US History/Vikings

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Who were the Vikings?[edit]

Map showing area of Scandinavian settlements during the 9th to 10th centuries. Also the trade and raid routes, often inseparable, are marked.

The Norsemen (Norwegians) who lived around the beginning of the second millennium are today more commonly known as Vikings. The Vikings were farmers who "traded" during the slow months. Now, "trading" doesn't mean "I'll give you five sheep for that cow." It means "I'll give you five sheep for that cow. If you don't want to trade, I'll kill you." These people loved to travel in boats from one place to another, and this led to the second discovery of North America (Native Americans first, Vikings second, and Columbus third). Although Irish monks, most famously Brendan, and other European explorers had voyaged in the western waters, the Vikings established a settlement, the remains of which can be seen today at L'Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland.

Proported Ancestry and Descendants[edit]

The Norse are believed by some to have descended from the Huns, a people of uncertain ancestry. The Norse are believed by some to be the ancestors of the Goths and of modern Germans. There is no proof for these claims.

Snorri Sturluson[edit]

Snorri Sturluson (1178 – September 23, 1241) was an Icelandic historian, poet and politician. He was two-time elected lawspeaker at the Icelandic parliament, the Althing. He was the author of the Prose Edda or Younger Edda, which consists of Gylfaginning ("the fooling of Gylfi"), a narrative of Norse mythology, the Skáldskaparmál, a book of poetic language, and the Háttatal, a list of verse forms. He was also the author of the Heimskringla, a history of the Norwegian kings that begins with legendary material in Ynglinga saga and moves through to early medieval Scandinavian history. For stylistic and methodological reasons, Snorri is often taken to be the author of Egils saga.

As a historian and mythographer, Snorri is remarkable for proposing the theory (in the Prose Edda) that mythological gods begin as human war leaders and kings whose funeral sites develop cults (euhemerism). As people call upon the dead war leader as they go to battle, or the dead king as they face tribal hardship, they begin to venerate the figure. Eventually, the king or warrior is remembered only as a god. He also proposed that as tribes defeat others, they explain their victory by proposing that their own gods were in battle with the gods of the others

Snorri Sturluson was born into the wealthy and powerful Sturlungar family of the Icelandic Commonwealth, a sovereign nation, about 1178. His parents were Sturla Þórðarson[2] of Hvamm and Guðný Böðvarsdóttir. He had two older brothers, Þórðr Sturluson (the oldest) and Sighvatr Sturluson.

By a quirk of circumstance he was raised from the age of three (or four) by Jón Loftsson, a relative of the Norwegian royal family, in Oddi, Iceland. As Sturla was trying to settle a lawsuit with Father Páll Sölvason, the latter's wife lunged suddenly at him with a knife, intending, she said, to make him like his hero Odin (one-eyed), but bystanders deflected the blow to the cheek. The resulting settlement would have beggared Páll. Loftsson intervened in the Althing to mitigate the judgement and to compensate Sturla, offered to raise and educate Snorri.

Snorri therefore received an education and made connections that he might not otherwise have made. He attended the school of Sæmundr fróði, grandfather of Loftsson, at Oddi. He never returned to his parents' home. His father died in 1183 and his mother as guardian soon wasted Snorri's share of the inheritance. Loftsson died in 1197. The two families then arranged a marriage in 1199 between Snorri and Herdís, the first daughter of Bersi. From her father, Snorri inherited an estate at Borg and a chieftainship. He soon acquired more property and chieftainships.

Snorri and Herdís were together for four years at Borg. They had a few children. The marriage succumbed to Snorri's philandering, and in 1206 he settled in Reykholt as manager of an estate there, but without Herdís. He made significant improvements to the estate, including a hot outdoor bath (Snorralaug). The bath and the buildings have been preserved to some extent. During the initial years at Reykholt he had several more children by different women: Gudrun, Oddny and Thuridur.

Eric "the Red" and his Children[edit]

Eric "the Red" fled Norway to Iceland to avoid facing a murder charge, and later was banished from Iceland for yet another murder. His children would have great impact on the discovery and explorations of North America.

Bjarni Ericson[edit]

Bjarni travelled around trading in his little knarr. A knarr is a small Norwegian boat that only fits about three to five people. Bjarni sighted Vinland (modern Newfoundland).

An interesting fact is that Leif Ericson bought Bjarni Herjólfsson's boat about ten years later, in about 995 C. E. This is the same boat in which Lief had discovered Vinland. Leif Ericson was about thirty years old (or thirty three, depending on whether one follows the "Eiríks saga rauða", i.e. the Saga of Eric the Red, or the "Grœnlendinga saga", or the Greenlanders Saga).

Thorvald Ericson[edit]

Explored from 1004 to 1005 AD.

Thorfinn Ericson[edit]

Traveled from 1008-1009 AD. He bravely took cattle with him on his knarr, hoping to settle in Greenland. "Greenland" is a misnomer, since it's covered in ice; his cattle died.

Freydis Erikidottir[edit]

Freydis was Eric's daughter, his fourth child. Since Freydis was a woman, there were many restrictions put upon her, but she wanted to make a name for herself. In 1013 AD, she explored with 2 Icelandic men, and killed them and their men upon arriving in Vinland (North America).

Leif Ericson[edit]

Leif Ericson did further exploration of Vinland and settled there. In 986, Norwegian-born Eirik Thorvaldsson, known as Eirik the Red, explored and colonized the southwestern part of Greenland. It was his son, Leiv Eiriksson, who became the first European to set foot on the shores of North America, and the first explorer of Norwegian extraction now accorded worldwide recognition.

The date and place of Leiv Eiriksson's birth has not been definitely established, but it is believed that he grew up on Greenland. The Saga of Eric the Red relates that he set sail for Norway in 999, served King Olav Trygvasson for a term, and was sent back to Greenland one year later to bring Christianity to its people.