Clever King Harald: Swift Doom Targets the Viking Who Wants the English Throne – Part II
Harald Hardrada of Norway used cunning and surprising tactics to bring down foes. Although he was wounded in the face during one of his campaigns, he continued to see victory after victory.
Of all the castles Harald stormed, his last one in Sicily was by far the cleverest.
Death Becomes Him
When Harald and his forces arrived outside another strong castle, he fell ill, but as the days passed, his illness only appeared to get worse. Castle defenders noticed something was different about the Varangians; they seemed low in spirit and so those in the castle decided to investigate. After finding out that the Varangian leader was ill, they felt relieved that he might die and thus assumed the city was safe.
Harald’s men waited outside the city. Harald Hardraada saga, Heimskringla (Public Domain)
Harald's illness got worse and death was imminent. Some Varangians went to the castle walls in peace and informed those inside that their leader was about to die, and they requested that Harald be buried in the castle. Priests from the church were eager to lay hold of the corpse for their church and quickly assembled a funeral procession with pomp and grandeur. Before they came to the camp, the Varangians built a coffin and placed Harald in it.
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Afterwards, they made their way towards the priest with the coffin high in the air, playing their part. As the Varangians escorted their dead leader through the castle gates, one Varangian subtly propped a bar against the gate door to keep it open. Once the coffin had been carried into the church, Harald leapt out of the coffin, gave the signal, and his forces came rushing into the city, slaughtering anyone within arm’s reach—even priests! In the end, Harald and his men killed every male within, and gained much loot, all on a ruse that he was dead from illness.
Illustration of a battle. Harald Hardraada saga, Heimskringla. (Public Domain)
No End to War
With the Sicily campaign over, Harald was soon in another war, as a Lombard-Norman revolt erupted in southern Italy in the spring of 1041. Harald and his Varangian Guard fought many battles in southern Italy and were defeated along with the Byzantine forces. The reason for their defeats was due to the use of Norman knights in conjunction with Lombard infantry to form formations too difficult to defend, such as the Battle of Olivento in March and the Battle of Montemaggiore in May.
Many battles were held between Lombard-Norman rebel forces and the Byzantine Empire. Representative image - Roger I of Sicily at the 1063 battle of Cerami (Public Domain)
After the debacle in Southern Italy, Harald was sent on what appears to be his last military mission in the service of the emperor, which was direct towards Bulgaria. In the autumn of 1041, Harald arrived in Bulgaria where he took part in some questionably destructive operations in which he gained the nickname “bulgar burner.”
Harald carried out some destructive operations, giving him a bad reputation. Harald Hardraada saga, Heimskringla. (Public Domain)
With Bulgaria an afterthought, Emperor Michael IV died and so did Harald’s favor among the court, particularly with the new emperor…
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Cam Rea is an author and military historian. He has written numerous articles for Ancient Origins, Classical Wisdom Weekly, and has authored several books, including: March of the Scythians: From Sargon II to the Fall of Nineveh
By Cam Rea