Born in 1015, son of the chieftain Sigurd Syr, he soon experienced warfare – already as a 15-year old, he participated in the Battle of Stiklestad.
His constant participation in battles continued until he died in the Norwegian invasion of England in 1066. Many experts see his death as the end of the Viking Age.
Personal life and striking appearance
Harald Hardrada was often described as a very tall and strong man, taller and stronger than the average – according to some sources, he was seven feet tall!
He was light-haired, with a light beard and mustache, with large hands and feet. Some find that he was a typical representation of most people's mental image of Vikings – strong and big built, tall, light-haired, and bearded.
In addition to that, his name Hardrada, meaning something similar to "stern," "rough," or "hard," just added to that image.
He was married twice. Firstly, he was married to princess Elisiv of Kyiv. They had two daughters, Ingegerd and Maria, and possibly more children.
His second marriage was with Tora Torbergsdatter. This marriage causes disputes among historians, as Harald was still married to Elisiv when he entered his second marriage, which would make it a bigamous marriage.
However, according to some sources, such a marriage was possible in 11th century Norway. However, only Elisiv, as the first wife, had the title of the Queen.
Harald had two sons with Tora, Magnus II and Olaf III. They both reigned as kings of Norway. Harald and Tora may have had more children.
Harald participated in battles in the Mediterranean area, Asia Minor, and the Byzantine Empire. Photo: saramarses / Pixabay
Successful military career
Harald's military career began quite early – his half-brother Olaf came to Norway after two years of exile to reclaim the throne. Hence, 15-year-old Harald gathered 600 men and departed to help his half-brother in this attempt.
Harald and Olaf fought against Cnut the Great and his army in the famous Battle of Stiklestad, but they were defeated, and Harald was forced to flee.
Despite the defeat and the very young age at the time of the battle, Harald's military talent was noticed and described as remarkable.
The defeat made Harald and his men move to Kievan Rus', where he was made captain of Prince Yaroslav's forces. Prince Yaroslav was a distant family member and badly needed good military leaders, so Harald was the perfect fit.
His successful military career did not end at this point. After that, Harald moved to Constantinople in the mid-1030s, where he joined the elite unit of the Byzantine Army, the Varangian Guard.
Very soon after joining the Guard, Harald became the leader. He fought battles in a very wide region – the Mediterranean area, Asia Minor, and the Byzantine Empire. He was recognized as a very successful and competent military leader.
Harald Hardrada as the king
Harald wanted to reclaim the Norwegian throne in 1045. Norway at the time was ruled by Olaf's son Magnus the Good. After some attempts to join forces with Sweyn Estridsson of Denmark, Harald avoided war and finally came to terms with King Magnus the Good.
They agreed that they would jointly rule Norway, and Harald would share half of his wealth with Magnus, who was facing financial problems at the time.
On the other hand, Harald could offer a healthy portion of the wealth he accumulated in numerous battles during his long and successful military career.
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