Harald Sigurdsson, known as Harald Hardrada (the Hard or Ruthless Ruler) was called the Last Viking. Snorri Sturluson told Harald’s saga in the Heimskringla, a 13th century history of the kings of Norway.
Snorri related that when young Harald’s half-brother King Olaf tugged his hair, Harald grabbed the king’s moustache and pulled it, the king predicted (rightly as it turned out): “You are likely to be vindictive when you grow up, kinsman.” Harald was not well-liked, even by his own people, because he was dishonest and untrustworthy. He stood over 6’6” with blond hair and was reported to be a vicious fighter, crafty leader and cruel (by our standards) ruler.
At fifteen, Harald fled Norway after being severely wounded in a battle in which King Olaf was killed. He found refuge with a relative, King Yaroslav of the Scandinavian kingdom of Novgorod in Russia. He soon took service in Constantinople under the Empress Zoe of Byzantium, in the Varangian Guard which he eventually led to victories in Italy, Sicily, North Africa, and Jerusalem. He sent all the plundered treasure he could gather (including what should have gone to the Empress) to King Jaroslav for safe-keeping.
The Empress denied him her niece, Maria’s, hand (Rumor was that Zoe wanted him for herself.) and imprisoned him for his offenses. Harald escaped, kidnapped Maria, attacked Zoe’s palace, captured and blinded the Emperor, stole a ship and sailed to Russia. Harald eventually sent Maria home with an “in your face” message to Empress Zoe.
Harald accepted his nephew (the king of Norway and Denmark) Magnus’s offer of half his kingdom in return for a share of Harald’s treasure. When Magnus died soon afterwards, Harald succeeded him but Denmark refused to accept him and chose Swein Ulfsson as their king. Harald spent the next 15 years warring, ravaging, plundering, and plotting to conquer Denmark. In 1064, Harald was compelled to sign a treaty with King Swein, recognizing him as King of Denmark. (Harald had to make do with Norway.)
Two years later, Tostig Godwinson sought Harald’s support to overthrow his brother Harold, the king of England. Probably bored after two years of inaction, possessing a slight claim to England’s throne himself, and needing to replenish his treasure, Harald decided to make one more conquest. After several early victories, on September 25, 1066 at Stamford Bridge, Harald was defeated and killed by an arrow to his windpipe by the English forces under King Harold Godwinson. His banner- ‘Landwaster’ – fell with him. Within the month, King Harold and his force were defeated by William “the Bastard” – next week’s Heroic Hunk.
Since no pictures of Harald survive (and we do love those pictures), take the Viking Challenge. Of the seven pics, four are re-enactors and three are actors in Viking or Vikingesque roles. Name the three actors and their movie roles. Which actor is of Scandinavian descent? Answers in Comment #4.
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