The Vikings will always be remembered as one of history’s great cultures. Though well-known for their fighting skills, naval abilities and military exploits, they made a number of important contributions to civilization. First, their shipbuilding skills were second-to-none. Their innovative ship designs brought about advances that were never before possible. Their longships were the first vessels that were not only capable of sailing the open seas but navigating rivers and shallow bays, too.
The Vikings were also among the first people to explore Iceland, Greenland and even parts of North America. They also made a number of cultural contributions as well. For example, did you know that our modern words for Wednesday and Thursday are both derived from Viking words?
Let’s look at a few of the most Vikings that ever lived, along with a quick summary of their achievements.
- Leif Eriksson: Leif was probably the most famous Viking of all time. He was born around the year 970 and died sometime about 1020. Leif was an explorer who apparently arrived in North America around the year 1000, a few hundred years before Christopher Columbus. Leif was often referred to as “Leif the Lucky.” He was the son of Eric the Red, who started the first European settlement of Greenland in 985. Leif went with his father to Greenland and lived there until somewhere near the year 1000 at which time he was going to return to Norway.As legend has it, as Leif was sailing back to Greenland, he was blown off course and he ended up in North America instead of Greenland.
In another version of the story, Leif was sailing to the lands west of Greenland that had been sighted 15 years earlier by Bjarne Herjulfsson. These may well have been Baffin Island, Labrador, and Newfoundland in modern day Canada. However, historians differ in their identifications of the sites.
- Eric the Red: Eric is another one of the most famous Vikings in history. Besides being the father of Leif Eriksson, Eric the Red discovered Greenland and established the first European settlement in the New World there. He was born in Norway sometime during the mid-10th century as a descendant of Viking chieftains. He went to Iceland as a child, when his father was banished from Norway. Apparently Eric had a penchant for violence. While living in Iceland he committed murder and was banished from the country. Upset with his expulsion, he sailed westward from Iceland and discovered Greenland around 981.
Several years later he returned to Iceland and led an expedition of 25 ships back to the ‘new world, settling in southwestern Greenland. This settlement survived until the late 15th century. Eric the Red died sometime around the year 1000.
Here are a few more famous Vikings who you may or may not have heard of: Gardar Svavarsson (discovered Iceland); Guthrum (colonized England); Ingvar the Far-Travelled (the leader of the last great Swedish Viking expedition, which pillaged the shores of the Caspian Sea); and Ivar the Boneless (disabled son of Ragnar Lodbrok who, despite having to be carried on a shield, managed to conquer York).