Harthacnut I of Denmark

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Harthacnut or Cnut I (Danish: Hardeknud) (born c. 880) was a legendary King of Denmark.

Adam of Bremen claims that Harthacnut was the son of an otherwise unknown king Sweyn, while the saga Ragnarssona þáttr makes him son of the semi-mythic viking chieftain Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye, himself one of the sons of the legendary Ragnar Lodbrok.


The only primary source thought to refer to Harthacnut is the work of clergyman Adam of Bremen – who came from Germany to record the history of the Archbishops of Bremen. He states that a king Helghe was deposed and Denmark was conquered by Swedes led by Olof the Brash. Along with two of his sons, Gyrd and Gnupa, Olof took the realm "by force of arms,"[1] and they ruled it together, thus founding the House of Olaf in Denmark. Adam reports that they were followed by a Sigtrygg. That Sigtrygg was the son of Gnupa, by a Danish noblewoman named Asfrid, is shown on two runestones near Schleswig, erected by his mother after his death.[2]

Rise to power[edit]

Adam then relates that after Sigtrygg reigned a short time, during the tenure of Archbishop Hoger of Bremen (909–915/917), Hardegon (usually interpreted as a corrupted rendering of Harthacnut), son of king Sweyn, came from "Northmannia" the "land of the Northmen," by which he may have meant Norway, Normandy, which had recently been colonized by Danish Vikings, or even northern Jutland. Harthacnut immediately deposed the young king Sigtrygg, and then ruled unopposed for approximately thirty years. Adam later refers to an attack on Denmark by Henry I of Germany, naming the defending king as Hardecnudth Vurm. Historians generally agree that Vurm (English: worm or serpent) is a German rendering of the Danish name Gorm, and this leads to alternative interpretations, that this is reference to Gorm, son of Harthacnut, or that it is a double-name indicating that Harthacnut and Gorm were the same person. The Saxon chronicles of Widukind of Corvey reports the defeat and forced baptism of the Danish king Chnuba (Gnupa), in 936 at the hands of German king Henry.[3] Likewise, Olav Tryggvasson's Saga tells of Gnupa's defeat by Gorm the Old.[4] Some historians (e.g. Storm) have taken these as indications that Sigtrygg's father Gnupa still ruled at least part of Denmark much later than credited by Adam of Bremen.

In Ragnarssona þáttr[edit]

The saga Ragnarssona þáttr relates the acts of the sons of Ragnar Lodbrok, and proceeds to link them genealogically to the later rulers of the Scandinavian kingdoms. It makes Harthacnut son of Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye. Scholarly opinion is divided as to the degree to which the material found in such heroic sources is to be taken as authentic history and genealogy.

In Saxo[edit]

In the late and legend-influenced Gesta Danorum of Saxo Grammaticus, Hardakanute appears as Knut. He is described as a son of Erik, a descendent of Ragnar Lodbrok, by Gudorm, the granddaughter of Harald Klak. In his version of the tale, Hardakanute is raised by Ennignup (suggested to be Saxo's rendition of Gnupa), but never accepts Christianity.

Silverdale treasure[edit]

In the Silverdale Hoard is a silver coin impressed with the name "Airdeconut" an Anglicized variant of Harthacnut. The hoard dates to the early 10th century, but the style is similar to coins of other viking kings of Northumbria. Thus there is no reason to suggest this coin relates to Adam's king Harthacnut of Denmark rather than an otherwise unknown Northumbrian viking.


  1. ^ Adam of Bremen, trans. and ed. Francis Joseph Tschan, Timothy Reuter, History of the archbishops of Hamburg-Bremen, Columbia University Press, 2002, p. 44.
  2. ^ Asfriþr karþi kumbl þaun aft Siktriku sun sin aui Knubu (Asfrith carved this gravestone after Sigtrygg, her son and Gnupa's); Ui Asfriþr karþi kubl þausi tutir Uþinkars aft Sitriuk kununt sun sin auk Knubu (Holy Asfrith carved this gravestone, Odinkar's daughter, after Sigtrygg, king, her son and Gnupa's). A. V. Storm, "Pages of Early Danish History, from the Runic Monuments of Sleswick and Jutland", The Saga=Book of the Viking club, vol. 2, pp. 328-347.
  3. ^ Saxo Grammaticus. trans. Peter Fisher. Hilda Roderick Ellis Davidson and Peter Fisher, eds. The history of the Danes, books I-IX, DS Brewer, 1998, v. 2, p. 162
  4. ^ Storm
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Sigtrygg Gnupasson or
Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye

as semi-legendary king of Denmark
King of Denmark
early- to mid-10th century?
(perhaps only
part of kingdom)
Succeeded by
Gorm the Old