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Erik The Red

October 21, 2023 8 min read

Erik the Red

Erik the Red | The First Viking of Greenland!

Formidable warriors and exceptional navigators, the Viking people have profoundly influenced human history. Indeed, there is no shortage of examples of great Viking figures. That being said, one explorer, in particular, has an incredibly fascinating story, the illustrious Erik the Red!

Have you ever heard of the great Viking explorer Erik the Red? A fallen Viking who, despite all predictions, would perpetuate the will of the legendary king Ragnar Lothbrok. Erik the Red is, to say the least, a Viking as surprising as he is inspiring.

In this article, we will tell you the astonishing story of Erik the Red. A tale that will leave a lasting impression! Do you have any doubts? Did you know that he would be linked to the discovery of America? Admit it, now we have your full attention!

Erik the Red: The Story of a Great Viking Explorer

Erik the Red | The First Viking of Greenland!

Erik the Red, also known as Eiríkur rauði in Icelandic, was an explorer and Viking chieftain. However, before becoming one, there was nothing to suggest that this average Nordic man, initially Norwegian and later Icelandic, would become such a prominent figure in history.

Indeed, Erik the Red, whose real name is Erik Thorvaldsson, was just a modest Icelandic citizen. Initially, a disgraced Viking and stripped of all honor, he was banished from his land. However, unlike his father, he decided that his destiny would be different—a destiny as a Viking hero.

More than 10 centuries after his death, if we are writing an article about him, it's because he succeeded!

Thus, Erik later became a symbol of perseverance and courage. A Viking explorer who would leave his mark on history with his determination! He would be the first man to establish a colony outside of Europe in the vast land of Greenland.

Even more surprising, one of his sons, Leif Eriksson, would discover North America! Indeed, he followed in his father's footsteps and led the first expeditions to this unexplored region. Today, the first colonies they founded are provinces in the Atlantic!

How could a Viking who lost everything become such a prominent figure in this civilization? Here is the gripping story of a man who overcame the mistakes of the past, Erik the Red's story!

Who is Erik the Red?

Erik the Red | The First Viking of Greenland!

Although the adventure of Erik the Red's life is only recounted in a few passages of Norse sagas, there is no doubt that he remains one of the historical figures who left their mark on Nordic civilization, and by extension, all of Europe.

Even though the exact details of his life vary from one source to another, several medieval Icelandic sagas agree that he was an honorable Viking chieftain. Among the main historical sources that tell the story of Erik the Red, we find:

  • The Saga of Erik the Red: this saga most faithfully recounts his life. Written around the 13th century, there are only two versions of this book remaining today.
  • Grænlendinga saga or the Saga of the Greenlanders: this work tells the story of the discovery of Greenland and later of North America.

These two sagas were later translated into French in a single work that tells the story of the discovery and colonization of North America, the Vinland sagas.

Many other minor historical sources, such as the Book of the Icelanders or the Colonization, the Sagas of Snorri, and Olaf Tryggvason, mention this Viking hero.

Despite minor variations, they all agree on the historical significance and impact of Erik the Red!

The Origin and Birth of Erik the Red

Erik the Red Store

Born between 940 and 950 AD in the region of Jæren, located in southwest Norway, Erik Thorvaldsson spent the first 10 years of his childhood there. However, as you can imagine, the greatest stories always have unexpected twists, and this one is no different!

Indeed, that's the case in the story of our main character when his father, Thorvald Asvaldsson, is exiled.

Having committed an unforgivable act, the murder of another Viking, the village council judges him accordingly. The worst sentence for a Scandinavian is proclaimed: to leave their native village! Thus, he and his entire family are forced to leave the fertile lands of Norway for the icy region that is Iceland.

Indeed, having been discovered only a few years earlier, this untouched land is the perfect refuge for Thorvald and his family. They decide to settle in Drangar, a relatively temperate region in the north of the country.

It's through a judicial decision that Erik the Red's great adventure begins!

Like Father, Like Son, but to What Extent?

It's only in adulthood that Erik Thorvaldsson would acquire his famous nickname, "the Red." He earned it due to the red color of his beard and hair, an uncommon color among the northern inhabitants.

Having rebuilt their lives in Iceland, Erik the Red married Thjodhild Jörundsdóttir and founded a modest family in the Haukadalur valley. Everything seemed to indicate a peaceful life, despite his Viking blood. But, as there is always a "but," his life took another major turn when he made the same mistake as his father!

Sources greatly differ on the subject of the Viking Erik killed, but they agree that it was his neighbor. The most widely accepted version is that a violent brawl erupted after his servant was murdered by Eyiolf the Fool. Erik the Red unleashed all his rage to avenge his friend and killed Eyiolf and one of his companions.

Although one could say that Erik the Red continued the tradition of his ancestors, this time, he decided to break the cycle once and for all!

Banished from Haukadalur, landless and without honor, he did not want to relive the same tragedy a second time. Before this tragic incident, no one could have predicted the great destiny that awaited him, that of a navigator, explorer, and future Viking chieftain.

The Beginning of the Legend of a Viking Explorer!

Erik the Red | The First Viking of Greenland!


It was in 982 that the legend of Erik the Red finally began! He created a whole new reputation for himself by sailing to Greenland to establish the very first Viking settlement there.

What's even more surprising is that he did it in just four days after being forced to leave Iceland. The explorer and navigator would finally settle in this lush and paradisiacal land, which he aptly named "Greenland," the green land!

The Saga of Erik the Red: The Discovery of a New World!

If he had not acted wrongly, Erik the Red probably would never have had to leave Iceland and, consequently, explore the North. Determined to restore his family's honor, he took to the sea in the hope of changing his life.

This seemingly innocuous choice, somewhat forced by circumstances, is actually what made him a true Viking legend.

The Discovery of Greenland

Although the sagas do not mention Erik the Red's crew, he was not accompanied solely by his wife. Indeed, escorted by loyal friends and highly skilled laborers, his expedition was destined for success!

He and his team decided to start this adventure by departing from the west of Iceland, more precisely from Snæfellsnes. A judicious decision, as they quickly spotted the coasts of Greenland.

Navigating around the coastline of this island, they managed to reach a more hospitable region to the west of this new land. Together, they set up their camp there to spend their first winter.

Forced into three years of exile, Erik the Red took the opportunity to explore the riches offered by Greenland. With a milder climate than Iceland, it was a fairly easy task! And, most importantly, he could rely on the valuable assistance of his loyal friend Thorhall.

During the rest of this period, he would christen the lands of Greenland and claim full sovereignty over them!

Erik the Red quickly realized that he had stumbled upon a true treasure:

  • The Greenland region was more suitable for cattle and animal farming;
  • The lands were fertile and the winters less harsh than in Iceland.

These were two arguments he would not hesitate to use when he returned to Iceland to organize the first major expedition to Greenland.

The First Viking Colony in Greenland

After these 3 years of exile, Erik the Red returned to Iceland to invite his former Viking comrades to join him in his new land. With such compelling arguments, it did not take him long to convince them!

Thus, between 984 and 985 AD, he set out once again, this time with a larger expedition, consisting of 25 to 35 ships. Unfortunately, only 14 of them would make it to Greenland. The Saga of the Greenlanders and the Book of Settlements agree that the rest of the fleet sank in a terrible storm.

Erik the Red became a respected and esteemed king by all! He wrote a whole new chapter in the history of Viking civilization, this time as lord of Greenland.

Europe's first Viking colony in Greenland was established under Erik's rule, and he would govern it until his death.

Erik the Red's Legacy: The Birth of an Explorer Dynasty

Although Erik the Red's story has forever etched him into the annals of Viking civilization, the exploits of his children have made his legend eternal!

At the beginning of the article, we mentioned Erik the Red's connection to the discovery of North America. It's high time to reveal this mystery: Leif Erikson, Erik's eldest son, is the first European to have set foot in America.

Indeed, he had three children, two boys and a girl:

  • These two sons, Thorstein and Leif, are from his marriage to Thjodhild. Leif Erikson is one of the greatest Viking figures. Along with his brother, they expanded the Viking territory to the ends of the earth. Indeed, they are responsible for the first expedition to Vinland, which is present-day North America.
  • Erik's daughter, FreydisEiriksdottir, was born from Erik's relationship with another partner, whose name is unknown. A Viking woman with a strong character who accompanied her half-brothers in exploring the lands of Vinland. She settled in what is now Newfoundland, Canada.

Together, they would realize King Ragnar's dream and vision: to glorify Viking civilization. Erik the Red is the father of a true dynasty of Viking explorers!

Between 1000 and 1010 AD, Erik died peacefully in Greenland, his earthly paradise. His name would mark the history of all of Europe, and his legend would live on through his children.

Erik the Red, a Source of Inspiration for Modern Literature

From films, comic books, and books, Erik the Red's story is a true source of inspiration for modern literature!

Recently, he made an appearance during the 6th season of the hit TV series Vikings. His return is explosive, worthy of Erik the Red's reputation, as he saves Björn Ironside from certain death!

The series draws inspiration from the main aspects of his story, depicting him as an outlaw, banished from his village for a murder he allegedly committed.

Erik the Red, the Legend Continues!

Although posterity did not record the words and declarations of Erik the Red, his actions are more than enough to define him. An obstinate character who quickly loses his temper, he honors the Viking blood that flows within him.

Aware of his flaws, he embarks on a quest for redemption that changes his destiny forever. By discovering an unknown land, he turns his failure into the greatest achievement in Viking history. He achieves the fame and glory he so desired.

However, his legend will continue long after his death through that of his children, especially Leif Erikson. Like his father, he is the embodiment of Viking exploration, and the Viking legacy lives on through him.

Erik the Red, a Viking leader and an explorer who carved his name into history, is an inspiration to us all. A symbol of perseverance, the explorer's legacy endures and will continue to do so through future generations.

Skål, Erik the Red, for your indomitable spirit and the path you blazed for all Vikings!

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