Homelands
Saga Video

The earliest and most complete information we have about Vinland the Good is found in two sagas, Greenlanders' Saga and The Saga of Erik the Red which tell of the Viking discovery of North America. The two accounts were written independently, though both tell of things which took place in the early 11th century that were passed down by word of mouth in Greenland and Iceland until they were written down in the 13th century in Iceland. Both give general descriptions of the native peoples the Vikings met, relative sailing distances, and landscape features which help us determine the location of Vinland. But the two versions are also contradictory in a number of ways, and while they provide much information about the new lands, they do not conclusively resolve the question, "where was Vinland?"

Greenlander's Saga
Greenlanders' Saga
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Comparison in Storyline
Greenlanders' Saga describes a voyage made by Bjarni Herjolfsson, the first Norseman to see the shores of North America, and the subsequent voyages of Leif Eriksson, his brother Thorvald, his sister Freydis, and the Icelandic merchant Thorfinn Karlsefni.
RealAudio Listen to an excerpt of Leif's story (RealAudio).

It describes hostilities with skraelings, the Norse term for the native peoples they met in the lands visited south and west of Greenland which they called Vinland and Markland. This saga places Erik the Red's family at the center of the Vinland voyages.


The Saga of Erik the Red

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The Saga of Erik the Red tells the Vinland story as a single expedition led by Thorfinn Karsefni, a rich trader from Iceland who married Gudrid, Leif Eriksson's widowed sister-in-law, and traveled with her to Vinland , where they lived for several years. While in Vinland, Gudrid gave birth to Snorri, the first European known to be born in America. In this story, Leif's role is similar to that of Bjarni in The Greenlanders' Saga; he merely sights land, but never sets foot on it. The voyages of Thorvald Eriksson and Freydis Erikssdottir-described as separate voyages in The Greenlanders' Saga-are told here as part of the Karlsefni expedition. This account gives less prominence to the Eriksson family, though in both accounts Leif the Lucky is a heroic, magnanimous figure who converts the Grenlanders to Christianity. Rather, it focuses on Gudrid and Karlsefni, whose descendants include a great line of Icelandic bishops.
RealAudio Listen to an excerpt of Gudrid's Saga (RealAudio).

Saga Voyages
Saga Voyages
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Number of Settlements in Vinland
In addition to these differences, the two sagas also describe different places where the Vikings traveled. In Greenlanders' Saga, Leif Eriksson builds several houses and calls the camp Leifsbudir, and all the subsequent voyagers use this same location. In The Saga of Erik the Red, two settlements are mentioned, one in the northern part of Vinland called Straumfjord, and one in a more southerly location called Hóp. If there were a number of settlements, then Vinland was a region, not a specific settlement.

Based on the saga evidence alone, one might imagine the Vikings sailed far south along the coast of North America. However, the sagas' unclear and inconsistent descriptions of Vinland geography probably resulted from elabortion and distortion introduced during the two hundred years when they were passed down orally in Greenland and Iceland. For these reasons the sagas are viewed as only one of several sources regarding Norse activities west of Greenland.