I wrote quite a lot yesterday about the travels of Garibaldi and I thought I’d follow it up today with a brief account of another mighty traveller of greater antiquity.
Travelling was almost obscenely uncomfortable and difficult in times past but we shouldn’t think for a moment that hard journeys weren’t undertaken. Harald was of Viking stock and they not only coast hopped everywhere you could take a long ship and explored rivers too but struck out boldly across the wide ocean to see what they could find. America for one thing. But exploring apart, there were well worn trail a man could take that would carry him across continents.
In 1030 AD Harald got on the wrong side of the King of Norway, Cnut – yes that Cnut – in 1030 AD and had to take off for less dangerous climes. He went to Russia where he had relatives, spent a few years beating up the Poles, Estonians, Pechenegs, proto-Cossacks and steppe nomads, then took his army south to Miklagard – mighty Constantinople, site of the decandent court of Byzantium.
The Byzantine emperor must have decided he’d sooner have Harald on his side than against it and took them into the Varangian guard, mostly Scandinavians and Anglo-Saxons, pictured here in a contemporary chronicle, where they settled like a pack of wolves in a nation of cats.
Harald had huge fun in Constantinople – and Sicily, Greece, north Africa, southern France, Palestine, Asia Minor and as far east as the Euphrates – as one of the emperors strongest arms and amassed a huge fortune in the process. With money to burn, and having worn out his welcome by interfering with Byzantine politics, including blinding an ex-emperor, Harald returned to Norway in 1046 with a Russian princess and an army and by the end of 1047 was wearing the crown. And he was only 32!