Erik the Red


Erik Thorvaldsson (Old Norse: Eirikr Þorvaldsson), better known as Erik the Red (Old Norse: Eirīkr hinn rauði) (Norway, 950-Eystribyggð, Greenland, 1003), was a late 10th-century Norwegian Viking, trader, and explorer.

He founded the first Viking settlement in Greenland. He was born in the district of Jæren, Rogaland, Norway, son of Thorvald Asvaldsson, an exile for murder. It has been speculated that the nickname of the Red was possibly because he had red hair.

Although popular culture credits Erik with being the first to discover Greenland (now part of Denmark), Icelandic sagas suggest that other Norse explorers discovered and attempted to colonize it before him. Tradition claims that Gunnbjörn Ulfsson (also known as Gunnbjörn Ulf-Krakuson) was the first to spot this land mass. A century before Erik’s arrival, strong winds would have blown Gunnbjörn towards this land, which he called “Gunnbjörn islands” or “Gunnbjarnarsker”. The accidental nature of such a discovery, however, gives the greatest credit in the history of Greenland to Erik the Red as its official discoverer.

After Gunnbjörn, Snaebjörn Galti also visited Greenland. According to records of the time, his attempt to establish a settlement there ended in disaster.

Within this context, in about 982 Erik sailed to this mysterious and unknown land. He rounded the southern tip of the island (later known as Cape Farewell) and sailed up the western coast. Eventually he reached a part of the coast that was reasonably free of ice and thus had, like Iceland, conditions that gave it likelihood of future prosperity and development. According to the aforementioned saga, Erik spent three years of his exile exploring this land. He named it “Greenland” (“Green Land”). The first winter there he spent in Eiriksey, and the second in Eiriksholmar, near Hvarfsgnipa. The following summer he explored the entire coastline as far north as Snaefell or Hrafnsfjord.

When his exile ended, he returned to Iceland and brought with him magnificent stories about that “green land”. Erik christened the land with a name much more suggestive than “Iceland” (“Land of Ice”) in order to attract Icelandic settlers, as he believed that this would make people more willing to participate in colonization. To create a lasting settlement in Greenland, Erik needed as many people as he could attract. His plan worked quite well, and many people – particularly those “poor Icelandic people” and those who had suffered the ravages of the recent famine – were convinced that Greenland could be their big chance.

After spending the winter in Iceland, Erik returned to Greenland the following summer, in 985 AD, this time with a large number of settlers, who established the first two settlements on the southwest coast: the eastern settlement (Eystribyggð), in what is now Julianhåb, where Erik had his farm called Brattahlíð, and the western settlement (Vestribyggð), in present-day Nuuk (eventually, a middle settlement developed, but many experts believe it was part of the western one). Both settlements, located on the southwest coast, proved to be the only areas where agriculture was possible. During the summer, when the climate was milder, the settlers sent real armies north to Disko Bay, above the Arctic Circle, to hunt. Thus, they obtained seal meat, whose skin could also be used as clothing, and ivory from walruses, narwhals or whales stranded on the coast, if they were lucky. It is probable that in these expeditions they would have encountered the Inuit, who did not yet inhabit the eastern part of the island.

At Eystribyggð, Erik built the Brattahlíð estate, near present-day Narsarsuaq, for himself. Erik held the title of “Principal Chief” of Greenland and gained great respect and wealth. The venture involved a total of twenty-five vessels, fourteen of which successfully completed the voyage, and of the remaining eleven, some returned to Scandinavia, while others disappeared in the ocean.

The settlement flourished, housing a total of 3,000 inhabitants spread over a vast area along the Eriksfjord and other adjoining fjords. Groups of immigrants arriving from overcrowded Iceland joined the original settlers.

However, some settlers who arrived in 1002 A.D. brought with them an epidemic that wreaked havoc on the island’s population, killing Erik himself. Still, the colony rebounded and survived until the Little Ice Age in the 15th century, when it became unviable for the European way of life. Pirate attacks, conflicts with the invading Inuit and abandonment by Norway forced the population to decline.

The story goes that Erik and his wife Theodhild had four children: a daughter, Þuríður Eiríksdóttir (b. 978), and three sons, the also famous explorer Leif Eriksson, Thorvald and Thorsteinn. From another marriage she had a daughter, Freydís Eiríksdóttir.

Erik was a fervent advocate of Norse paganism, unlike his son Leif and his wife, who built the first Christian church in America in their farmyard. Despite what has been speculated, it seems unlikely that Leif was the pioneer of Christianity in Greenland.

Leif Eriksson became the first Viking and European to explore the land of Vinland, now part of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. Legend has it that Leif invited his father for the journey, but that his father fell off his horse on the way and, taking this as a bad omen, decided to stay. Erik died the first winter after his son’s departure.


  1. Erik el Rojo
  2. Erik the Red
  3. ^ Old Norse: Eiríkr Þórvaldsson [ˈɛiˌriːkz̠ ˈθoːrˌwɑldsˌson] Eiríkr hinn rauði [ˈɛiˌriːkz̠ ˈhinː ˈrɔuðe] Modern Icelandic: Eiríkur rauði Þorvaldsson [ˈeiːˌriːkʏr ˈrœiːðɪ ˈθɔrˌval(t)sˌsɔːn] Modern Norwegian: Eirik Raude
  4. Old Norse: Eiríkr Þórvaldsson [ˈɛiˌriːkz̠ ˈθoːrˌwɑldsˌson] Eiríkr hinn rauði [ˈɛiˌriːkz̠ ˈhinː ˈrɔuðe]
  5. Eiríkr Þórvaldsson [ˈɛiˌriːkz̠ ˈθoːrˌwɑldsˌson]
  6. Eiríkr hinn rauði [ˈɛiˌriːkz̠ ˈhinː ˈrɔuðe]
  7. Modern Icelandic: Eiríkur rauði Þorvaldsson [ˈeiːˌriːkʏr ˈrœiːðɪ ˈθɔrˌval(t)sˌsɔːn]
  8. Ólason, Páll Eggert; Jón Guðnason y Ólafur Þ. Kristjánsson. Islenzkar æviskrár frá landnámstímum til ársloka 1940 (1948-1976), (6 volumes. Reykjavík : Hid Íslenzka Bókmenntafélags, 1948-1952, 1976), FHL book 949.12 D3p., vol. 1, p. 428, 429; vol. 5, p. 431.
  9. Benediktsson, Jakob. Íslendingabók og Landnámabók (1968), 1907-., (1 volume in 2 parts. Reykjavík, Iceland: Íslenzka Fornritafélag, 1968), FHL book 949.12 H2bj., vol. 1, p. 5. 1-2, p. 35, 130, 163, 197; vol. 1, pt. 2, p. 232; Table 10; Source continued: p. 13, 14, 131-135, 141, 163, 197 (89, 92).
  10. The Little Ice Age: How Climate Made History, 1300–1850, Basic Books, 2002, p. 10. ISBN 0-465-02272-3.
  11. Magnusson, Magnus y Hermann Pálsson. The Vinland sagas: the Norse discovery of America: Grændlendinga saga and Eirik’s saga (1965) (Middlesex, England: Penguin Books Ltd., c1965), FHL book 949.12 H7vm., p. 76.
  12. Farley Mowat, Westviking: The Ancient Norse in Greenland and North America (1965) ISBN 978-0-7710-6692-4
  13. a b Eryk Rudy, [w:] Encyklopedia PWN [online] [dostęp 2014-02-02] .
  14. Praca zbiorowa: Historia powszechna Tom 7 Od upadku cesarstwa rzymskiego do ekspansji islamu. Karol Wielki. T. 7. Mediaset Group SA, 2007, s. 641. ISBN 978-84-9819-814-0.
  15. Marc Carlson: History of Medieval Greneland., 2001-08-01. [dostęp 2014-02-02]. [zarchiwizowane z tego adresu (2004-06-22)].
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