House Harkonnen was a Great House of the Landsraad. The Harkonnen capital was Giedi Prime, a heavily industrialised planet with a low photosynthetic potential. House Harkonnen was most famous for its underhanded and sinister political tactics, and for an ancient feud it maintained with another Great House, House Atreides. In addition, House Harkonnen had a reputation for ambition, malevolence, hatred and brutality. It was typically ruled by a Siridar Baron.
The Harkonnen name was believed to originate in what was northern Europe on ancient Earth, and the region of Earth called Suomi, also Finland. It has been suggested that the Harkonnen name comes from Sweden as a derivation of Hakkon - but it is likely that it is indeed from Finland, as Härkönen is a 20th-century Finnish name. Moreover, the family name Härkönen is derived from the Finnish word härkä which means ox.
Emergence as a Great House
After many centuries toiling as a House Minor, Harkonnen influence gradually rose within the Landsraad, due mostly to shrewd manipulation of the whale fur market, which was primarily accomplished by Baron Dmitri Harkonnen and his son Baron Vladimir Harkonnen.
House Harkonnen had built its power on maximising production output, and minimising production expenses by ignoring economically ethical behaviour. Indeed, Harkonnen governing was based upon a simple foundation of fear and terror. They were used in governance, in the day-to-day running of the Harkonnen household, and in controlling the Harkonnen armies. With a social order based on treachery and punishment, soldiers rose through the ranks through deceit, trickery and, if necessary, assassination.
In approximately 10130 AG, House Harkonnen won the siridar fief of Arrakis. Their responsibility was to mine the spice melange and supply it to the universe. Through their persecution of the Fremen, and through the minimisation of outlay on infrastructure and pay, the Harkonnens managed to pay the tithe they owed to the Emperor, as well as keep a substantial amount of melange for themselves. By 10191 AG, the Harkonnens had managed to amass considerable wealth through spice mining.
Despite House Harkonnen's relative power prior to the end of the Corrino Empire, Vladimir Harkonnen desired the ultimate achievement of usurping the Corrinos and forming the Harkonnen Empire. Thus, he secretly plotted against both House Atreides and House Corrino, hoping to destroy the former and overpower the latter through force and marriage.
However, Vladimir Harkonnen's plans were ultimately unravelled by the rise of Paul Atreides on Arrakis. After Vladimir Harkonnen's death at the hands of Paul's younger sister, Alia Atreides in 10193 AG, the title of Baron passed very briefly to his nephew, Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen, before being killed by Paul Atreides in an act of kanly.
After the ascent of House Atreides, what little remained of House Harkonnen saw its power and resources quickly disappear. Control of Giedi Prime was given to the people of Caladan, and under the direction of Gurney Halleck, once a slave on that world, its machines of industry were dismantled, its name and those of its cities were changed, and its forests and greenery replanted. House Harkonnen essentially ceased to be during the time of Muad'Dib's Jihad. However, the Harkonnen bloodline continued to exist through Bene Gesserit breeding programs for more than 1500 years thereafter, and ultimately through the mingling with the Atreides bloodline, with Paul Atreides being the grandson of Vladimir Harkonnen.
Images of Harkonnens
Some of the screen adaptations also use particular themes or leitmotifs to represent House Harkonnen.
Behind the Scenes
- Frank Herbert said in later interviews that he modeled the fictional Harkonnens after the Nazi Party.
- Within Frank Herbert's continuity, the official seal of House Harkonnen bore the image of a griffin. The Dune Encyclopedia altered it to a ram which was followed by video game adaptations developed by Westwood Studios. Though it might be possible that the Harkonnen Griffin was Ram-headed. In Finnish, “Härkönen” translates as “Oxy” or “Ox-like-person”. Giedi Prime's name probably stems from Arabic "al-Jadii" (Lit. The Goat), so the Harkonnens connection with horned animals is evident.
- The rise of House Harkonnen was an example of how, in the Faufreluches system, a House Minor could become a House Major through the accumulation of wealth. It could be determined, therefore, that one of the faults of the Faufreluches system was that a banished House could return if they became rich enough.
- Frank Herbert got the name "Harkonnen" from the Finnish name "Härkönen", which he found in a California telephone book. He wanted a harsh-sounding name for the villains of his novel, and "Harkonnen" sounded "Soviet".