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May 02, 2023 6 min read

Harald I | The story of the first Viking king of Norway

Harald with the beautiful hair | The mysterious story of the Viking king of Norway

Brave and valiant Viking, Harald Hárfagri is the first king to have reigned over all of Norway. An intrepid warrior, his story remains one of the most unusual in Scandinavian civilization.

Embodying all the values of the Nordic kingdom, he is one of the most valiant characters of the Viking era. His story is a striking example of perseverance, and his legend still fascinates the minds.

But who is King Harald really? How did he manage to conquer such vast territories? And above all, what is the story behind these victories? In this article, we reveal everything about the 1st Viking king of Norway.

The story of Harald: 1st Viking king of Norway

Descendant of a noble Nordic lineage, and son of the legendary Viking Halfdan the Black Gudrødsson, Harald is destined to have a grandiose future. However, his life will not be merciful, because he will know a tumultuous course strewn with unusual misadventures.

Indeed, the historical sagas depict Harald with the Beautiful Hair as the true founder of the Kingdom of Norway. He was the first Viking king who unified and ruled over all these Nordic lands. However, since the historical sources concerning Harald are very few, there are still grey areas on the history of this sovereign.

Thus, according to Norwegian historians, two versions are possible:

  • Harald would have ruled only the eastern coastal region of Norway, as well as some small kingdoms scattered throughout the country. This version is mainly attested by the Historia Norvegiæ, a medieval Norwegian source.
  • According to Snorri Sturluson's Heimskringla, he was simply a "surprising" king. In all likelihood, he conquered the entire Norwegian territory after a long series of heroic battles against the local jarls.

Moreover, although it remains controversial, this 2nd version is attested by two Scandinavian poems written by the famous poet-scalde, Þorbjörn Hornklofi. The first poem, "Haraldskvæði", tells of the life of King Harald, while the second, "Glymdrápa", tells of all the battles he fought.

Even though these are only slight variations, historians have found great changes in the Norse stories about Harald.

That is why, before talking about the heroic journey of Harald with the Beautiful Hair, we must go back to his origins. So, without further ado, here is how the story of the first great king who unified Norway began!

The origins of Harald Hárfagri

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Harald Hårfagre is the son of a powerful warrior and Viking king of Norway, Halfdan the Black Gudrødsson. Like Harald, his father had an eventful childhood that made him a noble ruler.

Indeed, at the age of one, Halfdan the Black's father was murdered, making him a king marked by war crimes. This led him to take on the role of ruler at the age of 18 to reconquer the neighboring kingdoms and impose peace.

Thus, during his conquests, he took control of several small Norwegian kingdoms such as Vestfold, Oppland, Raumarike or Hedmark and Vingulmark.

Although his goal is noble, he quickly realizes that one life will not be enough to achieve this goal. This is undoubtedly the reason why he decides to get married.

However, during the same year and by the greatest of misfortunes, his first wife and his eldest son are killed. Halfdan, determined to leave behind a noble heir to rule his lands, remarried shortly afterwards. He married Ragnhild Sigurdsdatter, who gave him his legendary son Harald HÃ¥rfagre in the year 850 AD.

The youth of the future king of Norway



As misfortune never comes alone, Harald sees his life take a tragic turn, strangely resembling that of his father. On his way back to the Oppland kingdom from a banquet held to celebrate the conquest of Hadeland, Halfdan tragically loses his life.

According to the stories, Halfdan fell through the ice of the Randsfjorden lake and drowned. Saddened by the terrible news, Harald, who was only 10 years old at the time, was thrown into the cruel world of royalty.

Not even having time to mourn his father, he finds himself obliged to take the throne at the age of only 10. On top of that, he was not even allowed to bury his father's body because it was divided into four by the jarls of the enemy kingdoms.

Harald inherits his father's territories and is forced to take on a role that is beyond him. Still very young, he is deeply marked by the conflicts between jarls and Viking kings of Norway. This is probably the origin of his lifelong dream and ambition: to unify Norway!

Thus begins the legend of King Harald and his long journey to glory.

The legendary king of Norway: Harald with the beautiful hair

Harald Hárfagri did not always have his famous epithet "with beautiful hair", which has long made his glory. According to Snorri Sturluson, he was a very ambitious king who wanted to reunite war-torn Norway. To this end, he promised himself that he would not cut his hair again until he achieved this ambition.

And so begins the legend of Harald with frizzy hair!

Harald the fuzzy-haired conqueror of Norway

The first great victory of the young king was when he managed to eradicate a revolt in the kingdom of Oppland. At that time, his kingdom was still limited to the southeastern part of Norway. Driven by the enthusiasm of youth, he thought he had become a great ruler among the Vikings.

However, he quickly put his feet back on the ground when a princess refused his marriage proposal. It was not just any princess, since it was the daughter of the great king Hordaland, Gyda Eiriksdottir.

According to the sagas, this lady of unparalleled beauty was not impressed by Harald, who had no prestigious title. She refused the marriage proposal and asked him to come back once he became king of all Norway.

Harald, having fallen madly in love with this princess, is more than determined to unify the 30 kingdoms of the country. To this end, he vows not to cut or comb his hair during a long quest that will last 10 years.

A decade later, Harald had achieved the feat of defeating all enemy kings. In the face of such determination and unparalleled bravery, some of the jarls pledged their allegiance to him.

However, after such a long period without hair, her beautiful hair had become horribly thick and messy. This earned him the nickname of Harald with frizzy hair during a battle that marked the turning point in his history: the battle of Hafrsfjord!

The battle of Hafrsfjord

Harald I | The story of the first Viking king of Norway

After signing a pact with the jarl of the kingdom of Lade, Haakon, the young ruler could launch the conquest of western Norway. There follows a series of prodigious victories of Harald.

In front of his exploits and fearing to lose their lands, the jarls of the West of Norway join together to face him. This will lead to the greatest war of the Viking era, the naval battle of Hafrsfjord, near Stavanger, in 872 AD.

This battle will see the greatest armed forces of that time confront each other. On the one hand, the frizzy-haired Harald, with the terrible Viking warriors "Berserker" in his troops, and on the other hand, the alliance of the Viking chiefs of the West.

According to the poem Haraldskvæði and the saga of Heimskringla, this event marks the turning point in the unification of Norway. Indeed, Harald's victory at Hafrsfjord is described as the greatest and bloodiest of his battles.

Thus, this glorious victory marked the beginning of the reign of Harald I, king and ruler of a unified Norway.

The epithet of Harald with the beautiful hair

Harald I | The story of the first Viking king of Norway

Now that he was the undisputed first ruler of Norway, Harald had to have a name and a hairstyle worthy of his rank. And since he was no longer bound by his lifelong promise, Harald cut and brushed his long blond hair. And so he became known, forever, as Harald with the beautiful hair.

After that, he asked for the hand of the princess Gyda, who accepted to marry him, as she had promised him ten years before, and thus became Harald I of Norway. In addition to that, this marriage allowed him to extend his control to several Danish regions.

During his 83 years of life, Harald with the Beautiful Hair will have many wives and children. According to the sagas, he had up to 7 wives and more than 20 children among Eric I "Bloody Axe" and Haakon I "the Good".

Harald with the Beautiful Hair, Ist king of Norway, is a Viking character at the same time fascinating and surprising. Courageous and persevering, he left his mark on an entire country, while his prestigious line of Viking kings, the HÃ¥rfagre dynasty, shaped the entire Nordic history.

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