Greenland History

By | January 9, 2023

Greenland – history

Greenland Flag

Icelandic accounts from the Middle Ages tell of Icelandic colonization of Greenland in the late 900’s, and archaeological studies in the southwestern Greenland areas near the towns of Nanortalik, Qaqortoq, Narsaq, Ivittuut, Paamiut and Nuuk confirm Nordic settlements in these areas from the late Viking age.

  • Countryaah: What does the flag of Greenland look like? Follow this link, then you will see the image in PNG format and flag meaning description about this country.

The Norse period

The first actual scientific studies of the Norse culture in Greenland were carried out by Captain Daniel Bruun in the period 1894-1903 for the Commission for the Management of the Geological and Geographical Studies in Greenland. In 1921 the work was transferred to the National Museum in Copenhagen, and in the period up to 1940 the large farms Brattahlíð, Garðar and Herjolfsnæs in Østerbygden and Sandnæs and Anavik in Vesterbygden were examined under the leadership of Poul Nørlund and from 1930 by Aage Roussell. In the early 1960’s, the small so-called Tjodhilde’s church was excavated on Brattahlið under the leadership of Jørgen Meldgård and Knud J. Krogh. In 1982, the responsibility for the antiquarian work in Greenland passed to the then Greenland National Museum, today the Greenland National Museum & Archive.

  • AbbreviationFinder: Check three-letter abbreviation for each country in the world, such as GRL which represents the official name of Greenland.

According to written sources, the Icelandic farmer Erik the Red settled with his family in 985 on Brattahlið in Østerbygden. Other colonists settled in the surrounding fjords, while a few sailed on to the more northern Vesterbygd near Nuuk. Around 1300, according to written sources, there must have been 120 farms in Østerbygden and 90 in Vesterbygden. Based on demographic analyzes, the population is estimated at 2000-3000 people, when the settlement was at its highest.

approximately In 1124, the Norwegian king Sigurd 1. Jorsalfar appointed the first bishop of the Greenlanders, and the manor Garðar became the episcopal see until 1378, when the last resident bishop of Greenland died. Written sources from the 1300’s. enumerates 12 churches in the northern settlements; the same sources also mention two monasteries. Archaeologically, 16 farms have been registered in Østerbygden, to which a church has been attached. In Vesterbygden, three farms with associated churches have been registered.

The Norse Greenlanders are believed to have joined King Håkon 4. Håkonsson’s Norwegian rule in 1261, and they then became taxable to the Norwegian king. Probably the king, in turn, had to promise to maintain the voyage to Greenland and thus secure trade for the northerners.

During the late Middle Ages, contacts between the northern settlements in Greenland and Scandinavia waned. The last preserved written signs of life from the Norse settlements are letters, which were written on the episcopal see in Skálholt in Iceland in connection with a wedding that allegedly took place in 1408 in Hvalsey Church in Østerbygden. Archaeological finds in Østerbygden indicate that life here ebbed out during the 1400’s. Vesterbygden is believed to have been depopulated as early as the middle of the 1300’s.

In contrast to the Inuit settlement, which was located near the coast, the northern settlements are found in the inner parts of the large southwestern Greenland fjord complexes, where the climatic conditions have allowed animal husbandry to a certain extent. The farms were scattered individually in the terrain and reflect the northerners’ dependence on grazing areas for horses, cows and especially sheep and goats, which were the dominant livestock. The northerners were also dependent on fishing and hunting, especially reindeer and seals. However, the people of Nordbo were not self-sufficient. According to the Norwegian medieval publication Kongespejlet, iron and timber were imported for house building; moreover, the ideological and cultural influence from Scandinavia was important for the northerners’ self-understanding.

The archaeological excavations reveal strong cultural roots to Scandinavia. The tools were Scandinavian in shape, but made from local ingredients, and the large find of medieval costumes in the cemetery at Herjolfsnæs clearly shows that the European clothing mothers were followed. The oldest houses and churches were probably built of wood and surrounded by protective walls of peat; later dominated construction of the country’s own resources, stone and peat. The church architecture followed the development in the rest of the North Atlantic area, while the Greenlandic courtyard in some localities found its own design. The farm consisted of a varying number of residential, financial and tool houses, which could either be spread over a larger area, as is known in Scandinavia, or they could be built so close together that from the outside they appeared as a large, unified house block.

The Nordics’ most important exports were skins, walrus skin ropes and not least walrus teeth. They caught walruses on fishing trips north along the west coast of Greenland. The ruin of a small stone house on the Nuussuaq peninsula in Disko Bay is attributed to the northerners and is believed to have been a storage house for the catch. Finds of Norse artifacts in settlements from the Inuit Thule culture on both sides of Smith Sound, in North Greenland and on Ellesmere Island testify that the northerners’ fishing trips led them north of Melville Bay.

It is uncertain to what extent the northerners otherwise visited the North American continent. The Icelandic sagas tell of voyages to Vinland, Helluland and Markland around the year 1000, and at L’Anse-aux-Meadows on the northern tip of Newfoundland there are located ruins of peat-built houses, which are attributed to northerners and are attributed to the time around 1000. The place is interpreted as a base camp for the northerners’ further reconnaissances along the North American east coast.

The reasons for the depopulation of the northern settlements have not yet been fully clarified. Explanations based solely on individual events such as attacks by Inuit or European pirates have been given, although of course it cannot be ruled out that clashes between Inuit and Norsemen may have taken place. New anthropological studies of the skeletal material from the Norse cemeteries have counteracted old theories of disease and degeneration. It is widely believed that depopulation should be seen as the result of an unfortunate interplay of several factors. Climate studies have shown that the Norse settlement in Greenland took place at the end of a longer warm period. Changing climatic conditions combined with over-consumption of the vulnerable vegetation resources may have significantly reduced the conditions for livestock. But the whole explanation can not be, as the northerners’ economy was a mixed economy, in which fishing and fishing also played an important role. Changed political conditions in Scandinavia and changed trade patterns in Europe seem to have isolated the remote settlements, and this has had a negative effect on both the economic and cultural system in Greenland. With an already low population, possible emigration and no immigration, depopulation of the settlements has been inevitable.

Greenland – prehistory

The earliest traces of people in Greenland go back more than 4000 years. They are descended from Arctic hunter-gatherers who from the Bering Sea region via Alaska and Arctic Canada reached the country as an eastern offshoot of the common Arctic cultural complex, the Denbigh culture. The dwellers’ dwelling was built around a centrally located fireplace, which lay between two parallel rows of edged stones, which divided the surrounding, circular structure into two halves. This form of housing was used both summer and winter in the earliest cultural periods in the eastern Arctic.

In Greenland, the Denbigh culture is referred to as Independence I (approximately 2400-2000 BC) and the Saqqaq culture (2400-800 BC). The first is widespread in the northernmost part of the country, where finds of lance fragments and animal bones suggest that musk ox was the most important resource. The reindeer hunters and seal hunters of the Saqqaq culture have lived in the southern half of the country, where well-preserved deposits on settlements in Disko Bay have provided a nuanced picture of the culture’s specialized technology. Bones from the oldest people in Greenland come from here.

The picture that can be drawn of the subsequent cultures is far from so nuanced. From Peary Land, the Independence II culture is described with roots in the Canadian Dorset culture; it is dated to 600-450 BC. In West Greenland, the earliest phase of the Dorset culture dates from approximately 600 BC to the birth of Christ and again from approximately 700 AD Greenland has not yet succeeded in proving this culture in the intervening period.

The end of the Paleo-Eskimo period took place at the same time as a general increase in the average temperature in the Arctic. In the late Dorset culture, artistic forms of expression and changes in the form of housing emerged, which seem to point to changes in society that are difficult to explain solely on the basis of internal conditions and climate change. Norse objects have been found in the dwellings of the Dorset culture, and certain typological forms in the subsequent neo-Eskimo culture, the Thule culture, seem to have their origin in the Dorset culture; it has thus been generally accepted that a cultural encounter between the three cultures probably took place in Greenland.

Shortly before 1200, the Thule culture can be detected in northwestern Greenland and on Ellesmere Island as an Inuit whaling culture with cultural connections to Alaska and the Bering Sea region. Antiquities of Norse origin found in the ruins of the house are explained as a result of a cultural contact. Carbon 14 dating of oak and woolen cloth from these ruins are all within 1200-1400, which could indicate that a trade with the Norsemen took place during this period. A colder climate resulted in an Inuit winter settlement in the southernmost part of the country, which took place in the 1400’s. at the same time as a widespread trade in objects from the abandoned Norse farms.

I 1600-1700-t. increased the population in the southern part of the country, where Dutch whalers appeared, followed from 1721 by Danish-Norwegian colonists. During this period, a new immigration took place from Canada into the deserted northwestern Greenland at Thule.

Greenland – history (1500-1979)

Greenland – history (1500-1979), I 1400-t. the settlement of the Norsemen ceased, while the Neo-Eskimo immigration (Thule culture) spread along both coasts. In order to assert Denmark’s sovereignty in the area, the Danish kings from time to time sent expeditions to reconnect with the area. After the Reformation, the purpose of the expeditions was also to bring the right Christianity to the country, and in 1605 and 1607 the Danes reached the West Coast and got in touch with the Inuit. As a result of first the English’s and after 1600 increasingly the Dutch’s interest in Greenland, Christian IV in 1636 gave a Copenhagen company the exclusive right to sail and trade.

Three expeditions 1652-54 were also sent out; their yields were meager, and in 1670-71 there were clashes with the Dutch, who displaced the sent Danish ships. Ships were again sent from Bergen in 1673-76, and in 1697 Christian gave the 5th privilege to Copenhagen and Bergen on the Greenland voyage, with the result that ships departed annually and that the privilege was extended in 1700 and in 1707.


In 1721, the Norwegian priest Hans Egede went to Greenland, supported by a new company of Bergen merchants (see Bergenskompagniet) and Frederik IV, who paid Egede as a missionary. In 1726, Bergenskompagniet gave up, and the king’s coffers took over the support, but when the financial results failed, Christian VI ordered in 1731 that the company in Greenland be closed. However, with reference to the many baptized Greenlanders, Hans Egede succeeded in getting the work continued: 1734-50 under Jacob Severin’s monopoly and 1750-72 under the General Trade Company.

During the 1700’s. Colonial sites were established on the West Coast from Julianehåb (Qaqortoq) in the south to Upernavik in the north, and in 1776 the Royal Greenland Trade gained a monopoly, which came into force until 1950.

During the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, navigation in Greenland was severely curtailed, but the Kiel Peace in 1814 allowed Greenland to belong to Denmark, and from the 1820’s about 50 issuers were established to bring the exchange of goods closer to the Greenlanders.

The Greenlanders did not get the right to vote in the Riksdag in 1849, but from 1857 they got elected assemblies, Board of Trustees, to administer local affairs. The system change in Denmark in 1901 was followed by a reform period in Greenland until 1912 on the initiative of reform-minded missionaries in Greenland, who in Denmark were especially supported by the Radical Left. The Church Act of 1905 meant the cessation of Greenland as a mission field and the establishment of a provincial path. With the Act on the Government of the Colonies in Greenland in 1908 (see the Government of Greenland), two county councils were established with seats in resp. Godthåb and Godhavn (Qeqertarsuaq), who were given the right to comment and make proposals to the authorities in Denmark.


The Greenland Act of 1908 and its revision in 1912, which brought together all overall management in the hands of a single director, created calm about the Greenlandic conditions in Denmark.

In Greenland, the most pressing problems were of a business economic nature. The Greenlandic population was in the 1800’s. grown from just under 6,000 to just over 11,000 residents on an unchanged business basis. At the turn of the century, the catch of seals did not seem to be able to increase, and therefore in 1906 sheep breeding was introduced in the southernmost part of Greenland. In addition, commercial fishing for halibut was launched from 1908, while the many experimental fisheries for cod only began to yield results from 1917.

This development was the biggest upheaval in the lives of South Greenlanders in particular since the arrival of Hans Egede, and the National Councils eagerly worked on the new development, but had only a few funds to make available. From the Danish side, the aim was a balanced budget, which meant that the investments had in principle to be borne by current income. As a result, the expansion proceeded relatively calmly and did not create actual conflicts between the Greenlanders or between them and the Danes.

Danish sovereignty over Greenland was administered cautiously; thus, access bans were only issued at the colonial settlements and their hinterland. Thereby, the entire West Coast between Cape Farewell and Melville Bay was covered by the monopoly before 1800, and when the trading post at Ammassalik on the East Coast was established in 1894, it and its hinterland were also subject to the monopoly. The station in Thule was privately built in 1910, when the government did not want to challenge Canada; it was taken over by the state in 1937. In connection with the sale of the West Indies to the United States in 1917, Denmark was recognized for its claim to extend its sovereignty to the whole of Greenland. A number of other countries also welcomed the demand and agreed that in 1921 Denmark included the whole of Greenland under its rule. Norway alone did not. Norwegian sealers had fishing interests on the East Coast, which they did not want to be cut off from. This led to an intense Danish sovereignty claim, and the conflict culminated in 1931 with a Norwegian “occupation” of territories in East Greenland and a subsequent trial in 1933 at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, which affirmed Denmark’s sovereignty in East Greenland (seeEast Greenland case). An attack on the established policy was when Faroese fishermen in 1927, despite the opposition of the Landsråden, were allowed to use a few places and eventually also to fish all the way to the coast on a third of the coast with open water.

The political development proceeded without the formation of parties. The members of the county councils raised local issues in particular, but gradually also more general issues, so that the county councils became a full expression of the political position in Greenland. The Act on the Government of Greenland was therefore revised in 1925 without major changes.


During the occupation of Denmark in 1940, the connection to Greenland was severed, and the two bailiffs, Eske Brun and Aksel Svane, took over government power with a view to preserving Greenland as Danish and preventing distress from arising in the population. The bailiffs sought connection with the neutral United States to avoid a German, alternatively a British or Canadian preventive occupation. This led in April 1941 to the conclusion of the Greenland Treaty of 1941with the United States and later the creation of U.S. airfields and military bases. The war was a period of prosperity for Greenland, and the population wanted more of its conditions to continue after the war; not least the coastal route that had been created and the greater decision-making power that had now been placed in Godthåb. Actual acts of war did not take place on the West Coast, while a few clashes between German military weather observation personnel and the 1942 Danish-created sled patrol (see Sirius) on the East Coast took place far from inhabited places. However, the cargo ship Hans Egede on its way to the United States was sunk in 1942 by a German submarine.


The liberation in 1945 was received as enthusiastically in Greenland as in Denmark. The county councils sent a delegation to Denmark to discuss greater political competence for a central government in Greenland. A report by the Greenland Committee of 1946 (see Greenland Committee) was benevolent, but did not meet these ideas, and monopoly and isolation were maintained at the request of the county councils. On the other hand, extensive investments were made in education and health care and a considerable increase in wages. All in all, the proposals meant an annual additional transfer from Denmark the size of the entire previous budget, and the time of the balanced budgets was clearly abandoned.

Leading Danish officials in Greenland and some Greenlanders criticized the lack of abolition of monopoly and isolation. They wanted a new development with access for private Danish business in Greenland, and this pressure, together with the unresolved question of the continued American bases in Greenland from November 1947, led the new Social Democratic government to support radical reforms. During 1948, Prime Minister Hans Hedtoft received support from both the Danish and Greenlandic sides to abolish monopoly and isolation as well as introduce Danish private initiative under state control in Greenland.

The Grand Greenland Commission set out in its comprehensive report from 1950, implemented in eight laws, the guidelines that came to apply to the next human age. The main idea behind this entire gigantic development program was to modernize the Greenlandic fishery with Danish private companies as teachers. In addition, the infrastructure had to be expanded. With the Constitution of the Kingdom of Denmark of 1953, Greenland was integrated into Denmark, whereby two members of the Folketing were to be elected in Greenland.

The large investments and expenses for a modern welfare society were borne by Denmark, while the Greenlandic industries had to manage the private income generation. While infrastructure, education and healthcare were rapidly expanded with major improvements as a result, business development lagged behind. A sharp increase in population made it difficult to adequately expand the cities that were to be centers for a year-round sea-going fishery by open water, and private Danish investment did not materialize. The authorities therefore began from the late 1950’s to build fish factories and procure trawlers for the fishing that was to be the economic basis. The promising cod fishery, however, declined drastically from the mid-1960’s to being only slowly replaced by shrimp fishing as the main primary occupation.

The major expansion was planned and was carried out by Danish experts as well as a significant contingent of Danish guest workers in Greenland, which had grown from a few hundred in 1945 to approximately 3000 or just over 10% of the population in the late 1960’s. The unifying body for construction companies was from 1950 the Greenland Technical Organization (GTO), a directorate under the Ministry of Greenland. Against this background, the Greenlandic National Council in 1959 wanted to place itself stronger in development, and normalization, understood as stronger equality, also in terms of wages, was the key word. The government set up the Greenland Committee of 1960, whose report in 1964 formed the basis for a ten-year plan. The total budget was again doubled, and the main idea remained: concentration on cities by open water. The homeland criterion of 1958 was replaced in 1964 by abirthplace criterion, which triggered a fierce critique among the highly educated Greenlanders who began to consider a more independent status for Greenland. More decisive for this, however, was the referendum on the Common Market in 1972, in which Greenland had to follow Denmark into the EC, despite 70% voting against. The National Council then opposed a home rule scheme which, as in the Faroe Islands, could enable Greenland to leave the Common Market. At the forefront of this effort was a small group, elected to the National Council and Parliament in 1971, which in 1977 became the party Siumut. The Home Rule Government was first discussed in a purely Greenlandic committee 1971-75 and then in a Danish-Greenlandic Home Rule Commission.1975-79. This process separated a younger wing of Siumut, which from 1977 became the Inuit Ataqatigiit party, which wanted autonomy. In the same year, the party Atassut was formed, which placed the greatest emphasis on cohesion with Denmark. Thus, the three largest political parties were formed, and they all came to play a crucial role in the further development.

In the otherwise harmonious home rule negotiations, the question of Greenland’s underground caused problems. On the Greenlandic side, they wanted the ownership to be transferred to the home government for national reasons, while on the Danish side, for the sake of security of supply with oil, they wanted the state as owner, just like the rest of Denmark. The solution was an equal government, where both parties had a veto.