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The Danish History, Books I-IX* by Saxo Grammaticus ("Saxo the Learned")

Part 8 out of 9

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So sang Starkad. At last, when he found by their talk that
Hather was the son of Hlenne, and saw that the youth was of
illustrious birth, he offered him his throat to smite, bidding
him not to shrink from punishing the slayer of his father. He
promised him that if he did so he should possess the gold which
he had himself received from Hlenne. And to enrage his heart
more vehemently against him, he is said to have harangued him as

"Moreover, Hather, I robbed thee of thy father Hlenne; requite me
this, I pray, and strike down the old man who longs to die; aim
at my throat with the avenging steel. For my soul chooses the
service of a noble smiter, and shrinks to ask its doom at a
coward's hand. Righteously may a man choose to forstall the
ordinance of doom. What cannot be escaped it will be lawful also
to anticipate. The fresh tree must be fostered, the old one hewn
down. He is nature's instrument who destroys what is near its
doom and strikes down what cannot stand. Death is best when it
is sought: and when the end is loved, life is wearisome. Let not
the troubles of age prolong a miserable lot."

So saying, he took money from his pouch and gave it him. But
Hather, desiring as much to enjoy the gold as to accomplish
vengeance for his father, promised that he would comply with his
prayer, and would not refuse the reward. Starkad eagerly handed
him the sword, and at once stooped his neck beneath it,
counselling him not to do the smiter's work timidly, or use the
sword like a woman; and telling him that if, when he had killed
him, he could spring between the head and the trunk before the
corpse fell, he would be rendered proof against arms. It is not
known whether he said this in order to instruct his executioner
or to punish him, for perhaps, as he leapt, the bulk of the huge
body would have crushed him. So Hather smote sharply with the
sword and hacked off the head of the old man. When the severed
head struck the ground, it is said to have bitten the earth; thus
the fury of the dying lips declared the fierceness of the soul.
But the smiter, thinking that the promise hid some treachery,
warily refrained from leaping. Had he done so rashly, perhaps he
would have been crushed by the corpse as it fell, and have paid
with his own life for the old man's murder. But he would not
allow so great a champion to lie unsepulchred, and had his body
buried in the field that is commonly called Rolung.

Now Omund, as I have heard, died most tranquilly, while peace was
unbroken, leaving two sons and two daughters. The eldest of
these, SIWARD, came to the throne by right of birth, while his
brother Budle was still of tender years. At this time Gotar,
King of the Swedes, conceived boundless love for one of the
daughters of Omund, because of the report of her extraordinary
beauty, and entrusted one Ebb, the son of Sibb, with the
commission of asking for the maiden. Ebb did his work skilfully,
and brought back the good news that the girl had consented.
Nothing was now lacking to Gotar's wishes but the wedding; but,
as he feared to hold this among strangers, he demanded that his
betrothed should be sent to him in charge of Ebb, whom he had
before used as envoy.

Ebb was crossing Halland with a very small escort, and went for a
night's lodging to a country farm, where the dwellings of two
brothers faced one another on the two sides of a river. Now
these men used to receive folk hospitably and then murder them,
but were skilful to hide their brigandage under a show of
generosity. For they had hung on certain hidden chains, in a
lofty part of the house, an oblong beam like a press, and
furnished it with a steel point; they used to lower this in the
night by letting down the fastenings, and cut off the heads of
those that lay below. Many had they beheaded in this way with
the hanging mass. So when Ebb and his men had been feasted
abundantly, the servants laid them out a bed near the hearth, so
that by the swing of the treacherous beam they might mow off
their heads, which faced the fire. When they departed, Ebb,
suspecting the contrivance slung overhead, told his men to feign
slumber and shift their bodies, saying that it would be very
wholesome for them to change their place.

Now among these were some who despised the orders which the
others obeyed, and lay unmoved, each in the spot where he had
chanced to lie down. Then towards the mirk of night the heavy
hanging machine was set in motion by the doers of the treachery.
Loosened from the knots of its fastening, it fell violently on
the ground, and slew those beneath it. Thereupon those who had
the charge of committing the crime brought in a light, that they
might learn clearly what had happened, and saw that Ebb, on whose
especial account they had undertaken the affair, had wisely been
equal to the danger. He straightway set on them and punished
them with death; and also, after losing his men in the mutual
slaughter, he happened to find a vessel, crossed a river full of
blocks of ice, and announced to Gotar the result, not so much of
his mission as of his mishap.

Gotar judged that this affair had been inspired by Siward, and
prepared to avenge his wrongs by arms. Siward, defeated by him
in Halland, retreated into Jutland, the enemy having taken his
sister. Here he conquered the common people of the Sclavs, who
ventured to fight without a leader; and he won as much honour
from this victory as he had got disgrace by his flight. But a
little afterwards, the men whom he had subdued when they were
ungeneraled, found a general and defeated Siward in Funen.
Several times he fought them in Jutland, but with ill-success.
The result was that he lost both Skaane and Jutland, and only
retained the middle of his realm without the head, like the
fragments of some body that had been consumed away. His son
Jarmerik (Eormunrec), with his child-sisters, fell into the hands
of the enemy; one of these was sold to the Germans, the other to
the Norwegians; for in old time marriages were matters of
purchase. Thus the kingdom of the Danes, which had been enlarged
with such valour, made famous by such ancestral honours, and
enriched by so many conquests, fell, all by the sloth of one man,
from the most illustrious fortune and prosperity into such
disgrace that it paid the tribute which it used to exact. But
Siward, too often defeated and guilty of shameful flights, could
not endure, after that glorious past, to hold the troubled helm
of state any longer in this shameful condition of his land; and,
fearing that living longer might strip him of his last shred of
glory, he hastened to win an honourable death in battle. For his
soul could not forget his calamity, it was fain to cast off its
sickness, and was racked with weariness of life. So much did he
abhor the light of life in his longing to wipe out his shame. So
he mustered his army for battle, and openly declared war with one
Simon, who was governor of Skaane under Gotar. This war he
pursued with stubborn rashness; he slew Simon, and ended his own
life amid a great slaughter of his foes. Yet his country could
not be freed from the burden of the tribute.

Jarmerik, meantime, with his foster-brother of the same age as
himself, Gunn, was living in prison, in charge of Ismar, the King
of the Sclavs. At last he was taken out and put to agriculture,
doing the work of a peasant. So actively did he manage this
matter that he was transferred and made master of the royal
slaves. As he likewise did this business most uprightly, he was
enrolled in the band of the king's retainers. Here he bore
himself most pleasantly as courtiers use, and was soon taken into
the number of the king's friends and obtained the first place in
his intimacy; thus, on the strength of a series of great
services, he passed from the lowest estate to the most
distinguished height of honour. Also, loth to live a slack and
enfeebled youth, he trained himself to the pursuits of war,
enriching his natural gifts by diligence. All men loved
Jarmerik, and only the queen mistrusted the young man's temper.
A sudden report told them that the king's brother had died.
Ismar, wishing to give his body a splendid funeral, prepared a
banquet of royal bounty to increase the splendour of the

But Jarmerik, who used at other times to look after the household
affairs together with the queen, began to cast about for means of
escape; for a chance seemed to be offered by the absence of the
king. For he saw that even in the lap of riches he would be the
wretched thrall of a king, and that he would draw, as it were,
his very breath on sufferance and at the gift of another.
Moreover, though he held the highest offices with the king, he
thought that freedom was better than delights, and burned with a
mighty desire to visit his country and learn his lineage. But,
knowing that the queen had provided sufficient guards to see that
no prisoner escaped, he saw that he must approach by craft where
he could not arrive by force. So he plaited one of those baskets
of rushes and withies, shaped like a man, with which countrymen
used to scare the birds from the corn, and put a live dog in it;
then he took off his own clothes, and dressed it in them, to give
a more plausible likeness to a human being. Then he broke into
the private treasury of the king, took out the money, and hid
himself in places of which he alone knew.

Meantime Gunn, whom he had told to conceal the absence of his
friend, took the basket into the palace and stirred up the dog to
bark; and when the queen asked what this was, he answered that
Jarmerik was out of his mind and howling. She, beholding the
effigy, was deceived by the likeness, and ordered that the madman
should be cast out of the house. Then Gunn took the effigy out
and put it to bed, as though it were his distraught friend. But
towards night he plied the watch bountifully with wine and festal
mirth, cut off their heads as they slept, and set them at their
groins, in order to make their slaying more shameful. The queen,
roused by the din, and wishing to learn the reason of it, hastily
rushed to the doors. But while she unwarily put forth her head,
the sword of Gunn suddenly pierced her through. Feeling a mortal
wound, she sank, turned her eyes on her murderer, and said, "Had
it been granted me to live unscathed, no screen or treachery
should have let thee leave this land unpunished." A flood of
such threats against her slayer poured from her dying lips.

Then Jarmerik, with Gunn, the partner of his noble deed, secretly
set fire to the tent wherein the king was celebrating with a
banquet the obsequies of his brother; all the company were
overcome with liquor. The fire filled the tent and spread all
about; and some of them, shaking off the torpor of drink, took
horse and pursued those who had endangered them. But the young
men fled at first on the beasts they had taken; and at last, when
these were exhausted with their long gallop, took to flight on
foot. They were all but caught, when a river saved them. For
they crossed a bridge, of which, in order to delay the pursuer,
they first cut the timbers down to the middle, thus making it not
only unequal to a burden, but ready to come down; then they
retreated into a dense morass.

The Sclavs pressed on them hard and, not forseeing the danger,
unwarily put the weight of their horses on the bridge; the
flooring sank, and they were shaken off and flung into the river.
But, as they swam up to the bank, they were met by Gunn and
Jarmerik, and either drowned or slain. Thus the young men showed
great cunning, and did a deed beyond their years, being more like
sagacious old men than runaway slaves, and successfully achieving
their shrewd design. When they reached the strand they seized a
vessel chance threw in their way, and made for the deep. The
barbarians who pursued them, tried, when they saw them sailing
off, to bring them back by shouting promises after them that they
should be kings if they returned; "for, by the public statute of
the ancients, the succession was appointed to the slayers of the
kings." As they retreated, their ears were long deafened by the
Sclavs obstinately shouting their treacherous promises.

At this time BUDLE, the brother of Siward, was Regent over the
Danes, who forced him to make over the kingdom to JARMERIK when
he came; so that Budle fell from a king into a common man. At
the same time Gotar charged Sibb with debauching his sister, and
slew him. Sibb's kindred, much angered by his death, came
wailing to Jarmerik, and promised to attack Gotar with him, in
order to avenge their kinsman. They kept their promise well, for
Jarmerik, having overthrown Gotar by their help, gained Sweden.
Thus, holding the sovereignty of both nations, he was encouraged
by his increased power to attack the Sclavs, forty of whom he
took and hung with a wolf tied to each of them. This kind of
punishment was assigned of old to those who slew their own
kindred; but he chose to inflict it upon enemies, that all might
see plainly, just from their fellowship with ruthless beasts, how
grasping they had shown themselves towards the Danes.

When Jarmerik had conquered the country, he posted garrisons in
all the fitting places, and departing thence, he made a slaughter
of the Sembs and the Kurlanders, and many nations of the East.
The Sclavs, thinking that this employment of the king gave them a
chance of revolting, killed the governors whom he had appointed,
and ravaged Denmark. Jarmerik, on his way back from roving,
chanced to intercept their fleet, and destroyed it, a deed which
added honour to his roll of conquests. He also put their nobles
to death in a way that one would weep to see; namely, by first
passing thongs through their legs, and then tying them to the
hoofs of savage bulls; then hounds set on them and dragged them
into miry swamps. This deed took the edge off the valour of the
Sclavs, and they obeyed the authority of the king in fear and

Jarmerik, enriched with great spoils, wished to provide a safe
storehouse for his booty, and built on a lofty hill a treasure-
house of marvellous handiwork. Gathering sods, he raised a
mound, laying a mass of rocks for the foundation, and girt the
lower part with a rampart, the centre with rooms, and the top
with battlements. All round he posted a line of sentries without
a break. Four huge gates gave free access on the four sides; and
into this lordly mansion he heaped all his splendid riches.
Having thus settled his affairs at home, he again turned his
ambition abroad. He began to voyage, and speedily fought a naval
battle with four brothers whom he met on the high seas,
Hellespontines by race, and veteran rovers. After this battle
had lasted three days, he ceased fighting, having bargained for
their sister and half the tribute which they had imposed on those
they had conquered.

After this, Bikk, the son of the King of the Livonians, escaped
from the captivity in which he lay under these said brothers, and
went to Jarmerik. But he did not forget his wrongs, Jarmerik
having long before deprived him of his own brothers. He was
received kindly by the king, in all whose secret counsels he soon
came to have a notable voice; and, as soon as he found the king
pliable to his advice in all things, he led him, when his counsel
was asked, into the most abominable acts, and drove him to commit
crimes and infamies. Thus he sought some device to injure the
king by a feint of loyalty, and tried above all to steel him
against his nearest of blood; attempting to accomplish the
revenge of his brother by guile, since he could not by force. So
it came to pass that the king embraced filthy vices instead of
virtues, and made himself generally hated by the cruel deeds
which he committed at the instance of his treacherous adviser.
Even the Sclavs began to rise against him; and, as a means of
quelling them, he captured their leaders, passed a rope through
their shanks, and delivered them to be torn asunder by horses
pulling different ways. So perished their chief men, punished
for their stubbornness of spirit by having their bodies rent
apart. This kept the Sclavs duly obedient in unbroken and steady

Meantime, the sons of Jarmerik's sister, who had all been born
and bred in Germany, took up arms, on the strength of their
grandsire's title, against their uncle, contending that they had
as good a right to the throne as he. The king demolished their
strongholds in Germany with engines, blockaded or took several
towns, and returned home with a bloodless victory. The
Hellespontines came to meet him, proffering their sister for the
promised marriage. After this had been celebrated, at Bikk's
prompting he again went to Germany, took his nephews in war, and
incontinently hanged them. He also got together the chief men
under the pretence of a banquet and had them put to death in the
same fashion.

Meantime, the king appointed Broder, his son by another marriage,
to have charge over his stepmother, a duty which he fulfilled
with full vigilance and integrity. But Bikk accused this man to
his father of incest; and, to conceal the falsehood of the
charge, suborned witnesses against him. When the plea of the
accusation had been fully declared, Broder could not bring any
support for his defence, and his father bade his friends pass
sentence upon the convicted man, thinking it less impious to
commit the punishment proper for his son to the judgment of
others. All thought that he deserved outlawry except Bikk, who
did not shrink from giving a more terrible vote against his life,
and declaring that the perpetrator of an infamous seduction ought
to be punished with hanging. But lest any should think that this
punishment was due to the cruelty of his father, Bikk judged
that, when he had been put in the noose, the servants should hold
him up on a beam put beneath him, so that, when weariness made
them take their hands from the burden, they might be as good as
guilty of the young man's death, and by their own fault exonerate
the king from an unnatural murder. He also pretended that,
unless the accused were punished, he would plot against his
father's life. The adulteress Swanhild, he said, ought to suffer
a shameful end, trampled under the hoofs of beasts.

The king yielded to Bikk; and, when his son was to be hanged, he
made the bystanders hold him up by means of a plank, that he
might not be choked. Thus his throat was only a little squeezed,
the knot was harmless, and it was but a punishment in show. But
the king had the queen tied very tight on the ground, and
delivered her to be crushed under the hoofs of horses. The story
goes that she was so beautiful, that even the beasts shrank from
mangling limbs so lovely with their filthy feet. The king,
divining that this proclaimed the innocence of his wife, began to
repent of his error, and hastened to release the slandered lady.
But meantime Bikk rushed up, declaring that when she was on her
back she held off the beasts by awful charms, and could only be
crushed if she lay on her face; for he knew that her beauty saved
her. When the body of the queen was placed in this manner, the
herd of beasts was driven upon it, and trod it down deep with
their multitude of feet. Such was the end of Swanhild.

Meantime, the favourite dog of Broder came creeping to the king
making a sort of moan, and seemed to bewail its master's
punishment; and his hawk, when it was brought in, began to pluck
out its breast-feathers with its beak. The king took its
nakedness as an omen of his bereavement, to frustrate which he
quickly sent men to take his son down from the noose: for he
divined by the featherless bird that he would be childless unless
he took good heed. Thus Broder was freed from death, and Bikk,
fearing he would pay the penalty of an informer, went and told
the men of the Hellespont that Swanhild had been abominably slain
by her husband. When they set sail to avenge their sister, he
came back to Jarmerik, and told him that the Hellespontines were
preparing war.

The king thought that it would be safer to fight with walls than
in the field, and retreated into the stronghold which he had
built. To stand the siege, he filled its inner parts with
stores, and its battlements with men-at-arms. Targets and
shields flashing with gold were hung round and adorned the
topmost circle of the building.

It happened that the Hellespontines, before sharing their booty,
accused a great band of their men of embezzling, and put them to
death. Having now destroyed so large a part of their forces by
internecine slaughter, they thought that their strength was not
equal to storming the palace, and consulted a sorceress named
Gudrun. She brought it to pass that the defenders of the king's
side were suddenly blinded and turned their arms against one
another. When the Hellespontines saw this, they brought up a
shield-mantlet, and seized the approaches of the gates. Then
they tore up the posts, burst into the building, and hewed down
the blinded ranks of the enemy. In this uproar Odin appeared,
and, making for the thick of the ranks of the fighters, restored
by his divine power to the Danes that vision which they had lost
by sleights; for he ever cherished them with fatherly love. He
instructed them to shower stones to batter the Hellespontines,
who used spells to harden their bodies against weapons. Thus
both companies slew one another and perished. Jarmerik lost both
feet and both hands, and his trunk was rolled among the dead.
BRODER, little fit for it, followed him as king.

The next king was SIWALD. His son SNIO took vigorously to roving
in his father's old age, and not only preserved the fortunes of
his country, but even restored them, lessened as they were, to
their former estate. Likewise, when he came to the sovereignty,
he crushed the insolence of the champions Eskil and Alkil, and by
this conquest reunited to his country Skaane, which had been
severed from the general jurisdiction of Denmark. At last he
conceived a passion for the daughter of the King of the Goths; it
was returned, and he sent secret messengers to seek a chance of
meeting her. These men were intercepted by the father of the
damsel and hanged: thus paying dearly for their rash mission.
Snio, wishing to avenge their death, invaded Gothland. Its king
met him with his forces, and the aforesaid champions challenged
him to send strong men to fight. Snio laid down as condition of
the duel, that each of the two kings should either lose his own
empire or gain that of the other, according to the fortune of the
champions, and that the kingdom of the conquered should be staked
as the prize of the victory. The result was that the King of the
Goths was beaten by reason of the ill-success of his defenders,
and had to quit his kingdom for the Danes. Snio, learning that
this king's daughter had been taken away at the instance of her
father to wed the King of the Swedes, sent a man clad in ragged
attire, who used to ask alms on the public roads, to try her
mind. And while he lay, as beggars do, by the threshold, he
chanced to see the queen, and whined in a weak voice, "Snio loves
thee." She feigned not to have heard the sound that stole on her
ears, and neither looked nor stepped back, but went on to the
palace, then returned straightway, and said in a low whisper,
which scarcely reached his ears, "I love him who loves me"; and
having said this she walked away.

The beggar rejoiced that she had returned a word of love, and, as
he sat on the next day at the gate, when the queen came up, he
said, briefly as ever, "Wishes should have a tryst." Again she
shrewdly caught his cunning speech, and passed on, dissembling
wholly. A little later she passed by her questioner, and said
that she would shortly go to Bocheror; for this was the spot to
which she meant to flee. And when the beggar heard this, he
insisted, with his wonted shrewd questions, upon being told a
fitting time for the tryst. The woman was as cunning as he, and
as little clear of speech, and named as quickly as she could the
beginning of the winter.

Her train, who had caught a flying word of this love-message,
took her great cleverness for the raving of utter folly. And
when Snio had been told all this by the beggar, he contrived to
carry the queen off in a vessel; for she got away under pretence
of bathing, and took her husband's treasures. After this there
were constant wars between Snio and the King of Sweden, whereof
the issue was doubtful and the victory changeful; the one king
seeking to regain his lawful, the other to keep his unlawful

At this time the yield of crops was ruined by most inclement
weather, and a mighty dearth of corn befell. Victuals began to
be scarce, and the commons were distressed with famine, so that
the king, anxiously pondering how to relieve the hardness of the
times, and seeing that the thirsty spent somewhat more than the
hungry, introduced thrift among the people. He abolished
drinking-bouts, and decreed that no drink should be prepared from
gram, thinking that the bitter famine should be got rid of by
prohibiting needless drinking, and that plentiful food could be
levied as a loan on thirst.

Then a certain wanton slave of his belly, lamenting the
prohibition against drink, adopted a deep kind of knavery, and
found a new way to indulge his desires. He broke the public law
of temperance by his own excess, contriving to get at what he
loved by a device both cunning and absurd. For he sipped the
forbidden liquor drop by drop, and so satisfied his longing to be
tipsy. When he was summoned for this by the king, he declared
that there was no stricter observer of sobriety than he, inasmuch
as he mortified his longing to quaff deep by this device for
moderate drinking. He persisted in the fault with which he was
taxed, saying that he only sucked. At last he was also menaced
with threats, and forbidden not only to drink, but even to sip;
yet he could not check his habits. For in order to enjoy the
unlawful thing in a lawful way, and not to have his throat
subject to the command of another, he sopped morsels of bread in
liquor, and fed on the pieces thus soaked with drink; tasting
slowly, so as to prolong the desired debauch, and attaining,
though in no unlawful manner, the forbidden measure of satiety.

Thus his stubborn and frantic intemperance risked his life, all
for luxury; and, undeterred even by the threats of the king, he
fortified his rash appetite to despise every peril. A second
time he was summoned by the king on the charge of disobeying his
regulation. Yet he did not even theft cease to defend his act,
but maintained that he had in no wise contravened the royal
decree, and that the temperance prescribed by the ordinance had
been in no way violated by that which allured him; especially as
the thrift ordered in the law of plain living was so described,
that it was apparently forbidden to drink liquor, but not to eat
it. Then the king called heaven to witness, and swore by the
general good, that if he ventured on any such thing hereafter he
would punish him with death. But the man thought that death was
not so bad as temperance, and that it was easier to quit life
than luxury; and he again boiled the grain in water, and then
fermented the liquor; whereupon, despairing of any further plea
to excuse his appetite, he openly indulged in drink, and turned
to his cups again unabashed. Giving up cunning for effrontery,
he chose rather to await the punishment of the king than to turn
sober. Therefore, when the king asked him why he had so often
made free to use the forbidden thing, he said:

"O king, this craving is begotten, not so much of my thirst, as
of my goodwill towards thee! For I remembered that the funeral
rites of a king must be paid with a drinking-bout. Therefore,
led by good judgment more than the desire to swill, I have, by
mixing the forbidden liquid, taken care that the feast whereat
thy obsequies are performed should not, by reason of the scarcity
of corn, lack the due and customary drinking. Now I do not doubt
that thou wilt perish of famine before the rest, and be the first
to need a tomb; for thou hast passed this strange law of thrift
in fear that thou wilt be thyself the first to lack food. Thou
art thinking for thyself, and not for others, when thou bringest
thyself to start such strange miserly ways."

This witty quibbling turned the anger of the king into shame; and
when he saw that his ordinance for the general good came home in
mockery to himself, he thought no more of the public profit, but
revoked the edict, relaxing his purpose sooner than anger his

Whether it was that the soil had too little rain, or that it was
too hard baked, the crops, as I have said, were slack, and the
fields gave but little produce; so that the land lacked victual,
and was worn with a weary famine. The stock of food began to
fail, and no help was left to stave off hunger. Then, at the
proposal of Agg and of Ebb, it was provided by a decree of the
people that the old men and the tiny children should be slain;
that all who were too young to bear arms should be taken out of
the land, and only the strong should be vouchsafed their own
country; that none but able-bodied soldiers and husbandmen should
continue to abide under their own roofs and in the houses of
their fathers. When Agg and Ebb brought news of this to their
mother Gambaruk, she saw that the authors of this infamous decree
had found safety in crime. Condemning the decision of the
assembly, she said that it was wrong to relieve distress by
murder of kindred, and declared that a plan both more honourable
and more desirable for the good of their souls and bodies would
be, to preserve respect towards their parents and children, and
choose by lot men who should quit the country. And if the lot
fell on old men and weak, then the stronger should offer to go
into exile in their place, and should of their own free will
undertake to bear the burden of it for the feeble. But those men
who had the heart to save their lives by crime and impiety, and
to prosecute their parents and their children by so abominable a
decree, did not deserve life; for they would be doing a work of
cruelty and not of love. Finally, all those whose own lives were
dearer to them than the love of their parents or their children,
deserved but ill of their country. These words were reported to
the assembly, and assented to by the vote of the majority. So
the fortunes of all were staked upon the lot and those upon whom
it fell were doomed to be banished. Thus those who had been loth
to obey necessity of their own accord had now to accept the award
of chance. So they sailed first to Bleking, and then, sailing
past Moring, they came to anchor at Gothland; where, according to
Paulus, they are said to have been prompted by the goddess Frigg
to take the name of the Longobardi (Lombards), whose nation they
afterwards founded. In the end they landed at Rugen, and,
abandoning their ships, began to march overland. They crossed
and wasted a great portion of the world; and at last, finding an
abode in Italy, changed the ancient name of the nation for their

Meanwhile, the land of the Danes, where the tillers laboured less
and less, and all traces of the furrows were covered with
overgrowth, began to look like a forest. Almost stripped of its
pleasant native turf, it bristled with the dense unshapely woods
that grew up. Traces of this are yet seen in the aspect of its
fields. What were once acres fertile in grain are now seen to be
dotted with trunks of trees; and where of old the tillers turned
the earth up deep and scattered the huge clods there has now
sprung up a forest covering the fields, which still bear the
tracks of ancient tillage. Had not these lands remained untilled
and desolate with long overgrowth, the tenacious roots of trees
could never have shared the soil of one and the same land with
the furrows made by the plough. Moreover, the mounds which men
laboriously built up of old on the level ground for the burial of
the dead are now covered by a mass of woodland. Many piles of
stones are also to be seen interspersed among the forest glades.
These were once scattered over the whole country, but the
peasants carefully gathered the boulders and piled them into a
heap that they might not prevent furrows being cut in all
directions; for they would sooner sacrifice a little of the land
than find the whole of it stubborn. From this work, done by the
toil of the peasants for the easier working of the fields, it is
judged that the population in ancient times was greater than the
present one, which is satisfied with small fields, and keeps its
agriculture within narrower limits than those of the ancient
tillage. Thus the present generation is amazed to behold that it
has exchanged a soil which could once produce grain for one only
fit to grow acorns, and the plough-handle and the cornstalks for
a landscape studded with trees. Let this account of Snio, which
I have put together as truly as I could, suffice.

Snio was succeeded by BIORN; and after him HARALD became
sovereign. Harald's son GORM won no mean place of honour among
the ancient generals of the Danes by his record of doughty deeds.
For he ventured into fresh fields, preferring to practise his
inherited valour, not in war, but in searching the secrets of
nature; and, just as other kings are stirred by warlike ardour,
so his heart thirsted to look into marvels; either what he could
experience himself, or what were merely matters of report. And
being desirous to go and see all things foreign and
extraordinary, he thought that he must above all test a report
which he had heard from the men of Thule concerning the abode of
a certain Geirrod. For they boasted past belief of the mighty
piles of treasure in that country, but said that the way was
beset with peril, and hardly passable by mortal man. For those
who had tried it declared that it was needful to sail over the
ocean that goes round the lands, to leave the sun and stars
behind, to journey down into chaos, and at last to pass into a
land where no light was and where darkness reigned eternally.

But the warrior trampled down in his soul all fear of the dangers
that beset him. Not that he desired booty, but glory; for he
hoped for a great increase of renown if he ventured on a wholly
unattempted quest. Three hundred men announced that they had the
same desire as the king; and he resolved that Thorkill, who had
brought the news, should be chosen to guide them on the journey,
as he knew the ground and was versed in the approaches to that
country. Thorkill did not refuse the task, and advised that, to
meet the extraordinary fury of the sea they had to cross,
strongly-made vessels should be built, fitted with many knotted
cords and close-set nails, filled with great store of provision,
and covered above with ox-hides to protect the inner spaces of
the ships from the spray of the waves breaking in. Then they
sailed off in only three galleys, each containing a hundred
chosen men.

Now when they had come to Halogaland (Helgeland), they lost their
favouring breezes, and were driven and tossed divers ways over
the seas in perilous voyage. At last, in extreme want of food,
and lacking even bread, they staved off hunger with a little
pottage. Some days passed, and they heard the thunder of a storm
brawling in the distance, as if it were deluging the rocks. By
this perceiving that land was near, they bade a youth of great
nimbleness climb to the masthead and look out; and he reported
that a precipitous island was in sight. All were overjoyed, and
gazed with thirsty eyes at the country at which he pointed,
eagerly awaiting the refuge of the promised shore. At last they
managed to reach it, and made their way out over the heights that
blocked their way, along very steep paths, into the higher
ground. Then Thorkill told them to take no more of the herds
that were running about in numbers on the coast, than would serve
once to appease their hunger. If they disobeyed, the guardian
gods of the spot would not let them depart. But the seamen, more
anxious to go on filling their bellies than to obey orders,
postponed counsels of safety to the temptations of gluttony, and
loaded the now emptied holds of their ships with the carcases of
slaughtered cattle. These beasts were very easy to capture,
because they gathered in amazement at the unwonted sight of men,
their fears being made bold. On the following night monsters
dashed down upon the shore, filled the forest with clamour, and
beleaguered and beset the ships. One of them, huger than the
rest, strode over the waters, armed with a mighty club. Coming
close up to them, he bellowed out that they should never sail
away till they had atoned for the crime they had committed in
slaughtering the flock, and had made good the losses of the herd
of the gods by giving up one man for each of their ships.
Thorkill yielded to these threats; and, in order to preserve the
safety of all by imperilling a few, singled out three men by lot
and gave them up.

This done, a favouring wind took them, and they sailed to further
Permland. It is a region of eternal cold, covered with very deep
snows, and not sensible to the force even of the summer heats;
full of pathless forests, not fertile in grain and haunted by
beasts uncommon elsewhere. Its many rivers pour onwards in a
hissing, foaming flood, because of the reefs imbedded in their

Here Thorkill drew up his ships ashore, and bade them pitch their
tents on the beach, declaring that they had come to a spot whence
the passage to Geirrod would be short. Moreover, he forbade them
to exchange any speech with those that came up to them, declaring
that nothing enabled the monsters to injure strangers so much as
uncivil words on their part: it would be therefore safer for his
companions to keep silence; none but he, who had seen all the
manners and customs of this nation before, could speak safely.
As twilight approached, a man of extraordinary bigness greeted
the sailors by their names, and came among them. All were
aghast, but Thorkill told them to greet his arrival cheerfully,
telling them that this was Gudmund, the brother of Geirrod, and
the most faithful guardian in perils of all men who landed in
that spot. When the man asked why all the rest thus kept
silence, he answered that they were very unskilled in his
language, and were ashamed to use a speech they did not know.
Then Gudmund invited them to be his guests, and took them up in
carriages. As they went forward, they saw a river which could be
crossed by a bridge of gold. They wished to go over it, but
Gudmund restrained them, telling them that by this channel nature
had divided the world of men from the world of monsters, and that
no mortal track might go further. Then they reached the dwelling
of their guide; and here Thorkill took his companions apart and
warned them to behave like men of good counsel amidst the divers
temptations chance might throw in their way; to abstain from the
food of the stranger, and nourish their bodies only on their own;
and to seek a seat apart from the natives, and have no contact
with any of them as they lay at meat. For if they partook of
that food they would lose recollection of all things, and must
live for ever in filthy intercourse amongst ghastly hordes of
monsters. Likewise he told them that they must keep their hands
off the servants and the cups of the people.

Round the table stood twelve noble sons of Gudmund, and as many
daughters of notable beauty. When Gudmund saw that the king
barely tasted what his servants brought, he reproached him with
repulsing his kindness, and complained that it was a slight on
the host. But Thorkill was not at a loss for a fitting excuse.
He reminded him that men who took unaccustomed food often
suffered from it seriously, and that the king was not ungrateful
for the service rendered by another, but was merely taking care
of his health, when he refreshed himself as he was wont, and
furnished his supper with his own viands. An act, therefore,
that was only done in the healthy desire to escape some bane,
ought in no wise to be put down to scorn. Now when Gudmund saw
that the temperance of his guest had baffled his treacherous
preparations, he determined to sap their chastity, if he could
not weaken their abstinence, and eagerly strained every nerve of
his wit to enfeeble their self-control. For he offered the king
his daughter in marriage, and promised the rest that they should
have whatever women of his household they desired. Most of them
inclined to his offer: but Thorkill by his healthy admonitions
prevented them, as he had done before, from falling into

With wonderful management Thorkill divided his heed between the
suspicious host and the delighted guests. Four of the Danes, to
whom lust was more than their salvation, accepted the offer; the
infection maddened them, distraught their wits, and blotted out
their recollection: for they are said never to have been in their
right mind after this. If these men had kept themselves within
the rightful bounds of temperance, they would have equalled the
glories of Hercules, surpassed with their spirit the bravery of
giants, and been ennobled for ever by their wondrous services to
their country.

Gudmund, stubborn to his purpose, and still spreading his nets,
extolled the delights of his garden, and tried to lure the king
thither to gather fruits, desiring to break down his constant
wariness by the lust of the eye and the baits of the palate. The
king, as before, was strengthened against these treacheries by
Thorkill, and rejected this feint of kindly service; he excused
himself from accepting it on the plea that he must hasten on his
journey. Gudmund perceived that Thorkill was shrewder than he at
every point; so, despairing to accomplish his treachery, he
carried them all across the further side of the river, and let
them finish their journey.

They went on; and saw, not far off, a gloomy, neglected town,
looking more like a cloud exhaling vapour. Stakes interspersed
among the battlements showed the severed heads of warriors and
dogs of great ferocity were seen watching before the doors to
guard the entrance. Thorkill threw them a horn smeared with fat
to lick, and so, at slight cost, appeased their most furious
rage. High up the gates lay open to enter, and they climbed to
their level with ladders, entering with difficulty. Inside the
town was crowded with murky and misshapen phantoms, and it was
hard to say whether their shrieking figures were more ghastly to
the eye or to the ear; everything was foul, and the reeking mire
afflicted the nostrils of the visitors with its unbearable
stench. Then they found the rocky dwelling which Geirrod was
rumoured to inhabit for his palace. They resolved to visit its
narrow and horrible ledge, but stayed their steps and halted in
panic at the very entrance. Then Thorkill, seeing that they were
of two minds, dispelled their hesitation to enter by manful
encouragement, counselling them, to restrain themselves, and not
to touch any piece of gear in the house they were about to enter,
albeit it seemed delightful to have or pleasant to behold; to
keep their hearts as far from all covetousness as from fear;
neither to desire what was pleasant to take, nor dread what was
awful to look upon, though they should find themselves amidst
abundance of both these things. If they did, their greedy hands
would suddenly be bound fast, unable to tear themselves away from
the thing they touched, and knotted up with it as by inextricable
bonds. Moreover, they should enter in order, four by four.

Broder and Buchi (Buk?) were the first to show courage to attempt
to enter the vile palace; Thorkill with the king followed them,
and the rest advanced behind these in ordered ranks.

Inside, the house was seen to be ruinous throughout, and filled
with a violent and abominable reek. And it also teemed with
everything that could disgust the eye or the mind: the door-posts
were begrimed with the soot of ages, the wall was plastered with
filth, the roof was made up of spear-heads, the flooring was
covered with snakes and bespattered with all manner of
uncleanliness. Such an unwonted sight struck terror into the
strangers, and, over all, the acrid and incessant stench assailed
their afflicted nostrils. Also bloodless phantasmal monsters
huddled on the iron seats, and the places for sitting were railed
off by leaden trellises; and hideous doorkeepers stood at watch
on the thresholds. Some of these, armed with clubs lashed
together, yelled, while others played a gruesome game, tossing a
goat's hide from one to the other with mutual motion of goatish

Here Thorkill again warned the men, and forbade them to stretch
forth their covetous hands rashly to the forbidden things. Going
on through the breach in the crag, they beheld an old man with
his body pierced through, sitting not far off, on a lofty seat
facing the side of the rock that had been rent away. Moreover,
three women, whose bodies were covered with tumours, and who
seemed to have lost the strength of their back-bones, filled
adjoining seats. Thorkill's companions were very curious; and
he, who well knew the reason of the matter, told them that long
ago the god Thor had been provoked by the insolence of the giants
to drive red-hot irons through the vitals of Geirrod, who strove
with him, and that the iron had slid further, torn up the
mountain, and battered through its side; while the women had been
stricken by the might of his thunderbolts, and had been punished
(so he declared) for their attempt on the same deity, by having
their bodies broken.

As the men were about to depart thence, there were disclosed to
them seven butts hooped round with belts of gold; and from these
hung circlets of silver entwined with them in manifold links.
Near these was found the tusk of a strange beast, tipped at both
ends with gold. Close by was a vast stag-horn, laboriously
decked with choice and flashing gems, and this also did not lack
chasing. Hard by was to be seen a very heavy bracelet. One man
was kindled with an inordinate desire for this bracelet, and laid
covetous hands upon the gold, not knowing that the glorious metal
covered deadly mischief, and that a fatal bane lay hid under the
shining spoil. A second also, unable to restrain his
covetousness, reached out his quivering hands to the horn. A
third, matching the confidence of the others, and having no
control over his fingers, ventured to shoulder the tusk. The
spoil seemed alike lovely to look upon and desirable to enjoy,
for all that met the eye was fair and tempting to behold. But
the bracelet suddenly took the form of a snake, and attacked him
who was carrying it with its poisoned tooth; the horn lengthened
out into a serpent, and took the life of the man who bore it; the
tusk wrought itself into a sword, and plunged into the vitals of
its bearer.

The rest dreaded the fate of perishing with their friends, and
thought that the guiltless would be destroyed like the guilty;
they durst not hope that even innocence would be safe. Then the
side-door of another room showed them a narrow alcove: and a
privy chamber with a yet richer treasure was revealed, wherein
arms were laid out too great for those of human stature. Among
these were seen a royal mantle, a handsome hat, and a belt
marvellously wrought. Thorkill, struck with amazement at these
things, gave rein to his covetousness, and cast off all his
purposed self-restraint. He who so oft had trained others could
not so much as conquer his own cravings. For he laid his hand
upon the mantle, and his rash example tempted the rest to join in
his enterprise of plunder. Thereupon the recess shook from its
lowest foundations, and began suddenly to reel and totter.
Straightway the women raised a shriek that the wicked robbers
were being endured too long. Then they, who were before supposed
to be half-dead or lifeless phantoms, seemed to obey the cries of
the women, and, leaping suddenly up from their seats, attacked
the strangers with furious onset. The other creatures bellowed

But Broder and Buchi fell to their old and familiar arts, and
attacked the witches, who ran at them, with a shower of spears
from every side; and with the missiles from their bows and slings
they crushed the array of monsters. There could be no stronger
or more successful way to repulse them; but only twenty men out
of all the king's company were rescued by the intervention of
this archery; the rest were torn in pieces by the monsters. The
survivors returned to the river, and were ferried over by
Gudmund, who entertained them at his house. Long and often as he
besought them, he could not keep them back; so at last he gave
them presents and let them go.

Buchi relaxed his watch upon himself; his self-control became
unstrung, and he forsook the virtue in which he hitherto
rejoiced. For he conceived an incurable love for one of the
daughters of Gudmund, and embraced her; but he obtained a bride
to his undoing, for soon his brain suddenly began to whirl, and
he lost his recollection. Thus the hero who had subdued all the
monsters and overcome all the perils was mastered by passion for
one girl; his soul strayed far from temperance, and he lay under
a wretched sensual yoke. For the sake of respect, he started to
accompany the departing king; but as he was about to ford the
river in his carriage, his wheels sank deep, he was caught up in
the violent eddies and destroyed.

The king bewailed his friend's disaster and departed hastening on
his voyage. This was at first prosperous, but afterwards he was
tossed by bad weather; his men perished of hunger, and but few
survived, so that he began to feel awe in his heart, and fell to
making vows to heaven, thinking the gods alone could help him in
his extreme need. At last the others besought sundry powers
among the gods, and thought they ought to sacrifice to the
majesty of divers deities; but the king, offering both vows and
peace-offerings to Utgarda-Loki, obtained that fair season of
weather for which he prayed.

Coming home, and feeling that he had passed through all these
seas and toils, he thought it was time for his spirit, wearied
with calamities, to withdraw from his labours. So he took a
queen from Sweden, and exchanged his old pursuits for meditative
leisure. His life was prolonged in the utmost peace and
quietness; but when he had almost come to the end of his days,
certain men persuaded him by likely arguments that souls were
immortal; so that he was constantly turning over in his mind the
questions, to what abode he was to fare when the breath left his
limbs, or what reward was earned by zealous adoration of the

While he was thus inclined, certain men who wished ill to
Thorkill came and told Gorm that it was needful to consult the
gods, and that assurance about so great a matter must be sought
of the oracles of heaven, since it was too deep for human wit and
hard for mortals to discover.

Therefore, they said, Utgarda-Loki must be appeased, and no man
would accomplish this more fitly than Thorkill. Others, again,
laid information against him as guilty of treachery and an enemy
of the king's life. Thorkill, seeing himself doomed to extreme
peril, demanded that his accusers should share his journey. Then
they who had aspersed an innocent man saw that the peril they had
designed against the life of another had recoiled upon
themselves, and tried to take back their plan. But vainly did
they pester the ears of the king; he forced them to sail under
the command of Thorkill, and even upbraided them with cowardice.
Thus, when a mischief is designed against another, it is commonly
sure to strike home to its author. And when these men saw that
they were constrained, and could not possibly avoid the peril,
they covered their ship with ox-hides, and filled it with
abundant store of provision.

In this ship they sailed away, and came to a sunless land, which
knew not the stars, was void of daylight, and seemed to
overshadow them with eternal night. Long they sailed under this
strange sky; at last their timber fell short, and they lacked
fuel; and, having no place to boil their meat in, they staved off
their hunger with raw viands. But most of those who ate
contracted extreme disease, being glutted with undigested food.
For the unusual diet first made a faintness steal gradually upon
their stomachs; then the infection spread further, and the malady
reached the vital parts. Thus there was danger in either
extreme, which made it hurtful not to eat, and perilous to
indulge; for it was found both unsafe to feed and bad for them to
abstain. Then, when they were beginning to be in utter despair,
a gleam of unexpected help relieved them, even as the string
breaks most easily when it is stretched tightest. For suddenly
the weary men saw the twinkle of a fire at no great distance, and
conceived a hope of prolonging their lives. Thorkill thought
this fire a heaven-sent relief, and resolved to go and take some
of it.

To be surer of getting back to his friends, Thorkill fastened a
jewel upon the mast-head, to mark it by the gleam. When he got
to the shore, his eyes fell on a cavern in a close defile, to
which a narrow way led. Telling his companions to await him
outside, he went in, and saw two men, swart and very huge, with
horny noses, feeding their fire with any chance-given fuel.
Moreover, the entrance was hideous, the door-posts were decayed,
the walls grimy with mould, the roof filthy, and the floor
swarming with snakes; all of which disgusted the eye as much as
the mind. Then one of the giants greeted him, and said that he
had begun a most difficult venture in his burning desire to visit
a strange god, and his attempt to explore with curious search an
untrodden region beyond the world. Yet he promised to tell
Thorkill the paths of the journey he proposed to make, if he
would deliver three true judgments in the form of as many
sayings. Then said Thorkill: "In good truth, I do not remember
ever to have seen a household with more uncomely noses; nor have
I ever come to a spot where I had less mind to live." Also he
said: "That, I think, is my best foot which can get out of this

The giant was pleased with the shrewdness of Thorkill, and
praised his sayings, telling him that he must first travel to a
grassless land which was veiled in deep darkness; but he must
first voyage for four days, rowing incessantly, before he could
reach his goal. There he could visit Utgarda-Loki, who had
chosen hideous and grisly caves for his filthy dwelling.
Thorkill was much aghast at being bidden to go on a voyage so
long and hazardous; but his doubtful hopes prevailed over his
present fears, and he asked for some live fuel. Then said the
giant: "If thou needest fire, thou must deliver three more
judgments in like sayings." Then said Thorkill: "Good counsel is
to be obeyed, though a mean fellow gave it." Likewise: "I have
gone so far in rashness, that if I can get back I shall owe my
safety to none but my own legs." And again: "Were I free to
retreat this moment, I would take good care never to come back."

Thereupon Thorkill took the fire along to his companions; and
finding a kindly wind, landed on the fourth day at the appointed
harbour. With his crew he entered a land where an aspect of
unbroken night checked the vicissitude of light and darkness. He
could hardly see before him, but beheld a rock of enormous size.
Wishing to explore it, he told his companions, who were standing
posted at the door, to strike a fire from flints as a timely
safeguard against demons, and kindle it in the entrance. Then he
made others bear a light before him, and stooped his body through
the narrow jaws of the cavern, where he beheld a number of iron
seats among a swarm of gliding serpents. Next there met his eye
a sluggish mass of water gently flowing over a sandy bottom. He
crossed this, and approached a cavern which sloped somewhat more
steeply. Again, after this, a foul and gloomy room was disclosed
to the visitors, wherein they saw Utgarda-Loki, laden hand and
foot with enormous chains. Each of his reeking hairs was as
large and stiff as a spear of cornel. Thorkill (his companions
lending a hand), in order that his deeds might gain more credit,
plucked one of these from the chin of Utgarda-Loki, who suffered
it. Straightway such a noisome smell reached the bystanders,
that they could not breathe without stopping their noses with
their mantles. They could scarcely make their way out, and were
bespattered by the snakes which darted at them on every side.

Only five of Thorkill's company embarked with their captain: the
poison killed the rest. The demons hung furiously over them, and
cast their poisonous slaver from every side upon the men below
them. But the sailors sheltered themselves with their hides, and
cast back the venom that fell upon them. One man by chance at
this point wished to peep out; the poison touched his head, which
was taken off his neck as if it had been severed with a sword.
Another put his eyes out of their shelter, and when he brought
them back under it they were blinded. Another thrust forth his
hand while unfolding his covering, and, when he withdrew his arm,
it was withered by the virulence of the same slaver. They
besought their deities to be kinder to them; vainly, until
Thorkill prayed to the god of the universe, and poured forth unto
him libations as well as prayers; and thus, presently finding the
sky even as before and the elements clear, he made a fair voyage.

And now they seemed to behold another world, and the way towards
the life of man. At last Thorkill landed in Germany, which had
then been admitted to Christianity; and among its people he began
to learn how to worship God. His band of men were almost
destroyed, because of the dreadful air they had breathed, and he
returned to his country accompanied by two men only, who had
escaped the worst. But the corrupt matter which smeared his face
so disguised his person and original features that not even his
friends knew him. But when he wiped off the filth, he made
himself recognizable by those who saw him, and inspired the king
with the greatest eagerness to hear about his quest. But the
detraction of his rivals was not yet silenced; and some pretended
that the king would die suddenly if he learnt Thorkill's tidings.
The king was the more disposed to credit this saying, because he
was already credulous by reason of a dream which falsely
prophesied the same thing. Men were therefore hired by the
king's command to slay Thorkill in the night. But somehow he got
wind of it, left his bed unknown to all, and put a heavy log in
his place. By this he baffled the treacherous device of the
king, for the hirelings smote only the stock.

On the morrow Thorkill went up to the king as he sat at meat, and
said: "I forgive thy cruelty and pardon thy error, in that thou
hast decreed punishment, and not thanks, to him who brings good
tidings of his errand. For thy sake I have devoted my life to
all these afflictions, and battered it in all these perils; I
hoped that thou wouldst requite my services with much gratitude;
and behold! I have found thee, and thee alone, punish my valour
sharpliest. But I forbear all vengeance, and am satisfied with
the shame within thy heart -- if, after all, any shame visits the
thankless -- as expiation for this wrongdoing towards me. I have
a right to surmise that thou art worse than all demons in fury,
and all beasts in cruelty, if, after escaping the snares of all
these monsters, I have failed to be safe from thine."

The king desired to learn everything from Thorkill's own lips;
and, thinking it hard to escape destiny, bade him relate what had
happened in due order. He listened eagerly to his recital of
everything, till at last, when his own god was named, he could
not endure him to be unfavourably judged. For he could not bear
to hear Utgarda-Loki reproached with filthiness, and so resented
his shameful misfortunes, that his very life could not brook such
words, and he yielded it up in the midst of Thorkill's narrative.
Thus, whilst he was so zealous in the worship of a false god, he
came to find where the true prison of sorrows really was.
Moreover, the reek of the hair, which Thorkill plucked from the
locks of the giant to testify to the greatness of his own deeds,
was exhaled upon the bystanders, so that many perished of it.

After the death of Gorm, GOTRIK his son came to the throne. He
was notable not only for prowess but for generosity, and none can
say whether his courage or his compassion was the greater. He so
chastened his harshness with mercy, that he seemed to
counterweigh the one with the other. At this time Gaut, the King
of Norway, was visited by Ber (Biorn?) and Ref, men of Thule.
Gaut treated Ref with attention and friendship, and presented him
with a heavy bracelet.

One of the courtiers, when he saw this, praised the greatness of
the gift over-zealously, and declared that no one was equal to
King Gaut in kindliness. But Ref, though he owed thanks for the
benefit, could not approve the inflated words of this extravagant
praiser, and said that Gotrik was more generous than Gaut.
Wishing to crush the empty boast of the flatterer, he chose
rather to bear witness to the generosity of the absent than
tickle with lies the vanity of his benefactor who was present.
For another thing, he thought it somewhat more desirable to be
charged with ingratitude than to support with his assent such
idle and boastful praise, and also to move the king by the solemn
truth than to beguile him with lying flatteries. But Ulf
persisted not only in stubbornly repeating his praises of the
king, but in bringing them to the proof; and proposed their
gainsayer a wager.

With his consent Ref went to Denmark, and found Gotrik seated in
state, and dealing out the pay to his soldiers. When the king
asked him who he was, he said that his name was "Fox-cub" The
answer filled some with mirth and some with marvel, and Gotrik
said, "Yea, and it is fitting that a fox should catch his prey in
his mouth." And thereupon he drew a bracelet from his arm,
called the man to him, and put it between his lips. Straightway
Ref put it upon his arm, which he displayed to them all adorned
with gold, but the other arm he kept hidden as lacking ornament;
for which shrewdness he received a gift equal to the first from
that hand of matchless generosity. At this he was overjoyed, not
so much because the reward was great, as because he had won his
contention. And when the king learnt from him about the wager he
had laid, he rejoiced that he had been lavish to him more by
accident than of set purpose, and declared that he got more
pleasure from the giving than the receiver from the gift. So Ref
returned to Norway and slew his opponent, who refused to pay the
wager. Then he took the daughter of Gaut captive, and brought
her to Gotrik for his own.

Gotrik, who is also called Godefride, carried his arms against
foreigners, and increased his strength and glory by his
successful generalship. Among his memorable deeds were the terms
of tribute he imposed upon the Saxons; namely, that whenever a
change of kings occurred among the Danes, their princes should
devote a hundred snow-white horses to the new king on his
accession. But if the Saxons should receive a new chief upon a
change in the succession, this chief was likewise to pay the
aforesaid tribute obediently, and bow at the outset of his power
to the sovereign majesty of Denmark; thereby acknowledging the
supremacy of our nation, and solemnly confessing his own
subjection. Nor was it enough for Gotrik to subjugate Germany:
he appointed Ref on a mission to try the strength of Sweden. The
Swedes feared to slay him with open violence, but ventured to act
like bandits, and killed him, as he slept, with the blow of a
stone. For, hanging a millstone above him, they cut its
fastenings, and let it drop upon his neck as he lay beneath. To
expiate this crime it was decreed that each of the ringleaders
should pay twelve golden talents, while each of the common people
should pay Gotrik one ounce. Men called this "the Fox-cub's
tribute". (Refsgild).

Meanwhile it befell that Karl, King of the Franks, crushed
Germany in war, and forced it not only to embrace the worship of
Christianity, but also to obey his authority. When Gotrik heard
of this, he attacked the nations bordering on the Elbe, and
attempted to regain under his sway as of old the realm of Saxony,
which eagerly accepted the yoke of Karl, and preferred the Roman
to the Danish arms. Karl had at this time withdrawn his
victorious camp beyond the Rhine, and therefore forbore to engage
the stranger enemy, being prevented by the intervening river.
But when he was intending to cross once more to subdue the power
of Gotrik, he was summoned by Leo the Pope of the Romans to
defend the city.

Obeying this command, Karl intrusted his son Pepin with the
conduct of the war aganst Gotrik; so that while he himself was
working against a distant foe, Pepin might manage the conflict he
had undertaken with his neighbour. For Karl was distracted by
two anxieties, and had to furnish sufficient out of a scanty band
to meet both of them. Meanwhile Gotrik won a glorious victory
over the Saxons. Then gathering new strength, and mustering a
larger body of forces, he resolved to avenge the wrong he had
suffered in losing his sovereignty, not only upon the Saxons, but
upon the whole people of Germany. He began by subduing Friesland
with his fleet.

This province lies very low, and whenever the fury of the ocean
bursts tho dykes that bar its waves, it is wont to receive the
whole mass of the deluge over its open plains. On this country
Gotrik imposed a kind of tribute, which was not so much harsh as
strange. I will briefly relate its terms and the manner of it.
First, a building was arranged, two hundred and forty feet in
length, and divided into twelve spaces; each of these stretching
over an interval of twenty feet, and thus making together, when
the whole room was exhausted, the aforesaid total. Now at the
upper end of this building sat the king's treasurer, and in a
line with him at its further end was displayed a round shield.
When the Frisians came to pay tribute, they used to cast their
coins one by one into the hollow of this shield; but only those
coins which struck the ear of the distant toll-gatherer with a
distinct clang were chosen by him, as he counted, to be reckoned
among the royal tribute. The result was that the collector only
reckoned that money towards the treasury of which his distant ear
caught the sound as it fell. But that of which the sound was
duller, and which fell out of his earshot, was received indeed
into the treasury, but did not count as any increase to the sum
paid. Now many coins that were cast in struck with no audible
loudness whatever on the collector's ear, so that men who came to
pay their appointed toll sometimes squandered much of their money
in useless tribute. Karl is said to have freed them afterwards
from the burden of this tax. After Gotrik had crossed Friesland,
and Karl had now come back from Rome, Gotrik determined to swoop
down upon the further districts of Germany, but was treacherously
attacked by one of his own servants, and perished at home by the
sword of a traitor. When Karl heard this, he leapt up overjoyed,
declaring that nothing more delightful had ever fallen to his lot
than this happy chance.

(1) Furthest Thule -- The names of Icelanders have thus crept
into the account of a battle fought before the discovery of


After Gotrik's death reigned his son OLAF; who, desirous to
avenge his father, did not hesitate to involve his country in
civil wars, putting patriotism after private inclination. When
he perished, his body was put in a barrow, famous for the name of
Olaf, which was built up close by Leire.

He was succeeded by HEMMING, of whom I have found no deed worthy
of record, save that he made a sworn peace with Kaiser Ludwig;
and yet, perhaps, envious antiquity hides many notable deeds of
his time, albeit they were then famous.

After these men there came to the throne, backed by the Skanians
and Zealanders, SIWARD, surnamed RING. He was the son, born long
ago, of the chief of Norway who bore the same name, by Gotrik's
daughter. Now Ring, cousin of Siward, and also a grandson of
Gotrik, was master of Jutland. Thus the power of the single
kingdom was divided; and, as though its two parts were
contemptible for their smallness, foreigners began not only to
despise but to attack it. These Siward assailed with greater
hatred than he did his rival for the throne; and, preferring wars
abroad to wars at home, he stubbornly defended his country
against dangers for five years; for he chose to put up with a
trouble at home that he might the more easily cure one which came
from abroad. Wherefore Ring (desiring his) command, seized the
opportunity, tried to transfer the whole sovereignty to himself,
and did not hesitate to injure in his own land the man who was
watching over it without; for he attacked the provinces in the
possession of Siward, which was an ungrateful requital for the
defence of their common country. Therefore, some of the
Zealanders who were more zealous for Siward, in order to show him
firmer loyalty in his absence, proclaimed his son Ragnar as king,
when he was scarcely dragged out of his cradle. Not but what
they knew he was too young to govern; yet they hoped that such a
gage would serve to rouse their sluggish allies against Ring.
But, when Ring heard that Siward had meantime returned from his
expedition, he attacked the Zealanders with a large force, and
proclaimed that they should perish by the sword if they did not
surrender; but the Zealanders, who were bidden to choose between
shame and peril, were so few that they distrusted their strength,
and requested a truce to consider the matter. It was granted;
but, since it did not seem open to them to seek the favour of
Siward, nor honourable to embrace that of Ring, they wavered long
in perplexity between fear and shame. In this plight even the
old were at a loss for counsel; but Ragnar, who chanced to be
present at the assembly, said: "The short bow shoots its shaft
suddenly. Though it may seem the hardihood of a boy that I
venture to forestall the speech of the elders, yet I pray you to
pardon my errors, and be indulgent to my unripe words. Yet the
counsellor of wisdom is not to be spurned, though he seem
contemptible; for the teaching of profitable things should be
drunk in with an open mind. Now it is shameful that we should be
branded as deserters and runaways, but it is just as foolhardy to
venture above our strength; and thus there is proved to be equal
blame either way. We must, then, pretend to go over to the
enemy, but, when a chance comes in our way, we must desert him
betimes. It will thus be better to forestall the wrath of our
foe by reigned obedience than, by refusing it, to give him a
weapon wherewith to attack us yet more harshly; for if we decline
the sway of the stronger, are we not simply turning his arms
against our own throat? Intricate devices are often the best
nurse of craft. You need cunning to trap a fox." By this sound
counsel he dispelled the wavering of his countrymen, and
strengthened the camp of the enemy to its own hurt.

The assembly, marvelling at the eloquence as much as at the wit
of one so young, gladly embraced a proposal of such genius, which
they thought excellent beyond his years. Nor were the old men
ashamed to obey the bidding of a boy when they lacked counsel
themselves; for, though it came from one of tender years, it was
full, notwithstanding, of weighty and sound instruction. But
they feared to expose their adviser to immediate peril, and sent
him over to Norway to be brought up. Soon afterwards, Siward
joined battle with Ring and attacked him. He slew Ring, but
himself received an incurable wound, of which he died a few days

He was succeeded on the throne by RAGNAR. At this time Fro
(Frey?), the King of Sweden, after slaying Siward, the King of
the Norwegians, put the wives of Siward's kinsfolk in bonds in a
brothel, and delivered them to public outrage. When Ragnar heard
of this, he went to Norway to avenge his grandfather. As he
came, many of the matrons, who had either suffered insult to
their persons or feared imminent peril to their chastity,
hastened eagerly to his camp in male attire, declaring that they
would prefer death to outrage. Nor did Ragnar, who was to punish
this reproach upon the women, scorn to use against the author of
the infamy the help of those whose shame he had come to avenge.
Among them was Ladgerda, a skilled amazon, who, though a maiden,
had the courage of a man, and fought in front among the bravest
with her hair loose over her shoulders. All-marvelled at her
matchless deeds, for her locks flying down her back betrayed that
she was a woman.

Ragnar, when he had justly cut down the murderer of his
grandfather, asked many questions of his fellow soldiers
concerning the maiden whom he had seen so forward in the fray,
and declared that he had gained the victory by the might of one
woman. Learning that she was of noble birth among the
barbarians, he steadfastly wooed her by means of messengers. She
spurned his mission in her heart, but feigned compliance. Giving
false answers, she made her panting wooer confident that he would
gain his desires; but ordered that a bear and a dog should be set
at the porch of her dwelling, thinking to guard her own room
against all the ardour of a lover by means of the beasts that
blocked the way. Ragnar, comforted by the good news, embarked,
crossed the sea, and, telling his men to stop in Gaulardale, as
the valley is called, went to the dwelling of the maiden alone.
Here the beasts met him, and he thrust one through with a spear,
and caught the other by the throat, wrung its neck, and choked
it. Thus he had the maiden as the prize of the peril he had
overcome. By this marriage he had two daughters, whose names
have not come down to us, and a son Fridleif. Then he lived
three years at peace.

The Jutlanders, a presumptuous race, thinking that because of his
recent marriage he would never return, took the Skanians into
alliance, and tried to attack the Zealanders, who preserved the
most zealous and affectionate loyalty towards Ragnar. He, when
he heard of it, equipped thirty ships, and, the winds favouring
his voyage, crushed the Skanians, who ventured to fight, near the
stead of Whiteby, and when the winter was over he fought
successfully with the Jutlanders who dwelt near the Liim-fjord in
that region. A third and a fourth time he conquered the Skanians
and the Hallanders triumphantly.

Afterwards, changing his love, and desiring Thora, the daughter
of the King Herodd, to wife, Ragnar divorced himself from
Ladgerda; for he thought ill of her trustworthiness, remembering
that she had long ago set the most savage beasts to destroy him.
Meantime Herodd, the King of the Swedes, happening to go and hunt
in the woods, brought home some snakes, found by his escort, for
his daughter to rear. She speedily obeyed the instructions of
her father, and endured to rear a race of adders with her maiden
hands. Moreover, she took care that they should daily have a
whole ox-carcase to gorge upon, not knowing that she was
privately feeding and keeping up a public nuisance. The vipers
grew up, and scorched the country-side with their pestilential
breath. Whereupon the king, repenting of his sluggishness,
proclaimed that whosoever removed the pest should have his

Many warriors were thereto attracted by courage as much as by
desire; but all idly and perilously wasted their pains. Ragnar,
learning from men who travelled to and fro how the matter stood,
asked his nurse for a woolen mantle, and for some thigh-pieces
that were very hairy, with which he could repel the snake-bites.
He thought that he ought to use a dress stuffed with hair to
protect himself, and also took one that was not unwieldy, that he
might move nimbly. And when he had landed in Sweden, he
deliberately plunged his body in water, while there was a frost
falling, and, wetting his dress, to make it the less penetrable,
he let the cold freeze it. Thus attired, he took leave of his
companions, exhorted them to remain loyal to Fridleif, and went
on to the palace alone. When he saw it, he tied his sword to his
side, and lashed a spear to his right hand with a thong. As he
went on, an enormous snake glided up and met him. Another,
equally huge, crawled up, following in the trail of the first.
They strove now to buffet the young man with the coils of their
tails, and now to spit and belch their venom stubbornly upon him.
Meantime the courtiers, betaking themselves to safer hiding,
watched the struggle from afar like affrighted little girls. The
king was stricken with equal fear, and fled, with a few
followers, to a narrow shelter. But Ragnar, trusting in the
hardness of his frozen dress, foiled the poisonous assaults not
only with his arms, but with his attire, and, singlehanded, in
unweariable combat, stood up against the two gaping creatures,
who stubbornly poured forth their venom upon him. For their
teeth he repelled with his shield, their poison with his dress.
At last he cast his spear, and drove it against the bodies of the
brutes, who were attacking him hard. He pierced both their
hearts, and his battle ended in victory.

After Ragnar had thus triumphed the king scanned his dress
closely, and saw that he was rough and hairy; but, above all, he
laughed at the shaggy lower portion of his garb, and chiefly the
uncouth aspect of his breeches; so that he gave him in jest the
nickname of Lodbrog. Also he invited him to feast with his
friends, to refresh him after his labours. Ragnar said that he
would first go back to the witnesses whom he had left behind. He
set out and brought them back, splendidly attired for the coming
feast. At last, when the banquet was over, he received the prize
that was appointed for the victory. By her he begot two nobly-
gifted sons, Radbard and Dunwat. These also had brothers --
Siward, Biorn, Agnar, and Iwar.

Meanwhile, the Jutes and Skanians were kindled with an
unquenchable fire of sedition; they disallowed the title of
Ragnar, and gave a certain Harald the sovereign power. Ragnar
sent envoys to Norway, and besought friendly assistance against
these men; and Ladgerda, whose early love still flowed deep and
steadfast, hastily sailed off with her husband and her son. She
brought herself to offer a hundred and twenty ships to the man
who had once put her away. And he, thinking himself destitute of
all resources, took to borrowing help from folk of every age,
crowded the strong and the feeble all together, and was not
ashamed to insert some old men and boys among the wedges of the
strong. So he first tried to crush the power of the Skanians in
the field which in Latin is called Laneus (Woolly); here he had a
hard fight with the rebels. Here, too, Iwar, who was in his
seventh year, fought splendidly, and showed the strength of a man
in the body of a boy. But Siward, while attacking the enemy face
to face, fell forward upon the ground wounded. When his men saw
this, it made them look round most anxiously for means of flight;
and this brought low not only Siward, but almost the whole army
on the side of Ragnar. But Ragnar by his manly deeds and
exhortations comforted their amazed and sunken spirits, and, just
when they were ready to be conquered, spurred them on to try and

Ladgerda, who had a matchless spirit though a delicate frame,
covered by her splendid bravery the inclination of the soldiers
to waver. For she made a sally about, and flew round to the rear
of the enemy, taking them unawares, and thus turned the panic of
her friends into the camp of the enemy. At last the lines of
HARALD became slack, and HARALD himself was routed with a great
slaughter of his men. LADGERDA, when she had gone home after the
battle, murdered her husband.... in the night with a spear-head,
which she had hid in her gown. Then she usurped the whole of his
name and sovereignty; for this most presumptuous dame thought it
pleasanter to rule without her husband than to share the throne
with him.

Meantime, Siward was taken to a town in the neighbourhood, and
gave himself to be tended by the doctors, who were reduced to the
depths of despair. But while the huge wound baffled all the
remedies they applied, a certain man of amazing size was seen to
approach the litter of the sick man, and promised that Siward
should straightway rejoice and be whole, if he would consecrate
unto him the souls of all whom he should overcome in battle. Nor
did he conceal his name, but said that he was called Rostar. Now
Siward, when he saw that a great benefit could be got at the cost
of a little promise, eagerly acceded to this request. Then the
old man suddenly, by the help of his hand, touched and banished
the livid spot, and suddenly scarred the wound over. At last he
poured dust on his eyes and departed. Spots suddenly arose, and
the dust, to the amaze of the beholders, seemed to become
wonderfully like little snakes.

I should think that he who did this miracle wished to declare, by
the manifest token of his eyes, that the young man was to be
cruel in future, in order that the more visible part of his body
might not lack some omen of his life that was to follow. When
the old woman, who had the care of his draughts, saw him showing
in his face signs of little snakes; she was seized with an
extraordinary horror of the young man, and suddenly fell and
swooned away. Hence it happened that Siward got the widespread
name of Snake-Eye.

Meantime Thora, the bride of Ragnar, perished of a violent
malady, which caused infinite trouble and distress to the
husband, who dearly loved his wife. This distress, he thought,
would be best dispelled by business, and he resolved to find
solace in exercise and qualify his grief by toil. To banish his
affliction and gain some comfort, he bent his thoughts to
warfare, and decreed that every father of a family should devote
to his service whichever of his children he thought most
contemptible, or any slave of his who was lazy at his work or of
doubtful fidelity. And albeit that this decree seemed little
fitted for his purpose, he showed that the feeblest of the Danish
race were better than the strongest men of other nations; and it
did the young men great good, each of those chosen being eager to
wipe off the reproach of indolence. Also he enacted that every
piece of litigation should be referred to the judgment of twelve
chosen elders, all ordinary methods of action being removed, the
accuser being forbidden to charge, and the accused to defend.
This law removed all chance of incurring litigation lightly.
Thinking that there was thus sufficient provision made against
false accusations by unscrupulous men, he lifted up his arms
against Britain, and attacked and slew in battle its king, Hame,
the father of Ella, who was a most noble youth. Then he killed
the earls of Scotland and of Pictland, and of the isles that they
call the Southern or Meridional (Sudr-eyar), and made his sons
Siward and Radbard masters of the provinces, which were now
without governors. He also deprived Norway of its chief by
force, and commanded it to obey Fridleif, whom he also set over
the Orkneys, from which he took their own earl.

Meantime, some of the Danes who were most stubborn in their
hatred against Ragnar were obstinately bent on rebellion. They
rallied to the side of Harald, once an exile, and tried to raise
the fallen fortunes of the tyrant. By this hardihood they raised
up against the king the most virulent blasts of civil war, and
entangled him in domestic perils when he was free from foreign
troubles. Ragnar, setting out to check them with a fleet of the
Danes who lived in the isles, crushed the army of the rebels,
drove Harald, the leader of the conquered army, a fugitive to
Germany, and forced him to resign unbashfully an honour which he
had gained without scruple. Nor was he content simply to kill
his prisoners: he preferred to torture them to death, so that
those who could not be induced to forsake their disloyalty might
not be so much as suffered to give up the ghost save under the
most grievous punishment. Moreover, the estates of those who had
deserted with Harald he distributed among those who were serving
as his soldiers, thinking that the fathers would be worse
punished by seeing the honour of their inheritance made over to
the children whom they had rejected, while those whom they had
loved better lost their patrimony. But even this did not sate
his vengeance, and he further determined to attack Saxony,
thinking it the refuge of his foes and the retreat of Harald.
So, begging his sons to help him, he came on Karl, who happened
then to be tarrying on those borders of his empire. Intercepting
his sentries, he eluded the watch that was posted on guard. But
while he thought that all the rest would therefore be easy and
more open to his attacks, suddenly a woman who was a soothsayer,
a kind of divine oracle or interpreter of the will of heaven,
warned the king with a saving prophecy, and by her fortunate
presage forestalled the mischief that impended, saying that the
fleet of Siward had moored at the mouth of the river Seine. The
emperor, heeding the warning, and understanding that the enemy
was at hand, managed to engage with and stop the barbarians, who
were thus pointed out to him. A battle was fought with Ragnar;
but Karl did not succeed as happily in the field as he had got
warning of the danger. And so that tireless conqueror of almost
all Europe, who in his calm and complete career of victory had
travelled over so great a portion of the world, now beheld his
army, which had vanquished all these states and nations, turning
its face from the field, and shattered by a handful from a single

Ragnar, after loading the Saxons with tribute, had sure tidings
from Sweden of the death of Herodd, and also heard that his own
sons, owing to the slander of Sorle, the king chosen in his
stead, had been robbed of their inheritance. He besought the aid
of the brothers Biorn, Fridleif, and Ragbard (for Ragnald,
Hwitserk, and Erik, his sons by Swanloga, had not yet reached the
age of bearing arms), and went to Sweden. Sorle met him with his
army, and offered him the choice between a public conflict and a
duel; and when Ragnar chose personal combat, he sent against him
Starkad, a champion of approved daring, with his band of seven
sons, to challenge and fight with him. Ragnar took his three
sons to share the battle with him, engaged in the sight of both
armies, and came out of the combat triumphant.

Biorn, having inflicted great slaughter on the foe without hurt
to himself, gained from the strength of his sides, which were
like iron, a perpetual name (Ironsides). This victory emboldened
Ragnar to hope that he could overcome any peril, and he attacked
and slew Sorle with the entire forces he was leading. He
presented Biorn with the lordship of Sweden for his conspicuous
bravery and service. Then for a little interval he rested from
wars, and chanced to fall deeply in love with a certain woman.
In order to find some means of approaching and winning her the
more readily, he courted her father (Esbern) by showing him the
most obliging and attentive kindness. He often invited him to
banquets, and received him with lavish courtesy. When he came,
he paid him the respect of rising, and when he sat, he honoured
him with a set next to himself. He also often comforted him with
gifts, and at times with the most kindly speech. The man saw
that no merits of his own could be the cause of all this
distinction, and casting over the matter every way in his mind,
he perceived that the generosity of his monarch was caused by his
love for his daughter, and that he coloured this lustful purpose
with the name of kindness. But, that he might balk the
cleverness of the lover, however well calculated, he had the girl
watched all the more carefully that he saw her beset by secret
aims and obstinate methods. But Ragnar, who was comforted by the
surest tidings of her consent, went to the farmhouse in which she
was kept, and fancying that love must find out a way, repaired
alone to a certain peasant in a neighbouring lodging. In the
morning he exchanged dress with the women, and went in female
attire, and stood by his mistress as she was unwinding wool.
Cunningly, to avoid betrayal, he set his hands to the work of a
maiden, though they were little skilled in the art. In the night
he embraced the maiden and gained his desire. When her time drew
near, and the girl growing big, betrayed her outraged chastity,
the father, not knowing to whom his daughter had given herself to
be defiled, persisted in asking the girl herself who was the
unknown seducer. She steadfastly affirmed that she had had no
one to share her bed except her handmaid, and he made the affair
over to the king to search into. He would not allow an innocent
servant to be branded with an extraordinary charge, and was not
ashamed to prove another's innocence by avowing his own guilt.
By this generosity he partially removed the woman's reproach, and
prevented an absurd report from being sown in the ears of the
wicked. Also he added, that the son to be born of her was of his
own line, and that he wished him to be named Ubbe. When this son
had grown up somewhat, his wit, despite his tender years,
equalled the discernment of manhood. For he took to loving his
mother, since she had had converse with a noble bed, but cast off
all respect for his father, because he had stooped to a union too

After this Ragnar prepared an expedition against the
Hellespontines, and summoned an assembly of the Danes, promising
that he would give the people most wholesome laws. He had
enacted before that each father of a household should offer for
service that one among his sons whom he esteemed least; but now
he enacted that each should arm the son who was stoutest of hand
or of most approved loyalty. Thereon, taking all the sons he had
by Thora, in addition to Ubbe, he attacked, crushed in sundry
campaigns, and subdued the Hellespont with its king Dia. At last
he involved the same king in disaster after disaster, and slew
him. Dia's sons, Dia and Daxo, who had before married the
daughters of the Russian king, begged forces from their father-
in-law, and rushed with most ardent courage to the work of
avenging their father. But Ragnar, when he saw their boundless
army, distrusted his own forces; and he put brazen horses on
wheels that could be drawn easily, took them round on carriages
that would turn, and ordered that they should be driven with the
utmost force against the thickest ranks of the enemy. This
device served so well to break the line of the foe, that the
Danes' hope of conquest seemed to lie more in the engine than in
the soldiers: for its insupportable weight overwhelmed whatever
it struck. Thus one of the leaders was killed, while one made
off in flight, and the whole army of the area of the Hellespont
retreated. The Scythians, also, who were closely related by
blood to Daxo on the mother's side, are said to have been crushed
in the same disaster. Their province was made over to Hwitserk,
and the king of the Russians, trusting little in his own
strength, hastened to fly out of the reach of the terrible arms
of Ragnar.

Now Ragnar had spent almost five years in sea-roving, and had
quickly compelled all other nations to submit; but he found the
Perms in open defiance of his sovereignty. He had just conquered
them, but their loyalty was weak. When they heard that he had
come they cast spells upon the sky, stirred up the clouds, and
drove them into most furious storms. This for some time
prevented the Danes from voyaging, and caused their supply of
food to fail. Then, again, the storm suddenly abated, and now
they were scorched by the most fervent and burning heat; nor was
this plague any easier to bear than the great and violent cold
had been. Thus the mischievous excess in both directions
affected their bodies alternately, and injured them by an
immoderate increase first of cold and then of heat. Moreover,
dysentery killed most of them. So the mass of the Danes, being
pent in by the dangerous state of the weather, perished of the
bodily plague that arose on every side. And when Ragnar saw that
he was hindered, not so much by a natural as by a factitious
tempest, he held on his voyage as best he could, and got to the
country of the Kurlanders and Sembs, who paid zealous honour to
his might and majesty, as if he were the most revered of
conquerors. This service enraged the king all the more against
the arrogance of the men of Permland, and he attempted to avenge
his slighted dignity by a sudden attack. Their king, whose name
is not known, was struck with panic at such a sudden invasion of
the enemy, and at the same time had no heart to join battle with
them; and fled to Matul, the prince of Finmark. He, trusting in
the great skill of his archers, harassed with impunity the army
of Ragnar, which was wintering in Permland. For the Finns, who
are wont to glide on slippery timbers (snowskates), scud along at
whatever pace they will, and are considered to be able to
approach or depart very quickly; for as soon as they have damaged
the enemy they fly away as speedily as they approach, nor is the
retreat they make quicker than their charge. Thus their vehicles
and their bodies are so nimble that they acquire the utmost
expertness both in advance and flight.

Ragnar was filled with amazement at the poorness of his fortunes
when he saw that he, who had conquered Rome at its pinnacle of
power, was dragged by an unarmed and uncouth race into the utmost
peril. He, therefore, who had signally crushed the most glorious
flower of the Roman soldiery, and the forces of a most great and
serene captain, now yielded to a base mob with the poorest and
slenderest equipment; and he whose lustre in war the might of the
strongest race on earth had failed to tarnish, was now too weak
to withstand the tiny band of a miserable tribe. Hence, with
that force which had helped him bravely to defeat the most famous
pomp in all the world and the weightiest weapon of military
power, and to subdue in the field all that thunderous foot,
horse, and encampment; with this he had now, stealthily and like
a thief, to endure the attacks of a wretched and obscure
populace; nor must he blush to stain by a treachery in the night
that noble glory of his which had been won in the light of day,
for he took to a secret ambuscade instead of open bravery. This
affair was as profitable in its issue as it was unhandsome in the

Ragnar was equally as well pleased at the flight of the Finns as
he had been at that of Karl, and owned that he had found more
strength in that defenceless people than in the best equipped
soldiery; for he found the heaviest weapons of the Romans easier
to bear than the light darts of this ragged tribe. Here, after
killing the king of the Perms and routing the king of the Finns,
Ragnar set an eternal memorial of his victory on the rocks, which
bore the characters of his deeds on their face, and looked down
upon them.

Meanwhile Ubbe was led by his grandfather, Esbern, to conceive an
unholy desire for the throne; and, casting away all thought of
the reverence due to his father, he claimed the emblem of royalty
for his own head.

When Ragnar heard of his arrogance from Kelther and Thorkill, the
earls of Sweden, he made a hasty voyage towards Gothland.
Esbern, finding that these men were attached with a singular
loyalty to the side of Ragnar, tried to bribe them to desert the
king. But they did not swerve from their purpose, and replied
that their will depended on that of Biorn, declaring that not a
single Swede would dare to do what went against his pleasure.
Esbern speedily made an attempt on Biorn himself, addressing him
most courteously through his envoys. Biorn said that he would
never lean more to treachery than to good faith, and judged that
it would be a most abominable thing to prefer the favour of an
infamous brother to the love of a most righteous father. The
envoys themselves he punished with hanging, because they
counselled him to so grievous a crime. The Swedes, moreover,
slew the rest of the train of the envoys in the same way, as a
punishment for their mischievous advice. So Esbern, thinking
that his secret and stealthy manoeuvres did not succeed fast
enough, mustered his forces openly, and went publicly forth to
war. But Iwar, the governor of Jutland, seeing no righteousness
on either side of the impious conflict, avoided all unholy war by
voluntary exile.

Ragnar attacked and slew Esbern in the bay that is called in
Latin Viridis; he cut off the dead man's head and bade it be set
upon the ship's prow, a dreadful sight for the seditious. But
Ubbe took to flight, and again attacked his father, having
revived the war in Zealand. Ubbe's ranks broke, and he was
assailed single-handed from all sides; but he felled so many of
the enemy's line that he was surrounded with a pile of the
corpses of the foe as with a strong bulwark, and easily checked
his assailants from approaching. At last he was overwhelmed by
the thickening masses of the enemy, captured, and taken off to be
laden with public fetters. By immense violence he disentangled
his chains and cut them away. But when he tried to sunder and
rend the bonds that were (then) put upon him, he could not in any
wise escape his bars. But when Iwar heard that the rising in his
country had been quelled by the punishment of the rebel, he went
to Denmark. Ragnar received him with the greatest honour,
because, while the unnatural war had raged its fiercest, he had
behaved with the most entire filial respect.

Meanwhile Daxo long and vainly tried to overcome Hwitserk, who
ruled over Sweden; but at last he enrapped him under pretence of
making a peace, and attacked him. Hwitserk received him
hospitably, but Daxo had prepared an army with weapons, who were
to feign to be trading, ride into the city in carriages, and
break with a night-attack into the house of their host. Hwitserk
smote this band of robbers with such a slaughter that he was
surrounded with a heap of his enemies' bodies, and could only be
taken by letting down ladders from above. Twelve of his
companions, who were captured at the same time by the enemy, were
given leave to go back to their country; but they gave up their
lives for their king, and chose to share the dangers of another
rather than be quit of their own.

Daxo, moved with compassion at the beauty of Hwitserk, had not
the heart to pluck the budding blossom of that noble nature, and
offered him not only his life, but his daughter in marriage, with
a dowry of half his kingdom; choosing rather to spare his
comeliness than to punish his bravery. But the other, in the
greatness of his soul, valued as nothing the life which he was
given on sufferance, and spurned his safety as though it were
some trivial benefit. Of his own will he embraced the sentence
of doom, saying, that Ragnar would exact a milder vengeance for
his son if he found that he had made his own choice in selecting
the manner of his death. The enemy wondered at his rashness, and
promised that he should die by the manner of death which he
should choose for this punishment. This leave the young man
accepted as a great kindness, and begged that he might be bound
and burned with his friends. Daxo speedily complied with his
prayers that craved for death, and by way of kindness granted him
the end that he had chosen. When Ragnar heard of this, he began
to grieve stubbornly even unto death, and not only put on the
garb of mourning, but, in the exceeding sorrow of his soul, took
to his bed and showed his grief by groaning. But his wife, who
had more than a man's courage, chid his weakness, and put heart
into him with her manful admonitions. Drawing his mind off from
his woe, she bade him be zealous in the pursuit of war; declaring
that it was better for so brave a father to avenge the
bloodstained ashes of his son with weapons than with tears. She
also told him not to whimper like a woman, and get as much
disgrace by his tears as he had once earned glory by his valour.
Upon these words Ragnar began to fear lest he should destroy his
ancient name for courage by his womanish sorrow; so, shaking off
his melancholy garb and putting away his signs of mourning, he
revived his sleeping valour with hopes of speedy vengeance. Thus
do the weak sometimes nerve the spirits of the strong. So he put
his kingdom in charge of Iwar, and embraced with a father's love
Ubbe, who was now restored to his ancient favour. Then he
transported his fleet over to Russia, took Daxo, bound him in
chains, and sent him away to be kept in Utgard. (1)

Ragnar showed on this occasion the most merciful moderation
towards the slayer of his dearest son, since he sufficiently
satisfied the vengeance which he desired, by the exile of the
culprit rather than his death. This compassion shamed the
Russians out of any further rage against such a king, who could
not be driven even by the most grievous wrongs to inflict death
upon his prisoners. Ragnar soon took Daxo back into favour, and
restored him to his country, upon his promising that he would
every year pay him his tribute barefoot, like a suppliant, with
twelve elders, also unshod. For he thought it better to punish a
prisoner and a suppliant gently, than to draw the axe of
bloodshed; better to punish that proud neck with constant slavery
than to sever it once and for all. Then he went on and appointed
his son Erik, surnamed Wind-hat, over Sweden. Here, while
Fridleif and Siward were serving under him, he found that the
Norwegians and the Scots had wrongfully conferred the title of
king on two other men. So he first overthrew the usurper to the
power of Norway, and let Biorn have the country for his own

Then he summoned Biorn and Erik, ravaged the Orkneys, landed at
last on the territory of the Scots, and in a three-days' battle
wearied out their king Murial, and slew him. But Ragnar's sons,
Dunwat and Radbard, after fighting nobly, were slain by the
enemy. So that the victory their father won was stained with
their blood. He returned to Denmark, and found that his wife
Swanloga had in the meantime died of disease. Straightway he
sought medicine for his grief in loneliness, and patiently
confined the grief of his sick soul within the walls of his
house. But this bitter sorrow was driven out of him by the
sudden arrival of Iwar, who had been expelled from the kingdom.
For the Gauls had made him fly, and had wrongfully bestowed royal
power on a certain Ella, the son of Hame. Ragnar took Iwar to
guide him, since he was acquainted with the country, gave orders
for a fleet, and approached the harbour called York. Here he
disembarked his forces, and after a battle which lasted three
days, he made Ella, who had trusted in the valour of the Gauls,
desirous to fly. The affair cost much blood to the English and
very little to the Danes. Here Ragnar completed a year of
conquest, and then, summoning his sons to help him, he went to
Ireland, slew its king Melbrik, besieged Dublin, which was filled
with wealth of the barbarians, attacked it, and received its
surrender. There he lay in camp for a year; and then, sailing
through the midland sea, he made his way to the Hellespont. He
won signal victories as he crossed all the intervening countries,
and no ill-fortune anywhere checked his steady and prosperous

Harald, meanwhile, with the adherence of certain Danes who were
cold-hearted servants in the army of Ragnar, disturbed his
country with renewed sedition, and came forward claiming the
title of king. He was met by the arms of Ragnar returning from
the Hellespont; but being unsuccessful, and seeing that his
resources of defence at home were exhausted, he went to ask help
of Ludwig, who was then stationed at Mainz. But Ludwig, filled
with the greatest zeal for promoting his religion, imposed a
condition on the Barbarian, promising him help if he would agree
to follow the worship of Christ. For he said there could be no
agreement of hearts between those who embraced discordant creeds.
Anyone, therefore, who asked for help, must first have a
fellowship in religion. No men could be partners in great works
who were separated by a different form of worship. This decision
procured not only salvation for Ludwig's guest, but the praise of
piety for Ludwig himself, who, as soon as Harald had gone to the
holy font, accordingly strengthened him with Saxon auxiliaries.
Trusting in these, Harald built a temple in the land of Sleswik
with much care and cost, to be hallowed to God. Thus he borrowed
a pattern of the most holy way from the worship of Rome. He
unhallowed, pulled down the shrines that had been profaned by the
error of misbelievers, outlawed the sacrificers, abolished the
(heathen) priesthood, and was the first to introduce the religion
of Christianity to his uncouth country. Rejecting the worship of
demons, he was zealous for that of God. Lastly, he observed with
the most scrupulous care whatever concerned the protection of
religion. But he began with more piety than success. For Ragnar
came up, outraged the holy rites he had brought in, outlawed the
true faith, restored the false one to its old position, and
bestowed on the ceremonies the same honour as before. As for
Harald, he deserted and cast in his lot with sacrilege. For
though he was a notable ensample by his introduction of religion,
yet he was the first who was seen to neglect it, and this
illustrious promoter of holiness proved a most infamous forsaker
of the same.

Meanwhile, Ella betook himself to the Irish, and put to the sword
or punished all those who were closely and loyally attached to
Ragnar. Then Ragnar attacked him with his fleet, but, by the
just visitation of the Omnipotent, was openly punished for
disparaging religion. For when he had been taken and cast into
prison, his guilty limbs were given to serpents to devour, and
adders found ghastly substance in the fibres of his entrails.
His liver was eaten away, and a snake, like a deadly executioner,
beset his very heart. Then in a courageous voice he recounted
all his deeds in order, and at the end of his recital added the
following sentence: "If the porkers knew the punishment of the
boar-pig, surely they would break into the sty and hasten to
loose him from his affliction." At this saying, Ella conjectured
that some of his sons were yet alive, and bade that the
executioners should stop and the vipers be removed. The servants
ran up to accomplish his bidding; but Ragnar was dead, and
forestalled the order of the king. Surely we must say that this
man had a double lot for his share? By one, he had a fleet
unscathed, an empire well-inclined, and immense power as a rover;
while the other inflicted on him the ruin of his fame, the
slaughter of his soldiers, and a most bitter end. The
executioner beheld him beset with poisonous beasts, and asps
gorging on that heart which he had borne steadfast in the face of
every peril. Thus a most glorious conqueror declined to the
piteous lot of a prisoner; a lesson that no man should put too
much trust in fortune.

Iwar heard of this disaster as he happened to be looking on at
the games. Nevertheless, he kept an unmoved countenance, and in
nowise broke down. Not only did he dissemble his grief and
conceal the news of his father's death, but he did not even allow
a clamour to arise, and forbade the panic-stricken people to
leave the scene of the sports. Thus, loth to interrupt the
spectacle by the ceasing of the games, he neither clouded his
countenance nor turned his eyes from public merriment to dwell
upon his private sorrow; for he would not fall suddenly into the
deepest melancholy from the height of festal joy, or seem to
behave more like an afflicted son than a blithe captain.

But when Siward heard the same tidings, he loved his father more
than he cared for his own pain, and in his distraction plunged
deeply into his foot the spear he chanced to be holding, dead to
all bodily troubles in his stony sadness. For he wished to hurt
some part of his body severely, that he might the more patiently
bear the wound in his soul. By this act he showed at once his
bravery and his grief, and bore his lot like a son who was more
afflicted and steadfast. But Biorn received the tidings of his
father's death while he was playing at dice, and squeezed so
violently the piece that he was grasping that he wrung the blood
from his fingers and shed it on the table; whereon he said that
assuredly the cast of fate was more fickle than that of the very
die which he was throwing. When Ella heard this, he judged that
his father's death had been borne with the toughest and most
stubborn spirit by that son of the three who had paid no filial
respect to his decease; and therefore he dreaded the bravery of
Iwar most.

Iwar went towards England, and when he saw that his fleet was not
strong enough to join battle with the enemy, he chose to be
cunning rather than bold, and tried a shrewd trick on Ella,
begging as a pledge of peace between them a strip of land as
great as he could cover with a horse's hide. He gained his
request, for the king supposed that it would cost little, and
thought himself happy that so strong a foe begged for a little
boon instead of a great one; supposing that a tiny skin would
cover but a very little land. But Iwar cut the hide out and
lengthened it into very slender thongs, thus enclosing a piece of
ground large enough to build a city on. Then Ella came to repent
of his lavishness, and tardily set to reckoning the size of the
hide, measuring the little skin more narrowly now that it was cut
up than when it was whole. For that which he had thought would
encompass a little strip of ground, he saw lying wide over a
great estate. Iwar brought into the city, when he founded it,
supplies that would serve amply for a siege, wishing the defences
to be as good against scarcity as against an enemy.

Meantime, Siward and Biorn came up with a fleet of 400 ships, and
with open challenge declared war against the king. This they did
at the appointed time; and when they had captured him, they
ordered the figure of an eagle to be cut in his back, rejoicing
to crush their most ruthless foe by marking him with the
cruellest of birds. Not satisfied with imprinting a wound on
him, they salted the mangled flesh. Thus Ella was done to death,
and Biorn and Siward went back to their own kingdoms.

Iwar governed England for two years. Meanwhile the Danes were
stubborn in revolt, and made war, and delivered the sovereignty
publicly to a certain SIWARD and to ERIK, both of the royal line.
The sons of Ragnar, together with a fleet of 1,700 ships,
attacked them at Sleswik, and destroyed them in a conflict which
lasted six months. Barrows remain to tell the tale. The sound
on which the war was conducted has gained equal glory by the
death of Siward. And now the royal stock was almost
extinguished, saving only the sons of Ragnar. Then, when Biorn
and Erik had gone home, Iwar and Siward settled in Denmark, that
they might curb the rebels with a stronger rein, setting Agnar to
govern England. Agnar was stung because the English rejected
him, and, with the help of Siward, chose, rather than foster the
insolence of the province that despised him, to dispeople it and
leave its fields, which were matted in decay, with none to till
them. He covered the richest land of the island with the most
hideous desolation, thinking it better to be lord of a wilderness
than of a headstrong country. After this he wished to avenge
Erik, who had been slain in Sweden by the malice of a certain
Osten. But while he was narrowly bent on avenging another, he
squandered his own blood on the foe; and while he was eagerly
trying to punish the slaughter of his brother, sacrificed his own
life to brotherly love.

Thus SIWARD, by the sovereign vote of the whole Danish assembly,
received the empire of his father. But after the defeats he had
inflicted everywhere he was satisfied with the honour he received
at home, and liked better to be famous with the gown than with
the sword. He ceased to be a man of camps, and changed from the
fiercest of despots into the most punctual guardian of peace. He
found as much honour in ease and leisure as he had used to think
lay in many victories. Fortune so favoured his change of
pursuits, that no foe ever attacked him, nor he any foe. He
died, and ERIK, who was a very young child, inherited his nature,
rather than his realm or his tranquillity. For Erik, the brother
of Harald, despising his exceedingly tender years, invaded the
country with rebels, and seized the crown; nor was he ashamed to
assail the lawful infant sovereign, and to assume an unrightful
power. In thus bringing himself to despoil a feeble child of the
kingdom he showed himself the more unworthy of it. Thus he
stripped the other of his throne, but himself of all his virtues,
and cast all manliness out of his heart, when he made war upon a
cradle: for where covetousness and ambition flamed, love of
kindred could find no place. But this brutality was requited by
the wrath of a divine vengeance. For the war between this man
and Gudorm, the son of Harald, ended suddenly with such slaughter
that they were both slain, with numberless others; and the royal
stock of the Danes, now worn out by the most terrible massacres,
was reduced to the only son of the above Siward.

This man (Erik) won the fortune of a throne by losing his
kindred; it was luckier for him to have his relations dead than
alive. He forsook the example of all the rest, and hastened to
tread in the steps of his grandfather; for he suddenly came out
as a most zealous practitioner of roving. And would that he had
not shown himself rashly to inherit the spirit of Ragnar, by his
abolition of Christian worship! For he continually tortured all
the most religious men, or stripped them of their property and
banished them. But it were idle for me to blame the man's
beginnings when I am to praise his end. For that life is more
laudable of which the foul beginning is checked by a glorious
close, than that which begins commendably but declines into
faults and infamies. For Erik, upon the healthy admonitions of
Ansgarius, laid aside the errors of his impious heart, and atoned
for whatsoever he had done amiss in the insolence thereof;
showing himself as strong in the observance of religion as he had
been in slighting it. Thus he not only took a draught of more
wholesome teaching with obedient mind, but wiped off early stains
by his purity at the end. He had a son KANUTE by the daughter of
Gudorm, who was also the granddaughter of Harald; and him he left

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