According to the sagas, Gudrid's adventures took her throughout Northern Europe, reaching as far as Iceland and even what is now known as Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. But how much of this life well-traveled is historically accurate?
Written back into the record
It has only been in the past few decades that there has been a fundamental analysis and study of women in history.
Yes, you read that correctly. Much of the recorded history we have comes from, as one wit quipped, dead white men.
However, thanks to the work of authors like Nancy Marie Brown, there is now broader attention being paid to the histories of women, so often omitted from traditional history.
In her latest book, The Far Traveler: Voyages of a Viking Woman, Brown spotlights a woman whose life story is the stuff of legend – literally.
Scouring the Norse sagas, Brown has uncovered the life story of Gudrid, bestowed the epithet "the Far Traveler."
Emerging in two seminal sagas – The Saga of Erik the Red and the Saga of the Greenlanders – Gudrid Thorbjarnardóttir appears to have been born in Iceland around the turn of the 11th century CE.
Often dismissed as a mere fictional character or a composite of several Viking women, Brown has dedicated an entire book to distinguishing fact from fiction, aided by the latest advancements in science and technology that have enriched the fields of history and archaeology.
She meticulously traces Gudrid's life and journeys, and what an incredible life it was!
- READ MORE: Women and power in the Viking Age: A primer
Documented in both The Saga of Erik the Red and the Saga of the Greenlanders, Gudrid Thorbjarnardóttir is believed to have been born in Iceland around the turn of the 11th century. Photo: Nick Fox / Shutterstock
Mixing science and sagas
In The Far Traveler: Voyages of a Viking Woman, Brown begins the life story of Gudrid in reverse. We first meet her as an old lady on a farm in far northwest Iceland, mulling over where to travel next.
It was on this farm that Brown had first encountered the possibility of Gudrid being more than just a fictional character back in 2002.
Archaeological advancements, specifically ground-penetrating radar, not only identified a farm that aligned with descriptions of where Gudrid had settled in her later years but also matched the same historical period.
It is this combination of scientific analysis of Gudrid's life story that underpins the entire book.
Brown employs the latest technological advances in archaeology to explain and analyze how it was possible for Gudrid to become so well-traveled and to determine if it was indeed probable that she did.
We accompany Gudrid throughout her life and love.
Brown sheds light on the fierce spirit and determination of a woman who was as passionate about traveling the vast world as she was about challenging gender roles and norms in the early medieval period.
Gudrid married twice, and it was with her second husband that she was said to have traveled across the North Atlantic Ocean to what was known as Vinland.
It was here, at what Brown identifies as the Viking settlement at L'Anse aux Meadows, that she gave birth – to the first European child born in the Americas.
Or so we are led to believe.
At the Viking settlement of L'Anse aux Meadows, Gudrid is believed to have given birth to the first European child in the Americas. Photo: Danita Delimont / Shutterstock
As Brown summarizes best herself, the book (not her only one) combines extremes – science and sagas.
This biography chronicles an intrepid explorer who spent most of her life crisscrossing the Viking world, rubbing shoulders with some of its most notable figures, including Erik the Red.
Remarkably, she decided to embark on a pilgrimage to Rome at the end of her life.
Part fierce adventurer, part explorer, and a source of inspiration for anyone not happy with their lot, the story of Gudrid continues to inspire a millennium after her life and travels.
Brown writes with the authority we've come to expect from her previous works. She pays meticulous attention to detail and helps explain the latest advances in the science of archaeology in an easy-to-understand manner.
Helping sift fact from fiction, using science to validate the sagas, Brown helps give voice to a woman whose life would be extraordinary even by today's standards.
Whilst it makes a gripping saga, Netflix is surely missing out by not developing her story for the small screen... #justsaying
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