In the first decade of the 11th century, several Nordic adventurers were said to have led expeditions to North America, with Leif Eiriksson (featured in the painting above) being the most famous of these explorers. Stories of these expeditions were folklorically preserved in two sagas from the 13th century—Eirik the Red’s Saga and the Saga of the Greenlanders. As the stories go, Leif Eiriksson was the first known Nordic adventurer to set foot in the New World (whereas another explorer named Bjarni Herjolfsson may have spotted the new world, but did not set foot on it, prior to Leif). Whatever the case, Leif Eiriksson reportedly reached the mainland coastline of North America around the year 1000 and set up his camp somewhere on the southeastern Canadian coast, presumably in the vicinity of Labrador, Newfoundland, and Nova Scotia. He was lucky in picking the location of his camp, for he was apparently far enough away from native settlements to preclude any aggression from the locals. In the absence of hostility, Leif Eiriksson was able to gather exotic North American merchandise in peace, after which he set sail back to Greenland to sell his wares and tell tales about his adventure in the lands he called Vinland. Such is the storied expedition that inspired the painting above.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
- The Vinland Sagas (Saga of the Greenlanders and Eirik the Red’s Saga) translated by Keneva Kunz. New York: Penguin Classics, 2008.