Thursday, April 9, 2015

H is for King Harald's Saga (Epics from A to Z)

Aand we are back to the Vikings.

Origins
King Harald's Saga is part of the Heimskringla, a collection of sagas telling the history of Norway, written by the Icelander Snorri Sturluson at the end of the 12th century. It is also hands down one of my favorite sagas. If you want to read it, you can get it in its own edition, complete with family trees, great footnotes, and a detailed introduction.

The Hero
The hero of the saga is King Harald Sigurdsson, also known as Harald Hardrada ("firm ruler"), king of Norway between 1046 and 1066 AD. He is known for being the guy who wore Harold Godwinson out with a battle up North so Harold could not stand against William the Conqueror a week later, and hence... well, English history.
Harald is known throughout the saga as tall, blonde, handsome, brave, smart, and dangerously easy to anger. He spends most of his time plundering as a good Viking does, but also runs his kingdom with a firm hand, which ultimately leads him to lose some of his best supporters to rival kings such as his great nemesis, King Svein of Denmark. However, one can't help but admire Harald, his skill in battle, and his creativity when it comes to coming out of hopeless situations with a victory.

The Highlights
My favorite part of the saga is definitely Harald's early years. Between the ages of fifteen and thirty, he lives in exile (he takes part at fifteen in the battle where his half-brother, Saint Olaf, dies in his attempt to force Norway into Christianity). Harald spends his formative years as the commander of the Varangian Guard in Byzantium, being envied by Greek generals and lusted after by the infamous Empress Zoe (and her daughter). He ends up in prison, but breaks out, and manages a daring escape across the chain blockade of the Constantinople harbor.
The saga includes many great battle scenes through Harald's career as king, but I especially like the shorter anecdotes about him getting out of sticky situations. For example, the one where he lands with his fleet on an abandoned island and can't find fresh water to drink. He tells his soldiers to catch a snake and put it near a fire; when the snake dries out and needs water, they tie a yarn to its tail, and follow it as the snake slithers away to a secret source of water.
Apart from Harald, some of the other characters are worth mentioning as well. King Svein is a worthy enemy all through the story, a brave yet reasonable man with great skills for survival. The chapter where he gets away alive after losing a nighttime naval battle to Harald is one of the best parts in the saga.

21 comments:

  1. This is one I think I need to read. I've done readings on English, French and Russian histories, but I've never gone the way of the Scandinavians. It might be time... Elle @ Erratic Project Junkie

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  2. You know what? I kno wthis saga. I thought I'd never say this on this blog!

    I love Scandinavian stories and legend and I studied a bit of Vikin history by myself. These are fascinating matters, at least, they have always fascinated me.

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  3. Sounds like he was a bit stern, but an intelligent ruler. Love the idea of the snake. Wonder if it would really work?
    Tasha
    Tasha's Thinkings | Wittegen Press | FB3X (AC)

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  4. I am really digging your theme... really, I am fascinated in this kind of stuff... since a kid.

    Jeremy [Retro]
    AtoZ Challenge Co-Host [2015]

    There's no earthly way of knowing.
    Which direction we are going!

    HOLLYWOOD NUTS!
    Come Visit: You know you want to know if me or Hollywood... is Nuts?

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  5. Harald's trick with the snake is exactly the sort of brilliance in stories that can inform the living of life. Love it!

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  6. This is right up my ally. Love European history. Who needs Game of Thrones?

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  7. The constant warring must have been so hard on the common folks while the kings raked in all the fame and glory.

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  8. He looks the part of Viking, all right. Plunder, kill, go home. Then repeat. What a life.

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  9. Reminds me a bit of Alexander the Great. Hard on the masses, great for the nobility all this raiding and battle glory. Most successful rulers had a very firm hand with their subjects. Hadrada - like the ways the name sounds, rather crisp .

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  10. Love this, I am always looking for 1066 related facts... sort of a quirk of mine. So is the League of Legendary Ladies A to Z group listed somewhere as a bunch of women bloggers? Just curious. History and women and interconnections and spinoffs are fascinating.

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    1. The Legendary Ladies are my A to Z Co-hosting team :) They help with keeping the challenge fun and organized!

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  11. Battles, romance, prison, escapes....sounds like it's packed with action.

    Sandy at Bridge and Beyond

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  12. Again with the exile thing... imagine how many weirdos would be wandering the globe these days if we outcast them all... wait... maybe that already happens???

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  13. As a proud Viking, I fully approve of this post. :)

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  14. Sounds like an interesting guy. I like that he doesn't take any nonsense. ;)

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  15. Sounds like a wonderful story. The vikings were ruthless! Great post!

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  16. I love the scene with the snake! It's nice to see a snake being used as something other than a villain.

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  17. Isn't there a legend about an arrow in the that relates to him and the battle off 1066? Or am I dreaming?

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    1. Nope, that is actually also in the saga :) He got shot, in some sources in the eye, in some sources in the neck...

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  18. This really sounds familiar. I'm sure I've heard of King Harald before but can't place where or how. Even his brother's name Saint Olaf sounds really familiar. UGH. Now this will be bugging me until I can remember how I know about this story!

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