Blood Brothers

What Did Iroquois and Vikings Owe to Each Other?

For centuries Columbus was accepted as the first European to reach the Americas. Norse sagas that told a completely different story were dismissed as fairy tales. That is until in the 1960s the husband and wife team of Helge Ingstad and Anne Stine unearthed a desolate place on the north shore of Newfoundland called L’Anse aux Meadows. Somewhere between 989 and 1020 Norse seafarers established a village where they were able to repair and construct their open sailing vessels. Following that discovery, opinions are changing. Even the more conservative and greatly respected National Geographic will allow that there were several such sites and larger settlements in the New World. This is just part of the story, however, as there is much evidence which indicates the Iroquois peoples included Norse settlers; and Iroquoian culture shared a great deal with the people called Vikings.

The Vikings in Europe had raided and settled places in the north like Dublin, the Isle of Man, the Normandy part of France named for them (Normans/Northmen). They raided and traded their way into Spain and Morocco and fought the Moors in southern Italy. They traveled through Russia where they were called the Varangians. They even reached cities like Constantinople and Baghdad. They were nothing if not intrepid sailors and adventurers. They had little fear of their enemies or the open seas, which they crossed in open ships.

The sea-road to the Americas began in Norway much earlier, after the Norse took for themselves the Faeroe, Shetland, and Orkney Islands north of Scotland. The Faeroe Islands had seen Irish monks as early as AD 550, and Norse-Gaels from AD 650. The Shetlands had been taken before the AD 793 raid on Lindisfarne, considered the Holy Island. The Vikings had captured Caithness, the northernmost part of Scotland by AD 830. From there they colonized Iceland beginning in AD 861 and then Greenland not long after. The sea-road was short. From Norway to the Faeroe Islands, the distance was 400 miles, on to Iceland, another 300 miles, and to Greenland, 200 more. There was active trading between Greenland and Norway from that time. This era, it has been established, was much warmer than in modern times and the hardy Vikings had little problem crossing a narrow section of the Atlantic from Greenland to Baffin Island in Canada. On Baffin Island and in neighboring Newfoundland, spun cloth has turned up at a handful of sites. The Inuit did not share this skill.

From Newfoundland the Norse sailed south to Nova Scotia and New England, and west along the St. Lawrence River. Here they encountered the Iroquoian people who built their villages along the river. This was in the eleventh and twelfth centuries.

Plague and colder temperatures would one day cut off trade between Vinland and Greenland, and between Greenland and Norway. What happened to the Norse settlers far west from the Atlantic Ocean?

The answer is: they merged with their neighbors. They taught the Iroquoian people the art of building longhouses. This nation, which grew to be a confederation of seven tribes, would be the only people to construct longhouses in the style of the Norse. In fact they are regularly referred to as the People of the Longhouse. The Norse-style longhouse would change by the sixteenth century in Scandinavia, but in the eleventh and twelve centuries the design was developed which the Iroquois would keep until colonial times. The structures were long and narrow and had no windows. Light would come in from above or from the fires that burned inside. Platforms built along the sides provided sleeping quarters. The front and back both had a door and a place to store goods.

Anthropologists claim the Iroquois people came from the West or Southwest. We have long accepted the claim of such anthropologists who insist American Indians came out of Asia. Since the American peoples somewhat resemble the Mongolian people, this has been taken as evidence. But does such evidence stand up? On the Siberian side of the Bering Sea land bridge, the tribes herd reindeer. If they crossed from Siberia to Alaska, would not they bring their reindeer herding skills? But, in fact, they did not. So if North Americans crossed that bridge, it seems likely reindeer herding would have developed only after the great westward migration.

A simple answer is not always the best. Inuit peoples still cross from Russia to Alaska and back in their seagoing kayaks. Even the Cold War did not prevent such adventures.

There is much evidence, however, that the Vikings influenced and assimilated into the cultures they encountered. In the Americas, the Iroquois resembled the Vikings. When the first governor of New France, Sieur de Roberval, arrived in Canada, he said, “They are a people of godly structure and well made; they are very white, but they are all naked, and if they were appareled as the French are, they would be as white and as fair, but they paint themselves for fear of heat and sun burning.”


Shared Concept of a Parliament

In Iceland, an assembly met each year to decide on law and to keep the peace. It was called the althing and was Europe’s first such parliamentary assembly. In America, the Iroquois would have a similar council.

The Iroquois were made up of several extended tribes. The Seneca, the Canada, the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, and Cayuga may have all have come from the original nation. Later the Tuscarora joined. Dr. Bob Hieronimus, in his book, Founding Fathers, Secret Societies, believes this union was created shortly after AD 1100. Other anthropologists date this union as early as 1142, a date that might coincide with their meeting Norse settlers. They called themselves the Haudenosaunee confederacy, the People of the Longhouse. They used a white pine tree to symbolize a law that brought peace; an eagle atop the tree symbolized watchfulness; a war club beneath the tree symbolized peace.

The Huron were also part of the Iroquois nation until they began to outgrow the other tribes. They had expanded from Canada to West Virginia, which might have been perceived as a threat. Linguistically they remain connected and shared the longhouse. Iroquois tradition states that it was actually a Huron, Deganawidah, who had proposed the creation of a League of Nations. The reason for this proposal was that many of the Indians of the northeast corridor of North America were continually at war with each other. Deganawidah was a teacher, and Hiawatha, a member of the Onondaga people, was his student. Legend has it that Hiawatha predicted an eclipse, so his advice was not taken lightly.

It is ironic that they were then excluded from the league they had created. The Huron villages were planned and typically had 1000 or more residents. The village of Hochelaga, which became Montreal, shocked Cartier in terms of its size and its apparent skill of city planning.


A Shared System of Keeping the Peace

Long before the French arrived, the confederation did better at accommodating the Norse visitors. Iroquoian culture has a great deal of shared practices with the Norse. The Norse Wergild system is a means of keeping peace. Rather than allow family feuds over a killing, on purpose or accidental, the offender or his family agrees to make a payment. This payment is called a baug. The amount of the payment was often determined by factors including the rank of the offended. There might still be a trial, and extenuating circumstances might be considered. A premeditated murder could have the offender put to death, or at least be banished. Still, the offender’s family would pay the baug to the victim’s family.

The Jesuits recorded the Iroquois did the same, and the value of goods that changed hands was determined by the rank of the victim. As under the Norse system, there was a fixed payment for certain situations. The killing of a woman carried a fine greater than killing a man. Both cultures demanded revenge, and they both realized the value of reducing the impulse for revenge to get out of hand.


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Shared Words

In 1535 Cartier met the Iroquois peoples at Hochelaga (Montreal) living in wide longhouses similar to Norwegian houses of that same period. Champlain would comment one hundred years later that he too encountered the Iroquois living in these large longhouses. Cartier made a vocabulary of Iroquois words. From his list later researchers could compare the Norse language with the Iroquois. The English word for Cape was kappa in Old Norse and Cabata in Iroquois. Day was dagr and kivendagi, Snake was nadr and naddu. Tracing loan words in a language is an accepted way of proving a connection or assimilation. Ending a word in the letter A to denote a plural, was common to both Norse and Iroquois. The Norse also would use –ini while in the Iroquois –nnie again denoting plural.

Other shared words:


English Norse Iroquois

kettle kanna kannaken

No ne ne

Son ungr yungh

Stone eista arista

Woman kona wakonnyh

And auk ok

Eat eta at


The Norse god that protected seafarers was Niord, while Nioh, Neeyooh, and Niyoh were variations in Iroquois dialects. The Norse trickster Loki was Okee and Oki in Iroquois dialects. The Iroquois had a god of war named Areskous, similar to the warlike god of the Greeks, Ares. This coincidence is interesting, as the Norse version of Ares is Tyr, a god of war who bravely put his hand in the mouth of the great wolf Fenrir.


Shared Art

The Norse had originally grown in isolation before they struck out to conquer the word. The Iroquois isolated themselves as well, protecting themselves from the other surrounding tribes around them. It is significant then that they both shared similar motifs. One of these is the chevron. This ornamentation was used by the Norse on both pottery and weapons. They brought the chevron everywhere they settled. It is a zigzag line, sometimes two matching lines, and it was found among the Old Norse on simple utensils as well as Cathedrals. The chevron was used as early as the island of Crete and a design for Newgrange built circa 3200 BC. It was the Norse of Normandy that included it in heraldry.

The Iroquois are the only American Indian people that employed this device. One study of “aborigine” art of New York called in the pan-Iroquois chevron and concluded all their pottery was similar to Scandinavian design.

Viking pots brought to the New World from Gardar in Greenland were copied by the Iroquois. A figure formed by three dots or small circles is typical in Scandinavian pottery. It represented the three principal gods in pre-Christian times. This symbol was found among the pottery of New York State’s Iroquois.


The End of the Norse as a Separate People.

With plague, colder weather, and a series of massive earthquakes in Greenland, all serving to cut off the sea trade, many Norse chose, or were forced, to stay behind. Arlington Mallery, in his book The Rediscovery of Lost America, claims a large Scandinavian immigration saw the Greenland Norse intermarrying with the Huron and Erie tribes and some ultimately settling as far inland as Tennessee. Beyond Lake Huron they came in contact with the ancient mining people of the Lake Superior region. They were able to adapt to the cultures they met in other lands and assimilate as they always had.

Author Michael Bradley, Swords at Sunset, believes contact ultimately took a more ominous turn. The Erie tribe, in an area known as the Niagara Escarpment, allowed the Clan of the Cat to join their nation. Not coincidentally, Scotland also had a Clan of the Cat; they were settlers in the far north of that country and lent their name to Caithness. This area was home to the Sinclairs and Clan Gunn who were called the “Crowners of Caithness.” Bradley claims the Erie turned on the Norse.

One record that survives is the Kensington Stone discovered in Minnesota. It describes the end of the line for 30 men of Vinland who went far into the west only to be attacked. It mentions 10 of their number had been killed and declared the year was 1362.


A Surprising Tradition

The combination of the Iceland Althing and the assembly of the Iroquois survived into the eighteenth century. On July 4, 1744, a man named Canassatego of the Iroquois League spoke to a group of colonial representatives in Lancaster PA. He advised that the 13 colonies that represented English America unite to form a confederacy to be more prepared to take on the British overlords. Ben Franklin was present and was influenced by the advice that the cheap viagra colonists must ally themselves to each other. Ten years later the Albany Congress did just that and Franklin’s “Albany Plan” laid the groundwork for the Articles free trial of cialis of Confederation. The Iroquois system of delegates from each nation according to population was adopted. Franklin proposed 48 delegates while the Iroquois had 50.

The Iroquois more than inspired this system. On June 11, 1776, the relationship between the two confederations still existed. At Independence Hall on that day, an Onondaga sachem honored John Hancock with an Iroquoian name meaning the Great Tree. It was their symbol for peace and unity.

By Steven Sora