This Is Why Erik The Red Moved To Iceland

When you think of famous Vikings, only a few come to mind — for instance, Rollo, the Viking leader who became Normandy's first ruler; Leif Erikson, the first European to land on the New World, about 500 years prior to Christopher Columbus's arrival; and his father, Erik the Red, who created the first Norse settlement on the island of Greenland.

Erik the Red, aka Eirikr rauði Þorvaldsson, got his nickname allegedly for his fiery ginger hair and beard and tempestuous nature. He discovered Greenland — "The green land," named by him as a public relations ploy to convince settlers to come to the ice-covered isle — when sailing west after leaving his home in Iceland. He eventually took 25 Icelandic ships to colonize the space (via Visit Greenland). Only 14 boats completed the journey, and the surviving travelers created two settlements by 986. Greenland would thrive and eventually included about 5,000 members (via History). 

After Erik the Red's death, though, Greenland's people began to leave throughout the 14th and 15th centuries, according to the Smithsonian magazine. While no one knows exactly why this mass exodus happened, theories include that the climate became colder, making it harder to farm and live, and that trade slowly disappeared. "I think in Greenland it happened very gradually and undramatically," said Niels Lynnerup, a University of Copenhagen forensic anthropologist. "Maybe it's the usual human story. People move to where there are resources. And they move away when something doesn't work for them."

The challenges of Erik the Red

Besides settling Greenland, Erik the Red had a rich early life, full of strife and controversy. He started life out as Erik Thorvaldsson, born around 950 CE, in Rogaland, Norway. His father was Thorvald Asvaldson (aka Osvaldson), who also had a temper, according to The Mariners' Museum and Park

Erik the Red and his father moved from Norway to Iceland under suspicious circumstances. "Some killings" occurred, according to The Canadian Encyclopedia (Visit Greenland characterizes it as "a number of killings"), although the details of what happened remain unknown. The two settled in a less-desired location on Iceland's northern coast, an inhospitable section for farmers, with poor soil quality.

Still, Erik the Red married well, wedding Thjodhild, whose family was wealthy. When his father died, he moved to the Breidafjord region and created a small farm using part of his stepfather's estate (via The Saga of Erik the Red).

Erik the Red's proclivity towards violence revisited him, in 982 CE, when some of his servants destroyed a neighbor's house in an accidental landslide. The angry neighbor killed them as punishment, and then Erik murdered him. Erik the Red left the area, settling on the islands of Oxney and Sudrey. More community drama ensued, and more people, including the two sons of his new neighbor, died. Erik faced a trial, was found guilty of murder and received another banishment sentence. He needed to leave Iceland, and couldn't return to his birthplace at Norway. So he began sailing, eventually discovering Greenland (via The Mariners' Museum and Park).