Harald Fairhair, in an illustration from the fourteenth-century Flateyjarbók .
|King of Norway|
|Born||putatively c. 850|
|Died||putatively c. 932|
|Spouse||Ragnhild Eriksdotter |
| Eric Bloodaxe |
Haakon the Good
|Father||Halfdan The Black|
Harald I Fairhair (Old Norse: Haraldr inn hárfagri; Norwegian : Harald hårfagre; putatively c. 850 – c. 932) is portrayed by medieval Norwegian historians as the first King of Norway. According to traditions current in Norway and Iceland in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, he reigned from c. 872 to 930. Supposedly, two of his sons, Eric Bloodaxe and Haakon the Good, succeeded Harald to become kings after his death.
Most of Harald's biography remains uncertain, since the extant accounts of his life in the sagas were set down in writing around three centuries after his lifetime. Indeed, although it is possible to write a detailed account of Harald as a character in medieval Icelandic sagas (as this entry does), it is even possible to argue that there was no such historical figure at all.
His life is described in several of the Kings' sagas, none of them older than the twelfth century. Their accounts of Harald and his life differ on many points, but it is clear that in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries Harald was regarded as having unified Norway into one kingdom.
Old Norse hár translates straightforwardly into English as 'hair', but fagr, the adjective of which fagri is a form, is trickier to render, since it means 'fair, fine, beautiful'(but without the moral associations of English fair, as opposed to unfair). Although it is convenient and conventional to render hárfagri in English as 'fair-hair(ed)', in English 'fair-haired' means 'blond', whereas the Old Norse fairly clearly means 'beautiful-haired' (in contrast to the epithet which, according to some sources, Haraldr previously bore: lúfa, '(thick) matted hair'). Accordingly, some translators prefer to render hárfagri as 'the fine-haired' or 'fine-hair' (which, however, unhelpfully implies that Haraldr's hairs were slender) or even 'handsome-hair'.
Through the nineteenth and most of the twentieth centuries, historians broadly accepted the account of Harald Fairhair given by later Icelandic sagas. However, Peter Sawyer began to cast doubt on this in 1976,and the decades around 2000 saw a wave of revisionist research that suggested that Harald Fairhair did not exist, or at least not in a way resembling his appearance in sagas. The key arguments for this are as follows:
Thus the Icelandic saga-tradition of Harald Fair-Hair can be seen as part of an origin myth created to explain the settlement of Iceland, perhaps in which a cognomen of Haraldr Sigurðarson was transferred to a fictitious early king of all Norway.Sverrir Jakobsson has suggested that the idea of Iceland being settled by people fleeing an overbearing Norwegian monarch actually reflects the anxieties of Iceland in the early thirteenth century, when the island was indeed coming under Norwegian dominance. He has also suggested that the legend of Harald Fairhair developed in the twelfth century to enable Norwegian kings, who were then promoting the idea of primogeniture over the older custom of agnatic succession, to claim that their ancestors had had a right to Norway by lineal descent from the country's supposed first king.
In the Saga of Harald Fairhair in Heimskringla , which is the most elaborate although not the oldest or most reliable source to the life of Harald, it is written that Harald succeeded, on the death of his father Halfdan the Black Gudrödarson, to the sovereignty of several small, and somewhat scattered kingdoms in Vestfold, which had come into his father's hands through conquest and inheritance. His protector-regent was his mother's brother Guthorm.
The unification of Norway is something of a love story. It begins with a marriage proposal that resulted in rejection and scorn from Gyda, the daughter of Eirik, king of Hordaland. She said she refused to marry Harald "before he was king over all of Norway". Harald was therefore induced to take a vow not to cut nor comb his hair until he was sole king of Norway, and when he was justified in trimming it ten years later, he exchanged the epithet "Shockhead" or "Tanglehair" (Haraldr lúfa) for the one by which he is usually known.
In 866, Harald made the first of a series of conquests over the many petty kingdoms which would compose all of Norway, including Värmland in Sweden, which had sworn allegiance to the Swedish saga-king Erik Eymundsson (whose historicity is not confirmed). In 872, after a great victory at Hafrsfjord near Stavanger, Harald found himself king over the whole country, ruling from his Kongsgård seats at Avaldsnes and Alrekstad. His realm was, however, threatened by dangers from without, as large numbers of his opponents had taken refuge, not only in Iceland, then recently discovered; but also in the Orkney Islands, Shetland Islands, Hebrides Islands, Faroe Islands and the northern European mainland. However, his opponents' leaving was not entirely voluntary. Many Norwegian chieftains who were wealthy and respected posed a threat to Harald; therefore, they were subjected to much harassment from Harald, prompting them to vacate the land. At last, Harald was forced to make an expedition to the West, to clear the islands and the Scottish mainland of some Vikings who tried to hide there.
The earliest narrative source which mentions Harald, the twelfth-century Íslendingabók, notes that Iceland was settled during his lifetime. Harald is thus depicted as the prime cause of the Norse settlement of Iceland and beyond. Iceland was settled by "malcontents" from Norway, who resented Harald's claim of rights of taxation over lands, which the possessors appear to have previously held in absolute ownership.
There are several accounts of large feasting mead halls constructed for important feasts when Scandinavian royalty was invited. According to a legend recorded by Snorri Sturluson, in the Heimskringla, the late 9th-century Värmlandish chieftain Áki invited both the Norwegian king Harald Fairhair and the Swedish saga-king Erik Eymundsson, but had the Norwegian king stay in the newly constructed and sumptuous one, because he was the youngest one of the kings and the one who had the greatest prospects. The older Swedish king, on the other hand, had to stay in the old feasting hall. The Swedish king was so humiliated that he killed Áki.
According to the saga sources, the latter part of Harald's reign was disturbed by the strife of his many sons. The number of sons he left varies in the different saga accounts, from 11 to 20. Twelve of his sons are named as kings, two of them over the whole country. He gave them all the royal title and assigned lands to them, which they were to govern as his representatives; but this arrangement did not put an end to the discord, which continued into the next reign. When he grew old, Harald handed over the supreme power to his favourite son Eirik Bloodaxe, whom he intended to be his successor. Eirik I ruled side-by-side with his father when Harald was 80 years old. Harald died three years later due to age in approximately 933.
Harald Harfager was commonly stated to have been buried under a mound at Haugar by the Strait of Karmsund near the church in Haugesund, an area that later would be named the town and municipal Haugesund. The area near Karmsund was the traditional burial site for several early Norwegian rulers. The national monument of Haraldshaugen was raised in 1872, to commemorate the Battle of Hafrsfjord which is traditionally dated to 872.
While the various sagas name anywhere from 11 to 20 sons of Harald in various contexts, the contemporary skaldic poem Hákonarmál says that Harald's son Håkon would meet only "eight brothers" when arriving in Valhalla, a place for slain warriors, kings, and Germanic heroes. Only the following five names of sons can be confirmed from skaldic poems (with saga claims in parentheses), while the full number of sons remains unknown:
The full list of sons according to Snorri Sturluson's Heimskringla :
Children with Åsa, daughter of Håkon Grjotgardssson, Jarl av Lade:
Children with Gyda Eiriksdottir:
Children with Svanhild, daughter of Øystein Jarl:
Children with Åshild, daughter of Ring Dagsson:
Children with Snøfrid, daughter of Svåse the Finn:
Harald Fairhair became an important figure in Norwegian nationalism in the nineteenth century, during its struggle for independence from Sweden, when he served as 'a heroic narrative character disseminating a foundation story of Norway becoming an independent nation'.In particular, a national monument to Harald was erected in 1872 on Haraldshaugen, a prehistoric burial mound at the town of Haugesund then imagined to be Harald Finehair's burial place, despite opposition from left-wing politicians.
The claim to Harald became important to the development of the tourism industry in the town and its region:
today, King Harald Fairhair is associated with several archaeological sites where modern monuments and theme parks (obelisks, towers, sculptures, ‘reconstructions’ of ancient houses/villages) are constructed and where various commemorative practices (jubilees, rallies, festivals) are being performed. The Viking hero Harald Fairhair has become part of a vital re-enactment culture, which is evident in, among other things, a memorial park in central Haugesund with the erection of a statue of Harald Fairhair ... the performance of a Harald musical ... the building of ‘the largest’ Viking ship in the world ... the establishment of a theme park based on the Viking concept, and a historic centre where the mythology of King Harald is disseminated ... The main initiators behind these commemorative projects in the Haugesund region today are, as it was in the 1870s, local commercial entrepreneurs who are nourished by local patriotism.
In 2013, commercially led archaeological excavations at Avaldsnes began with the explicit intention of developing the local heritage industry in relation to the Harald Fairhair brand, provoking a prominent debate in Norway over the appropriate handling of archaeological heritage.
Heimskringla is the best known of the Old Norse kings' sagas. It was written in Old Norse in Iceland by the poet and historian Snorri Sturluson (1178/79–1241) c. 1230. The name Heimskringla was first used in the 17th century, derived from the first two words of one of the manuscripts.
Harald Sigurdsson, also known as Harald of Norway and given the epithet Hardrada in the sagas, was King of Norway from 1046 to 1066. In addition, he unsuccessfully claimed both the Danish throne until 1064 and the English throne in 1066. Before becoming king, Harald had spent around fifteen years in exile as a mercenary and military commander in Kievan Rus' and of the Varangian Guard in the Byzantine Empire.
Eric Haraldsson, nicknamed Eric Bloodaxe, was a 10th-century Norwegian ruler. It is widely speculated that he had short-lived terms as King of Norway and twice as King of Northumbria.
Haakon Haraldsson, also Haakon the Good and Haakon Adalsteinfostre, was the king of Norway from 934 to 961. He was noted for his attempts to introduce Christianity into Norway.
Skald, or skáld, is generally a term used for poets who composed at the courts of Scandinavian leaders during the Viking Age, 793–1066 AD, and continuing into the Middle Ages. Skaldic poetry forms one of two main groupings of Old Norse poetry, the other being the anonymous Eddic poetry.
Rognvald Eysteinsson was the founding Jarl of Møre in Norway, and a close relative and ally of Harald Fairhair, the earliest known King of Norway. In the Norse language he is known as Rǫgnvaldr Eysteinsson (Mǿrajarl) and in modern Norwegian as Ragnvald Mørejarl. He is sometimes referred to with bynames that may be translated into modern English as "Rognvald the Wise" or "Rognvald the Powerful".
Eric Anundsson or Eymundsson was a legendary Swedish king who supposedly ruled during the 9th century. The Norse sagas describe him as successful in extending his realm over the Baltic Sea, but unsuccessful in his attempts of westward expansion. There is no near-contemporary evidence for his existence, the sources for his reign dating from the 13th and 14th centuries. These sources, Icelandic sagas, are generally not considered reliable sources for the periods and events they describe.
Sigurd II Haraldsson was king of Norway from 1136 to 1155. He was son of Harald Gille, king of Norway and his mistress Thora Guttormsdotter. He served as co-ruler with his half-brothers, Inge Haraldsson and Eystein Haraldsson. His epithet Munn means "the Mouth" in Old Norse. He was killed in the power-struggle against his brother, Inge, in an early stage of the civil war era in Norway.
Olaf Haraldssøn Geirstadalf Digerbein, was a reputed son of King Harald Fairhair of Norway with Svanhild Øysteinsdatter, daughter of Øystein Jarl.
Sigurd Syr was a Norwegian petty king of Ringerike, a region in Buskerud. He was notable in Norwegian history largely through his association with Kings Harald Hardrada and Olaf II of Norway. By his marriage with Åsta Gudbrandsdatter after her first husband Harald Grenske had died, Sigurd Syr was stepfather of King Olaf II and the father of King Harald III.
The Fairhair dynasty was a family of kings founded by Harald I of Norway which united and ruled Norway with few interruptions from the latter half of the 9th century. In the traditional view, this lasted until 1387, however, many modern scholars view this rule as lasting only three generations, ending with Harald Greycloak in the late 10th century. The moniker "Fairhair dynasty" is a retrospective construction: in their lifetime what little traces there are refer to them consistently as "Ynglings".
Bjørn Farmann was a king of Vestfold. Bjørn was one of the sons of King Harald Fairhair of Norway. In late tradition, Bjørn Farmann was made the great-grandfather of Olaf II of Norway, through a son Gudrød Bjørnsson.
Morkinskinna is an Old Norse kings' saga, relating the history of Norwegian kings from approximately 1025 to 1157. The saga was written in Iceland around 1220, and has been preserved in a manuscript from around 1275.
Halldórr skvaldri was an Icelandic skald who lived in the first half of the twelfth century.
Glymdrápa is a skaldic poem composed by Þorbjörn Hornklofi, the court poet of King Harald I of Norway. Composed toward the end of the 9th century, the poem recounts several battles waged by King Harald, mostly as he was uniting Norway.
Gunnhildr konungamóðir or Gunnhildr Gormsdóttir, whose name is often Anglicised as Gunnhild is a quasi-historical figure who appears in the Icelandic Sagas, according to which she was the wife of Eric Bloodaxe. She appears prominently in sagas such as Fagrskinna, Egils saga, Njáls saga, and Heimskringla.
Haralds saga Sigurðarsonar is an Old Icelandic king's saga focusing on the career of King Haraldr Sigurðarson of Norway.
Gyda Eiriksdottir of Hordaland was a semi-legendary Norwegian queen consort during the Viking Era. She appears in the Saga of Harald Fairhair in Snorri Sturluson's Heimskringla.
Bjaðǫk was a twelfth-century woman purported to have been the mother of Eysteinn Haraldsson, King of Norway. In the first half of the twelfth century, Eysteinn was brought to Norway and claimed to be the son of his royal predecessor, Haraldr gilli, King of Norway. The latter was himself the son of a Gaelic woman, and claimed to be the son of an earlier king. The claims of Bjaðǫk and Eysteinn were accepted, and the latter went on to rule as king for fifteen years. Bjaðǫk's name could to be an Old Norse form of a Gaelic name, and she may well have been a member of a prominent family. According to modern tradition, Haraldr gilli's wife was an aunt of Somairle mac Gilla Brigte, King of the Isles, although whether this tradition is authentic is uncertain.
The Saga of Harald Fairhair is the third of the sagas in Snorri Sturluson's Heimskringla, after Ynglinga saga and the saga of Halfdan the Black. Snorri sagas were written in Iceland in the 1220s. This saga is about the Norwegian king Harald Fairhair.
Harald FairhairBorn:c. 850 Died:c. 933
|New title|| King of Norway |