled around in his head. Once he spoke in the northern language, Tyrker reported that he found vines and grapes (and likely turned them into wine). Leif and his men gathered these grapes, giving the place the moniker Vinland, and returned back to Iceland.

On the return journey, Leif noticed a shape that he thought was a skerry, though his men thought it was a ship. They found a crew on this skerry, rescued them, and brought them back to Iceland.

Leif’s brother, Thorvald, thought that there was more to explore throughout Greenland and Vinland. Thorvald took Leif’s ship, and took thirty men back to the booths in Vinland. In their exploration, they found a shelter, but nothing else of human life there. In another place, they found more forests, and there they found three skin-ships (canoes) with people sleeping under them. For reasons not provided in the text, Thorvald's men attack, killing several indigenous people. Only one man escaped. Thorvald and his men also found mounds where these peoples lived. More conflict broke out, and Thorvald was mortally wounded by an arrow. Thorvald declared that he wanted to be buried on the land before his men depart. They do so, and the remainder of the men return to Greenland.

In Greenland, Thorstein Erikson married Gudrid and went to see Vinland and his brother’s grave. Thorstein’s trip did not fare well, and instead landed only on the other side of Greenland. While his men were housed in the town, Thorstein and his wife remained on the ship, as there was no more room for them on land. However, Thorstein the Black, a local man and pagan who lived alone with his wife, Grimhild, offered the other couple a place in their home. Thorstein Eriksson accepted.

There was a plague that broke out in that settlement in the winter, and Thorstein Eriksson made coffins for those who had died and placed them in the ship to return them to Eriksfirth at home. However, this caused Grimhild to die. But soon after, Grimhild rose and sought after her shoes, but when her husband entered, she laid back down and the whole house creaked. After this, Thorstein Eriksson took care of her body, but he too soon fell ill and died.

Thorstein the Black sought to console her and held her, and promised that he would help return her husband’s body home. While he spoke, Thorstein Eriksson sat upright and asked for Gudrid, who asked Thorstein the Black what she ought to do.

Thorstein the Black told her not to reply, but instead asked Thorstein Eriksson what he wanted. Thorstein Eriksson then told Gurdrid her future was provided for, and told her she would remarry well. Thorsteinn the Black then fulfilled all his promises to Gudrid, settled in Iceland, and was regarded as an honorable man.

Thorfinn Karlsefni arrived in Greenland and married Gudrid. Then, Karlsefni brought 60 men and 5 women together for another voyage to Vinland. They let loose the cattle there, and he following summer, Skraelings came near the settlement saw the bull. The bull, lowing, terrified the Skraelings.

However, the Vikings traded with the Skraelings afterward, but Thorfinn refused to sell their weapons to the Skraelings. The Vikings then offered milk to them, which they immediately wanted to buy. The Skraelings ate all the milk, while Karlsefni bought furs from them.

That year, Gudrid then had a son whom she named Snorri, and Karlsefni built a wooden fort. The following season, more Skraelings arrived, and Karlsefni then only allowed milk to be sold to them.

One night, an old woman wearing a black kirtle and headband came into the room where Snorri was sleeping. She had large eyes and was very pale, but otherwise looked exactly like Gudrid. She spoke to Gudrid and asked her name, and then introduced herself as Gudrid. Then, there came a sudden crash in the house and when Gudrid turned to look, the woman vanished.

This crash startled the Skraelings, and one in their number tried to grab a weapon, whereupon a skirmish broke out and the Skraelings fled. Shortly after, they had a battle, and many Skraelings died.

In the spring, Karlsefni returned to Vinland and brought many pelts and goods back with him. Upon seeing this, many others wanted to go to Vinland. At this time, two brothers, Finnbogi and Helgi had just arrived from Norway, and intended to go to Vinland as well.

Freydis Erikssdottir also determined to go, and convinced her brother, Leif, to give her the homestead he established in Vinland. Leif said he would lend her the house, but not give it to her. Freydis also snuck several extra men with her on her ship.

When they arrived, the brothers set up in Leif's house, but Freydis kicked them out, stating it was her home to keep and not theirs to share, as they had once agreed. They lived there in peace for some time, until again they had another disagreement. Shortly after this, Freydis crept out of the house in the early morning, and snuck into the brothers’ hut. Finnbogi was awake, and asked her what she wanted. She bade him walk with her a ways and speak with her outside. Once they had gone a ways, Finnbogi spoke to try and heal the disagreement they had between each other. Freydis ignored this and asked to trade ships, so that she could load up the ship and return home to Greenland. Finnbogi agreed, and Freydis went home.

When she returned, however, she declared that the brothers had mocked her and beat her for her request, and demanded vengeance from her husband. The men then stormed the brothers’ house and killed all the men within. However, once the men were killed, they made go home, but Freydis exclaimed, “Hand me an axe.” When one had been brought to her, she fell upon the five women, killed them, and swore her men to silence.

Freydis then returned home to Greenland. However, some rumors about Freydis went around Greenland, and Leif, her brother, determined that no good would come to them from this. The Vinland settlement was soon abandoned.

Thanks for joining us in this week's episode of The Maniculum Podcast. Looking for more? Check out our Master List series for the full collection of segments at the end of our show, and for more gaming and world building ideas, check out The Gaming Table section of our blog, Marginalia!

Searching for our sources? Read the Greenlander's Saga here or here, and check out our Library for more! More references for interested scholars:

  • Hoidal, Oddvar K. “Norsemen and the North American Forests.” Journal of Forest History, vol. 24, no. 4, 1980, pp. 200–03. Link.

  • McGhee, Robert. “Contact between Native North Americans and the Medieval Norse: A Review of the Evidence.” American Antiquity, vol. 49, no. 1, 1984, pp. 4–26. Link.

  • Reeves, Arthur Middleton, and William Dudley Foulke. The Finding of Wineland the Good: the History of the Icelandic Discovery of America. London: H. Frowde, 1895. Link.

  • Storm, Gustav. Eiríks saga Rauða og Flatøbogens Grænlendingaþáttr samt uddrag fra Ólafssaga Tryggvasonar. Købenjavn: S. L. Møllers bogtrykkeri, 1891. Link.

We do our best to accurately research, source, and cite the works we use, and make them available to you, too! Each episode has a corresponding blog post which includes further breakdowns of the big ideas in each text as well as cites our sources and references. We also have the Maniculum Library, which actively collects resources and recommendations for writers, scholars, and geeks alike! We update our collection of Master Lists after each new episode, so be sure subscribe and stay updated!

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