American Journeys
Home Find a Document Images Advanced Search Highlights Teachers Help  
Document Number: AJ-057
Author:
Title: The Vinland History of the Flat Island Book
Source: 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 45-66.
Pages/Illustrations: 24 / 0
Citable URL: www.americanjourneys.org/aj-057/

Author’s Note

The author of the Vinland History of the Flat Island Book, also known as the Greenlander’s Saga, is unknown, as is much about the Vikings who came to North America.

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. This work, the Groenlandinga saga, and Eiríks saga rauda (The Saga of Eric the Red, see AJ-056), 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 such as 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 Vinland History of the Flat Island Book recounts a series of voyages made sometime after Eric the Red’s colonization of Greenland. In one, Bjarni Herjulfson makes three landfalls. The first was perhaps Newfoundland, the second Labrador and the third, farther north, could be Baffin Island. A second voyage was made by Leif Ericson, who sailed up the western coast of Greenland, across to Helluland, south to Bjarni’s second landfall, which he called Markland, and finally to Bjarni’s first landfall, where grapes were found-hence the name Vinland. Two further voyages are told of in this saga-that of Thorfinn and another by Freydis, a daughter of Eric the Red. 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 debated, with candidates ranging as far south as Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

Document Note

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 1890's, 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 http://www.nlc-bnc.ca/history/24/h24-1210-e.html with information on the Vikings excursions to North America.

The Parks Canada website for the National Historic site of L’Anse aux Meadow 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 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 America” at http://www.vnlnd.net/ which not only lists additional sources but also describes their history and contents in some detail.

Read this Document
Print or Download
Read Background
View Reference Map (PDF)
How to Cite
Copyright and Permissions
© 2014 Wisconsin Historical Society Feedback | Site Help
Wisconsin history