This two-sided bracteate (c. 975 – 985) dates back from the reign of Harald Bluetooth, famous Viking king of Denmark and Norway.

Harald Bluetooth, Hedeby, two-sided bracteate, c. 975 - 985. Price est.: € 540 Bruun Rasmussen
Harald Bluetooth, Hedeby, two-sided bracteate, c. 975 – 985. Price est.: € 540 Bruun Rasmussen

The coins from 10th century Denmark are often called half-bracteates as they are so thin that the stamp on the two sides easily gets mixed up.

Harald Bluetooth is best known by his conversion of Danes to Christianity and the Jelling Stones. Harald erected the stones with Runic inscriptions to honour his parents, mark the foundation of Denmark and the Christian conversion of Danes. The stones read:

“King Harald bade these memorials to be made after Gorm, his father, and Thyra, his mother. The Harald who won the whole of Denmark and Norway and turned the Danes to Christianity.”

Harald Bluetooth is thought to have converted to Christianity in 960s by a cleric named Poppa, with his own will. This is probably the most plausible argument since it is from the account of Widukind of Corvey, writing during the lives of King Harald and Otto I.  However, there are conflicting stories in different historians’ accounts, written after Harald’s reign, arguing Harald was forced into converting after losing in battle to Otto I.

Coins minted after Harald’s conversion usually feature Christian iconography, consistent with the king’s efforts to market his new religion. This coin, however, is decorated simply with runic letters or classic Viking ornaments, which makes it a rare and interesting piece.

Harald’s nickname “Bluetooth” (blátǫnn) first documented appearance is in the Chronicon Roskildense from 1140. The explanation that comes first to mind is that Harald must have had a noticeable bad tooth that appeared “blue” (i.e. black, as “blue” meant dark).

Another explanation, is that he was called “Thegn” in England where it meant “chief“. “Thegn” evolved into “tan” by the time it came back into Old Norse. And then people might have thought it was actually “tand”, which means “tooth” in Danish.  Since blue meant “dark”, his nickname could have really been “dark chieftain“.

Harald Bluetooth descends into our day in many ways, most significant being the technology “Bluetooth“. The icon of bluetooth is actually an “H” and a “B” in Runic, standing for Harald Bluetooth. You might think why the Swedish company Ericsson named it so, but the reason is not only due to the Viking heritage of Sweden. According to oral folklore tradition, Harald had a great talent to bring people together in negotiations, uniting Denmark and Norway through words and communication. Thus, his name comes on point for a technology that makes connecting easier.