Eirik the Red's Saga


Eirik the Red’s saga, translated by Keneva Kunz tells the stories of the many early settlers that traveled by sea to Iceland and Greenland, Importantly Eirik the Red and his family. After being banned from Iceland Eirik ships off with a number of men and discovers Greenland which he named to sound desirable. Eirik had two sons Leif and Thorstien, his son Leif was sent by King Olaf to spread the word of Christianity to Greenland, upon arrival he was welcomed with open arms by his family but the thought of changing religions was not very appealing to Eirik but his wife thought it was great as she had a church opened for her and other new Christians to pray. Other characters who get involved with natives have them baptized, and another didn’t want to be involved with a seeress who needed a chant so she could help the land have a good harvest season but gudrid didn’t want to chant because of her faith to god. The saga overall gives good insight of culture and importance of religion to these early settlers.

Annotated bibliography

Faraday, L. Winifred. “Custom and Belief in the Icelandic Sagas.” Folklore, vol. 17, no. 4, 1906, pp. 387–426. JSTOR,

The following article “Custom and Belief in the Icelandic Sagas” by author Winifred L. Faraday is based on the Icelandic sagas that came before Christianity was established in Iceland. Faraday explains that Sagas usually consist of a big confusing family and a great vagueness of seasons and dates. The article discusses paganism and the early Viking beliefs of gods and goddesses some being more mythical than they are true, but either way these gods are looked at as the high-powers of what is basically a religion to these early Icelanders. When Christianity was coming to Iceland many men went against it and a feud started, one man was outlawed for preaching the new faith. As heroes come they go, Viking deaths usually involved a burial in full clothes with their weapons, treasures and sometimes their ships and slaves. In Iceland at the time of saga writing Magic was believed to be true and spells and sacrifices take place in stories like shapeshifting. Whether it was paganism or Christianity religion mattered a whole lot to the early Vikings of Iceland.

Zori, Davide, et al. "Feasting in Viking Age Iceland: Sustaining a Chiefly Political Economy in a Marginal Environment." Antiquity 87.335 (2013): 150-65. ProQuest. Web. 2 Nov. 2017.

In the article “Feasting in Viking Age Iceland: Sustaining a Chiefly Political Economy in a Marginal Environment” Davide Zori explains that Viking feasted on beef and barley in Iceland and that feasting was an important part of social interaction. Feasts where usually had by Vikings to gather and meet over food and drink, hosting a feast was meant to impress guests and build relationships. Relationships were always based on money over trust, Feasts were a competitive way of giving the absolute most generous gifts of food and drink in reward of a wealthy alliance. House size had a lot to do with feastings after all the bigger the house was the more people could be fit in and the better the gathering would be. Being able to house animals and provide fresh meat was something only the wealthy Vikings could do in Iceland’s harsh winters. Drinking was also a large part of culture, being able to drink a lot showed the wonders of wealth and chaos at the same time and made the host stick out from the rest of the crowd. Because of social status remaining the most important aspect for an Icelandic Viking they would more likely than not use barley for alcohol over porridge or bread.

Ashby, Steven P. "What really Caused the Viking Age? the Social Content of Raiding and Exploration." Archaeological Dialogues 22.1 (2015): 89-106. ProQuest. Web. 3 Nov. 2017.

In the article “"What really Caused the Viking Age? the Social Content of Raiding and Exploration." Written by Steven P. Ashby it is discussed what the Vikings full intentions were when they were raiding and exploring. Raiding and exploring started because of the lust for silver and treasures but evolved into something more as raiding became common. As Vikings raided they also wanted to seek women and natural resources. The more Vikings raided the more powerful they would be there for rising their social status and wealth. Exploration and owning land usually came with a group of followers that stayed loyal as long as wealth was still involved. Exploration could happen for a few reasons like being banished from the land you once were, the search for new land, or to raid lands. Usually the wisest Vikings were the ones to find the most land as travel was very difficult at this time. Being able to get to the silver was usually harder than the raid, this means that the Viking age was not just caused by showing up and taking what they wanted but rather the power of intelligence and understanding how to explore and discover.

Critical analysis/Close reading

“With promises of fine drinks
the war trees wheedled,
spurring me to a journey
to these scanty shores
War-oak of the helmet god,
I now wield a bucket,
No sweet wine do I sip
Stooping at the spring.”

This quote is said by Thorhall in Eirik the Red’s Saga who before this runs away and isn’t spotted for three days but then is miraculously found at the edge of a cliff with his mouth and eyes wide open as he picked at his skin and mumbled something incomprehensible. He is brought back and food shows up unexplainably and Karlsefni who knows many types of whales could not name the one that they have carved up. This quote makes it seem like he is lackadaisical at this point and is headed out to see with his men where all he has is some water and their weapons. A bigger observation can be made that he is going a little crazy and it could have something to do with not wanting the help of Christ and Christian faith. The quote implicates that something bad is going to happen, I believe this because when reading the quote in context the page has an eerie feel to it and Thorhall almost jokes of his demise by saying “no sweet wine I do sup”. The quote has the reader wondering exactly what is going to happen on his journey but you shortly find out he sailed into a storm and died.

"True it was
That our men tracked
A one-legged creature
Down to the shore.
The uncanny fellow
Fled in a flash,
Through rough was his way,
Hear us, Karlsfeni!"

This quote is said by one of Karlsfeni’s men in Eirik the Red’s saga. This comes after the man claimed to have seen a one-legged creature darting down to where their ship was tied. Who then encounters Thorvald, Eirik the Red’s son and the creature shoots him dead on the ship and runs away. This quote really expresses the mentality of all these men, they see something astonishing and unheard of that kills one of their trusted leaders Thorvald and they just go back to killing and conquering land. As a whole for the text the quote shows the power people have and the respect and honor others give them because of their Power/wealth. After Thorvald is dead the men all follow Karlsfeni and when passing by the one-legged creatures island the wanted no conflict, there was no vengeance for Thorvald. The quote implies the men are going to stand by Karlsfeni’s side no matter what they face. Importantly the Quote makes me question a lot of things like what creature this actually was? And Does it have something to do with Christianity?

“Eirik was reluctant to give up his faith, but Thjodhild was quick to convert and had a church built a fair distance from the house.”

This quote comes from the narrator in Eirik the Red’s saga, Eirik and his wife was brought to the decision to switch religions by their son leif. This quote not only shows the stubbornness of Eirik the Red but it shows his wife’s independence. For this time period when women were not exactly respected or treated equally so by her doing this Thjodhild shows leadership and bravery for changing religions immediately and going against her husband. Basically, being told if they switch to Christianity then their famine and harsh winter problems would be no more. Leif out on his travels before arriving with his family set sail where he found land with fields of wheat and maple trees and he was also able to bring men home from shipwreck, the idea of fresh land where crops and vegetation grow and sacrificing time/food ect. to save men and bring them home has a very new testament God feel to it. A question that arose from this quote is Would Eirik change his faith if son was not the one preaching christianity? considering he was reluctant in the first place.

Check point 3
Annotated bibliography
Amorosi, Thomas, et al. "Raiding the Landscape: Human Impact in the Scandinavian North Atlantic."Human Ecology, vol. 25, no. 3, 1997, pp. 491-518.

In the article “Raiding the Landscape: Human Impact in the Scandinavian North Atlantic” authors Amorosi, Buckland, Dugmore, Ingimundaron, and McGovern discuss the religion and ceremonial architecture, trade and commerce, and Human impact on the islands in the North Atlantic including Iceland, Greenland and many others. Around the date of 1000 Christianity was spread widely across the islands and churches were being built. By the time of 1300 there was an extreme amount of man hours put into their Christian faith but the churches were beautiful. Trade was interesting during the Viking age, Vikings would hunt for walrus or fish for the bones and would make long journeys across the ocean just to exchange the little goods they had because of their high value. By the year 1200 norse people had connections and started trading amongst each country for new fishing technology, pottery as well as a number of other imported artifacts. When settlers first arrived, there was a significant impact on the local vegetation and animal life between setting up farm lands and hunting. In the beginning, it didn’t matter as much but as time went on the land warmed soil got less fertile, and erosion caused problems to Iceland and Greenland. This source is useful because it explains not only the impact of the land caused by humans but also gives norse cultural insight. I found this source credible due to the few scholarly authors and citations it has.
Source found from previous source “Feasting in Viking Age Iceland: Sustaining a Chiefly Political Economy in a Marginal Environment."

Price, T. D., and Hildur Gestsdóttir. "The First Settlers of Iceland: An Isotopic Approach to Colonisation."Antiquity, vol. 80, no. 307, 2006, pp. 130-144.

The article "The First Settlers of Iceland: An Isotopic Approach to Colonisation.” By Douglas Price explains the colonization and diets of early settlers from Greenland and Iceland by the burials of the local/migrant people. Vikings were able to expand and colonize most likely due to ship advancements, growth in population and favorable farming lands. Isotopic research allowed scientists to discover whether the body was a local or migrant from Iceland. Pre-Christian Viking burials usually took place on a low piece of land and are placed right outside of a settlement site. Found at the site is usually a mound, grave or both most skeletons were found inside wooden coffins on their side with their legs bent. The isotopic research revealed the place of origin of the skeleton, the tooth enamel showed whether someone was eating more land animals or more fish and this determined if they lived on the coast or inlands. I found this source credible because of the many cites it had and helpful to me because it explains more of what a Viking would eat depending where they lived and pre-Christian burial customs.

Goetting, Lauren. "Þegn and Drengr in the Viking Age."Scandinavian Studies (Lawrence, KS) , vol. 78, no. 4, 2006, pp. 375.

In the article “Pegn and Drengr in the Viking Age” it is said that the words “pegn” and “drengr” have synonyms depending on the place of origin of whom is talking. The word Drengr has a few similar but different meanings but basically all connect to brave honorable young man (honorable to king). The word pegn is said to be an older man that is noble but differs depending on the literature it comes from. Drengr is a popular word amongst poems and sagas of the Viking-age and the meaning is clear. Pegn is not associated exactly with Viking age literature but from medieval texts we learn that the word could possibly mean noble as well. This article is credible because it includes many texts that show examples of the words Pegn and Drengr and backs up the point of the article and it is helpful to me because these words connect to Erik the red and his son Leif.
Reflecting on the research I have read it seems that scholars are concerned with proving their point. Most articles have an abstract as well as a paragraph on the goal for the article. Scholars try their best to prove their point and persuade the reader into agreeing with them. The issues at hand are debates on where the Vikings first settled and the culture that was instilled. For the most part, all the scholars of my research have relatively similar ideas on Viking-age Religion, Food, Trade etc. they all agree and know that Christianity was widely spread and that they raided for wealth and power. Scholars take a persuasive approach to their articles and talk about the facts the most because no one can argue facts. There is a trend of talking about religion and agriculture in articles that directly relate back to Saga writings.
Based on my research of the Viking age I have come across multiple questions on the agriculture in Iceland and Greenland as well as the other islands discovered by the norse people of 1000 AD. The scholarly articles compared to the Sagas of the time have different ideas of the land, Sagas usually include harsh winters where crops cannot grow and the something happens that allows food to come back like in Eririk the Red’s saga when the conversion of Christianity brings back the good land and crops. This allows me to broaden my research on the food and culture of the norse people at this time. Usually when I question the correlation between Sagas and scholarly articles I find new articles that help with my research while searching the answers. Overall my research has been able to go smoothly as I read more and ask myself questions as I go.

The point of this research paper is to show when the first settlers came to the north Atlantic they had to constantly adapt and build around the new cultures and environments to keep themselves a float as evidence shows in Erik the red’s saga. The years dating roughly from 945-1400 AD. was a time of discovery and new life in countries such as Greenland and Iceland. In Keneva Kunz’s translation of Erik the Red’s saga the other men and women who made the journey with Erik when he was annexed from Iceland found a new home in the lower east side of Greenland. From there the Norse people had to adapt to the new lands by making shelter and raising livestock to support their day to day lifestyle. Although it was not easy to adapt to everything especially a new religion, the Norse settlers were able overcome most of the hardships even if it meant traveling a lot. Some might not acknowledge the old Norse peoples impact on the land because their time there was so short but I am able to prove the first settlers had great adaptation skills and were using the land and recourses they had until they could not any longer. Experts on the matter have shown their knowledge through articles discussing the soil and sediment that is still in Greenland today, and how weather would change creating difficult farming and grazing land for them to make use of. Also helping me prove my point of the great adaptation skills of the Old Norse settlers is the first settler Erik the Red. Throughout his saga he moves from place to place providing for his family and when the idea of a new religion is brought to him, it is not easy to except but he eventually overcomes and adapts to the new Christianity.

Annotated Bibliography
  • Schofield, J. E., and Kevin J. Edwards. "Grazing Impacts and Woodland Management in Eriksfjord: Betula, Coprophilous Fungi and the Norse Settlement of Greenland."Vegetation History and Archaeobotany, vol. 20, no. 3, 2011, pp. 181-197.
In "Grazing Impacts and Woodland Management in Eriksfjord: Betula, Coprophilous Fungi and the Norse Settlement of Greenland." Schofield and Edwards discuss the early norse settlers and the natural recourses that came with the land they settled upon. In the eastern settlement of Greenland known as Qinngua where it is said that Erik the Red had originally settled had the remains of over 30 Norse buildings. There was also an absence of a woodlands but discoveries from a restricted area of peat tell us that communities were once present on these lands. Scientists were also able to figure out from pollen tests that birch trees did once inhabit that land, where it is easy to imply that the woodlands that once were, could have been used for the multiple buildings and farmland. Overtime the soil eroded due to the stress that was originally started on the land from original settlers. This article remains useful to me as it is the exact location of where Erik The Red had settled and explains how the land was used.
  • Arneborg, Jette, Niels Lynnerup, and Jan Heinemeier. "Human Diet and Subsistence Patterns in Norse Greenland AD C.980—AD c. 1450: Archaeological Interpretations."Journal of the North Atlantic, vol. 301, 2012, pp. 119-133.
In "Human Diet and Subsistence Patterns in Norse Greenland AD C.980—AD c. 1450: Archaeological Interpretations." Authors Arneborg, Lynnerup, and Heinemeier explain the diet of the old Norse community depending more on their access to marine recourses over time. The subsistence patterns started when the Norse first arrived only growing and using what they had to day by day to survive. Originally, they lived off of their livestock for dairy and meat and hunting for reindeer and marine life was secondary. The eastern settlement of Greenland started out as prime conditions to fulfill the subsistence economy of the Norse people to raise livestock while the western settlement had a more marine based economy. Although diet was changing Norse people didn’t change their ways of farming but instead replaced the more demanding animals like cows for sheep and goats and marine economy became the prime source of food which lasted until complete depopulation. This source is useful to me because it gives solid understanding of the dietary differences of east and west Greenland settlements.
  • Lynnerup, Niels. "Endperiod Demographics of the Greenland Norse."Journal of the North Atlantic, vol. 7, no. sp7, 2014, pp. 18-24.
In the article "Endperiod Demographics of the Greenland Norse." Lynnerup discusses the population of the first Norse settlers and the growth they had as well as the depopulation of Greenland. The population is said to start out with a population of around 500 when Erik the red first landed with 14 other ships. Over time immigration occurred and the population grew but it seems as though nobody immigrated from1100-1200 AD. With only a third as much people in the west (in isolation) the west would have 500 people but by 1300 AD a decline would start that possibly migrated to the east leveling out until the 15th century. Greenland’s decline took 100-200 years it wasn’t just a total collapse. It is also said that climate was favorable in the first part of the period but what is known as a little ice age that caused vegetation and livestock to die therefor causing emigration in Greenland.

Argument Against Scholarly Article

  • Göring, H., and S. Koshuchowa. "Vitamin D Deficiency in Europeans Today and in Viking Settlers of Greenland."Biochemistry (Moscow), vol. 81, no. 12, 2016, pp. 1492-1497.

In the article “Vitamin D Deficiency in Europeans Today and in Viking Settlers of Greenland” authors Goring and koshuchowa argue that Vitamin D deficiency had to do with Vikings becoming extinct in Greenland. They state that “they did not have a sufficient amount of marine animal meat or oily fish (salmon, cod, etc.) in their diet.” I argue that this point is invalid because when the old norse people were settling in the west they relied on Marine hunting for their source of food and were still able to hold their ground there and then back to eastern settlement before a complete emigration. It is also stated in the article that it is no longer possible to calculate the degree of vitamin deficiency In Greenland at that time but believe this is the cause of deformation. I would also argue that this deforming is caused by the inbreeding at the time, with small populations the Vikings started inbreeding which can cause problems in the DNA creating the odd shaped bones/skeletons. It is very difficult to account vitamin D as a part of the Viking downfall, it is as simple as they lived on that land until they used up the recources and had to emigrate back to Iceland and Scandanavia.