Greenlandic Civil War
Conservative Norse troops assault the farmhouse at Gardar.
Date 1460 – 1465
Location Greenland
Result Moderate Norse/Inuit victory, Greenlandic Reformation
Moderate Norse
Conservative Norse
Bishopric of Greenland
Commanders and leaders
Thorfinn "the Redhanded" Arnason Bishop Harald of Greenland
2000 1200
Casualties and losses
300 almost total

The Greenlandic Civil War was fought from 1460 and 1465 between conservative Norse factions and more moderate groups, plus their Inuit allies. It is often called the Cod War or the War of Starvation in Greenland, since most of the war hinged on destroying the enemies supplies of food.


Over the preceding decade, tensions in Greenland rose between the moderate Norse, who favoured integrating themselves into Inuit society, and conservative Norse, who feared assimilation and believed the Inuit to be barbarians. The conservatives rallied behind the Bishop, Harald, often called the Armoured Bishop for his tendency to war a full suit of plate, while the liberals rallied behind Thorfinn Arnason, a prominent chieftain, who was only 16, but already possessed a reputation for prodigious violence.

The two groups clashed initially in the Althing, or parliament, of Greenland, where they attempted to steer the nation in their preferred direction. Since each controlled a roughly equal voting block, they were deadlocked. Both began to consider a violent solution. As 1460 drew in, reports of a possible coup reached the ears of both groups. Each decided to strike first.

On New Year's Eve, Thorfinn Arnason gathered 50 men, planing to attack the Althing and kill his opponents as it entered session the next day. Simultaneously, however, the Bishop was in the south, planning to attack Thorfinn's farm at Gardar.

The next day, as Thorfinn prepared to attack the Althing, a rider reached him with the news that his farm had been sacked by the Bishop. His mother, sisters, wife, and many followers were all killed. Thorfinn immediately walked into the Althing, whereupon he grabbed the Bishop's chief supporter by the neck and strangled him. He and his men proceeded to slaughter 20 opposing chiefs.