Notorious for their raids across Europe and England during the Middle Ages, the Vikings were some of the best travelers the world has ever known. From the coasts of Norway and Denmark, they sailed all the way around the continent to Constantinople and created settlements on distant islands like Iceland and Greenland.
The legendary journey of one such Viking, Leif Eriksson, begins with him sailing from Greenland to his homeland of Norway. He came from a whole family of explorers, his father being the infamous Erik the Red, who founded the first ever settlement on Greenland after being banished from Iceland for the killing of his neighbor. His own father was similarly expelled from Norway for committing murder. In Norway Leif met with the King Olaf I Tryggvason, the successor of Harald Bluetooth. He adopted the newly introduced Christian faith and was tasked with bringing it back and converting the pagans of Greenland.
However, on the return journey, intentionally or by pure accident, he sailed wide of the island and arrived at an unknown shore. Taking advantage of the milder weather, he spent the winter there, collecting much needed wood and salmon. They named the region Vineland, due to the sweet berries they found, which were perfect for making wine. In the spring they did sail back to Greenland, where Leif eventually succeeded Erik the Red as the land’s leader. He never returned to the distant shore, but other Vikings did for at least another decade and event encountered the indigenous population.
Nobody knew the exact location of Vineland, or if the legend was true, until the 1960s, when archeologists in Labrador and Newfoundland discovered Viking artifacts on the dating to the 1000 A.D. They even discovered a settlement at the northernmost tip of the island, making Vikings the first European settlers on the New World. It would take another 500 years, until in 1942 Christopher Columbus, in his search for a new passage to India, fell upon the Bahamian islands.
The iconic horned Viking helmet is actually an urban legend. They were first introduced in the 19th century as stage props for Carl Emil Doepler’s adaptation of Wagner’s saga “Der Ring des Nibelungen”.
The Viking Explorer Who Beat Columbus to America by Christopher Klein
Did the Vikings Discover America? by Jeff Wallenfeldt
The Viking Discovery of America: The Excavation of a Norse Settlement in L'Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland. by Helge Ingstad and Anne Stine Ingstad
Did Vikings wear horned helmets? by J.P.P. of The Economist