The Viking Age was a strong period in European history in the 10th century AD. It was known for the Scandinavian Norsemen who conquered much of the continent. Among these was the famous King of Norway, Harald Hardarada. Welcome to this article where we will be taking a look at this powerful ruler who was also known as the Last Great Viking.
Interesting Facts about Harald Hardrada
1. He was born ‘Harald Sigurdsson’ in Norway.
Harald was born around 1015 in Ringerike, Norway to the petty king of Ringerike, Sigurd Syr and his wife, Asta Gudbrandsatter. As a young boy, Harald showed ambition and rebellious nature. Harald was also the half-brother of the future King Olaf II of Norway, who soon became the idol that Harald greatly admired.
2. He fought his first battle when he was 15.
After a revolt in 1028, Olaf was forced into exile but planned to return to Norway. Harald gathered an army and went to meet Olaf and his men. However, the Battle of Stiklestad occurred shortly after against the Danish forces. Olaf, together with Harald by his side, fought in the battle as an attempt to claim back the throne from the Danish. Harald showed exceptional military skills for his young age but unfortunately, the brothers were defeated and Olaf lost his life.
3. He served as a Captain in Kievan Rus.
One year after Stiklestad, Harald moved to Kievan Rus and was welcomed by the Grand Prince Yaroslav the Wise. Yaroslav immediately identified the potential Harald had for military control and appointed him as the Captain of Yaroslav’s forces. Under this position, he fought in numerous wars for the Grand Prince.
4. He married the Princess Elisiv of Kievan Rus.
In addition to this, he had requested the hand in marriage of Yaroslav’s daughter, the Princess Elisiv but his proposal was rejected on the grounds that he did not have sufficient wealth. Yaroslav’s other children were married to prominent figures such as Henry I of France so it came as no surprise that Harald was rejected. However, he returned several years after with a great amount of wealth and was able to marry Elisiv.
5. He further served under the Byzantine empire.
After fighting for Yaroslav for a few years, Harald and his men moved to Constantinople and they joined the elite Varangian Guard. This unit was part of the Byzantine army and while they were considered to be The Emperor’s primary bodyguard, they also fought for the frontiers of the empire. His men fought in battles stretching from Jerusalem to the far east of the Tigris river. His immense military expertise was recognized by the Emperor himself. Despite numerous conflicts and coups to bring Harald down, he showed high integrity and earned the respect of most of the Byzantine forces. This is one of the interesting Harald Hardrada facts that you might find intriguing.
6. He sought to reclaim the throne of his half-brother, Olaf, as his own.
In early 1045, Harald was determined to regain the kingdom of Olaf (which was technically his, by birthright). The throne was now claimed by Magnus the Good who was an illegitimate son of Olaf’s. He set sail for Norway and formed a force to fight against Magnus. However, instead of going to war, Magnus’ advisors proposed a compromise where both Magnus and Harald would rule Norway in a joint partnership of sorts. Magnus was further bankrupt so Harald was rumored to have shared his wealth with Magnus, which was another reason as to why the compromise would actually have worked. Magnus eventually died in 1047 and Harald remained the sole King of Norway until his passing.
6. Harald Hardrada claimed ascension to the English throne but lost his life while doing so.
In 1066, the Anglo-Saxon King of England, Edward the Confessor, passed away. Harald immediately turned his attention towards the English crown and claimed that his father had been promised the throne by the former King of England, Hardicanute. However, Edward was succeeded by Harold Goodwinson which angered Harald. Therefore, he formed an ally with Tostig, who was the brother of Harold and their armies invaded England in 1066. The Battle of Stamford Bridge occurred, and Godwinson’s army was outnumbered by Harald and Tostig’s. Unfortunately, both Harald and Tostig lost their lives in the battle.
7. Harald Hardrada was the Last Great Viking.
King Harald was killed by an arrow during the Battle of Stamford in 1066. He formulated a great legacy; he committed to advancing Christianity in Norway by building churches and further developed the Norwegian currency which led to Norwegian trade taking a huge leap forward. The epithet of his name, ‘Hardrada’ is supposed to mean ‘tough’ or ‘hard ruler’. He was considered to be a ruler who was ruthless and reigned with brute force, but his era was marked by peace and prosperity. Harald Hardrada’s death symbolizes the end of the great Viking age.
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