Who Was Leif Erikson?
Leif Erikson (say: LEEF AY-rick-sun) was only around twenty years old. But he had already accomplished quite a bit in his young life. And now, in the year 1000, he was sailing across the stormy North Atlantic Ocean from his home in Greenland to visit the king of Norway. It was a journey of several days. When Leif arrived in Norway, King Olaf was happy to meet him.
During their visit, Olaf and Leif talked about a friend of Leif’s, Bjarni Herjólfsson (say: bih-YAR-nee hair-YOLF-sun). Bjarni had visited with King Olaf a couple of years earlier and had told him a story Leif knew well, about a mysterious land that lay west of Greenland.
Bjarni had spotted this heavily forested land on an earlier sea voyage. He had been sailing to Greenland but became lost when his ship was blown off course. An unfamiliar coast came into view. Bjarni’s crew asked if they could go ashore to explore, but Bjarni was too cautious. He didn’t want to put the crew in any danger. He refused.
King Olaf and his friends told Bjarni that he should have listened to his crew! And they now told Leif that they thought Bjarni had missed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Leif wondered: Could there really
be an unknown and unexplored land west of Greenland?
The folk stories of Norse mythology, the original religion of his youth, had taught Leif that the world he lived in was flat. He believed that the border of this flat area was encircled by a terrible snake-monster. And if you sailed too far from home, you might come face-to-face with it—and meet a terrifying end!
But maybe there was more to the world than his mythology had taught him.
Leif was determined to return to Greenland and attempt to do what Bjarni hadn’t: explore this mysterious New World. Just as his father, Erik the Red, had done in Greenland, Leif wanted to build a Viking settlement where no one had dared to before.
Leif Erikson would soon become the first European to set foot on North America—more than four hundred years before Christopher Columbus was even born! Chapter 1: Erik’s Son
Leif Erikson was born in Iceland around the year 980. His last name, Erikson (or “Erik’s son”), came from his father, Erik Thorvaldsson, called Erik the Red. Like many Vikings before him, Leif was born into a life of exploration and adventure.
Erik the Red had grown up in Norway, nine hundred miles away from Iceland. He got his name from his fiery red hair and beard—and his violent temper.
When Erik the Red was about ten years old, his father, Leif’s grandfather, committed a murder. The king of Norway banished Erik and his father—he forced them to leave the country.
Viking kings, like the king of Norway, were very powerful men. Their history began with King Harald about one hundred years earlier.
Erik the Red and his father left Norway and sailed to their new home: Iceland. Erik grew up and eventually purchased a sheep farm and married his wife, Thjodhild (say: JODE-hiled). They had three sons, Thorvald, Leif, and Thorstein. Leif also had a sister named Freydis. Erik and Thjodhild’s children belonged to a typical Viking family.
The Vikings were fierce warriors and sailors from Norway, Denmark, and Sweden—the lands together known as Scandinavia. Since the late 700s, whenever summer rolled around, the Vikings left their homes in Scandinavia seeking adventure, glory, and treasure in lands across Europe. They were pirates who took what they wanted from the people they conquered, including other people whom they used as slaves. Many Vikings settled in the new lands they attacked, from England to Ireland to Iceland—and as far away as Greenland.
In the summers, Erik the Red and his men sailed away in search of villages to threaten. In these violent and deadly raids, Erik and his fellow Viking warriors burned villages to the ground and stole anything of value. The Vikings had been doing this for hundreds of years, all around Europe. Villagers who weren’t killed might be taken as slaves.
Erik the Red owned slaves in Iceland. One day, the slaves caused a rockslide, which damaged Erik’s neighbor’s house. It was an accident, but the neighbor reacted violently, by killing Erik’s slaves.
Erik responded with a violent attack of his own: by killing his neighbor—and his neighbor’s cousin!
Charges were brought against Erik at the Thing.
The Thing reached its decision: Erik the Red was declared an outlaw. Like his father before him in Norway, Erik was banished. He would have to leave Iceland immediately. Even worse, Erik’s fellow Icelanders were allowed to kill him if he didn’t hurry up!
Luckily, Erik had a few friends left in Iceland. They helped hide him while he prepared his family, his ship, and his crew to set sail. But where would he go?
He could never return to Norway. Nor to Ireland or England, which had become crowded with too many other Viking settlers.
Erik decided to sail west for five stormy days, to a place where he could build a new life for himself, his family, and his friends. A place where no other Vikings lived. A place where Erik would answer to no one but himself.
Copyright © 2018 by Nico Medina. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.