Eric the Red (950?-1003 or 1004?) was a Viking explorer who was the first European in Greenland. He sailed from Iceland in 982 and led a group of colonists to Greenland in 986.
Eric the Red (also called Erik Thorvaldson, Eirik Raude, or Eirik Torvaldsson) was born in Norway, but his family settled in western Iceland, after his father, Thorvald Asvaldsson, was banished for murdering a man. Eric later killed two men in Iceland and was banished from Iceland for three years.
After hearing of the discovery by Gunnbjorn Olfsson of some islands that lay west of Iceland, Eric decided to sail to these islands during his banishment. With a crew, he sailed due west from from the Snaefellsnes Peninsula in 982. He found Gunnbjorn’s islands (off eastern Greenland near what is now Angmagssalik) and then landed on the coast of eastern Greenland. He named this harsh place Midjokull (which means “middle glacier”). Eric then sailed south and rounded the southern tip of Greenland (Cape Farewell). He again landed on the southwestern coast (this area would later be called Eystribygd, meaning the Eastern Settlement). After spending the winter on “Erik’s Island,” he sailed up Erik’s fjord. He spent the two following winters at the southern tip of Greenland, exploring the area.
In 985, Eric’s banishment from Iceland was over, so he returned to Breidafjord, Iceland. He called this new land Greenland (even though it was covered with ice) to make it sound nicer than it was and encourage settlement (Eric was feuding with many people on Iceland and wanted to start a new settlement without his enemies). Eric and 400 to 500 settlers in 14 ships arrived to settle Greenland in 986. They settled in Brattahlid (now called Julianehåb), the Eastern Settlement and Godthab (or Nuuk), the Western Settlement. After doing well for a while, the settlements experienced unusually cold weather. Some of the settlers returned to Iceland (the last recorded voyage between Iceland and Greenland was in 1410), but the rest of the settlers disappeared. It is thought that either the Inuit people attacked the settlers or they died from epidemics and starvation.
Eric had a daughter, Freydis, and three sons, the explorer Leif Ericsson, Thorvald, and Thorsteinn. Eric died sometime during the winter of 1003-1004.
The Vikings used long wooden ships (called knorrs); these ships had a large, square sail on a central mast.