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How Did the Norsemen in Greenland See Themselves? Some Reflections on “Viking Identity”

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How Did the Norsemen in Greenland See Themselves? Some Reflections on “Viking Identity”

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The concept of identity can be seen from different angles and understood on different levels. In the context of Viking identity, we can contrast two possibilities: 1) that there was an overarching Scandinavian cultural unity in the Viking Age, or 2) that there were distinct cultural identities in different parts of what is often called the “Viking world.” In fact these options are not mutually exclusive; both could easily be true and probably are. In this paper, identity is discussed based on archaeological, literary, and iconographic sources. The focus is on the North Atlantic settlements, especially Iceland and Greenland, and the extent to which Norsemen regarded their connections with Scandinavia as homeland connections. Many factors affected the sense of belonging of a Norse group with Scandinavian roots, including language, names, religious customs, and material culture. House constructions suggest that building traditions were transferred even if the materials needed were not always locally available. Comparisons are drawn with other, more recent situations, and examples are given from the emigration of Swedes to America in the 19th and 20th centuries. The Swedish-Americans have a dual identity. they feel both as Swedes and (above all) as Americans. It is suggested that something similar was true for the Norse settlers in Greenland; they were Greenlanders, but at the same time, their Scandinavian roots continued to be significant.

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Currently, the national humanities science shows particular interest in the phenomena that have been previously outside its area of expertise. These phenomena include materialistic objects, which in the context of cultural-semiotic approach turn into meaningful constants. One of such materialistic-spiritual phenomena is the concept of “home”. For Icelanders, during the period of civil war marked in history as the Age of the Sturlungs, the phenomenon of “home” undergoes substantial transformation. Forced exile from the country, loss of relationship with family, and building a new life contribute to conception and formation of the new semantic space structured on the binary image: Home – Anti-Home. Within the Icelandic Saga tradition, the image of negative home belongs of the island of Greenland, which provided an temporary shelter and reflected the overall atmosphere of forced migrants. The article is dedicated to the examination of the image of Greenland in Icelandic Saga tradition. The author reveals the key parameters of formation of the image of Greenland as an “alien” space, formed among the Icelanders who were forced to leave their country. This leads to the emergence of antithesis in Saga literature: home and homelessness. The concept of “home” is associate with Iceland and saturated with additional shades of meaning, turning into and object of reminiscence and becoming the embodiment of spiritual substance. Greenland, on the contrary, was endowed with the traits of hostile space with regards to a person.
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The Viking Diaspora presents the early medieval migrations of people, language and culture from mainland Scandinavia to new homes in the British Isles, the North Atlantic, the Baltic and the East as a form of 'diaspora'. It discusses the ways in which migrants from Russia in the east to Greenland in the west were conscious of being connected not only to the people and traditions of their homelands, but also to other migrants of Scandinavian origin in many other locations. Rather than the movements of armies, this book concentrates on the movements of people and the shared heritage and culture that connected them. This on-going contact throughout half a millennium can be traced in the laws, literatures, material culture and even environment of the various regions of the Viking diaspora. Judith Jesch considers all of these connections, and highlights in detail significant forms of cultural contact including gender, beliefs and identities. Beginning with an overview of Vikings and the Viking Age, the nature of the evidence available, and a full exploration of the concept of 'diaspora', the book then provides a detailed demonstration of the appropriateness of the term to the world peopled by Scandinavians. This book is the first to explain Scandinavian expansion using this model, and presents the Viking Age in a new and exciting way for students of Vikings and medieval history.
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The choice of material (or artistic medium) is an important part of the creation of an artifact. At the same time, it is also an indicator of artistic traditions and cultural influences. This article offers an overview of the use of some of the most widely used and, in cultural terms, most significant materials (metal, bone, ivory, wood, and soapstone) as artistic media in Norse Greenland, with special attention to availability (and its limitations), the choice of alternative media, and the influence of the Church on the use of artistic media. The survey reveals, on the one hand, some level of resourcefulness of the Norsemen in Greenland to adapt to local circumstances, and on the other, their strong adherence to European Christian culture.
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