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Showing posts with label vikings. Show all posts
Showing posts with label vikings. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Columbus Who? Let's Discuss Leif Erikson

It's a commonly held belief that Christopher Columbus 'discovered' America. This is wrong on so, so many levels. Firstly, the Americas were 'discovered' by the ancestors of modern Native Americans and First Nation peoples thousands of years before Columbus. Secondly, Christopher Columbus wasn't even the first white man to 'discover' America, because in the early 1000 CEs Viking explorer and Christian missionary Leif Erikson stepped foot on what is now Newfoundland, Canada.

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Leif Erikson
Leif Erikson, also known as 'Leif the Lucky' was the second son of the notorious King of Greenland, Erik the Red. It is unsure when exactly he was born, but, being the son of Erik the Red, it is most likely that he was born and raised in Greenland. Very little is known about Leif's childhood, but at the time of his majority he was described in the Greenland Saga as being:
"...tall and strong and very impressive in appearance. He was a shrewd man and always moderate in his behavior."
 What is certain is that in 1000 CE Leif set sail for Norway. He was blown off course somewhere in the Hebrides, and had a son with Thorgunna, the daughter of a local chieftain. When it came time for Leif to set sail again, Thorgunna asked to accompany him, but Leif refused. When Thorgunna told him that she was expecting a child, Leif refused to take responsibility for the child. Thorgunna, however, swore that she would send the child to Leif in Greenland as soon as she was old enough, and she followed through on that promise.

In Norway, Leif met with King Olaf Tryggvason, who had been converted to Catholicism. Olaf soon converted Leif as well, and tasked him with spreading Christianity back in Greenland. With this charge, Leif went sailing back to Greenland.

Here is where accounts diverge. The Saga of Erik the Red claims that on his way back from Norway Leif was blown off course yet again, and saw the shores of North America. According to the Saga of Erik the Red, Leif never actually set foot on North America, but left it to his younger brother, Thorvald. However, the much more reliable Greenland Saga says that Leif was back in Greenland when he heard tale of a new land in the west from Bjarni Herjolfsson.

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L'anse aux Meadows is the only confirmed Viking settlement
in North America
Bjarni Herjolfsson had seen the coasts of what we now know as the east coast of Canada, but hadn't landed to explore. The people of Erik's court mocked of him for not having landed, and soon Leif was determined to do what Bjarni had not. Sometime in late summer or early fall, Leif set off for the lands to the west with a new ship and a crew of 35.

Leif had originally asked his father, Erik, to lead the expedition. Erik had demurred, saying that he was getting to be too old for that sort of nonsense, but Leif insisted. According to Leif, Erik had the most luck in the family, and luck was needed for this sort of expedition. Erik reluctantly agreed, but on the day that the voyage was to have left Erik was thrown from his horse, and broke his leg.This left Leif the leader of the expedition, and off they went.

Leif's crew first landed in what is most likely modern Labrador. Leif named it Helluland, and essentially called it a wasteland. He was unimpressed by it's glaciers and lack of plant life, and so set off again.

This next time they landed in a place they called Markland. It was a flat and wooded area, most likely in modern Nova Scotia. However, Leif wasn't ready to settle down, and he hurried his crew back to their ships.

They sailed north again, and docked on a large island. It was here that they decided to settle for the winter. The land was fertile and green, and when Leif sent out exploration parties one of them came back with a vine of grapes, leading Leif to name the place Vinland.

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Statue of Erikson in Chicago, USA
Leif and his crew stayed the winter, harvesting wood and grapes to take back with them. When spring came they sailed back towards Greenland, laden with cargo. On their way home Leif and his crew rescued a group of shipwrecked people on a reef. It was his discovery of these people that earned him the title 'the lucky'.

It is about here where the record of Leif Erikson ends. He is known to have died in 1025, and rumored to have succeeded his father Erik as chief after Erik's death, but the adventures of Leif Erikson seem to have ended after he came back from Vinland.

For many years Leif was forgotten about. His claims about having discovered a land were difficult to prove, and historians squabbled over where it could have been. However, in 1960 the remnants of a Viking settlement was found in L'anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland, leading many to believe that Newfoundland is the country referred to as Vinland. Leif Erikson was later awarded his own holiday, and to this day Leif Erikson Day is celebrated (well, mostly ignored.) every October 9.

Sources
Greenlander's Saga
The Saga of Erik the Red
Leif Eriksson
Leif Erikson (11th Century)
Leif Eriksson Explorer
Leif Erikson the Lucky
L'anse aux Meadows National Historic Site
The Norse Discovery of America
Vinland Sagas

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Damn, Girl-Sigrid the Haughty? More Like Sigrid the Petty and Bloodthirsty

Influential in four countries, Queen of both Sweden and Denmark, mother of two great kings, and instrumental in one of the greatest sea battles of the Viking age, Queen Sigrid the Haughty is most known for setting two potential suitors on fire. Much about Sigrid's life is unknown, and even if she was a real person, a legend, or a combination of several different Viking queens is up for debate. However, the myths around Sigrid are epic in proportion, and if a girl ever made you say 'damn!', it was certainly her.

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Sigrid and her second husband, Sweyn
Sigrid was born in the mid 900s most likely in Poland, but also possibly in Pomerania (modern Czechia) or Denmark. One of the solid facts about Sigrid was that she married King Eric the Victorious of Sweden, and it was written by medieval chroniclers that Eric the Victorious married the daughter of King Mieszko I of Poland and Doubravka of Bohemia (also modern Czechia). Whatever her origins, Sigrid definitely married Eric the Victorious, and they had at least one child, a boy named Olaf, who would succeed his father.

In Sigrid's late twenties or early thirties she was widowed, leaving her as regent for her son Olaf. Beautiful and wealthy, Sigrid was an attractive marriage prospect. Much like Penelope of Homer's Odyssey, suitors came out of the woodwork to compete for Sigrid's hand, including Sigrid's foster brother, Harald Grenske, a minor king in Vestland.

Unlike fair Penelope, Sigrid was not down to deal with suitors tramping around her house disrespecting her, especially if those suitors did not have the fortune or title to match her own. To demonstrate her distaste, she invited Harald, as well as a Russian prince named Vissavald to a great feast. About halfway through, she locked the doors of the meadhall, and set it on fire with Harald and Vissavald still inside. She reportedly stabbed anyone who tried to escape.

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Most of what we know about Sigrid comes from the Icelandic
Sagas
Unlike in the case of Elizabeth Bathory, another famous blood soaked woman, setting a group of rude noblemen on fire was completely respectable. Viking society was harsh, and as the regent of Sweden (keep in mind, this is the WHOLE of Sweden, not just a small part. Sigrid was the overlady, the queen of queens.), Sigrid needed to show that she would not be disrespected. Most of the suitors got the message.

Unfortunately, King Olaf Trygvasson of Norway didn't quite get the message. He came courting, and failed epicly. He praised her beauty and wit, then belittled her manner. He informed her that if she wanted to marry him (keep in mind, there is no record of Sigrid wanting to marry him), she would have to convert to Christianity, something that was completely unthinkable to the deeply devout pagan Sigrid.

When Sigrid gave Olaf his marching orders, he snapped. He called her ugly, saying that he would never want to marry such an old woman anyways. He slapped her on the face--a fatal mistake on his part. According to legend, Sigrid informed Olaf that his blow may 'some day be thy death'.

Several years after her first husband's death, Sigrid remarried, this time to Sweyn Forkbeard, King of Denmark. This united Sweden and Denmark, and Sigrid and Sweyn had two sons, the most famous of whom was known as Canute.


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Sigrid's son, Canute, would later conquer
England
Sigrid didn't forget insults, especially not from the King of Norway. The Icelandic sagas say that she convinced Sweyn, who was already feuding with Norway, to take to the sea against Olaf. Sweyn, combined the Sigrid's Swedish forces, cornered Olaf and the Norwegian navy, thoroughly defeating them at what would later be named The Battle of Skold. Olaf didn't survive the battle. He either jumped off, or was thrown off the side of his ship and sank, dragged down by the weight of his armor.

From here, the details of Sigrid's life get even murkier. From all reports, her marriage to Sweyn wasn't very happy, and the pair split. Sigrid went back to Poland to assist her brother, King Bolesław. With her help, Bolesław was able to make Poland thrive, and they were both well loved by the people. Sigrid could have stayed happy and content in Poland, but when her son Canute conquered England in 1016 she jumped on a ship to join him. Though the details of her life in England are unknown, she likely died, and was buried there.

Many historians dismiss Sigrid as a myth. There are very few surviving historical records from that period, and most of her history was recorded in the Icelandic sagas, written many years after her death. However, mentions of the men she was close to, namely her father and husbands, help establish her existence, if not quite her deeds.

Sources
The Viking Tale of Svein Forkbeard and Sigrid the Haughty
Sigrid the Haughty
Sigrid the Haughty: Queen Consort of Four Countries and Owner of a Forceful Personality
Sigrid the Haughty (D. before 1013)

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Erik the Red and His Green Land

Erik the Red was a larger than life dude who knew how to leave a mark. He got kicked out of Iceland, and settled a previously uninhabited¹ island. In the world's first documented PR stunt, he named the icy wasteland 'Greenland' to entice people to move there, then proceeded to name every geographical feature he came across after himself. Erik was one hell of a dude.
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Erik the Red. What a handsome dude. Look at that
mustache. Hipsters kill for mustaches that
glorious.

Erik was born in Norway, but moved to Iceland after his father, Thorvald, was exiled for 'manslaughter' (read as 'probably murder'). He was called 'The Red' because of his fiery hair, beard, and temper. Also red was the color of the blood on his hands after he continued the family tradition of murder.

While living in the north of Iceland, Erik's thralls inadvertently created a landslide which destroyed the neighboring house. Erik's neighbor was, understandably, irritated. Less understandably, said neighbor decided to kill Erik's thralls. This aggravated Erik, who murdered his neighbor in return. Because of this, in 980 Erik and his family were banished.

Next, Erik moved to the island of Oxney, and picked up the pieces. He restarted his homestead, and all was going well, until he had more troubles with his neighbors. In about 982 Erik lent his setstokkr to his neighbor. Setstokkr were large, rune inscribed beams that held particular religious significance. It was pretty cool of Erik to loan them to his neighbor, but unfortunately his neighbor was rather uncool, and didn't give them back. In retaliation, Erik killed him², and was once again banished. This time he was banished from the entirety of Iceland for three years. Erik was left with two choices. He could sail back to Norway, or he could go somewhere else. Erik chose the latter.

Now, Erik wasn't totally sailing blind. Other vikings had been around the coasts of Greenland before, though none had ever gone ashore. Erik knew that Greenland was out there, so he packed his family in his longship and went. He spent several months navigating around the southern tip of Greenland. He went ashore at Tunulliarfik, and spent the two years after that exploring the country, and naming everything in sight after himself.

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Tunulliarfik fjord, where Erik came ashore
In 985 Erik's exile was up, and he was firmly of the opinion that his new home would be a pretty dope place to start a colony. He named the place 'Greenland' to attract settlers, and sailed back to Iceland. Erik was fairly successful, and managed to convince some 400 people to make the move. 25 ships set out from Iceland in 985, and within a few months, 14 had arrived on Greenland's shores (the rest having wrecked or turned back to Iceland.) They settled in two groups--the Eastern Settlement and the Western Settlement, with Erik elected leader of the Eastern Settlement. Erik died about 15 years later after a fall from his horse.



¹By Europeans
²Quite frankly, after the number of pens, pencils, bowls, and spoons I've lost to a neighbor, I do not consider this an overreaction on Erik's part.

Sources
Erik the Red-Biography
Erik the Red-Britannica
Erik the Red-Maritime Museum

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Documentary Review- Vikings Unearthed

So after I finished the Cuba Libre Story, I needed something else to watch while I painted, so I turned to this Nova film. I wasn't expecting much, I was thinking it would be something along the lines of the Richard III documentary, or, heavens forbid the Druids documentary, but I was pleasantly surprised to learn that this film was so, so much better.
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This film focuses on the archaeological efforts surrounding the vikings. They briefly focus on digs in Greenland and Iceland, but the real star of the show is the excavation at Rosee, Newfoundland, Canada.

Now, the Vikings are known to have gotten pretty far west. The farthest west confirmed viking settlement is at L'Anse Aux Meadows, which is in the far north of Newfoundland. However, using satellite imagery, archaeologist Dr. Sarah Parcak was able to identify what could be the remains of a viking settlement at Rosee, which is significantly west (and south) of L'Anse Aux Meadows.

A lot of this film focused on the satellite technology used by Dr. Parcak, and how she used that technology successfully to locate other ancient sites. They discussed the difficulties in finding viking settlements as opposed to Egyptian or Roman settlements due to building materials, and took the viewer all over Shetland, Iceland, Greenland, and Newfoundland to discuss what makes a viking settlement different from any other.

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Dr. Parcak at Rosee
As you may have guessed, I enjoyed this film. A lot. Vikings are pretty cool in general, so throw in Greenland and my favorite Canadian province, and you've got a home run. It was a very informative film, and it went much deeper than your average documentary about the vikings. It not only told you about the archaeological finds, but also put them into the context of viking society, so you could understand the significance of finding slag or a layer of compacted ash with stone underneath it meant. (Slag is a byproduct of iron working, the ash and rock combo is a floor. Cool huh?)

If anything, I wish that this film had been longer. The conclusions that Dr. Parcak and the other archaeologists came to about Rosee was about an 80% surety that the site was a viking settlement, but they were only able to dig for two weeks, so they weren't able to completely confirm their find, at least not by the end of the movie.

Overall, it was an amazing movie, and rekindled my childhood dreams of becoming an archaeologist. Too bad I'm crap at math and science eh?