Who was Harald Bluetooth? Life, Reign and Legacy

Harald Blåtand Gormsen

Harald Bluetooth – life, reign and legacy

Unbeknownst to many people, the 21st-century wireless communication technology Bluetooth derived its name from a 10th-century Viking king called Harald Bluetooth.

Harald Bluetooth Gormsson, also known as Harald Blåtand Gormsen, reigned over his Danish kingdom from 958 to 986. Bluetooth is credited with bringing Denmark together with neighboring territories in Sweden and Norway.

He is also famed for being the first king of Denmark to convert to Christianity. He thus played a leading role in the Christianization of Scandinavia.

Did King Harald Bluetooth really have a blue tooth? And why did his name and legacy remain relatively unknown for many, many centuries?

Below, World History Edu explores the life, reign and major feats of Danish King Harald Bluetooth:

Harald Bluetooth: Fast Facts

Also known as: Harald Blåtand Gormsen

Born: c. 920

Died: c. 986

Reign: 958 – 986

Dynasty: House of Gorm

Successor: Sweyn Forkbeard

Predecessor: Gorm the Old

Parents: Gorm the Old and Thyra

Spouses: Tove, Gyrid Olafsdottir, Gunhild

Children: Sweyn Forkbeard, Tyra of Denmark, Haakon

Bluetooth: a descendant of Harthacnut of the Jelling dynasty

Historians like to place Harald Bluetooth in a dynasty called the Jelling dynasty which began with legendary Danish king Harthacnut. Bluetooth was the grandson of Harthacnut. The last monarch to hail from the dynasty was Canute III.

Harald Blåtand Gormsen

Harald Bluetooth’s kingdom (in red) and sphere of influence (in yellow)

Christianization of Scandinavia

Like many of the people of his time, Harald Bluetooth grew up pagan and worshiping various Norse gods like Odin, Vidarr, and Thor.

Perhaps, having encountered many Christian priests on the missionary works in Scandinavia, Bluetooth converted to Christianity in the early 960s. He thus became the first Danish king to embrace Christianity. The Viking warrior and king would then go on to promote the religion across his dominions.

Some scholars say that the pagan-turned-Christian Viking ruler took that decision because of the threat posed by Otto the Great. The East Frankish king was itching to expand into areas held by Harald Bluetooth. Therefore, by converting to Christianity, he hoped that he could dissuade Otto from encroaching into his territories.

In a different account, however, the Danish king was forced to convert to Catholicism by Otto I after suffering a heavy defeat at the hands of the East Frankish king.

One very notable thing that Harald Bluetooth did in his Christianization of Denmark was that he never compelled his subjects to fully switch from paganism to Christianity. Perhaps, such a kind gesture made Christianity even more attractive to his subjects. It also helped him in his quest to unite Denmark with some areas in Sweden and Norway.

As a sign of his devotion to his new faith, Harald had his father’s remains removed from a pagan burial mound and then reburied in a church.

Harald Blåtand Gormsen

King Harald Bluetooth being baptized by the Christian cleric and missionary Poppo

Other major feats by Harald Bluetooth

This Danish king is credited with building a number of defensive fortifications (i.e. Trelleborg-type fortress or Viking ring fortresses) in Denmark and Sweden. Furthermore, he built a fortress in Aros (what is today’s Aarhus in Denmark).

Harald also built a 760-meter timber bridge about 10 kilometers south of Jelling in Denmark. The bridge, which was about 5-meter wide, was situated near the village Ravning; hence its name the Ravning Bridge. The bridge, known in Danish as Ravningbroen, served many traders in the region.

Danish king Harald Bluetooth

Many Viking ring fortresses were built during the reign of Viking king Harald Bluetooth

Origin of King Harald Bluetooth’s name

In Danish, this Viking warrior and king was called Harald Blåtand Gormsen, with blå and tand meaning “blue” and “tooth”, respectively. So how did he get this name? Well, your guess is as good as anyone’s. King Harald did indeed have bluish tooth, or some kind of black tooth. Considering it was the 10th century, it was not uncommon for people back then to have poor dental hygiene, and Harald Bluetooth was no exception. In his case, his ventured slightly into the color blue. Many of the chronicles that were produced in the 12th century described the Viking ruler as having dark blue or black tooth.

There have been some historians that have opined that Harald Bluetooth probably earned his name because of his strong liking of blue-colored berries. This strong taste for this dwarf shrub, combined with poor dental care, is what might have caused one of his teeth to turn dark blue or black.

It’s important to know that the Viking king did not have the nickname Bluetooth. That alias only emerged about a century and a half after his death. In his lifetime, he was referred simply as Harald Gormsson, a reference to him being the son of Gorm (aka Gorm the Old).

The Jelling Stone, which contains historical details in runic (the alphabet of old Germanic people), King Harald’s name is written as: haraltr: kunukʀ (ᚼᛅᚱᛅᛚᛏᚱ ᛬ ᚴᚢᚾᚢᚴᛦ).

The Jelling stones

The Jelling Stone contains some details about the Danish King Harald Bluetooth

The discovery of the Jelling Stones complex, the carved runestone in Denmark, allowed historians to gain a better understanding of who Harald Bluetooth was as well how his reign was like.

For example, one of the carved stones in the complex was built by Bluetooth to pay homage to his parents – Gorm the Old and Thyra.

Also found in the Jelling Stone complex are some accounts of how Harald Bluetooth conquered territories in Sweden and Norway, and how he went about turning his dominions into a Christian land.

Harald Bluetooth

Biography of Danish king Harald Bluetooth from the Jelling stones

Conflict between Bluetooth and Sweyn Forkbeard: How did Bluetooth’s reign come to an end?

Harald Bluetooth was seen as a very brave and fair leader who unified his dominions. However, in his third decade of reign, he was challenged by his son Sweyn. His greedy son conspired with rich and powerful noblemen in the Denmark to have King Harald exiled around 986. Old and fray, the deposed king took refuge in the Baltic region and died shortly after that.

How did Harald Bluetooth die?

While living in exile in the southern part of the Baltic region, deposed Danish king Harald Bluetooth would meet his end when he was struck in the chest by arrow from an archer.

How Harald Bluetooth became popular in the modern era

Perhaps out of a strong dislike of his father King Harald Bluetooth, usurper Sweyn did his utmost best to have his predecessor’s name removed from history. It was only in the 12th century that chroniclers took to writing some bit of things about the former Danish king.

Harald Bluetooth’s name largely remained unknown for many centuries until the inventors of the wireless communication technology Bluetooth named their invention after him.

As the 21st century approached, a lot of big tech companies in the telecommunication industry, including Scandinavian giants Erickson and Nokia, began investing heavily into a number of wireless technologies. One of the lead engineers on the project decided to name the about-to-be-launched wireless device Bluetooth. It is said that the engineer was a history buff and had recently read a book about the Danish king Harald Bluetooth.

Similar to how King Harald united different Scandinavian territories under one rule, the engineer hoped that the technology Bluetooth would go a long way in connecting different devices wirelessly. Since the launch of the technology in 1999, Bluetooth devices have the ability to seamlessly communicate with each other.

Did you know?

The Bluetooth wireless technology has a logo that combines a Nordic B with a Nordic H – which are the initials of King Harald Blåtand.

Other interesting facts about Harald Bluetooth

Harald Blåtand Gormsen

Portrait of Viking warrior and king Harald Bluetooth

  • Much of what we know about this Viking king is contained in later accounts that emerged after his death. There are therefore a number of written works which were produced about Bluetooth. Typical of many Viking rulers of the time, Bluetooth’s reign and feats were given a lot of aggrandizement. This explains why some of the accounts of this Viking ruler are somewhat contradictory and/or vague.
  • The typical description of Harald Bluetooth was that he certainly did not have many people who could rival him when it came to sheer strength and bravery; however, he was not the most intelligent Viking ruler of his era. In some later chronicles, King Bluetooth is praised for his strong faith and commitment to the Christianization of Denmark and other Scandinavian places.
  • His dominion included almost all of modern-day Denmark and some parts of Sweden and Norway, at some point in his reign.
  • Undoubtedly the years of missionary works by Catholic priests in Scandinavia started to yield some bit of results in Denmark when Viking warrior and King Harald Bluetooth embraced the religion. In one account of the story – by medieval Saxon historian and chronicler Widukind of Corvey – Harald is convinced to join the faith after a cleric called Poppa carries a very heavy, burning metal without suffering any injury.

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