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This compelling Icelandic history describes the life of King Harald Hardradi, from his battles across Europe and Russia to his final assault on England in 1066, less than three weeks before the invasion of William the Conqueror. It was a battle that led to his death and marked the end of an era in which Europe had been dominated by the threat of Scandinavian forces. Despit This compelling Icelandic history describes the life of King Harald Hardradi, from his battles across Europe and Russia to his final assault on England in 1066, less than three weeks before the invasion of William the Conqueror. It was a battle that led to his death and marked the end of an era in which Europe had been dominated by the threat of Scandinavian forces. Despite England's triumph, it also played a crucial part in fatally weakening the English army immediately prior to the Norman Conquest, changing the course of history. Taken from the Heimskringla - Snorri Sturluson's complete account of Norway from prehistoric times to 1177 - this is a brilliantly human depiction of the turbulent life and savage death of the last great Norse warrior-king.


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This compelling Icelandic history describes the life of King Harald Hardradi, from his battles across Europe and Russia to his final assault on England in 1066, less than three weeks before the invasion of William the Conqueror. It was a battle that led to his death and marked the end of an era in which Europe had been dominated by the threat of Scandinavian forces. Despit This compelling Icelandic history describes the life of King Harald Hardradi, from his battles across Europe and Russia to his final assault on England in 1066, less than three weeks before the invasion of William the Conqueror. It was a battle that led to his death and marked the end of an era in which Europe had been dominated by the threat of Scandinavian forces. Despite England's triumph, it also played a crucial part in fatally weakening the English army immediately prior to the Norman Conquest, changing the course of history. Taken from the Heimskringla - Snorri Sturluson's complete account of Norway from prehistoric times to 1177 - this is a brilliantly human depiction of the turbulent life and savage death of the last great Norse warrior-king.

30 review for King Harald's Saga

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jeffrey Keeten

    ”The year 1066 was a convulsive and fateful year for the destiny of England and western Europe. It was the year that brought together in violent and mortal conflict the three greatest military leaders in Europe of their day---Harald of Norway, Harold of England, and William of Normandy; three powerful and ambitious men who had fought their way to authority in their respective countries and who now, in three weeks of terrible bloodshed in the autumn of 1066, were to fight to the death for the gre ”The year 1066 was a convulsive and fateful year for the destiny of England and western Europe. It was the year that brought together in violent and mortal conflict the three greatest military leaders in Europe of their day---Harald of Norway, Harold of England, and William of Normandy; three powerful and ambitious men who had fought their way to authority in their respective countries and who now, in three weeks of terrible bloodshed in the autumn of 1066, were to fight to the death for the greatest prize of all: the throne of England.” Harold II, a detail from the Bayeux Tapestry. As fascinating as those men of destiny are, the Icelandic writer of this tale, Snorri Sturluson, proves almost as fascinating. ”He was a man of astonishing contradictions: a man who fought and schemed all his life to become the most powerful chieftain in Iceland, yet who still found time to write some of the greatest masterpieces in Icelandic literature; a greedy, covetous man who was nonetheless capable of great generosity; a patriot so fascinated by the royal court of Norway that he could harbour secret thoughts of treason; a farmer who wanted to be an aristocrat, a prose-writer who wanted to be a poet, a scholar who cared more about owning property; a worldly, cultivated man who loved all the good things of life---wealth, women, wine, good company---yet who died a squalid, tragic death in the cellar of his own home.” Those he had opposed send men with swords to his house, and five of them trap him in his cellar and run him through and through again. A loss to literature for sure, but in some ways a fitting end for a man who wrote about so many other great men of Norwegian history meeting a similar end at the point of sword or by the swoop of a battle axe. Snorri might have become so ensnared in his stories that he fell right in the middle of them. Snorri Sturluson This saga is of Harald Sigurdsson and his quest for power. He fights the Danes on numerous occasions. He thinks he has as much right to the Danish throne as he does to the one in Norway. "Svein and Harald battled The two great war-leaders, Shieldless, shunning armour, Called for thrust and parry; Armies were locked in battle, Stones and arrows were flying, Sword-blades were dyed crimson; All around, doomed warriors Fell before the onslaught.” He fights his own people. ”Einer of the flailing sword Will drive me from this country Unless I first persuade him To kiss my thin-lipped axe.” He battles omens and creatures insidious. ”The ogress flaunts her crimson Shield as battle approaches; The troll-woman sees clearly The doom awaiting Harald. With greedy mouth she rends The flesh of fallen warriors; WIth frenzied hand she stains The wolf’s jaws crimson--- Wolf’s jaws red with blood.” I’m a modern man, and I’ve got to say reading about this hideous creature raises the hair on the back of my neck and sends shivers down my spine, enough to curl my toes. The Battle of Stamford Bridge This of course all leads up to the famous battle at Stamford Bridge in England. Sensing an opportunity to take the throne of England, Harald of Norway decides to invade in that year of English invasions, 1066. Harald Godwinsson, or Harold II if you are English, has barely warmed the seat of his newly acquired throne when he has to lead an army into battle against those burly, bloodthirsty Northmen.”The closer the army came, the greater it grew, and their glittering weapons sparkled like a field of broken ice.” The interesting thing about all of this is that most of us don’t know who Harald Sigurdsson is, but one could speculate if he had decided to delay his invasion by a few weeks, we may have known him as Harold the Conqueror, King of England. As it is, Harold II dispatches Harald and his army in a bloody battle that weakens the forces of Harold II. The English army then has to turn around in 19 days and fight William of Normandy at the Battle of Hastings. William of Normandy raising his helmet to show his troops he is still alive. Bayeux Tapestry. What are the chances that King Harald of Norway and William of Normandy would decide to invade England in the same month? I can remember, when I was about 12 years old, riding in the pickup with my Grandpa Harold Ives and mentioning to him that he was named after an English King. He looked at me like I had rocks rattling around in my head instead of little gray cells. Even if I couldn’t convince him, I knew it was true. Needless to say, I will be reading and reviewing more Icelandic sagas in the very near future. In a time when few were educated, the Icelandic people considered knowledge essential to life. If they had not believed so, many of these sagas would have never made the transition from oral history to written history. ”The Icelanders...take great pleasure in learning and recording the history of all peoples, and they consider it just as meritorious to describe the exploits of others as to perform them themselves.” If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com I also have a Facebook blogger page at: https://www.facebook.com/JeffreyKeeten

  2. 4 out of 5

    E. G.

    Introduction Note on the Translation --King Harald's Saga Genealogical Tables Glossary of Proper Names Chronological Table, 1030-66 Maps Introduction Note on the Translation --King Harald's Saga Genealogical Tables Glossary of Proper Names Chronological Table, 1030-66 Maps

  3. 4 out of 5

    Charles van Buren

    Charles van Buren TOP 1000 REVIEWER Norway's last Viking king August 11, 2019 Format: Kindle Edition Review of Kindle edition Publication date: April 28, 2005 Publisher: Penguin Language: English ASIN: B002XHNNES 192 pages This saga of Norway's last Viking king is very readable. Snorri Sturluson combined history, action, human interest and romance into this story to create a saga of the last Norwegian Viking king. Even though defeated by Harold Godwinson, Harald Hadradi contributed to Harold's defeat at Ha Charles van Buren TOP 1000 REVIEWER Norway's last Viking king August 11, 2019 Format: Kindle Edition Review of Kindle edition Publication date: April 28, 2005 Publisher: Penguin Language: English ASIN: B002XHNNES 192 pages This saga of Norway's last Viking king is very readable. Snorri Sturluson combined history, action, human interest and romance into this story to create a saga of the last Norwegian Viking king. Even though defeated by Harold Godwinson, Harald Hadradi contributed to Harold's defeat at Hastings. Snorri Sturluson was Icelandic, but he lived in Norway for a time and was titled there with a rank roughly equivalent to knight. Sturluson wrote in the 1200's but the only problem most modern readers will have is with some Norse words. Many, if not all, can be understood in context. Reading on a Kindle or other device with a good dictionary and search function makes reading much easier.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Elliott Bignell

    Every British schoolchild learns the date 1066, when the Norman Conquest and the Battle of Hastings took place. As a child I visited the Bayeux Tapestry with my school exchange group. Most of us then stop listening, so it came as some surprise to this one to find that an equally epic battle was won by Harold less than three weeks earlier. This was the Battle of Stamford Bridge, at which a Viking invasion force under Harald was all but annihilated by the English in a pyrrhic victory which probabl Every British schoolchild learns the date 1066, when the Norman Conquest and the Battle of Hastings took place. As a child I visited the Bayeux Tapestry with my school exchange group. Most of us then stop listening, so it came as some surprise to this one to find that an equally epic battle was won by Harold less than three weeks earlier. This was the Battle of Stamford Bridge, at which a Viking invasion force under Harald was all but annihilated by the English in a pyrrhic victory which probably contributed decisively to their defeat and the death of the English King shortly after. This is the saga, a kind of tendentious, epic history in verse, of the Norwegian King Harald "the Ruthless" Sigurdsson, translated here into clear and engaging prose. The slaughter at Stamford Bridge was so complete that this saga reports that of the 300 Viking ships, only 28 were required to ferry the survivors home. Harald and most of the leading Norwegians died, and the era of Viking terror was effectively ended. Ironically, the Viking force may have lost by breaking formation to pursue retreating English cavalry, a mistake replicated precisely by the English at Hastings almost before the ravens can have finished gorging at Stamford Bridge. It is odd that such a climacteric event would be so completely overshadowed by the Norman Conquest to which it contributed, and I can only hazard that the latter has resonated in English minds as the last time a foreign invasion force set foot on the mainland. It is difficult to have much sympathy with Harald, as while he seems to have been personally generous and accommodating, he was clearly an absolute autocrat, fighting a series of wars over control of Denmark and forcing any who differed with his rule into exile or battle. He was devious and uncompromising in tricking others into battles they could not win, merely to eliminate competition. He was, pehaps incidentally, but like Gustavus in a later era, also apparently charismatic and enormously imposing, being well above the average height even for today. I was interested to learn that he saw action early in life with the Varangians. The theme of the 13th Warrior seems to keep cropping up in my current reading, as these were the Viking mercenaries and imperial guard who fought for the Byzantines, mainly in the Mediterranean, before later being replaced by English guards in Constantinople. The Vikings in the film would certainly have been Varangians raiding into the Black Sea. The writing of this work is engaging and crystal clear, and I was through the entire book in a couple of nights. Harald's life seems to have been fairly deplorable but an exciting story in the form of a saga. I will certainly be seeking to read more such accounts, and Snorri Sturluson wrote this as part of a much larger work, the "Heimskringla", which seems to deserve exploration based on this segment. Interestingly, germs of democracy are everywhere to be found at this time, in the elective monarchy of England and the then Icelandic Republic. I find more and more that a continuous thread can be traced from the Athenian and Roman roots to modern concepts of a democratic republic by moving from place to place within Europe. I am delighted to report that the English already seem to have displayed a touch of Monty Python as far back as the Battle of Hastings. William the Bastard dispatched an elective monarch who was the grandchild of Aethelred the Unready and the son of Ted the Grass. I am surprised that they stopped laughing enough to actually fight, but apparently the "Housecarls" were in fact the best professional soldiers in Europe at the time, if ultimately too small a force to turn two battles in short succession. Sturluson himself seems to have been a saga Viking in his own right. One of the greatest literary figures of his culture, he was nevertheless butchered in a cellar by armed men sent by an enraged king. To write saga history, it seems that he had to be part of it, and it led him into conflict with the authorities. A sad, but strangely fitting, end for such a great voice of Nordic culture.

  5. 5 out of 5

    John

    Apparently, a big part of the reason that William of Normandy was able to successfully defeat King Harold of England in 1066 is that he attacked just three weeks after Harold beat the pants of King Harald of Norway, who'd tried to invade the opposite end of the country. I had no idea! Well, this cool bit of Norse history told me all about it, and about the life of the guy who tried, from his teens in exile through the decades that followed as he became a powerful king by virtue of being a right Apparently, a big part of the reason that William of Normandy was able to successfully defeat King Harold of England in 1066 is that he attacked just three weeks after Harold beat the pants of King Harald of Norway, who'd tried to invade the opposite end of the country. I had no idea! Well, this cool bit of Norse history told me all about it, and about the life of the guy who tried, from his teens in exile through the decades that followed as he became a powerful king by virtue of being a right bastard who didn't hesitate to fight dirty, and used whatever means were at hand to ruin his enemies. I haven't read any other translations of the work, so I have nothing to compare it to, but it read well to my ears, including the prose translations of various bits of poetry that the author quotes throughout. My only complaint about this edition might be that it is just full of footnotes, and I found them difficult to ignore, which detracted a bit from the flow of the tale itself. Few, if any, of them seemed necessary to understanding the text, so pushing them into end notes would have been less distracting. Readers who have the discipline to avoid them should be fine.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Eadweard

    The saga of one of the most interesting figures of the medieval world, young Harald flees from Norway, travels to southern Europe, serves in the varangian guard, goes back home, consolidates power and then tries to conquer another kingdom. My only complaint is how short the section of him in the south was, I wanted it to have more of that.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Rod

    King Harald Hardradi of Norway was the biggest, baddest, most unstoppable war monger of the Viking era. He was also the brother of St. Olaf. When Harald was campaigning to take the English throne, after the death of Edward the Confessor, he was struck down by an arrow to the throat. Had he survived the ill-prepared-for battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066, he would have battled William the Conquerer, setting up one of the most spectacular battles in warfare history. (Yes, I went to Westminster Abbe King Harald Hardradi of Norway was the biggest, baddest, most unstoppable war monger of the Viking era. He was also the brother of St. Olaf. When Harald was campaigning to take the English throne, after the death of Edward the Confessor, he was struck down by an arrow to the throat. Had he survived the ill-prepared-for battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066, he would have battled William the Conquerer, setting up one of the most spectacular battles in warfare history. (Yes, I went to Westminster Abbey to pay my respect to memory of King Harald; what's it to you?)

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jacob Aitken

    This text is a critically-annotated selection from Snorri Sturluson’s Heimskringla. The translators, Magnusson and Palsson, provide a running commentary on Snorri’s text. Snorri tells the story of one of the last “Viking” leaders, albeit a somewhat Christianized one. Our protagonist is Harold Siggurdson. To the degree that Snorri’s narrative can be trusted--and we have no way of honestly knowing that--Harold in many ways typified and recapitulated the late Viking ideal--a ferocious warrior, cunn This text is a critically-annotated selection from Snorri Sturluson’s Heimskringla. The translators, Magnusson and Palsson, provide a running commentary on Snorri’s text. Snorri tells the story of one of the last “Viking” leaders, albeit a somewhat Christianized one. Our protagonist is Harold Siggurdson. To the degree that Snorri’s narrative can be trusted--and we have no way of honestly knowing that--Harold in many ways typified and recapitulated the late Viking ideal--a ferocious warrior, cunning leader, and Varangian mercenary who was slain in his last battle. Snorri’s own telling of this story is mostly great. At the end his narrative tries to accomplish too much and the reader is left feeling overwhelmed. For the most part, though, it maintains the rugged beauty common to Norse stories. The editorial remarks by Magnusson and Palsson are superb. They routinely correct Snorri’s narrative when warranted. They also provide fascinating historical commentary. For example, I didn’t realize that the finest fighting army of the time were the English housecarls. They numbered about 3,000, were superbly disciplined, and were armed with Danish axes. Evaluation: Is Snorri telling the truth? Or, even assuming he is being honest, how reliable is the narrative? Ultimately, we can’t know for certain. I do think, however, that he is more reliable on this point than on other points in the Heimskringla. Harold Siggurdson is closer in time to Snorri than the other major Norse leaders (for example, the two Olafs--Tryggveson and Haraldsson) and Harald’s life seems to be a “real” life. Harold, for example, makes the kind of mistakes that regular, aggressive men make. When reading Harold’s life, especially his semi-tragic end, we see that the events “had to happen.” As to the miraculous, especially the famous dream in which St. Olaf appeared to Harold and warned him not to attack England, we can’t answer those on historical grounds. We need to make several claims: it is true that many people reported miraculous happenings with St. Olaf (Sturluson, 61, 74, 76, 104, 139). We now move to the next claim: how reliable are they? Perhaps before answering that question we can raise--and answer--yet another: Does a Christian have warrant for seeing “the miraculous” today? While some branches of Christendom posit cessationism (supernatural gifts ceased after the apostles), such a view, whatever merits it may have exegetically, is simply at odds with Eastern and Western Christian history. This does not mean every miracle story is true. Ironically, even the Vatican looks with initial skepticism on the miracle stories of potential saints. Granting that the miraculous is possible, how do we appropriate these Olaf-stories? Some of these stories do appear to represent the piety of the average Norwegian, even to the point of appearing “syncretistic” with earlier heathen practices. Snorri tells of the woman “who worshiped Olaf,” for example (104). Granted, the word “worship” has different connotations and does not necessarily connote intentional idolatry, but when one posits this episode with Harold Sigurdsson’s venerating St. Olaf’s relics, the conclusion isn’t hard to draw. Whatever arguments some Christian traditions have for venerating relics, this is a far cry from the worship Yahweh prescribed (which is perhaps a bit ironic, since many medieval kings saw themselves as modeled after King David).

  9. 5 out of 5

    Kelly W.

    I read this for an Old Norse-Icelandic literature course in which we translated some of the original text and read the entirety of it in translation. Needless to say, most things the Nose-Icelandic authors write are wild, even when it's a historical saga, like this one. Readers should be aware going in that this is not a straight up history - Snorri Sturluson certainly adds his own flair to historical events, and not everything is completely accurate. Still, it's a fun read for history buffs and I read this for an Old Norse-Icelandic literature course in which we translated some of the original text and read the entirety of it in translation. Needless to say, most things the Nose-Icelandic authors write are wild, even when it's a historical saga, like this one. Readers should be aware going in that this is not a straight up history - Snorri Sturluson certainly adds his own flair to historical events, and not everything is completely accurate. Still, it's a fun read for history buffs and anyone interested in Vikings. Things I Liked 1. Genre: King Harald’s Saga is a historical king’s saga, meaning that it isn’t filled with a lot of supernatural episodes, which casual readers might find more entertaining. For me, however, I loved reading a saga that showed a take on history, even though that history may be more fiction than fact. Snorri’s purpose in writing this saga seemed less about recording events and more about producing a portrait of King Harald, kind of like a historical fiction book. It was fun to read about events somewhat rooted in reality while also finding funny moments like Danish people carving anchors out of cheese as an insult to the Norwegians. 2. Prose and Verse: Snorri relies heavily on verse to lend credibility to his historical claims, but they also serve an aesthetic function. I liked having bits of poetry to break up the prose, and this poetry was often an expansion on a particular moment of the saga, whether that be an emotional one or a praise song for a particularly vicious warrior. It lent a certain depth to the overall narrative of the sage so reading didn’t just feel like a basic summary of events. 3. Character: King Harald is certainly the character. Though this saga is based on a historical figure, Snorri definitely elaborates to some degree to create a fantastical portrait of this Norwegian king. Harald is cunning and wiley while also being a great warrior - and yet, I found myself flipping back and forth on whether or not I liked him. He certainly keeps things interesting! 4. Supplementary Materials: This edition of King Harald’s Saga contains supplementary materials such as a helpful introduction, some geneological tables, maps, glossaries, etc. that are all enriching additions to the saga itself. For readers not familiar with medieval history or literature, these resources are invaluable for keeping track of everything that’s going on in the text. 5. Globalism: I really loved the fact that this saga doesn’t just take place in Scandanavia or Iceland. Harald travels to Russia and Constantinople where he meets a host of different characters, which I really enjoy seeing because it reminds me that medieval peoples weren’t just confined to their own little worlds. Things I Didn’t Like Honestly, there wasn’t anything, really. Anything against this saga would probably be based on personal preference rather than any innate faults with the texts itself (adjust for historical situatedness). Recommendations: This saga is definitely for the history enthusiast and anyone with an interest in medieval Norse-Icelandic culture. You might also like this saga if you're interested in the Norman Invasion and surrounding events, or are curious about cultures in contact in the medieval world.

  10. 5 out of 5

    James

    The book is carefully written and a masterful piece of scholarly work; I'm giving it only three stars because its source material was so one-dimensional in nature it made it impossible for the book to be more rounded. It's the story of King Harald Sigurdsson, also sometimes called Harald Hardrada, of Norway, a historical figure who's fascinated me since I was in high school. A larger-than-life figure in some ways; Harald was reportedly nearly seven feet tall and tremendously powerful and energeti The book is carefully written and a masterful piece of scholarly work; I'm giving it only three stars because its source material was so one-dimensional in nature it made it impossible for the book to be more rounded. It's the story of King Harald Sigurdsson, also sometimes called Harald Hardrada, of Norway, a historical figure who's fascinated me since I was in high school. A larger-than-life figure in some ways; Harald was reportedly nearly seven feet tall and tremendously powerful and energetic, a sophisticated world traveler, extremely intelligent, creative, a patron of the arts, and a charismatic leader who was physically fearless and deadly in combat. Harald missed probably becoming king of England and changing European history drastically by a matter of a couple of weeks - in September 1066 he invaded England with a Norwegian army, and was killed by the English army of King Harold Godwinson in a close-fought battle at Stamford Bridge. A few days later, William the Bastard of Normandy invaded in the south, and when Harold and the English army raced back to London to fight the Norman army in turn, they were worn out and had taken significant casualties overcoming the Norwegians. As a result, William won, killing Harold at Hastings and becoming king of England and changing his nickname to William the Conqueror; he permanently changed English culture, adding a strong French/Norman streak to the Celtic/Germanic culture dominant until then. If the timing of the two invasions had been reversed, Harald would probably have won and infused England with a dominant Scandinavian culture instead. With all that said, as a person Harald was a sadistic, treacherous ogre who reveled in mass murder, rape, and pillage, ravaging and terrorizing civilian populations wherever he and his soldiers went. They boasted of looting towns and then burning them to the ground, either killing the inhabitants (usually unlucky farmers or merchants) or selling them into slavery. He was narcissistic, vindictive, petty, emotionally unstable, misogynistic, and utterly indifferent to the suffering of others. The Norwegian and Icelandic poets whose narratives form a large part of the book and nearly all its source material demonstrate that he was also mainly a product of his time and place. Viking culture, for all its achievements, was built on no higher principle than 'might makes right', though even they grew to dislike Harald for his frequent betrayals and violations of treaties and promises. But over and over, reading this book, I was struck by how much the Vikings in general, in their own words, sounded like the organized crime cartels of our time. I'm very glad this man is not alive in the present, and if he were I would stay as far away from him as possible.

  11. 5 out of 5

    David

    Although I thought this book was about the English King Harold when I picked it up at a library book sale, it was about King Harold of Norway, who was defeated by King Harald in 1066, just a week or two before William the Conqueror swept into England from Normandy. I managed to learn some history and some legend about Harald and his part in setting up England for defeat at the hands of the Normans. This book, originally written in the 1100's, was a serious attempt at telling Harald's story and ge Although I thought this book was about the English King Harold when I picked it up at a library book sale, it was about King Harold of Norway, who was defeated by King Harald in 1066, just a week or two before William the Conqueror swept into England from Normandy. I managed to learn some history and some legend about Harald and his part in setting up England for defeat at the hands of the Normans. This book, originally written in the 1100's, was a serious attempt at telling Harald's story and getting the facts right. Harald was quite a character, having served as a mercenary for the Byzantine empire, and had quite a lot of adventures. He also had a reputation for cunning and guile. However, the author's sources were mainly court poets, the political cartoonists of the day, so to speak, who drew the image of Harald in broad caricature strokes. Much like Davy Crockett never killed a bear when he was only three, I think some of the stories might actually have grown with telling and retelling. However, the author makes a genuine attempt to memorialize the king with honesty-- the only question is about whether he succeeded or not. The editor points out several minor errors in footnotes, and then goes on to show that some of the details regarding Harald's last battle were mixed up with the battle of Hastings, which happened shortly thereafter.. (primarily the presence of Cavalry at Hastings while not at the battle where Harald was mortally wounded) Still, the book made for an interesting trek through ancient writings translated for the modern reader. The book was short enough to be read in a brief time.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Nicole

    1066 was a landmark year in English/European history - William the Conqueror, the Battle of Hastings, etc. But what often gets left out is the fact that, just 19 days before the Battle of Hastings, the English king fought (and won) a battle against another invader, King Harald Sigurdsson (Hardrada) of Norway. It's one of my favourite historical "what ifs" - what if Harald had won at Stamford Bridge? Or what if King Harold of England hadn't force-marched his army to meet William at Hastings after 1066 was a landmark year in English/European history - William the Conqueror, the Battle of Hastings, etc. But what often gets left out is the fact that, just 19 days before the Battle of Hastings, the English king fought (and won) a battle against another invader, King Harald Sigurdsson (Hardrada) of Norway. It's one of my favourite historical "what ifs" - what if Harald had won at Stamford Bridge? Or what if King Harold of England hadn't force-marched his army to meet William at Hastings after defeating Harald; would he have won if his army had been better rested? Well, spoiler alert, we know how it ended. But this saga tells the story of Harald's life and rule leading up to his defeat and death, and it's a fascinating story. Harald certainly lived an interesting life - he spent years in exile, joined the Varangian Guard in the Byzantine Empire, fought for years against the king of Denmark, and was considered the last great Viking king. His death marks the end of the Viking Age. This translation was good - clear, to the point, and the translators provide plenty of historical context. I see that they've translated other sagas, so I'll definitely seek those out! The saga itself aside, I also loved the translators' introduction about the author himself, Snorri Sturluson. He was discussed in the book on the Lewis Chessmen I read earlier this year, and he's really an interesting historical figure. I was glad to learn more. Mental note: see if there's a biography written about him! 2016 reading challenge: a book from antiquity

  13. 5 out of 5

    Ensiform

    Translated and annotated, with an introduction by Magnus Magnusson and Hermann Palsson. It is a brief excerpt from Snorri’s Heimskringla, his complete history of Norway. It tells the story of Harald Sigurdsson, half-brother of St. Olaf, who through cunning and treachery became king of Norway, then in 1066 vied for the English throne with Harold of England, just before the latter was defeated by William the Bastard. Although Snorri doesn’t preach the moral of the story, it becomes clear that Hara Translated and annotated, with an introduction by Magnus Magnusson and Hermann Palsson. It is a brief excerpt from Snorri’s Heimskringla, his complete history of Norway. It tells the story of Harald Sigurdsson, half-brother of St. Olaf, who through cunning and treachery became king of Norway, then in 1066 vied for the English throne with Harold of England, just before the latter was defeated by William the Bastard. Although Snorri doesn’t preach the moral of the story, it becomes clear that Harald is not a noble man. He breaks his word several times: for example he promises his enemies safe passage and then murders them; and he tests his co-king and nephew Magnus by insisting (unjustly) on his right to use the royal jetty. It is a quite vivid picture of what men had to do in those conditions to gain and keep power, although other personages in the saga can be chivalrous, and are evidently disgusted with Harald’s duplicity. My sympathies never lay with Harald, even given his context. The editors note, interestingly, that Harold might have defeated William if he hadn’t been drawn into the mass slaughter with Harald at Stamford Bridge.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Misha Hoekstra

    Another great classic from Iceland, but what I want to call attention to here is not the compelling character studies or the always compelling presence of everyday violence in the sagas but two points about the role of poets. The first is that Snorri Sturluson builds the saga up primarily from poems rather than sagas or histories because he actually finds the court poets more reliable. They may exaggerate, he suggests, but they will not lie. Moreover, the complex musical form tended to preserve Another great classic from Iceland, but what I want to call attention to here is not the compelling character studies or the always compelling presence of everyday violence in the sagas but two points about the role of poets. The first is that Snorri Sturluson builds the saga up primarily from poems rather than sagas or histories because he actually finds the court poets more reliable. They may exaggerate, he suggests, but they will not lie. Moreover, the complex musical form tended to preserve them intact over the years, while oral histories change with each teller, if not each telling. The second is the way that kings then surrounded themselves with poets, much as politicians now court journalists. The introduction mentions one telling example of respect for the poetic arts: on the eve of his execution in 950, Egil Skalla-Grimsson composed a eulogy to honor his bitterest enemy, Eirik Blood-Axe. Head-Ransom had the effect its title indicates it was aiming at: Eirik was so impressed that he granted Egil his life. Which is why Egil's Saga is on deck.

  15. 5 out of 5

    russell barnes

    Britain's most famous Icelander is at it again, only this time telling the tale of the last great Viking king, Harald, who ruthlessly subjugated Norway and attempted to invade England in 1066. Confusingly he was beaten by King Harold at the battle of Stamford Bridge in Yorkshire, and Harold was then beaten by Harald's nephew (?) at the Battle of Hastings. This is not the end of being confused in an admittedly very-slim volume. The sheer amount of pillaging, double-dealing, trickery, chicanery an Britain's most famous Icelander is at it again, only this time telling the tale of the last great Viking king, Harald, who ruthlessly subjugated Norway and attempted to invade England in 1066. Confusingly he was beaten by King Harold at the battle of Stamford Bridge in Yorkshire, and Harold was then beaten by Harald's nephew (?) at the Battle of Hastings. This is not the end of being confused in an admittedly very-slim volume. The sheer amount of pillaging, double-dealing, trickery, chicanery and verses dedicated to axes chopping enemies up, all add up to a certain amount of deja-vu. Particularly as most of Norway, Denmark and Sweden are related to each other, and called Ulf, Olaf, Harald, or Sven. Griping aside, the early tales of Harald's exploits in the Middle East are full of derring-do and exotic mystery, and the fact the Icelandic court poets weren't exactly in the James Joyce league of literary obfuscation, made this a fairly easy romp. Even if the names confused matter.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Terence Gallagher

    King Harald's Saga contains one section of Snorri Sturluson's Heimskringla, published as a standalone. It's a fascinating portrait of King Harald Sigurdsson, perhaps best known to English speakers as Harald Hadrada, the Norwegian king who invaded England in 1066 just before William the Conqueror. I had always thought of him as "the other guy" among the three protagonists of that famous year, but Snorri S. paints a vivid portrait of an energetic, fearsome, ambitious king, sort of the last great V King Harald's Saga contains one section of Snorri Sturluson's Heimskringla, published as a standalone. It's a fascinating portrait of King Harald Sigurdsson, perhaps best known to English speakers as Harald Hadrada, the Norwegian king who invaded England in 1066 just before William the Conqueror. I had always thought of him as "the other guy" among the three protagonists of that famous year, but Snorri S. paints a vivid portrait of an energetic, fearsome, ambitious king, sort of the last great Viking. Snorri studs the saga with a great number of verses of contemporary court poetry (an important historical source). Penguin's Palsson/Magnusson combo do their usual excellent job with highly readable maps, three interrelated family trees, and a vital glossary of proper names. Their introduction provides a good biographical sketch of Snorri S. and an overview of his historical method, and of the development of saga writing in general.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Cwn_annwn_13

    Highly recomended! The only disapointment this saga brings is that because Harald Hardradi lived after the conversion to Christianity in Norway (at least by the upper classes) so you don't get the glimpses into how the Norse Heathen religion was practiced like you do in nearly all the other sagas. Other than that this is one of the better sagas. You get entertaining recounts of Haralds wild adventerous life and his political manuverings and skullduggery. Also this is a source for info on my favo Highly recomended! The only disapointment this saga brings is that because Harald Hardradi lived after the conversion to Christianity in Norway (at least by the upper classes) so you don't get the glimpses into how the Norse Heathen religion was practiced like you do in nearly all the other sagas. Other than that this is one of the better sagas. You get entertaining recounts of Haralds wild adventerous life and his political manuverings and skullduggery. Also this is a source for info on my favorite year/event in history to read about, the year 1066 in English history where you had the Kings of three major European nations fighting, with two of them dying on the battlefield, for the Kingship of England. Can you imagine any of our cowardly so called leaders ever putting themselves in the line of fire like these guys did?

  18. 4 out of 5

    Desiree Wallen

    For an "account" of a king's life written in the mid-1200's, this is pretty well-constructed by Icelandic historian Snorri Sturluson. The translation by Magnus Magnusson (a man whose name is indicative of the badassery in this book) is really swell, complete with footnotes of really obscure references and potential language disputes. Some "events" were mind-blowing (using birds with lit matches strapped on their back to burn down a town? Not sure how that's possible, but I liked it), but others For an "account" of a king's life written in the mid-1200's, this is pretty well-constructed by Icelandic historian Snorri Sturluson. The translation by Magnus Magnusson (a man whose name is indicative of the badassery in this book) is really swell, complete with footnotes of really obscure references and potential language disputes. Some "events" were mind-blowing (using birds with lit matches strapped on their back to burn down a town? Not sure how that's possible, but I liked it), but others were things I had seen before. No offense to Storluson's prose, it's just all the historical accounts of the period had their subjects fighting and being the heroes in great battles they were not really at. If it had a little more content specific to King Harald, I would have been more impressed.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jan 1$

    Really good history and story here, the Snorri has brought us very good insight to the men of his recent past. King Harald's life story was remarkable and there was more than just his story to tell. A very good history read indeed. It did get a little dry at times but I'm reading things very relentlessly since I want to read so much this year, so it took only a couple of days. I recommend this to people who don't know [much] about the battle of Hastings (like myself before hand), those intereste Really good history and story here, the Snorri has brought us very good insight to the men of his recent past. King Harald's life story was remarkable and there was more than just his story to tell. A very good history read indeed. It did get a little dry at times but I'm reading things very relentlessly since I want to read so much this year, so it took only a couple of days. I recommend this to people who don't know [much] about the battle of Hastings (like myself before hand), those interested in European History-Middle Ages or just likes the Icelandic (or in someways Norse because of the time period) Sagas or anyone who wants to read some history with humanity. I loved the parts with they siege the towns the most.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Chris Linehan

    Good stuff Snorri! Western Europe in the 11th century was violent and action packed. Snorri captures this exceptionally well in the saga of King Harald. What I enjoy about this account is the writing style. It’s witty, economical and sharp. While the stories of other sagas or even ancient epic poetry might be more enthralling, there is something about Snorri‘s writing style that makes him almost more enjoyable to read. I think it might be the fact that he moves the story along without repeating Good stuff Snorri! Western Europe in the 11th century was violent and action packed. Snorri captures this exceptionally well in the saga of King Harald. What I enjoy about this account is the writing style. It’s witty, economical and sharp. While the stories of other sagas or even ancient epic poetry might be more enthralling, there is something about Snorri‘s writing style that makes him almost more enjoyable to read. I think it might be the fact that he moves the story along without repeating himself over and over again. I’m looking forward to trying to squeeze another Viking saga in before New Year, though my night stand collection of books may prevent this from coming to fruition.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Siria

    This is a solid, serviceable translation of part of the Heimskringla. I'll admit that medieval Scandinavian history is not my strong point, so I can't speak to how accurately it captures the sense of the original, but it read clearly and easily (even though I didn't like how the footnotes were arranged). I would have appreciated more and better integrated/connected genealogical tables, though; the kinship relationships were clearly extremely important to medieval Icelandic/Norse society, but it This is a solid, serviceable translation of part of the Heimskringla. I'll admit that medieval Scandinavian history is not my strong point, so I can't speak to how accurately it captures the sense of the original, but it read clearly and easily (even though I didn't like how the footnotes were arranged). I would have appreciated more and better integrated/connected genealogical tables, though; the kinship relationships were clearly extremely important to medieval Icelandic/Norse society, but it was hard to keep track of all the various interrelationships.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Nate

    quick but intersting, if not altogether accurate account of one of the last viking kings who died invading england, weakening it enough for william the conqueror to finish the job. lots of quotes from now lost contemporary icelandic/old norse poets. would like to read sturluson's entire work some day as this is just an excerpt. penguin edition is good with extensive notes and genealogical tables quick but intersting, if not altogether accurate account of one of the last viking kings who died invading england, weakening it enough for william the conqueror to finish the job. lots of quotes from now lost contemporary icelandic/old norse poets. would like to read sturluson's entire work some day as this is just an excerpt. penguin edition is good with extensive notes and genealogical tables

  23. 4 out of 5

    Bri

    The poetry translations are abysmal but the rest of it is alright I guess. Definitely not the most exciting saga out there

  24. 4 out of 5

    Christian Schwoerke

    Snorri Sturluson’s biography/saga of King Harald Sigurdsson is very digestible history, rife with adventures and intrigue, filled with all sorts of first-hand (if you accept that the bards were Johnny-on-the-spot) details that bring events to life. King Harald’s Saga is only a part of Sturluson’s longer work, Heimskringla, which recounts the history of the kings of Norway from mythic dawn to the year 1177. Sturluson’s work as a historian is impressive, and the scholars who introduce this volume Snorri Sturluson’s biography/saga of King Harald Sigurdsson is very digestible history, rife with adventures and intrigue, filled with all sorts of first-hand (if you accept that the bards were Johnny-on-the-spot) details that bring events to life. King Harald’s Saga is only a part of Sturluson’s longer work, Heimskringla, which recounts the history of the kings of Norway from mythic dawn to the year 1177. Sturluson’s work as a historian is impressive, and the scholars who introduce this volume make it clear that Sturluson was selective in the accounts he was willing to trust when compiling the “facts” of Harald’s life. The introduction is scholarly but is a welcome adjunct to Sturluson’s account of Harald’s life. The introduction includes an appreciation and account of the singularity of Sturluson’s work, a biographical sketch of Sturluson, a description of Sturluson’s historical methodology, and a summary of the history of King Harald, with reference to other historical events in Europe and England. Much of the source material Sturluson used was bardic, primarily composed for oral recitation by court poets who versified Harald’s feats as they occurred. [I imagine Harald and his forces in battle (which occurred frequently), swords and axes cleaving flesh, blood and body parts flying, whilst squirming in the melee is a bard with lyre composing a new stanza of verse. It probably didn’t happen quite like that, but the image is not that far removed from the embedded combat reporter skulking behind sandbags recording his impressions of a firefight in Iraq.] Harald Sigurdsson’s era (1015-1066) was just undertaking the great transition to Christianity, where bloodletting and vengeance were uneasily morphing to concepts of justice and forgiveness, in large part due to Harald’s brother St. Olaf’s efforts. It is a testament to the persistence of the old codes that Sturluson’s own life in the 13th century was still lived by the sword as well as by diplomacy and scholarship. Sturluson died, ambushed by political rivals, in 1241. The events of Harald’s life (particularly his fatal last assault on England) bear significantly on the outcome of the Battle of Hastings in 1066, the locus of some great historical “what ifs”. What if King Harald had not attacked York and depleted King Harold’s forces two weeks before the Battle of Hastings? Similarly, what if King Harald had defeated King Harold and then had to face William the Conqueror at Hastings? A final what-if scenario would be William invading before Harald landed in Northumbria: in this scenario, King Harold may have been able to repulse William’s forces… Sturluson’s account of Harald’s life is thrilling, in large part because Harald led a very eventful life, which parallels much in the excellent Norwegian novel of a Viking adventurer of the same era, The Long Ships (Frans G. Bengtsson). Harald was the younger son to St. Olaf, king of Norway, who in 1030 was killed in battle, forcing 16-year-old Harald to flee to Russia. Harald left Russia to serve several years as a mercenary in Constantinople and the Mediterranean. He fled in 1044 with great quantities of gold and loyal fighting forces. Danish and Norwegian and Swedish rivalries were active for decades, and Harald ruthlessly manipulated events to control all of Norway, forging alliances and treaties, and engaging in warfare, when necessary. In 1066, Harald was enticed into conceiving a righteous invasion of England, based on the confusion surrounding King Canute’s legacy (still in question 30 years after his death). Harald appears to have been too lax in his assault on York and placed his supporting troops too far from the front lines. This enabled King Harold’s forces to fight two lesser Viking fronts, at different times.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Alexander

    King Harald's Saga is really a small piece (about 120 pages) of a much larger work, The Heinskringla. Harald's career is worthy of a saga as his life was an adventure on a grand scale until he was cut down at Stamford Bridge in his failed conquest of England. His death is seen as the closing of the Viking period that harrassed England for so long. Although the saga brings the reader along with Harald as he travels to Russia as an exile, enters the service of the Byzantine emperors, wages war in A King Harald's Saga is really a small piece (about 120 pages) of a much larger work, The Heinskringla. Harald's career is worthy of a saga as his life was an adventure on a grand scale until he was cut down at Stamford Bridge in his failed conquest of England. His death is seen as the closing of the Viking period that harrassed England for so long. Although the saga brings the reader along with Harald as he travels to Russia as an exile, enters the service of the Byzantine emperors, wages war in Africa, claims the throne of Norway and launches countless sorties in his bid to conquer Denmark, Harald remains a rather flat and unlikable figure. The chapters are quite abrupt and littered with distracting references to contemporary poems that praise Harald in panengyric fashion despite the disturbing behaviour he engages in to acquire more power. Harald cheats, pillages, breaks promises, and sanctions murder against his rivals. I found myself rooting against him by the end. The footnotes are helpful as the account is also full of numerous inaccuracies that most readers may not catch.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Debbi

    This is an excerpt from Sturluson's complete saga of the Icelandic kinds. The editor provides maps, genealogies, and copious notes to help the reader place the saga in its proper context of time, royal houses, and geography. This is an excerpt from Sturluson's complete saga of the Icelandic kinds. The editor provides maps, genealogies, and copious notes to help the reader place the saga in its proper context of time, royal houses, and geography.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Joshua

    Read the review on my blog: http://hblackbeard.blogspot.com/2017/... Read the review on my blog: http://hblackbeard.blogspot.com/2017/...

  28. 5 out of 5

    Scott

    One of my favorite Kings in all of history. Others like Poul Anderson have fleshed out his life. This translation gives you a good account of what history has left us.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Robin

    The great lead up to the Battle of Hastings in 1066, according to the Norwegians

  30. 4 out of 5

    Georgina

    It gives you a much better sense of what really was going on in 1066 and all the family history and rivalry at play. I feel I understand what happened much better after reading this book.

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