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Runic Dictionary

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Haraldr hárfagri Hálfdanarson (Hhárf)

9th century; volume 1; ed. Russell Poole;

1. Snæfríðardrápa (Snædr) - 1

See ‘Ruler biographies’ in Introduction to this volume. Haraldr (Hhárf) is credited with Snæfríðardrápa (Hhárf Snædr), of which a sole stanza exists, and an extempore helmingr (Hhárf Lv).

Vol. I. Poetry for Scandinavian Rulers 1: From Mythological Times to c. 1035 > 8. Volume Introduction > 4. Biographies > 4.1. Ruler biographies > 4.1.a. Kings and jarls of Norway > 8. Haraldr I hárfagri Hálfdanarson (r. c. 860-c. 932)

The Yngling king Haraldr hárfagri ‘Fair-hair’ was the son of the petty king Hálfdan svarti (q. v.). According to Hkr, Haraldr succeeded Hálfdan as king of Vestfold in south-eastern Norway at the age of ten. He is said to have ruled for seventy or seventy-three years (see Note to Anon Nkt 8 [All]II). Scholars have dated his accession at some point in the period 860-80 but all the dates of his life and reign are highly contested and uncertain (see Andersen 1977, 80-3). Haraldr formed alliances with Hákon Grjótgarðsson, jarl of Hlaðir (Lade) and ruler of the far northern region of Norway, and with Rǫgnvaldr Eysteinsson, jarl of Mœrr (Møre) in the north-west, and fought successful campaigns against the petty kings of Upplǫnd (Opplandene) and Raumsdalr (Romsdalen), as well as regaining the eastern territory of Vermaland (Värmland) from the Swedish king Eiríkr Eymundarson. Haraldr’s territorial expansion culminated in the sea-battle of Hafrsfjǫrðr (Hafrsfjorden, Rogaland) against a coalition of kings and jarls, probably petty rulers from the south-western coastal regions of Hǫrðaland (Hordaland), Rogaland, and Agðir (Agder), though some scholars, such as von See (1961b, 105-11), have argued for more limited opposition; see Andersen (1977, 79-84) for a survey. The battle, traditionally dated c. 872, is often placed c. 885-c. 890 in more recent historiography, and that date-range is used throughout this volume. In the traditional view, Haraldr’s victory made him the effective ruler of all Norway, but the nature and extent of his power is disputed, and medieval claims about Haraldr’s significance in Norway’s progress towards unified statehood are now generally regarded as exaggerated.

Haraldr’s nickname lúfa ‘Shaggy-locks’ later gave way to hárfagri ‘Fair-hair’; both are attested from early poetry (see Index of Nicknames). The change of nickname is linked in some sources to Haraldr’s ambitions. Fsk (ÍF 29, 66) and Hkr (ÍF 26, 97) record a vow by Haraldr that he will not cut his hair until he has gained control of Norway, and HarHárf in Flat (1860-8, I, 569, 575) explicitly links the making of the vow to the nickname lúfa and the fulfilment of it to hárfagri. Ágr (ÍF 29, 3) on the other hand seems to assume an improvement in his looks.

Haraldr is said to have bestowed Shetland and Orkney on the family of his ally Rǫgnvaldr jarl, whose son Torf-Einarr (TorfE; see skald Biography) became the first Norse jarl there. However, Rǫgnvaldr was killed by Haraldr’s sons Hálfdan háleggr ‘Long-legged’ and Guðrøðr ljómi ‘Beam of Light’, provoking a feud, especially with Torf-Einarr. Haraldr had numerous sons – anywhere from nine to twenty, according to the sources (see Hkr 1991, III, 135; Driscoll in Ágr 2008, 84-5); their mothers were various wives, concubines, and servants, among them Ása, daughter of Hákon jarl Grjótgarðsson, and Ragnhildr, daughter of King Eiríkr of Jutland. For the story of Haraldr’s match with the Saami princess Snæfríðr, about whom he is implausibly said to have composed Hhárf Snædr, see Context to that poem. The unstable succession led to a fragmentation of power in Norway after Haraldr’s death c. 932. See Anon Nkt 4-9II, c. 1190; Theodoricus (MHN 6; McDougall and McDougall 1998, 5); HN (MHN 103-5; Kunin and Phelpstead 2001, 14-15); Ágr (ÍF 29, 3-7; Ágr 2008, 3-7); Fsk (ÍF 29, 58-74; Finlay 2004, 42-54); HhárfHkr (ÍF 26, 94-149; Hollander 1964a, 59-95). Skáldatal (SnE 1848-87, III, 253, 261, 273) lists the following as Haraldr’s skalds: Auðunn illskælda (Auðunn), Þorbjǫrn hornklofi (Þhorn), Ǫlvir hnúfa (Ǫlvir), Þjóðólfr ór Hvini (Þjóð), Úlfr Sebbason and Guthormr sindri (Gsind; no poetry for Haraldr extant).

Events documented in poetry: Battles against the Orkndœlir (Þhorn Gldr 1-2); two battles near Sólskel (Solskjel, Þhorn Gldr 3-5 (?)); campaign in the Götaälv (Þhorn Gldr 6-7); the battle of Hafrsfjǫrðr (Hafrsfjorden), c. 885-c. 890 (Þjóð Har 4; Þhorn Gldr 3-5 (?); Þhorn Harkv 7-12); Haraldr’s conquest of Norway (Anon Oddm); expedition to the British Isles (Þhorn Gldr 8); Haraldr’s change of nickname (Þjóð Har 5); his military exploits in general (Þhorn Gldr; Jór Send 1, 3); his war-band and life at his court (Þjóð Har 1-3; Þjóð Lv 1; Þhorn Harkv 5-6, 13, 15-23); dealings with (Gǫngu-)Hrólfr Rǫgnvaldsson (Hildr Lv); conflict between Haraldr and his son Hálfdan svarti and reconciliation through Guthormr sindri (Jór Send);  Haraldr’s attempt to suppress a sorcerer’s activities (Vitg Lv); his marriage to Ragnhildr (Þhorn Harkv 13-14); an anecdote featuring three of Haraldr’s skalds (Þhorn Lv; Auðunn Lv; Ǫlvir Lv). Events involving the sons of Haraldr: storm warning to Guðrøðr Haraldsson (Þjóð Lv 2); hostilities between Haraldr’s sons and Torf-Einarr Rǫgnvaldsson (Torf-Einarr Lv 1-5); Rǫgnvaldr réttilbeini accused of sorcery (Vitg Lv). See also Biographies of Eiríkr blóðøx and Hákon góði. Two stanzas are attributed to Haraldr: Hhárf Snædr on the death of Snæfríðr and Hhárf Lv on his retainers.

Snæfríðardrápa (‘Drápa about Snæfríðr’) — Hhárf SnædrI

Russell Poole 2012, ‘ Haraldr hárfagri Hálfdanarson, Snæfríðardrápa’ in Diana Whaley (ed.), Poetry from the Kings’ Sagas 1: From Mythical Times to c. 1035. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 1. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 67. <> (accessed 27 May 2022)

stanzas:  1 

Skj: Haraldr hárfagri: 1. Snæfríðardrápa (AI, 5, BI, 5); stanzas (if different): [v] | [v]

in texts: Flat

SkP info: I, 67

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance references search files


A single stanza is preserved as the beginning of Snæfríðardrápa or SnjófríðardrápaDrápa about Snæfríðr’ (Hhárf Snædr). It calls for a hearing and announces a drápa using allusions to the myth of the mead of poetry (see Note to l. 4), and refers to a deceased woman, whom prose narratives identify as Snæfríðr (see Context). The traditional ascription to Haraldr hárfagri ‘Fair-hair’ originates with a medieval witness, Flat, and is retained here, in accordance with the policy of the SkP edition. There is good reason to believe, however, that it is purely legendary in its basis (Y. Nielsen 1908, 153; de Vries 1940, 172; Poole 1982, 127). Further, such striking similarities in content, diction, style and metre exist between this stanza and the fragments of a poem by the otherwise unknown Ormr Steinþórsson (Ormr WomanIII) that he has been credited with authorship of the stanza and of the lost remainder of Snædr in recent scholarship (Ólafur Halldórsson 1969b; Poole 1982). The stanza is in hálfhnept ‘half-curtailed’ metre, in which the final foot in each line is a monosyllable (see ‘Skaldic metres’ in General Introduction). If the ascription to Haraldr hárfagri is taken at face value, Snædr is the earliest specimen of hálfhnept extant. The distinctive placement of the alliteration of l. 1 in the third and fourth lifts, however, cannot be paralleled before the fourteenth century, except in Ormr WomanIII, where it occurs six times in six helmingar (sts 2/1, 4/3, 5/1, 6/1, 6/3 and 7/1). The stanza is preserved only in Flat (Flat) and 761bˣ (fol. 185r); 761bˣ is copied from Flat, but is cited in the Notes below since it contains Árni Magnússon’s interpretation of an obscure reading in l. 5.

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