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Harald Fairhair
Harald Fairhair, in an illustration from the 14th century Flateyjarbók.
Succeeded by Eric I
Personal details
Born c. 850
Died c. 932
Rogaland, Norway
Spouse(s) Ragnhild Eriksdotter
Åsa Håkonsdotter
Religion Norse paganism

Harald Halfdansson (Old Norse: Haraldr Hálfdanarson; c. 850 – c. 932), better known as Harald Hårfagre English: Harald Fairhair), was remembered by medieval 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. Most of his life remains uncertain, since the extant accounts of his life in the sagas were set down in writing around three centuries after his lifetime. A few remnants of skaldic praise poems attributed to contemporary court poets exist which seem to refer to Haraldr's victories against opponents in Norway. The information supplies in these poems is inconsistent with the tales in the sagas in which they are transmitted, and the sagas themselves often disagree on the details of his background and biography.[1] Two of his sons, Eric Bloodaxe and Haakon the Good, followed Harald to become kings over extensive territories in Norway after his death.


The only[citation needed] contemporary sources mentioning him are the two skaldic poems Haraldskvæði and Glymdrápa, which have been attributed to Þorbjörn Hornklofi or alternatively (in the case of the first poem) to Þjóðólfr of Hvinir. The first poem has only been preserved in fragments in 13th century Kings' sagas. It describes life at Harald's court, mentions that he took a Danish wife, and that he won a battle at Hafrsfjord. The second relates a series of battles Harald won. The facts offered by the poems may be scarce but they are a good source of information.

His life is described in several of the Kings' sagas. Their accounts of Harald and his life may differ on some points, and some of the content may be uncertain but it is clear that he unified Norway into one kingdom. Some modern skeptics have generally assumed that his rule was limited to the coastal areas of southern Norway though there is no real evidence to support their claim.

Saga descriptions[]

In Heimskringla 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" for the one by which he is usually known.

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 king Erik Eymundsson. In 872, after a great victory at Hafrsfjord near Stavanger, Harald found himself king over the whole country. 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.[2]

The earliest narrative source which mentions Harald, Íslendingabók notes that Iceland was settled during his lifetime. Harald thus caused 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 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.

Later life[]


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 in 872.[3][4]


File:Harald Haarfager1c.jpg

Harald Haarfager later in his life

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. Only the following five names of sons can be confirmed from contemporary skaldic poems (with saga claims in parenthesis), while the full number of sons remains unknown:[5]

  • Eric Bloodaxe (by Ragnhild Eiriksdotter from Jutland, Denmark)
  • Haakon the Good (by Tora Mosterstong from Moster, Sunnhordland)
  • Ragnvald
  • Bjørn (Bjørn Farmann?)
  • Halvdan, possibly two by that name

According to Heimskringla[]

The full list of sons according to Snorri Sturluson's Heimskringla:

Children with Åsa, daughter of Håkon Grjotgardsson, Earl of Lade:

  • Guttorm Haraldssøn, king of Ranrike
  • Halvdan Kvite (Haraldssøn), king of Trondheim
  • Halvdan Svarte (Haraldssøn), king of Trondheim.
  • Sigrød Haraldssøn, king of Trondheim

Children with Gyda Eiriksdottir:

  • Ålov Årbot (Haraldsdøtter)
  • Rørek Haraldssøn
  • Sigtrygg Haraldssøn
  • Frode Haraldssøn
  • Torgils Haraldssøn - identified as "Thorgest" in the (dates not correct) Irish history. Snorri Sturluson, in his Heimskringla, claims that Torgils was Harald's son.

Children with Svanhild, daughter of Eystein Earl:

  • Bjørn Farmann, king of Vestfold.
  • Olaf Haraldssøn Geirstadalf, king of Vingulmark, later also Vestfold.
  • Ragnar Rykkel

Children with Åshild, daughter of Ring Dagsson:

  • Ring Haraldsson
  • Dag Haraldsson
  • Gudrød Skirja
  • Ingegjerd Haraldsdotter

Children with Snøfrid, daughter of Svåse the Finn:

  • Halvdan Hålegg
  • Gudrød Ljome
  • Ragnvald Rettilbeine
  • Sigurd Rise

Other children:

  • Ingebjørg Haraldsdotter

Ancestors from the sagas[]

See also[]

  • Unification of Norway


  1. Krag, Claus. "Harald 1 Hårfagre". Norsk biografisk leksikon. Retrieved 3 September 2012. 
  2. According to Peter H. Sawyer, this expedition probably never took place, cf. "Harald Fairhair and the British Isles", in "Les Vikings et leurs civilisation", ed. R. Boyer (Paris, 1976), pp. 105-9
  3. Heimskringla, by Snorri Sturluson
  4. Heimskringla,The Chronicle of the Kings of Norway
  5. Krag, Claus (1995). Vikingtid og rikssamling: 800-1130. pp. 92–95. ISBN 8203220150. 
  • Public Domain This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911) Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.) Cambridge University Press 

Related Reading[]

  • Viking Empires by Angelo Forte, Richard Oram and Frederik Pedersen (Cambridge University Press. June 2005)
  • The Oxford Illustrated History of the Vikings Peter Sawyer, Editor (Oxford University Press, September 2001)
  • Raffensperger, Christian, "Shared (Hi)Stories: Vladimir of Rus' and Harald Fairhair of Norway," The Russian Review, 68,4 (2009), 569-582.
Harald Fairhair
Fairhair dynasty
Born: c. 850 Died: c. 933
Regnal titles
New title King of Norway
Succeeded by
Eirik Bloodaxe

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