A Brief History of Leif Erikson’s Contributions to Exploration

We’ve all heard of Christopher Columbus, but have you heard of the explorer Leif Erikson? Read on for a few recs and a brief history of his impact on North America.

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Leif Erikson standing with a battle axe and a few other voyagers and a rowboat in the background

Contrary to popular belief, Christopher Columbus was not the first European to enter North America. Leif Erikson, a Norse explorer, landed in North America approximately five hundred years before Columbus. It’s believed that he and others with him on the expedition landed in Vinland, which is modern-day Newfoundland, in Canada. There aren’t many books (or much information) about Erikson, but there are a few stories about his life. The most popular is his arrival in Vinland, though even that one has different variations. Let’s look into them.

Leif Erikson’s History

Erikson was the second son of Erik the Red, who is believed to be the founder (and colonizer) of the first European settlement in Greenland. Erikson was born in Iceland, but he grew up in Greenland after his father colonized it and brought his family and other settlers over. In the year 1000, he sailed from Greenland to Norway to serve King Olaf I Tryggvason. The king also converted Erikson to Christianity, specifically Catholicism. He later urged Erikson to return to Greenland to spread the religion.

Painting of Leif Erikson wearing a helmet

There are a couple of stories as to how and why Erikson landed in Vinland. One story says that he was blown off course when he tried returning to Greenland from Norway. He saw the fertile land, the quality timber, and the grapes and named it Vinland (Land of Wine). Another story, considered more reputable, is that Erikson heard of the new land from the Icelandic explorer Bjarni Herjólfsson. He made preparations for an adventure and soon set sail.

Who was Leif Erikson is a great book for more information on Erikson’s life and accomplishments. It goes into his background and his explorations.

“Discovered” North America

Like Columbus, Erikson didn’t discover America; there were already people living there. Most likely, the Mi’kmaq, Beothuk, and Innu tribes as they lived around the area Erikson and others landed in. (Records of this aren’t great, so it is possible that other tribes, were living there at the time when Erikson landed.) The Vinland Sagas (Icelandic texts written in the 13th century about Norse voyages to Vinland) showed encounters with the Mi’kmaq, Beothuk, and Innu tribes. Whether Erikson personally interacted with them or not is unclear; however, the tribes did have contact with the explorers.

Map of Leif Erikson's voyage around Europe and to North America

Perhaps ten years after establishing a settlement, they abruptly abandoned it. The Vikings seemed to have brought all their equipment back with them to Greenland, which hints that this was a planned exit. Another possibility is that they fled from attacks from First Nations people. They returned to Greenland and continued exploring other parts of the world.

For a book on Viking history and culture and how it shaped Erikson, be sure to pick up Leif Erikson: A Captivating Guide to the Viking Explorer Who Beat Columbus to America and Established a Norse Settlement at Vinland.

Additional Books About Leif Erikson

Leif the Lucky

'Leif the Lucky' by Ingri & Edgar Parin D'Aulaire book cover with a young boy staring

This is a delightful illustrated book for children and adults about Leif Erikson as an adventurous boy. It covers him traveling to Greenland with his father and then later to North America. He arrives at a wonderful land full of trees, he wrestles with polar bear cubs, becomes strong and brave, and more. The illustrations are beautiful, and the story captures the spirit of ancient sagas in this captivating biography.

The Book of Viking Myths: From the Voyages of Leif Erikson to the Deeds of Odin, the Storied History and Folklore of the Vikings

'The Book of Viking Myths: From the Voyages of Leif Erikson to the Deeds of Odin, the Storied History and Folklore of the Vikings' by Peter Archer book cover with dark blue cover showing mountains in the background

Vikings have been popular throughout history, but who were they? This book goes into their stories, their myths, gods, monsters, and more. There are stories about their heroes and famous figures such as Freyja and the wolf Fenrir. The book also goes into the influences Viking culture has had on the world, truly exploring their culture and history.

Vikings: A Captivating Guide to the History of the Vikings, Erik the Red and Leif Erikson

'Vikings: A Captivating Guide to the History of the Vikings, Erik the Red and Leif Erikson' by Captivating History book cover with eight images of boats and statues

Vikings were undoubtedly brutal. They attacked Europe and Britain relentlessly with their incredible warrior skills to gain money and land. But their impact, and their culture, were more than just conquering. This book is divided into three sections: great Viking accomplishments and heroic warriors (such as Ivar the Boneless and Harald Hardrada); Erik the Red, from his early life to his impact on Greenland; and Leif Erikson, from his time in Greenland to where he stands in history.

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