Grœnlendinga saga: Wikis


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The Grœnlendinga saga (About this sound listen ) (spelled Grænlendinga saga in modern Icelandic and translated into English as the Saga of the Greenlanders) is an Icelandic saga. Along with Eiríks saga rauða it is one of the two main literary sources of information for the Norse exploration of North America. It relates the colonization of Greenland by Erik the Red and his followers. It then describes several expeditions further west led by Erik's children and Thorfinn Karlsefni.

The saga is preserved in the late 14th century Flateyjarbók manuscript and is believed to have been first committed to writing sometime in the 13th century[1] while the events it relates take place around 970 to 1030. Parts of the saga are fanciful but it is believed to contain a kernel of historical truth.




Colonization of Greenland[2]

An interpretation of the sailing routes to Greenland, Vinland, Helluland and Markland travelled by different characters in the Icelandic Sagas, mainly Saga of Eric the Red and Saga of the Greenlanders.

Erik the Red (Old Norse: Eiríkr rauði) emigrates from Norway to Iceland with his father because of some killings. In Iceland, Erik finds a wife, Thjodhild (ON: Þjóðhildr). He again becomes a part of a dispute and is proclaimed an outlaw at a local assembly. He resolves to go west and seek a land spotted by a man named Gunnbjorn (ON: Gunnbjörn) who had gone astray.

Erik sets sail from near Snæfellsjökull and reaches the coast of a glacial land. He travels south along the coast searching for a habitable area. After two years of exploring the country, he returns to Iceland and tells of his discoveries. He names the land which he had explored Greenland (ON: Grœnland) because he said people would be attracted to go there if the land had a good name.[3]

After spending one winter in Iceland, Erik sets sail again intending to colonize Greenland. His expedition has 30 ships but only 14 reach their destination. Erik founds a colony in Brattahlid (ON: Brattahlíð) in south-west Greenland. He becomes a respected leader. With Thjodhild he has the sons Leif (ON: Leifr), Thorvald (ON: Þorvaldr) and Thorstein (ON: Þorsteinn) as well as the daughter Freydis (ON: Freydís)[4].

Bjarni's voyage

A man named Bjarni Herjolfsson (ON: Bjarni Herjólfsson) has the custom of spending alternate winters in Norway and in Iceland with his father. When he arrives one summer in Iceland he finds that his father has emigrated to Greenland. He resolves to follow him there though he realizes that it is a dangerous proposition since neither he nor any of his crew has been in Greenland waters.

After sailing for three days from Iceland, Bjarni receives unfavorable weather, north winds and fog and loses his bearing. After several days of bad weather the sun shines again and Bjarni reaches a wooded land. Realizing that it isn't Greenland Bjarni decides not to go ashore and sets sail away. Bjarni finds two more lands but neither of them matches the descriptions he had heard of Greenland so he does not go ashore despite the curiosity of his sailors. Eventually the ship does reach Greenland and Bjarni settles there.

The description of Bjarni's voyage is unique to Grœnlendinga saga. Bjarni is not mentioned at all in Eiríks saga rauða which gives Leif the credit for the discoveries.

Leif's expedition

Das Haus des Glockenspiels in Bremen's Böttcherstraße displays this Leif and Karlsefni panel of 10 from Bernhard Hoetger's 1934 "ocean-crossing" set

Leif Eriksson becomes interested in Bjarni's discoveries and buys a ship from him. He hires a crew of 35 people and asks Erik to lead an expedition to the west. Erik is reluctant and says he is too old but is eventually persuaded. As he rides to the ship, his horse stumbles and Erik falls to the ground and hurts his foot. Considering this an ill omen, he says: "It is not ordained that I should discover more countries than that which we now inhabit." Leif, instead, leads the expedition.

Setting sail from Brattahlid, Leif and his crew find the same lands Bjarni had discovered earlier but in the reverse order. First they come upon an icy land. They step ashore and find it to be of little interest. Leif names the country Helluland (Stone-slab land). They sail further and find a forested land with white shores. Leif names it Markland (Wood land) and again sets sail.

Now Leif sails for two days with a north-easterly wind and comes upon a new land which appears very inviting. They decide to stay there for the winter.

The nature of the country was, as they thought, so good that cattle would not require house feeding in winter, for there came no frost in winter, and little did the grass wither there. Day and night were more equal than in Greenland or Iceland. — Reeves' translation

As Leif and his crew explore the land, they discover grapes[5] (ON: vínber; wine-berries) and Leif names the country Vinland (ON: Vínland; Wine land). In the spring the expedition sets sail back to Greenland with a ship loaded with wood and grapes. In the voyage home they come upon and rescue a group of ship-wrecked Norsemen. After this Leif is called Leif the Lucky (ON: Leifr heppni).

Thorvald's expedition

Leif's voyage is discussed extensively in Brattahlid and Thorvald, Leif's brother, thinks that Vinland was not explored enough. Leif offers him his ship for a new voyage there and he accepts. Setting sail with a crew of 30, Thorvald arrives in Vinland where Leif had previously made camp. They stay there for the winter and live on fishing.

In the spring Thorvald goes exploring and sails to the west. They find no signs of human habitation except for one corn-shed. They return to their camp for the winter.

The next summer Thorvald explores to the east and north of their camp. At one point the explorers disembark in a pleasant forested area.

[Thorvald] then said: "Here it is beautiful, and here would I like to raise my dwelling." Then went they to the ship, and saw upon the sands within the promontory three elevations, and went thither, and saw there three skin boats (canoes), and three men under each. Then divided they their people, and caught them all, except one, who got away with his boat. They killed the other eight, and then went back to the cape, and looked round them, and saw some heights inside of the firth, and supposed that these were dwellings. — Reeves' translation

The natives, called Skraelings (ON: Skrælingar) by the Norsemen, return with a larger force and attack Thorvald and his men. The Skraelings fire missiles at them for a while and then retreat. Thorvald receives a fatal wound and is buried in Vinland. His crew returns to Greenland.


Thorstein Eriksson resolves to go to Vinland for the body of his brother. The same ship is prepared yet again and Thorstein sets sail with a crew of 25 and his wife Gudrid (ON: Guðríðr).

The expedition never reaches Vinland and after driving about the whole summer the ship ends up back at the coast of Greenland. During the winter, Thorstein falls ill and dies but speaks out of his dead body and tells the fortune of his wife Gudrid, predicting a long and prosperous life for her.

Karlsefni's expedition

A ship arrives in Greenland from Norway commanded by Thorfinn Karlsefni (ON: Þorfinnr karlsefni), a man of means. He falls in love with Gudrid and they marry. Karlsefni is encouraged by his wife and other people to lead an expedition to Vinland. He agrees to go and hires a crew of 60 men and 5 women. The expedition arrives in Leif's and Thorvald's old camp and stays there for the winter in good conditions.

The next summer a group of Skraelings come visiting, carrying skins for trade. The Skraelings want weapons in return but Karlsefni forbids his men to trade weapons. Instead he offers the Skraelings dairy products and the trade is successful.

Near the beginning of their second winter the Skraelings come again to trade. This time one of Karlsefni's men kills a Skraeling as he reaches for Norse weapons. The Skraelings run off. Karlsefni fears the natives will return, hostile and in larger numbers. He forms a plan for the coming battle. The Skraelings do come again and the Norsemen manage to fight them off. Karlsefni stays there for the remainder of the winter and returns to Greenland next spring.

During their stay in Vinland, Karlsefni and Gudrid had the son Snorri.

Freydis's expedition

Freydis, daughter of Erik, now wants the prestige and wealth associated with a Vinland journey. She makes a deal with two Icelandic men, Helgi and Finnbogi, that they should go together to Vinland and share all profits half and half. They agree to bring the same amount of men but Freydis secretly takes more.

In Vinland, Freydis betrays her partners, has them and their men attacked when sleeping and killed. She personally executes the five women in their group since no-one else would do the deed.

Freydis wants to conceal her treachery and threatens death to anyone who tells of the killings. She goes back to Greenland after a year's stay and tells the story that Helgi and Finnbogi had chosen to remain in Vinland.

But not everyone is silent and word of the killings eventually reaches the ears of Leif. He has three men from Freydis's expedition tortured until they confess the whole occurrence. Thinking ill of the deeds he still does not want "to do that to Freydis, my sister, which she has deserved".

End of the saga

Karlsefni made a good profit of his journeys west. He later settled in Iceland with his wife and son and their descendants included some of the earliest Icelandic bishops. The saga ends with what seems to be an attempt to establish its credibility:

Karlsefni has accurately related to all men the occurrences on all these voyages, of which somewhat is now recited here. — Reeves' translation


  • Einar Ól. Sveinsson and Matthías Þórðarson (eds.) (1935). Íslenzk fornrit IV : Eyrbyggja saga, Grœnlendinga sǫgur. Reykjavík: Hið íslenzka fornritafélag.
  • Gunnar Karlsson (2000). Iceland's 1100 Years: History of a Marginal Society. London: Hurst. ISBN 1850654204.
  • Magnusson, Magnus and Hermann Pálsson (translators) (2004). Vinland Sagas. Penguin Books. ISBN 0140441549. First ed. 1965.
  • Ólafur Halldórsson (1978). Grænland í miðaldaritum. Reykjavík: Sögufélag.
  • Ólafur Halldórsson (ed.) (1985). Íslenzk fornrit IV : Eiríks saga rauða : texti Skálholtsbókar. Reykjavík: Hið íslenzka fornritafélag.
  • Reeves, Arthur M. et al. (1906). The Norse Discovery of America. New York: Norrœna Society. Available online
  • Örnólfur Thorsson (ed.) (2001). The Sagas of Icelanders. Penguin Books. ISBN 0141000031


  1. ^ Örnólfur Thorsson 2001, p. 626.
  2. ^ The first chapter is taken from Landnámabók and is probably not originally a part of the saga. It is often omitted from editions and translations.
  3. ^
  4. ^ According to Eiríks saga rauða, Freydis is an illegitimate child but this is not mentioned in Grœnlendinga saga.
  5. ^ There has been much speculation on the grapes of Vinland. It seems unlikely that the Norsemen travelled far enough south to find wild grapes in large quantities. On the other hand even Adam of Bremen, writing in the 11th century, speaks of grapes in Vinland so that if the grape idea is a fantasy it is a very early one. The Norsemen were probably unfamiliar with grapes — at one point the saga speaks of "chopping vines" — and it is possible that they mistook another type of fruit, perhaps gooseberry, for grapes.

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