Thursday, 13 October 2011


In Hagia Sofia you can still see a thousand year old
inscription reading “Halvdan carved these runes”.
Halvdan was a warrior in the Varangian Guard, a
Scandinavian regiment of bodyguards for the Byzantine
Emperor and served under the regiments captain,
Harold Hardrada.
    Harold Hardrada died, as you all know, in the
battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066, but his journey
towards this end started when he was 15 and witnessed
his half brother being cut down and killed in a battle
for the Norwegian crown. The exiled Harold travelled
eastwards, through Gardarriket, modern day Russia,
and then south to Miklagard, also known as Istanbul,
Constantinople or Byzantine.
    During his service for the Emperor in the
Varangian Guard, he quickly rose to the title of Akolouthos,
leader of the guard, and fought in more than 18
major campaigns, from Sicily to Northern Africa, all in
all capturing over 80 cities for the Emperor. The Guard
was, under his leadership, renowned for their battle
prowess (“the brutal nobles”), excessive drinking
habits (“the wine kegs of the emperor”) and loyalty,
but this loyalty was only towards the living and each
time an emperor was killed the Guard would loot the
palace for all its treasure. This happened three times
and might have been the reason why Empress Zoë
Porfyrogenita arrested Harold, although the legend
also say that the Empress was an overly jealous person,
and Harold had fallen for her sister.
    He managed, however, to escape and on a ship
laden with treasures and navigated by his most loyal
men, he sailed across the Mediterranean Sea, passed
the Gibraltar, and was finally, after 13 years away, on
his way home.
    When he made landfall on the shores of Norway,
he was most likely, with all his Mediterranean
treasure and battle experience, the wealthiest and
most powerful man in the country. He managed to
conquered the Norwegian throne, but after spending a
lifetime re-enacting the memories of battles, settling
down was not part of his plan, and with the last of his
spoils he rounded up 300 ships for the invasion of
England, where his final re-enactment was crowned
with success.

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