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Erik the Red
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Erik the Red

Erik the Red (Eiríkur Rauði c.950-1003) was the founder of the first Nordic settlement in Greenland (long before it had been named Greenland, it had been inhabited by the Inuit people) and father of Leifur "the Lucky" Eiríksson (Leif Ericson). Erik the Red was so called because of his red hair. Born in Norway, he was the son of Þorvaldur (notice that the letter at the beginning of this first name is a thorn) Ásvaldsson (Thorvald Asvaldsson), and was also called Erik Torvaldsson (or Eiríkur Þorvaldsson). Note that the Þorvaldsson is a patronymic, not a surname.

In about 960, Erik's father was forced to flee Norway because of a murder. The family settled in Iceland, but in 982, Erik was outlawed there too because of another murder. He decided to search for a land further west of Iceland which had been spotted earlier by a discoverer named Gunnbjörn, who gave it the name "Gunnbjarnarsker" ("Gunnbjörn's skerries").

According to The Saga of Eric the Red, he spent three years in outlawry (his period of banishment) exploring the coast of Greenland, and then returned to Iceland with tall stories about this new-found land. With a large number of colonists, he returned to Greenland in 985 and established two colonies on its west coast: the eastern settlement (near the south point), which he named Eystribyggð ("red dragon" in old Swedish) and the western settlement, Vestribyggð (around Nuuk). In Osterbygd, he built the estate Brattahlíð, near what is now Narssarssuaq, for himself. His title was that of paramount chieftain of Greenland. The settlement venture involved twenty-five ships, fourteen of which made the journey successfully--some turned back, while others were lost at sea.

The settlement flourished, growing to over 3000 inhabitants; the original party was joined by groups of immigrants escaping overcrowding in Iceland. However, one group of immigrants that arrived in 1002 brought with it an epidemic that decimated the colony, killing many of its leading citizens, including Erik in the winter of 1003. Nevertheless, the colony was able to bounce back and survived well into the 15th century, shortly before Christopher Columbus made his fateful journey.

As far as is known, Erik had four children. He had a daughter, Freydís, as well as three sons, the explorer Leifur Eiríksson, Þorvald, and Þorsteinn. He was a pagan, unlike his son Leifur.