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Harald Bluetooth

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Harald Bluetooth

Harald Bluetooth
Harald being baptized by Poppo the monk, in a relief dated to c. 1200.[1]
King of Denmark
Reign c. 958 – c. 986
Predecessor Gorm the Old
Successor Sweyn Forkbeard
King of Norway
Reign c. 970 – c. 975/986
Predecessor Harald Greycloak
Successor Sweyn Forkbeard
Regent Haakon Sigurdsson (de facto ruler)
Spouse Gyrid Olafsdottir (m)
Tove (m)
House House of Gorm
Father Gorm the Old
Mother Thyra
Died 986/87

Harald "Bluetooth" Gormsson (Old Norse: Haraldr blátǫnn Gormsson, Danish: Harald Blåtand Gormsen) (probably born c. 935) was a King of Denmark and Norway. He was the son of King Gorm the Old and of Thyra Dannebod. He died in 985 or 986 having ruled as King of Denmark from c. 958 and King of Norway for a few years; probably around 970. Some sources say his son Sweyn Forkbeard forcibly deposed him as King.

The Jelling stones

Harald had the Jelling stones erected to honour his parents.[2] The Encyclopædia Britannica considers the runic inscriptions as the most well known in Denmark.[3] The biography of Harald Bluetooth is summed up by this runic inscription from the Jelling stones:

"King Harald bade these memorials to be made after Gorm, his father, and Thyra, his mother. The Harald who won the whole of Denmark and Norway and turned the Danes to Christianity."

Denmark's conversion to Christianity

The larger Jelling stone, showing the inscription concerning Harald

King Harald Bluetooth's conversion to Christianity is a contested bit of history, not least because medieval writers such as Widukind of Corvey and Adam of Bremen give conflicting accounts of how it came about.

Widukind of Corvey, writing during the lives of King Harald and Otto I, claims that Harald was converted by a "cleric by the name of Poppa" who, when asked by Harald to prove his faith in Christ, carried a "great weight" of iron heated by a fire without being burned.[4]

Adam of Bremen, writing 100 years after King Harald's death in "History of the Archbishops of Hamburg-Bremen", finished in 1076, describes Harald being forcibly converted by Otto I, after a defeat in battle.[5] However, Widukind does not mention such an event in his contemporary Res gestae saxonicae sive annalium libri tres or Deeds of the Saxons. Four hundred years later, the Heimskringla relates that Harald was converted with Earl Haakon, by Otto II.[6]

A cleric named Poppa, perhaps the same one, also appears in Adam of Bremen's history, but in connection with Eric of Sweden, who had supposedly conquered Denmark (there is no evidence anywhere else that this happened).[7] The story of this otherwise unknown Poppo or Poppa's miracle and baptism of Harald is also depicted on the gilded altar piece in the Church of Tandrup in Denmark (see image at top of this article). The altar itself dates to about 1200.[8] Adam of Bremen's claim regarding Otto I and Harald appears to have been inspired by an attempt to manufacture a historical reason for the archbishops of Hamburg-Bremen to claim jurisdiction over Denmark (and thus the rest of Scandinavia); in the 1070s, the Danish King was in Rome asking for Denmark to have its own arch-bishop, and Adam's account of Harald's supposed conversion (and baptism of both him and his "little son" Sweyn, with Otto serving as Sweyn's godfather) is followed by the unambiguous claim that "At that time Denmark on this side of the sea, which is called Jutland by the inhabitants, was divided into three dioceses and subjected to the bishopric of Hamburg."[5]

As noted above, Harald's father, Gorm the Old, had died in 958, and had been buried in a mound with many goods, after the pagan practice. The mound itself was from c. 500 BCE, but Harald had it built higher over his father's grave, and added a second mound to the south. Mound-building was a newly revived custom in the 10th century, perceivably as an "appeal to old traditions in the face of Christian customs spreading from Denmark's southern neighbors, the Germans."[9]

After his conversion, around the 960s, Harald had his father's body reburied in the church next to the now empty mound, and erected one of the Jelling stones described above.

Harald undoubtedly professed Christianity at that time and contributed to its growth, but with limited success in Denmark and Norway.[10]


Harald's kingdom (in red) and his vassals and allies (in yellow), as set forth in Heimskringla, Knytlinga Saga, and other medieval Scandinavian sources.

During his reign, Harald oversaw the reconstruction of the Scania in present-day Sweden, but is of older date and thus pre-dates the reign of Harald Bluetooth.

He constructed the oldest known bridge in southern Scandinavia, the 5 meters wide, 760 meters long Ravninge Bridge at Ravninge meadows.

While quiet prevailed throughout the interior, he turned his energies to foreign enterprises. He came to the help of Richard the Fearless of Normandy in 945 and 963, while his son conquered Samland, and after the assassination of King Harald Greycloak of Norway, managed to force the people of that country into temporary subjugation to himself.

The Norse sagas present Harald in a rather negative light. He was forced twice to submit to the renegade Swedish prince Styrbjörn the Strong of the Jomsvikings- first by giving Styrbjörn a fleet and his daughter Thyra, the second time by giving up himself as hostage, along with yet another fleet. When Styrbjörn brought this fleet to Uppsala to claim the throne of Sweden, Harald broke his oath and fled with his Danes to avoid facing the Swedish army at the Battle of Fýrisvellir.

As a consequence of Harald's army having lost to the Germans at the Danevirke in 974, he no longer had control of Norway, and Germans settled back into the border area between Scandinavia and Germany. They were driven out of Denmark in 983 by an alliance of Obodrite soldiers and troops loyal to Harald, but soon after, Harald was killed fighting off a rebellion led by his son Swein. He is believed to have died in 986, although several accounts claim 985 as his year of death.

From 1835 to 1977 it was believed that Harald ordered the death of Haraldskær Woman, a bog body thought to be Gunnhild, Mother of Kings until radiocarbon dating proved otherwise.[12]

Marriages and children

  1. Gyrid Olafsdottir, probably by 950.
  2. Thora (Tova) the daughter of Mistivir in 970. She raised the Sønder Vissing Runestone after her mother.

The nickname "Bluetooth"

Harald's nickname "Bluetooth" first documented appearance is in the Chronicon Roskildense from 1140.[13] The usual explanation is that Harald must have had a conspicuous bad tooth that has been "blue" (i.e. black, as "blue" meant dark).

Another explanation, is that he was called Thegn in England (corrupted to "tan" when the name came back into Old Norse) — in England, Thane meant chief. Since blue meant "dark", his nickname was really "dark chieftain".[14]

A third theory, according to curator at the Royal Jelling Hans Ole Mathiesen, was that Harald went about clothed in blue. The blue color was in fact the most expensive, so by walking in blue Harald underlined his royal dignity.[15]

Cultural depictions and references

Bluetooth communication protocol

Bluetooth logo with runes H and B, referring to Harald Bluetooth

"Bluetooth" now commonly refers to the Bluetooth wireless specification design started by Ericsson, Nokia, Intel and Toshiba to enable cable-free connections between computers, mobile phones, PDAs, printers, etc. The Bluetooth communications protocol in these devices is named after this king, because he unified Denmark and Norway much like the technology whose goal was to unify computers and cellular phones.[16]

The Bluetooth logo consists of the Nordic runes for his initials, H ( haglaz ᚼ) and B ( berkanan ᛒ) (Long-branch runes version).[17]


  1. ^ "Tamdrup Kirke". Den store danske. 
  2. ^ C. Michael Hogan, "Jelling Stones", Megalithic Portal, editor Andy Burnham
  3. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica
  4. ^ Widukind, Res gestae Saxonicae 3.65, ed. Paul Hirsch and Hans-Eberhard Lohmann, MGH SS rer. Germ. in usum scholarum (Hanover, 1935), pp. 140–141. Translated from Latin by Anders Winroth, © 2006.
  5. ^ a b Adam of Bremen, History of the Archbishops of Hamburg-Bremen, trans. Francis J. Tschan (New York, 2002), pp. 55–57.
  6. ^ [ "Heimskringla"]. 
  7. ^ Adam of Bremen, History of the Archbishops of Hamburg-Bremen, trans. Francis J. Tschan (New York, 2002), pp. 77–78.
  8. ^ Anders Winroth, Viking Sources in Translation, 2009.
  9. ^ Anders Winroth, Viking Sources in Translation, in text drawing on a caption by Anders Winroth in Barbara Rosenwein, Reading the Middle Ages, (Peterborough, Ont., 2006). p. 266.
  10. ^ Latourette, Kenneth Scott (1975). A History of Christianity. New York: HarperCollins. p. 87.  
  11. ^ Fortehad, Oram and Pedersen, Viking Empires, Cambridge University Press (2005) p. 180. ISBN 0-521-82992-5
  12. ^ " Haraldskaer Woman: Bodies of the Bogs", Archaeology, Archaeological Institute of America, December 10, 1997
  13. ^ Roskildekrøniken -
  14. ^ Scocozza, Benito (1997), Politikens bog om danske monarker, København: Politikens Forlag, ISBN 87-567-5772-7
  15. ^ Hvem var Harald Blåtand? –
  16. ^ Kardach, Jim (3 May 2008). "Tech History: How Bluetooth got its name". EE Times. Retrieved 9 June 2014. 
  17. ^ Bluetooth, About the Bluetooth SIG.

External links

Regnal titles
Preceded by
Gorm the Old
King of Denmark
Succeeded by
Sweyn Forkbeard
Preceded by
Harald Greycloak
King of Norway
(Haakon Sigurdsson was de facto ruler)
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