Freydís Eiríksdóttir sailed to Vinland (North America) in the early 1000’s and was the daughter of the famous viking, Erik the Red.
She is described as being Leif Erikson’s full sister in the Saga of the Greenlanders (Grœnlendinga Saga) and as being his half sister in the Saga of Erik the Red (Eiríks Saga Rauða). She also had two other brothers, Thorstein and Torvald. It’s unknown when she was born, but probably between the years 970-980 AD.
Freydis was married to Torvard, (described as a weakling) and that they lived at Gardar. Freydis participated in two trips to Vinland and is described as a large and fearless woman that was very fond of goods and gold.
In Erik the Red‘s saga, she is with Thorfinn Karlsefni on an expedition to Vinland around the year 1004.
After a failed attempt to trade with the North American natives, which the Norse called Skraelings (Skrælingjar), a dispute arose between the Norse and natives.
The natives snuck up on the Viking camp in the night and shoot what’s believed to be catapults at the Norse warriors. Their weapon is described as a rod which gave an unusual sound when it was waved in the air. Thorfinn’s men, having never seen such weaponry were afraid and fled. They thought the Skraelings were on all sides around them, so they did not stop until they stood with their backs against a cliff.
Freydís heard the commotion outside and came to see Thorfinn’s men retreating from the Skraelings.
She called out, “Why run you away from such worthless creatures, stout men that ye are, when, as seems to me likely, you might slaughter them like so many cattle? Let me but have a weapon; I think I could fight better than any of you.”
The fleeing men gave no heed to what she said and ignored her.
Freydis, who was eight months pregnant at the time, ran out and grabbed a sword from her fallen brother in arms, Thorbrand, Snorri’s son.
When the Skrælingjar came upon her, she let down her sark so that one of her breasts were exposed and struck her breast with the flat of the sword, letting out a furious battle cry.
Seeing this wild shield maiden, the Skrælingjar became frightened and rushed off to their boats to flee away.
Freydís second trip to Vinland
After expeditions to Vinland led by Leif Erikson, Torvard Erikson (Þorvaldr Eiríksson) and Thorfinn Karlsefni met with some success, Freydís wanted the prestige and wealth that was associated with a Vinland journey.
The same summer the Vinland expedition had returned from their journey, a ship from Norway to Greenland managed by two Icelanders from Aust Fjords, Helgi and Finnbogi, had arrived. She made a deal with two Icelandic men that they should go together to Vinland and share all the profits half-and-half. She explained, “because it was a process that it had proven to be easy to win wealth and honor.”
Freydis asked her brother Leif Eríkson if they could use the homes and stables that he’d built in Vinland. He agreed that they could use the houses.
Helgi and Finnbogi also agreed that they would bring the same number of men and supplies, but Freydis ended up leaving after the brothers and smuggled more men into her ship. Helgi and Finnbogi, arrived early and took refuge in the houses in Vinland until Freydís appeared and ordered the brothers to move out. She said it was because the houses belonged to her brother Leif Erikson and were meant for her.
The brothers, Helgi and Finnbogi, not wishing to further the dispute carried out in their possessions and built a toast (camped). This was only one of the many disagreements that would happen in the time they were in Vinland.
While in Vinland, the tension between the two groups grew as Helgi and Finnbogi set up a settlement separate from Freydis and her crew. Freydis eventually went to the brothers’ huts and asked how they were faring. “Well,” responded the brothers, “but we do not like this ill-feeling that has sprung up between us.” The two sides made peace.
Freydis, once outside, beat herself so that it would appear as if she had been ill-treated. When she returned to her husband, he asked who had beaten her. Freydis claimed Helgi and Finnbogi were the culprits and called her husband a coward, demanded that he exact revenge on her behalf, or else she would divorce him. He gathered his men and killed Helgi and Finnbogi as well as the men in their camp while they were sleeping. When he refused to kill the five women, Freydis picked up an ax and massacred the five women herself.
Freydís then returned to Greenland
Freydís wanted to conceal her treachery on the brothers and threatened death to anyone who would tell of the killings. She went back to Greenland after a year’s stay and told her brother Leif Eiriksson that Helgi and Finnbogi had decided to stay in Vinland.
However, word of the killings eventually reached the ears of Leif. He had three men from Freydís’s expedition tortured until they confessed the whole occurrence. Thinking ill of her deeds, Leif still did not want “to do that to Freydís, my sister, which she has deserved”
There’s no more information about Freydis.
- Saga of the Greenlanders (Grœnlendinga Saga)
- Saga of Erik the Red (Eiríks Saga Rauða)
- Keneva Kunz (Translator), Gisli Sigurdsson (Introduction). “The Vinland Sagas”. (Penguin Classics).2008.
- T.J. Oleson. Early Voyages and Northern Approaches 1000-1632. Oxford University Press (1964). ISBN 978-0196473192
- The Sagas of Icelanders: A Selection. New York: Penguin, 2001. ISBN 978-0141000039.
- Farley Mowat, Westviking: The Ancient Norse in Greenland and North America. McClelland & Stewart,1973. ISBN 978-0771065798
- Kane, Njord. The Vikings : The Story of a People. 2nd ed. Yukon: Spangenhelm, 2015. ISBN 978-1943066018
by Njord Kane © 2016 Spangenhelm Publishing
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