Leif Ericsson

Leif Erikson Statue in Trodheim Norway
Leif Erikson Statue in Norway
Leif Ericsson is perhaps the best known of all the ancient medieval Vikings. There is confusion about how to correctly spell his name. The most common spellings are Leif Ericsson, Leif Ericson, Leif Eriksson, Leif Erikson, or Leifur Eiriksson. He was a Viking explorer who lived from approximately 970 AD to 1020 AD. This Norseman is believed to be the first European to discover America beating Christopher Columbus by some 500 years. On this page we will provide information on who this famous Viking was, where he lived, and how he was able to discover America.

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Who Was Leif Ericsson

Leif Ericsson was born in Iceland around 970 AD. His father was Eric the Red (also called Erik the Red) who was a famous Viking explorer and outlaw. His mother’s name was Thjodhild and he is believed to have had two brothers and one sister.

In 985 AD Leif Ericsson sailed with his family to Greenland where his father established the first European settlement there. He stayed in Greenland for about fifteen years. He married a woman by the name of Thorgunna and had one son named Thorgils.

In 1000 AD he sailed to his homeland Norway. In Norway he became a Christian. The king of Norway, Olaf Tryggvason, asked him to return to Greenland and convert the settlers there to Christianity.

Leif Ericsson Discovers America

There are conflicting stories on how Leif Ericsson discovered America. One story is that while sailing from Norway back to Greenland, with the mission of converting the Greenland settlements to Christianity, he was blown off course and ended up in North America. Another version has Leif Ericson sailing for North America intentionally after hearing about it from a voyager named Bjarni Herjolfsson. If this is the case then Leif Ericsson was not the first European to discover America. No matter whether intentional or not it is presumed he landed in what is now Newfoundland Canada. He established a small settlement in what he called Vinland.

The Vikings had selected an excellent location for their settlement. There was a river full of Salmon, there was not too much frost in the winter, and there were and endless amount of trees (wood was a scarce commodity in Greenland). However due to fighting with the native people and internal conflicts the settlement lasted for less than two years.

The main source of information about the voyage of Leif Ericson to America comes from two Icelandic sagas, the Saga of the Greenlanders and the Saga of Eric the Red. These sagas were written down many years after Leif Ericsson sailed to America. This caused a lot of speculation about their accuracy and cast doubt on whether he really ever sailed to America. However in the 1960's archaeologist discovered the remains of a Norse settlement in Newfoundland dating back to the time Leif Ericson is said to have settled there.

Leif Erikson Day

Leif Erikson died in approximately 1020 AD, of unknown causes, but his place in history is well established. October 9th has been officially designated Leif Erikson Day in the United States. The Congress of the United States of America, by joint resolution (Public Law 88-566) approved on September 2, 1964, authorized, and requested the President to proclaim October 9 of each year as "Leif Erikson Day". On this day the president calls upon "all Americans to observe this day with appropriate ceremonies, activities, and programs to honor our rich Nordic-American heritage."