Eirikr rauði Þorvaldsson (approx. 950-1003 AD) was called Erik the Red because of his red beard and hair, and perhaps also because of his fiery temper. It is said that he was a particularly hot-headed fellow who, after being exiled from first Norway and later Iceland, finally settled in Greenland.
Erik the Red's saga
According to the sagas, his father, Þorvaldr Ásvaldsson, was exiled from Norway in 960 AD as a result of 'a number of killings', and Erik's entire family thus settled on Iceland. Here Erik the Red married Tjodhilde, but history now repeated itself and his father's fate also befell Erik. In 982 he was sentenced to exile from Iceland for three years for murder.
Erik the Red's discovery of Greenland
It is for this reason that in the same year he sailed west and discovered a country with an inviting fjord landscape and fertile green valleys. He was extremely impressed with the new country's resources and he returned to Iceland to spread the word of "The green land".
Erik the Red clearly had great powers of persuasion because in 985 he set sail once more from the volcanic island leading a fleet of 25 ships on course for Greenland. Onboard were around 500 men and women, domestic animals and all the other elements required to create a new existence in a new country.
Of the 25 ships only 14 made it to their destination. Erik the Red established the chieftain's seat of power at Brattahlið - now Qassiarsuk - in Southern Greenland, whilst others continued further north to the fjord near Nuuk. The two societies were known as the east and west settlements.
First Christian church in North America
In around the year 1000 Erik the Red's son, Leif Eriksson, returned to Greenland following a long period in Norway, and Leif - whose byname was 'the Fortunate' - brought with him the first Christian missionaries. Shortly afterwards the first Christian church on the North American continent, Tjodhilde's Church, was built in Brattahlið. Today a reconstruction of the small church can be seen in Qassiarsuk.
By the year 1000 the Viking societies numbered some 3,000 inhabitants on 300-400 farms. The Viking society survived for 500 years. The reason for its disappearance remains a great mystery, but a colder climate, conflicts with the Inuit people, European pirates, overgrazing and bouts of plague have all been put forward as possible causes of its demise.