Erik The Red and Leif Eriksson
Erik The Red
the Red was born in Norway near the town of Stavanger. His father,
Thorvald Asvaldsson, became involved in a blood feud and killed a man. As
was usual for the time, he was sentenced to exile in Iceland, which had
first been settled by the Norwegians starting in the 870s. The family
moved to a remote part of western Iceland. After he was grown and married,
Erik moved to another part of Iceland where he too became involved in a
blood feud and killed two of his enemy's sons. As punishment, he was
banished overseas for a period of three years.
had heard about the voyages of a man named Gunnbjörn Ulfsson who had
found a group of small islands west of Iceland and said that he had seen a
much larger land beyond that. Erik announced that he was going in search
of Ulfsson's land. With a group of retainers he sailed due west from the
peninsula called Snaefellsnes in the year 982. He sighted Gunnbjörn's
Skerries, thought to be off Cape Dan in eastern Greenland near the modern
town of Angmagssalik, and then touched land on the shore of eastern
Greenland at a place he named Midjökull (Middle Glacier).
of the way the currents flow, eastern Greenland has a much harsher
environment than western Greenland, and Erik did not linger where he first
landed. He sailed south down the coast and rounded the southern tip at
Cape Farewell. He landed along the southwest coast at an area that was to
become known as the Eastern Settlement (Eystribygd, in the region of
modern Julianehâb or Qaqortoq). He spent the winter on an island he named
"Erik's Island." The next spring (983) he sailed up the nearby
fjord that he also named after himself. The next winter he spent on the
southern tip of Greenland and then sailed up the east coast in the spring
of 984. He returned to spend the following winter on Erik's Island.
this time, the term of Erik's banishment from Iceland was complete. He
sailed around the southern tip of Greenland and returned safely to
Breidafjörd in Iceland in the summer of 985. On his return, the blood
feud with his neighbors started up again. Erik then began to promote the
colonization of his new found land, calling it "Greenland,"
thinking that would make it more appealing. He left Iceland in 986 with 14
ships that carried 400-500 people as well as domestic animals and
settled at a place he named Brattahlid (now a trading station named
Qagssiarssuk) at the head of Erik's Fjord, which became the center of the
Eastern Settlement. The Western Settlement (around present-day Godthâb or
Nuuk) was about 180 miles farther up the coast. There was a smaller
settlement between the Eastern and Western Settlements.
the year 999 Erik's son, Leif Eriksson, pioneered the first direct route
to Norway from Greenland. While in Norway, Leif converted to Christianity
and brought back the first missionary with him to Greenland. This did not
please Erik, who remained true to the old Viking religion. When Leif made
his trip to Vinland in 1001 or 1002, Erik wanted to go with him but fell
off his horse on the way to the ship and injured his leg.
died sometime during the winter of 1003-1004. Ironically, he was buried on
the grounds of what became the Christian cathedral at Brattahlid. He left
behind three sons--Leif, Thorvald, and Thorsteinn--and an illegitimate
daughter named Freydis, noted for her disputatious manner. She married a
man named Thorvard, and they became the richest but least popular couple
in the Greenland settlement.
Norse Greenland settlements prospered for a while, but then they were
afflicted by a changing climatic pattern that made the weather much colder
and no longer suitable for European farming practices. The increased ice
in the ocean also made communication with Iceland more difficult. The last
recorded voyage between Iceland and Greenland was made in 1410, although
it is probable that there were some later trips. The Inuit advancing from
the north are thought to have overwhelmed the Western Settlement around
1350. The last Norsemen in the Eastern Settlement probably disappeared
sometime in the early 16th century. By the time saw the coast of Greenland
in 1576, the former European population had disappeared.
Leif Eriksson was born in Iceland in the late 970s. He was the son of Erik
the Red who founded the Norse settlement in Greenland. Eriksson
moved with his family to Greenland in 985 or 986, settling at a place
called Brattahlid on the southwest corner of the island along the
is said in the Icelandic sagas to be "tall and strong and very
impressive in appearance. He was a shrewd man and always moderate in
Icelandic saga called Erik the Red's Saga, written sometime after
1250, Eriksson is credited with bringing Christianity to Greenland and
with being the first European to see North America. This version is no
longer accepted as true. Greater weight is now given to the more
complicated series of events related in the Greenlanders' Saga,
written in about 1200.
to this saga, North America was first sighted by Bjarni Herjolfsson who
was driven off course on his way from Iceland to Greenland in 985 or 986.
However, he did not go ashore. Eriksson, who was the first Norseman to
make the direct voyage from Norway to Greenland, decided to follow up on
Herjolfsson's sightings and sailed west.
left Greenland with a crew of 35 in 1001. He landed first at a place that
he named Helluland, "the Land of Flat Stone," which is thought
to be on the southern end of Baffin Island. From there he went to
"Markland" (Forest Land) which is considered to be somewhere on
the coast of Labrador. He then landed on an unnamed island, which is
possibly Belle Isle in the Strait of Belle Isle that separates Labrador
from the island of Newfoundland. "There was dew on the grass, and the
first thing they did was to get some of it on their hands and put it to
their lips, and to them it seemed the sweetest thing they had ever
and his companions reached Vinland (the land of the vine or Wineland or,
possibly, pastureland) in the fall of 1001. They landed at the mouth of a
river on the west of a large peninsula of land pointing north. They
followed the river upstream to a lake. This was the only geographical
description given of Vinland, but the astronomical readings show that it
was south of Greenland. From the description given, the site could be that
of L'Anse aux Meadows on the northeastern tip of Newfoundland, where
remains of a Norse settlement were found in the 1960s. The expedition
spent the winter in Vinland and built several dwellings at a place they
named Leifrsbudir (Leif's Booths). They then returned to Greenland in the
spring of 1002 with a supply of timber and "grapes."
following Eriksson's voyage, in 1003, his brother Thorvald returned to
Leifrsbudir. He spent the winter of 1003-1004 there. The next spring and
summer he went exploring in Vinland, which he found to be beautiful and
well-wooded. He went back to Leifrsbudir to spend the winter of 1004-1005
and then headed north to Markland the following spring. There, the
Norsemen encountered and clashed with a group of Native Americans, whom
they called "Skraelings." Thorvald was killed by an arrow. His
crew went back to Leifsbudir to spend the winter and then sailed back to
Greenland in 1006.