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According to the Íslendingasögur, people from Iceland first settled in Greenland in the 980s.

Eiríkr rauði (Erik the Red) was sentenced to lesser outlawry, which meant that he had to leave Iceland for three years. He explored the uninhabited southwestern coast of Greenland during the period of his outlawry, and intended to return with a group to settle in Greenland. He named the land Greenland, saying that “people would be more eager to go there because the land had a good name”.

At its height, the Greenland colony consisted of two settlements. The Eastern Settlement was at the southwestern tip of Greenland, while the Western Settlement was about 500 km up the west coast, inland from present-day Nuuk. A small settlement near the Eastern Settlement is sometimes referred to as the Middle Settlement.

Archaeologists have identified over 400 farms, and the combined population is estimated to be 2,000 to 3,000.


According to Eiríks saga rauða (Erik the Red’s Saga) and Grænlendinga saga (Saga of the Greenlanders), people started to explore the lands to the west of Greenland only a few years after the establishment of the Greenland Settlements.

In 985, Bjarni Herjólfsson was blown off course while sailing from Iceland to Greenland while sailing with a group of settlers. After three days’ sailing, he sighted land.

Bjarni was only interested in reaching Greenland, but he described his discovery to Leif Erikson. Leif explored the area and established a small settlement some fifteen years later.

The sagas claim that Leif discovered three separate areas: Helluland (land of the flat stones); Markland (the land of forests); and Vinland ( land of wine). In addition to Leif, two other children of Erik rauði travelled to Vinland: his son Thorvald, and his daughter Freydis.

Next Page: The Vikings in Greenland