Harald III of Norway

Harald III Sigurdsson (1015September 25, 1066), later surnamed Harald Hardråde (Old Norse: Haraldr harðráði, roughly translated as "Harald stern council" or "hard ruler") was the king of Norway from 1046 until 1066. Many details of his life were chronicled in the Heimskringla.

Early life

Born in 1015, Harald was the youngest of King Olaf II's three half-brothers. When Harald was 15, King Olaf was killed defending his throne from Canute the Great in 1030 at the Battle of Stiklestad. Harald took part in the battle and although wounded managed to escape before leaving Norway in exile. He was able to form a band of warriors out of men who had also been exiled as a result of Olaf's death. In 1031 Harald and his men reached the land of the Rus where they served the armies of Yaroslav I the Wise, the King of the Rus. Harald is thought to have taken part in King Yaroslav's campaign against the Poles and was appointed joint commander of defense forces.

Time in the Byzantine Empire

Some years after Harald and his men had entered the land of the Rus, they packed up and left for the heart of the Byzantine Empire, the city of Constantinople. At the time, the Byzantine Empire was the wealthiest empire in Medieval Europe and the Near East. Harald and his men pledged themselves to the service of the armies of the empire. Harald's forces joined the elite mercenary unit known as the Varangian Guard. It was not long until Harald had proven himself in battle and gained the respect of his fellow guardsmen. Harald became the leader of the entire force and used this power to undertake his own missions. Harald's forces won a great many victories in North Africa, Syria and Sicily. Through ingenuity, he and his men were able to besiege and defeat a number of castles. A contemporary source reports such tactics as attaching burning resin to birds, setting the castle ablaze, and feigning reluctance to fight, only to launch an attack at the most advantageous moment. Harald was able to build a large fortune in plunder from his victories.

Return to Norway

Using the wealth he had built during his service to the Byzantine Empire, Harald returned to Norway in 1045. Harald brought with him a number of men who served with him, and, as a result, became an immediate threat to the sitting King of Norway. Magnus I of Norway was the son of Olaf II and nephew of Harald. He had returned from exile in 1035 to reclaim his father's throne after the death of Canute the Great. Magnus I agreed to share power with his uncle Harald and the two became co-rulers. However, it was only a year later that Magnus would die. The circumstances surrounding his death were never truly explained. Speculation led to the widespread belief that Magnus was killed by Harald so that he alone would control Norway.

Invasion of England

Harald was killed at the Battle of Stamford Bridge, outside the city of York, England. The battle took place on 25 September 1066. Harald died fighting against the forces of King Harold Godwinson of England. He had come to England with the idea of claiming the English Throne as his own. He based this claim on a supposed agreement between Magnus and Harthacanute whereby if either died without heir, the other would inherit both England and Norway. He landed in Northern England with a force of around 15,000 men and 300 longboats (50 men in each boat), and had won a great victory on 20 September against the first English forces he met at the Battle of Fulford two miles south of York. Some speculate that Harald's defeat at the Battle of Stamford Bridge was the result of his belief that King Harold Godwinson was prepared to surrender. This was not the case, and Harald's army was destroyed at Stamford Bridge. His army was so heavily beaten that less than 25 of the 300 recorded longboats Harald used to transport his forces to England were used to carry the survivors back to Norway. Not long after his victory over King Harald, Harold Godwinson was defeated by William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings.

Preceded by:
Magnus I the Good
King of Norway
Succeeded by:
Magnus II Haraldsson
Olaf III Kyrre


  • Sawyer, P.H. (1994).Kings and Vikings. pgs 118-20, 146-47. Barnes and Noble Books, New York.
  • Sturluson, Snorri (2005). King Harald's Saga (Part of the Heimskringla). pgs 45, 46, 47. Penguin Classics.


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