An introduction to some of the most famous Vikings in history

Viking shipPhoto: Lothar Dieterich / Pixabay

The Vikings were ancient Norse peoples who existed from the 8th to 11th centuries and mainly occupied and exerted their power over modern-day Denmark, Norway, and Sweden.

Despite their existence dating back to over 1000 years ago, the legacy of the Vikings heavily prevails.

The most famous Vikings from history offer a glimpse of what their lifestyles were like and why their culture still is still so enchanting to so many. One of the facts that speaks to that is cult show Vikings amassing over 30 million total viewers as one of TV’s top 10 cable dramas.

Let’s meet just a few of the famous Vikings that continue to intrigue the public even centuries after their time. Keep in mind that this is truly just an introduction to these legendary figures – each could have series of books and movies dedicated to their lives.

Erik the Red

Erik the Red was born Erik Thorvaldsson in Norway around 950. His distinct red hair – and notoriously red-hot temper – earned him the nickname of Erik the Red.

After both he and his father were accused of manslaughter on two separate occasions, Erik sailed away and fleed to an icy land: present-day Greenland.

Several years later, Erik set sail for Iceland and gathered 25 fleets to head to Greenland. 14 surviving fleets arrived in Greenland in 986 and started a community that would reach a peak population of about 5,000.

Following Erik’s death in 1000 CE, Norsemen continued to inhabit Greenland until the 14th and 15th centuries. Their disappearance from Greenland remains unclear, but possible theories include a harsh climate and fewer trade opportunities than elsewhere.

Gudrid Thorbjarnardóttir

Gudrid Thorbjarnardóttir was a world traveler and explorer hailing from Iceland. She was born in Laugarbrekka on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula around 980.

She is mentioned in the Saga of Erik the Red (who we just mentioned), as well as the Saga of the Greenlanders.

According to the Icelandic sagas, Gudrid traveled to North America and with her husband founded the Vinland settlement there. She gave birth to a son, Snorri, who is considered to be the first European born in North America. Gudrid continued her travels later in life with a pilgrimage to Rome and she is thought to be the predecessor of many famous Icelanders.

Gudrid Thorbjarnardóttir
A statue of Gudrid by the sculptor Ásmundur Sveinsson on display at Glaumbær, Iceland. Photo: Lara Rasin

Ragnar Lodbrok

Thought by some to be the most important Viking leader and most famous Viking warrior, Ragnar Lodbrok is famous for leading fierce battles against the Franks and Anglo-Saxons.

He was supposedly married three times and had six children, who went on to become fierce Viking figures themselves.

Thirsty for more success following his initial battles, Ragnar invaded England with just two ships, which failed. As punishment, the King of Northumberland captured him and threw him into a pit of snakes – or so the story goes.

Leif Erikson

Erik the Red wasn’t the only famous Viking in his family. Leif Erikson, his son, was born in Iceland around 970 and later moved to Greenland.

Around his father’s death in 1000, Leif set off to discover a land that was spotted years earlier by Icelandic explorer Bjarni Herjolfsson.

During his journey, Leif dubbed modern-day Baffin Island (Canada’s largest island) Helluland, meaning flat stone land, and Labrador as Markland, meaning forest land.

Leif and other Vikings traveling with him may have set up camp at Newfoundland, too, according to some historians. While Leif never went back upon his return to Greenland, other Norsemen journeyed back.

Viking prevalence in North America was short-lived, possibly due to tensions with Native Americans.

Leif Erikson
A grand statue, by Alexander Stirling Calder, of Leif stands in the center of Reykjavík in front of the Hallgrímskirkja church. Photo: Lara Rasin

Rollo of Normandy

Viking warrior Rollo, born around 860 in Scandinavia, is most known for being the first ruler of Normandy.

Prior to his Normandy reign, Rollo garnered a gnarly reputation due to his vicious seize of Rouen, France. His nickname, Rolf, or Walking Rolf, comes from the fact that he was supposedly so large in appearance, no horse could carry him and he had to travel by foot.

Under Rollo, the Vikings reached an agreement with the King of France, allowing them to rule the Normandy region.

Rollo is also famous for later converting to Christianity. One of his great-great-great grandsons was William of Normandy, who ruled the English throne in 1066. 

Source: #Norway Today / #NorwayTodayTravel

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