Eric the Red

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Eric the Red from Arngrímur Jónsson's Gronlandia.

Eric the Red was a 10th century Viking. He was expelled from Norway on charges of murder and took his family away to Iceland, which had been settled by Vikings about a hundred years earlier. After his involvement in several killings there, he was banished and went to Greenland, where he started the first successful colony in that land around the year 985. Eric is best known as the father of Leif Erikson, who started the first European colony in America around the year 1000, although it ultimately lasted only a few decades.

Eric's interesting name is in the style of his times. People in that culture often assumed descriptive names, along with a "patronymic" name identifying the father. Eric's "real" name was Eric Thorvaldsson, because his father's name was Thorvald. This style of naming persists in Iceland today. But Eric had very red hair, so people called him "Eric the Red" most of the time.

Eric was a heathen all his life, although his son Leif, and probably others of his family, converted to Christianity.

Two old Icelandic Sagas about Eric survive. These stories agree with each other in most regards, and contain most of what is known about Eric and Leif. They have been translated into English and are easy to find in modern libraries and bookstores.


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