A Different Kind of Viking History – Part 2

We pick up our story at about the year 1000. In fact, if we go backwards just a little bit we discover something very interesting about the Vikings. They bored easily. After decades of raiding and pillaging nearby villages, there was a time when those villages no longer had anything new to offer. Considering the raiding Vikings made off with anything of value during those unexpected visits to nearby communities – food, valuables, and women – there was no more fun in it. Besides, once your army controls everything around you there is not much choice left other than waging war against yourself.

Yup, the Vikings did that, too. But that became boring as well.

Vikingship at Greenland
Vikingship at Greenland

Eric the Red was credited with being a real thinker in his day. Instead of using the well-crafted long boats for raids up and down the coastline, he thought of something bigger. So, Eric the Red loaded up a crew and hit the water in about 985. History books hint that he had actually been banished due to his role in several murders but we like to think of him as more of an international traveler. So, Eric the Red sailed from Iceland to an island he named Greenland.

It was surprisingly green. Since Eric’s own name contained a color, it only seemed natural to dub this new land with a name that closely described how it looked. Besides, had he called it Yellowland or Magentaland those names probably would never have caught on. However, Eric the Red set up stakes and started to populate Greenland and ease into semi-retirement from raiding and pillaging.

The travelling bug was passed down to his son, Leif Ericsson who went with a formal name rather than the moniker his mom tried to latch on to him. We agree. Babyface would have been a stupid Viking name if Leif had become a warrior or some other vicious kind of guy. Instead, he chose to stick to the long boats and explore the world. Remember, at the time the fear was that one could sail to the horizon and then fall off of the world to a horrible death. Ericsson did not believe such a fate awaited him so he loaded up a crew at hit the water in 1000.

His voyage worked its way southwest from Greenland to a collection of islands off the coast of what is now northern Canada. Eventually Ericsson settled on a spot in what is now Newfoundland. At the time, the Norsemen happened upon Labrador, which Ericsson named Woodland. Good thing the first thing they saw wasn’t dying and decaying buffalo or the land might have ended up being called Deadland or Smellyland or Rottingland. Woodland was where they spent a winter because it was so darned pretty. To this day the Tourism Bureau of Newfoundland and Labrador uses the advertising slogan of, “We used to be called Woodland and could have been named Rottingland but the Vikings were smart and went with the beauty of the landscape to name this new land they found.” Yeah, it’s long-winded but it looks really sharp on a postcard.

The Vikings route to Vinland
The Vikings route to Vinland

After enjoying the splendors of the winter of ’00 in Labrador, Ericsson and his crew moved on into Newfoundland. They discovered the tides, although they were not exactly sure why the waters rose and then went back down later in the day. What really had them occupied was the food available in this new land they found. The volume of which caused them to actually build a number of homes and choose to stay another winter. By this time several of the Vikings were hooked and found this new home very much to their liking. There were no nearby villages to raid and plenty of land to farm and that was what they did.

The climate was also a new experience for the Norsemen. They observed that day and night was more equal than they were accustomed to in their homeland. This was a huge bonus and had Ericsson been as much of an entrepreneur as his father Eric the Red was, he could have easily set up the world’s very first tourist information centre and international travel agency. However, the guys there were too busy figuring out what to do with all the food being produced in their farmland.

It’s at this part of the story we meet Tyker the German. He was like a father to Ericsson and was one of the crewmen who ventured on the voyage to Canada. He provided Ericsson with wise counsel and comfort. Well, that was until one day Tyker wandered off from the small settlement of homes that were now occupying space near the farmland. The loss of Tyker was devastating for more than just Ericsson. It was a sign. Could there be evil spirits in this new land they found? It was cause for concern.

Ericsson got his wits about him and formed a search party of twelve men. As they were about to start their search Tyker suddenly reappeared. He was acting strangely and incoherently. It was as if an evil spell had been cast upon him. The typical solution to this kind of behavior was swift and meant death to Tyker in order to flush the spirits out of his system. Just as the sentence was to be carried out, one of the quiet crewmen spoke out. It was Bjorn the Bad Breath Guy. He pointed out accurately that the Norse tradition of killing someone with evil spirits probably did not wash with the laws of this new land they found.

Bjorn the Bad Breath Guy was correct and a century further down his family tree branched into a long line of lawyers, councilors and legal advisors. You could say that the very first legal decision made in the world was on that damp night back on October of 1001 when Tyker was saved by Bjorn.

Back to our story. Ericsson and his crew interrogated Tyker and soon discovered he was acting strange only because he was intoxicated. Tyker had discovered vines of grapes and was helping himself to some that had fallen to the ground and were fermenting. The discovery was verified the following day with the search party being led to the vineyard by Tyker. The sight inspired Ericsson to give the region a name. He called it Fermenting Grapeland. Naw, we’re just kidding. It was actually named Vineland. Seriously, no joke here.

And that brings us to the end of Part 2 of our History of Vikings.

How The Vikings Influence Is Still Felt In Place Names

You should know by now that Vikings were a crafty bunch. In fact, regardless of where you live in the world chances are that the city you reside in was named by a Viking. It’s a fact. They were clever enough to leave their mark behind in virtually every corner of the Earth.

Here are some examples of the sneaky Viking place name locations:

  1. The Suffix ‘by’

    The use of two letters at the end of a place name is one very clever way to keep your history alive. The Vikings were masters at this. The ‘by’ suffix denotes a village, settlement or farmstead. Places with names like Whitby or Selby bear evidence of their Viking connection.

  2. The Suffix ‘kirk’

    This is a less subtle trick passed on by Norsemen. Originally the suffix was ‘kirkja’ but over the centuries it got shortened to the much easier to say ‘kirk.’ The original ‘kirkja’ means church and it appears in place names such as Ormskirk.

  3. The Suffix ‘ness’

    The word ‘ness’ means headland or promontory. It appears in place names such as Skegness and has also been adopted by the Old English and Gaelic without knowing it originated by the Norse. So that is why you can find many places with ‘ness’ in their name in the English countryside.

  4. The Suffix ‘keld’

    This translates to mean spring as in a water source. It is a favorite naming tool and can show up in several locations around the world. When used it appears such as Threkeld.

  5. The Suffix ‘toft’

    The word toft means the site of a building or house. The Vikings slipped this little gem in wherever possible. Examples include Langtoft and Lowestoft.

  6. The Suffix ‘thorpe’

    Essentially this word means secondary settlement so that’s what you and I would consider a suburb. The Vikings were light years beyond the rest of us by actually naming places as suburbs before they ever became one. Examples include Copmanthorpe.

We are only partway through our history of the Vikings. You’ll have to come back and see what else we have in store for you here. Part Three of our story is in the works as is more fascinating data and interesting facts about those wild and crazy Norsemen.

Did you read part 1: The early years?

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