Rusian genealogy

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Harald “Hardrada” Sigurtharson of Norway

b. unknown – d. 1066 [1]



One of the most famous characters of the middle ages was the Viking and few Vikings are better known today than the itinerant Harald “Hardrada,” who became ruler of Norway and later died at Stamford Bridge fighting Harold Godwinsson of England. Harald was the brother of Olaf, king of Norway (later St. Olaf), [6] who himself was brother–in–law to Jaroslav Mudryi. [7] Harald’s first recorded visit to Rus′ came in 1031, the year after the battle of Stiklestadir in which Olaf and his forces were defeated by armies of King Knud the Great. [8] Rus′ would have been an easy option for him, not only for its proximity, but also because there were close ties between his family and the Volodimeroviči. In addition to marital ties, at this time Jaroslav and Ingigerd were raising Magnus, St. Olaf's son and Harald 's nephew. [9] The Scandinavian sources record that Harald, upon his arrival in Rus′, became the head of Jaroslav's bodyguard. [10] This seems unlikely due to his young age, and probably inexperience, at the time. However, after some time in Rus′ he traveled to Byzantium to serve as a mercenary, finding success, and sending his booty to Novgorod for Jaroslav to keep safe, perhaps as a way to prove his growing worth to his potential father-in-law. [11] In 1042, Harald heard that his nephew Magnus was ruling Norway and left Byzantium to reclaim his family lands. On the way home he stopped in Rus′ to reclaim the wealth that he had stored with Jaroslav. [12] While there he married Jaroslav's daughter Elisabeth. [13] Sturluson quotes one stanza of a poem that Harald composed on the way home from Greece, the refrain of which says “Yet the gold–ring–Gerth from / Garthar lets me dangle." [14] The refrain references a woman from Rus′, “Garthar,” (Garðar) and can be used to indicate that there was an existing relationship between Harald and such a woman, most likely Elisabeth, despite Sturluson’s talk of Harald's interest in marrying a royal Byzantine woman named Maria or the Empress Zoe’s interest in marrying Harald herself. [15] It is unclear if this marriage was prearranged or even if it was just a preexisting relationship. The Flateyjarbók records that Harald in fact asked for Elisabeth's hand while he was living in Kyiv as captain of Jaroslav's bodyguard. [16] Jaroslav turned him down saying that he was well born, but had not yet achieved the necessary wealth or fame for Jaroslav to contemplate the marriage. This was likely the impetus for him to go to Byzantium, and it provides a nice explanation for why he sent his riches to Jaroslav to store for him, as evidence of his growing wealth. The story is convenient in the Flateyjarbók, but it also fits the known details. Harald was in Rus′, knew Jaroslav, was at the age when he would be looking to marry, probably knew Jaroslav's daughters, did send his riches to Jaroslav to hold for him, and the poem he composed on the way home indicates a previous association with a Rusian woman.

The marriage between Harald Hardrada and Elisabeth Jaroslavna was certainly a dynastic marriage. Jaroslav was following his policy of wedding his daughters to exiled princes on the chance that they would return home and become kings and his daughters, queens. With Harald he had an excellent chance of Harald’s returning home to at least a share of the kingship, as it was Harald’s nephew, also nephew, also foster-son (of a sort) to Ingigerd and Jaroslav, who ruled Norway and who had been raised partly in Rus′. The marriage was also a continuation of a relationship with the Norwegian royal family that had been begun by Jaroslav and Ingigerd with Harald's brother St Olaf over a decade earlier. Unsurprisingly, the marriage is not recorded in the PVL, which does not once mention either Harald or Elisabeth. But it is well recorded in Sturluson’s Heimskringla, which even records Elisabeth's name, a pleasant change for medievalists who are used to dealing with unnamed woman identified only by their patronymic. Interestingly enough, she is recorded with two names; “her name was Elizabeth, whom Northmen call Ellisif.” [17] This is an interesting note because it indicates that Elisabeth was the name she was given in Rus′ and not a Scandinavian adoption.

The kinship of this event was of enormous importance to the Scandinavians and Sturluson records multiple examples of that. The first is a poem by Stuf the Blind on the occasion of the marriage between Harald and Elisabeth.“Kinship won the keen–eyed / king which he had wished / gold a–plenty as guerdon / gained he, and eke the princess.” [18] Harald got the king's daughter, Elisabeth, but he also received kinship, and in fact it was the kinship that was more prized in the eyes of the poet. The next example comes when Harald went to Ladoga, where he met Swein Ulfson with whom he is almost instantly close, largely because of the kinship relations between them, traced through Harald's new wife. [19] All this helps to explain the importance of kinship, as related the poem quoted above, to Harald’s campaign to gain the Norwegian throne. The importance of kinship relations in such matters is stated again in that same meeting between Harald and Svein, when Svein’s power is explained because of his numerous kin relations. [20] Kinship in this period, especially in Scandinavia, was the key to power, and Harald's marriage to Elisabeth ensured him a proper start on that path.

Not much is known of Elisabeth's life in Scandinavia. We do know that she is always called “queen” in the Heimskringla, even after Harald takes another wife. [21] The existence of the second wife is surprising, but immediately after Sturluson makes note of the marriage he states that Thora, the second wife, bore him two sons, while “Queen Ellisif” bore him two daughters. [22] This may show the ultimate reason for the marriage, the creation of an heir for Harald's kingdom. The relationship could also have been something less than a marriage. Since the issue of Harald's bigamy is not addressed by Sturluson or by Adam of Bremen, [23] she might simply have been a mistress for the purpose of bearing sons or, as she was Scandinavian, cementing internal relations.

Elisabeth does seem to have been the closer wife, apart from the fact that she is always called “queen.” Harald takes her with him when he goes to England in 1066, [24] as well as their daughters and his younger son by Thora, Olaf. Maybe because of Harald's attachment to Elisabeth, they named their younger daughter Ingigerd, a Scandinavian name, but also an obvious reference to Elisabeth's mother. As is discussed elsewhere, [25] the names of children generally come from the paternal family, so this may suggest Elisabeth's influence with her husband.

Elisabeth passes out of Sturluson’s purview after Harald's death. She is noted as returning with her daughter Ingigerd and her stepson Olaf to Norway after Harald's death in England, but that is his last mention of her in the Heimskringla. [26] She is believed to have remarried after his death, though to whom is a matter of contention. Adam of Bremen notes that “He [Haakon the Red of Sweden] married the young Olaf’s mother.” [27] Olaf is identified by Francis J. Tschan, the editor and translator of Adam of Bremen, as Olaf Kyrre of Norway, son of Harald Hardrada. [28] However, Olaf’s mother was not Elisabeth, but Thora. Nonetheless, the assumption has been made that Adam was speaking of Elisabeth. There is also a school of thought that Elisabeth's second marriage was to Svein Estridsson, king of Denmark. This is propagated by Baumgarten, where he cites Heimskringla and a secondary genealogy as his sources for both marriages of Elisabeth. [29] However, Nazarenko believes that this interpretation comes from a misreading of Adam of Bremen’s scholium, quoted above. [30] The marital history shows that this marriage would have been unlikely, as Svein Estridsson’s son Olav marries Elisabeth's daughter Ingigerd, something that would have never been allowed if Svein and Elisabeth had been married. [31] Though it seems more than unlikely that her second husband was Svein, it cannot be conclusively shown that it was Haakon the Red, as records for early Swedish history are sparse and his family did not live on past the period. Elisabeth's life after the death of Harald Hardrada may be a mystery currently unsolvable.

The marriage of Elisabeth Jaroslavna was a foreign policy victory for the Rjurikids as it solidified friendship ties and marital ties with a Scandinavian dynasty that was steadily increasing its power. The tie also kept the Volodimeroviči in connection with their Scandinavian roots and paved the way for connections in the next two generations of Volodimeroviči rulers and their families.


  1. Birth/Death: unknown.; Heimskringla p. 655.; Morkinskinna ch. 50.[↑]
  2. Father: [↑]
  3. Mother: [↑]
  4. King of Norway: Heimskringla p. 593.; Morkinskinna ch. 14.; Heimskringla p. 655.; Morkinskinna ch. 14.[↑]
  5. Marriage to Elisabeth Iaroslavna: Heimskringla p. 590.; Adam of Bremen, bk. 3, xiii.12, schol. 62 (63).; Flateyjarbók, 290.; Morkinskinna, ch. 13.[↑]
  6. Adam of Bremen, xiii.12; Sturluson. Heimskringla, 577.[↑]
  7. Both Jaroslav and Olaf married daughters of Olof Skötkonnung, king of Sweden. In fact, Olaf was arranged to marry Ingigerd before Jaroslav took her away. Sturluson. Heimskringla, 342.[↑]
  8. Ibid., 578.[↑]
  9. Ibid., 486.[↑]
  10. Ibid., 578. [↑]
  11. Ibid., 581.[↑]
  12. Ibid., 587, 589–90.[↑]
  13. Ibid., 590; and Adam of Bremen, xiii.12, schol. 62 (63)[↑]
  14. Sturluson. Heimskringla, 589.[↑]
  15. Ibid., 587–89.[↑]
  16. Flateyjarbók, 290.[↑]
  17. Sturluson. Heimskringla, 590.[↑]
  18. Ibid.[↑]
  19. Ibid., 591. “Óláf Soenski, King of Sweden, was the grandfather of Ellisif, Harald’s wife; and Ástríth, Svein’s mother, was the sister of King Saint Óláf.”[↑]
  20. Ibid.[↑]
  21. Ibid., 602.[↑]
  22. Ibid.[↑]
  23. Though Adam does castigate Harald for other ecclesiastical sins, chiefly not recognizing the primacy of the Archbishop of Hamburg–Bremen. Adam of Bremen, xvii.16.[↑]
  24. Sturluson. Heimskringla, 647. [↑]
  25. Raffensperger. “Rusian Influence on European Onomastic Traditions.”[↑]
  26. Sturluson. Heimskringla, 660.[↑]
  27. Adam of Bremen, schol. 84 (85, 86)[↑]
  28. Ibid., note to schol. 84 (85, 86).[↑]
  29. Baumgarten, “"Généalogies,"” 7, 9, table I.[↑]
  30. Nazarenko, Drevnjaja Rus′ na meždunarodnyx putjax, 523.[↑]
  31. Sturluson. Heimskringla, 666. [↑]