Mag
Articles
Putting The Green In Greenland

Putting The Green In Greenland

Published July 9, 2012

Surely Eiríkur Rauði, Eric the Red, must be one of the more Viking of the Vikings. Banished from Norway for manslaughter in 960, he decided to start over in Iceland, where he lived semi-peacefully for over a decade until suffering a relapse. In the early 980s, the Þing assembly at Þórsnes found him guilty of several killings and exiled him. Having run out of known places in the North Atlantic to move to, there was naught to do but discover new ones.
Eiríkur heard of a place farther west called Gunnbjarnarsker, named after Gunnbjörn who claimed to have seen it. Like many sociopaths, Eiríkur Rauði had a gift for marketing as well as acquisition. He claimed the country but, with little viable farmland, found it hard to convince people to move there. Nothing a little rebranding couldn’t fix.Gunnbjarnarsker was renamed Greenland, and a fleet of 25 longships set sail. Many ships were caught in a storm, got lost or turned back, and only fourteen made it to this latest earthly paradise. Others would follow, and at its peak around 3,000 people of Nordic descent lived in Greenland, divided among roughly 300 farms in two different settlement areas.
Eric the Red loses his religion
Less homicidal than his father, Eiríkur’s son, Leifur, nevertheless had the same knack for exploring. He found his own land still further west, but how could he outdo the old man when it came to branding? What could possibly be better than evoking the lushness of the colour green in order to get people over? Well, wine, of course, and so he decided to call his country Vínland.
    Leifur later brought Christianity to Greenland on behalf of the Norwegian king Ólafur Tryggvason, making an early convert of his mother. Old Eiríkur would have none of this “love thy neighbour” business and stubbornly stuck to his ways. His wife prayed for his soul, and, more drastically, refused to go to bed with a pagan, but all for naught. Leifur also asked Eiríkur to come with him westwards, but when Eiríkur fell off his horse on the way to the ship, Leifur took this as a bad omen and stayed at home. It would take another 500 years before people arrived who combined the missionary zeal of Leifur with the homicidal-ness of Eiríkur, and could claim the new continent as their own.
Are Greenlanders 
green, then?
The Vikings may only have stayed in North America for a couple of winters, but the settlements in Greenland spanned some 500 years. Unlike what the Viking Age equivalent of brochures may have said, the climate was too cold for growing corn, but the south was adequate for grazing cattle and sheep. They also seem to have occasionally sailed to what is now Canada for timber, something that was always in short supply.
The main accounts of Medieval Greenland come from ‘Eiríks saga Rauða’ (“The Saga Of Eric The Red”) and ‘Grænlendinga saga’ (“The Saga Of The Greenlanders”), both of which deal with the founding and settling of the country. The following centuries are less well documented, but around a century later, in 1076, Adam of Bremen says that the people there live much like the Icelanders do, except they are more hostile and known for plundering ships in the area. Were these the genes of Eiríkur Rauði kicking in, or perhaps just economic necessity? Then again, Adam says that the people there have green-coloured skin due to the salt water, and so his account should be taken with a grain of, well, salt.
Later stories tell of adventurers going to Greenland to procure polar bears, which made an excellent present to the medieval Norwegian monarch who had everything. The last reliable account of the Greenland colony comes from the accounts of the crew of a Norwegian ship en route to Iceland, which was blown off course. This was in 1406, and after that the Norse in Greenland slipped out of history and into myth.
Whatever Happened to the Greenlanders?  
Almost in the vein of mythological places such as Atlantis, the disappearance of the Norse colony in Greenland has led to all manner of possible explanations. Some of the most popular are:
1. It was climate change, of course
In this day and age, with melting glaciers and lonely polar bears set adrift on ice floes, it is tempting to blame climate change for previous calamities in Greenland as well. In fact, it may have been rising temperatures in the century between the settlement of Iceland and that of Greenland, which is the reason for the discrepancy in names. Iceland may indeed have been icy when people came there, but a 100 years later, things had warmed enough for Greenland to be called green. By 1200, the average temperature was declining, and even if it went slightly up again by the year 1500, this may have been too little, too late, to save the Greenlanders.
2. Blame it on the King.
Greenland came under the Norwegian king in 1261, a year before Iceland did, and the Iceland-Greenland sailing route ceased to exist. Norway itself went into decline in the 14th century, due to competition from the Hansa and the destructiveness of the Black Plague. The Icelanders had been promised six ships a year bringing supplies, but the Greenlanders had to make do with one. When the ship sank in 1369, no new ship was commissioned and Greenland was, for all intents and purposes, cut off from the outside world.
3. The Mongols did it.
Some have suggested that the main reason people ventured this far north to begin with was an effect of the Arab conquest of the Middle East. When Europe was cut off from oriental ivory, a market opened up for walrus tusks from the far north and even narwhal horns, which are probably the inspiration behind all that unicorn imagery. When the Mongols took over much of Asia in the 13th century, making Asian trade safe again, those who had banked on northern tusks went out of business.
4. Because they were fashion victims. Literally.
An excavation in Ikigait in 1921 showed that as late as the 15th century, people in Greenland kept abreast of the latest Parisian fashions, rather than adapt to the climate. No one who has seen Icelandic girls in mini-skirts in the middle of winter will be surprised to learn that people sometimes choose haute couture over comfort. This may also have applied to people preferring European style timber houses over, say, Inuit igloos. Attempts to maintain a life standard not sustainable in the far north may well have spelled their doom. Again, modern day parallels are glaring.
5.It’s the bloody English, again.
English ships were so frequent in Icelandic waters in the 15th century that historians have often dubbed it the “English Century.” Most came to trade, but some to raid. In her historical novel ‘Hrafninn,’ Vilborg Davíðsdóttir suggests that the remaining settlers, already in decline, were carried off by English pirates. No accounts of this exist, but then again, nor do accounts of anything else, so why not?
6. They were killed by Inuit.
Not very politically correct to say these days, it is nonetheless possible that the settlers were massacred by the Inuit. In fact, the Inuit first arrived in Greenland in ca. 1300, having made their way from Alaska. They displaced the earlier Dorset culture and are the forefathers of today’s Greenlanders. Unlike the Dorset, the Inuit had bows and arrows and might have been better placed to attack the declining Norse settlements. Some archaeological evidence of conflict has been found, and Inuit folklore speaks of their ancestors driving away the giants who previously occupied the land, but whether this refers to the Norse or the Dorset is impossible to say. 
7. They became gods.
Some have chosen to interpret finds of Norse artefacts among Inuit as evidence that they interbred, and that the Norse may even have disappeared into the Inuit tribes. Others have searched farther west, suggesting that they moved to Canada. The quest for a blond Inuit tribe has so far not yielded results, but the prospect remains tempting to those who want to make as much out of the Nordic presence in North America as possible.
The most fun theory in this category is no doubt that some members made it as far down south as present day Mexico, where one of them became worshipped as the white, bearded god Quetzalcoatl. For this to make any sense, it would have to have taken place close to the settlement period, as he seems to have been worshipped there from around 900. The Mormons claim old Quetzal to have been Jesus Christ himself, but perhaps he was a Viking after all.
Ironically, the worship of the god made the job of plundering the Aztec Empire that much easier for the Spanish. When Cortez arrived, beard and all, he was mistaken for the deity and welcomed by the unsuspecting population.
8. They drowned on the way back home.
Less sexy than being worshipped by lost empires, but perhaps more likely, is that sometime in the century after ships stopped arriving, the inhabitants may have tried to get back to Iceland through perilous, ice infested waters in boats that in no way were intended for ocean sailing. It wouldn’t even take a Titanic style iceberg to ruin such a venture. In any case, not much evidence exits, and Leonardo DiCaprio is unlikely to star in a hit movie about it. Sadly. 



Mag
Articles
<?php the_title(); ?>

Best Place To Cool Off On One Of Those Icelandic Scorchers

by

It’s 15 degrees. Fahrenheit? No, Celsius. Shorts weather? Fuck you, it’s underwear weather. The sun bears down on a thick, humid Reykjavík day. The sunbathers in Austurvöllur have burnt to a crisp. You’re parched, you’re sweaty. Does anywhere in this country have air conditioning? You look out to the harbour, considering a dip, but no—with all those ships, it just doesn’t seem safe…Where do you go? What do you do? But then common sense kicks in. “Duh,” you think, and your feet follow. You thought you could get away with not wearing deodorant in Iceland? You stink. You’re a zombie

Mag
Articles
<?php the_title(); ?>

Keeping Reykjavík Preened

by

It’s no secret that Icelanders take their hair very seriously. For years, Rauðhetta og úlfurinn has been the go-to spot for Icelanders looking to sport a fresh cut. As four-time winners of our annual ‘Best Place To Get A Trendy Haircut’ award, it’s clear that the experts at the Skólavörðustígur studio know how to chop some locks. According to salon manager Sandra Olgeirsdóttir, being the best at trendy haircuts is all about practice and this salon has been doing that for the last 17 years. In addition to offering clients magazines and massages, she says they always try to figure

Mag
Articles
<?php the_title(); ?>

“The Fag-End Of Civilization”

by

It is no secret that the village of Reykjavík was not only a tiny place in the eyes of 19th century tourists in Iceland but also a “filthy” and “desolate” shantytown. Iceland was a poor and isolated country back then. By 1900 the capital had only around 6,000 inhabitants (always described as “souls”) which all lived in the city centre of today. The foreign visitors in the 19th century were mostly rich Europeans who were shocked by the poverty and extreme hardships faced by Icelandic people. These tourists mostly wrote about the ugliness and are sometimes merciful in their descriptions.

Mag
Articles
<?php the_title(); ?>

The Best Place In The World To Be A Woman?

by

Women are reportedly more equal to men in Iceland than any other place in the world. But does this mean that we have reached the goal of gender equality? In international media and discourse, Iceland is often portrayed as the best place to be a woman. We certainly use it to market ourselves to tourists and boast of it in our own media. This is in large part due to the recognition we have received from the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index. For four years in a row now, Iceland has been ranked as number one on the

Mag
Articles
<?php the_title(); ?>

Searching For The Best Public Bathroom

by

Something that always seems to be missing in reviews of restaurants, bars, cafés and whatnot, is the bathroom. Perhaps it is a taboo subject? But when you think about it, the flowery potpourri smell in the bathroom might make up for a mediocre cup of coffee or a semi-flat beer and stumbling upon a clogged toilet could make you forget about all the great food and service you just got. What good is a good soup if your dining experience is shadowed by a dirty bathroom? When writing these reviews, I went to some of Reykjavík’s most popular cafés to

Mag
Articles
<?php the_title(); ?>

The Best Way To Hit 12 Bars In 12 Hours!

by

We at the Grapevine do not encourage people to drink to excess, but if you ever wanted to have 12 drinks at 12 bars in 12 hours, we’ve mapped out the best way to do that! Most bars in Reykjavík have a happy hour, and if you align them in the correct order on a Friday, you can get a dozen in a row. If you give yourself 15–20 minutes to get from place to place, we reckon you should be able to make it. You’ll need to have a friend with you though, as a few places on the

Show Me More!