Harald III of Norway

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Harald Sigurdsson (1015 – September 25, 1066), later given the epithet Hardrada (Old Norse: Haraldr harðráði, roughly translated as "stern counsel" or "hard ruler", Hardråde in contemporary Norwegian) was the king of Norway from 1047[1] until 1066. He also claimed to be the King of Denmark until 1064, often defeating King Sweyn's army and forcing him to leave the country. Many details of his life were chronicled in the Heimskringla and other Icelandic sources. Among English-speakers, he is generally remembered for his invasion of England in 1066. Harald's death is often recorded as the end of the Viking Age.


Origins, Early Life and Wandering in the East

Harald was the youngest of King Olaf II's three half-brothers born to Åsta Gudbrandsdatter. His father was Åsta's second husband Sigurd Syr. The Icelandic sources, in particular Heimskringla, state that Sigurd, like Olaf's father, was a great-grandson of Harald I of Norway (Harald Fairhair) in the male line. However, many modern scholars believe that the ancestors attributed to Harald, along with other parts of the Fairhair genealogy, are inventions reflecting the political and social expectations of the time of the authors rather than historical reality.[2]

Harald took part, on the side of Olaf, in the Battle of Stiklestad in 1030. Although wounded, he managed to escape, leaving Norway in exile. He was able to form a band of warriors out of men who had also been exiled as a result of Olaf's death.

In 1031 Harald and his men reached the land of the Kievan Rus, where they served the armies of Yaroslav I the Wise, the Grand Prince of the Rus, whose wife Ingigerd was a distant relative of Harald. Harald is thought to have taken part in Grand Prince Yaroslav's campaign against the Poles, and was appointed joint commander of defense forces. Sometime after this, Harald and his retinue of some five hundred warriors moved on to Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine Empire, where there had been at least since 1034 an elite royal guard composed largely of Scandinavian Rus and called the Varangian Guard. Harald served in the guard until 1042. In a Greek book written in the 1070s, Kekaumenos's Strategikon, Harald is described as "son of the king of Varangia" and is said to have performed so bravely in Byzantine campaigns in Sicily and Bulgaria that the Emperor appointed him first as manglabites, or member of a special section of the Emperor's personal bodyguard, and then to the title of spatharocandidate (Greek: σπαθαροκανδιδᾶτος).[3] It appears he may have been imprisoned for some time on the orders of the Empress Zoe, it is suggested on charges of misappropriation of funds, but was released, or escaped imprisonment, on the ascension of the new Emperor Constantine IX.[4]

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