The Most Interesting Viking You’ve Never Heard Of

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The man considered to have been the first king of Norway, Harald Fairhair, would likely not have succeeded in his rise to power if not for a powerful warlord from northern Norway in the district of Lade. The only source we have for this man is the Heimskringla, but enough information is contained therein to inform us that the men from Lade played an important part in Harald’s rise to Norwegian hegemony. Håkon Grjotgarson, also known as Håkon the rich, helped Harald in many engagements by providing men and money.

The ties between the two men had not been so certain in years prior. Lade was a populous region and had Håkon decided to rally the other leaders in neighboring lands, Harald might not have had the resources or the manpower to overcome them. But as fate would have it, the Earl of Lade chose to offer his allegiance to Harald. As part of the alliance, Håkon was named earl of his district and Harald married Håkon’s daughter Asa. Their alliance swiftly brought the other petty kings of Norway to their knees. Immediately following Håkon’s pledge, Harald won a string of decisive victories and consolidated power, making him the first king of all of Norway.

Why then did Håkon chose to support Harald? The Heimskringla does not say why, but given the political climate of Norway during Harald’s rise to power, it is not too difficult to surmise that Håkon had a great deal to gain in an alliance with him. To stand against the young ruler would have meant years of divisive warfare between Lade and the rest of Norway. With his daughter married to Harald, Håkon’s bloodline would at least carry on in the dynasty, and the ensuing peace meant not having to sacrifice his riches in all out warfare. Additionally, pledging himself outright to the future king would gain him favor in the king’s court, and Håkon likely had a suspicion that Harald would eventually become king whether he stood with or against him.

Read about Håkon in the Heimskringla. (beginning on page 63)

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