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Harald Fairhair, in an illustration from the 14th century Flateyjarbók.
|King of Norway|
|Born||putatively c. 850|
putatively c. 932|
|Burial||Haraldshaugen in Haugesund|
Ragnhild Eriksdotter |
Eric I of Norway|
Haakon I of Norway
|Father||Halfdan the Black|
Harald Fairhair (Old Norse: Haraldr inn hárfagri, Norwegian: Harald hårfagre; putatively c. 850 – c. 932) is portrayed by medieval Icelandic 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 (and 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' (standing 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 '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, 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.
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.[a]
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.[b]
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 Haakon 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 parenthesis), 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 Grjotgardsson, Earl of Lade:
Children with Gyda Eiriksdottir:
Children with Svanhild, daughter of Eystein Earl:
Children with Åshild, daughter of Ring Dagsson:
Children with Snøfrid, daughter of Svåse the Finn:
|Ancestry of Harald Fairhair|
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.
Harald FairhairBorn: c. 850 Died: c. 933
|New title|| King of Norway