Leif Erikson (970 – 1020 AD) was an Icelandic explorer and the first known European to have discovered North America (excluding Greenland), before Christopher Columbus.
According to the Sagas of Icelanders, Leif Erikson established a Norse settlement at location he called Vinland. This location is identified as possibly being located at L’Anse aux Meadows on the northern tip of Newfoundland in modern-day Canada. However, this location is not firm as later archaeological evidence suggests that Vinland may have been the areas around the Gulf of St. Lawrence and that the L’Anse aux Meadows site was a ship repair station.
Leif Erikson (or Leif Ericson; Old Norse: Leifr Eiríksson; Icelandic: Leifur Eiríksson; Norwegian: Leiv Eiriksson )
Leif was the son of Erik the Red, the founder of the first Norse settlement in Greenland and his wife Thjodhild. He was also the grandson of Thorvaldr Ásvaldsson, who was exiled from Norway and is a distant relative of Naddodd, the discoverer of Iceland.
Although his birthplace is not accounted for in the sagas, Leif was most likely born in Iceland 970 (or 980) AD and then grew up in the family estate Brattahlíð in the Eastern Settlement in Greenland, where his father, Erik the Red, had built a settlement in 986 AD. Leif had two brothers, whose names were Thorsteinn and Thorvaldr, and a sister, Freydís.
Leif Erikson explored further West
In about 985 or 986 AD, a Norse-Icelandic explorer named Bjarni Herjólfsson, while sailing to Greenland to visit his parents had been blown off course and discovered a land with low lying hills with forests some distance to the West. He did not stop to explore the newly discovered lands, but continued searching for Greenland, eager to see his parents. He eventually found Greenland and then eventually returned to Norway, where he told of this land he had found, but no one showed any interest. It is believed the land he had seen was North America.
Fifteen years later in the year 999 or 1000 AD, Leif Erikson had acquired the ship that Bjarni had sailed with when he spotted the land West of Greenland in hopes of finding the land himself and exploring it. Lief hired a crew of 35 men and set out to find it, following the route in reverse that Bjarni had sailed.
Leif and his crew first landed in a rocky, desolate place that he named “Helluland.” meaning “Flat-Rock Land”possibly Baffin Island. They ventured further by sea and landed in a forested place he named “Markland,” meaning “Forest Land” possibly Labrador. After sailing at sea for two more days, they landed in a place he named “Vinland.”
It was at this place where he and his crew built a small winter camp he called Leifsbúðir. After having wintered in the newly discovered settlement in Vinland, Leif returned to the settlement “Brattahlíð” in Greenland during the Springtime with a cargo of grapes and timber.
On the return voyage to Greenland, he rescued an Icelandic castaway and his crew, earning him the nickname “Leif the Lucky.”
It is said when Leif returned from his voyage from Vinland that he started preaching Christianity to the Greenlanders. His father Erik the Red reacted coldly to the suggestion that he should abandon his religion from the Old Norse Gods, while his mother Thjóðhildr quickly became a Christian and built a church called Thjóðhild’s Church.
Leif is last mentioned alive in 1019, and is believed to probably have died by the year 1025 AD, when he had passed on his chieftaincy of Eiríksfjǫrðr to another son, Thorkell
- Saga of the Greenlanders (Grœnlendinga Saga)
- Saga of Erik the Red (Eiríks Saga Rauða)
- Keneva Kunz (Translator), Gisli Sigurdsson (Introduction). “The Vinland Sagas”. (Penguin Classics).2008.
- T.J. Oleson. Early Voyages and Northern Approaches 1000-1632. Oxford University Press (1964). ISBN 978-0196473192
- The Sagas of Icelanders: A Selection. New York: Penguin, 2001. ISBN 978-0141000039.
- Farley Mowat, Westviking: The Ancient Norse in Greenland and North America. McClelland & Stewart,1973. ISBN 978-0771065798
- Kane, Njord. The Vikings : The Story of a People. 2nd ed. Yukon: Spangenhelm, 2015. ISBN 978-1943066018
- featured image: Leiv Eiriksson Discovers America by Christian Krohg (1893)
by Njord Kane © 2016 Spangenhelm Publishing
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