Generally, Vikings played a major role in Northern Europe during the middle ages, especially during the Viking Age, from 800 to 1066 CE. Considering the fact that the word Viking means ‘to raid’ in Old Norse, they ended up having a bad reputation as barbarians. However, the Vikings positively contributed to Western civilization and development in the Americas.
Vikings were a group of diverse Scandinavian seafarers from Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, who significantly impacted the cultures, economics, and warfare style of the areas where they raided and settled. The term Viking only applied to the Scandinavians who traveled by sea with the sole purpose of acquiring wealth through raids and trading with other cultures. Viking activity started in 793 CE and went on for about 300 years. Their influence was notably seen in areas, such as Ireland, Scotland, Britain, Greenland, and France. They were the first Europeans to visit North America and establish several settlements.
The Viking society was divided into a hierarchy of about 4 social classes. At the top were the royals (the kings and queens, then at the middle were the Jarls (the chieftain and other authoritative officials, followed by the Karls (who were the everyday craftsmen, farmers, and warriors), and at the bottom were the slaves, who were among the most important commodity traded by the kings. The Viking age saw so many great kings, who were like warlords and were chosen based on merit from the earl class. The Kings were regarded as itinerant political leaders and sometimes held high priest roles in cultic rituals. One of the most popular Viking kings was Erik the Red, who was well renowned for founding Greenland. In this write-up, we will learn more about whom he is, his life, and his exploration journey.
Who is Erik the Red?
Erik the Red, whose real name is Erik Thorvaldsson, was a Norse explorer who is said to have founded the first Norse settlement in Greenland. According to medieval and Icelandic saga sources, the epithet ‘the Red’ was given to him by his subjects and crew because his hair and beard had a red tone. He was born in Rogaland in Norway at around 950 CE. His father was Thorvald Asvaldson, who was banished from Norway because he was involved in bloody manslaughter that cost many lives. Thorvald said towards the West of Norway when Erik was about 10 years old, and they settled in Hornstrandir in Iceland.
When Erik grew up, he married a woman called Jorundsdottir, the daughter of Gilsdottir and Jorundur Ulfsson, and they moved to Hawksdale to settle and begin their lives. At this time, he built a farm called Eiriksstadir. He and his wife sired 4 children, that is, one daughter and three sons. His sons were: Leif Erikson who was an explorer, Thorstein, who became a Viking chieftain and Thorvald, who attempted to lead an expedition to Vinland but failed due to hostile clashes with the Native American population in the area. His daughter named Freydis Eriksdottir was a slave initially but transformed into a confident woman who was freed by Ivar, who later married her.
His son, Leif Eriksson, became a Christian missionary and tried to convert him into Christianity. His wife took heartily to Christianity and built the first Christian church in Greenland, but Erik disliked the religion and chose to remain a follower of Norse paganism. Because of this, his wife withheld intercourse from her husband because they seemed to be indifferent realms, which angered him.
Erik the Red- Life
In 982 CE, some of Erik’s slaves (thralls) unintentionally started a landside on a farm that belonged to his neighbor known as Valthjof. Out of anger, Valthjof and his friend, Eyjiolf, killed his servants. In retaliation, Erik the Red killed Eyjiolf and another man known as Holmgang-Hrafn because Eyjiolf’s kinsmen wanted him to leave the region for good. His actions forced the Icelanders to send him away for three years, so he had to move to Oxney and Sudrey, which were two small islands where he could establish a small settlement for him and his family. At the time, he asked Thorgest (one of the chieftains during the 9th century) to store his special ornamented beams of mystical value that he inherited from his father.
When he finished building his new house, he needed to repossess the sestokkr (the special ornamented beams), but they could not be obtained when he went to get them, which caused him to go to Breidabolstad to take them forcefully. When Erik was leaving, Thorgest got angry, and a fight ensued between the two men. During the fight, Erik killed two of Thorgest’s sons and a few other people, including Thorgest’s servants and his neighbors. Erik had to go on trial, so the dispute was taken to the assembly, and Erik the Red was found guilty of murder. Once again, he was banished from his home for three years.
Unfortunately, he could not go back to Norway because he was already exiled. He had no choice other than to explore the new land towards the west that he had heard about from other Norsemen and the local Native American population. At the time, there was a story going on about an Icelandic settler known as Gunnbjorn Ulfson who was driven by a storm to Greenland but did not settle there. His story was a source of inspiration for Erik the Red, so he decided to go and search for the land that Ulfson had found. For this reason, he carefully prepared for his voyage and eventually sailed westward.
Erik the Red and Greenland
Erik began his journey in the spring of 982. He and his ships left from a place in Iceland known as Snaedellsjokull and traveled for a couple of miles. Towards the summer of 983, they landed in the Westcoast of a new region, which was similar to the description the previous explore Ulfson had given. In 877, Gunnbjorn Ulfson called the land Cronland, but Erik the Red named it Greenland instead because he had come across marvelous green meadows. He felt as though the name Greenland would easily attract more people and would create room for more exploration by other Europeans.
Following his discovery, he proceeded to explore more areas around Greenland. In the winter of the same year, he landed on the east coast and named the place Eriksey, after himself. In the next spring, he moved to another place, which he named Eriksfjord, and during the summer, he went to other inhabited lands and continued to name them after himself. During his exploration, he realized that Greenland had the same climate as Iceland; it would freeze during the winter but becomes very vegetative during the summer. He continued exploring the land until he’s 3 years of exile were over then went back to Iceland in 985 to tell the people about his new green home.
By the summer of 985, he made a decision to go back to Greenland and colonize it. He carried a large number of people with him, and the people carried oxen, horses, and cows along with them. Erick had a convoy of about 35 ships, but only 15 made it to Greenland. Some were driven back to Iceland because of the sailing weather, while others were wrecked in the storm. When they arrived in Greenland, he established two settlements, the Western and the Eastern settlements. In between the two settlements, so many other small settlements were established by the people, and it permanently became their home.
Erik made a home for himself in a place called Brattahild found in Eriksfjord, which was part of the Eastern settlement. Other colonists settled around him, and Erik the Red was elected as the sole leader of the Eastern settlement. Much later, there was one ship that reached Greenland after all settlements were already established. The men on the ship informed Erik the Red that they had come across a new land that had wood and vines. Now that there were multiple colonies in Greenland, Erik the Red planned another voyage of exploration in the search for wood.
Hearing this, Erik decided to go on the expedition with his oldest son Leif Erikson. Before they left, Erik fell off his horse and got hurt badly. Falling from a horse was seen as an omen in Norse culture, so Erik chose to remain back home in Greenland and ordered his son to proceed with the journey and colonize the land that the men had told them about. While Leif was traveling, a serious epidemic hit back at home in Greenland and killed several colonists during the winter season, including his father Erik the Red. Eventually, Leif became the first European to land in North America about 500 years before Columbus.
Based on this account, we can deduce that Erik the Red had a hot temper that constantly led him into trouble. While being exiled seemed like a terrible thing and a time to despair, Erik the Red saw it as a great opportunity, which laid the foundation for his legacy. He remains popular for being the Viking leader who discovered Greenland.