Sunday, October 24, 2010

Harald Bluetooth I. Harald Bluetooth Gormson. And the Vikings

 Vikings in Context
Big Era 793-1050 AD

In the middle: Harald Bluetooth 911-980 AD

Why the Viking Violence At That Particular Time;
And Against Christians mostly

Harald. We thought we knew you.
Who were you in historical perspective?
Were Vikings so barbaric in the contexts of others' religious aggressions.  Look at The West overall and its religio-military incursions northward. The West's religious-military incursions were bootstrapped, "justified" by theology: proselytizing and punishing those whose beliefs were different:, up to and including Charlemagne 742-814 AD and after --  (visit the Sachsenhain Massacre 782 AD).

Did those events help trigger the 250 years of Viking raids.  Similarly, did an ancient Roman defeat at Varusschlacht back in 9 AD, its disciplined legions slaughtered by Germanic tribes, echo in a fear of the Germanic tribe's fervor, that Rome's successor, the Roman Church militant, had to quash at all costs. Was Charlemagne driven, with the Pope's armies in tow, to overkill. Or is Sachsenhain a legend? Charlemagne's court biographers are mum.

To what degree does history trigger later responses against a group that sees itself as attacked.

Does racial memory carry meaning. See the New York Times. Parcels containing bombs in printer cartridges were addressed to persons with historical names from the Crusades and Spanish Inquisition, see ://; and A-6, the NYT 11/3/2010. 
  • Diego Deza, Inquisitor. See Deza's portrait and bio at :// ; and
  • "Reynald Krak", who is Reynald of Chatillon 1125-1187? Young. Brutal. Treacherous. And executed. (or Reynald de Chatillon, Chatillon in northwest France).  Krak is an old city in Jordan, with a fortress dating back to the Crusades. Reynald took the throne in Christian Palestine when it became vacant and broke an important truce with Saladin, and is seen (it looks justified) as cruel and deceitful, see :// 
Is there a continuing impact of earlier religio-military incursions into the territory and belief systems of others, forcing conversions, slaughter, etc. Is that so? It is not done when it seems to be done, is that so. Hidden reins of history. Ignore it at our peril, educators. And watch accuracy in representing other cultures. Why promote what is not so, except for propaganda purposes. See

Find Harald Bluetooth's mark at://; more at ://

Harald Bluetooth. Perhaps entombed in thise Cathedral column. A mid-era Viking.  Was he a leader with engineering skills, and foresight, and a wise man.

If the Viking Era dates from the attack on Lindisfarne monastery in 793 (not all agree), and extends to the Battle of Hastings 1066, then we are looking at a relatively brief period of time - say 250 years at most - of relatively unbridled raiding and slaving and Christian-killing.  In that time, Harald Bluetooth stands as a measured, wise ruler, respectful of old ways, but willing to embrace the new, at least for a while.

We offer here a Violence Test. First, meet Harald to get an idea of the extensive culture of the Scandinavians. Then see their violence in 250 years, in the context of a long timeline, blending many available timelines, to see if the West and its attitude and actions against others is a smoking gun over millenia. Go.

Agenda today: 

I.   Harald Bluetooth, King of Denmark and Sweden c. 911-980 AD

A.  Personas of Harald Bluetooth

1.  Harald Bluetooth, the Builder; the Defender against Christian invasion
2.  Harald Bluetooth, the Viking in Normandy 
3.  Harald Bluetooth, the Pragmatic Convert

B.  Why an interest in Harald:  

Does Harald belie the random violence image of the legends, fostered to promote Christianity and belittle the Scandinavian cultures.

II.  Viking Context

A.   Proximity to Saxons, cultural similarities
B.  Varusschlacht and the Ancient Roman Defeat by Germanic Tribes
C.  Charlemagne and the legendary mass murder of Saxon prisoners at Sachsenhain
D.  Other Vikings 

III.  Viking Raiding Years: 800-1250 ACE

A.   Why then
B.   Why against Christians mainly

IV.  Western Violence and Violent Reaction of Others

A. Western Ethnic/Religious/Cultural/Military Violence Timeline 
B.  What to conclude:  which is, was, more violent:  Vikings or Western Roman Religious-Military-Cultural Expansion

V.  Conclusion

Western Ethnic - Religious - Cultural Violence History
Now moved, because of length, to Studying War: Western Ethnic Violence Timeline

I.  Harald Bluetooth, King of Denmark and Sweden c. 911-980 AD

Gyrid, the niece of Sweden's Eric the Victorious

Sven or Sweyn (Sven Forkbeard, who later deposed Harald)
Gunhild (no e)
Thyra - she married Styrbjorn Starke

Did Bluetooth mean a dead incisor, for example, as my husband used to have (Jon Bluetooth), or is it from Blatand, meaning dark-skinned, and great man.  See ://  There are accounts of the Danes being dark, and Norwegians and Swedes light.  DNA shows some odd migratory patterns, another tale. More on Bluetooth:  at ://

 A. Personas of Harald Bluetooth


Harald was King of Denmark 936 or so, and also of Sweden starting 945 AD.

For a short period, he also ruled a very limited part of Norway. Find a biography at :// We think of mindless violence, raids, slaughters, maces, battle axes, no mercy, grab the loot, the slaves, then back in the longboats to some safe fjord in Denmark, Norway, Sweden, laughing all the way with merry sagas throughout the long winter, and then Repeat.  Is that so?  We suggest here that you meet a real Viking, and explore his time's setting. He was ruler about 140 years after the first really ferocious raid of Vikings on British Isle monasteries (attack on Lindisfarne in 793 AD); and by his time, Viking advances included settlements, and more methodical attacks as part of invasions. The Northmen (Normans) ultimately invaded England and prevailed at Hastings in 1066.

Military matters:  For defense against the Christian armies, as well as some against fellow Vikings from Norway, he built large and precisely placed trelleborgs, ring forts, in Denmark and Sweden.

He built a large bridge at Velje, DK, anticipating Otto's success in moving north into Denmark. Against Otto and competing Vikings, he was an excellent military strategist, a precise builder, and oversaw engineering feats (bridges, forts) for defense against Germans and other Viking groups.

Civil matters:  He built vast burial mounds at Jelling, one later found empty and perhaps constructed for himself; another for his father, Gorm the Old; and set vast Rune Stones to glorify the memory of his father and mother, and his own feats.  When he converted after pressure from HRE Otto II from Germany pressing north, he also built a church later at that same site, and moved the remains of his father beneath the church.  Another Rune stone, apparently raised by an earlier Wife and at a site a small distance away, has been moved to the church site as well. 


He joined in the Viking invasions of France, and their settlement in Normandy (this colonization, a result of the French King buying off the Vikings, to keep them from sacking Paris and other sites further) leading to the Norman invasion of England at Hastings 1066). Harald Bluetooth: an "enlightened" Viking participated in the Normandy establishment.  Then focused on defending against the Holy Roman Emperor Otto, beating at the borders of Denmark.

Harald in Normandy:  This may be an error in identification, someone else being at Bayeux:  See ://  Someone else, please research.

We continue to ask: Was there more to the ferocity of the Roman Church and its military leaders against the Saxons than we think; and did that lead to the Viking response back. Its neighbors, the Saxons, long broken up, some earlier to the British Isles, but those remaining virtually decimated by slaughter and forced migrations.
Harald was deposed late in life by his non-Christian son, Sven Forkbeard in 980; fled, and was killed. Bluetooth may have reverted from what might have been Christianity for Convenience (avoid being killed if he did not convert) to old religion at end. Forkbeard himself ultimately converted, and Danes followed suit.

3.  HARALD BLUETOOTH, THE PRAGMATIC CONVERT; WHO MAY HAVE REVERTED [a pattern for Scandinavian and Saxon "converts"] WHEN HE COULD

Christians pressed north: first through quiet missionaries; and then through the militant Otto the Great who saw himself as a new Holy Roman Emperor. Up past Germanic borders came armies and ideas from Germany. Harald had hard choices. So Harald saw how the deck was stacked, converted to Christianity; stayed that way as King, but did not push for overall Dane conversion.  Many did convert, he took credit for that, but there were (as we see so far), no great mass movement to convert in any spontaneous way by the vast Dane population groups at that time, See Denmark Road Ways, Jelling, Harald Bluetooth


Harald belies the random violent legends, 
fostered to promote Christianity and belittle Scandinavian culture

Why an interest in Harald? This began as an examination of the life of Harald Bluetooth as a responsible, careful ruler; a defender of territory; a later-convert supporter of Christianity as he was in that religion's path as it was forced northwards with the Franks and others.

My assumption had been that the Vikings were a wild bunch of raiders, slaughtering all in their path for fathomless reasons except the lucre they stole, and love of bloodshed. We had seen several in the series of ring forts, or "trelleborgs" he caused to be constructed; see Sweden Road Ways, Viking Culture, Trelleborgs, and Harald ; and read of the 1/2 mile long Ravning Bridge near Velje, Denmark, 979 AD, that was 18 feet wide, to enable a north-south access route as part of defenses against Germans. See ://

Vikings could do that? What other Vikings were admirable, skilled, knowledgeable, and not primarily savage in attacks.

We are interested in the Vikings and the precipitous timing of their 250 years of violence against Christian sites: a religious-type war response, posits Robert Ferguson, in The Vikings, A History, Penguin 2009 and not randomized mayhem (among other theories); and purposefully against the West's religious-based institutions and persons, and its incursions by force into Northern Europe. Religio-military incursions into the territory and belief systems of others, forcing conversions, slaughter, etc. See Charlemagne in particular, and his treatment of the Saxons, a contiguous culture to Vikings, related beliefs, etc.

So we began to check the context for Harald's life, including his role in the Viking-Norman settlement at Brittany.

Were the Vikings, and Harald, such barbarians as we have been taught. If Vikings had these kinds of advances under their belts, why and when did the raiding start.  I began a timeline: getting dates from multiple other timelines online, and chronologies and information from The Vikings, A History, by Robert Ferguson, Penguin 2009. when did the Vikings begin serious raiding, especially of helpless but rich monasteries. Why that activity, why then. Why there?


A.  Proximity to Saxons, in culture and religious roots

Saxons.  Germanic.  Vikings. Norse. Geographically and linguistically, through similar rune-writing, rune-divination ideas, similar pantheons for religious purposes, Saxons and the Scandinavians to the north, the Vikings of Norway, Denmark and Sweden, had commonalities.  There was intermarriage, trade.  Widukind, the Saxon chieftain who fought Charlemagne, found refuge with his brother-in-law, King Sigurd, of Denmark.  Melt into Viking lands, wait, and strike again.

B.  The Roman Church's Memory of Germanic Fervor, Ferocity -- 
Explore the Idea at Varusschlacht

Rome forces its way north;  Germanic Tribes defeat them at Varusschlacht.  Highly disciplined and well-equipped Roman legions were defeated by Germanic tribes, Teutoborg Forest, see ://; also known as Kalkreise, Varusschlacht. See the German, with some translation, at ://

See a face mask, stripped of its silver, found at the site, horses and warriors buried for millennia,  Historians, reported at the time, the battle then suppressed in the histories. How to tell which was which warrior, when one knocked off, had his armor and mask taken and used by the other side. Or, if the Romans customarily shared their armor and tactics with the others, and then the others turned against them, complete with their new knowledge and technology.  Sound familiar?

See it at ://

The lesson taught at the museum site, near Vorden, Germany, is this:
  • that the Roman legions were so defeated, so shocked at the fervor and fury of the Germanic tribes, 
  • that the uncentralized tribes could actually defeat the famous legions, 
  • that they literally did not recover. 
They remained in awe, afraid, says the Museum exhibits, very afraid of what the Northern tribes could and would to.  And the Romans remembered, and became fixated on revenge and the drive to show they were superior, with their rationality, organization, the discipline, over unleashed frenzy.

That is what is taught at the site. They fear us.  They have always feared us  They should fear us.

 C.  The Charlemagne Experience in Memory

Was Charlemagne so Violent just because of the times, and everybody was; or was there an element of this:  That
ancient Rome's historians, those who preserved the tale, taught such fear of the Germanic Tribes. Rome won those early wars in its era, but the humiliation of Varusschlacht was remembered, and the lesson learned.  Smash. And so it was at Sachsenhain, and the centuries of forced conversions and submissions; and so it was that the Vikings struck back.

Or is all just happenstance.  No connection. No connection at all.

Charlemagne: 742-814 ACE

Charlemagne took over the role of Christian expansionist in Europe, subduing all other tribes and forcing conversion to Christianity.  He became crowned by the Pope as Holy Roman Emperor. His armies, and those of the Pope, engaged in decades of warfare.  The wars against the Saxons, in particular, took 40 years to conclude.  Two generations of killing.  Charlemagne's scribes and official biographers, named Einhard and then there is Notker the Stammerer, fall over themselves adoring Charlemagne.  Are they objective as they complain about the fierce Saxons, Norse, all Heathens. Ask. They resisted Charlemagne and his armies, for decades.  So what did Charlemagne do to cap it off.  To set in a new stone, a reaction that echoed for 250 years.  What word had spread north from southern Europe about these Christians and their ways, their persecutions.

In the histories, watch for Sachsenhain.  That is the place of the story of the mass beheading ordered by Charlemagne of 4,500 Saxon prisoners, already defeated by Charlemagne, at Verden, in northern Germany.  

These were not literate people, and their story was not written by a dutiful scribe in a neutral role who was free to criticize Charlemagne.  But stories live in people, and so has this one. After centuries of violent Christian expansion, this war against the Saxons, and their deaths at Saxon Grove, as it is called -- that Sachsenhain near Verden -- is believed and believed, and even the Nazis appropriated it to their ends.  They took over the area, made a memorial, got the support of the people, then installed the Hitler Youth and SS at the site. That's how to do it.  Appropriate a concept, get the people cheering, then turn on them. 

Did the travesty of Charlemagne echo around northern Europe.  Charlemagne could not be defeated in the short run, but he persisted and it took 30-40 years for him to suppress the northern tribes; and the neighbors of the Saxons to the north had their vengeance. Is that so?  What can we believe?  These were not literate people. They did not write down their own histories. The sagas serve other purposes than historical accuracy. What to believe. Charlemagne's court scribes were in the business of glorifying, not analyzing. Why should we believe them, either?

D.  Other Vikings

Some names.  Start with
  • Our focus here, Harald Bluetooth I of Denmark, Harald Bluetooth Gormson (Son of Gorm, and that would be Gorm the Old), Harald Blatand or Harald Blatann (Haraldr blatonn Gormssen as Old Norse for Harald Bluetooth, Gorm's Son).  With each spelling comes some variations in search results.  Try the above as Harold, not Harald, for example. A "Master Builder" - see The Vikings, A History, by Robert Ferguson, Penguin 2009
  • Ragnar, Viking Chieftain, attacked Paris
  • 885-886 AD Rollo, Viking Chieftain; Norman (Northmen) colony in France, Brittany, as payoff for stopping raids toward Rheims, Rouen, and past Paris (Rollo himself probably was not present at that attack on Paris specifically)  on the Seine River; William the Conqueror, the Norman, used that area for staging the invasion of England in 1066
  • Erik the Red, Viking Chieftain, led colonists to settle on Greenland
  • Leif Ericsson, son of Erik, conducted explorations sailing to Labrador, Baffin Islands, Newfoundland, "Vinland" - Gaspe - Nova Scotia coast? Settlements 980-1020 perhaps.
  • Canute - King of Denmark rules in England, Danelaw established, broad areas of settlement, influence, (invasions beginning 865, then some 130 years later, governing in Buckinghamshire, Middlesex, Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk, Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire, Bedfordshire, Northamptonshire, Lincolnshire, Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire,  and Yorkshire


Why then, and not long earlier -- Vikings had coexisted for centuries with other cultural groups.

Ask why the ferocity of the Christian Church against any who did not submit, and particularly the Germanic tribes; ask if Rome "remembered" the battle where the tribes beat the legions (do we know all the facts of Varusschlacht, Germany?); and why the ferocity of the Germanic resistance to Charlemagne, tool of the Church; and when the Saxons lost and were dispersed, then the Viking raiding and slaughters against the Christian military and theological centers, mainly

First, try a summary of European aggressions on a timeline.  Then, in a long footnote, FN 1,  see a more complete timeline composite from many sources.

The summary timeline:

For Vikings only, see this site:  ://  Get an idea of when and where they went.  I am interested in the site name, scaruffi, because the root skarf is Icelandic Norse, Otkell, Son of Skarf, in the Burnt Njall Saga, etc.  Trivial pursuit.  Then again Piero Scaruffi sounds Italian. All is imagination, is that so?

Note there is no violence until the Vikings have to fight the Franks.

Vikings in context in a summary way, a history of violence before and after:

50 BC - 300 AD --- Roman expansion into Europe, including 9AD and the Roman defeat at Varusschlacht, now Germany;  the Germanic tribes there victorious over the Roman legions;
300 AD  - 1400 AD -- Christian Church expansion throughout Europe, including
persecutions of contrary-believing Christians. 
  • see long list and dates and acts as to Jews at this timeline, at Jewish Persecution at ://  (note that the persecutions pre-era of Mohammed are attributable to Christians)
  • institutional church forcing conversions and killing nonconformists, in much the same way that earlier Rome had persecuted Christians
  • slaughter of "barbarians" who would not convert, in geographic expansion of church 'n turf
  • full-blown wars against non-submissive European groups "slow to convert", including Saxons, Norse :// 800-1250/The_creation_of_the_Scandinavian_kingdoms
  • 1095-1248 or so, Crusades outside and in Europe
  • killing witches and heretics, The Burning Time 1350-1500, 
  • The Inquisition, continuation against heretics, witches
Look back at that highlighted portion on the bullet list. See that Viking 250 year frame (793-1050 or so) when Vikings made Christian lives miserable, and shortened many of them with a bash on the head. And enslaved others.  Why did that begin when it did, and against Western Christians. Swedish Vikings, the Rus, reached Constantinople, but apparently there was primarily a trading relationship there. Their cities in Russia were not connected, as we can see, with particular bloodshed (Novgorod) and Kiev.

With the bombs found (see current news) headed toward Chicago, and addressed to persons or names from the Crusade era, and the Inquisition, can we doubt that racial memory of Western incursion and exploitation has a role in later reactions to the West, who is still there. In those lands.  Who can find the exact message of Osama after 9/11 -- wasn't there something about getting out of their lands?  Go check.

See FN 1 for the full, or at least a more complete, timeline.  A work in progress.


Look at what came later:  Vikings gave up, lost, quieted down, settled in.  But the same Western religio-military forces pushed on. See the 150 year frame after that (1500-1650) when the Roman Church's Inquisition engaged in continual raids and killing of those identified to its satisfaction as witches or other heretics. See the Malleus Maleficarum and The Burning Time, below. Christians: Violent before Vikings, violent while Vikings were violent, and violent after. Mirror, mirror.

Extensive timeline combining various sources at FN 1.

What had happened in, for example, the century or less before to set them off, if anything. Did Christian activities trigger it. What had the record been as to the Christians in killing other people,  before the Viking waves of killing. Were the Christians any better, in their way, except that the West honors them as killing for The Faith?  Then expand the timeline forward.  Once the Vikings had settled and become mainstream again, what did the Christians do. Did they stop their killing?  Who has kept up the violence for millennia.  Who the barbarian.


Our schoolchild history of Vikings comes from those promoting Christianity, and demoting everybody else.  It paints a few Vikings -- the explorers -- as fine folk, but somehow all the rest are a violent scourge without reason, from the Northlands in the Dark Ages: bursting from the seas and rivers in their swift longboats, heaving hacking death upon the peaceful, killing the helpless as well as the armed, victimizing Christians in particular where they could be found, including the holy lonely in monasteries whose defenses were few, but treasure great. Why, intone the recorders of the time and now, did they arrive like that, out of nowhere and against the true faith!

Put a face on the Vikings. What weight to be given to the other view of Vikings, as traders, poets (see sagas), artisans, artists, carvers, rune-stone makers, town-founders; and when does that go too far from the reality of the blood, to the sappy. Revive the ferocity? Vet.
  • I am interested in the theory suggested (among others) that the Norse had good reason to lash out against Christians wherever they could be found: the theory points to the force of the Christian push to take over and convert, by killing and population removals (Charlemagne) and the mass beheading, allegedly and for example, of 4500 Saxon prisoners, helpless in that position, by Charlemagne.
So:  Vet theories of the why as to timing of violence, its hundreds of years' duration, and its consequences. Vet some of the early historians or writers of sagas, people who wrote about them; but watch for the propensity to laud one's own forebears, canonize the Christians, demonize the Heathen who would not see the light until forced; and and liked their own ways; went back to those ways, and Repeat.

How did the Christian slaughter of the Northern tribes in Europe, especially Charlemagne's execution by beheading in a day's time, four thousand five hundred Saxon prisoners, already defeated, even if after 30 years of fighting against Charlemagne for their own way of life.  Was the Viking rise in response to Christian incursions, through violence, into Northern Europe.

Or were they merely crazy, crazed people.

One historian, Robert Ferguson in his book, Vikings, A History, Penguin 2009,  suggests that their sudden explosion in European political affairs,  after centuries of being not any different from others who raided and took, was a religious response.  A religious war.  Look at the history, the timeline, see the violence of the Christians in perspective, and meet Harald Bluetooth. What did the Christians do to set the stage for the backlash.

Were Papal and Holy Roman Emperor obsession with the Norse related to some memory of the untamable northern Tribes, the ones that defeated even the Roman Legions, at least that one time.  That resonated. Stamp it out! These people get furious. And they did. See the Berserkers, the most fierce of the fierce Vikings, see


Why demonize Vikings so much. Especially, look at the eras after the Breakup of Charlemagne's Holy Roman Empire 850-900 AD.  Charlemagne's sons couldn't hold it together, and finally arrived an ambitious Successor when his sons fell apart, came along; Otto the Great 912-73 AD. Follow the dots in Europe:  Then came forcible expulsions of Jews from European countries (Spain started it in 1492); then the Burning Times, against Rome's identified "witches" and heretics; then the Inquisition; then Protestant vs. Catholic; and more heresy justifying killings, and colonies doing it to each other, and genocides of native Americans, the Vale of Tears, then invasions by corporations into other lands, and on and on.  Not just Western ecclesiastical militant incursions into turf and mind; with forced conversions or executions for the stubborn, at home and abroad, for centuries thereafter. But morphing into heresies of economics.

This is a work in progress. Unfinished. But the idea is interesting that the Vikings' little 250 years of mayhem was triggered by centuries of worse mayhem by Christian expansionists, who then continued centuries after the Vikings were going to school board meetings. First for deity, now for profit.



Now moved, because of length, to
Studying War: Western Ethnic Violence Timeline

No comments: