Let me take you far back in women’s history, to meet a courageous, strong woman a Viking who lived more than 1000 years ago who navigated crossing the Atlantic Ocean between Greenland in North America and her home in Iceland, EIGHT times in her lifetime! Making her the Viking record holder of sorts for most crossings! This fierce Viking woman’s name was Gudrid Thorbjarmardottir.
A young woman of 15, she traveled to Greenland, where Eirik the Red is constructing a settlement. Gudrid meets and marries Eirik’s younger brother Thorstein. Thorstein’s older brother most know, he was the famous Viking explorer Leif Erikson, the 1st European to set foot in North America, as the saga goes. Gudrid was widowed at 17 when a particularly harsh winter took her husband Thorstein and many other settlers that year. She claims his ghost told her “that her destiny (will) be a great one” according to one verson of the sagas of Gudrid.
Gudrid remarries and conceives a son with her new husband Thorfinn Karsefni “the makings of a man” his name translates to. Their son Snorri and them return back home to Iceland.
The story of Gudrids travels gets a little harder to follow as she becomes an older woman of 50. The story goes that she travels to Rome, a pilgramage and then returning to her farm in Glaumbaer, Iceland. She makes this incredible voyage entirely on foot. There she lives out her days as a “nun and recluse”, so say Viking scholars.
Gudrid’s story, like many others, was passed down orally from storyteller to storyteller for over 200 years, until sometime in the 1200’s it was written out as told by storytellers.
Archaeologists have done work in Iceland to excavate the turf house in Glaumbaer where sher supposedly lived out her days. Unlike other Viking structures in that town hers most closely resembled another Viking age turf home in Greenland, in the same village where she and Thorstein lived. Did she bring the design back to Iceland?
Did Gudrid really live? Was Gudrid a real woman? A Viking woman? The “Far Traveler” as the sagas and handed down clan stories tell us? Because there is no written history of Viking existance 1000 years ago plus/minus, we have to deduct from the stories, not if they are “true” but if they are actually “believable” or “plausible”.
Yes this could have happened, it could be true. There is archaeologic suggestion that women lived in Greenland alongside Viking men. A thread spindle was found at the turf house site, indicating women were spooling thread – not a job men would do in Viking culture. But was it Gudrid’s? Perhaps a friend’s?
The mind does wander, personally I can picture a strong, determined woman who could sail the sea, help build homes, care for her settlement in food and defense and now perhaps sewing clothing or blankets.
I love Viking lore. Recent discoveries in Norway, Denmark, Sweden and even England have show us a vibrant, sometimes vicious, race of strong sea-going men and women ruled Europe with strong hearts and iron fists for 300 years. These recent discoveries have brough women Viking warriors to live. It was previously thought that only Viking men did battle, swung the sword and rode horses into brutal battles. Several mounds in sweden have been excavated and the incredible finds of women warriors, buried with the highest of warrior honors with weapons, protection amulets, helmets, shields and swords. Those items had never previously been found with women Viking remains anywhere but there have always been stories – handed down – of valiant Viking women warriors of long ago.
My next women’s history piece will be about one of these women warriors, her life and her burial of honor. It’s another great story of Viking life, of travelers, warriors and women of integrity, honor and with skills in battle.