Part 1 out of 9
This electronic edition was edited, proofed, and prepared by
Douglas B. Killings (DeTroyes@EnterAct.COM)
The Danish History, Books I-IX
Saxo Grammaticus ("Saxo the Learned")
fl. Late 12th - Early 13th Century A.D.
Originally written in Latin in the early years of the 13th
Century A.D. by the Danish historian Saxo, of whom little is
known except his name.
The text of this edition is based on that published as
"The Nine Books of the Danish History of Saxo Grammaticus",
translated by Oliver Elton (Norroena Society, New York, 1905).
This edition is in the PUBLIC DOMAIN in the United States.
This electronic edition was edited, proofed, and prepared by
Douglas B. Killings (DeTroyes@EnterAct.COM)
The preparer would like to thank Mr. James W. Marchand and Mr.
Jessie D. Hurlbut for their invaluable assistance in the
production of this electronic text. Thank you. I am indebted to
Although Saxo wrote 16 books of his "Danish History", only the
first nine were ever translated by Mr. Oliver Elton; it is these
nine books that are here included. As far as the preparer knows,
there is (unfortunately) no public domain English translation of
Books X-XVI. Those interested in the latter books should search
for the translation mentioned below.
ORIGINAL TEXT --
Olrik, J and Raeder (Ed.): "Saxo Grammaticus: Gesta Danorum"
Dansk Nationallitteraert Arkiv: "Saxo Grammaticus: Gesta Danorum"
(DNA, Copenhagen, 1996). Web-based Latin edition of Saxo,
substantiallly based on the above edition; currently at the
OTHER TRANSLATIONS --
Fisher, Peter (Trans.) and Hilda Ellis Davidson (Ed.): "Saxo
Grammaticus: History of the Danes" (Brewer, Cambridge, 1979).
RECOMMENDED READING --
Jones, Gwyn: "History of the Vikings" (Oxford University Press,
Oxford, 1968, 1973, 1984).
Sturlson, Snorri: "The Heimskringla" (Translation: Samual Laing,
London, 1844; released as Online Medieval and Classical Library
E-text #15, 1996). Web version at the following URL:
Saxo Grammaticus, or "The Lettered", one of the notable
historians of the Middle Ages, may fairly be called not only the
earliest chronicler of Denmark, but her earliest writer. In the
latter half of the twelfth century, when Iceland was in the flush
of literary production, Denmark lingered behind. No literature
in her vernacular, save a few Runic inscriptions, has survived.
Monkish annals, devotional works, and lives were written in
Latin; but the chronicle of Roskild, the necrology of Lund, the
register of gifts to the cloister of Sora, are not literature.
Neither are the half-mythological genealogies of kings; and
besides, the mass of these, though doubtless based on older
verses that are lost, are not proved to be, as they stand, prior
to Saxo. One man only, Saxo's elder contemporary, Sueno Aggonis,
or Sweyn (Svend) Aageson, who wrote about 1185, shares or
anticipates the credit of attempting a connected record. His
brief draft of annals is written in rough mediocre Latin. It
names but a few of the kings recorded by Saxo, and tells little
that Saxo does not. Yet there is a certain link between the two
writers. Sweyn speaks of Saxo with respect; he not obscurely
leaves him the task of filling up his omissions. Both writers,
servants of the brilliant Bishop Absalon, and probably set by him
upon their task, proceed, like Geoffrey of Monmouth, by gathering
and editing mythical matter. This they more or less embroider,
and arrive in due course insensibly at actual history. Both,
again, thread their stories upon a genealogy of kings in part
legendary. Both write at the spur of patriotism, both to let
Denmark linger in the race for light and learning, and desirous
to save her glories, as other nations have saved theirs, by a
record. But while Sweyn only made a skeleton chronicle, Saxo
leaves a memorial in which historian and philologist find their
account. His seven later books are the chief Danish authority
for the times which they relate; his first nine, here translated,
are a treasure of myth and folk-lore. Of the songs and stories
which Denmark possessed from the common Scandinavian stock, often
her only native record is in Saxo's Latin. Thus, as a chronicler
both of truth and fiction, he had in his own land no predecessor,
nor had he any literary tradition behind him. Single-handed,
therefore, he may be said to have lifted the dead-weight against
him, and given Denmark a writer. The nature of his work will be
LIFE OF SAXO.
Of Saxo little is known but what he himself indicates, though
much doubtful supposition has gathered round his name.
That he was born a Dane his whole language implies; it is full of
a glow of aggressive patriotism. He also often praises the
Zealanders at the expense of other Danes, and Zealand as the
centre of Denmark; but that is the whole contemporary evidence
for the statement that he was a Zealander. This statement is
freely taken for granted three centuries afterwards by Urne in
the first edition of the book (1514), but is not traced further
back than an epitomator, who wrote more than 200 years after
Saxo's death. Saxo tells us that his father and grandfather
fought for Waldemar the First of Denmark, who reigned from 1157
to 1182. Of these men we know nothing further, unless the Saxo
whom he names as one of Waldemar's admirals be his grandfather,
in which case his family was one of some distinction and his
father and grandfather probably "King's men". But Saxo was a
very common name, and we shall see the licence of hypothesis to
which this fact has given rise. The notice, however, helps us
approximately towards Saxo's birth-year. His grandfather, if he
fought for Waldemar, who began to reign in 1157, can hardly have
been born before 1100, nor can Saxo himself have been born before
1145 or 1150. But he was undoubtedly born before 1158, since he
speaks of the death of Bishop Asker, which took place in that
year, as occurring "in our time". His life therefore covers and
overlaps the last half of the twelfth century.
His calling and station in life are debated. Except by the
anonymous Zealand chronicler, who calls him Saxo "the Long", thus
giving us the one personal detail we have, he has been
universally known as Saxo "Grammaticus" ever since the epitomator
of 1431 headed his compilation with the words, "A certain
notable man of letters ("grammaticus"), a Zealander by birth,
named Saxo, wrote," etc. It is almost certain that this general
term, given only to men of signal gifts and learning, became thus
for the first time, and for good, attached to Saxo's name. Such
a title, in the Middle Ages, usually implied that its owner was a
churchman, and Saxo's whole tone is devout, though not
But a number of Saxos present themselves in the same surroundings
with whom he has been from time to time identified. All he tells
us himself is, that Absalon, Archbishop of Lund from 1179 to
1201, pressed him, who was "the least of his companions, since
all the rest refused the task", to write the history of Denmark,
so that it might record its glories like other nations. Absalon
was previously, and also after his promotion, Bishop of Roskild,
and this is the first circumstance giving colour to the theory --
which lacks real evidence -- that Saxo the historian was the same
as a certain Saxo, Provost of the Chapter of Roskild, whose death
is chronicled in a contemporary hand without any mark of
distinction. It is unlikely that so eminent a man would be thus
barely named; and the appended eulogy and verses identifying the
Provost and the historian are of later date. Moreover, the
Provost Saxo went on a mission to Paris in 1165, and was thus
much too old for the theory. Nevertheless, the good Bishop of
Roskild, Lave Urne, took this identity for granted in the first
edition, and fostered the assumption. Saxo was a cleric; and
could such a man be of less than canonical rank? He was (it was
assumed) a Zealander; he was known to be a friend of Absalon,
Bishop of Roskild. What more natural than that he should have
been the Provost Saxo? Accordingly this latter worthy had an
inscription in gold letters, written by Lave Urne himself,
affixed to the wall opposite his tomb.
Even less evidence exists for identifying our Saxo with the
scribe of that name -- a comparative menial -- who is named in
the will of Bishop Absalon; and hardly more warranted is the
theory that he was a member, perhaps a subdeacon, of the
monastery of St. Laurence, whose secular canons formed part of
the Chapter of Lund. It is true that Sweyn Aageson, Saxo's
senior by about twenty years, speaks (writing about 1185) of Saxo
as his "contubernalis". Sweyn Aageson is known to have had
strong family connections with the monastery of St. Laurence; but
there is only a tolerably strong probability that he, and
therefore that Saxo, was actually a member of it.
("Contubernalis" may only imply comradeship in military service.)
Equally doubtful is the consequence that since Saxo calls himself
"one of the least" of Absalon's "followers" ("comitum"), he was
probably, if not the inferior officer, who is called an
"acolitus", at most a sub-deacon, who also did the work of a
superior "acolitus". This is too poor a place for the chief
writer of Denmark, high in Absalon's favor, nor is there any
direct testimony that Saxo held it.
His education is unknown, but must have been careful. Of his
training and culture we only know what his book betrays.
Possibly, like other learned Danes, then and afterwards, he
acquired his training and knowledge at some foreign University.
Perhaps, like his contemporary Anders Suneson, he went to Paris;
but we cannot tell. It is not even certain that he had a degree;
for there is really little to identify him with the "M(agister)
Saxo" who witnessed the deed of Absalon founding the monastery at
How he was induced to write his book has been mentioned. The
expressions of modesty Saxo uses, saying that he was "the least"
of Absalon's "followers", and that "all the rest refused the
task", are not to be taken to the letter. A man of his parts
would hardly be either the least in rank, or the last to be
solicited. The words, however, enable us to guess an upward
limit for the date of the inception of the work. Absalon became
Archbishop in 1179, and the language of the Preface (written, as
we shall see, last) implies that he was already Archbishop when
he suggested the History to Saxo. But about 1185 we find Sweyn
Aageson complimenting Saxo, and saying that Saxo "had
`determined' to set forth all the deeds" of Sweyn Estridson, in
his eleventh book, "at greater length in a more elegant style".
The exact bearing of this notice on the date of Saxo's History is
doubtful. It certainly need not imply that Saxo had already
written ten books, or indeed that he had written any, of his
History. All we call say is, that by 1185 a portion of the
history was planned. The order in which its several parts were
composed, and the date of its completion, are not certainly
known, as Absalon died in 1201. But the work was not then
finished; for, at the end of Bk. XI, one Birger, who died in
1202, is mentioned as still alive.
We have, however, a yet later notice. In the Preface, which, as
its whole language implies, was written last, Saxo speaks of
Waldemar II having "encompassed (`complexus') the ebbing and
flowing waves of Elbe." This language, though a little vague,
can hardly refer to anything but an expedition of Waldemar to
Bremen in 1208. The whole History was in that case probably
finished by about 1208. As to the order in which its parts were
composed, it is likely that Absalon's original instruction was to
write a history of Absalon's own doings. The fourteenth and
succeeding books deal with these at disproportionate length, and
Absalon, at the expense even of Waldemar, is the protagonist.
Now Saxo states in his Preface that he "has taken care to follow
the statements ("asserta") of Absalon, and with obedient mind and
pen to include both his own doings and other men's doings of
which he learnt."
The latter books are, therefore, to a great extent, Absalon's
personally communicated memoirs. But we have seen that Absalon
died in 1201, and that Bk. xi, at any rate, was not written after
1202. It almost certainly follows that the latter books were
written in Absalon's life; but the Preface, written after them,
refers to events in 1208. Therefore, unless we suppose that the
issue was for some reason delayed, or that Saxo spent seven years
in polishing -- which is not impossible -- there is some reason
to surmise that he began with that portion of his work which was
nearest to his own time, and added the previous (especially the
first nine, or mythical) books, as a completion, and possibly as
an afterthought. But this is a point which there is no real
means of settling. We do not know how late the Preface was
written, except that it must have been some time between 1208 and
1223, when Anders Suneson ceased to be Archbishop; nor do we know
when Saxo died.
HISTORY OF THE WORK.
Nothing is stranger than that a work of such force and genius,
unique in Danish letters, should have been forgotten for three
hundred years, and have survived only in an epitome and in
exceedingly few manuscripts. The history of the book is worth
recording. Doubtless its very merits, its "marvellous
vocabulary, thickly-studded maxims, and excellent variety of
images," which Erasmus admired long afterwards, sealed it to the
vulgar. A man needed some Latin to appreciate it, and Erasmus'
natural wonder "how a Dane at that day could have such a force of
eloquence" is a measure of the rarity both of the gift and of a
public that could appraise it. The epitome (made about 1430)
shows that Saxo was felt to be difficult, its author saying:
"Since Saxo's work is in many places diffuse, and many things are
said more for ornament than for historical truth, and moreover
his style is too obscure on account of the number of terms
("plurima vocabula") and sundry poems, which are unfamiliar to
modern times, this opuscle puts in clear words the more notable
of the deeds there related, with the addition of some that
happened after Saxo's death." A Low-German version of this
epitome, which appeared in 1485, had a considerable vogue, and
the two together "helped to drive the history out of our
libraries, and explains why the annalists and geographers of the
Middle Ages so seldom quoted it." This neglect appears to have
been greatest of all in Denmark, and to have lasted until the
appearance of the "First Edition" in 1511.
The first impulse towards this work by which Saxo was saved, is
found in a letter from the Bishop of Roskild, Lave Urne, dated
May 1512, to Christian Pederson, Canon of Lund, whom he
compliments as a lover of letters, antiquary, and patriot, and
urges to edit and publish "tam divinum latinae eruditionis culmen
et splendorem Saxonem nostrum". Nearly two years afterwards
Christian Pederson sent Lave Urne a copy of the first edition,
now all printed, with an account of its history. "I do not think
that any mortal was more inclined and ready for" the task. "When
living at Paris, and paying heed to good literature, I twice sent
a messenger at my own charges to buy a faithful copy at any cost,
and bring it back to me. Effecting nothing thus, I went back to
my country for this purpose; I visited and turned over all the
libraries, but still could not pull out a Saxo, even covered with
beetles, bookworms, mould, and dust. So stubbornly had all the
owners locked it away." A worthy prior, in compassion offered to
get a copy and transcribe it with his own hand, but Christian, in
respect for the prior's rank, absurdly declined. At last Birger,
the Archbishop of Lund, by some strategy, got a copy, which King
Christian the Second allowed to be taken to Paris on condition of
its being wrought at "by an instructed and skilled graver
(printer)." Such a person was found in Jodocus Badius Ascenshls,
who adds a third letter written by himself to Bishop Urne,
vindicating his application to Saxo of the title Grammaticus,
which he well defines as "one who knows how to speak or write
with diligence, acuteness, or knowledge." The beautiful book he
produced was worthy of the zeal, and unsparing, unweariable
pains, which had been spent on it by the band of enthusiasts, and
it was truly a little triumph of humanism. Further editions were
reprinted during the sixteenth century at Basic and at
Frankfort-on-Main, but they did not improve in any way upon the
first; and the next epoch in the study of Saxo was made by the
edition and notes of Stephanus Johansen Stephanius, published at
Copenhagen in the middle of the seventeenth century (1644).
Stephanius, the first commentator on Saxo, still remains the best
upon his language. Immense knowledge of Latin, both good and bad
(especially of the authors Saxo imitated), infinite and prolix
industry, a sharp eye for the text, and continence in emendation,
are not his only virtues. His very bulkiness and leisureliness
are charming; he writes like a man who had eternity to write in,
and who knew enough to fill it, and who expected readers of an
equal leisure. He also prints some valuable notes signed with
the famous name of Bishop Bryniolf of Skalholt, a man of force
and talent, and others by Casper Barth, "corculum Musarum", as
Stephanius calls him, whose textual and other comments are
sometimes of use, and who worked with a MS. of Saxo. The edition
of Klotz, 1771, based on that of Stephanius, I have but seen;
however, the first standard commentary is that begun by P. E.
Muller, Bishop of Zealand, and finished after his death by Johan
Velschow, Professor of History at Copenhagen, where the first
part of the work, containing text and notes, was published in
1839; the second, with prolegomena and fuller notes, appearing in
1858. The standard edition, containing bibliography, critical
apparatus based on all the editions and MS. fragments, text, and
index, is the admirable one of that indefatigable veteran, Alfred
Holder, Strasburg, 1886.
Hitherto the translations of Saxo have been into Danish. The
first that survives, by Anders Soffrinson Vedel, dates from 1575,
some sixty years after the first edition. In such passages as I
have examined it is vigorous, but very free, and more like a
paraphrase than a translation, Saxo's verses being put into loose
prose. Yet it has had a long life, having been modified by
Vedel's grandson, John Laverentzen, in 1715, and reissued in
1851. The present version has been much helped by the
translation of Seier Schousbolle, published at Copenhagen in
1752. It is true that the verses, often the hardest part, are
put into periphrastic verse (by Laurentius Thura, c. 1721), and
Schousbolle often does not face a difficulty; but he gives the
sense of Saxo simply and concisely. The lusty paraphrase by the
enthusiastic Nik. Fred. Sev. Grundtvig, of which there have been
several editions, has also been of occasional use. No other
translations, save of a scrap here and there into German, seem to
It will be understood, from what has been said, that no complete
MS. of Saxo's History is known. The epitomator in the fourteenth
century, and Krantz in the seventeenth, had MSS. before them; and
there was that one which Christian Pedersen found and made the
basis of the first edition, but which has disappeared. Barth had
two manuscripts, which are said to have been burnt in 1636.
Another, possessed by a Swedish parish priest, Aschaneus, in
1630, which Stephenhis unluckily did not know of, disappeared in
the Royal Archives of Stockholm after his death. These are
practically the only MSS. of which we have sure information,
excepting the four fragments that are now preserved. Of these by
far the most interesting is the "Angers Fragment."
This was first noticed in 1863, in the Angers Library, where it
was found degraded into the binding of a number of devotional
works and a treatise on metric, dated 1459, and once the property
of a priest at Alencon. In 1877 M. Gaston Paris called the
attention of the learned to it, and the result was that the
Danish Government received it next year in exchange for a
valuable French manuscript which was in the Royal Library at
Copenhagen. This little national treasure, the only piece of
contemporary writing of the History, has been carefully
photographed and edited by that enthusiastic and urbane scholar,
Christian Bruun. In the opinion both of Dr. Vigfusson and M.
Paris, the writing dates from about 1200; and this date, though
difficult to determine, owing to the paucity of Danish MSS. of
the 12th and early lath centuries, is confirmed by the character
of the contents. For there is little doubt that the Fragment
shows us Saxo in the labour of composition. The MSS. looks as if
expressly written for interlineation. Besides a marginal gloss
by a later, fourteenth century hand, there are two distinct sets
of variants, in different writings, interlined and running over
into the margin. These variants are much more numerous in the
prose than in the verse. The first set are in the same hand as
the text, the second in another hand: but both of them have the
character, not of variants from some other MSS., but of
alternative expressions put down tentatively. If either hand is
Saxo's it is probably the second. He may conceivably have
dictated both at different times to different scribes. No other
man would tinker the style in this fashion. A complete
translation of all these changes has been deemed unnecessary in
these volumes; there is a full collation in Holder's "Apparatus
Criticus". The verdict of the Angers-Fragment, which, for the
very reason mentioned, must not be taken as the final form of the
text, nor therefore, despite its antiquity, as conclusive against
the First Edition where the two differ, is to confirm, so far as
it goes, the editing of Ascensius and Pederson. There are no
vital differences, and the care of the first editors, as well as
the authority of their source, is thus far amply vindicated.
A sufficient account of the other fragments will be found in
Holder's list. In 1855 M. Kall-Rasmussen found in the private
archives at Kronborg a scrap of fourteenth century MS.,
containing a short passage from Bk. vii. Five years later G. F.
Lassen found, at Copenhagen, a fragment of Bk. vi believed to be
written in North Zealand, and in the opinion of Bruun belonging
to the same codex as Kall-Rasmussen's fragment. Of another
longish piece, found in Copenhagen at the end of the seventeenth
century by Johannes Laverentzen, and belonging to a codex burnt
in the fire of 1728, a copy still extant in the Copenhagen
Museum, was made by Otto Sperling. For fragments, either extant
or alluded to, of the later books, the student should consult the
carefully collated text of Holder. The whole MS. material,
therefore, covers but a little of Saxo's work, which was
practically saved for Europe by the perseverance and fervour for
culture of a single man, Bishop Urne.
SAXO AS A WRITER.
Saxo's countrymen have praised without stint his remarkable
style, for he has a style. It is often very bad; but he writes,
he is not in vain called Grammaticus, the man of letters. His
style is not merely remarkable considering its author's
difficulties; it is capable at need of pungency and of high
expressiveness. His Latin is not that of the Golden Age, but
neither is it the common Latin of the Middle Ages. There are
traces of his having read Virgil and Cicero. But two writers in
particular left their mark on him. The first and most
influential is Valerius Maximus, the mannered author of the
"Memorabilia", who lived in the first half of the first century,
and was much relished in the Middle Ages. From him Saxo borrowed
a multitude of phrases, sometimes apt but often crabbed and
deformed, as well as an exemplary and homiletic turn of
narrative. Other idioms, and perhaps the practice of
interspersing verses amid prose (though this also was a twelfth
century Icelandic practice), Saxo found in a fifth-century
writer, Martianus Capella, the pedantic author of the "De Nuptiis
Philologiae et Mercurii" Such models may have saved him from a
base mediaeval vocabulary; but they were not worthy of him, and
they must answer for some of his falsities of style. These are
apparent. His accumulation of empty and motley phrase, like a
garish bunch of coloured bladders; his joy in platitude and
pomposity, his proneness to say a little thing in great words,
are only too easy to translate. We shall be well content if our
version also gives some inkling of his qualities; not only of
what Erasmus called his "wonderful vocabulary, his many pithy
sayings, and the excellent variety of his images"; but also of
his feeling for grouping, his barbaric sense of colour, and his
stateliness. For he moves with resource and strength both in
prose and verse, and is often only hindered by his own wealth.
With no kind of critical tradition to chasten him, his force is
often misguided and his work shapeless; but he stumbles into many
FOLK LORE INDEX.
The mass of archaic incidents, beliefs, and practices recorded by
the 12th-century writer seemed to need some other classification
than a bare alphabetic index. The present plan, a subject-index
practically, has been adopted with a view to the needs of the
anthropologist and folk-lorist. Its details have been largely
determined by the bulk and character of the entries themselves.
No attempt has been made to supply full parallels from any save
the more striking and obvious old Scandinavian sources, the end
being to classify material rather than to point out its
significance of geographic distribution. With regard to the
first three heads, the reader who wishes to see how Saxo compares
with the Old Northern poems may be referred to the Grimm
Centenary papers, Oxford, 1886, and the Corpus Poeticurn Boreale,
King -- As portrayed by Saxo, the ideal king should be (as in
"Beowulf's Lay") generous, brave and just. He should be a man of
accomplishments, of unblemished body, presumably of royal kin
(peasant-birth is considered a bar to the kingship), usually a
son or a nephew, or brother of his foregoer (though no strict
rule of succession seems to appear in Saxo), and duly chosen and
acknowledged at the proper place of election. In Denmark this
was at a stone circle, and the stability of these stones was
taken as an omen for the king's reign. There are exceptional
instances noted, as the serf-king Eormenric (cf. Guthred-Canute
of Northumberland), whose noble birth washed out this blot of his
captivity, and there is a curious tradition of a conqueror
setting his hound as king over a conquered province in mockery.
The king was of age at twelve. A king of seven years of age has
twelve Regents chosen in the Moot, in one case by lot, to bring
him up and rule for him till his majority. Regents are all
appointed in Denmark, in one case for lack of royal blood, one to
Scania, one to Zealand, one to Funen, two to Jutland. Underkings
and Earls are appointed by kings, and though the Earl's office is
distinctly official, succession is sometimes given to the sons of
faithful fathers. The absence of a settled succession law leads
(as in Muslim States) to rebellions and plots.
Kings sometimes abdicated, giving up the crown perforce to a
rival, or in high age to a kinsman. In heathen times, kings, as
Thiodwulf tells us in the case of Domwald and Yngwere, were
sometimes sacrificed for better seasons (African fashion), and
Wicar of Norway perishes, like Iphigeneia, to procure fair winds.
Kings having to lead in war, and sometimes being willing to fight
wagers of battle, are short-lived as a rule, and assassination is
a continual peril, whether by fire at a time of feast, of which
there are numerous examples, besides the classic one on which
Biarea-mal is founded and the not less famous one of Hamlet's
vengeance, or whether by steel, as with Hiartuar, or by trick, as
in Wicar's case above cited. The reward for slaying a king is in
one case 120 gold lbs.; 19 "talents" of gold from each
ringleader, 1 oz. of gold from each commoner, in the story of
Godfred, known as Ref's gild, "i.e., Fox tax". In the case of a
great king, Frode, his death is concealed for three years to
avoid disturbance within and danger from without. Captive kings
were not as a rule well treated. A Slavonic king, Daxo, offers
Ragnar's son Whitesark his daughter and half his realm, or death,
and the captive strangely desires death by fire. A captive king
is exposed, chained to wild beasts, thrown into a serpent-pit,
wherein Ragnar is given the fate of the elder Gunnar in the Eddic
Lays, Atlakvida. The king is treated with great respect by his
people, he is finely clad, and his commands are carried out,
however abhorrent or absurd, as long as they do not upset
customary or statute law. The king has slaves in his household,
men and women, besides his guard of housecarles and his bearsark
champions. A king's daughter has thirty slaves with her, and the
footmaiden existed exactly as in the stories of the Wicked
Waiting Maid. He is not to be awakened in his slumbers (cf. St.
Olaf's Life, where the naming of King Magnus is the result of
adherence to this etiquette). A champion weds the king's leman.
His thanes are created by the delivery of a sword, which the king
bolds by the blade and the thane takes by the hilt. (English
earls were created by the girding with a sword. "Taking
treasure, and weapons and horses, and feasting in a hall with the
king" is synonymous with thane-hood or gesith-ship in "Beowulf's
Lay"). A king's thanes must avenge him if he falls, and owe him
allegiance. (This was paid in the old English monarchies by
kneeling and laying the head down at the lord's knee.)
The trick by which the Mock-king, or King of the Beggars
(parallel to our Boy-bishop, and perhaps to that enigmatic
churls' King of the "O. E. Chronicle", s.a. 1017, Eadwiceorla-
kyning) gets allegiance paid to him, and so secures himself in
his attack on the real king, is cleverly devised. The king,
besides being a counsel giver himself, and speaking the law, has
"counsellors", old and wise men, "sapientes" (like the 0. E.
Thyle). The aged warrior counsellor, as Starcad here and Master
Hildebrand in the "Nibelungenlied", is one type of these persons,
another is the false counsellor, as Woden in guise of Bruni,
another the braggart, as Hunferth in "Beowulf's Lay". At "moots"
where laws are made, kings and regents chosen, cases judged,
resolutions taken of national importance, there are discussions,
as in that armed most the host.
The king has, beside his estates up and down the country,
sometimes (like Hrothgar with his palace Heorot in "Beowulf's
Lay") a great fort and treasure house, as Eormenric, whose palace
may well have really existed. There is often a primitive and
negroid character about dwellings of formidable personages, heads
placed on stakes adorn their exterior, or shields are ranged
round the walls.
The provinces are ruled by removable earls appointed by the king,
often his own kinsmen, sometimes the heads of old ruling
families. The "hundreds" make up the province or subkingdom.
They may be granted to king's thanes, who became "hundred-
elders". Twelve hundreds are in one case bestowed upon a man.
The "yeoman's" estate is not only honourable but useful, as
Starcad generously and truly acknowledges. Agriculture should be
fostered and protected by the king, even at the cost of his life.
But gentle birth and birth royal place certain families above the
common body of freemen (landed or not); and for a commoner to
pretend to a king's daughter is an act of presumption, and
generally rigorously resented.
The "smith" was the object of a curious prejudice, probably akin
to that expressed in St. Patrick's "Lorica", and derived from the
smith's having inherited the functions of the savage weapon-maker
with his poisons and charms. The curious attempt to distinguish
smiths into good and useful swordsmiths and base and bad
goldsmiths seems a merely modern explanation: Weland could both
forge swords and make ornaments of metal. Starcad's loathing for
a smith recalls the mockery with which the Homeric gods treat
Slavery. -- As noble birth is manifest by fine eyes and personal
beauty, courage and endurance, and delicate behaviour, so the
slave nature is manifested by cowardice, treachery, unbridled
lust, bad manners, falsehood, and low physical traits. Slaves
had, of course, no right either of honour, or life, or limb.
Captive ladies are sent to a brothel; captive kings cruelly put
to death. Born slaves were naturally still less considered, they
were flogged; it was disgraceful to kill them with honourable
steel; to accept a slight service from a slave-woman was beneath
old Starcad's dignity. A man who loved another man's slave-
woman, and did base service to her master to obtain her as his
consort, was looked down on. Slaves frequently ran away to
escape punishment for carelessness, or fault, or to gain liberty.
The evidence of Saxo to archaic law and customary institutions is
pretty much (as we should expect) that to be drawn from the
Icelandic Sagas, and even from the later Icelandic rimur and
Scandinavian kaempe-viser. But it helps to complete the picture
of the older stage of North Teutonic Law, which we are able to
piece together out of our various sources, English, Icelandic,
and Scandinavian. In the twilight of Yore every glowworm is a
helper to the searcher.
There are a few MAXIMS of various times, but all seemingly drawn
from custom cited or implied by Saxo as authoritative: --
"It is disgraceful to be ruled by a woman." -- The great men of
Teutonic nations held to this maxim. There is no Boudicea or
Maidhbh in our own annals till after the accession of the Tudors,
when Great Eliza rivals her elder kins-women's glories. Though
Tacitus expressly notices one tribe or confederacy, the Sitones,
within the compass of his Germania, ruled by a woman, as an
exceptional case, it was contrary to the feeling of mediaeval
Christendom for a woman to be emperor; it was not till late in
the Middle Ages that Spain saw a queen regnant, and France has
never yet allowed such rule. It was not till long after Saxo
that the great queen of the North, Margaret, wielded a wider sway
than that rejected by Gustavus' wayward daughter.
"The suitor ought to urge his own suit." -- This, an axiom of the
most archaic law, gets evaded bit by bit till the professional
advocate takes the place of the plaintiff. "Njal's Saga", in its
legal scenes, shows the transition period, when, as at Rome, a
great and skilled chief was sought by his client as the supporter
of his cause at the Moot. In England, the idea of representation
at law is, as is well known, late and largely derived from canon
"To exact the blood-fine was as honourable as to take vengeance."
-- This maxim, begotten by Interest upon Legality, established
itself both in Scandinavia and Arabia. It marks the first stage
in a progress which, if carried out wholly, substitutes law for
feud. In the society of the heathen Danes the maxim was a
novelty; even in Christian Denmark men sometimes preferred blood
MARRIAGE. -- There are many reminiscences of "archaic marriage
customs in Saxo." The capture marriage has left traces in the
guarded king's daughters, the challenging of kings to fight or
hand over their daughters, in the promises to give a daughter or
sister as a reward to a hero who shall accomplish some feat. The
existence of polygamy is attested, and it went on till the days
of Charles the Great and Harold Fairhair in singular instances,
in the case of great kings, and finally disappeared before the
strict ecclesiastic regulations.
But there are evidences also of later customs, such as "marriage
by purchase", already looked on as archaic in Saxo's day; and the
free women in Denmark had clearly long had a veto or refusal of a
husband for some time back, and sometimes even free choice. "Go-
betweens" negotiate marriages.
Betrothal was of course the usage. For the groom to defile an
espoused woman is a foul reproach. Gifts made to father-in-law
after bridal by bridegroom seem to denote the old bride-price.
Taking the bride home in her car was an important ceremony, and a
bride is taken to her future husband's by her father. The
wedding-feast, as in France in Rabelais' time, was a noisy and
drunken and tumultuous rejoicing, when bone-throwing was in
favor, with other rough sports and jokes. The three days after
the bridal and their observance in "sword-bed" are noticed below.
A commoner or one of slave-blood could not pretend to wed a high-
born lady. A woman would sometimes require some proof of power
or courage at her suitor's hands; thus Gywritha, like the famous
lady who weds Harold Fairhair, required her husband Siwar to be
over-king of the whole land. But in most instances the father or
brother betrothed the girl, and she consented to their choice.
Unwelcome suitors perish.
The prohibited degrees were, of course, different from those
established by the mediaeval church, and brother weds brother's
widow in good archaic fashion. Foster-sister and foster-brother
may marry, as Saxo notices carefully. The Wolsung incest is not
noticed by Saxo. He only knew, apparently, the North-German form
of the Niflung story. But the reproachfulness of incest is
Birth and beauty were looked for in a bride by Saxo's heroes, and
chastity was required. The modesty of maidens in old days is
eulogised by Saxo, and the penalty for its infraction was severe:
sale abroad into slavery to grind the quern in the mud of the
yard. One of the tests of virtue is noticed, "lac in ubere".
That favourite "motif", the "Patient Grizzle", occurs, rather,
however, in the Border ballad than the Petrarcan formú
"Good wives" die with their husbands as they have vowed, or of
grief for their loss, and are wholly devoted to their interests.
Among "bad wives" are those that wed their husband's slayer, run
away from their husbands, plot against their husbands' lives.
The penalty for adultery is death to both, at husband's option --
disfigurement by cutting off the nose of the guilty woman, an
archaic practice widely spread. In one case the adulterous lady
is left the choice of her own death. Married women's Homeric
duties are shown.
There is a curious story, which may rest upon fact, and not be
merely typical, where a mother who had suffered wrong forced her
daughter to suffer the same wrong.
Captive women are reduced to degrading slavery as "harlots" in
one case, according to the eleventh century English practice of
THE FAMILY AND BLOOD REVENGE. -- This duty, one of the strongest
links of the family in archaic Teutonic society, has left deep
traces in Saxo.
To slay those most close in blood, even by accident, is to incur
the guilt of parricide, or kin-killing, a bootless crime, which
can only be purged by religious ceremonies; and which involves
exile, lest the gods' wrath fall on the land, and brings the
curse of childlessness on the offender until he is forgiven.
BOOTLESS CRIMES. -- As among the ancient Teutons, botes and were-
gilds satisfy the injured who seek redress at law rather than by
the steel. But there are certain bootless crimes, or rather
sins, that imply "sacratio", devotion to the gods, for the
clearing of the community. Such are treason, which is punishable
by hanging; by drowning in sea.
Rebellion is still more harshly treated by death and forfeiture;
the rebels' heels are bored and thonged under the sinew, as
Hector's feet were, and they are then fastened by the thongs to
wild bulls, hunted by hounds, till they are dashed to pieces (for
which there are classic parallels), or their feet are fastened
with thongs to horses driven apart, so that they are torn
For "parricide", i.e., killing within near degrees, the criminal
is hung up, apparently by the heels, with a live wolf (he haying
acted as a wolf which will slay its fellows). Cunning avoidance
of the guilt by trick is shown.
For "arson" the appropriate punishment is the fire.
For "incestuous adultery" of stepson with his stepmother, hanging
is awarded to the man. In the same case Swanwhite, the woman, is
punished, by treading to death with horses. A woman accomplice
in adultery is treated to what Homer calls a "stone coat."
Incestuous adultery is a foul slur.
For "witchcraft", the horror of heathens, hanging was the
"Private revenge" sometimes deliberately inflicts a cruel death
for atrocious wrong or insult, as when a king, enraged at the
slaying of his son and seduction of his daughter, has the
offender hanged, an instance famous in Nathan's story, so that
Hagbard's hanging and hempen necklace were proverbial.
For the slayer by a cruel death of their captive father, Ragnar's
sons act the blood-eagle on Ella, and salt his flesh. There is
an undoubted instance of this act of vengeance (the symbolic
meaning of which is not clear as yet) in the "Orkney Saga".
But the story of Daxo and of Ref's gild show that for such wrongs
were-gilds were sometimes exacted, and that they were considered
highly honourable to the exactor.
Among OFFENCES NOT BOOTLESS, and left to individual pursuit, are:
"Highway robbery". -- There are several stories of a type such as
that of Ingemund and Ioknl (see "Landnamaboc") told by Saxo of
highwaymen; and an incident of the kind that occurs in the
Theseus story (the Bent-tree, which sprung back and slew the
wretch bound to it) is given. The romantic trick of the mechanic
bed, by which a steel-shod beam is let fall on the sleeping
traveller, also occurs. Slain highwaymen are gibbeted as in
"Assassination", as distinct from manslaughter in vengeance for a
wrong, is not very common. A hidden mail-coat foils a
treacherous javelin-cast (cf. the Story of Olaf the Stout and the
Blind King, Hrorec); murderers lurk spear-armed at the threshold,
sides, as in the Icelandic Sagas; a queen hides a spear-head in
her gown, and murders her husband (cf. Olaf Tryggvason's Life).
Godfred was murdered by his servant (and Ynglingatal).
"Burglary". -- The crafty discovery of the robber of the treasury
by Hadding is a variant of the world-old Rhampsinitos tale, but
less elaborate, possibly abridged and cut down by Saxo, and
reduced to a mere moral example in favour of the goldenness of
silence and the danger of letting the tongue feed the gallows.
Among other disgraceful acts, that make the offender infamous,
but do not necessarily involve public action: --
"Manslaughter in Breach of Hospitality". -- Probably any gross
breach of hospitality was disreputable and highly abhorred, but
"guest-slaughter" is especially mentioned. The ethical question
as to whether a man should slay his guest or forego his just
vengeance was often a "probleme du jour" in the archaic times to
which these traditions witness. Ingeld prefers his vengeance,
but Thuriswend, in the Lay cited by Paul the Deacon, chooses to
protect his guest. Heremod slew his messmates in his wrath, and
went forth alone into exile. ("Beowulf's Lay".)
"Suicide". ~- This was more honourable than what Earl Siward of
Northumberland called a "cow-death." Hadding resolves to commit
suicide at his friend's death. Wermund resolves to commit
suicide if his son be slain (in hopelessness of being able to
avenge him, cf. "Njal's Saga", where the hero, a Christian,
prefers to perish in his burning house than live dishonoured,
"for I am an old man and little fitted to avenge my sons, but I
will not live in shame"). Persons commit suicide by slaying each
other in time of famine; while in England (so Baeda tells) they
"decliffed" themselves in companies, and, as in the comic little
Icelandic tale Gautrec s birth, a Tarpeian death is noted as the
customary method of relieving folks from the hateful starvation
death. It is probable that the violent death relieved the ghost
or the survivors of some inconveniences which a "straw death"
would have brought about.
"Procedure by Wager of Battle". -- This archaic process pervades
Saxo's whole narrative. It is the main incident of many of the
sagas from which he drew. It is one of the chief characteristics
of early Teutonic custom-law, and along with "Cormac's Saga",
"Landnamaboc", and the Walter Saga, our author has furnished us
with most of the information we have upon its principles and
Steps in the process are the Challenge, the Acceptance and
Settlement of Conditions, the Engagement, the Treatment of the
vanquished, the Reward of the conqueror, and there are rules
touching each of these, enough almost to furnish a kind of
A challenge could not, either to war or wager of battle, be
refused with honor, though a superior was not bound to fight an
inferior in rank. An ally might accept for his principal, or a
father for a son, but it was not honourable for a man unless
helpless to send a champion instead of himself.
Men were bound to fight one to one, and one man might decline to
fight two at once. Great champions sometimes fought against
The challenged man chose the place of battle, and possibly fixed
the time. This was usually an island in the river.
The regular weapons were swords and shields for men of gentle
blood. They fought by alternate separate strokes; the senior had
the first blow. The fight must go on face to face without change
of place; for the ground was marked out for the combatants, as in
our prize ring, though one can hardly help fancying that the
fighting ground so carefully described in "Cormac's Saga", ch.
10, may have been Saxo's authority. The combatants change places
accidentally in the struggle in one story.
The combat might last, like Cuchullin's with Ferdia, several
days; a nine days' fight occurs; but usually a few blows settled
the matter. Endurance was important, and we are told of a hero
keeping himself in constant training by walking in a mail coat.
The conqueror ought not to slay his man if he were a stripling,
or maimed, and had better take his were-gild for his life, the
holmslausn or ransom of "Cormac's Saga" (three marks in Iceland);
but this was a mere concession to natural pity, and he might
without loss of honor finish his man, and cut off his head,
though it was proper, if the slain adversary has been a man of
honor, to bury him afterward.
The stakes are sometimes a kingdom or a kingdom's tribute, often
a lady, or the combatants fought for "love" or the point of
honor. Giants and noted champions challenge kings for their
daughters (as in the fictitious parts of the Icelandic family
sagas) in true archaic fashion, and in true archaic fashion the
prince rescues the lady from a disgusting and evil fate by his
The champion's fee or reward when he was fighting for his
principal and came off successful was heavy -- many lands and
sixty slaves. Bracelets are given him; a wound is compensated
for at ten gold pieces; a fee for killing a king is 120 of the
Of the incidents of the combat, beside fair sleight of fence,
there is the continual occurrence of the sword-blunting spell,
often cast by the eye of the sinister champion, and foiled by the
good hero, sometimes by covering his blade with thin skin,
sometimes by changing the blade, sometimes by using a mace or
The strength of this tradition sufficiently explains the
necessity of the great oath against magic taken by both parties
in a wager of battle in Christian England.
The chief combats mentioned by Saxo are: --
Sciold v. Attila.
Sciold v. Scate, for the hand of Alfhild.
Gram v. Swarin and eight more, for the crown of the Swedes.
Hadding v. Toste, by challenge.
Frode v. Hunding, on challenge.
Frode v. Hacon, on challenge.
Helge v. Hunding, by challenge at Stad.
Agnar v. Bearce, by challenge.
Wizard v. Danish champions, for truage of the Slavs.
Wizard v. Ubbe, for truage of the Slavs.
Coll v. Horwendill, on challenge.
Athisl v. Frowine, meeting in battle.
Athisl v. Ket and Wig, on challenge.
Uffe v. Prince of Saxony and Champion, by challenge.
Frode v. Froger, on challenge.
Eric v. Grep's brethren, on challenge, twelve a side.
Eric v. Alrec, by challenge.
Hedin v. Hogni, the mythic everlasting battle.
Arngrim v. Scalc, by challenge.
Arngrim v. Egtheow, for truage of Permland.
Arrow-Odd and Hialmar v. twelve sons of Arngrim Samsey fight.
Ane Bow-swayer v. Beorn, by challenge.
Starkad v. Wisin, by challenge.
Starkad v. Tanlie, by challenge.
Starkad v. Wasce--Wilzce, by challenge.
Starkad v. Hame, by challenge.
Starkad v. Angantheow and eight of his brethren, on challenge.
Halfdan v. Hardbone and six champions, on challenge.
Halfdan v. Egtheow, by challenge.
Halfdan v. Grim, on challenge.
Halfdan v. Ebbe, on challenge, by moonlight.
Halfdan v. Twelve champions, on challenge.
Halfdan v. Hildeger, on challenge.
Ole v. Skate and Hiale, on challenge.
Homod and Thole v. Beorn and Thore, by challenge.
Ref. v. Gaut, on challenge.
Ragnar and three sons v. Starcad of Sweden and seven sons, on
CIVIL PROCEDURE. -- "Oaths" are an important art of early
procedure, and noticed by Saxo; one calling the gods to witness
and therefor, it is understood, to avenge perjury if he spake not
"Testification", or calling witnesses to prove the steps of a
legal action, was known, "Glum's Saga" and "Landnamaboc", and
a manslayer proceeded (in order to clear himself of murder) to
announce the manslaughter as his act, he brings the dead man's
head as his proof, exactly as the hero in the folk-tales brings
the dragon's head or tongue as his voucher.
A "will" is spoken of. This seems to be the solemn declaration
of a childless man to his kinsfolk, recommending some person as
his successor. Nothing more was possible before written wills
were introduced by the Christian clergy after the Roman fashion.
"Lawgivers". -- The realm of Custom had already long been
curtailed by the conquests of Law when Saxo wrote, and some
epochs of the invasion were well remembered, such as Canute's
laws. But the beginnings were dim, and there were simply
traditions of good and bad lawyers of the past; such were
"Sciold" first of all the arch-king, "Frode" the model lawgiver,
"Helge" the tyrant, "Ragnar" the shrewd conqueror.
"Sciold", the patriarch, is made by tradition to fulfil, by
abolishing evil customs and making good laws, the ideal of the
Saxon and Frankish Coronation oath formula (which may well go
back with its two first clauses to heathen days). His fame is as
widely spread. However, the only law Saxo gives to him has a
story to it that he does not plainly tell. Sciold had a freedman
who repaid his master's manumission of him by the ingratitude of
attempting his life. Sciold thereupon decrees the unlawfulness
of manumissions, or (as Saxo puts it), revoked all manumissions,
thus ordaining perpetual slavery on all that were or might become
slaves. The heathen lack of pity noticed in Alfred's preface to
"Gregory's Handbook" is illustrated here by contrast with the
philosophic humanity of the Civil Law, and the sympathy of the
But FRODE (known also to the compiler of "Beowulf's Lay", 2025)
had, in the Dane's eyes, almost eclipsed Sciold as conqueror and
lawgiver. His name Frode almost looks as if his epithet Sapiens
had become his popular appellation, and it befits him well. Of
him were told many stories, and notably the one related of our
Edwin by Bede (and as it has been told by many men of many rulers
since Bede wrote, and before). Frode was able to hang up an
arm-ring of gold in three parts of his kingdom that no thief for
many years dared touch. How this incident (according to our
version preserved by Saxo), brought the just king to his end is
an archaic and interesting story. Was this ring the Brosinga
Saxo has even recorded the Laws of Frode in four separate bits,
which we give as A, B, C, D.
A. is mainly a civil and military code of archaic kind:
(a) The division of spoil shall be -- gold to captains, silver
to privates, arms to champions, ships to be shared by all. Cf.
Jomswickinga S. on the division of spoil by the law of the pirate
community of Jom.
(b) No house stuff to be locked; if a man used a lock he must
pay a gold mark.
(c) He who spares a thief must bear his punishment.
(d) The coward in battle is to forfeit all rights (cf.
(e) Women to have free choice (or, at least, veto) in taking
(f) A free woman that weds a slave loses rank and freedom (cf.
(g) A man must marry a girl he has seduced.
(h) An adulterer to be mutilated at pleasure of injured husband.
(i) Where Dane robbed Dane, the thief to pay double and peace-
(k) Receivers of stolen goods suffer forfeiture and flogging at
(l) Deserter bearing shield against his countrymen to lose life
(m) Contempt of fyrd-summons or call to military service
involves outlawry and exile.
(n) Bravery in battle to bring about increase in rank (cf. the
old English "Ranks of Men").
(o) No suit to lie on promise and pledge; fine of « gold lb.
for asking pledge.
(p) Wager of battle is to be the universal mode of proof.
(q) If an alien kill a Dane two aliens must suffer. (This is
practically the same principle as appears in the half weregild of
the Welsh in West Saxon Law.)
B. An illustration of the more capricious of the old enactments
and the jealousy of antique kings.
(a) Loss of gifts sent to the king involves the official
responsible; he shall be hanged. (This is introduced as
illustration of the cleverness of Eric and the folly of Coll.)
C. Saxo associates another set of enactments with the completion
of a successful campaign of conquest over the Ruthenians, and
shows Frode chiefly as a wise and civilising statesman, making
conquest mean progress.
(a) Every free householder that fell in war was to be set in his
barrow with horse and arms (cf. "Vatzdaela Saga", ch. 2).
The body-snatcher was to be punished by death and the lack of
Earl or king to be burned in his own ship.
Ten sailors may be burnt on one ship.
(b) Ruthenians to have the same law of war as Danes.
(c) Ruthenians must adopt Danish sale-marriage. (This involves
the abolition of the Baltic custom of capture-marriage. That
capture-marriage was a bar to social progress appears in the
legislation of Richard II, directed against the custom as carried
out on the borders of the Palatine county of Chester, while cases
such as the famous one of Rob Roy's sons speak to its late
continuance in Scotland. In Ireland it survived in a stray
instance or two into this century, and songs like "William Riley"
attest the sympathy of the peasant with the eloping couple.)
(d) A veteran, one of the Doughty, must be such a man as will
attack one foe, will stand two, face three without withdrawing
more than a little, and be content to retire only before four.
(One of the traditional folk-sayings respecting the picked men,
the Doughty or Old Guard, as distinguished from the Youth or
Young Guard, the new-comers in the king's Company of House-
carles. In Harald Hardrede's Life the Norwegians dread those
English house-carles, "each of whom is a match for four," who
formed the famous guard that won Stamford Bridge and fell about
their lord, a sadly shrunken band, at Senlake.)
(f) The house-carles to have winter-pay. The house-carle three
pieces of silver, a hired soldier two pieces, a soldier who had
finished his service one piece.
(The treatment of the house-carles gave Harald Harefoot a
reputation long remembered for generosity, and several old
Northern kings have won their nicknames by their good or ill
feeding and rewarding their comitatus.)
D. Again a civil code, dealing chiefly with the rights of
(a) Seafarers may use what gear they find (the "remis" of the
text may include boat or tackle).
(b) No house is to be locked, nor coffer, but all thefts to be
compensated threefold. (This, like A, b, which it resembles,
seems a popular tradition intended to show the absolute security
of Frode's reign of seven or three hundred years. It is probably
a gloss wrongly repeated.)
(c) A traveller may claim a single supper; if he take more he is
a thief (the mark of a prae-tabernal era when hospitality was
waxing cold through misuse).
(d) Thief and accomplices are to be punished alike, being hung
up by a line through the sinews and a wolf fastened beside.
(This, which contradicts A, i, k, and allots to theft the
punishment proper for parricide, seems a mere distorted
But beside just Frode, tradition spoke of the unjust Kinge HELGE,
whose laws represent ill-judged harshness. They were made for
conquered races, (a) the Saxons and (b) the Swedes.
(a) Noble and freedmen to have the same were-gild (the lower, of
course, the intent being to degrade all the conquered to one
level, and to allow only the lowest were-gild of a freedman,
fifty pieces, probably, in the tradition).
(b) No remedy for wrong done to a Swede by a Dane to be legally
recoverable. (This is the traditional interpretation of the
conqueror's haughty dealing; we may compare it with the Middle-
English legends of the pride of the Dane towards the conquered
English. The Tradition sums up the position in such concrete
forms as this Law of Helge's.)
Two statutes of RAGNAR are mentioned: --
(a) That any householder should give up to his service in war
the worst of his children, or the laziest of his slaves (a
curious tradition, and used by Saxo as an opportunity for
(b) That all suits shall be absolutely referred to the judgment
of twelve chosen elders (Lodbroc here appearing in the strange
character of originator of trial by jury).
"Tributes". -- Akin to laws are the tributes decreed and imposed
by kings and conquerors of old. Tribute infers subjection in
archaic law. The poll-tax in the fourteenth century in England
was unpopular, because of its seeming to degrade Englishmen to
the level of Frenchmen, who paid tribute like vanquished men to
their absolute lord, as well as for other reasons connected with
the collection of the tax.
The old fur tax (mentioned in "Egil's Saga") is here ascribed to
FRODE, who makes the Finns pay him, every three years, a car full
or sledge full of skins for every ten heads; and extorts one skin
per head from the Perms. It is Frode, too (though Saxo has
carved a number of Frodes out of one or two kings of gigantic
personality), that made the Saxons pay a poll-tax, a piece of
money per head, using, like William the Conqueror, his
extraordinary revenue to reward his soldiers, whom he first
regaled with double pay. But on the conquered folks rebelling,
he marked their reduction by a tax of a piece of money on every
limb a cubit long, a "limb-geld" still more hateful than the
HOTHERUS (Hodr) had set a tribute on the Kurlanders and Swedes,
and HROLF laid a tribute on the conquered Swedes.
GODEFRIDUS-GOTRIC is credited with a third Saxon tribute, a
heriot of 100 snow-white horses payable to each Danish king at
his succession, and by each Saxon chief on his accession: a
statement that, recalling sacred snow-white horses kept in North
Germany of yore makes one wish for fuller information. But
Godefridus also exacted from the Swedes the "Ref-gild", or Fox-
money; for the slaying of his henchman Ref, twelve pieces of gold
from each man of rank, one from every commoner. And his
Friesland tribute is stranger still, nor is it easy to understand
from Saxo's account. There was a long hall built, 240 feet, and
divided up into twelve "chases" of 20 feet each (probably
square). There was a shield set up at one end, and the taxpayers
hurled their money at it; if it struck so as to sound, it was
good; if not, it was forfeit, but not reckoned in the receipt.
This (a popular version, it may be, of some early system of
treasury test) was abolished, so the story goes, by Charles the
RAGNAR'S exaction from Daxo, his son's slayer, was a yearly
tribute brought by himself and twelve of his elders barefoot,
resembling in part such submissions as occur in the Angevin
family history, the case of the Calais burgesses, and of such
criminals as the Corporation of Oxford, whose penance was only
finally renounced by the local patriots in our own day.
"Weapons". -- The sword is the weapon par excellence in Saxo's
narrative, and he names several by name, famous old blades like
our royal Curtana, which some believed was once Tristrem's, and
that sword of Carlus, whose fortunes are recorded in Irish
annals. Such are "Snyrtir", Bearce's sword; "Hothing", Agnar's
blade; "Lauf", or "Leaf", Bearce's sword; "Screp", Wermund's
sword, long buried and much rust-eaten, but sharp and trusty, and
known by its whistle; Miming's sword ("Mistletoe"), which slew
Balder. Wainhead's curved blade seems to be a halbert; "Lyusing"
and "Hwiting", Ragnald of Norway's swords; "Logthe", the sword of
Ole Siward's son.
The "war-club" occurs pretty frequently. But it is usually
introduced as a special weapon of a special hero, who fashions a
gold-headed club to slay one that steel cannot touch, or who
tears up a tree, like the Spanish knight in the ballad, or who
uses a club to counteract spells that blunt steel. The bat-
shapen archaic rudder of a ship is used as a club in the story of
the Sons of Arngrim.
The "spear" plays no particular part in Saxo: even Woden's spear
Gungne is not prominent.
"Bows and arrows" are not often spoken of, but archer heroes,
such as Toki, Ane Bow-swayer, and Orwar-Odd, are known. Slings
and stones are used.
The shield, of all defensive armour, is far the most prominent.
They were often painted with devices, such as Hamlet's shield,
Hildiger's Swedish shield. Dr. Vigfusson has shown the
importance of these painted shields in the poetic history of the
A red shield is a signal of peace. Shields are set round
ramparts on land as round ships at sea.
"Mail-coats" are worn. Frode has one charmed against steel.
Hother has another; a mail-coat of proof is mentioned and their
iron meshes are spoken of.
"Helmets" are used, but not so carefully described as in
"Beowulf's Lay"; crested helmets and a gilded helmet occur in
Bearca-mal and in another poem.
"Banners" serve as rallying points in the battle and on the
march. The Huns' banners are spoken of in the classic passage
for the description of a huge host invading a country. Bearca-
mal talks of golden banners.
"Horns" (1) were blown pp at the beginning of the engagement and
for signalling. The gathering of the host was made by delivery
of a wooden arrow painted to look like iron.
"Tactics". -- The hand-to-hand fight of the wager of battle with
sword and shield, and the fighting in ranks and the wedge-column
at close quarters, show that the close infantry combat was the
main event of the battle. The preliminary hurling of stones, and
shooting of arrows, and slinging of pebbles, were harassing and
annoying, but seldom sufficiently important to affect the result
of the main engagement.
Men ride to battle, but fight on foot; occasionally an aged king
is car-borne to the fray, and once the car, whether by Saxo's
adorning hand, or by tradition, is scythe-armed.
The gathered host is numbered, once, where, as with Xerxes,
counting was too difficult, by making each man as he passed put a
pebble in a pile (which piles survive to mark the huge size of
Frode's army). This is, of course, a folktale, explaining the
pebble-hills and illustrating the belief in Frode's power; but
armies were mustered by such expedients of old. Burton tells of
an African army each man of whom presented an egg, as a token of
his presence and a means of taking the number of the host.
We hear of men marching in light order without even scabbards,
and getting over the ice in socks.
The war equipment and habits of the Irish, light armoured,
clipped at back of head, hurling the javelin backwards in their
feigned flight; of the Slavs, small blue targets and long swords;
of the Finns, with their darts and skees, are given.
Watches are kept, and it is noted that "uht", the early watch
after midnight, is the worst to be attacked in (the duke's two-
o'clock-in-the-morning courage being needed, and the darkness and
cold helping the enemy).
Spies were, of course, slain if discovered. But we have
instances of kings and heroes getting into foeman's camps in
disguise (cf. stories of Alfred and Anlaf).
The order of battle of Bravalla fight is given, and the ideal
array of a host. To Woden is ascribed the device of the boar's
head, hamalt fylking (the swine-head array of Manu's Indian
kings), the terrible column with wedge head which could cleave
the stoutest line.
The host of Ring has men from Wener, Wermland, Gotaelf, Thotn,
Wick, Thelemark, Throndham, Sogn, Firths, Fialer, Iceland;
Sweden, Gislamark, Sigtun, Upsala, Pannonia.
The host of Harold had men from Iceland, the Danish provinces,
Frisia, Lifland; Slavs, and men from Jom, Aland, and Sleswick.
The battle of Bravalla is said to have been won by the Gotland
archers and the men of Throndham, and the Dales. The death of
Harald by treachery completed the defeat, which began when Ubbe
fell (after he had broken the enemy's van) riddled with arrows.
The defeated, unless they could fly, got little quarter. One-
fifth only of the population of a province are said to have
survived an invasion. After sea-battles (always necessarily more
deadly) the corpses choke the harbours. Seventy sea-kings are
swept away in one sea-fight. Heads seem to have been taken in
some cases, but not as a regular Teutonic usage, and the
practice, from its being attributed to ghosts and aliens, must
have already been considered savage by Saxo, and probably by his
informants and authorities.
Prisoners were slaves; they might be killed, put to cruel death,
outraged, used as slaves, but the feeling in favour of mercy was
growing, and the cruelty of Eormenric, who used tortures to his
prisoners, of Rothe, who stripped his captives, and of Fro, who
sent captive ladies to a brothel in insult, is regarded with
Wounds were looked on as honourable, but they must be in front or
honourably got. A man who was shot through the buttocks, or
wounded in the back, was laughed at and disgraced. We hear of a
mother helping her wounded son out of battle.
That much of human interest centered round war is evident by the
mass of tradition that surrounds the subject in Saxo, both in its
public and private aspects. Quaint is the analysis of the four
kinds of warriors: (a) The Veterans, or Doughty, who kill foes
and spare flyers; (b) the Young men who kill foes and flyers too;
(c) the well-to-do, landed, and propertied men of the main levy,
who neither fight for fear nor fly for shame; (d) the worthless,
last to fight and first to fly; and curious are the remarks about
married and unmarried troops, a matter which Chaka pondered over
in later days. Homeric speeches precede the fight.
"Stratagems of War" greatly interested Saxo (probably because
Valerius Maximus, one of his most esteemed models, was much
occupied with such matters), so that he diligently records the
military traditions of the notably skillful expedients of famous
commanders of old.
There is the device for taking a town by means of the "pretended
death" of the besieging general, a device ascribed to Hastings
and many more commanders (see Steenstrup Normannerne); the plan
of "firing" a besieged town by fire-bearing birds, ascribed here
to Fridlev, in the case of Dublin to Hadding against Duna (where
it was foiled by all tame birds being chased out of the place).
There is the "Birnam Wood" stratagem, by which men advanced
behind a screen of boughs, which is even used for the concealment
of ships, and the curious legend (occurring in Irish tradition
also, and recalling Capt. B. Hall's "quaker gun" story) by which
a commander bluffs off his enemy by binding his dead to stakes in
rows, as if they were living men.
Less easy to understand are the "brazen horses" or "machines"
driven into the close lines of the enemy to crush and open them,
an invention of Gewar. The use of hooked weapons to pull down
the foes' shields and helmets was also taught to Hother by Gewar.
The use of black tents to conceal encampment; the defence of a
pass by hurling rocks from the heights; the bridge of boats
across the Elbe; and the employment of spies, and the bold
venture, ascribed in our chronicles to Alfred and Anlaf, of
visiting in disguise the enemy's camp, is here attributed to
Frode, who even assumed women's clothes for the purpose.
Frode is throughout the typical general, as he is the typical
statesman and law-giver of archaic Denmark.
There are certain heathen usages connected with war, as the
hurling of a javelin or shooting of an arrow over the enemy's
ranks as a "sacratio" to Woden of the foe at the beginning of a
battle. This is recorded in the older vernacular authorities
also, in exact accordance with the Homeric usage, "Odyssey" xxiv,
The dedication of part of the spoils to the god who gave good
omens for the war is told of the heathen Baltic peoples; but
though, as Sidonius records, it had once prevailed among the
Saxons, and, as other witnesses add, among the Scandinavian
people, the tradition is not clearly preserved by Saxo.
"Sea and Sea Warfare." -- As might be expected, there is much
mention of Wicking adventure and of maritime warfare in Saxo.
Saxo tells of Asmund's huge ship (Gnod), built high that he might
shoot down on the enemy's craft; he speaks of a ship (such as
Godwin gave as a gift to the king his master), and the monk of
St. Bertin and the court-poets have lovingly described a ship
with gold-broidered sails, gilt masts, and red-dyed rigging. One
of his ships has, like the ships in the Chansons de Geste, a
carbuncle for a lantern at the masthead. Hedin signals to Frode
by a shield at the masthead. A red shield was a peace signal, as
noted above. The practice of "strand-hewing", a great feature in
Wicking-life (which, so far as the victualling of raw meat by the
fishing fleets, and its use raw, as Mr. P. H. Emerson informs me,
still survives), is spoken of. There was great fear of monsters
attacking them, a fear probably justified by such occasional
attacks of angry whales as Melville (founding his narrative on
repeated facts) has immortalised. The whales, like Moby Dick,
were uncanny, and inspired by troll-women or witches (cf.
"Frithiof Saga" and the older "Lay of Atle and Rimegerd"). The
clever sailing of Hadding, by which he eludes pursuit, is
tantalising, for one gathers that, Saxo knows the details that he
for some reason omits. Big fleets of 150 and a monster armada of
3,000 vessels are recorded.
The ships were moved by oars and sails; they had rudders, no
doubt such as the Gokstad ship, for the hero Arrow-Odd used a
rudder as a weapon.
"Champions". -- Professed fighting men were often kept by kings
and earls about their court as useful in feud and fray. Harald
Fairhair's champions are admirably described in the contemporary
Raven Song by Hornclofe --
"Wolf-coats they call them that in battle
Bellow into bloody shields.
They wear wolves' hides when they come into the fight,
And clash their weapons together."
and Saxo's sources adhere closely to this pattern.
These "bear-sarks", or wolf-coats of Harald give rise to an O. N.
term, "bear-sarks' way", to describe the frenzy of fight and fury
which such champions indulged in, barking and howling, and biting
their shield-rims (like the ferocious "rook" in the narwhale
ivory chessmen in the British Museum) till a kind of state was
produced akin to that of the Malay when he has worked himself up
to "run-a-muck." There seems to have been in the 10th century a
number of such fellows about unemployed, who became nuisances to
their neighbours by reason of their bullying and highhandedness.
Stories are told in the Icelandic sagas of the way such persons
were entrapped and put to death by the chiefs they served when
they became too troublesome. A favourite (and fictitious)
episode in an "edited" Icelandic saga is for the hero to rescue a
lady promised to such a champion (who has bullied her father into
consent) by slaying the ruffian. It is the same "motif" as Guy
of Warwick and the Saracen lady, and one of the regular Giant and
Beside men-warriors there were "women-warriors" in the North, as
Saxo explains. He describes shield-maidens, as Alfhild, Sela,
Rusila (the Ingean Ruadh, or Red Maid of the Irish Annals, as
Steenstrup so ingeniously conjectures); and the three she-
captains, Wigbiorg, who fell on the field, Hetha, who was made
queen of Zealand, and Wisna, whose hand Starcad cut off, all
three fighting manfully at Bravalla fight.
SOCIAL LIFE AND MANNERS.
"Feasts". -- The hall-dinner was an important feature in the old
Teutonic court-life. Many a fine scene in a saga takes place in
the hall while the king and his men are sitting over their ale.
The hall decked with hangings, with its fires, lights, plate and
provisions, appears in Saxo just as in the Eddic Lays, especially
Rigsmal, and the Lives of the Norwegian Kings and Orkney Earls.
The order of seats is a great point of archaic manners.
Behaviour at table was a matter of careful observance. The
service, especially that of the cup-bearer, was minutely
regulated by etiquette. An honoured guest was welcomed by the
host rising to receive him and giving him a seat near himself,
but less distinguished visitors were often victims to the rough
horseplay of the baser sort, and of the wanton young gentleman at
court. The food was simple, boiled beef and pork, and mutton
without sauce, ale served in horns from the butt. Roast meat,
game, sauces, mead, and flagons set on the table, are looked on
by Starcad as foreign luxuries, and Germany was credited with
"Mimes and jugglers", who went through the country or were
attached to the lord's court to amuse the company, were a
despised race because of their ribaldry, obscenity, cowardice,
and unabashed self-debasement; and their newfangled dances and
piping were loathsome to the old court-poets, who accepted the
harp alone as an instrument of music.
The story that once a king went to war with his jugglers and they
ran away, would represent the point of view of the old house-
carle, who was neglected, though "a first-class fighting man",
for these debauched foreign buffoons.
GODS AND GODDESSES. -- The gods spring, according to Saxo's
belief, from a race of sorcerers, some of whom rose to
pre-eminence and expelled and crushed the rest, ending the
"wizard-age", as the wizards had ended the monster or
That they were identic with the classic gods he is inclined to
believe, but his difficulty is that in the week-days we have
Jove : Thor; Mercury : Woden; whereas it is perfectly well known
that Mercury is Jove's son, and also that Woden is the father of
Thor -- a comic "embarras". That the persians the heathens
worshipped as gods existed, and that they were men and women
false and powerful, Saxo plainly believes. He has not Snorre's
appreciation of the humorous side of the mythology. He is ironic
and scornful, but without the kindly, naive fun of the Icelander.
The most active god, the Dane's chief god (as Frey is the Swede's
god, and patriarch), is "Woden". He appears in heroic life as
patron of great heroes and kings. Cf. "Hyndla-Lay", where it is
said of Woden: --
"Let us pray the Father of Hosts to be gracious to us!
He granteth and giveth gold to his servants,
He gave Heremod a helm and mail-coat,
And Sigmund a sword to take.
He giveth victory to his sons, to his followers wealth,
Ready speech to his children and wisdom to men.
Fair wind to captains, and song to poets;
He giveth luck in love to many a hero."
He appears under various disguises and names, but usually as a
one-eyed old man, cowled and hooded; sometimes with another, bald
and ragged, as before the battle Hadding won; once as "Hroptr", a
huge man skilled in leechcraft, to Ragnar's son Sigfrid.
Often he is a helper in battle or doomer of feymen. As "Lysir",
a rover of the sea, he helps Hadding. As veteran slinger and
archer he helps his favourite Hadding; as charioteer, "Brune", he
drives Harald to his death in battle. He teaches Hadding how to
array his troops. As "Yggr" the prophet he advises the hero and
the gods. As "Wecha" (Waer) the leech he woos Wrinda. He
invented the wedge array. He can grant charmed lives to his
favourites against steel. He prophesies their victories and
death. He snatches up one of his disciples, sets him on his
magic horse that rides over seas in the air, as in Skida-runa the
god takes the beggar over the North Sea. His image (like that of
Frey in the Swedish story of Ogmund dytt and Gunnar helming,
"Flatey book", i, 335) could speak by magic power.
Of his life and career Saxo gives several episodes.
Woden himself dwelt at Upsala and Byzantium (Asgard); and the
northern kings sent him a golden image ring-bedecked, which he
made to speak oracles. His wife Frigga stole the bracelets and
played him false with a servant, who advised her to destroy and
rob the image.
When Woden was away (hiding the disgrace brought on him hy Frigga
his wife), an imposter, Mid Odin, possibly Loke in disguise,
usurped his place at Upsala, instituted special drink-offerings,
fled to Finland on Woden's return, and was slain by the Fins and
laid in barrow. But the barrow smote all that approached it with
death, till the body was unearthed, beheaded, and impaled, a
well-known process for stopping the haunting of an obnoxious or
Woden had a son Balder, rival of Hother for the love of Nanna,
daughter of King Gewar. Woden and Thor his son fought for him
against Hother, but in vain, for Hother won the laity and put
Balder to shameful flight; however, Balder, half-frenzied by his
dreams of Nanna, in turn drove him into exile (winning the lady);
finally Hother, befriended hy luck and the Wood Maidens, to whom
he owed his early successes and his magic coat, belt, and girdle
(there is obvious confusion here in the text), at last met Balder
and stabbed him in the side. Of this wound Balder died in three
days, as was foretold by the awful dream in which Proserpina
(Hela) appeared to him. Balder's grand burial, his barrow, and
the magic flood which burst from it when one Harald tried to
break into it, and terrified the robbers, are described.
The death of Balder led Woden to seek revenge. Hrossthiof the
wizard, whom he consulted, told him he must beget a son by
"Wrinda" (Rinda, daughter of the King of the Ruthenians), who
should avenge his half-brother.
Woden's wooing is the best part of this story, half spoilt,
however, by euhemeristic tone and lack of epic dignity. He woos
as a victorious warrior, and receives a cuff; as a generous
goldsmith, and gets a buffet; as a handsome soldier, earning a
heavy knock-down blow; but in the garb of a women as Wecha
(Wakr), skilled in leechcraft, he won his way by trickery; and
("Wale") "Bous" was born, who, after some years, slew Hother in
battle, and died himself of his wounds. Bous' barrow in
Bohusland, Balder's haven, Balder's well, are named as local
attestations of the legend, which is in a late form, as it seems.
The story of Woden's being banished for misbehaviour, and
especially for sorcery and for having worn woman's attire to
trick Wrinda, his replacement by "Wuldor" ("Oller"), a high
who assumed Woden's name and flourished for ten years, but was
ultimately expelled by the returning Woden, and killed by the
Danes in Sweden, is in the same style. But Wuldor's bone vessel
is an old bit of genuine tradition mangled. It would cross the
sea as well as a ship could, by virtue of certain spells marked
Of "Frey", who appears as "satrapa" of the gods at Upsala, and as
the originator of human sacrifice, and as appeased by black
victims, at a sacrifice called Froblod (Freys-blot) instituted by
Hadding, who began it as an atonement for having slain a
sea-monster, a deed for which he had incurred a curse. The
priapic and generative influences of Frey are only indicated by a
curious tradition mentioned. It almost looks as if there had
once been such an institution at Upsala as adorned the Phoenician
temples, under Frey's patronage and for a symbolic means of
"Thunder", or "Thor", is Woden's son, strongest of gods or men,
patron of Starcad, whom he turned, by pulling off four arms, from
a monster to a man.
He fights by Woden's side and Balder's against Hother, by whose
magic wand his club (hammer) was lopped off part of its shaft, a
wholly different and, a much later version than the one Snorre
gives in the prose Edda. Saxo knows of Thor's journey to the
haunt of giant Garfred (Geirrod) and his three daughters, and of
the hurling of the iron "bloom", and of the crushing of the
giantesses, though he does not seem to have known of the river-
feats of either the ladies or Thor, if we may judge (never a safe
thing wholly) by his silence.
Whether "Tew" is meant by the Mars of the Song of the Voice is
not evident. Saxo may only be imitating the repeated catch-word
"war" of the original.
"Loke" appears as Utgard-Loke, Loke of the skirts of the World,
as it were; is treated as a venomous giant bound in agony under a
serpent-haunted cavern (no mention is made of "Sigyn" or her
"Hela" seems to be meant by Saxo's Proserpina.
"Nanna" is the daughter of Gewar, and Balder sees her bathing and
falls in love with her, as madly as Frey with Gertha in
"Freya", the mistress of Od, the patroness of Othere the homely,
the sister of Frey-Frode, and daughter of Niord-Fridlaf, appears
as Gunwara Eric's love and Syritha Ottar's love and the hair-
clogged maiden, as Dr. Rydberg has shown.
The gods can disguise their form, change their shape, are often
met in a mist, which shrouds them save from the right person;
they appear and disappear at will. For the rest they have the
mental and physical characteristics of the kings and queens they
protect or persecute so capriciously. They can be seen by making
a magic sign and looking through a witch's arm held akimbo. They
are no good comates for men or women, and to meddle with a
goddess or nymph or giantess was to ensure evil or death for a
man. The god's loves were apparently not always so fatal, though
there seems to be some tradition to that effect. Most of the
god-sprung heroes are motherless or unborn (i.e., born like
Macduff by the Caesarean operation) -- Sigfred, in the Eddic Lays
Besides the gods, possibly older than they are, and presumably
mightier, are the "Fates" (Norns), three Ladies who are met with
together, who fulfil the parts of the gift-fairies of our
Sleeping Beauty tales, and bestow endowments on the new-born
child, as in the beautiful "Helge Lay", a point of the story
which survives in Ogier of the Chansons de Geste, wherein Eadgar
(Otkerus or Otgerus) gets what belonged to Holger (Holge), the
Helga of "Beowulf's Lay". The caprices of the Fates, where one
corrects or spoils the others' endowments, are seen in Saxo, when
beauty, bounty, and meanness are given together. They sometimes
meet heroes, as they met Helgi in the Eddic Lay (Helgi and Sigrun
Lay), and help or begift them; they prepare the magic broth for
Balder, are charmed with Hother's lute-playing, and bestow on him
a belt of victory and a girdle of splendour, and prophesy things
The verse in Biarca-mal, where "Pluto weaves the dooms of the
mighty and fills Phlegethon with noble shapes," recalls
Darrada-liod, and points to Woden as death-doomer of the warrior.
"Giants". -- These are stupid, mischievous, evil and cunning in
Saxo's eyes. Oldest of beings, with chaotic force and
exuberance, monstrous in extravagant vitality.
The giant nature of the older troll-kind is abhorrent to man and
woman. But a giantess is enamoured of a youth she had fostered,
and giants carry off king's daughters, and a three-bodied giant
captures young children.
Giants live in caves by the sea, where they keep their treasure.
One giant, Unfoot (Ofoti), is a shepherd, like Polyphemus, and
has a famous dog which passed into the charge of Biorn, and won a
battle; a giantess is keeping goats in the wilds. A giant's fury
is so great that it takes twelve champions to control him, when
the rage is on him. The troll (like our Puss-in-Boots Ogre) can
take any shape.
Monstrous apparitions are mentioned, a giant hand (like that in
one story of Finn) searching for its prey among the inmates of a
booth in the wilds. But this Grendel-like arm is torn off by a
giantess, Hardgrip, daughter of Wainhead and niece possibly of
The voice heard at night prophesying is that of some god or
monster, possibly Woden himself.
"Dwarves". -- These Saxo calls Satyrs, and but rarely mentions.
The dwarf Miming, who lives in the desert, has a precious sword
of sharpness (Mistletoe?) that could even pierce skin-hard
Balder, and a ring (Draupnir) that multiplied itself for its
possessor. He is trapped by the hero and robbed of his
FUNERAL RITES AND MAN'S FUTURE STATE.
"Barrow-burials". -- The obsequies of great men (such as the
classic funeral of "Beowulf's Lay", 3138-80) are much noticed by
Saxo, and we might expect that he knew such a poem (one similar
to Ynglingatal, but not it) which, like the Books of the Kings of
Israel and Judah, recorded the deaths and burials, as well as the
pedigrees and deeds, of the Danish kings.
The various stages of the "obsequy by fire" are noted; the byre
sometimes formed out of a ship; the "sati"; the devoted bower-
maidens choosing to die with their mistress, the dead man's
beloved (cf. The Eddic funerals of Balder, Sigfred, and Brunhild,
in the Long "Brunhild's Lay", Tregrof Gudrumar and the lost poem
of Balder's death paraphrased in the prose Edda); the last
message given to the corpse on the pyre (Woden's last words to
Balder are famous); the riding round the pyre; the eulogium; the
piling of the barrow, which sometimes took whole days, as the
size of many existing grass mounds assure us; the funeral feast,
where an immense vat of ale or mead is drunk in honor of the
dead; the epitaph, like an ogham, set up on a stone over the
The inclusion of a live man with the dead in a barrow, with the
live or fresh-slain beasts (horse and bound) of the dead man,
seems to point to a time or district when burning was not used.
Apparently, at one time, judging from Frode's law, only chiefs
and warriors were burnt.
Not to bury was, as in Hellas, an insult to the dead, reserved
for the bodies of hated foes. Conquerors sometimes show their
magnanimity (like Harald Godwineson) by offering to bury their
The buried "barrow-ghost" was formidable; he could rise and slay
and eat, vampire-like, as in the tale of Asmund and Aswit. He
must in such case be mastered and prevented doing further harm by
decapitation and thigh-forking, or by staking and burning. So
criminals' bodies were often burnt to stop possible haunting.
Witches and wizards could raise corpses by spells to make them
prophesy. The dead also appeared in visions, usually foretelling
death to the person they visited.
OTHER WORLDS. -- The "Land of Undeath" is spoken of as a place
reached by an exiled hero in his wanderings. We know it from
Eric the traveller's S., Helge Thoreson's S., Herrand and Bose
S., Herwon S., Thorstan Baearmagn S., and other Icelandic
sources. But the voyage to the Other Worlds are some of the most
remarkable of the narratives Saxo has preserved for us.
"Hadding's Voyage Underground". -- (a) A woman bearing in her
lap angelica fresh and green, though it was deep winter, appears
to the hero at supper, raising her head beside the brazier.
Hadding wishes to know where such plants grow.
(b) She takes him with her, under cover of her mantle,
(c) They pierce a mist, get on a road worn by long use, pass
nobly-clad men, and reach the sunny fields that bear the
"Through griesly shadowes by a beaten path,
Into a garden goodly garnished."
-- F.Q. ii. 7, 51.
(d) Next they cross, by a bridge, the "River of Blades", and see
"two armies fighting", ghosts of slain soldiers.
(e) Last they came to a high wall, which surrounds the land of
Life, for a cock the woman brought with her, whose neck she wrung
and tossed over this wall, came to life and crowed merrily.
Here the story breaks off. It is unfinished, we are only told
that Hadfling got back. Why he was taken to this under-world?
Who took him? What followed therefrom? Saxo does not tell. It
is left to us to make out.
That it is an archaic story of the kind in the Thomas of
Ercildoune and so many more fairy-tales, e.g., Kate Crack-a-Nuts,
is certain. The "River of Blades" and "The Fighting Warriors"
are known from the Eddic Poems. The angelica is like the green
birk of that superb fragment, the ballad of the Wife of Usher's
Well -- a little more frankly heathen, of course --
"It fell about the Martinmas, when nights are long and mirk,
The carline wife's three sons cam hame, and their hats were
o' the birk.
It neither grew in syke nor dyke, nor yet in ony sheugh,
But at the gates o' Paradise that birk grew fair eneuch."
The mantel is that of Woden when he bears the hero over seas; the
cock is a bird of sorcery the world over; the black fowl is the
proper gift to the Underground powers -- a heriot really, for did
not the Culture god steal all the useful beasts out of the
underground world for men's use?
Dr. Rydberg has shown that the "Seven Sleepers" story is an old
Northern myth, alluded to here in its early pre-Christian form,
and that with this is mixed other incidents from voyages of
Swipdag, the Teutonic Odusseus.
"Thorkill's Second Voyage to Outgarth-Loke to get Knowledge". --
(a) Guthrum is troubled as to the immortality and fate of the
soul, and the reward of piety after death. To spite Thorkill,
his enviers advised the king to send him to consult Outgarth-
Loke. He required of the king that his enemies should be sent
(b) In one well-stored and hide-defended ship they set out,
reached a sunless, starless land, without fuel; ate raw food and
suffered. At last, after many days, a fire was seen ashore.
Thorkill, setting a jewel at the mast-head to be able to regain
his vessel easily, rows ashore to get fire.
(c) In a filthy, snake-paved, stinking cavern he sees two horny-
nebbed giants, (2) making a fire. One of the giants offers to
direct him to Loke if he will say three true things in three
phrases, and this done, tells him to row four days and then he
would reach a Dark and Grassless Land. For three more true
sayings he obtains fire, and gets back to his vessel.
(d) With good wind they make Grassless Land, go ashore, find a
huge, rocky cavern, strike a flint to kindle a fire at the
entrance as a safeguard against demons, and a torch to light them
as they explored the cavern.
(e) First appears iron seats set amid crawling snakes.
(f) Next is sluggish water flowing over sand.
(g) Last a steep, sloping cavern is reached, in a chamber of
which lay Outgarth-Loke chained, huge and foul.
(h) Thorkill plucks a hair of his beard "as big as a cornel-wood
spear." The stench that arose was fearful; the demens and snakes
fell upon the invaders at once; only Thorkill and five of the
crew, who had sheltered themselves with hides against the
virulent poison the demons and snakes cast, which would take a
head off at the neck if it fell upon it, got back to their ship.
(i) By vow to the "God that made the world", and offerings, a
good voyage was made back, and Germany reached, where Thorkill
became a Christian. Only two of his men survived the effects of
the poison and stench, and he himself was scarred and spoilt in
(k) When he reached the king, Guthrum would not listen to his
tale, because it was prophesied to him that he would die suddenly
if he heard it; nay, he even sent men to smite him as he lay in
bed, but, by the device of laying a log in his place, he escaped,
and going to the king as he sat at meat, reproached him for his
(l) Guthrum bade him tell his story, but died of horror at
hearing his god Loke foully spoken of, while the stench of the
hair that Thorkill produced, as Othere did his horn for a voucher
of his speech, slew many bystanders.
This is the regular myth of Loke, punished by the gods, lying
bound with his own soils' entrails on three sharp stones and a
sword-blade, (this latter an addition, when the myth was made
stones were the only blades), with snakes' venom dripping on to
him, so that when it falls on him he shakes with pain and makes
earthquakes -- a Titan myth in answer to the question, "Why does
the earth quake?" The vitriolic power of the poison is
excellently expressed in the story. The plucking of the hair as
a token is like the plucking of a horn off the giant or devil
that occurs in some folk-tale.
MAGIC AND FOLK-SCIENCE.
There is a belief in magic throughout Saxo's work, showing how
fresh heathendom still was in men's minds and memories. His
explanations, when he euhemerizes, are those of his day.
By means of spells all kinds of wonders could be effected, and
the powers of nature forced to work for the magician or his
"Skin-changing" (so common in "Landnamaboc") was as well known as
in the classic world of Lucian and Apuleius; and, where Frode
perishes of the attacks of a witch metamorphosed into a walrus.
"Mist" is induced by spells to cover and hide persons, as in
Homer, and "glamour" is produced by spells to dazzle foemen's
sight. To cast glamour and put confusion into a besieged place a
witch is employed by the beleaguerer, just as William the
Conqueror used the witch in the Fens against Hereward's
fortalice. A soothsayer warns Charles the Great of the coming of
a Danish fleet to the Seine's mouth.
"Rain and bad weather" may be brought on, as in a battle against
the enemy, but in this, as in other instances, the spell may be
"Panic Terror" may be induced by the spell worked with a dead
horse's head set up on a pole facing the antagonist, but the
spell may be met and combatted by silence and a counter-curse.
"Magic help" may be got by calling on the friendly magician's
name. The magician has also the power of summoning to him
anyone, however unwilling, to appear.
Of spells and magic power to blunt steel there are several
instances; they may be counteracted (as in the Icelandic Sagas)
by using the hilt, or a club, or covering the blade with fine
skin. In another case the champion can only be overcome by one
that will take up some of the dust from under his feet. This is
effected by the combatants shifting their ground and exchanging
places. In another case the foeman can only be slain by gold,
whereupon the hero has a gold-headed mace made and batters the
life out of him therewith. The brothers of Swanhild cannot be
cut by steel, for their mail was charmed by the witch Gudrun, but
Woden taught Eormenric, the Gothic king, how to overcome them
with stones (which apparently cannot, as archaic weapons, be
charmed against at all, resisting magic like wood and water and
fire). Jordanis tells the true history of Ermanaric, that great
Gothic emperor whose rule from the Dnieper to the Baltic and
Rhine and Danube, and long reign of prosperity, were broken by
the coming of the Huns. With him vanished the first great
Magic was powerful enough even to raise the dead, as was
practised by the Perms, who thus renewed their forces after a
battle. In the Everlasting battle the combatants were by some
strange trick of fate obliged to fulfil a perennial weird (like
the unhappy Vanderdecken). Spells to wake the dead were written
on wood and put under the corpses' tongue. Spells (written on
bark) induce frenzy.
"Charms" would secure a man against claw or tooth.
"Love philtres" (as in the long "Lay of Gudrun) appear as
everywhere in savage and archaic society.
"Food", porridge mixed with the slaver of tortured snakes, gives
magic strength or endues the eater with eloquence and knowledge