Right after the Migration period and the Germanic Iron age was the Viking age that lasted between 793-1066 AD. During the Viking age, Norsemen, known as Vikings undertook conquest, large-scale raiding, trading, and colonization throughout Europe and eventually reached North America.
During the 8th century, several Scandinavians migrated from their homeland to search for better areas to settle. The majority of them were seafaring warriors, which informed their method of conquest. They began by raiding the coastal areas, particularly the undefended monasteries in the British Isles because they were much easier to conquer. Up until the 11th century, several Vikings existed and left their mark as traders, pirates, settlers, and raiders; in different parts of Europe and Britain, as well as Iceland, Russia, and Greenland. Throughout the 3 centuries, each one of these Vikings guided conquest, trade, and colonization and were all remembered differently based on how they conducted different activities during their era and their ruling style. While the Viking age was quite adventurous and played a cultural significance in Britain and Europe, it eventually had to come to an end to invite newer phases of development and evolution. In that regard, the end of the Viking age witnessed the domination by Harald Hardrada.
Who is Harald Hardrada?
Harald Hardrada is regarded as the last Norse king of the Viking age because his death at the Battle of the Stamford Bridge in 1066 CE brought the Biking age to a close. Harald’s Viking journey began much earlier in life, that is when he was 15. During this time, he fought to restore his brother Olaf Haraldsson to the throne of Norway, but he was wounded at the Battle of Stiklestad in 1030 CE. When this happened, he had to flee Norway for Kievan Rus and found himself serving in the Varangian Guard in Constantinople. When serving in the Varangian Guard, he accumulated massive wealth and continuously shipped it to Yaroslav in Kievan Rus, where they were stored in preparation for his reclamation plan.
In 1042, he left the Byzantine Empire and went back to Kievan Rus’ to begin preparations towards campaigning for the reclamation of the Norwegian throne. In 1046, he chose to join forces with Magnus’s rival (Magnus was his brother’s illegitimate son who took up the throne after Olaf died), who dominated Denmark at the time and began by raiding the Danish coast. After some time, Magnus died, and Harald became the sole ruler of Norway. During his reign, he fought to eliminate local, regional, and any other kind of opposition to his rule. Also, Harald outlined the territorial unification of Norway under one national government, which brought about a period of ultimate peace and progressive stability. He invested heavily in foreign trade, which contributed to a steady economy in England.
During his reign, he always wanted to restore Cnut the Great’s ‘North Sea Empire’ and it was seen in how he chose to unite the different regions under one national government. Aside from that, he claimed the Danish throne, and ever since then he always raided the Danish coast with the intent to eliminate his former ally, Sweyn. Despite multiple successful conquests that he had embarked on, he was never able to conquer Denmark. This, however, never stopped him from continually raiding the Danish coast and always did it in the traditional Viking style.
In 1066 CE, he was invited to claim the throne of England by an envious Northumbrian earl, but he lost his life in the battle at Stamford Bridge. Viking Harald Hardrada is greatly remembered for the fact that he successfully weakened the Anglo-Saxon forces under King Harold Godwinson. If anything, that was one of his major contributions to history because it gave room for William the Conqueror to invade England and nearly turn out victorious at the Battle of Hastings.
Harald Hardrada Facts
- Harald Hardrada fought his fight battle at 15 years of age
In 1028, there was a revolt that forced his half-brother, Olaf, into exile. During this time, Harald mobilized an army to go and rescue Olaf, and in the process, they ended up in the Battle of Stiklestad against the Danish forces. He and his brother fought together in an attempt to reclaim the Danish throne, but Olaf died in battle, and Harald had to continue his legacy despite his young age.
- When in Kievan Rus’, he served as a captain in the army
A year down the line, after the Battle of Stiklestad, when they lost the battle to Cnut, he was forced to exile in Kievan Rus’. The Grand Prince Yaroslav the Wise recognized his military prowess back at Stiklestad, welcomed him warmly, and later appointed Harald as the captain of the Yaroslav forces. During this time, he perfected his military control skills and helped the Grand Prince expand his territory. At this time, he also accumulated significant resources that he needed to reclaim his half-brother’s throne.
- He requested the hand in marriage of the Grand Prince’s daughter
While in Kievan Rus’ and serving under the Grand Prince, he fell in love with Princess Elisiv and requested Yaroslav for her hand in marriage. While the Grand Prince recognized his potential as a powerful military man, he felt as though Harald wasn’t the best match for his daughter because he wasn’t as wealthy. The Grand Prince compared his other daughter’s husbands, who were prominent figures, and other wealthy men. Considering no match to the same, he rejected Harald’s proposal because he may not be able to take care of his daughter as the Grand Prince pleased. Even so, he did not give up on the princess; instead, he looked for all ways possible to accumulate enough wealth. A couple of years later, he went back to Keivan Rus’ and married princess Elisiv.
- He was the Last Great Viking
Harald Hardrada made several advancements during his reign. While he seemed quite ruthless during battle and how he controlled his military, his reign was recognized as peaceful and prosperous. He was heavily committed to the church, and that commitment guided his advancement of Christianity in Norway by building churches and allowing regular religion-related activities by different missionaries. Also, he developed the Norwegian currency that informed trade and economic prosperity in the region. Unfortunately, he was killed by an arrow when in battle in 1066, and his death marked the end of the great Viking age.
Harald Hadrada Mythology
Harald III Sigurdsson, the King of Norway, was born around 1016, and he died in the Battle of Stamford Bridge, which nearly wiped out the entire army. His name ‘Harald Hardrada’ in Old Norse means ‘ruthless’ or ‘difficult command’. Most of his subjects identified him as ‘The Last of the Vikings’ or ‘The North Lightning’. During his reign, there was the rapid multiplication of naval battle against Danish neighbors, which involved a lot of looting, loss of lives, and enmity between neighbors. Because of his brutal and bloody reign, his critics, such as Adam of Bremen, a contemporary king, identifies Harald Hardrada as a cruel ruler; and even went to an extent that he raised an army to eliminate Christians In his territory.
Despite his brutality, he is regarded as a great raider because he was always strategic in his attacks and carefully fought all over the North to build himself a bloody empire. Considering the power he executed and the speed levels he had during battles, he became an important character in ‘The Saga of the Kings of Norway’ written by Snorri Sturluson in the 13th Century. In this account, he is depicted as a wise and peaceful ruler contrary to how he ruled with sheer brutality.
Theodoricus, who was the monk then, identifies Hardrada as an ambitious leader and a good advisor who was valiant. The Agrip, on the other hand, saw Harald as a great king who was able to balance firm and peaceful and when to intertwine the two. Even so, he had great challenges, especially when it came to dealing with failure. He fought for more than 17 decades against his former Danish allies to an extent where they had to sign a truce in 1064. Because of his ambitious nature, he sought to extend all the colonial tentacles to England, where his throne sat.
In 1066, Edward the Confessor, the Anglo-Saxon King of England then, had died, leaving his throne to William of Normandy. However, Harald Hardrada switched focus towards the English crown and claimed that Hardicanute, the former King of England, had already promised his father the throne. That meant that Harald was to be the successor to Edward, but this did not go as planned. Instead, Harold Godwinson became the heir, which frustrated Hardrada. Due to rage and greed, Harald then formed allies with Harold’s brother (Tostig) and raised an army to invade England in the same year. The invasion led to the Battle of Stamford Bridge, where Harald and Tostig’s army outnumbered Harolds. Even though they successfully invaded England both Harald and Totsig were killed in the Battle at Stamford Bridge.
In general, Harald Hardrada identifies as the last of the Vikings. His death marked the end of the line of Scandinavian tribes that migrated and settled across the European continent. This further paved way for the advancement of Christianity and gave room for more historical and social developments in Europe.