Though you may not see them around much these days, from 800 A.D. until the mid-1000s, Vikings were all the rage. Back in those days Vikings, aka Northmen or Norsemen, were among the most terrifying warriors in Europe. Huge fans of raiding, plundering and all manner of mayhem, the Vikings used to sail around, descending on villages and getting rich off of other people’s stuff. It was during the good old days of Norseman yore that one of the most famous Vikings of all time emerged. His name? Erik the Red.

Most of what we know about Erik the Red has been passed down through a series of stories called “The Sagas of Icelanders.” Though some of the stories in the sagas verge on the line of tall tales, they are generally thought to be based largely on factual events that played out during the 9th-11th centuries. Erik’s exploits are mostly chronicled in two sagas named “Greenland Saga” and “Saga of Erik the Red.”

Erik’s early days

Erik Thorvaldsson is believed to have been born in Norway around 950 A.D. and, in all likelihood, eventually became known as “the Red” due to the color of his red hair and beard. As you’ll soon discover, the guy had quite the fiery temper as well, which couldn’t have hurt when it came to cementing the nickname. Anyway, life was peachy in Norway until around 960 when Erik’s dad, Thorvald Asvaldsson, got into a little scrape that ended in manslaughter. Apparently, his own people were not impressed with his actions because before he knew it, he and his family had been exiled and had to set up shop over in Iceland.

Unfortunately for young Erik, his father proceeded to die in their new Icelandic home. Luckily, he was able to hook up with a gal named Thjodhild Jörundsdóttir, who happened to be quite wealthy. Soon, the two were joined in matrimonial bliss and settled down on a farm in Hawksdale. But just as life seemed to be settling down for our rather reddish friend, things suddenly went downhill… literally.

A whole lotta’ banishing goin’ on

In 980, some of Erik’s slaves somehow managed to accidentally cause a landslide that took out the home of Erik’s next door neighbor, Valthjof. Oops. Well, as you can imagine, Valthjof didn’t really think that destroying a guy’s home was a very neighborly thing to do, nor did his family. One of Valthjor’s relatives, who was called Eyjiolf the Foul, decided to get even by slaughtering the offending slaves from the whole landslide incident. Unfortunately for him, this was not a decision that Erik would take kindly. Soon enough, Erik killed Eyjiolf, as well as another man named Holmgang-Hrafn for good measure. The authorities were alerted, one thing led to another, and Erik found himself banished yet again.

Fine Art America

Deciding to start with a clean slate, Erik moved to another part of Iceland, settling on the island of Oxney. While he tried to figure out a new housing situation, he realized he would need to enlist someone to look after prized family heirloom for him. The heirloom in question was called a “Setstokkr,” which was a huge beam with mystical Viking symbols carved into it. This wasn’t just any Setstokkr, however, but one that Erik’s dad had brought over from Norway back in the day. Eventually, Erik decided to ask Thorgest, a man from his new village, to look after it. Thorgest agreed, and all was well and good until Erik returned to get hit back. At that point, Thorgest went all “finders, keepers,” refusing to return Erik’s property.

As you might have guessed, this did not go over well. Ultimately, a huge fight ensued and several men, including two of Thorgest’s sons, ended up dead. Though Erik did manage to teach Thorgest that you don’t mess with another guy’s Setstokkr, he also found himself banished for three years. Again.

Erik gets his groove on in Greenland

This time, Erik decided it was time to really get off the grid. So he sailed on over to this new land, which had reportedly been spied a century before by a guy named Gunnbjorn Ulfsson. Once there, he set himself up a little base and explored the land, mostly an icy wilderness of snow and rocks. During his exiled explorations, he either fell in love with the place, or decided he wanted to found a new country. When his exile was up, he went back to Iceland to tell everybody about this great new place he’d found, and how they should all go back there with him to colonize. What name did he choose to bestow upon this icy new wilderness? Greenland. Cause everybody digs a place that sounds nice, right?


Well, he must have been a pretty decent salesman because around 985 he showed back up on Greenland’s shores with 14 of the 25 ships that had attempted to make the journey. There, the Vikings did indeed establish Greenland’s first colonies, touting Erik the Red as their paramount chieftain. Greenland ended up being good to Erik and his wife, Thjodhildr, who had three sons, one of whom was the famous explorer Leif Erikson.

As you may or may not know, Leif became the first known European explorer to discover North America. According to the sagas, Leif had actually invited his dad, Erik, to come along on the voyage, during which he would make his great discovery. Unfortunately, on the way to the ship, Erik accidentally fell off his horse and took it as an omen that he shouldn’t make the voyage. Erik the Red not only stayed home, but died soon after, probably from complications arising from the horse incident. His legacy lived on, however, as Greenland’s colonies flourished until their unexplained disappearance around 500 years later.