I know it wasn’t Columbus day by the time i wrote this, but its been a long time since i have written about anything related to the Norse culture and history. So i will be writing about Leif Eiriksson, the first European to step into the unknown New World later called, America.
During the Columbus day, we celebrate the great achievements of this man, no doubt about about it, he really accomplished something extraordinary, however, this day also means the extinction of so many people and cultures, or the events that led to that by the Spanish during this time and the years after when the Portuguese found the south America which was a very hard time to all the indigenous inhabitants all over the Americas.
Nowadays we know of a man who step into this new world 500 years earlier than Columbus, Leif Eiriksson, a Greenlandic settler, the real European ( that we know of so far ) to first enter the New World.
Who was Leif ?
Leif was the son of Erik/Eirik the Red ( Erik Thorvaldsson ), the famous Norwegian, outlawed from his native country for manslaughter, and then fleeing to Iceland to escape justice. When Eirik arrived there, he married Thjodhild, who bore him four children, one of those was Leif, before he was involved in other killing acts, and was outlawed once more. By this time, he fled further west into Greenland, where he remained for three years, waiting for his sentence to expire, and he was the first Norse man to make settlements in that land. After those three years, he returned to Iceland, telling other about the new land he found, which led to more settlers to go there and inhabit the territory. He returned to Greenland, where he built a farm at Brattahlíð near Narsarsuaq today.
Like his father, Leif was an explorer and had already sailed by this time to Norway, where he became the Hirðman* of King Olaf Tryggvason. While Leif was in Norway, he was converted to Christianity, haven’t he done so, he would probably had an horrible time before he was killed, for King Olaf often tortured those who didn’t want to be christianised, or would torture until they accepted. However his father, Eirik, remained pagan till the end of his days.
Leif knew that there was a land far to the west of Greenland, for another sailor called Bjarni Herjólfsson, had seen the sight of it, and of course to Leif this was an irresistible adventure, and so he mounted hos own expedition. According to legend, His father would also join him in his quest if he hadn’t fall from his horse when riding towards the ship, he took this as a bad omen and remained in land.
It isn’t clear into which places he first sailed about into this New land, but it is clear that he went to Newfoundland, where he gave the name of Vinland, the place where he and his crew built a settlement, which was later named Leifsbúdir after him of course.
Leif returned to Greenland with some grapes and also timber, which was scarce in Greenland, and this need of having wood to build, led to many more voyages into Vinland, however no one remained there to make a living, for they always return to Greenland, back to their homes.
Vinland wasn’t empty of course, and there are many accounts of interections between the Norse people and the natives of that land, to whom the Norsemen called Skrælingjar. Leif’s brother Thorvald is thought to be the first European to initiate contact and of course the first European to kill the people he met.
All of these findings had little importance to the Norse people by this time it seems, however people talked about it, so it is possible that Christopher Columbus on one of his voyages to Iceland, had heard about Vinland and the other lands to the west, and so he decided to start his own adventure.
Leif finally settled on the family farm in Greenland with his wife Thorgunna and their son Thorgil. It is said he was a wise man who spent his days converting people to the new religion, much to the consternation of his own father who was still a pagan man, however, this was of much delight to his own mother, it was she who built ( or asked to ) the first church in Greenland, Thjodhild’s Church.
Leif isn’t as well known as Columbus, but in many places his voyages to Vinland are celebrated, as Leif Eiriksson’s Day
* The king’s Hirðman was some kind of bodyguard and also an adviser of the King, incorporated into the army.
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