Leif Erikson: The Fearless Viking Who Discovered America Before Columbus

Leif Erikson: The Fearless Viking Who Discovered America Before Columbus

Icelandic sailor Leif Erikson (approx. 975 - 1022) voyaged through the Davis Strait to the shores of North America. His name is associated with a significant historical event defined as the discovery of America nearly 500 years before Christopher Columbus.

This information was confirmed in 1960. Norwegian archaeologist Helge Ingstad found the remains of a Norman settlement from the 10th-11th centuries on the northern tip of Newfoundland.

Scandinavians Set Off

Leif Erikson: The Viking Who Discovered America Before Columbus

The first records of pirate attacks off the coast of England date back to the 8th century. The bandits who attacked peaceful European cities and towns were originally from Scandinavia. They were called the Normans - people from the north, and there was no protection from their lightning attacks. Seeing ships with striped or red sails with dragon heads, coastal residents left their homes. They hurried into the woods along with their cattle to save their lives.

Those who hesitated would perish under numerous ax blows or become prisoners. The attackers destroyed everything they could not take with them. Animals were killed, and houses were burned. Attempts to oppose them have long been unsuccessful.

On attractive ships, the Normans sailed from their native Scandinavia. They went to the south - to Sicily, to the southwest - to England and Ireland, to the east - across the Volga to the Caspian Sea. Each tribe had its route. The Danes preferred the coasts of England and France. One sea route was almost entirely Norwegian - a trip west. The Swedes usually went east to Kievan Rus'.

On long voyages to the North Atlantic, the Norwegian Vikings set out on comfortable and reliable sailing ships - the Knarrs. The Knarr was the most prominent of all Scandinavian boats in many aspects. It was even more famous than the long Drakkar warships. The Knarrs did not develop the speed of warships. But they were more spacious, stronger, and they had a more rounded hull, one large square sail of coarse woolen cloth and oars. Their length could reach 20 meters, and their width was 5-6 meters.

In 1932, a replica of one of these ships was built. Knarr set out on a journey across the Atlantic from the Scandinavian coast on the path of Christopher Columbus. To the surprise of experts, that trip was a third shorter than Columbus's. The ship returned to its homeland via Newfoundland and Greenland via the northern route.

The Quest For New Lands

Leif Erikson: The Viking Who Discovered America Before Columbus

In the middle of the 9th century, the Norwegians reached Iceland, but the sea continued further west. And so, in 985, the legendary explorer Erik the Red set out on the path of the sunset for the first time.

After making a long and dangerous crossing, he reached the shores of a sizeable ice-covered country. Erik saw that the island was habitable, at least in the south, and called it Greenland. People from Icelandic ships laid the foundations for the famous Greenlandic Viking colony. Erik the Red settled in Erik Bay, where he built the fortress of Brattahlid.

After the Vikings had firmly encamped in Greenland, they had to take the last step: to reach America. The Norman colony was divided from the giant continent only by the Davis Strait. Its width at its narrowest point did not exceed 200 miles. This was no problem for those who bravely sailed the stormy ocean. On clear days, during fishing expeditions along the west coast of Greenland, the Normans could see the high mountains of Baffin Island in the distance.

The Vikings lived in Greenland for about 500 years. Could they have visited the American coast? "We could claim that, even if we didn't have written sources," writes Helge Ingstad. "But we were lucky. We have sources that tell us about the sailing of the Normans from Greenland to an unknown country in the west. Those sources are the Icelandic sagas. "

Of all the Icelandic sagas, the Stories of the Greenlanders (or Greenland Saga) and the Saga of Erik the Red (also called the Thorfinn Karlsefni Saga) are fascinating. They speak of the Viking discovery of America. Sagas call this continent Vinland - "land of grapes." Helge Ingstad discovered that, in fact, "wine" in Old Norse translates as "rich land," "fertile land," "land of meadows and pastures."

The sagas are about six Viking trips to America. The first voyage was taken by Bjarni, son of Heryulf, in 985. However, his venture was not the most successful. After a day of wandering the ocean, he saw a low, forested coast west of Greenland. Not daring to set foot on land, Bjarni is forever deprived of the glory of being the discoverer of America. That became Leif, the son of Erik the Red.

Who Was Leif Erikson?

Leif Erikson: The Fearless Viking Who Discovered America Before Columbus

Leif Erikson was the son of the brave Erik Raud (Red). He set out with the company in 982 and, sailing west, discovered the southern shores of an unknown land. This was a land with green meadows protected from the cold northern winds.

The neighboring islands were covered with snow and ice, so Raud called the new country Greenland. According to another version, Erik took this name to convince his fellow tribesmen to settle there. The name had to be attractive enough.

Leif Erikson, otherwise vain in nature, quarreled with neighbors and even killed one of them. As he was expelled from Haukadalur in Iceland, Raud and his family found a new place to live in Greenland. There they built the Brattahlíð estate. From there, Leif and then his other children and compatriots sailed out to sea.

Heading west, they discovered and explored vast areas of North America.

Almost nothing is known about Leif Erikson's childhood and his life in general. Only ancient Icelandic sagas tell about it. Here is how he is described: "Leif was tall and strong, he is a pleasure to see, also a smart and moderate man in everything, respected by all."

He was probably born in Iceland, but as a Viking, he grew up in Greenland. That strengthened him for the usual long voyages.

Three New Worlds

Leif Erikson: The Viking Who Discovered America Before Columbus

It is known that 14 years after moving, Leif Erikson, still relatively young, went to Norway in the year 1000. There he joined the royal family. In Trondheim he met King Olaf Tryggvason. The king accepted him with respect and entrusted him with converting the Greenlanders to Christianity.

Saga says that Leif Erikson doubted that he would complete the task. He told the king that he had given him no easy task. The king replied that no one could do this business better than him. "You are lucky," Olaf said, predicting success in the future of the brave Viking. The king's mission was only half fulfilled. Leif's mother, Thjodhild, embraced Christianity, but Erik remained faithful to the old religion - paganism.

After Olaf's death, Leif Erikson decided to continue the journey. He heard that Bjarni Herjólfsson, sailing from Norway to Greenland, saw an unfamiliar land with forest somewhere in the west. Leif Erikson bought from Bjarne his battered but still strong ship. He recruited a team of 35 men and headed west. Happiness smiled on him - no wonder Leif went down in history as Leif the Happy.

The sailors' first country on the voyage was called Helluland - Land of Flat Stones. They found only smooth rocks and a glacier there. Sailing further south, they discovered another country, the Land of Forests - Markland. After two days of sailing to the northwest, they sailed to another island. They passed through a strait separating it from the land in the north.

At the mouth of a small river, the Vikings landed on the shore. Here they decided to spend the winter and build houses. The end was blessed. The river was rich in salmon, and the fertile land yielded native wheat. As there were vines, Leif called the country Vinland - Land of Grapes.

They set out for home in the spring and returned safely to Greenland. From that time on, Leif Erikson was called "Happy" and gained fame and fortune with his feat.

Sagas About Leif Erikson's Journey

Leif Erikson: The Viking Who Discovered America Before Columbus

Leif Erikson no longer sailed to Vinland after this trip, judging by the sagas. But, his family lived there: brothers Thorvald and Thorstein, sister Freydis and Thorfinn Karlsefni.

Thorvald Erikson sailed on Leif Erikson's ship to Vinland, where he spent the winter in a house built by his brother. Then, he undertook several expeditions.

Once on the seashore, one of the Normans found three overturned boats, under which the natives were hiding. The Vikings attacked and killed them. But, one still managed to escape, and the punishment for recklessness soon followed. Leather boats appeared on the horizon, all full of warriors.

The Vikings did not have time to take their swords and axes as they were showered with arrows. One of them pierced Thorvald's chest. He drew an arrow and ordered the others to retreat and eventually died. Before his death, he uttered the prophetic words: "We have discovered a fertile land, but it will not bring us happiness."

The most detailed description in the sagas is the largest Viking expedition to Vinland led by Thorfinn Karlsefni. There were 60 men and five women with him. There, his son was born - the first European whose homeland was America. They probably wanted to create a large settlement in Vinland. The Normans spent the winter at Leif Erikson's house, and in the summer, they met the natives for the first time.

Initially, relations between the representatives of the two worlds were friendly. In the future, however, the situation escalated, and an open battle ensued.

The winners were the Vikings, but they had to leave Vinland. According to The Story of the Greenlanders, Karlsefni spent two years there. But, judging by the text The Saga of Eric the Red- three years.

The last expedition was, without a doubt, the most unsuccessful. Leif Erikson's sister, Freydis, started a bloody rift within a small detachment of colonists. She killed five women of her rivals. She used only an ax, and it was the dramatic end of the Norman colony in North America.

Evidence Of Viking Life In America

Leif Erikson: The Viking Who Discovered America Before Columbus

After these events, however, the Normans moved to the lands discovered by Leif Erikson. There they lived for several decades.

In 1059, the Pope of Rome sent a bishop to baptize the settlers. The bishop was killed, but it is unknown whether the natives or the Europeans did it. At the beginning of the 12th century, all ties with the colony were cut off completely, and their fate is unknown. It is possible that the colonists returned to Iceland and may have mingled with the local flames.

In any case, after several centuries, the French traveler La Verendrye took part in the search for the "white Indians." He believed they were descendants of the Vikings. He claimed that members of the Mandan tribe, who became extinct in the 19th century from tuberculosis and smallpox, were descendants of the Vikings.

Apparently, Leif Erikson died before 1025. In the Saga of the Brothers, there is a mention that his son Torkel was the host in Ericsford. This could only have happened after the death of the sailor.

Scientists claim that the areas on the east coast of North America are the ones visited by Leif Erikson and his companions. Many identify Helluland with the eastern part of the Labrador Peninsula. Markland with the island of Newfoundland and Vinland with the modern state of Massachusetts.

Others point out that grapes are just berries and that information about them has been inserted into the saga to explain the name Vinland. The same word comes from the Scandinavian "vin," which means "rich," and "fruitful."

Leif Erikson's House

Leif Erikson: The Viking Who Discovered America Before Columbus

Norwegian scientist Ingstad analyzed the entire northeastern United States and part of Canada. In Newfoundland, near a small fishing village called Lance Meadows, he found the remains of an old building. He claimed that it belonged to neither the Indians nor the Eskimos. In addition, this area fully corresponded to the description of the landing site of the first Viking expedition to Vinland.

Archaeological excavations at Lance Meadows lasted from 1960 to 1964. They showed that the buildings belonged to the Normans and were erected around 1000. That is, when Leif Erikson, and then others, sailed from Greenland to the coast of America. Ingstad discovered the remains of the foundations of eight large and small houses.

Remains of forging, baths, and pits for burning charcoal were discovered. In the center of this complex is the so-called longhouse with five rooms and a total area of 320 square meters. Overall, there weren't that many remains. But they indeed prove that the settlement belonged to the Vikings. So the medieval sagas were true.

"No doubt," wrote German writer C. W. Ceram, that the "longhouse" was the home of Leif Erikson. From there, he went fishing and hunting. He dined at that hearth with his company. Here they talked about feats, and these stories, passing from mouth to mouth, reached Greenland, Iceland, and Norway. There they eventually became sagas. He left that house to his relatives when he returned to Greenland to die in his homeland.

Leif Erikson Day

Leif Erikson: The Viking Who Discovered America Before Columbus

In the 1960s, Norwegian archaeologist Ingstad discovered the remains of a 10th and 11th-century Norman settlement. It was finally proven that the Vikings reached the northeast coast of America 500 years before Columbus.

The arguments were so strong that in the fall of 1964, US President Lyndon Johnson signed to celebrate October 9 as Leif Erikson Day. Thus, the Norman sailor was officially recognized as the discoverer of the New World.

The brave Scandinavian sailors discovered North America five centuries before Columbus. They even tried to establish a settlement on its coast. However, their travels to America did not have critical historical consequences. The trip to Vinland was forgotten in the late 14th century.

Modern science has officially recognized Leif Erikson as a pioneer of America. As early as 1887, a monument to him was erected in Boston.