When people hear the word “Vikings”, the first thing that pops into their mind are large, burly men who wear horned hats. They might also think of dragon-shaped boats, Runic handwriting, and Norse gods.
All of these are great answers, but you shouldn’t forget to include Leif Eriksson. He was one of the world’s first dedicated explorers and was able to achieve a lot in his lifetime. To learn more about this Viking mariner, check out the facts below:
1. His Name Has Different Versions.
Eriksson’s father was Erik the Red, who got that name because of his red beard. Leif, in turn, got a second patronymic name (Eriksson) because he was Erik’s son. However, Eriksson is known as Leifur Eiriksson in Iceland and Leiv Eiriksson in Norway. He’s also called Leifr Eiriksson in Old Norse.
2. He Didn’t Grow Up With His Family.
In the ancient Norse society, it was common for children from an upper-class family to be “fostered” by a lower-class family. It was a way for people to build an alliance among themselves and create a connection with those who are higher on the social ladder. Some experts believe that it was also a way to “redistribute” children; infant mortality was so high in their society that around 20 percent of couples ended up childless. This made fostering a good way to give these couples a child to raise while ensuring that other families won’t be burdened by the number of children they must take care of.
Because of this tradition, Eriksson was assigned to live with Thyrker (a German whom Erik the Red had captured and brought to Iceland) when he was around eight years old. Thyrker taught Erikkson how to read and write runes, use weapons, and speak Russian and Celtic. He returned to his family when he was 12 years old.
3. His Family Moved To Greenland.
Leif was born and raised in Iceland but, right after he returned from living with Thyrker, he and his family had to leave his birthplace. His father had killed another man and, because of his crime, the council decided to banish him from Iceland for three years. Erik the Red had also been previously banished from Norway, so he had no other choice but to find another place to live.
Erik and his family discovered Greenland and made it their home. Even when their three-year banishment was up, they decided to stay because the place was better than Iceland (which was going through a famine at that time).
4. He Was Inspired To Travel Because Of a Family Friend.
Bjarni Hergelfson, Erik the Red’s friend, followed him to Greenland. However, because of poor weather, he was not able to see the North Star and use it to navigate. Because of this, he lost his way and ended up in two different places, both of which were covered with trees. Bjarni didn’t explore these places, though, because he was in a hurry to get on with his journey. He eventually made it to Greenland, and his story later inspired Leif to search for these green places.
5. He Converted To Christianity.
When he was around 24 years old, Leif was asked to lead a ship that would bring gifts to Norway’s King Olaf. After a brief detour that took him to the Hebrides, Leif arrived in Norway where he was warmly welcomed by Olaf, who asked him to stay for a while longer. During his stay, Leif learned about Christianity and decided to convert to it. He was baptized and, when he returned to Greenland, he brought along a priest who helped him spread the word about his new faith. Leif’s mother was one of the first few converts and even built a Christian church, but his father Erik the Red stuck to his pagan ways.
6. He Was Years Ahead Of Columbus.
While spreading the Christian faith in Greenland, Leif remembered the story of the green, forested lands that Bjarni had told years earlier and decided that he wanted see these places for himself. Leif bought the exact ship that Bjarni had used to journey to these lands and, along with Thyrker and other men, went on an expedition.
Along the way, he came across places which he named Helluland (which, experts believe, is Baffin Island) and Markland (which corresponds to the eastern Canadian coast). He then came upon an area with thick forests, lush pastures, rivers that were full of salmon, and he decided to spend the winter in this place.
What’s remarkable about all of these is that Leif’s discovery of North America happened in around 1000 A.D. — approximately five centuries before Christopher Columbus set foot on the continent.
7. He Was Nicknamed “Lucky.”
Once they landed in North America, Leif and his men loaded their ship with timber (which was valuable in the Norse society). They discovered that grapes were growing in the area, so they harvested the berries and loaded these into the boat as well. On their way to Greenland, they rescued a ship and acquired an assortment of Norwegian goods that could be traded. Because of these awesome strokes of good luck, Eriksson earned the nickname “Leif the Lucky”.
8. No One’s Really Sure Where He Landed.
Experts surmise that Leif landed and wintered in Newfoundland because, during that time, grapes still grew in large quantities in the area due to its mild weather. Others say that he and his crew stayed in Labrador, and still others claim that they made it to Cape Cod in Massachusetts. However, it’s worth noting that Newfoundland as well as the Gulf of St. Lawrence show signs of ancient Norse settlements.
9. His Brother Sailed To North America, Too.
Leif’s younger brother, Thorvald, borrowed his ship and set sail to see the lands that his brother had discovered. Unfortunately, Thorvald and his men had a skirmish with Native Americans, and he was killed during the battle.
10. Leif Eriksson Has Become a Popular Figure.
Modern society acknowledges Leif Eriksson as an important figure in history and gives him credit for his contributions. He has statues in Norway, Iceland, and certain parts of the U.S. (like the one near the Minnesota State Capitol). October 9 has also been considered as Leif Eriksson day in the U.S.
Leif Eriksson may have lived a long time ago, but he continues to inspire people with his bravery and willingness to explore the unknown.