Erik the Red


Erik "the Red" Thorvaldsson (Old Norse/Icelandic Eiríkr / Eiríkur rauði Þorvaldsson, Norwegian. Eirik Raude, c. 950 in Jæren, Norway; † c. 1003 in Brattahlíð, Greenland) was a Norwegian-Icelandic navigator and explorer.

He is known as the founder of the first Scandinavian settlement in Greenland. His nickname the Red came about because of his red head and beard hair and because "blood was on his hands." The Eiríks saga rauða bears his name.

Life of Erik the Red

Erik was born in Norway, the son of Þorvaldur Ásvaldsson, so his real name was Erik Þorvaldsson "the Red" (Eiríkur rauði Þorvaldsson). As usual in the old Scandinavian languages, Þorvaldsson or Ásvaldsson do not represent surnames, but a patronymic.

Around 970, Erik's father had to flee Norway because he had committed murder. The family settled in Iceland. Erik was expelled from Iceland for three years in 982 because he had also committed a murder there.

Before he decided to seek a land in the west, which had been sighted earlier by Gunnbjörn Úlfsson and was known as Gunnbjörn's Archipelago (Gunnbjarnarsker), he withdrew from the judicial district where it was pronounced because of the sentence passed.

However, even there he could not live unmolested, as he now bore the stigma of a murderer. He then headed west without his wife and children, whom he did not meet again until four years later.

Map of the North Atlantic from Scandinavia to Greenland (with some fantasy islands) by Abraham Ortelius, 1573.

According to the saga, he spent the three years of exile on Greenland, whose coasts he explored.

Due to the long winters, Erik and his crew came close to starvation several times. He then returned to Iceland and recruited colonists. He is credited with the promotional name Greenland (green land).

He sailed to Greenland in 985 with 25 ships and many people. 14 ships arrived, 11 were lost at sea. The Icelanders founded two settlements, Eystribygð (New Icelandic: Eystribyggð) in the south near present-day Narsarsuaq, and Vestribygð (New Icelandic: Vestribyggð) near what later became Nuuk. In Eystribygð Erik established his farm Brattahlíð.

The settlements flourished and grew to over 3,000 inhabitants as there was further influx from Iceland.

A major blow was an epidemic that brought new colonists to Greenland in 1002, to which Erik also fell victim. The colony recovered, however, and existed until the 15th century, although regular shipping with Europe ceased earlier.

As far as is known, Erik had four children: Leif Eriksson, who sailed to Vinland (Newfoundland), Thorvald Eiriksson, Þorsteinn Eiríksson and Freydís Eiríksdóttir.

Erik the Red in Modern Culture

The oil rig Eirik Raude (Norwegian) is named after Erik the Red.

The part of Greenland on the northern east coast occupied by Norway from 1931 to 1933 was called Eirik Raude's Land.

The album "Eric the Red" by the Faroese metal band Týr is named after Erik, and the German pagan metal band Black Messiah tells Erik's story in the song "Erik, Der Rote" on their album "Of Myths And Legends". The concept album "Durch Blut Und Eis" by the German Viking metal band Thrudvangar is completely dedicated to Erik the Red and also the German power metal band Rebellion tells his story in the song "Eric the Red".

"Erik the Red" is also the name of a comic book character from Marvel Comics. The name has been used by a total of three different comic book characters as a masked identity with the same costume: Cyclops, Davan Shakari and Magneto.

In the Asterix comic The Great Crossing, the leader of the Normans who wants to discover a new land and then bring Asterix and Obelix back to Europe as natives of America is called "Red Erik". He ends up asking himself the question, "Can I be an explorer or not?"

In Fabian Lenk's collection The Time Detectives with Wild Vikings, the time thriller The Curse of the Vikings focuses on Erik the Red after his return from exile: Julian, Kim, Leon, and the cat Kija meet Erik's son Leif when Erik inspires many Icelanders to cross to Greenland. After a raid and a heavy sea storm, they reach Eriksfjord with only 11 ships instead of 25. While building the new settlement they are attacked by strangers and later Erik's son Leif is captured. This is the act of revenge of Thorgest, whose sons Erik had killed in a fight and for which Erik was sent into exile. When Thorgest's and Erik's fighters face each other in battle, Julian asks both sides to lay down their arms and build the settlement together. Leif is released and the opponents ally.