||The Saga of Eric the Red
||Olson, Julius E. and Edward G. Bourne (editors). The Northmen, Columbus and Cabot, 985-1503: The Voyages of the Northmen; The Voyages of Columbus and of John Cabot. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1906). Pages 14-44.
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The author of The Saga of Eric the Red is unknown, as is much
about the Vikings who came to North America. The landing by
Norse voyagers in America five hundred years before Columbus has led to
so much conjecture and hypothesis that it is useful to simply
state the facts, so far as they are known.
Norse Expeditions, circa 1000.
By the tenth century, Norwegian settlers had migrated
from island to island across the North Atlantic, settling first
in Iceland, then in Greenland, and lastly in Canada. Archaeological
evidence shows that about 1000 A.D., mariners from Greenland built
a village at L’Anse aux Meadows in northern Newfoundland. The first
documentary evidence of Norse contact with lands west of Greenland
is a brief mention written around 1130 A.D. in the Islendiga-bok
(AJ-059). Adam of Bremen (see AJ-058) wrote the first datable description
of any significant length in the 1070s. Two lengthy texts, known
as the Vinland sagas, were written down between 1200 and 1300 A.D.
but are thought to reflect earlier oral traditions. The Groenlandinga
saga (AJ-057) and this text, Eiríks saga rauda (The
Sage of Eric the Red), give somewhat conflicting accounts of
the events of 980-1030 A.D. The last datable mention of Norse colony
on the American mainland is to events that occurred in 1161 A.D.,
although indirect references are made in slightly later documents
(see AJ-060). Scholars suspect that climatic change may have doomed
the Vikings’ western settlements; steadily falling temperatures
throughout the region after 1200 A.D. would have shortened both
the navigation and growing seasons in Arctic Canada. By the 1500s,
Greenland also was empty of Norse settlers and mariners.
The Saga of Eric the Red recounts
a version of the colonization of Greenland by Eirík Rauda Thorvaldsson
and the exploration of North America by Thorfinn. Thorfinn makes
his base at Straumford, and makes voyages to the north, perhaps
to the Labrador coast and later, another journey to the south and
east, perhaps the eastern side of Newfoundland’s northern tip. Scholars
generally believe that the Helluland of these documents is Baffin
Island and that Markland was somewhere on the coast of Labrador.
The possible locations of Vinland, Leifsbudir, Straumsfjord, and
other places named in the texts are still hotly debated, with candidates
ranging as far south as Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Despite its rich
archaeological record, L’Anse aux Meadows cannot be positively identified
with any place mentioned in the documents.
These documents were preserved in a manuscript volume
compiled about 1387 A.D. called Flateyjarbok, or Flat
Island Book, from the location in Iceland where it was found
about the year 1650. This manuscript volume of some 1,700 pages
is now in the Royal Library at Copenhagen, Denmark. It was first
printed in the 1860s, photographic facsimiles were prepared in
the 1890s, and it was translated into English in 1906. The
translations given here are from The Northmen, Columbus and
Cabot, 985-1503 (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1906).
Other Internet and Reference Sources
The National Library of Canada maintains a site at
information on the Vikings excursions to North America.
The Parks Canada website for the National Historic site of
L’Anse aux Meadows at http://parkscanada.pch.gc.ca/lhn-nhs/nl/meadows/index_E.asp
contains useful background information on the history of Norse
exploration where you can learn more.
The Viking Network, at
http://viking.no/e/ewww.htm maintains a website intended
for schools that provides maps, background information, and data
about the literary and archaeological evidence of Norse
settlement in North America.
The Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of Natural History
offers an online exhibit at
http://www.mnh.si.edu/vikings/ called “Vikings: The North
Atlantic Saga” which contains photographs of the L’Anse aux
Meadows site and artifacts unearthed there.
Librarian Steve Smith maintains “VNLND: The Online
Bibliography, Materials On & About the Norse Discovery of North
http://www.vnlnd.net/ which not only lists additional
sources but also describes their history and contents in some