Answer to Question #180213 in History for Tds

Question #180213

Norse archaeological site at L'Anse Aux Meadows in Newfoundland in Canada.


Examine the role of women in both sagas, paying special attention to Gudrid and Freydis. Is it accurate to conclude that women held a significant amount of power and influence? Why or why not? (Be sure to frame your analysis in terms of Norse society.)

Expert's answer

It is not accurate to conclude that women held a significant amount of power and influence. The Norse sagas portray an exciting gallery of independent-minded females. Many have interpreted this to show that Viking women were fiercely independent, fully equal to men. Still, it was since women's role was to marry, produce children, and be mistresses of the household. In "Erik the Red's Saga", for instance, Gudrid had to obtain the permission of her father-in-law, Erik the Red, to marry Thorfinn Karlsefni; in the "Saga of the Greenlanders" she had to ask Leif, although at the time she was a widow.

Women were not considered as valuable as men. Infanticide, the killing of newborns, was practised almost exclusively on females. Sons were considered of more excellent value for increasing land holdings, riches, and honour. Daughters had to be married off and provided with dowries. Raising fewer females also meant fewer babies would be born in the future, saving the household from having too many mouths to feed. They maintained this practice even after Christianization. They clearly defined gender roles. Women cooked, cleaned, and did most household chores.

Erik the Red; this saga portrays Freydís as a fearless and protective Viking warrior, the half-sister to Leif Erikson. She joined an expedition to Vinland led by Þorfinnr Karlsefni but is only mentioned once in the saga when natives attacked the expedition. 

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