Leif Erikson (c. 970 – c. 1020)

Leif was born during the Viking Age, when Scandinavian warriors and explorers were taming the seas and finding new lands to visit or raid. It is believed he was born in Iceland and was the son of another famous Viking, Erik the Red. Erik the Red founded a settlement in Greenland (c. 986), and it is possibly his father's achievements that encouraged his son to go one step further...

Dan the Info-man
This statue of Leif Erikson shows him wearing a Viking helmet with horns; but real Viking helmets didn't have horns!

Getting lost but finding love

Leif Erikson soon allowed his exploring instincts to take over and found himself busy traversing the sea, visiting Norway and Greenland. He also managed to find himself in the Hebrides (part of modern Scotland) by accident when he was blown off course. It wasn't all bad news for him, though, as he fell in love with a local noblewoman called Thorgunna. They had a son called Thorgils. But Leif was not the sort of man to be rooted in one place for too long; the sea was calling...

Dan the Info-man
This is an image of the beautiful countryside in the Hebrides.

All at sea...

Leif's journeys were considerable. After making it to Greenland, he and his crew journeyed further west. They reached a place that they named "Helluland" (which is considered to be modern Baffin Island, Canada). After traveling further the intrepid Vikings then landed at a place they called "Markland" (possibly Labrador, Canada). At their third stop, they liked the area so much they made a temporary settlement there...

Vinland...the land of vines

The Vikings settled in a place they named Vinland, because of the abundance of vines and grapes there. The modern location is believed to either be Newfoundland or the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Evidence of a Norse settlement was found at L'Anse aux Meadows (Newfoundland).

Dan the Info-man
This statue is at L'Anse aux Meadows, which is now a World Heritage site.

Beating Christopher Columbus by 500 years

The North American continent had been spotted by a Norse trader called Bjarni Herjólfsson in 986. However, he did not make a landing. Erik the Red was going to join his son's expedition, but he injured himself and refused to go. Leif Erikson's arrival in North America in around 1000 beat Christopher Columbus (who visited the Caribbean in 1492) by a long mark. Although it was the indigenous people of the continent that "discovered" America, it is Leif Erikson and his crew who were the first Europeans to make landfall.

Leif Erikson - Wikipedia

Leif's successful expedition in Vinland encouraged other Norsemen to also make the journey. The first apparent contact between the Norse and the indigenous people, who the Norse later referred to as skrælingjar, was made by his brother Thorvald, and resulted in hostilities and killing.

After Vinland, death and legacy

Leif left Vinland and returned to Greenland, where it is believed he died around 20 years later. The Vikings did not stay in Vinland, and it seems there was no interest in making a permanent settlement in this new land. The Vikings' regional power waned over time; however, since the late 19th century, Leif's expedition and exploits have become more well-known and celebrated.

Dan the Info-man
There is even a Leif Erikson Day in the United States, falling on October 9.
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