There's a popular opinion, that a famous Danish king Harald Bluetooth died as a result of taking an arrow, well... straight to his rectum. Not only have I encountered said story over the Internet on numerous occasions, but even read it in print: firstly, in Erik Roth's "With a Bended Bow" and then in Jim Bradbury's "The Medieval Archer". And both times with no reference to the source. So I searched, but couldn't find any historical text that would suggest it. Saxo Grammaticus writes that Palnatoke killed Harald while the latter was sitting in the bushes, emptying his bowels, but doesn't specify the nature of the fatal wound. Another source that gets thrown around a lot is "Jómsvíkinga Saga", but it just says that Harald was shot while resting at a campfire in the woods. Snorri Sturlusson's "Heimskringla" just mentions Harald dying from the wounds sustained in a battle with his son. Now I'm curious, is there any real evidence of the fabled butt-shot, or is it merely a modern myth?

  • I changed the title; titles that are in question form help to understand the question and help to avoid closure on the grounds that the question is unclear. When I see "The myth of H. Bluetooth's death", I don't know what the answer should be? What am I expected to provide? Perhaps the title should be, "Is there evidence that H. Bluetooth died from an arrow in the rectum?"
    – MCW
    Nov 12, 2015 at 16:00
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    @MarkC.Wallace, done deal. I just wish to know if I missed some historical source of note is all.
    – Grenelef
    Nov 12, 2015 at 16:15
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    I'd consider bowdlerizing it to "via rectal archery", but I'm afraid that could be interpreted oddly.
    – T.E.D.
    Nov 12, 2015 at 16:46
  • I wonder how it could NOT be interpreted oddly...
    – Grenelef
    Nov 12, 2015 at 17:12
  • Maybe someone should have tell these guys youtube.com/watch?v=YRKhTvUUYMI (Sorry, could not resist it).
    – SJuan76
    Nov 12, 2015 at 18:52

1 Answer 1


I can't find any evidence of Harald being shot in the back (other than figuratively). In fact, the only roughly contemporary account of his death that I can find in some casual searching is from the Chronicon Roskildense probably written in the 12th century. Note that the Chronicon was likely the earliest "history" as opposed to "saga", although being written over 200 years afterward the lines between the two are pretty blurry.

The account of Harald's death is simply this:

Quibus fidens/ dum Haraldus per siluam licencius vagaretur, Tokko, eum videns, in vlcionem iniuriarum sibi factarum cum sagitta eum letaliter vulnerauit. Qui rediens in Slauiam mortuus est, atque Roskildiam delatus in ecclesia, quam ibi edificauerat, gloriose est sepultus

My Latin is attrocious, but very roughly (if anyone can give a better translation, please don't hesitate) it translates to this:

While Harald wandered through the woods freely, Tokko saw him, and in vengeance for the injustice that had been done him, fatally wounded him with an arrow. He returned to Slauiam and died, and was carried in the church in Roskilde which he had built, and was buried with honor.

For the adventurous, the full text is available in Latin here.

Aside from that and the sources you've already located, I'm doubtful that you'll get any closer to anything conclusive unless somebody locates and exhumes the body.

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    Your Latin is alright. The quotation which you translated, however, is not from Chronicon Roskildense, but from XIV century Chronica Jutensis and more specifically from Saxo Grammaticus' epitome that comes with it. So, basically Saxo's story. Meanwhile, here's what Roskilde Chronicle relates of Harald's death (now I recall reading it as well, sorry for the omission): "Haroldus quinquaginta annos in Dania regnavit. Quem filius Sven in acie vulneravit, vulneratum a regno expulit; qui fugiens venit in Sclaviam ibique exul obiit ..." Thank you anyways.
    – Grenelef
    Nov 13, 2015 at 10:15
  • Also, to clear things up, the ACTUAL circumstances of Harald's death are of little import to me. It's ancient history and stuff. :) I'm primarily concerned with the myth itself and particularly with it's origin. Sadly, between the seeming absence of any historical record and the persistent reluctance of those telling the tale to name their sources my gut tells me the story of "anal archery" as it were, while no doubt catchy, is a recent one and therefore, well... meh.
    – Grenelef
    Nov 13, 2015 at 10:28
  • @Grenelef - It did occur to me last night that licencius vagaretur could be literally translated as "licentious scouring", but it would be a stretch to assume this is some 12th century Latin euphemism for wiping one's backside. Then again, I'm no expert on Latin idioms...
    – Comintern
    Nov 13, 2015 at 13:22
  • Now you're overthinking it. Not even sure where you got this meaning for "vagari" from. And once again: 14th century, not 12th.
    – Grenelef
    Nov 13, 2015 at 15:04
  • @Grenelef - The comment was intended to be tongue in cheek. ;-)
    – Comintern
    Nov 13, 2015 at 15:07

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