Leif Erikson: The Viking Explorer Who First Set Foot in North America

Table of Contents:

  1. Introduction
  2. Leaf Erickson: The Viking Explorer
  3. Two Sagas, Two Perspectives
  4. Erickson’s Journey to North America
  5. The Naming of Lands
  6. The Legacy of Viking Exploration
  7. The Trustworthiness of Sagas
  8. Conclusion


The story of Christopher Columbus discovering America has long been known and debated. Questions about whether it can truly be called a discovery when the land was already inhabited and the fact that Columbus explored South and Central America rather than North America are valid. However, another significant inquiry often gets overshadowed: why is the credit for the discovery of the Americas by Europeans given to Columbus and not the Vikings?

Leaf Erickson: The Viking Explorer:

Approximately five centuries before Christopher Columbus set foot on American soil, it was Leif Erikson, a Scandinavian Viking, who became the first European to do so. Leif Erikson was born in Iceland around 970 AD to the prominent Viking explorer Eric the Red. His childhood was spent partly in Greenland, where his father founded a new settlement after being exiled from Iceland. As an adult, Erikson journeyed to Norway, where he was convinced by King Olaf I to convert to Christianity and return to Greenland to convert his fellow settlers.

Two Sagas, Two Perspectives:

Two sagas provide differing accounts of Erikson’s journey to the New World. These Icelandic legends, originally passed down orally and later written, give a timeline starting around 1000 AD, but their details vary. In the Saga of the Greenlanders, Erikson hears tales of a mysterious land across the ocean from a man named Bjarni Herj√≥lfsson and embarks on a voyage with 35 men, landing in what is now believed to be Baffin Island. In the Saga of Eric the Red, Erikson stumbles upon the American continent accidentally while returning to Greenland from Norway.

Erikson’s Journey to North America:

Erikson and his crew successfully crossed the vast Atlantic and reached the shores of North America, specifically somewhere in present-day Canada. He named this newfound land “Helluland,” which in Old Norse means “stone-slab land,” possibly referring to Baffin Island. The Vikings continued southward, likely reaching modern-day Labrador, which Erikson called “Markland” (forest land). Their explorations eventually led them to the tip of Newfoundland, where they set up a base camp and spent the winter, taking advantage of the milder climate and abundant resources.

The Naming of Lands:

Erikson’s exploration revealed a bountiful land with rivers teeming with salmon, lush greenery, and abundant wild grapes, leading him to name the region “Vinland” or “wine land.” While this may seem like an explorer’s dream, the two sagas differ on whether Erikson’s journey was intentional or accidental.

The Legacy of Viking Exploration:

After Erikson’s expedition, he became the chief of the Greenland settlement upon his return and did not venture back to North American lands. However, other Vikings continued to explore the New World in the following years, establishing temporary settlements. Only three years after Erikson’s expedition, his brother was killed in ongoing conflicts with native populations, potentially making him the first European buried in American soil.

The Trustworthiness of Sagas:

The authenticity of the sagas as historical records has been a subject of debate. Many historians and archaeologists argue that these Icelandic stories contain real historical facts, even if some details may have been altered over the years. Evidence supporting Erikson’s journey to North America has been discovered, aligning with the sagas’ accounts.


In conclusion, the question of whether Christopher Columbus or Leif Erikson was the first European to discover the Americas remains a topic of debate. Columbus explored the South and Central parts, while the Vikings explored the North five centuries earlier. However, it is essential to recognize that the Americas were already inhabited by indigenous tribes, challenging the notion of European “discovery.” Nonetheless, the evidence from Erikson’s settlements in Newfoundland and the sagas’ historical accuracy validate the Viking exploration of North America, marking it as a significant part of the continent’s history.

  1. Who was Leif Erikson, and why is he significant in history?

    Leif Erikson was a Scandinavian Viking explorer born around 970 AD. He is significant in history as the first European to set foot in North America, specifically in areas now believed to be Canada. His exploration of North America occurred approximately five centuries before Christopher Columbus, making him a pioneer in European exploration of the New World.

  2. What evidence supports Leif Erikson’s journey to North America?

    Evidence supporting Leif Erikson’s journey to North America includes the two Icelandic sagas, the Saga of the Greenlanders and the Saga of Eric the Red, which provide detailed accounts of his voyages. Additionally, archaeological findings, such as the discovery of Viking settlements in Newfoundland, align with the sagas’ descriptions. Scientific analysis of wood from these ruins also dates back to the same century as Erikson’s alleged presence, further corroborating his historic exploration.