Leif Eiriksson, “Leif the Lucky” (Leifr EirÝksson, nicknamed, Leifr hin heppni)
Leif, son of Eirik the Red, must have been born in Iceland, probably in the period 975-980. In the late 990s he served as a retainer to King Olaf Tryggvason in Norway. Serving as a retainer for a couple of years to an illustrious king or chieftain was part of the formal education of any well-bred young man. This was a time when he could distinguish himself in combat, sports, and social manners. It was also a time when networks were formed which could be advantageous in the future.
On the way to Norway, Leif stopped in the Hebrides. Here he had a romance with Thorgunna, the daughter of the local chief. Thorgunna became pregnant, but Leif, although he acknowledged paternity, had no intention of marrying her and left for Norway. Years later, Thorgunna sent the child, a boy named Thorgils, to Leif in Greenland. Thorgils never became popular. People said that there was something uncanny about him. Leif had another son, Thorkel, presumably legitimate, who succeeded him as chieftain.
Both Eirik the Red’s Saga and The Saga of the Greenlanders say that Olaf Tryggvason commanded Leif to bring Christianity to Greenland. This has been disputed by scholars as other sources do not mention Greenland among the countries christianized by Olaf. However, excavations in Greenland have shown that people buried in Leif’s life time were Christian. By bringing Christianity to his homeland, Leif would have formed a useful alliance with Olaf Tryggvason, one of the mightiest kings in Scandinavia, so he may well have had his own reasons for the conversion.
Leif is described as being a big strong man of striking appearance, wise and magnanimous. Around the year 1000 he led the first exploration journey to Vinland and set up a base there. Shortly after his return to Greenland, Eirik died, and Leif took over the chieftainship. He retained ownership of Vinland and authorized all subsequent expeditions, which meant that their leaders had to give him a part of their cargo as tax.
Leif died between 1019 and 1025. All we know about his family is that by 1025 his son Thorkel Leifsson had succeeded him as chieftain. Nothing further is known about his family or descendants.
Chapters in Books
- B. Wallace, trans., [Leif Eriksson in] Ëlßfs saga helga [Saga of Olaf the Holy] , Heimskringla Snorra Sturlusonar. Konungas÷gur. Volume 2, 1947
- Keneva Kunz, trans., [Leif Eriksson in] The Saga of the Greenlanders, The Sagas of Icelanders: A Selection, preface by Jane Smiley, introduction by Robert Kellogg, 2000
- Keneva Kunz, trans., [Leif Eriksson in] Eirik the Red's Saga, The Sagas of Icelanders: A Selection, preface by Jane Smiley, introduction by Robert Kellogg, 2000