What happened to the vikings in greenland

Greenland is the largest island in the world, and also a small ice world with the culture and landscapes rare in other same-latitude regions. This time, the course of MS Fram is called “Viking heritage”, and the historical sites along the way will tell us the legends which took place here.

According to the famous mythic epics Saga, Viking explorers have successively arrived at Iceland since 800 AD in the Viking era. One of them was Erik the Red. This man’s real name was Erik Thorvaldsson, and he was born in Jaeren in South Norway. Having killed a man, he was forced to flee westwands to Iceland in the year of 980. He was married to Thjodhildur in Iceland, but because he failed to pay his debts and had killed someone again, he was found guilty and disfranchised for three years. If he stayed in Iceland, anyone could kill him without legal liabilities. As a result, Erik had to flee again with his family. In three years of exile, Erik sailed westwards and arrived at Greenland in around 982.

He must had landed South Greenland in summer, and found it to be a lively “new world” which was full of pastures, seals and whales. In an ecstasy, he named this island as Greenland, the land in green color. However, he didn’t expect that 81% of this “green island” was actually covered by ice and snow. Even today, there is still no arable land on the island, which means it is a real “ice land”.

Greenland was so unforgettable to him that he propagandized its beauty and fertility everywhere when he returned to Iceland. In 985, Erik led an expedition team consisted of 25 ships and 500 Scandinavians looking forward to the new life, and arrived at Brattahlid (Qassiarsuk in modern days, a settlement between Narsaq and Narsarsuaq in South Greenland). The immigrants settled down on the island, and built “Viking longhouses”, a 30-meter-long house with granary. This settlement was called the “Eastern Settlement”, and represented as the beginning of organized European immigration to Greenland. Erik the Red became the leader of the “Eastern Settlement”.

In a gloomy afternoon, MS Fram docked at Qassiarsuk pier. I imagined the scene when Erik the Red first arrived here. Due to the floating ices, Erik almost made a full circle at that time and finally found the land. He must be extremely excited because the land here was more fertile than that in Iceland. The earliest livestock farm in Greenland also located here.

The residents in this town were less than one hundred. Apart from the tourists disembarked from MS Fram, we could see few natives. Following the map, I walked towards the historic site of Viking longhouse, but what came in sight was a brand new building — the Brattahlid Church restored according to the historical records. It was the first Christian church in North America, which was built under Erik’s wife Tjodhilde. This devout Christian also persuaded her belligerent husband to believe in Christianity.

Beside it, there was a restored “Viking longhouse”. I’d seen it before in North Norway, so I knew about its structure and use. There were ancient Viking costumes, living supplies and tools exhibited inside. Basically it was a “mud house” simply built with mud and stones, so cold and wet inside that it must be terrible to stay for the freezing winter.

On a nearby mountain stood a Viking statue facing the ocean. At first I thought it was Erik the Red, but it turned out to be his son Leif Eriksson. Leif surpassed his father in merits and achievements. It was him who brought the first missionary to Greenland and introduced Christianity here from Norway(I guess first fruit of his effort was his mother).

Erik was also a great navigator and explorer. Around 1000, he led his fleet to the west. First he arrived at an island full of flat stones, named it as “Helluland”(the land of flat stones), which is the Baffin Island in Canada today; then he reached another lush island (Labrador Peninsula in Canada), he called it “Markland” (the land of forests); to spend the winter, Erik found a island rich in grapes for making wine, the “Vinland” (the land of grape wine), which is now the Newfoundland, Canada. In that sense, Erik should be seen as the first European who arrived at the American continent, five hundred years earlier than Columbus.

As the new immigrants from Europe flooded in, the settlement in South Greenland was once very prosperous, and had its best time in the 14th century. There had been approximately ten thousand men settled down, and about 5000 Vikings lived in Greenland at peak times. They established more than 280 settlements, 190 farms and 170 churches here. Besides Brattahlid, Gardar (another nearby town, which is called Igaliku today) was another important settlement, as the church where the archbishop of Greenland lived was located here from 11th to 16th century.

In the year of 1124 to 1126, Greenland was upgraded to a diocese. Similar to other dioceses, the church here soon became a great landlord. A friary and a convent built near the Uunartoq hot spring marked the beginning of religious fanaticism. At that time, every farmstead would build its own church as long as the conditions allowed. In 1261, following the example of Iceland, the parliament of Greenland recognized the king of Norway’s reign and power of taxation over it.

The sites of church and residential area preserved in Igaliku were of greater preciousness to the local people. Their visitors included the king of Norway, queen of Denmark, and other distinguished guests from Scandinavian countries which shared the same ancestors and history as Greenland. Therefore, now Igaliku is applying for the World Cultural Heritage.

Another important site of church was the Hvalsey Church, the earliest church in North America which was built in the 14th century. The last trace of Vikings in Greenland was found here: a wedding held in the Hvalsey church. After that, the communication between Greenland and the Europe broke and no more news was heard about it. It was said around 1480 to 1500, Vikings disappeared in this white land and nobody knew what had happened. In 1721, Norwegian missionary Hans Egede had returned to Greenland in search for the descendants of Vikings, but he found no one but Inuits, the aborigines here.

When this page of history finally appeared in the Saga, it described the Viking settlements as full of fine horses, green pastures, beautiful songs and white clouds. But after all it was just a blue dreamland in the Arctic which made us feel pity about.


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