Though this may be a traditional view, it is very much incorrect as the life of Magnus III Olafsson shows us that this era extended far beyond 1066. 

Viking roots 

Every lover of Viking history (and we are many at The Viking Herald) owes a debt of gratitude to medieval monks and scholars. 

Though they often are at the end of ridicule for their laborious techniques (the current author would rather stick a fork in his eye than write this article with a quill!) and their supposed general ignorance (#theoriginalflatearthers), their writings have been invaluable.

Even if not always historically accurate, their works offer insight into the life and times of Europe and beyond from centuries ago.

In the late 12th century, Theodoric the Monk, a Benedictine monk living near Nidaros (Trondheim), sat down to write a summary of the kings of Norway – Agrip af Noregskonungsagom.

Starting with the death of Halfdan Svarti in 860, Theodoric took the story up to the early 12th century, just a few generations prior.

The death of Harald Hardrada in 1066, thwarting his invasion to seize the English crown, along with the Norman invasions later that year, was seen as a convenient bookend to the Viking Age, which had started with a raid in 793.

Yet, scouring Theodoric's work towards the latter end, we come across a King of Norway who was born after the Viking period ended but had all the hallmarks of a true Viking King – Magnus III Olafsson, better known as Magnus Barefoot. 

Nidaros Cathedral, the coronation site for King Magnus III Olafsson and all Norwegian monarchs, from Harald I to the current King Harald V. Photo: Kenggo / Shutterstock

Son of a king and a snazzy dresser 

Young Magnus was born in about 1073, the son of the King of Norway, Olaf Kyrre. 

Olaf's father was present at Stamford Bridge when Harald Hardrada was killed, and young Olaf was lucky to escape back to Norway with his life.

One should never try to psychoanalyze dead kings, but this must have had some effect on young Olaf. 

His reign was marked by almost 30 years of peace, with the memory of the horrors of war he had seen in his youth burned into his memory. 

Magnus grew up in his father's royal court in Nidaros (modern-day Trondheim) and was said to have inherited his grandfather's fiery temperament and warlike nature. 

According to later Icelandic chronicles, young Magnus was not only good-looking – not as tall as his grandfather but still notably tall – but also a bit of a fashion icon. 

He was said to favor a Gaelic-style tunic, which (shock and horror) showed off part of his legs, hence his nickname Magnus Barelegs, or Barefoot. 

Other accounts of this nickname involve his love of riding into battle with no shoes or having to flee from an army with no shoes. 

We have no way of knowing which account is accurate, but all three could be true: a Viking warrior could be as brave as he was suave and well-dressed. 

By the time his father died in 1093, Norway had seen a prolonged period of peace. 

Magnus was no doubt schooled by his father in the arts of governance and was proclaimed (a link back to their earlier Viking roots) king at a local assembly (thing) in Viken in September of that year. 

His long apprenticeship served Magnus well, as he had ingratiated himself with the local aristocracy so much that they bought into his plans for the beginning of his reign: invasion. 

Gaels, Normans, and Scots 

With the Norman invasions from 1066, the era of Norse influence in England had ended. However, that doesn't mean the end of the Viking story in the rest of the British Isles. 

Once king, Magnus turned his attention to helping a Scottish warlord, Donald Bane, conquer Edinburgh and seize the Scottish crown. 

In return, Magnus was gifted what people in Viking societies called the Southern Isles – the Isle of Man and the Hebrides. 

These had been captured by Viking warriors centuries before and still had a strong Norse presence, though recent movements of Gaels and Normans had seen this Norse influence slightly recede. 

Whilst Magnus was away campaigning, political and familial scheming was happening back home. 

His cousin, Haakon Magnusson, and his uncle, Harald Magnusson, claimed the kingdom and divided it amongst them. 

When his uncle eventually died while hunting in 1095, a series of rebellions sprouted, led by pushy and ambitious nobles. 

The result was that, though Magnus retained his throne, significant concessions were made to the nobility. 

Having eventually quashed (or negotiated) all opposition to his rule by 1097, he could again turn to exploits overseas. 

Magnus was said to want to reassert his grandfather's claim and try to seize the English throne from William the Conqueror. 

Contemporary historians have doubted whether this was really his aim, but he spent much of the rest of his life campaigning on the periphery of England.

Was he biding his time to strike or just trying to reassert Norse influence in the outer British Isles? His first stop was the Irish Sea. 

Magnus Barefoot showcased his military prowess in the Dublin region, a city with deep Viking trading roots, ultimately earning him the title of King of Dublin. Photo: Alexey Fedorenko / Shutterstock

On campaign near and abroad 

Sailing to the Orkney Islands in 1098, Magnus took with him a considerable armada; if we are to believe the Norse sagas, as many as 160 ships. 

Upon making land, Magnus sent overtures to rulers in Scotland and Ireland to negotiate for control. 

He established his young son as the new jarl of the island and began raiding northern and western Scotland, as well as venturing into the Irish Sea with significant campaigning around the Isle of Man. 

He was said to have overseen increased Norse immigration to the island and initiated a vast infrastructure project involving the construction of fortifications for security. 

Venturing south, he fought a momentous naval campaign off the coast of Puffin Island, Wales, against the recently arrived Normans and secured continued control of the Southern Isles for the Norwegian crown via a treaty with the Scottish king. 

Returning to Norway in 1099, Magnus set his eyes eastward and waged a border war with Sweden. 

This lasted for two years and saw Magnus try to extend the Norwegian border further eastward with the building of fortifications and the placement of troops. 

Eventually, Danish King Eric Evergood interceded and tried to secure peace between the Norwegian and Swedish crowns, fearful that this conflict would escalate into a regional war. 

Peace was brokered via a royal marriage with Magnus' wedding. 

He then launched a second campaign in the Irish Sea to try and secure a larger foothold in Ireland. 

Fighting in the region around Dublin – which had been established as a Viking trading port centuries earlier – he was able, through his powerful display of arms, to secure the title of King of Dublin. 

Modern historians believe that Magnus wanted to secure these possessions in the British Isles to forge a kingdom and leave it to his son. 

A Viking supernova 

Unfortunately for Magnus, years of constant campaigning and waging war caught up with him. 

While fighting against a local Irish ruler, he left the safety of Dublin with his men in 1103. However, Magnus and his hird walked straight into a trap and were killed in the ensuing battle. 

Modern historians tend to agree that it was Magnus – and not his more illustrious grandfather – who was the last true Viking king to fall in battle. 

Magnus was succeeded by his three sons. The death and torture of the last to succeed him, also named Magnus, would spark a century-long conflict known as the Norwegian civil war. 

The reign of Magnus was a Viking supernova, burning bright right before his kingdom collapsed within itself as Norway transitioned from the Viking to the medieval era. 

For more on how the early and later medieval period still shapes Norway today, visit Science Norway here.

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