Greenland History

By | March 8, 2021


Greenland has been in waves populated by small groups of people migrating across the sea ice from Alaska and northern Canada. Through tools and housing finds, it has been possible to distinguish several cultural forms, which have been named after the finds.

Independence I (ca. 2500 BC – about 2000 BC), which found in Peary Land in northeast Greenland. Especially muskox hunting was important. The houses were low, with slate floors and a fireplace in the middle; driftwood was used for heating. The tools were predominantly of flint.

Saqqaq culture (c. 2400 BC – c. 800 BC), especially widespread along Disko Bay in western Greenland. Reindeer, seal and whale hunting were conducted, using harpoons with leg tips.

The Dorset culture (ca. 700 BC – 200 AD), named after a place in Canada. Sea ice hunting on seals and walrus was important. The Dorset culture disappears from western Greenland about 100–200 AD. Then there are only dates from the late Dorset, ie. between 1000 and 1200 AD, which probably means that parts of Greenland were depopulated between about 200 and 1000 AD.

  • COUNTRYAAH.COM: Provides latest population data about Greenland. Lists by Year from 1950 to 2020. Also includes major cities by population.

The people of the Thule culture immigrated from Alaska to Greenland around the year 1000. Unlike earlier people, these were certainly Inuit (Eskimos). The main industry was whaling and seal fishing, based on the use of kayaks and open “women’s boats” (see umiak), and with a highly developed hunting technique. The spoil of the prey animals provided both light and heat, thanks to blubber lamps. The houses were made of stone and peat with rafters of vault. The people settled mainly in the Thule district in northwestern Greenland, from where they spread to eastern Greenland and gradually down to the west coast, whose southern tip (Cape Farewell) they reached around 1500. After 1200, the Thule culture’s hunting pattern was replaced by a more varied catch range, with seal traps. fishing from well-developed kayaks. It is hereafter referred to as the Inugsukk cultureand has largely remained unchanged into the present, especially in eastern Greenland and in the Thule district. Characteristic of this Inuit community was a high degree of social equality, with the family and the countryside as the center of existence.



Our knowledge of the Nordic people in Greenland is partly based on extensive archaeological investigations and partly on the stories of the Icelandic sagas. However, these have only been written down two hundred years after the events, and no written sources have been preserved from Greenland itself.

According to the stories, Erik Röde sailed 982 from Iceland, where he was convicted of being outlawed, and came to Greenland, where he settled in the green, fertile fjords around Julianehåb (Qaqortoq). In 986, a true colonization from Iceland followed. Erik himself settled in Eriksfjord (Tunugdliarfik), where he built the farm Brattalid, which later became the legal center and district court of the Northborn.

Over the course of the following decades, the north-born community expanded north to the “Västerbygden” around the Godthåbsfjord, where 80 farms were found, and south to the “Österbygden” at the Julianehåbsfjorden, where there were at least 250 farms. The largest was the bishopric of Gardar (Igaliko), which was established in 1126 with a cathedral and a large bishop’s yard. The total population consists of 4,000-6,000 people. In 1261, the Nordic Greenlanders recognized the supremacy of the Norwegian king and periodically paid taxes to him.

The main industries were fishing and sheep farming. Cows, goats and horses were also kept. Seeds barely matured but were grown as winter feed. Significant was also the hunt for reindeer, whales, seals and bears. Nordborna produced valuable export goods such as leather and teeth from walrus, fur mills and woven woolen fabrics. On the other hand, they were completely dependent on the import of iron and other metals and bread cereals. The trade seems to have been concentrated to Herjolfnes (Ikigait), and the most important trading partner was Bergen in Norway.

The Bishop’s seat was not occupied after 1347, and the Västerbygden was destroyed about 1350. Regular segregation in Greenland ceased in 1369. The last written testimony of the existence of the Österbygden dates from 1409, but the Norwegians appear to have survived until about 1500. Many attempts have been made to explain the northern settlement: attacks from Eskimos, climate deterioration, degeneration, plague, attacks by Basque pirates and over-exploitation of natural resources. However, no single comprehensive explanation can hardly be stated.

Colony time

During the 16th and 16th centuries, the Dutch in particular conducted significant whaling around Greenland, and trade occurred, though without a permanent settlement. At the initiative of Hans Egede, 1721 Greenlandic Company was formed, which gained a monopoly on trading in Greenland. As leader of the company and missionary, Hans Egede founded the first Danish-Norwegian settlement in Greenland, Godthåb (Nuuk). In the following decades, mission operations expanded, at the same time as the Danish administration expanded to the entire West Coast. It was not until the 1880s that the east coast was integrated into the management of Greenland.

In 1778, the Royal Greenland Trade (KGH) took over the administration of Greenland together with the monopoly on trade, which was closed to European private individuals. In principle, this arrangement was maintained until 1950.

At the peace in Kiel in 1814, Greenland remained as part of Denmark, but still in the 1920s Norway demanded parts of Greenland (compare the Greenland issue). In a judgment in 1933, the International Court of Justice in The Hague granted Denmark sovereignty over Greenland.

In 1911, municipal councils and two elected national councils in Greenland had been set up with limited powers. KGH’s monopoly was abolished in 1950, and limited nutritional freedom was introduced. By the 1953 Constitution, Greenland formally became an equal part of the Danish Empire. However, it presented great difficulties to give the Greenlanders real equality with the Danes. In the 1960s, the modernization of Greenland was accelerated by large investments in business, especially the fishing industry, and by concentration of the population into larger urban communities.

Strong population growth contributed to difficult social problems. Despite strong local resistance, Greenland joined the EC in 1972 with Denmark. In 1979, Greenland gained self-government (home rule) with the elected County Council as the legislative assembly and the National Board as government. Greenland retired from the EC in 1985; KGH was transferred to the Home Rule in 1986. In 2009, self-government was expanded following a referendum.