A Brief History of Eric the Red


From The Finding of Wineland the Good (1890)
by Arthur Middleton Reeves
Chapter 3: The Wineland History of the Flatey Book
by Anonymous, translated by Arthur Middleton Reeves


There was a man named Thorvald, a son of Osvald, Ulf’s son, Eyxna-Thori’s son. Thorvald and Eric the Red, his son, left Jaederen [in Norway], on account of manslaughter, and went to Iceland. At this time Iceland was extensively colonized. They first lived at Drangar on Horn-strands, and there Thorvald died. Eric then married Thorhild, the daughter of Jorund and Thorbiorg the Ship-chested[22], who was then married to Thorbiorn of the Haukadal family. Eric then removed from the north, and made his home at Ericsstadir by Vatnshorn. Eric and Thorhild’s son was called Leif.


After the killing of Eyiulf the Foul[23], and Duelling-Hrafn, Eric was banished from Haukadal, and betook himself westward to Breidafirth, settling in Eyxney at Ericsstadir. He loaned his outer daïs-boards to Thorgest, and could not get these again when he demanded them. This gave rise to broils and battles between himself and Thorgest, as Eric’s Saga relates[24]. Eric was backed in the dispute by Styr Thorgrimsson, Eyiulf of Sviney, the sons of Brand of Alptafirth and Thorbiorn Vifilsson, while the Thorgesters were upheld by the sons of Thord the Yeller[25] and Thorgeir of Hitardal. Eric was declared an outlaw at Thorsnessthing. He thereupon equipped his ship for a voyage, in Ericsvag, and when he was ready to sail, Styr and the others[26] accompanied him out beyond the islands. Eric told them, that it was his purpose to go in search of that country which Gunnbiorn, son of Ulf the Crow[27], had seen, when he was driven westward across the main, at the time when he discovered Gunnbiorns-skerries; he added, that he would return to his friends, if he should succeed in finding this country. Eric sailed out from Snaefellsiokul, and found the land. He gave the name of Midiokul to his landfall[28]; this is now called Blacksark. From thence he proceeded southward along the coast; in search of habitable land. He passed the first winter at Ericsey, near the middle of the Eastern-settlement, and the following spring he went to Ericsfirth, where he selected a dwelling-place. In the summer he visited the western uninhabited country, and assigned names to many of the localities. The second winter he remained at Holmar by Hrafnsgnipa[29], and the third summer he sailed northward to Snæfell, and all the way into Hrafnsfirth; then he said he reached the head of Ericsfirth. He then returned and passed the third winter at Ericsey at the mouth of Ericsfirth. The next summer he sailed to Iceland, landing in Breidafirth. He called the country, which he had discovered, Greenland, because, he said, people would be attracted thither, if the country had a good name. Eric spent the winter in Iceland, and the following summer set out to colonize the country. He settled at Brattahlid in Ericsfirth, and learned men say, that in this same summer, in which Eric set out to settle Greenland, thirty-five[30] ships sailed out of Breidafirth and Borgarfirth; fourteen of these arrived there safely, some were driven back and some were lost. This was fifteen years before Christianity was legally adopted in Iceland[31]. During the same summer Bishop Frederick and Thorvald Kodransson (61) went abroad [from Iceland]. Of those men, who accompanied Eric to Greenland, the following took possession of land there: Heriulf, Heriulfsfirth, he swelt at Heriulfsness; Ketil, Ketilsfirth; Hrafn, Hrafnsfirth; Solvi, Solvadal; Helgi Thorbrandsson, Alptafirth; Thorbiorn Gleamer[32], Siglufirth; Einar, Einarsfirth; Hafgrim, Hafgrimsfirth and Vatnahverfi; Arnlaug, Arnlaugsfirth; while some went to the Western-settlement.


Leif the Lucky Baptized[33].

After that sixteen winters had lapsed, from the time when Eric the Red went to colonize Greenland, Leif, Eric’s son, sailed out from Greenland to Norway. He arrived in Drontheim[34] in the autumn, when King Olaf Tryggvason was come down from the north, out of Halagoland. Leif put in to Nidaros with his ship, and set out at once to visit the king. King Olaf expounded the faith to him, as he did to other heathen men who came to visit him. It proved easy for the king to persuade Leif, and he was accordingly baptized, together with all of his shipmates. Leif remained through the winter with the king, by whom he was well entertained.


Biarni goes in quest of[35] Greenland.

Heriulf (62) was a son of Bard Heriulfsson. He was a kinsman of Ingolf, the first colonist. Ingolf allotted land to Heriulf[36] between Vág and Reykianess, and he dwelt first at Drepstokk. Heriulf’s wife’s name was Thorgerd, and their son, whose name was Biarni, was a most promising man. He formed an inclination for voyaging[37] while he was still young, and he prospered both in property and public esteem. It was his custom to pass his winters alternately abroad and with his father. Biarni soon became the owner of a trading-ship, and during the last winter that he spent in Norway, [his father], Heriulf determined to accompany Eric on his voyage to Greenland, and made his preparations to give up his farm[38]. Upon the ship with Heriulf was a Christian man from the Hebrides[39], he it was who composed the Sea-Rollers’ Song (63), which contains this stave:


Mine adventure to the Meek One,
⁠Monk-heart-searcher[40], I commit now[41];
He, who heaven’s halls doth govern[42],
⁠Hold the hawk’s-seat[43] ever o’er me!


Heriulf settled at Heriulfsness, and was a most distinguished man. Eric the Red dwelt at Brattahlid, where he was held in the highest esteem, and all men paid him homage[44]. These were Eric’s children: Leif, Thorvald, and Thorstein, and a daughter whose name was Freydis; she was wedded to a man named Thorvard, and they dwelt at Gardar, where the episcopal seat now is. She was a very haughty woman, while Thorvard was a man of little force of character, and Freydis had been wedded to him chiefly because of his wealth[45]. At that time the people of Greenland were heathen.


Biarni arrived with his ship at Eyrar [Iceland] in the summer of the same year, in the same spring of which his father had sailed away. Biarni was much surprised when he heard this news[46], and would not discharge his cargo. His shipmates enquired of him what he intended to do, and he replied that it was his purpose to keep to his custom, and make his home for the winter with his father[47]; ‘and I will take the ship to Greenland, if you will bear my company.’ They all replied that they would abide by his decision. Then said Biarni, ‘Our voyage must be regarded as foolhardy, seeing that no one of us has ever been in the Greenland Sea[48].’ Nevertheless they put out to sea when they were equipped for the voyage, and sailed for three days, until the land was hidden by the water, and then the fair wind died out, and north winds arose, and fogs, and they knew not whither they were drifting, and thus it lasted for many ‘dœgr.’ Then they saw the sun again, and were able to determine the quarters of the heavens[49]; they hoisted sail, and sailed that ‘dœgr’ through before they saw land. They discussed among themselves what land it could be, and Biarni said that he did not believe that it could be Greenland. They asked whether he wished to sail to this land or not. ‘It is my counsel’ [said he], ‘to sail close to the land.’ They did so, and soon saw that the land was level, and covered with woods[50], and that there were small hillocks upon it. They left the land on their larboard, and let the sheet turn toward the land. They sailed for two ‘dœgr’ before they saw another land. They asked whether Biarni thought this was Greenland yet. He replied that he did not think this any more like Greenland than the former, ‘because in Greenland there are said to be many great ice-mountains.’ They soon approached this land, and saw that it was a flat and wooded country. The fair wind failed them then, and the crew took counsel together, and concluded that it would be wise to land there, but Biarni would not consent to this. They alleged that they were in need of both wood and water. ‘Ye have no lack of either of these,’ says Biarni–a course, forsooth, which won him blame among his shipmates. He bade them hoist sail, which they did, and turning the prow from the land they sailed out upon the high seas, with southwesterly gales, for three ‘dœgr’ when they saw the third land; this land was high and mountainous, with ice-mountains up it (64). They asked Biarni then whether he would land there, and he replied that he was not disposed to do so, ‘because this land does not appear to me to offer any attractions[51].’ Nor did they lower their sail, but held their course off the land, and saw that it was an island. They left this land astern[52], and held out to sea with the same fair wind. The wind waxed amain, and Biarni directed them to reef, and not to sail at a speed unbefitting their ship and rigging. They sailed now for four ‘dœgr,’ when they saw the fourth land. Again they asked Biarni whether he thought this could be Greenland or not. Biarni answers, ‘This is likest Greenland, according to that which has been reported to me concerning it, and here we will steer to the land.’ They directed their course thither, and landed in the evening, below a cape upon which there was a boat, and there, upon this cape, dwelt Heriulf (65), Biarni’s father, whence the cape took its name, and was afterwards called Heriulfsness. Biarni now went to his father, gave up his voyaging, and remained with his father while Heriulf lived, and continued to live there after his father.


  1. [Flatey Book, column 221.]
  2. knarrarbringa.
  3. saurr.
  4. ‘sem í segir sǫgu Eireks:’ lit. as it says in Eric’s saga.
  5. gellir.
  6. ‘þeir Styrr:’ lit. they Styrr.
  7. kráka.
  8. ‘kom utan at því, þar sem hann kallaði Miðjǫkul:’ lit. came out to that, which he called M.
  9. The Saga of Eric the Red and Landnáma have: ‘Hvarfsgnipa.’
  10. ‘Hálfr fjórði tøgr: ‘ lit. half of the fourth ten, i.e. three decades and a half: the ancient Icelandic method of numeration.
  11. Hence, A. D. 985.
  12. glóra.
  13. ‘var skírðr:’ lit. was baptized.
  14. Þrándheimr, Throndhjem.
  15. Lit. sought.
  16. ‘þeim Herjúlfi:’ lit. to them Heriulf, i.e. to Heriulf and his people.
  17. ‘fýstisk utan:’ lit. hankered to go abroad.
  18. ‘brá búi sínu,’ broke up his home.
  19. ‘Suðreyskr maðr,’ a Sodor man, a man from the Suðreyjar, or Southern Islands, as the Hebrides were called.
  20. ‘meinalausan múnka reyni:’ lit. the faultless monk prover; meina-lauss, faultless; múnka reynir, lit. prover of monks, or earcher of monks; the faultless or innocent search of monks, a poetical epithet for Christ.
  21. Arranged in prose order, the passage would read: I bid the faultless monk-prover forward my travels.
  22. ‘dróttinn foldar hattar haller:’ lit. the lord of the halls of the earth’s hood: foldar hǫttr, earth’s hat, or hood, i.e. the sky; hallar oldar hattar, the halls of the sky, i.e. the heavens; dróttinn foldar hattar hallar, the lord of the heavens, i.e. Christ.
  23. ‘heiðis stallr,’ the seat of the hawk, i.e. the hand. Haldi heiðis stalli yfir mér, hold the hand above me, i.e. protect me.
  24. ‘lutu allir til hans,’ all bowed down [louted] to him.
  25. ‘var hon mjǫk gefin til fjár:’ lit. she was chiefly given for money.
  26. ‘þau tíðindi þóttu Bjarna mikil:’ lit. these tidings seemed great to Biarni.
  27. ‘þiggja at fǫður sínum vetr-vist:’ lit. receive from his father winter-quarters.
  28. That part of the ocean between Iceland and Greenland was so called.
  29. ‘deila ættir,’ to distinguish the airts, i.e. as we should say, to tell the points of the compass.
  30. ‘ófjǫllótt ok skógi vaxit:’ lit. not mountainous and grown with woods.
  31. ‘ógagnvænlight:’ lit. unprofitable, i.e. sterile.
  32. ‘settu enn stafn við því landit:’ lit. moreover they set the ‘stafn’ against that land. ‘Stafn,’ stem, is used of both the bow and tern of a vessel.
  33. [Flatey Book, column 281.]
  34. ‘úforvitinn:’ lit. incurious.
  35. See note I, p. 61.
  36. ‘hann enn mundi mestri heill stýra af þeim frændum: ‘ lit. he would, nevertheless, win the greatest luck of them, the insmen.
  37. ‘Suðrmaðr:’ lit. a Southern man; a German was so called as contradistinguished from Norðmaðr, a Northman.
  38. ‘þeir Bjarni:’ lit. they Biarni.
  39. ‘allt hit efra:’ lit. all the upper part, i.e. away from the shore.
  40. Helluland, the land of flat stone; from hella, a flat stone.
  41. ósæbrattr: lit. un-sea-steep, i.e. not steep toward the sea.
  42. Markland, Forest-land, from mǫrk, a forest.
  43. ‘var þá langt til sjóvar at sjá frá skipinu: lit. it was far to see from the ship to the sea.
  44. ‘þar kvámu engi frost á vetrum,’ no frost came there in the winters.
  45. ‘sól hafði þar eyktarstað ok dagmálastað um skamdegi:’ lit. the sun had there ‘eyktarstad’ and ‘dagmalastad’ on the short-day.



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