Is Vinland Saga Based on a True Story & How Much Is Historically Correct?

Is Vinland Saga Based On a True Story & How Much is Historicaly Correct?

Vinland Saga is a historical manga written and drawn by mangaka Makoto Yukimura. The series was published by Kōdansha in Weekly Shōnen Magazine in April 2005 before being moved to the monthly magazine Afternoon in December 2005. The manga is inspired by several Icelandic sagas and refers to the discovery of North America by the Vikings, and that is going to be the topic of this article. Namely, we are going to reveal how much of Vinland Saga is actually a true story and what the story is actually based on.

Vinland Saga is mostly set in 1013 AD in England (save for some flashback scenes), when the Danish king Sweyn Forkbeard conquered England. Shortly after, he died and the story also follows the quarrels between his sons, Harald and Cnut, for his succession. The story is actually based on actual historical sources from the time, including The Flateyjarbók, The Saga of the Greenlanders, and The Saga of Erik the Red.

The rest of this article is going to tell you about the actual history behind Vinland Saga. We are going to tell you how much of the story is true and what the story is actually based on, based on which you will be able to deduce how much of Vinland Saga is historically correct. We won’t be going into the actual plot of the manga so the info here cannot technically be classified as spoilers, but still, be careful how you approach it.

Is Vinland Saga based on a true story?

The date is 1013 AD and the place is England. The Danish ruler has already conquered England but at one point, he has become old and is about to die. As it usually was with medieval monarchs, his two sons – Harald and Cnut – are fighting for his succession and want to become the new kings of Denmark and England. And this is the historical framework within which Vinland Saga evolves and by which it was inspired. A lot of the elements from the actual conquest of England are depicted in the manga.


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On top of that, the manga is full of actual historical characters and their stories are more or less true to what sources confirm about them. Now, Vinland Saga is not really a copy of the historical events it is based on and it has a lot of original characters, as well as original takes on actual historical characters. This is what actually makes Vinland Saga so great, as it perfectly blends actual history with Yukimura’s original story. So yes, Vinland Saga is based on actual historical events, but it is not a direct copy of these events but includes some original elements that make the story even better.

How much of Vinland Saga is historically correct?

In this section, we are going to talk about the three main sources that we know inspired Vinland Saga. We are going to tell you about them and what they contain, from which you will be able to deduce how much of Vinland Saga is historically accurate and how much is original.


Flateyjarbok Haraldr Halfdan

The Flateyjarbók (literally “Book of the Flat-Island” after the name of Flatey Island) is an Icelandic manuscript written from 1387 to 13941. It is the longest of the Icelandic manuscripts, the most richly decorated, and one of the most interesting. It consists of several sagas, royal ones in particular (sagas of Óláfr Tryggvason, of Saint Óláfr, of Sverrir, of Hákon Hákonarson), which themselves contain a large number of þættir, poems (two skaldic poems: Geisli of Einarr Skúlason and the Nóregs konungatal, an Eddic poem: the Hyndluljóð, and a ríma: the Óláfs ríma Haraldssonar) and short historical texts.

Several of these works have only been preserved in the Flateyjarbók (Grœnlendinga saga, Sörla þáttr, Hyndluljóð for example). Its introduction indicates that it was written for Jón Hákonarson, a wealthy landowner from Víðidalstunga in northern Iceland, by two priests, Jón Þórðarson and Magnús Þórhallsson (who also produced the illuminations), in 1387. The Flateyjarbók initially consisted of 202 pages on vellum, with illuminated and sometimes historiated initials. 23 others were added at the end of the 15th century, notably containing the Magnúss saga góða ok Haralds harðráða.

In the 15th century, the work was owned by a family living on the island of Flatey – hence its name, in western Iceland. In 1647, its owner, Jón Finnsson, donated it to the bishop of Skálholt, Brynjólfur Sveinsson. Brynjólfur sent it, like many other manuscripts, to King Frederick III of Denmark in 1656. The Flateyjarbók was part of the Royal Library until 1971. On April 21, it was solemnly returned to Iceland, at the same time as the Codex Regius. It is now kept at the Árni Magnússon Institute in Reykjavik.


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Saga of the Greenlanders

I. E. C. Rasmussen Sommernat under den Gronlandske Kyst circa Aar 1000

The Grænlendinga saga or Grœnlendinga saga is an Icelandic saga that forms part of a larger collection known as the Vinland Saga. It describes the discovery of Greenland and Newfoundland by a family of Icelandic navigators and merchants. The saga is part of the Flateyjarbók anthology from the 14th century and survived thanks to it, although its first part did not survive.

The saga begins with an exposition: Erik the Red settles in South Greenland on Brattahlíð, Herjólfr on Herjólfsnes. Herjólf’s son Bjarni is (around 985) driven so far on a trip to Greenland to his father that he ends up in a previously unknown country, later Vinland. But he doesn’t go ashore. Then the various attempts of Erik’s children to explore the country are reported. Leif Eriksson makes the first attempt (999–1000) and names the discovered areas Helluland, Markland, and Vinland.

He returns to Greenland laden with grapes and wood. Leif’s brother Thorvald also manages to reach Vinland shortly thereafter (1001–1004). However, hostilities erupt between them and the natives, who are called “Skrælingar”. Þorvaldr is killed by an arrow shot. The next brother Þorsteinn, who is married to Guðríðr, dies of a plague before he sets out. His widow married the merchant Þorfinnr Karlsefni, who carried out a successful Vinland journey with her (1007–1009). On this voyage their son Snorri is born, the first European to be born in America.

But they, too, return to Greenland after hostile encounters with the natives. Freydís, an illegitimate daughter of Erik, undertakes (1010-1011) the last Vinland journey together with a pair of brothers. There she kills the two brothers in an ambush and returns to Greenland with their larger ship, but is avoided there. The end marks the departure of Þorfinnr Karlsefni with his wife, their successful businesses in Norway, and their return to Iceland. In the end, their famous descendants, including bishops, are named. The female characters Guðríðr and Freydís appearing in the saga are particularly impressive.


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Saga of Erik the Red

Eiriks Saga manuscript

The Eiríks saga rauða, also Erikssaga is one of the Icelandic sagas, which is one of the Vinland Sagas. It describes the discovery of Greenland and Newfoundland by a family of Icelandic navigators and merchants. The saga has survived in two versions. The older version comes from the Hauksbók of the 14th century. The younger version from the 15th century is found in the Skálholtsbók (AM 557 4to).

In terms of content, the saga differs greatly from the Grænlendinga saga, with which the Eiríks saga rauða is summarized under the term Vinland Sagas. Literally, the Saga of Erik the Red is considered to be the more valuable saga. Historically, however, the Greenland saga seems more reliable than Erik’s saga, which paints a less realistic picture of its hero, Leif Eriksson, a famous Viking explorer.

He is said to have both explored America and Christianized Greenland on a single voyage, during which he chanced upon America. He also rescued shipwrecked people on the way back from America to Greenland. In the Eiríks saga rauða, there are three voyages to America, while the Grænlendinga saga speaks of four voyages.

In addition to depicting the discoveries, the saga aims to glorify Guðriður Þorbiarnardóttir, progenitor of a powerful family in Iceland and ancestor of numerous bishops, including Þorlákur Runólfsson, Björn Gilsson, and Brandur Sæmundarson. Because only in this context does the detailed description of the seeress Þorbjörg in the fourth chapter has a function. Guðriður plays a central role in the prophecy ceremony and, as is often the case in the lives of important personalities, receives his own prophecy about the bright future of her gender in the future.

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