Jelling kirke, Gorms grav

Jelling kirke, Gorms grav
Jelling kirke, Gorms grav

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Harald Gormsen, Harald Bluetooth


Harald Gormsen aka Harald Bluetooth was also known by the name Harald the Good, which is seen at Tove Mistivoidatter's rune stone. The by-name Bluetooth might have been caused by a natural root canal-treatment of a front tooth in a fight or at the battle field! Harald might have been a co-regent with his father Gorm in a period, and he was king until his death in 986. His birth year is not known. From 948 there were three bishops in Denmark, and it is likely that Harald reigned too, since Gorm would have made difficulties if he had been sole regent. According to Adam of Bremen and Sven Estridsen Harald was friendly against the Christians, while his father was hostile and let several Christians kill.

Harald was the second son of Gorm and Thyra; his big brother Knud Dana-Ast was killed during a viking-expedition to England , probably in 940. His sister Gunhild was married to Erik Blood-Axe, and when he was killed in England in 954, she came to Denmark and took up residence by her brother Harald with her sons, the famous Eriksønner. One son, Harald Gråfeld was brought up as king Harald's fosterson.

Harald was probably married more than once, but as usual there are few sources from this period of time. He was married to Tove, a daughter of the Wendic prince Mistivoi. A rune stone which Tove let raise as a memory of her mother, is the only known source about her. The rune stone stands in Sønder Vissing church in Tyrsting herred ab. 30 km north of Jelling. The text says: "”Tofa (Tove), Mistivojs datter, Harald den Godes, Gorms søns kone, lod gøre dette dødeminde efter sin moder" ("Tove, Mistivoj's Daughter, Harald the Good's , Gorm's son's wife, let make this death memory after her mother") Here we are told that her husband was called Harald the Good. It is not known if Tove was the mother of some of Harald's known children, but it is sure that her mother, who might have been a widow at that time, lived in the neighbourhood of her daughter and son-in-law.


Tove Mistivojsdatter's rune stone

According to Adam of Bremen Harald was christened together with his wife Gunhild and their little son, who was christened Sven Otto. (Otto after the German emperor). The christening took place maybe ca. 965 (?) when Sven is a small boy, and when Harald after the christening built a wooden church in Jelling and moved his father's body from the northern hill to the church. Saxo only says that Harald had been married to Gyrid, a sister of Styrbjørn, she is not known from other sources. Tove's text on the runestone is a valuable piece in order to illustrate the political situation in Denmark in the middle of the 900s. Marriage was about politics. Several Scandinavian kings from that time married women from the Wendic area south of the Baltic. Tove and Gunhild are often connected to the same woman, but the two names are very different, they were probably two women. Harald might have been married to subsequently Gunhild and Tove, and Gunhild might have been a Wendic princess like Tove.

Harald's children were 1) Sven Tveskæg, whose Christian name was Otto, named after the German emperor; 2) Håkon who later ruled in Semland; 3) a daughter Thyra, who first was married to Gyrid's brother Styrbjørn and later to Olav Trygvasson and 4) a daughter Gunhild, who was married to Pallig in England. 5) A son Hirig is mentioned by Adam of Bremen, who informs that Harald sent him to England with an army where he was killed. It is said that Harald at his death in 986/987 was weak and that he had reigned for 50 years.

In the winter 958-59 Harald let build the large northern hill in Jelling in order to bury his father in the wooden burial chamber. (Thyra died some years before Gorm, but her year of death is not known). Harald used a heathen burial custom for his father, which he would not have used, if he had already been christened. A few years later, just after 963, he let change the southern hill in Jelling, which meant that he had to heighten the existing hill. These years are important since they give a time limit for his christening. The large rune stone, which stands in the middle of the two grave hills, represents Harald as a Christian. The famous text is: "Haraltr kunukr bath kaurua kubl thausi aft kurm fathur sin auk aft thaurui muthur sina. sa haraltr ias sar uan tanmaurk ala auk nuruiak auk tani karthi kristna". In present Danish and modern grammar: "Harald konge bød gøre dødeminde dette efter Gorm sin fader og efter Thorvi (Thyre) sin moder, den Harald som (for) sig vandt Danmark al og Norge og gjorde danerne kristne."



Around year 960 the Eriksønnerne took over the power in Norway. Hakon Jarl ruled in Trondheim, but he was soon driven away by the Eriksønnerne. In spite of this Hakon was well received in Denmark by Harald, who probably had some interests in Norway,especially in the Viken-area (= the Oslofjord). The most important of the Eriksønnerne, Harald Gråfeld was cunningly murdered. Snorre Sturlasson says that king Harald gathered 600 ships and sailed to Norway together with Hakon Jarl. Hakon got back the country, the Eriksønnerne had to take flight to the Orkneys and Harald returned to Denmark. It was said to have happened in ca. 970 and this is probably the supremacy, which is referred to on the Jelling stone. Haralds' sister Gunhild died at the Orkneys, where she lived by a daughter.
Harald's daughter Thyra became queen of Norway for a short time, and according to tradition she contributed to her husband Olav Trygvasson's death in 1000. After this she disappears from history. Historia Norvegiæ tells about her marriage to king Olav. According to Snorre Sturlasson she was given away in marriage to Burislav of Vendland = Boleslaus I of Poland, as a part of a Danish-Wendic peace agreement, which also meant that her brother Sven Tveskæg was married to Burislav's sister Gunhild. According to Gesta Danorum was Thyra earlier married to Styrbjørn Stærke of Sweden, a son of Olaf Bjørnsson, a brother of king Erik Sejersæl of Sweden.

Returning to Harald's christening, since this was a very special event - the first Danish king who was christened. Upon the golden altar in Tamdrup church near Horsens the artist has described scenes from Harald's christening upon golden plates. The plates were probably made early in the 1200s and were probably originally from a reliquary. The earliest story about the event is told by Widukind in his Saxon Chronicle: There had been a discussion about the gods which took place during a feast, attended by king Harald. The Danes meant that Christ was a god, but that other gods were far greater than he was. But the priest Poppo protested; he claimed that there was only one true god, while the idols were demons and not gods. King Harald demanded him to prove his faith, he had to wear red-hot iron for his catholic faith, and he wore a red-hot glove as long as king Harald wanted it and then showed his unharmed hand. This convinced king Harald, who decided to honour Christ alone as a god and to order his people to reject the idols.

Widukind writes that it was thanks to the emperor Otto I. that the Danish churches and the priests were honoured in these places - and this was probably an important factor in Harald's christening, he might have considered the danger of a German invasion. Adam of Bremen claimed that Harald was christened as a direct cause of Ottos invasion in Denmark - but it is not alone doubtful that this invasion took place at all - his mentioning Otto as the godfater, bearing Harald's son for the christening and giving him the name Otto contradicts Widukind's report; if the emperor had been present at Harald's christening, Widukind would not have avoided telling about it. Adam furthermore says that Poppo wore his jernbyrd(hot iron) after Harald's death, which adds one more minus to his credibility.

In the beginning of Widukind's telling about Harald's christening he says that "the Danes were Christians from old times, but at the same time they served the idols according to their heathen customs." This shows that the Danes in the 900s were not hostile towards the Christians and thus it was also in the days of the Horik-kings. The archbishop Unni could without any problems visit Denmark in 936 - and another ecample of the Scandinavian people's kindness to Christianity was that the Norwegian king Harald Hårfager sent his son to the court of king Athelstan, who reigned 924-39. During more than one century there had been a good connection between the Danes and the western Christian countries, the Christian influence came to the country in several ways, many Danes had been christened already, numerous Danes had been christened abroad, and most descendants from the Scandinavians, who lived in the English Danelagen and in the Normandy were Christians - and their connection to the homeland must have meant much for the Christian influence which came to the country .

Harald proved that he meant Christianity seriously. He built a wooden church i Jelling of 30 x 14 m, and he ordered an impressing monument with a large image of the crucified Christ, he issued cross-ornamented coins and moved his father's body from the north hill to be buried below the church floor at the choir. Gorm's grave was placed in one half of the choir entrance, while the other half was free. He probably meant it to be his own burial place next to his father. Fate wanted it otherwise; he died in exile, but he left us the greatest memorial in our thousand-year old kingdom, the large Jelling stone, Denmark's birth certificate, a part of our world's heritage.



It was difficult to abolish the heathen customs, and the church had to compromise in order not to spoil the good beginning. Harald's christening meant that the heathen cult ceremonies were abolished, in any case those he attended. Especially at Iceland there were some problems, where people were allowed to continue some old customs, if they in return would be so kind to accept Christianity. They were allowed to eat horse meat, to sacrifice to the gods at home and to expose babies. It looks as if the Danes stopped eating horse meat in the late 900s, but new habits do not suddenly erase old customs, and it took a long time before Christianity had a fairly good power over the newly converted souls. The heathen burial customs disappeared not until the end of the 900s. Findings from the burial place at the viking fortification Fyrkat show no horse skeletons in the graves. This might be due to Christian influence, but several persons, especially women, were buried with their belongings.

In the end of Harald's reign Sven rebelled against his father, and Adam of Bremen told about a serius weakness of the Danish church, the rebellion was considered a heathen reaction, although nothing indicated a return to heathen customs. It seems that there was some chaos and that the bishops from Hamburg-bremen took flight out of the country at the same time as their protector, king Harald. Adam says that the rebellion happened shortly before bishop Adaldag's death 29. april 988 and he also says that Harald went to Wollin, where he died. The rebellion is by historians dated to 987, which is confirmed by a letter from emperor Otto 3, who gave Danish bishops rights in Germany, dated 18 March 988.

Harald fled to Jumne, after he was defeated by Sven. No sources tell why he went exactly there, but he might have escaped on a ship sailing for Jumne. No sources mention if he had a speciel connection to the place. Later writers changed Jumne into Jomsborg and wrote along about the Jomsvikings, a legend was written about them in the 1200s and after this many tales. The story about the Jomsvikings is an expression of the posterity's romantic view of the vikings, but Jomsborg itself is a fiction. Maybe a viking fleet had a base close to Wollin, but there have been found no traces yet. Sven Aggesen wrote 200 years later that Harald built Jomsborg during his exile, but since he died a few days after his arrival to Wollin, it has been changed, making the building of Jomsborg much earlier. The connection of the Jomsvikings to Harald is supported by a story that they revenged Harald by taking Sven prisoner and force the Danes to pay a big ransom. This story is probably a tall story.

In 968 Harald improved Danevirke thoroughly and built the halfcircular fortification bank around Hedeby - and something alike probably happened at Ribe and Århus at the same time. It was the eternal German danger - emperor Otto moved incessantly around down there, south of the border, leading a very agressive politic elsewhere; it was not an incorrect assumption that he might turn to Denmark in his next stroke. But it seemed that the Saxons were more interested in Denmark, since in a Saxon meeting in Werla were - in connection to a letter from Otto - said some words about a soon to come war with the Danes , so Harald's energy on the fortification works was not plucked out of the air. But no German attack came in 968 however, Harald attacked first, better to attack than to defend he might have thought.

Emperor Otto I died in April 973, and Harald invaded the land south of the Ejder, but the Germans made a counter attack in 974 and drove back the Danes. They took both Hedeby and Danevirke. Harald was not discouraged. He issued new coins, quite different from the usual coins from Hedeby, obviously Christian with a cross on one side. But he especially impressed with the great projects and fortifications like Fyrkat and Trelleborg and the bridge at Ravning, all dated to the same period as the German occupation of the border. The fortification at Aggersborg was probably also built at the same time and also the castle in Odense. But the pretty bridge at Ravning did not stand alone, lesser bridges were built at Sjælland and Lolland and maybe also more bridges in Jutland , it was all probably a part of a complicated defense system. It was not a coincidence that the defense system covered both Jutland and the isles, it meant that the Germans were not the only threat against - there was always a danger from Norway, Sweden and from the Slavic countries - furthermore were the Slavic and Scandinavian pirates operating from bases in the Baltic.

The German occupation restricted to Sønderjylland and lasted nine years. Otto 2. suffered a serious defeat in Calabria, and this gave the Danes a chance. In 983 Harald regained the power of Hedeby and destroyed the newly built German fortification, while his Abroditic allied and father-in-law Mistivoi harrassed Holstein and set fire to Hamburg. In December died emperor Otto in Rome and was succeeded by his four year old son Otto 3. This made it much easier for the Danes to regain the power north of the Ejder and to have their demands carried through. Adam of Bremen says that the people and the Frisians in his time 100 years later still respected the laws and customs Harald had introduced.

Harald says proudly on his great runestone that he won all Denmark. It is certain that he besides Jutland and Funen also ruled a part of the land east of Storebælt. Trelleborg at Sjælland was built in 981 approximately at the same time as Fyrkat in Jutland and with almost identical houses and constructions. The wooden bridges in Risby, Bakkendrup bro and Flintinge also indicate that his power stretched till the Øresund. He also claims that he won Norway. There are basis in the scald-poetry that Hakon Jarl respected and accepted his supremacy. Later saga writers understood in some verses that Hakon Jarl came to Harald's assistance when the Germans invaded in 974, and this is very possible.

A fight at Hedeby is mentioned upon two rune stones, one is raised by king Sven, both inscriptions refer probably to Sven Tveskæg's siege of Hedeby, which possibly happened in 983, and the mentioning of Sven as king indicates that he and Harald shared the power - or that the stone was first raised after Sven succeeded Harald on the throne. Another probable assumption is that the runetexts refer to an event during Sven's rebellion against his father, maybe shortly before Harald went in exile. Hedeby could have been a starting point for a resistance against Sven, maybe lead by a loyal substitut of Harald's. The fortificated town might have been a good stronghold for Harald.

Those many assumptions build on various sources and show the uncertainty around our knowledge about the last part of Harald's reign. It all ended with a rebellion led by his son, this is certain, it is also certain that Harald was driven into exile. The most trustworthy cause of this misére could be the heavy economic burdens which was brought on the Danes by Harald's mighty building projects. But although his ruling period and his life ended with a disaster and a personal tragedy he did a great work. He will be remembered for the mighty Viking fortifications at Aggersborg, Fyrkat, Trelleborg and Nonnebakken and the beautiful Ravning bridge in Vejleådalen - and for the magnificent monument he raised in Jelling - he had won all Denmark - and he had christened the Danes.

Kilde: Peter Sawyer, Da Danmark blev Danmark, fra ca. år 700 til ca. 1050, Gyldendal og Politikens Danmarkshistorie, bd. 3, 1988.


Extra notes:
A source: Europäische Stamtafeln says that another daughter of king Harald Blåtand, Gyda was married to Olav Tryggvasson. But this must be a mix-up? There was a Gyda Haraldsdatter, but she was the daughter of Harald II Godwinsson.

A German source in Wikipedia says that Erik of Northumbria was a son of Harald Blåtand, but Erik of Northumbria = Erik Bloodaxe, who is a son of Harald Hårfager.

Harald had as mentioned a daughter Gunhild, who was married in England to Pallig Tokesen. They were both killed in Danemordet in London in 1002. Harald fathered Gunhild late in his life? 875? Maybe this can tell us the name of his last wife. Daughter Gunhild named after her mother?

foto Jelling 2008: grethe bachmann


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