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Erik the Red
06.12.2015 165030126708

"The people will be more easily persuaded to move there if the land has an attractive name."


 

Hey guys, I’m still working hard to promote my book on Vikings, which is awesome and totally worth the ten bucks Amazon is trying to charge you for it, so this week I’m presenting another chapter on one of the most badass Viking warriors to ever take down a Polar Bear with a hatchet – Erik the Red.  I hope you like it, and I’ll be back next week with something less Viking-related (probably).  Also, if you live in the greater Seattle area, I’m doing a book reading/signing and answering at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park on Wednesday, June 17th at 7pm.  Hopefully I’ll see you there.

Erik the Red was a gigantic Viking maniac with a humongous red beard, a steady axe-swinging hand, and a ferocious, rageful temper who completely flew off the handle and mass murdered his neighbors on more than one occasion.  He was banished from two different Viking countries for being too over-the-top with his homicidal behavior, and in his exile from civilized society ended up braving the uncharted wilderness of a previously-unexplored land, somehow convinced like 400 people to follow him into the settlement of an unknown island that was blanketed by glaciers on 90% of its surface, became the ruler of his own private supervillain-style island fortress, and laid the foundation for the Norse people to discover the American continent roughly 500 years before Christopher Columbus led his now-famous voyage to the New World.

 

 

Erik, whose name comes from his red hair and fiery beard rather than his penchant for freaking out berserker-style and planting a hatchet in his next-door neighbors every time they forgot to return the lawnmower they borrowed, first shows up in history at around 980 AD.  According to the sagas, Erik and his Dad had been forced to sail the 700 miles from Norway to Iceland after being convicted of “some killings,” probably in one of the family blood feuds the Vikings were so famous for, and both men were outlawed from ever returning.  Erik, already in his 30s by this point, settled down in Iceland, bought a farm, raised sheep, married a woman named Thjoldhild (Erik’s mother-in-law was even-more-awesomely known as “Thorbjorg Ship-Bosom”), probably went on a few Viking raids in the summertime, and did well enough for himself that he was able to afford a bunch of nice stuff like livestock, gold, jewelry, and slaves.

Things were going pretty great until one day some of Erik’s slaves were messing around with something and accidentally caused a huge landslide that crushed Erik’s neighbor’s house with an avalanche of boulders and dirt.  The neighbor, a little ticked-off about this turn of events, clawed his way out of the rubble, got together a couple of his closest friends, and killed all the slaves with an axe. 

Bad move.

 

 

Erik returned his neighbor’s kindness by knocking on the dude’s door and burying a sword in him when he opened it.  That guy’s cousin, a battle-hardened warrior known as Hrafn the Dueler, challenged Erik to a duel, so Erik the Red killed that idiot too. 

The dead neighbor’s kinsmen, wising up to the fact that Erik the Red was friggin’ ginormous and knew how to handle himself in an ultra-vengeance  showdown, went the more civilized route and brought charges against Erik at the local Thing – a meeting of townspeople to discuss laws and settle disputes.  Erik was sentenced to Lesser Outlawry, meaning that he had three years to get the heck out of Iceland, and that he wouldn’t be allowed to return for three more years.

Now barred from Iceland and Norway, Erik the Red headed to a small town to try and figure out what the heck he was going to do.  While he was living there, a neighbor of his named Thorgest asked to borrow some bench boards because he was having some friends over for dinner, so Erik, being the good neighbor that he was, was like yeah buddy no problem of course.  Thorgest borrowed the benches, but then never returned them.  After a few months had passed, Erik went to see what was going on with those missing boards, and while he and Thorgest were having a civilized discussion all of a sudden weapons were drawn and Erik found himself in a huge brawl where he killed Thorgest’s two adult sons and “certain other men” in hand-to-hand combat with a huge two-handed Viking longaxe. 

 

 

Erik found himself in Thing Court once more, and this time he was upgraded from Lesser Outlaw to Full Outlaw.  This means that now only would he lose all of his land and property and be forced to leave the country immediately, but that it was illegal for any Icelander to help him in any way and any person from Iceland could just run up and kill him on sight without any legal penalty for doing so.  The two families who had suffered murdered family members on account of Erik were pretty happy about this, and immediately formed up vigilante posses to hunt this dude down and kill him beyond recognition.

Erik the Red, for his part, was done with all this garbage.  He was outta here.  Civilized life was for chumps anyways.

Erik got together his family, a couple friends, and a few slaves and livestock, loaded them onto a rickety old ship, and sailed as far away from civilization as he could get.  Instead of heading East towards England, Denmark, or Europe, he went West in search of an uncharted land mass that had only been discovered about seventy years earlier – a huge, glacier-covered island we now know as Greenland. 

 

 

Greenland had been accidentally discovered by Gunnbjorn Ulf-Krakson, who found a “bleak land of ice” when he was looking for Iceland.  Unimpressed, Ulf-Krakson turned around immediately and went back home.  About twenty years after that a guy named Snaebjorn Galti and a group of colonists tried to settle on one of the frozen islands off the coast of Greenland (known by then as “Gunnbjorn’s Skerries”), but that didn’t work out so hot – living in Gunnbjorn’s Skerries sucked so bad that all the colonists killed each other a few months after they moved there.  The settlement was never heard from again, and nobody had even tried to sail near there in like fifty years

So you can see the appeal for Erik the Red.

Sailing five days in an old ship, hammered by storms, evading Titanic-sinking glaciers in the North Atlantic, and riding out high winds and waves in a rickety wooden boat (Icelandic lumber was no good for ship-building, so all the boats in Iceland were old used car-style ships that had been built in Norway many years earlier), Erik and his family made the perilous lone journey through uncharted waters to an island no European had ever set foot on before.  Erik found nothing of value on the East side of the island, but after he ventured around the cape on the southern end of the island he found a few decent spots on the West side that would be perfect pasture for livestock.  Erik settled down, unloaded his stuff, and prepared to live the next three years as an awesome survivalist mountain man, living off the land with only his wits and strength to keep himself and his family alive.

 

 

Erik climbed mountains, sailed up and down inlets, discovered fjords and forests and green pastures, identified a few good places for settlements, and named almost every geographic feature on the world’s largest island after himself.  He survived three years in the hostile, freezing climate of Greenland, fishing for salmon and cod in the fjords, raising goats and cows in the fields, and constantly laughing his butt off because the native animals of the island had never seen people before so you could literally walk right up to them and bop them on the head with an axe and then turn their bodies for everything from stylish fur coats to a delicious Sunday brunch. 

While he was gone Erik somehow apparently managed to get his Full Outlaw status downgraded to Lesser Outlaw (how he did this isn’t clear, but it definitely involved another round of sword-on-sword combat with his old neighbor Thorgest), and when he triumphantly returned to Iceland in 985 he had some amazing stories to tell people of how the new, glorious land he had discovered was so completely awesome that everyone should move there.  Even though he knew the place was almost entirely covered by glaciers and solid ice pack Erik told everyone he had named it Greenland because of its sprawling pastures and green fields.  His reasoning for the incongruous name, according to the sagas, is that "people would be more eager to go there if it had a good name."  Which is rad.

 

 

Inspired by his tales of adventure and his stories of a fantasy land where pretty girls and money and beer literally grow on trees, Erik the Red convinced hundreds of Icelanders to follow him back to Greenland and start a Viking colony there.  25 ships loaded with men, women, children and livestock set sail in 985. 

By the time they reached Greenland, only 14 of those ships remained – the rest had been sunk in storms, crashed into ice floes, or turned back due to rough seas and the sheer terror of the insane journey they were making.  The colonists, some of whom remarked that they couldn’t see the “green parts” of the island, still stayed and settled in two villages, with the main settlement, set up at a place known as Eriksfjord (after Erik of course), was home to nearly 400 villagers.   

 

 

The people of Greenland did pretty well for themselves.  They hunted reindeer, wild hares, whales and walruses, setting up trade with everyone from the Inuit to the Norwegians.  The main Greenland exports were ivory from walrus tusks and narwhal horns, whalebone crafts, and exotic pelts and furs from previously-unknown creatures like Polar Bears and Arctic Foxes. 

Even Erik settled down.  He had three kids, set up a couple churches (at his wife’s request… according to the tales he was “greatly annoyed” when she gave up the Heathen gods and took Catholicism as her religion), and ruled over the Greenlanders as a Jarl, arbitrating disputes, running the show, and, as far as we know, not flipping out and killing anyone with an axe from some arbitrary reason.  He did such a successful job of managing his colony (who saw that coming?!) that more and more people moved to Greenland over the next few years.  The colony thrived for nearly450 years, and eventually featured over 300 farms, was home to roughly 4,000 people, and had every Catholic religious structure ranging from a cathedral to a convent.  It would only fall apart in 1450, when a dramatic climate change made the land too cold for livestock and forced the Greenlanders to seek new lives elsewhere.  Nowadays it’s populated entirely by the Inuit, and is run as a self-governing community operating under the Danish Crown.

As for the mass-murdering explorer / Viking hero, Erik the Red would rule Greenland for the next 15 years or so.  Even as an old man he tried to accompany his son Leif Ericsson on an expedition that would eventually discover North America (I’ll deal with that story later), but while riding to the docks he was thrown from his horse, broke two ribs, and hurt his shoulder, and wasn’t able to make the trip to Canada.  He died of illness in 1001 AD, a man who went from violent outlaw to one of the greatest explorers and adventurers of the Viking Age.

 

 

Hey guys, I’m still working hard to promote my book on Vikings, which is awesome and totally worth the ten bucks Amazon is trying to charge you for it, so this week I’m presenting another chapter on one of the most badass Viking warriors to ever take down a Polar Bear with a hatchet – Erik the Red.  I hope you like it, and I’ll be back next week with something less Viking-related (probably).  Also, if you live in the greater Seattle area, I’m doing a book reading/signing and answering at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park on Wednesday, June 17th at 7pm.  Hopefully I’ll see you there.

 

Erik the Red was a gigantic Viking maniac with a humongous red beard, a steady axe-swinging hand, and a ferocious, rageful temper who completely flew off the handle and mass murdered his neighbors on more than one occasion.  He was banished from two different Viking countries for being too over-the-top with his homicidal behavior, and in his exile from civilized society ended up braving the uncharted wilderness of a previously-unexplored land, somehow convinced like 400 people to follow him into the settlement of an unknown island that was blanketed by glaciers on 90% of its surface, became the ruler of his own private supervillain-style island fortress, and laid the foundation for the Norse people to discover the American continent roughly 500 years before Christopher Columbus led his now-famous voyage to the New World.

 

<pic1>

 

Erik, whose name comes from his red hair and fiery beard rather than his penchant for freaking out berserker-style and planting a hatchet in his next-door neighbors every time they forgot to return the lawnmower they borrowed, first shows up in history at around 980 AD.  According to the sagas, Erik and his Dad had been forced to sail the 700 miles from Norway to Iceland after being convicted of “some killings,” probably in one of the family blood feuds the Vikings were so famous for, and both men were outlawed from ever returning.  Erik, already in his 30s by this point, settled down in Iceland, bought a farm, raised sheep, married a woman named Thjoldhild (Erik’s mother-in-law was even-more-awesomely known as “Thorbjorg Ship-Bosom”), probably went on a few Viking raids in the summertime, and did well enough for himself that he was able to afford a bunch of nice stuff like livestock, gold, jewelry, and slaves.

 

Things were going pretty great until one day some of Erik’s slaves were messing around with something and accidentally caused a huge landslide that crushed Erik’s neighbor’s house with an avalanche of boulders and dirt.  The neighbor, a little ticked-off about this turn of events, clawed his way out of the rubble, got together a couple of his closest friends, and killed all the slaves with an axe. 

 

Bad move.

 

<pic2>

 

Erik returned his neighbor’s kindness by knocking on the dude’s door and burying a sword in him when he opened it.  That guy’s cousin, a battle-hardened warrior known as Hrafn the Dueler, challenged Erik to a duel, so Erik the Red killed that idiot too. 

 

The dead neighbor’s kinsmen, wising up to the fact that Erik the Red was friggin’ ginormous and knew how to handle himself in an ultra-vengeance  showdown, went the more civilized route and brought charges against Erik at the local Thing – a meeting of townspeople to discuss laws and settle disputes.  Erik was sentenced to Lesser Outlawry, meaning that he had three years to get the heck out of Iceland, and that he wouldn’t be allowed to return for three more years.

 

Now barred from Iceland and Norway, Erik the Red headed to a small town to try and figure out what the heck he was going to do.  While he was living there, a neighbor of his named Thorgest asked to borrow some bench boards because he was having some friends over for dinner, so Erik, being the good neighbor that he was, was like yeah buddy no problem of course.  Thorgest borrowed the benches, but then never returned them.  After a few months had passed, Erik went to see what was going on with those missing boards, and while he and Thorgest were having a civilized discussion all of a sudden weapons were drawn and Erik found himself in a huge brawl where he killed Thorgest’s two adult sons and “certain other men” in hand-to-hand combat with a huge two-handed Viking longaxe. 

 

<pic3>

 

Erik found himself in Thing Court once more, and this time he was upgraded from Lesser Outlaw to Full Outlaw.  This means that now only would he lose all of his land and property and be forced to leave the country immediately, but that it was illegal for any Icelander to help him in any way and any person from Iceland could just run up and kill him on sight without any legal penalty for doing so.  The two families who had suffered murdered family members on account of Erik were pretty happy about this, and immediately formed up vigilante posses to hunt this dude down and kill him beyond recognition.

 

Erik the Red, for his part, was done with all this garbage.  He was outta here.  Civilized life was for chumps anyways.

 

Erik got together his family, a couple friends, and a few slaves and livestock, loaded them onto a rickety old ship, and sailed as far away from civilization as he could get.  Instead of heading East towards England, Denmark, or Europe, he went West in search of an uncharted land mass that had only been discovered about seventy years earlier – a huge, glacier-covered island we now know as Greenland. 

 

<pic4>

 

Greenland had been accidentally discovered by Gunnbjorn Ulf-Krakson, who found a “bleak land of ice” when he was looking for Iceland.  Unimpressed, Ulf-Krakson turned around immediately and went back home.  About twenty years after that a guy named Snaebjorn Galti and a group of colonists tried to settle on one of the frozen islands off the coast of Greenland (known by then as “Gunnbjorn’s Skerries”), but that didn’t work out so hot – living in Gunnbjorn’s Skerries sucked so bad that all the colonists killed each other a few months after they moved there.  The settlement was never heard from again, and nobody had even tried to sail near there in like fifty years

 

So you can see the appeal for Erik the Red.

 

Sailing five days in an old ship, hammered by storms, evading Titanic-sinking glaciers in the North Atlantic, and riding out high winds and waves in a rickety wooden boat (Icelandic lumber was no good for ship-building, so all the boats in Iceland were old used car-style ships that had been built in Norway many years earlier), Erik and his family made the perilous lone journey through uncharted waters to an island no European had ever set foot on before.  Erik found nothing of value on the East side of the island, but after he ventured around the cape on the southern end of the island he found a few decent spots on the West side that would be perfect pasture for livestock.  Erik settled down, unloaded his stuff, and prepared to live the next three years as an awesome survivalist mountain man, living off the land with only his wits and strength to keep himself and his family alive.

 

<pic5>

 

Erik climbed mountains, sailed up and down inlets, discovered fjords and forests and green pastures, identified a few good places for settlements, and named almost every geographic feature on the world’s largest island after himself.  He survived three years in the hostile, freezing climate of Greenland, fishing for salmon and cod in the fjords, raising goats and cows in the fields, and constantly laughing his butt off because the native animals of the island had never seen people before so you could literally walk right up to them and bop them on the head with an axe and then turn their bodies for everything from stylish fur coats to a delicious Sunday brunch. 

 

While he was gone Erik somehow apparently managed to get his Full Outlaw status downgraded to Lesser Outlaw (how he did this isn’t clear, but it definitely involved another round of sword-on-sword combat with his old neighbor Thorgest), and when he triumphantly returned to Iceland in 985 he had some amazing stories to tell people of how the new, glorious land he had discovered was so completely awesome that everyone should move there.  Even though he knew the place was almost entirely covered by glaciers and solid ice pack Erik told everyone he had named it Greenland because of its sprawling pastures and green fields.  His reasoning for the incongruous name, according to the sagas, is that "people would be more eager to go there if it had a good name."  Which is rad.

 

<pic6>

 

Inspired by his tales of adventure and his stories of a fantasy land where pretty girls and money and beer literally grow on trees, Erik the Red convinced hundreds of Icelanders to follow him back to Greenland and start a Viking colony there.  25 ships loaded with men, women, children and livestock set sail in 985. 

 

By the time they reached Greenland, only 14 of those ships remained – the rest had been sunk in storms, crashed into ice floes, or turned back due to rough seas and the sheer terror of the insane journey they were making.  The colonists, some of whom remarked that they couldn’t see the “green parts” of the island, still stayed and settled in two villages, with the main settlement, set up at a place known as Eriksfjord (after Erik of course), was home to nearly 400 villagers.   

 

<pic7>

 

The people of Greenland did pretty well for themselves.  They hunted reindeer, wild hares, whales and walruses, setting up trade with everyone from the Inuit to the Norwegians.  The main Greenland exports were ivory from walrus tusks and narwhal horns, whalebone crafts, and exotic pelts and furs from previously-unknown creatures like Polar Bears and Arctic Foxes. 

 

Even Erik settled down.  He had three kids, set up a couple churches (at his wife’s request… according to the tales he was “greatly annoyed” when she gave up the Heathen gods and took Catholicism as her religion), and ruled over the Greenlanders as a Jarl, arbitrating disputes, running the show, and, as far as we know, not flipping out and killing anyone with an axe from some arbitrary reason.  He did such a successful job of managing his colony (who saw that coming?!) that more and more people moved to Greenland over the next few years.  The colony thrived for nearly450 years, and eventually featured over 300 farms, was home to roughly 4,000 people, and had every Catholic religious structure ranging from a cathedral to a convent.  It would only fall apart in 1450, when a dramatic climate change made the land too cold for livestock and forced the Greenlanders to seek new lives elsewhere.  Nowadays it’s populated entirely by the Inuit, and is run as a self-governing community operating under the Danish Crown.

 

As for the mass-murdering explorer / Viking hero, Erik the Red would rule Greenland for the next 15 years or so.  Even as an old man he tried to accompany his son Leif Ericsson on an expedition that would eventually discover North America (I’ll deal with that story later), but while riding to the docks he was thrown from his horse, broke two ribs, and hurt his shoulder, and wasn’t able to make the trip to Canada.  He died of illness in 1001 AD, a man who went from violent outlaw to one of the greatest explorers and adventurers of the Viking Age.

 

<pic8>

 



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Tags: Iceland | Medieval | Naval/Maritime | Norway | Outlaw | Viking | Warrior | Greenland

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