Harald Hardrada: Facts and Information

Harald Sigurdsson or Harald of Norway was given the name Hardrada (perhaps meaning ruthless, severe, or resolute), and he ruled as King of Norway (as King Harald III) from 1046 to 1066.

He is probably best known for being the leader of the army defeated by Harold Godwinson in the Battle of Stamford Bridge (September 1066).

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Facts About Harald Hardrada

  • Harald was born around 1015 in Ringerike, Norway.
  • He was a half-brother of King Olaf II.
  • Olaf lost the throne of Norway to Cnut the Great, and Harald fought with his half-brother in the Battle of Stiklestad (1030) in an attempt to win it back. Unfortunately, the brothers were defeated by an army loyal to King Cnut. Olaf was killed and Harald was wounded.
  • Following their defeat, Harald escaped to Eastern Norway, and from there he travelled to Sweden and then to the Kyivian Rus’.
  • Yaroslav the Wise (Grand Prince of Kiev) made Harald the leader of his armies, and Harald took part in battles against the Poles, and probably the Chudes, the Pechenegs, and the Byzantine Empire too.
  • In around 1033, Harald took several hundred men with him to Constantinople, the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire (the Byzantine Empire). They joined the Varangian Guard, an elite unit of troops mainly made up of soldiers from northern Europe.
  • In the Varangian Guard, Harald fought in more than a dozen battles and conflicts all along the frontiers of the Byzantine Empire.
  • His role in the Varangian Guard made Harald a wealthy man, and during his time in Constantinople he had been sending money back to Kyvian Rus’ to keep it safe.
  • In 1042, Harald returned to Kyivian Rus, and he married Elisabeth, the daughter of Yaroslav the Wise
  • Joining forces with the King Anund Jacob of Sweden and Sweyn Estridsson, a pretender to the Danish throne, Harald mounted a series of raids against Magnus the Good (King of Norway and Denmark) along the Danish coast.
  • Rather than fight Harald, Magnus the Good struck a deal. He agreed to share the rule of Norway with Harald, in exchange for Harald sharing his wealth with Magnus.
  • This agreement ended with Magnus’s death in 1047. He died without an heir and named Sweyn Estridsson as his successor in Denmark, and Harald his successor in Norway.
  • During his reign as King of Norway, Harald introduced a royal monopoly on the minting of coins in Norway.
  • From 1048 to 1064, Harald waged war against King Sweyn of Denmark. Although Harald was mostly successful in a series of raids and skirmishes, the armies never met on the field, and he brokered a peace deal with Denmark.
Harald Hardrada arriving in York
Harald Hardrada arriving in York
  • In 1066, Harald plotted with Tostig, King Harold’s brother, to launch an attack on England. He left Norway with his fleet, picked up additional troops in Shetland, Orkney, and Dunfermline, and met up with Tostig at Tynemouth. In all, it is estimated that Harald’s forces numbered around 10000-15000 men and more than 250 longships.
  • Harald and Tostig raided the coast of England, burning Scarborough, and defeating the forces of Morcar of Northumbria and Edwin of Mercia near York in the Battle of Fulford.
  • King Harold marched on the forces of Harald and Tostig, catching them by surprise. Outnumbered and wearing only light armour, Harold Godwinson (King Harold) was victorious in the fight that became known as the Battle of Stamford Bridge.
  • Harald Hardrada is sometimes called the last great Viking leader.
  • His sons Magnus II and Olaf III ruled as kings of Norway.
  • Harald Hardrada was buried in Nidaros, Trondheim, Norway, before being transferred to Helgester Priory. The building was demolished in the 17th century, and it is believed that Harald’s burial site is currently located underneath a road.
  • Harald Hardrada has been the subject of many books, including Harald Hardrada: The Warrior’s Way by John Mardsen, The Last Viking: The True Story of King Harald Hardrada by Don Hollway, and God’s Viking by Nic Fields.
  • He appears as a character in the videogame Civilization VI.

What was Harald Hardrada’s claim to the English throne?

Harald had a very weak claim to the throne of England. It was based on an agreement made between Magnus and the previous King of England, Harthacnut that if either one of them died, the other would inherit their lands.

In the end, Harthacnut was succeeded by his brother, Edward the Confessor. Edward adopted a strategy of keeping his enemies happy by suggesting that they might be the one to succeed him. As a result, Sweyn of Denmark, William Duke of Normandy, Harold Godwinson, and Harald Hardrada all believed that they had a chance of becoming the King of England.

How did Harald Hardrada die?

Harald was killed by an arrow to the throat during the early stages of the Battle of Stamford Bridge. Apparently, he had gone into battle without his body armour or his shield.

Norse Gods and Goddesses: Facts About Freya

Here are some facts about Freya.

  • Freya is an important goddess in Norse mythology. Her name translates as The Lady and she is associated with fertility, love and beauty as well as gold and death.
  • She has two daughters who are named Hnoss and Gersemi, and she has a brother named Freyr. Freyr is associated with good fortune, sunshine and fine weather and is said to be an ancestor of Swedish royalty.

  • Freya wears a cloak made from falcon feathers, and rides in a chariot pulled by two cats. A boar named Hildisvíni is her faithful companion and she sometimes rides on it.
  • She is a member of the Vanir, a group of gods associated with wisdom, fertility and magic. The Vanir appear in 13th century poems and are able to predict the future.
  • She also owns a necklace named Brisingamen.
  • Half of the warriors who die in battle go to Freya, and half go to the god Odin.
  • Freya rules over a large meadow called Folkvangr, which translates as People Field, or People of the Host.
  • Several well-known Norse books and poems feature Freya, including the 13th century Prose Edda. This important source of Scandinavian mythology was written in the 13th century.
  • People in rural Scandinavia thought Freya was a supernatural figure until the 19th century. She also has connections to various figures in German mythology.
  • Freya features in Wagner’s famous opera cycle, The Ring, and has been depicted in several paintings.
  • Freya has also been a popular girl’s name in Scandinavia since the early 1990s.
  • Several plants in Scandinavia are named after Freya. She has also lent her name to dozens of place names in Sweden, some of which suggest a public worship of her.

What next? Learn more about the Vikings by visiting our Vikings resources page.

What Did the Vikings Wear? Facts About Viking Clothes and Costume

Here are some facts about the clothes worn by Vikings.

What did Viking men wear?

  • Viking men wore a woolen overtunic called a ‘kyrtill’. It was made from several sections of material sewn together. The top of the tunic fitted tightly and the sleeves and skirt were loose.

  • The tunic was pulled on over the head and they usually had high necklines.
  • The neckline and cuffs of Viking tunics were decorated with braid, woven from dyed wool. The wealthiest Vikings may also have used silk to trim their tunics.
  • Viking men also wore an undertunic. This was often made from linen.
  • Several different styles of trousers were worn by the Vikings. In some Viking regions men wore baggy trousers, and in others they fitted more tightly. The trousers were held up by either drawstrings or a belt, and they didn’t have any pockets or zips.

Viking clothing
Viking clothing (Image Source)

  • In some Viking regions leg wraps were worn over the trousers. Made from wool, these wraps were wound round the lower leg and foot.
  • Cloaks, made from wool, were worn as protection from bad weather and the cold. Viking cloaks often hung below the knee.
  • Vikings cloaks were held in place by pins. The simplest pins were made from wood or bone, but rich Vikings would have had ones crafted from gold.
  • Woolen or sheepskin caps were worn in some regions.
  • There is evidence of Vikings wearing woolen socks and mittens.
  • Viking shoes were very simple and made from leather. They were usually ankle height, but some Vikings wore boots which covered their calves.
  • Belts were worn around the tunic. An small objects were carried in leather pouches hung from the belt. Knives were also slung from the belt.

What did Viking women wear?

  • Women wore a linen under-dress. These were usually ankle-length.
  • On top of the under-dress, most Viking women wore a woolen dress. This dress was shorter than the linen one, and it had straps fastened by brooches. It looked a bit like an apron.
  • The brooches were highly decorative.

Viking clothes
Clothes worn by a Viking women (Image Source)

  • Strings of beads (made from glass and amber) were often slung between the brooches.
  • Cloaks and shawls made from wool were often worn over the woolen dress.
  • Like Viking men, women wore belts, but instead of being made from leather they were probably made from fabric.
  • Most Viking women wore headscarves or head coverings. These ranged from the very simple to the very elaborate.
  • viking women wore the same types of shoes as Viking men did.

What did Viking children wear?

  • It is thought that Viking children wore exactly the same types of clothing as their parents.

Other Facts About Viking Clothes

  • Wool and linen were the most commonly used materials.
  • Silks were imported by the very wealthy.
  • Leather was used for belts and shoes.
  • Animal furs (bear, marten, beaver, squirrel and fox) and animal skins were used to make winter clothing.
  • As clothes took a long time to make, they were often items plundered during a Viking raid.
  • Vegetable dyes were used to colour the fabrics. These produced a range of colours including: beige, brown, red, yellow, gold and blue.

What next? Find out more about the Vikings by visiting our Viking resources page.

Viking Helmets: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about Viking helmets.

  • Most Viking helmets were very simple. They commonly consisted of just a bowl and a nose guard.
  • Although most people think Vikings wore horned helmets, most historians agree that they didn’t.

  • The bowl of a Viking helmet was made from several pieces of iron joined together with rivets.
  • A band of iron circled the bowl and two other bands crossed at the top of the helmet, and the four openings created were filled with iron plates, creating the bowl shape.
  • Sometimes hardened leather was used instead of iron plate. This was much cheaper, but obviously offered less protection.
  • The nose guard was riveted to the bowl.
  • It is thought that a Viking helmet had a leather layer inside the bowl, and it is also believed that sheepskin may have been used as a liner as well.
  • Many historians believe that Viking helmets had leather chinstraps to keen them in place during battle.
  • Some Vikings helmets had chain mail curtains to provide greater protection to the neck. Other helmets had cheek protectors made from iron plates.
  • It is estimated that Viking helmets weighed between 2kg and 4kg. Viking warriors often wore their helmets all day long.
  • Iron was expensive during the Viking era. As a result, not all Viking warriors could afford to wear a helmet.
  • Helmets were prized possessions. They were often repaired and passed down the generations from father to son.
  • Viking helmets were not able to protect the wearer from powerful blows. Viking axes, spear tips and sword thrusts could all penetrate a Viking helmet.
  • It is thought that Viking warriors marked their helmets in some way before battles to indicate who they were fighting for.

What next? Find out more about the Vikings by visiting our Vikings resources page.

Viking Shields: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about Viking shields.

  • The Vikings used round shields made of wood.
  • Most Viking shields measured between 80cm and 90cm in diameter, but they could be as large as 95cm or as small as 70cm. Shields were often custom made to be the perfect size for the warrior who was going to be using it.

  • Nearly all of the Viking shields to have survived to this day were made from single planks of wood butted together, but written evidence states that the shields were constructed from two layers of linden wood. The written evidence also suggests that the shields were strengthened with iron bands.
  • The archaeological evidence tells us that shields were also made from pine wood, spruce wood or the wood from fir tree.
  • Viking shields weren’t strapped to the arm, they were gripped in the hand at the centre behind a boss made of iron. This meant that the angle of the shield could easily be changed.
  • The metal boss, attached to the wooden part of the shield by nails, protected the hand.
  • Viking shields were rimmed with leather or rawhide. This stopped the shield from splitting if it was hit by a blade on its edge. Some shields may have had iron rims, but there isn’t much archaeological evidence to support this.
  • Shields were often slung over the shoulder with leather straps when the warrior wasn’t fighting, or when he wanted to use two hands to wield his weapon.
  • It is thought that the fronts of some Viking shields were covered with leather. This made the shields heavier, but was a simple way of making the shields stronger and less likely to split in battle. As an alternative to leather, some Viking shields were probably covered in linen.
  • All Viking shields would have been coated in oil to make them waterproof, preventing them soaking up water and becoming heavier.
  • It is thought that a leather covered Viking shield weighed between 7kg and 10kg.
  • Viking shields were very effective at defending Viking warriors. They were used to deflect attacks, push attacks offline and spread the shock of a blow.
  • The Viking shield protected most of a warrior’s body, leaving only the head and legs expsoed. As a result, many Viking warrior remains show evidence of wounds to the head and legs.
  • The Vikings also used their shields as weapons. The shield could be used to bind the opponents weapon or to ‘punch’ the opponent.
  • Shields were painted. Red and white shields were common, but other colours, such as black and yellow, were used too.
  • Inside a Viking longhouse, shields were hung on the walls as decorations.
  • The shield was also used as a makeshift stretcher to carry the wounded from the field of battle.
  • It is thought that nearly all Viking warriors entered battle with a shield. Helmets and armour were also worn, but they were very expensive. For many Viking soldiers, the shield was their one and only means of defense.

What next? Discover more facts about the Vikings by visiting our resources page.

Norse Gods and Godesses: Facts About Loki

Here are some facts about Loki.

  • Loki is one of the most important gods in Norse mythology. He is able to change his appearance and has been a fish, a horse, a fly and even an old lady.
  • He is the Norse god of fire and is also known for playing pranks and tricks. Some stories and poems describe him as being a devil or demon.

  • One of the earliest references to him is in a 13th century collection of Norse poems known as the Poetic Edda. The poems were passed down from generation to generation.
  • His father was a giant and his mother may have been a giantess. He had several children, including Jormungand, a giant snake living in the sea surrounding the known world.
  • Loki asked a giant to help build Asgard, one of the nine worlds of the gods. The giant asked for the sun and moon if he completed the work on time.
  • However, Loki made sure that the giant did not finish the work on time. He led the giant’s horse away, without which the giant could not finish the work.
  • Loki is known for his part in the death of Baldur, the son of Odin. He killed him with a spear made from mistletoe, thrown at Baldur by the blind god, Hod.
  • The gods became tired of Loki’s jokes and mischievous behavior. They chained him to a rock where a poisonous serpent dripped venom onto him, his shouts of pain supposedly caused earthquakes.
  • The face of Loki was said to have appeared on a 1,000 year old stone found in Denmark in 1950. He can also be seen on part of a 10th century stone cross in St. Stephen’s Church in Cumbria.
  • Loki appears as a villain in Marvel comics, fighting Thor. He appears in several films, including the 2011 film Thor, and he is also in Wagner’s famous operas, the Ring Cycle.

What next? Visit our Vikings resources page to learn more facts about the Vikings and their beliefs.

Asgard: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about Asgard.

  • Asgard is one of the Nine Worlds of Norse mythology. It is said to be home to the Aesir tribe of gods, and is surrounded by a partially built wall.
  • It is located in the first level. The other levels have worlds containing various creatures such as dwarfs, dark elves, giants, demons and fire giants, and the dead.

  • Asgard may have been located in Troy, in what is now Turkey. It is said to be a fertile land, with more jewels and gold than any other places.
  • Valhalla, the ‘Hall of the Dead’, is located in Asgard. The large and beautiful chamber is ruled by the god Odin and is where those who die in battle end up.
  • Odin is the chief of the Aesir gods, and is the most powerful. He is able to see across all the Nine Worlds, speaks in verse and is able to change into different animals.
  • Asgard is connected to the real world by a rainbow bridge, named Bifrost. It is guarded by the god Heimdall, who can see for hundreds of miles, even in the dark.
  • The Plain of Idavoll is located in the centre of Asgard. This is where the gods meet regularly to discuss important events and to make decisions concerning the real world.
  • The Vikings believed that one day the world would end, an event they called Ragnarok. It is believed a fire giant will set fire to the walls of Asgard during Ragnarok.
  • The 13th century book Prose Edda contains many of the earliest descriptions of Asgard. It was probably written by Snorri Sturluson, an Icelandic poet, politician and historian.
  • The idea of Valhalla has become part of popular culture. A ride in Blackpool’s Pleasure Beach is named Valhalla, and there are several towns of that name in Australia and the US.

What next? Learn more about the Vikings and their beliefs by visiting our Vikings resources page.

Viking Homes and Houses: Facts About Viking Longhouses

Here are some interesting facts about Viking longhouses.

  • The Vikings built longhouses all over Scandinavia. The typical Viking longhouse was 6 metres wide and up to 75 metres long, with a wooden frame, and walls of wooden planks or clay.

  • The Viking longhouse was usually divided into several different rooms. Several families lived in the same house, and the more important families lived closer to the fire.
  • Fires were built in a central passageway to provide light and heat, and a means of cooking food. The fire was kept burning almost constantly, especially in colder areas.
  • Stone lamps using fish liver oil or whale oil  were sometimes used in longhouses, providing a strong enough light to work by.
  • The length of the Viking longhouse often depended on how rich the owner was. Wealthy people also decorated their houses with rugs, tapestries and sometimes shields.
  • In very cold areas, Viking longhouses were built with stone and turf for extra warmth. They even stuffed straw, wool and moss in between two walls as a form of insulation.
  • Porridge and stew were eaten almost every day in Viking homes, along with bread, cheese, honey, birds and the meat from small animals. People in cold regions would even eat polar bears or seals and preserve the meat in salt. Clink here to learn more about Viking food.
  • A typical Viking longhouse had very little furniture, other than wooden benches around the walls. Pillows and cushions were filled with duck or chicken feathers for extra comfort, and personal items were stored in wooden chests.
  • Sheep, goats and cows often lived in the same house as people.
  • In addition to looking after the animals, important household tasks included getting water, farming, making clothes and chopping wood.
  • One of the largest Viking longhouses was excavated on the Lofoten Islands in Norway. Today, the site is a museum, offering visitors the chance to sample Viking daily life.

What next? Find out more facts about the Vikings.

Lindisfarne: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about Lindisfarne.

  • Lindisfarne is a small island located off the northeast coast of England. It is also known as Holy Island and is home to a priory and castle.
  • The island measures just over 4 km square and is almost 3 km from the mainland. It can be reached by a causeway which can only be safely crossed at low tide.

  • Despite posted warnings, at least one car is stranded on the causeway each month. It costs over £4,000 to rescue people by air and £2,000 for a sea rescue.
  • The priory on Lindisfarne was founded in the 7th century by St. Aidan, and the island became an important Christian site. He went for long walks around the island and mainland to meet the local people.
  • St. Cuthbert was later bishop here and one of the oldest pieces of English writing is his biography. His body was taken to nearby Durham Cathedral after the Viking raid of 793.
  • Lindisfarne was one of the first places in Britain to be attacked by Viking raiders. In 793 Viking raiders attacked the monastery at Lindisfarne. They killed several of the monks, set buildings alight, and stole valuable items.
  • During the early 8th century, a Latin copy of some of the gospels was written at Lindisfarne. The manuscript, known for its beautiful illustrations, is called the Lindisfarne Gospels.
  • Monks on Lindisfarne made honey wine, known as mead. Although the monks have now gone, the mead is still made today using water from the island’s well and its exact recipe is kept a secret.
  • Lindisfarne Castle was built during the 16th century, to defend the island. The castle walls were strengthened with yak hair to stop the rain from eroding them.
  • The Lindisfarne Nature Reserve surrounds the island and occupies almost 9,000 acres. The reserve is the only winter nesting place for the Norwegian pale bellied brent goose.
  • The parish church of Lindisfarne dates from the 7th century. It has a replica of St. Cuthbert’s coffin as well as a wooden sculpture showing his body being carried to Durham.

What next? Learn more about the Vikings and the Anglo-Saxons by visiting our resources pages.

Danegeld: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about the Danegeld.

  • The Danegeld was a tax paid to Viking raiders, to stop them from attacking the coast and invading. It might be viewed as a form of protection money, although the literal translation was ‘Dane tribute’.
  • In England the tax was first collected in 868. It became a regular tax under the reign of King Ethelred and was widely collected until the 12th century.

  • In 991, a tax of 3,300 kg of silver was collected to buy off the Vikings..
  • A form of the Danegeld may have existed in Brittany, France, as well as in England. On one occasion, the local king paid with 500 cattle, instead of money or gold.
  • The Baltic states also paid a form of Danegeld. The system extended as far east as Russia, and tribes in the far north of Scandinavia paid with animal fur.
  • During the Norman period, the Danegeld was based on the amount of land a person owned. 1162 was the last year the system was recorded on a pipe roll (a medieval accounting system).
  • In 1163, the Danegeld was replaced by the plough tax. It was assumed a man owned more land if he had more ploughs, and therefore paid more taxes.
  • It is estimated that a total of 60 million pennies was used during Anglo-Saxon times as payment to the Vikings. One of the largest single payments was 27,000 kg of silver.
  • Rune stones can be found all over Sweden, commemorating the Danegeld that certain warriors received. The heavy stones, which date from the 11th century are embedded in the ground.
  • Today the word is used, mainly by politicians, to criticise a payment that is forced from someone, or a payment that someone has been persuaded to make. The term was used in the 1930s to describe Neville Chamberlain‘s appeasement policy towards Adolf Hitler.

What next? Learn more about the Anglo-Saxons, the Vikings and the Normans.