Erik Torvaldsson, better known as Erik the Red, was a famous Viking adventurer from Norway who, among other things, discovered the icy island of Greenland and led the first Viking settlement there.
He also taught his children his adventurous ways and was the father of Leif Erikson, the Viking credited with reaching North America.
Since Lief is set to be one of the main protagonists in the new Vikings: Valhalla series when it comes out, let’s have a closer look at the man who shaped him, with a few fun facts about Erik the Red.
1. Erik is more Legend than a Historical Figure
While we think of Erik the Red as a historical figure, and he probably existed, almost everything that we know about him comes from the sagas Eriks Saga Rauda and Graenlendinga Saga.
This is more legend than history, so everything should be taken with a grain of salt. However, the stories of Erik seem much more likely that stories that appear in other sagas.
For example, unlike in the case of Ragnar Lothbrok, there are no stories about him slaying dragons.
2. He had a red beard and a red temper
It was Erik’s striking red hair and beard that earned him the name Erik the Red. But he is also said to have had a volatile temper, and that he could “see red” at the slightest offense.
3. He was banished from Norway as a child
Erik the Red was born in Norway, but forced to leave at the tender age of 10. This was because his father, Thorvald Asvaldsson, was exiled for killing another man.
In general, in Viking law, banishments were limited to a period of three years, but there is no evidence that Erik or his father ever returned to Norway. Thorvald took his son to Iceland, where they made their new home.
4. He was banished from Iceland as an adult
Erik found himself repeating the mistakes of his father in Iceland. In Iceland, after his marriage, he lived in a town called Haukadale.
Here, in 980, a number of his servants, known as Thralls, accidentally caused a landside that crushed the house of his neighbor Valtthjof, presumably with the man himself inside.
A kinsman of the neighbor, known as Eyiolf the Foul, retaliated by killing the servants that caused the accident.
The hot-headed Erik retaliated in turn, killing both Eyiolf and another kinsman Holmgang-Hrafn. The kinsmen of the injured parties demanded that Erik be punished for his actions, and he was banished from the settlement.
Erik made his way north and set up a new farmstead on the island of Oxley, in the Breioafjord of Iceland.
5. In fact, he was banished from Iceland twice
Just two years later, Erik had further troubles. He entrusted his setstokkr to a friend known as Thorgest. These were large beams engraved with the Viking runes that were important in Old Norse religion.
Erik probably entrusted them to his friend while he was building his new home.
When Erik went to retrieve his property, Thorgest refused to return them, so Erik took them by force. He feared retaliation, and so set an ambush for Thorgest, who obliged.
Thorgest and his two sons were killed in the massive brawl that followed. Erik the Red was again banished for his behavior.
6. He did not discover Iceland
Erik the Red is sometimes credited with discovering Greenland, but this was not the case. It was discovered more than 100 years earlier by a Norwegian sailor named Gunnbjorn Ulfsson. Erik was not even the first Viking to try and colonize the island, only the first to succeed.
When Erik first arrived, his ships were unable to approach the land due to drift ice blocking the way. They had to sail al the way around the southern tip of the island to find a safe place, the area known today as Julianehab.
When he did finally land, he spent two years exploring the island and identifying the most hospitable land.
7. Erik made himself a Chieftain on Greenland
Erik the Red returned to Iceland in 985 or 986 and started to recruit people to colonize the new Greenland that he had explored. It is said that he chose to call the island Greenland for the specific purpose of making it more attractive for settlers.
Erik had quite a bit of success and managed to convince 400 or 500 people to set sail to Greenland with him. Unfortunately, while 25 ships left the shores of Iceland, only 14 arrived in Greenland. They mainly split themselves across two colonies, the eastern settlement Eystribyggd, and the western settlement Vestribyggd.
Erik established himself as the lord of the land. As the first settler, he had already taken the best grazing land for himself. He set up his homestead on the location of the modern settlement of Qassuarsuk.
He called the land Brattahlid, which means “steep slope”, and it made him the wealthiest man on the island, and therefore the chieftain there. The real surprise is that he did not name the land after himself. When he first landed on Greenland, he named many landmarks and locations after himself as another way of making the land his own.
Erik’s Greenland colonies lasted about 500 years until the 15th century. They died out as the result of a “little ice age”, which made even the Scandinavian way of living difficult on the icy island. They were also helped along by pirate raids and Innuits migrating into the territory.
8. He was the Father of Explorers and Warriors
While Erik was still living in Iceland, he married Thjodhild Jorundsdrottir. According to the sagas, the two had four children together. Their names were Leif, Thorvald, Thorstein, and Freydis.
Leif Erikson is the most famous as the man that led the Viking expeditions to North America. But all four of Erik’s children actually set foot in the “new world”.
Despite having three sons, Freydis seems to have been the most ferocious of Erik’s children. There are stories of her singlehandedly righting off a group of natives in the Americas while heavily pregnant. She also seems to have inherited her father’s red streak, both in terms of hair and temper.
9. Christianity broke up Erik’s Family
Erik the Red was a devout pagan until the day he died, but much of his family converted to Christianity and did much to spread Christianity throughout the Greenland colonies.
It was Leif Erikson and his wife who brought Christianity to Greenland. Leif converted while he was visiting King Olaf Tryggvason of Norway in 999. When he returned to Greenland, he brought is new faith with him.
Leif’s mother took to the new religion with gusto and built a church on Erik’s estate. He was very unhappy with this and fought with his wife incessantly. She retaliated by refusing to share his bed. It is unknown exactly how long this situation lasted.
10. Erik almost made it to North America
Erik the Red almost made it to North America himself! Leif invited his father to accompany him on the expedition, and Erik agreed.
However, as they were riding to the ships to set sail, Erik fell off his horse in an unexpected accident. The superstitious Viking took this as a sign that the journey was not for him and decided to stay in Greenland.
He may have been right, as it was unlikely that he would have survived the journey. He died before Leif returned to Greenland, possibly from complications related to his fall.
What do you think of Eric the Red, do you think he was a bad-tempered brute who fought incessantly with his neighbors of a revolutionary settler? What do you think we can expect of his character in the upcoming Vikings: Valhalla series?