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The Danish History, Introduction
Part I


Saxo Grammaticus, or "The Lettered", one of the notable historians of the Middle Ages, may fairly be called not only the earliest chronicler of Denmark, but her earliest writer. In the latter half of the twelfth century, when Iceland was in the flush of literary production, Denmark lingered behind. No literature in her vernacular, save a few Runic inscriptions, has survived. Monkish annals, devotional works, and lives were written in Latin; but the chronicle of Roskild, the necrology of Lund, the register of gifts to the cloister of Sora, are not literature. Neither are the half-mythological genealogies of kings; and besides, the mass of these, though doubtless based on older verses that are lost, are not proved to be, as they stand, prior to Saxo. One man only, Saxo's elder contemporary, Sueno Aggonis, or Sweyn (Svend) Aageson, who wrote about 1185, shares or anticipates the credit of attempting a connected record. His brief draft of annals is written in rough mediocre Latin. It names but a few of the kings recorded by Saxo, and tells little that Saxo does not. Yet there is a certain link between the two writers. Sweyn speaks of Saxo with respect; he not obscurely leaves him the task of filling up his omissions. Both writers, servants of the brilliant Bishop Absalon, and probably set by him upon their task, proceed, like Geoffrey of Monmouth, by gathering and editing mythical matter. This they more or less embroider, and arrive in due course insensibly at actual history. Both, again, thread their stories upon a genealogy of kings in part legendary. Both write at the spur of patriotism, both to let Denmark linger in the race for light and learning, and desirous to save her glories, as other nations have saved theirs, by a record. But while Sweyn only made a skeleton chronicle, Saxo leaves a memorial in which historian and philologist find their account. His seven later books are the chief Danish authority for the times which they relate; his first nine, here translated, are a treasure of myth and folk-lore. Of the songs and stories which Denmark possessed from the common Scandinavian stock, often her only native record is in Saxo's Latin. Thus, as a chronicler both of truth and fiction, he had in his own land no predecessor, nor had he any literary tradition behind him. Single-handed, therefore, he may be said to have lifted the dead-weight against him, and given Denmark a writer. The nature of his work will be discussed presently.


Of Saxo little is known but what he himself indicates, though much doubtful supposition has gathered round his name.

That he was born a Dane his whole language implies; it is full of a glow of aggressive patriotism. He also often praises the Zealanders at the expense of other Danes, and Zealand as the centre of Denmark; but that is the whole contemporary evidence for the statement that he was a Zealander. This statement is freely taken for granted three centuries afterwards by Urne in the first edition of the book (1514), but is not traced further back than an epitomator, who wrote more than 200 years after Saxo's death. Saxo tells us that his father and grandfather fought for Waldemar the First of Denmark, who reigned from 1157 to 1182. Of these men we know nothing further, unless the Saxo whom he names as one of Waldemar's admirals be his grandfather, in which case his family was one of some distinction and his father and grandfather probably "King's men". But Saxo was a very common name, and we shall see the licence of hypothesis to which this fact has given rise. The notice, however, helps us approximately towards Saxo's birth-year. His grandfather, if he fought for Waldemar, who began to reign in 1157, can hardly have been born before 1100, nor can Saxo himself have been born before 1145 or 1150. But he was undoubtedly born before 1158, since he speaks of the death of Bishop Asker, which took place in that year, as occurring "in our time". His life therefore covers and overlaps the last half of the twelfth century.

His calling and station in life are debated. Except by the anonymous Zealand chronicler, who calls him Saxo "the Long", thus giving us the one personal detail we have, he has been universally known as Saxo "Grammaticus" ever since the epitomator of 1431 headed his compilation with the words, "A certain notable man of letters ("grammaticus"), a Zealander by birth, named Saxo, wrote," etc. It is almost certain that this general term, given only to men of signal gifts and learning, became thus for the first time, and for good, attached to Saxo's name. Such a title, in the Middle Ages, usually implied that its owner was a churchman, and Saxo's whole tone is devout, though not conspicuously professional.

But a number of Saxos present themselves in the same surroundings with whom he has been from time to time identified. All he tells us himself is, that Absalon, Archbishop of Lund from 1179 to 1201, pressed him, who was "the least of his companions, since all the rest refused the task", to write the history of Denmark, so that it might record its glories like other nations. Absalon was previously, and also after his promotion, Bishop of Roskild, and this is the first circumstance giving colour to the theory -- which lacks real evidence -- that Saxo the historian was the same as a certain Saxo, Provost of the Chapter of Roskild, whose death is chronicled in a contemporary hand without any mark of distinction. It is unlikely that so eminent a man would be thus barely named; and the appended eulogy and verses identifying the Provost and the historian are of later date. Moreover, the Provost Saxo went on a mission to Paris in 1165, and was thus much too old for the theory. Nevertheless, the good Bishop of Roskild, Lave Urne, took this identity for granted in the first edition, and fostered the assumption. Saxo was a cleric; and could such a man be of less than canonical rank? He was (it was assumed) a Zealander; he was known to be a friend of Absalon, Bishop of Roskild. What more natural than that he should have been the Provost Saxo? Accordingly this latter worthy had an inscription in gold letters, written by Lave Urne himself, affixed to the wall opposite his tomb.

Even less evidence exists for identifying our Saxo with the scribe of that name -- a comparative menial -- who is named in the will of Bishop Absalon; and hardly more warranted is the theory that he was a member, perhaps a subdeacon, of the monastery of St. Laurence, whose secular canons formed part of the Chapter of Lund. It is true that Sweyn Aageson, Saxo's senior by about twenty years, speaks (writing about 1185) of Saxo as his "contubernalis". Sweyn Aageson is known to have had strong family connections with the monastery of St. Laurence; but there is only a tolerably strong probability that he, and therefore that Saxo, was actually a member of it. ("Contubernalis" may only imply comradeship in military service.) Equally doubtful is the consequence that since Saxo calls himself "one of the least" of Absalon's "followers" ("comitum"), he was probably, if not the inferior officer, who is called an "acolitus", at most a sub-deacon, who also did the work of a superior "acolitus". This is too poor a place for the chief writer of Denmark, high in Absalon's favor, nor is there any direct testimony that Saxo held it.

His education is unknown, but must have been careful. Of his training and culture we only know what his book betrays. Possibly, like other learned Danes, then and afterwards, he acquired his training and knowledge at some foreign University. Perhaps, like his contemporary Anders Suneson, he went to Paris; but we cannot tell. It is not even certain that he had a degree; for there is really little to identify him with the "M(agister) Saxo" who witnessed the deed of Absalon founding the monastery at Sora.


How he was induced to write his book has been mentioned. The expressions of modesty Saxo uses, saying that he was "the least" of Absalon's "followers", and that "all the rest refused the task", are not to be taken to the letter. A man of his parts would hardly be either the least in rank, or the last to be solicited. The words, however, enable us to guess an upward limit for the date of the inception of the work. Absalon became Archbishop in 1179, and the language of the Preface (written, as we shall see, last) implies that he was already Archbishop when he suggested the History to Saxo. But about 1185 we find Sweyn Aageson complimenting Saxo, and saying that Saxo "had `determined' to set forth all the deeds" of Sweyn Estridson, in his eleventh book, "at greater length in a more elegant style". The exact bearing of this notice on the date of Saxo's History is doubtful. It certainly need not imply that Saxo had already written ten books, or indeed that he had written any, of his History. All we call say is, that by 1185 a portion of the history was planned. The order in which its several parts were composed, and the date of its completion, are not certainly known, as Absalon died in 1201. But the work was not then finished; for, at the end of Bk. XI, one Birger, who died in 1202, is mentioned as still alive.

We have, however, a yet later notice. In the Preface, which, as its whole language implies, was written last, Saxo speaks of Waldemar II having "encompassed (`complexus') the ebbing and flowing waves of Elbe." This language, though a little vague, can hardly refer to anything but an expedition of Waldemar to Bremen in 1208. The whole History was in that case probably finished by about 1208. As to the order in which its parts were composed, it is likely that Absalon's original instruction was to write a history of Absalon's own doings. The fourteenth and succeeding books deal with these at disproportionate length, and Absalon, at the expense even of Waldemar, is the protagonist. Now Saxo states in his Preface that he "has taken care to follow the statements ("asserta") of Absalon, and with obedient mind and pen to include both his own doings and other men's doings of which he learnt."

The latter books are, therefore, to a great extent, Absalon's personally communicated memoirs. But we have seen that Absalon died in 1201, and that Bk. xi, at any rate, was not written after 1202. It almost certainly follows that the latter books were written in Absalon's life; but the Preface, written after them, refers to events in 1208. Therefore, unless we suppose that the issue was for some reason delayed, or that Saxo spent seven years in polishing -- which is not impossible -- there is some reason to surmise that he began with that portion of his work which was nearest to his own time, and added the previous (especially the first nine, or mythical) books, as a completion, and possibly as an afterthought. But this is a point which there is no real means of settling. We do not know how late the Preface was written, except that it must have been some time between 1208 and 1223, when Anders Suneson ceased to be Archbishop; nor do we know when Saxo died.


Nothing is stranger than that a work of such force and genius, unique in Danish letters, should have been forgotten for three hundred years, and have survived only in an epitome and in exceedingly few manuscripts. The history of the book is worth recording. Doubtless its very merits, its "marvellous vocabulary, thickly-studded maxims, and excellent variety of images," which Erasmus admired long afterwards, sealed it to the vulgar. A man needed some Latin to appreciate it, and Erasmus' natural wonder "how a Dane at that day could have such a force of eloquence" is a measure of the rarity both of the gift and of a public that could appraise it. The epitome (made about 1430) shows that Saxo was felt to be difficult, its author saying: "Since Saxo's work is in many places diffuse, and many things are said more for ornament than for historical truth, and moreover his style is too obscure on account of the number of terms ("plurima vocabula") and sundry poems, which are unfamiliar to modern times, this opuscle puts in clear words the more notable of the deeds there related, with the addition of some that happened after Saxo's death." A Low-German version of this epitome, which appeared in 1485, had a considerable vogue, and the two together "helped to drive the history out of our libraries, and explains why the annalists and geographers of the Middle Ages so seldom quoted it." This neglect appears to have been greatest of all in Denmark, and to have lasted until the appearance of the "First Edition" in 1511.

The first impulse towards this work by which Saxo was saved, is found in a letter from the Bishop of Roskild, Lave Urne, dated May 1512, to Christian Pederson, Canon of Lund, whom he compliments as a lover of letters, antiquary, and patriot, and urges to edit and publish "tam divinum latinae eruditionis culmen et splendorem Saxonem nostrum". Nearly two years afterwards Christian Pederson sent Lave Urne a copy of the first edition, now all printed, with an account of its history. "I do not think that any mortal was more inclined and ready for" the task. "When living at Paris, and paying heed to good literature, I twice sent a messenger at my own charges to buy a faithful copy at any cost, and bring it back to me. Effecting nothing thus, I went back to my country for this purpose; I visited and turned over all the libraries, but still could not pull out a Saxo, even covered with beetles, bookworms, mould, and dust. So stubbornly had all the owners locked it away." A worthy prior, in compassion offered to get a copy and transcribe it with his own hand, but Christian, in respect for the prior's rank, absurdly declined. At last Birger, the Archbishop of Lund, by some strategy, got a copy, which King Christian the Second allowed to be taken to Paris on condition of its being wrought at "by an instructed and skilled graver (printer)." Such a person was found in Jodocus Badius Ascenshls, who adds a third letter written by himself to Bishop Urne, vindicating his application to Saxo of the title Grammaticus, which he well defines as "one who knows how to speak or write with diligence, acuteness, or knowledge." The beautiful book he produced was worthy of the zeal, and unsparing, unweariable pains, which had been spent on it by the band of enthusiasts, and it was truly a little triumph of humanism. Further editions were reprinted during the sixteenth century at Basic and at Frankfort-on-Main, but they did not improve in any way upon the first; and the next epoch in the study of Saxo was made by the edition and notes of Stephanus Johansen Stephanius, published at Copenhagen in the middle of the seventeenth century (1644). Stephanius, the first commentator on Saxo, still remains the best upon his language. Immense knowledge of Latin, both good and bad (especially of the authors Saxo imitated), infinite and prolix industry, a sharp eye for the text, and continence in emendation, are not his only virtues. His very bulkiness and leisureliness are charming; he writes like a man who had eternity to write in, and who knew enough to fill it, and who expected readers of an equal leisure. He also prints some valuable notes signed with the famous name of Bishop Bryniolf of Skalholt, a man of force and talent, and others by Casper Barth, "corculum Musarum", as Stephanius calls him, whose textual and other comments are sometimes of use, and who worked with a MS. of Saxo. The edition of Klotz, 1771, based on that of Stephanius, I have but seen; however, the first standard commentary is that begun by P. E. Muller, Bishop of Zealand, and finished after his death by Johan Velschow, Professor of History at Copenhagen, where the first part of the work, containing text and notes, was published in 1839; the second, with prolegomena and fuller notes, appearing in 1858. The standard edition, containing bibliography, critical apparatus based on all the editions and MS. fragments, text, and index, is the admirable one of that indefatigable veteran, Alfred Holder, Strasburg, 1886.

Hitherto the translations of Saxo have been into Danish. The first that survives, by Anders Soffrinson Vedel, dates from 1575, some sixty years after the first edition. In such passages as I have examined it is vigorous, but very free, and more like a paraphrase than a translation, Saxo's verses being put into loose prose. Yet it has had a long life, having been modified by Vedel's grandson, John Laverentzen, in 1715, and reissued in 1851. The present version has been much helped by the translation of Seier Schousbolle, published at Copenhagen in 1752. It is true that the verses, often the hardest part, are put into periphrastic verse (by Laurentius Thura, c. 1721), and Schousbolle often does not face a difficulty; but he gives the sense of Saxo simply and concisely. The lusty paraphrase by the enthusiastic Nik. Fred. Sev. Grundtvig, of which there have been several editions, has also been of occasional use. No other translations, save of a scrap here and there into German, seem to be extant.


It will be understood, from what has been said, that no complete MS. of Saxo's History is known. The epitomator in the fourteenth century, and Krantz in the seventeenth, had MSS. before them; and there was that one which Christian Pedersen found and made the basis of the first edition, but which has disappeared. Barth had two manuscripts, which are said to have been burnt in 1636. Another, possessed by a Swedish parish priest, Aschaneus, in 1630, which Stephenhis unluckily did not know of, disappeared in the Royal Archives of Stockholm after his death. These are practically the only MSS. of which we have sure information, excepting the four fragments that are now preserved. Of these by far the most interesting is the "Angers Fragment."

This was first noticed in 1863, in the Angers Library, where it was found degraded into the binding of a number of devotional works and a treatise on metric, dated 1459, and once the property of a priest at Alencon. In 1877 M. Gaston Paris called the attention of the learned to it, and the result was that the Danish Government received it next year in exchange for a valuable French manuscript which was in the Royal Library at Copenhagen. This little national treasure, the only piece of contemporary writing of the History, has been carefully photographed and edited by that enthusiastic and urbane scholar, Christian Bruun. In the opinion both of Dr. Vigfusson and M. Paris, the writing dates from about 1200; and this date, though difficult to determine, owing to the paucity of Danish MSS. of the 12th and early lath centuries, is confirmed by the character of the contents. For there is little doubt that the Fragment shows us Saxo in the labour of composition. The MSS. looks as if expressly written for interlineation. Besides a marginal gloss by a later, fourteenth century hand, there are two distinct sets of variants, in different writings, interlined and running over into the margin. These variants are much more numerous in the prose than in the verse. The first set are in the same hand as the text, the second in another hand: but both of them have the character, not of variants from some other MSS., but of alternative expressions put down tentatively. If either hand is Saxo's it is probably the second. He may conceivably have dictated both at different times to different scribes. No other man would tinker the style in this fashion. A complete translation of all these changes has been deemed unnecessary in these volumes; there is a full collation in Holder's "Apparatus Criticus". The verdict of the Angers-Fragment, which, for the very reason mentioned, must not be taken as the final form of the text, nor therefore, despite its antiquity, as conclusive against the First Edition where the two differ, is to confirm, so far as it goes, the editing of Ascensius and Pederson. There are no vital differences, and the care of the first editors, as well as the authority of their source, is thus far amply vindicated.

A sufficient account of the other fragments will be found in Holder's list. In 1855 M. Kall-Rasmussen found in the private archives at Kronborg a scrap of fourteenth century MS., containing a short passage from Bk. vii. Five years later G. F. Lassen found, at Copenhagen, a fragment of Bk. vi believed to be written in North Zealand, and in the opinion of Bruun belonging to the same codex as Kall-Rasmussen's fragment. Of another longish piece, found in Copenhagen at the end of the seventeenth century by Johannes Laverentzen, and belonging to a codex burnt in the fire of 1728, a copy still extant in the Copenhagen Museum, was made by Otto Sperling. For fragments, either extant or alluded to, of the later books, the student should consult the carefully collated text of Holder. The whole MS. material, therefore, covers but a little of Saxo's work, which was practically saved for Europe by the perseverance and fervour for culture of a single man, Bishop Urne.


Saxo's countrymen have praised without stint his remarkable style, for he has a style. It is often very bad; but he writes, he is not in vain called Grammaticus, the man of letters. His style is not merely remarkable considering its author's difficulties; it is capable at need of pungency and of high expressiveness. His Latin is not that of the Golden Age, but neither is it the common Latin of the Middle Ages. There are traces of his having read Virgil and Cicero. But two writers in particular left their mark on him. The first and most influential is Valerius Maximus, the mannered author of the "Memorabilia", who lived in the first half of the first century, and was much relished in the Middle Ages. From him Saxo borrowed a multitude of phrases, sometimes apt but often crabbed and deformed, as well as an exemplary and homiletic turn of narrative. Other idioms, and perhaps the practice of interspersing verses amid prose (though this also was a twelfth century Icelandic practice), Saxo found in a fifth-century writer, Martianus Capella, the pedantic author of the "De Nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii" Such models may have saved him from a base mediaeval vocabulary; but they were not worthy of him, and they must answer for some of his falsities of style. These are apparent. His accumulation of empty and motley phrase, like a garish bunch of coloured bladders; his joy in platitude and pomposity, his proneness to say a little thing in great words, are only too easy to translate. We shall be well content if our version also gives some inkling of his qualities; not only of what Erasmus called his "wonderful vocabulary, his many pithy sayings, and the excellent variety of his images"; but also of his feeling for grouping, his barbaric sense of colour, and his stateliness. For he moves with resource and strength both in prose and verse, and is often only hindered by his own wealth. With no kind of critical tradition to chasten him, his force is often misguided and his work shapeless; but he stumbles into many splendours.


The mass of archaic incidents, beliefs, and practices recorded by the 12th-century writer seemed to need some other classification than a bare alphabetic index. The present plan, a subject-index practically, has been adopted with a view to the needs of the anthropologist and folk-lorist. Its details have been largely determined by the bulk and character of the entries themselves. No attempt has been made to supply full parallels from any save the more striking and obvious old Scandinavian sources, the end being to classify material rather than to point out its significance of geographic distribution. With regard to the first three heads, the reader who wishes to see how Saxo compares with the Old Northern poems may be referred to the Grimm Centenary papers, Oxford, 1886, and the Corpus Poeticurn Boreale, Oxford, 1883.


King -- As portrayed by Saxo, the ideal king should be (as in "Beowulf's Lay") generous, brave and just. He should be a man of accomplishments, of unblemished body, presumably of royal kin (peasant-birth is considered a bar to the kingship), usually a son or a nephew, or brother of his foregoer (though no strict rule of succession seems to appear in Saxo), and duly chosen and acknowledged at the proper place of election. In Denmark this was at a stone circle, and the stability of these stones was taken as an omen for the king's reign. There are exceptional instances noted, as the serf-king Eormenric (cf. Guthred-Canute of Northumberland), whose noble birth washed out this blot of his captivity, and there is a curious tradition of a conqueror setting his hound as king over a conquered province in mockery.

The king was of age at twelve. A king of seven years of age has twelve Regents chosen in the Moot, in one case by lot, to bring him up and rule for him till his majority. Regents are all appointed in Denmark, in one case for lack of royal blood, one to Scania, one to Zealand, one to Funen, two to Jutland. Underkings and Earls are appointed by kings, and though the Earl's office is distinctly official, succession is sometimes given to the sons of faithful fathers. The absence of a settled succession law leads (as in Muslim States) to rebellions and plots.

Kings sometimes abdicated, giving up the crown perforce to a rival, or in high age to a kinsman. In heathen times, kings, as Thiodwulf tells us in the case of Domwald and Yngwere, were sometimes sacrificed for better seasons (African fashion), and Wicar of Norway perishes, like Iphigeneia, to procure fair winds. Kings having to lead in war, and sometimes being willing to fight wagers of battle, are short-lived as a rule, and assassination is a continual peril, whether by fire at a time of feast, of which there are numerous examples, besides the classic one on which Biarea-mal is founded and the not less famous one of Hamlet's vengeance, or whether by steel, as with Hiartuar, or by trick, as in Wicar's case above cited. The reward for slaying a king is in one case 120 gold lbs.; 19 "talents" of gold from each ringleader, 1 oz. of gold from each commoner, in the story of Godfred, known as Ref's gild, "i.e., Fox tax". In the case of a great king, Frode, his death is concealed for three years to avoid disturbance within and danger from without. Captive kings were not as a rule well treated. A Slavonic king, Daxo, offers Ragnar's son Whitesark his daughter and half his realm, or death, and the captive strangely desires death by fire. A captive king is exposed, chained to wild beasts, thrown into a serpent-pit, wherein Ragnar is given the fate of the elder Gunnar in the Eddic Lays, Atlakvida. The king is treated with great respect by his people, he is finely clad, and his commands are carried out, however abhorrent or absurd, as long as they do not upset customary or statute law. The king has slaves in his household, men and women, besides his guard of housecarles and his bearsark champions. A king's daughter has thirty slaves with her, and the footmaiden existed exactly as in the stories of the Wicked Waiting Maid. He is not to be awakened in his slumbers (cf. St. Olaf's Life, where the naming of King Magnus is the result of adherence to this etiquette). A champion weds the king's leman.

His thanes are created by the delivery of a sword, which the king bolds by the blade and the thane takes by the hilt. (English earls were created by the girding with a sword. "Taking treasure, and weapons and horses, and feasting in a hall with the king" is synonymous with thane-hood or gesith-ship in "Beowulf's Lay"). A king's thanes must avenge him if he falls, and owe him allegiance. (This was paid in the old English monarchies by kneeling and laying the head down at the lord's knee.)

The trick by which the Mock-king, or King of the Beggars (parallel to our Boy-bishop, and perhaps to that enigmatic churls' King of the "O. E. Chronicle", s.a. 1017, Eadwiceorla- kyning) gets allegiance paid to him, and so secures himself in his attack on the real king, is cleverly devised. The king, besides being a counsel giver himself, and speaking the law, has "counsellors", old and wise men, "sapientes" (like the 0. E. Thyle). The aged warrior counsellor, as Starcad here and Master Hildebrand in the "Nibelungenlied", is one type of these persons, another is the false counsellor, as Woden in guise of Bruni, another the braggart, as Hunferth in "Beowulf's Lay". At "moots" where laws are made, kings and regents chosen, cases judged, resolutions taken of national importance, there are discussions, as in that armed most the host.

The king has, beside his estates up and down the country, sometimes (like Hrothgar with his palace Heorot in "Beowulf's Lay") a great fort and treasure house, as Eormenric, whose palace may well have really existed. There is often a primitive and negroid character about dwellings of formidable personages, heads placed on stakes adorn their exterior, or shields are ranged round the walls.

The provinces are ruled by removable earls appointed by the king, often his own kinsmen, sometimes the heads of old ruling families. The "hundreds" make up the province or subkingdom. They may be granted to king's thanes, who became "hundred- elders". Twelve hundreds are in one case bestowed upon a man.

The "yeoman's" estate is not only honourable but useful, as Starcad generously and truly acknowledges. Agriculture should be fostered and protected by the king, even at the cost of his life.

But gentle birth and birth royal place certain families above the common body of freemen (landed or not); and for a commoner to pretend to a king's daughter is an act of presumption, and generally rigorously resented.

The "smith" was the object of a curious prejudice, probably akin to that expressed in St. Patrick's "Lorica", and derived from the smith's having inherited the functions of the savage weapon-maker with his poisons and charms. The curious attempt to distinguish smiths into good and useful swordsmiths and base and bad goldsmiths seems a merely modern explanation: Weland could both forge swords and make ornaments of metal. Starcad's loathing for a smith recalls the mockery with which the Homeric gods treat Hephaistos.

Slavery. -- As noble birth is manifest by fine eyes and personal beauty, courage and endurance, and delicate behaviour, so the slave nature is manifested by cowardice, treachery, unbridled lust, bad manners, falsehood, and low physical traits. Slaves had, of course, no right either of honour, or life, or limb. Captive ladies are sent to a brothel; captive kings cruelly put to death. Born slaves were naturally still less considered, they were flogged; it was disgraceful to kill them with honourable steel; to accept a slight service from a slave-woman was beneath old Starcad's dignity. A man who loved another man's slave- woman, and did base service to her master to obtain her as his consort, was looked down on. Slaves frequently ran away to escape punishment for carelessness, or fault, or to gain liberty.


The evidence of Saxo to archaic law and customary institutions is pretty much (as we should expect) that to be drawn from the Icelandic Sagas, and even from the later Icelandic rimur and Scandinavian kaempe-viser. But it helps to complete the picture of the older stage of North Teutonic Law, which we are able to piece together out of our various sources, English, Icelandic, and Scandinavian. In the twilight of Yore every glowworm is a helper to the searcher.

There are a few MAXIMS of various times, but all seemingly drawn from custom cited or implied by Saxo as authoritative: --

"It is disgraceful to be ruled by a woman." -- The great men of Teutonic nations held to this maxim. There is no Boudicea or Maidhbh in our own annals till after the accession of the Tudors, when Great Eliza rivals her elder kins-women's glories. Though Tacitus expressly notices one tribe or confederacy, the Sitones, within the compass of his Germania, ruled by a woman, as an exceptional case, it was contrary to the feeling of mediaeval Christendom for a woman to be emperor; it was not till late in the Middle Ages that Spain saw a queen regnant, and France has never yet allowed such rule. It was not till long after Saxo that the great queen of the North, Margaret, wielded a wider sway than that rejected by Gustavus' wayward daughter.

"The suitor ought to urge his own suit." -- This, an axiom of the most archaic law, gets evaded bit by bit till the professional advocate takes the place of the plaintiff. "Njal's Saga", in its legal scenes, shows the transition period, when, as at Rome, a great and skilled chief was sought by his client as the supporter of his cause at the Moot. In England, the idea of representation at law is, as is well known, late and largely derived from canon law practice.

"To exact the blood-fine was as honourable as to take vengeance." -- This maxim, begotten by Interest upon Legality, established itself both in Scandinavia and Arabia. It marks the first stage in a progress which, if carried out wholly, substitutes law for feud. In the society of the heathen Danes the maxim was a novelty; even in Christian Denmark men sometimes preferred blood to fees.

MARRIAGE. -- There are many reminiscences of "archaic marriage customs in Saxo." The capture marriage has left traces in the guarded king's daughters, the challenging of kings to fight or hand over their daughters, in the promises to give a daughter or sister as a reward to a hero who shall accomplish some feat. The existence of polygamy is attested, and it went on till the days of Charles the Great and Harold Fairhair in singular instances, in the case of great kings, and finally disappeared before the strict ecclesiastic regulations.

But there are evidences also of later customs, such as "marriage by purchase", already looked on as archaic in Saxo's day; and the free women in Denmark had clearly long had a veto or refusal of a husband for some time back, and sometimes even free choice. "Go- betweens" negotiate marriages.

Betrothal was of course the usage. For the groom to defile an espoused woman is a foul reproach. Gifts made to father-in-law after bridal by bridegroom seem to denote the old bride-price. Taking the bride home in her car was an important ceremony, and a bride is taken to her future husband's by her father. The wedding-feast, as in France in Rabelais' time, was a noisy and drunken and tumultuous rejoicing, when bone-throwing was in favor, with other rough sports and jokes. The three days after the bridal and their observance in "sword-bed" are noticed below.

A commoner or one of slave-blood could not pretend to wed a high- born lady. A woman would sometimes require some proof of power or courage at her suitor's hands; thus Gywritha, like the famous lady who weds Harold Fairhair, required her husband Siwar to be over-king of the whole land. But in most instances the father or brother betrothed the girl, and she consented to their choice. Unwelcome suitors perish.

The prohibited degrees were, of course, different from those established by the mediaeval church, and brother weds brother's widow in good archaic fashion. Foster-sister and foster-brother may marry, as Saxo notices carefully. The Wolsung incest is not noticed by Saxo. He only knew, apparently, the North-German form of the Niflung story. But the reproachfulness of incest is apparent.

Birth and beauty were looked for in a bride by Saxo's heroes, and chastity was required. The modesty of maidens in old days is eulogised by Saxo, and the penalty for its infraction was severe: sale abroad into slavery to grind the quern in the mud of the yard. One of the tests of virtue is noticed, "lac in ubere".

That favourite "motif", the "Patient Grizzle", occurs, rather, however, in the Border ballad than the Petrarcan formú

"Good wives" die with their husbands as they have vowed, or of grief for their loss, and are wholly devoted to their interests. Among "bad wives" are those that wed their husband's slayer, run away from their husbands, plot against their husbands' lives. The penalty for adultery is death to both, at husband's option -- disfigurement by cutting off the nose of the guilty woman, an archaic practice widely spread. In one case the adulterous lady is left the choice of her own death. Married women's Homeric duties are shown.

There is a curious story, which may rest upon fact, and not be merely typical, where a mother who had suffered wrong forced her daughter to suffer the same wrong.

Captive women are reduced to degrading slavery as "harlots" in one case, according to the eleventh century English practice of Gytha.

THE FAMILY AND BLOOD REVENGE. -- This duty, one of the strongest links of the family in archaic Teutonic society, has left deep traces in Saxo.

To slay those most close in blood, even by accident, is to incur the guilt of parricide, or kin-killing, a bootless crime, which can only be purged by religious ceremonies; and which involves exile, lest the gods' wrath fall on the land, and brings the curse of childlessness on the offender until he is forgiven.

BOOTLESS CRIMES. -- As among the ancient Teutons, botes and were- gilds satisfy the injured who seek redress at law rather than by the steel. But there are certain bootless crimes, or rather sins, that imply "sacratio", devotion to the gods, for the clearing of the community. Such are treason, which is punishable by hanging; by drowning in sea.

Rebellion is still more harshly treated by death and forfeiture; the rebels' heels are bored and thonged under the sinew, as Hector's feet were, and they are then fastened by the thongs to wild bulls, hunted by hounds, till they are dashed to pieces (for which there are classic parallels), or their feet are fastened with thongs to horses driven apart, so that they are torn asunder.

For "parricide", i.e., killing within near degrees, the criminal is hung up, apparently by the heels, with a live wolf (he haying acted as a wolf which will slay its fellows). Cunning avoidance of the guilt by trick is shown.

For "arson" the appropriate punishment is the fire.

For "incestuous adultery" of stepson with his stepmother, hanging is awarded to the man. In the same case Swanwhite, the woman, is punished, by treading to death with horses. A woman accomplice in adultery is treated to what Homer calls a "stone coat." Incestuous adultery is a foul slur.

For "witchcraft", the horror of heathens, hanging was the penalty.

"Private revenge" sometimes deliberately inflicts a cruel death for atrocious wrong or insult, as when a king, enraged at the slaying of his son and seduction of his daughter, has the offender hanged, an instance famous in Nathan's story, so that Hagbard's hanging and hempen necklace were proverbial.

For the slayer by a cruel death of their captive father, Ragnar's sons act the blood-eagle on Ella, and salt his flesh. There is an undoubted instance of this act of vengeance (the symbolic meaning of which is not clear as yet) in the "Orkney Saga".

But the story of Daxo and of Ref's gild show that for such wrongs were-gilds were sometimes exacted, and that they were considered highly honourable to the exactor.

Among OFFENCES NOT BOOTLESS, and left to individual pursuit, are: --

"Highway robbery". -- There are several stories of a type such as that of Ingemund and Ioknl (see "Landnamaboc") told by Saxo of highwaymen; and an incident of the kind that occurs in the Theseus story (the Bent-tree, which sprung back and slew the wretch bound to it) is given. The romantic trick of the mechanic bed, by which a steel-shod beam is let fall on the sleeping traveller, also occurs. Slain highwaymen are gibbeted as in Christian days.

"Assassination", as distinct from manslaughter in vengeance for a wrong, is not very common. A hidden mail-coat foils a treacherous javelin-cast (cf. the Story of Olaf the Stout and the Blind King, Hrorec); murderers lurk spear-armed at the threshold, sides, as in the Icelandic Sagas; a queen hides a spear-head in her gown, and murders her husband (cf. Olaf Tryggvason's Life). Godfred was murdered by his servant (and Ynglingatal).

"Burglary". -- The crafty discovery of the robber of the treasury by Hadding is a variant of the world-old Rhampsinitos tale, but less elaborate, possibly abridged and cut down by Saxo, and reduced to a mere moral example in favour of the goldenness of silence and the danger of letting the tongue feed the gallows.

Among other disgraceful acts, that make the offender infamous, but do not necessarily involve public action: --

"Manslaughter in Breach of Hospitality". -- Probably any gross breach of hospitality was disreputable and highly abhorred, but "guest-slaughter" is especially mentioned. The ethical question as to whether a man should slay his guest or forego his just vengeance was often a "probleme du jour" in the archaic times to which these traditions witness. Ingeld prefers his vengeance, but Thuriswend, in the Lay cited by Paul the Deacon, chooses to protect his guest. Heremod slew his messmates in his wrath, and went forth alone into exile. ("Beowulf's Lay".)

"Suicide". ~- This was more honourable than what Earl Siward of Northumberland called a "cow-death." Hadding resolves to commit suicide at his friend's death. Wermund resolves to commit suicide if his son be slain (in hopelessness of being able to avenge him, cf. "Njal's Saga", where the hero, a Christian, prefers to perish in his burning house than live dishonoured, "for I am an old man and little fitted to avenge my sons, but I will not live in shame"). Persons commit suicide by slaying each other in time of famine; while in England (so Baeda tells) they "decliffed" themselves in companies, and, as in the comic little Icelandic tale Gautrec s birth, a Tarpeian death is noted as the customary method of relieving folks from the hateful starvation death. It is probable that the violent death relieved the ghost or the survivors of some inconveniences which a "straw death" would have brought about.

"Procedure by Wager of Battle". -- This archaic process pervades Saxo's whole narrative. It is the main incident of many of the sagas from which he drew. It is one of the chief characteristics of early Teutonic custom-law, and along with "Cormac's Saga", "Landnamaboc", and the Walter Saga, our author has furnished us with most of the information we have upon its principles and practice.

Steps in the process are the Challenge, the Acceptance and Settlement of Conditions, the Engagement, the Treatment of the vanquished, the Reward of the conqueror, and there are rules touching each of these, enough almost to furnish a kind of "Galway code".

A challenge could not, either to war or wager of battle, be refused with honor, though a superior was not bound to fight an inferior in rank. An ally might accept for his principal, or a father for a son, but it was not honourable for a man unless helpless to send a champion instead of himself.

Men were bound to fight one to one, and one man might decline to fight two at once. Great champions sometimes fought against odds.

The challenged man chose the place of battle, and possibly fixed the time. This was usually an island in the river.

The regular weapons were swords and shields for men of gentle blood. They fought by alternate separate strokes; the senior had the first blow. The fight must go on face to face without change of place; for the ground was marked out for the combatants, as in our prize ring, though one can hardly help fancying that the fighting ground so carefully described in "Cormac's Saga", ch. 10, may have been Saxo's authority. The combatants change places accidentally in the struggle in one story.

The combat might last, like Cuchullin's with Ferdia, several days; a nine days' fight occurs; but usually a few blows settled the matter. Endurance was important, and we are told of a hero keeping himself in constant training by walking in a mail coat.

The conqueror ought not to slay his man if he were a stripling, or maimed, and had better take his were-gild for his life, the holmslausn or ransom of "Cormac's Saga" (three marks in Iceland); but this was a mere concession to natural pity, and he might without loss of honor finish his man, and cut off his head, though it was proper, if the slain adversary has been a man of honor, to bury him afterward.

The stakes are sometimes a kingdom or a kingdom's tribute, often a lady, or the combatants fought for "love" or the point of honor. Giants and noted champions challenge kings for their daughters (as in the fictitious parts of the Icelandic family sagas) in true archaic fashion, and in true archaic fashion the prince rescues the lady from a disgusting and evil fate by his prowess.

The champion's fee or reward when he was fighting for his principal and came off successful was heavy -- many lands and sixty slaves. Bracelets are given him; a wound is compensated for at ten gold pieces; a fee for killing a king is 120 of the same.

Of the incidents of the combat, beside fair sleight of fence, there is the continual occurrence of the sword-blunting spell, often cast by the eye of the sinister champion, and foiled by the good hero, sometimes by covering his blade with thin skin, sometimes by changing the blade, sometimes by using a mace or club.

The strength of this tradition sufficiently explains the necessity of the great oath against magic taken by both parties in a wager of battle in Christian England.

The chief combats mentioned by Saxo are: --

Sciold v. Attila.
Sciold v. Scate, for the hand of Alfhild.
Gram v. Swarin and eight more, for the crown of the Swedes.
Hadding v. Toste, by challenge.
Frode v. Hunding, on challenge.
Frode v. Hacon, on challenge.
Helge v. Hunding, by challenge at Stad.
Agnar v. Bearce, by challenge.
Wizard v. Danish champions, for truage of the Slavs.
Wizard v. Ubbe, for truage of the Slavs.
Coll v. Horwendill, on challenge.
Athisl v. Frowine, meeting in battle.
Athisl v. Ket and Wig, on challenge.
Uffe v. Prince of Saxony and Champion, by challenge.
Frode v. Froger, on challenge.
Eric v. Grep's brethren, on challenge, twelve a side.
Eric v. Alrec, by challenge.
Hedin v. Hogni, the mythic everlasting battle.
Arngrim v. Scalc, by challenge.
Arngrim v. Egtheow, for truage of Permland.
Arrow-Odd and Hialmar v. twelve sons of Arngrim Samsey fight.
Ane Bow-swayer v. Beorn, by challenge.
Starkad v. Wisin, by challenge.
Starkad v. Tanlie, by challenge.
Starkad v. Wasce--Wilzce, by challenge.
Starkad v. Hame, by challenge.
Starkad v. Angantheow and eight of his brethren, on challenge.
Halfdan v. Hardbone and six champions, on challenge.
Halfdan v. Egtheow, by challenge.
Halfdan v. Grim, on challenge.
Halfdan v. Ebbe, on challenge, by moonlight.
Halfdan v. Twelve champions, on challenge.
Halfdan v. Hildeger, on challenge.
Ole v. Skate and Hiale, on challenge.
Homod and Thole v. Beorn and Thore, by challenge.
Ref. v. Gaut, on challenge.
Ragnar and three sons v. Starcad of Sweden and seven sons, on challenge.

CIVIL PROCEDURE. -- "Oaths" are an important art of early procedure, and noticed by Saxo; one calling the gods to witness and therefor, it is understood, to avenge perjury if he spake not truth.

"Testification", or calling witnesses to prove the steps of a legal action, was known, "Glum's Saga" and "Landnamaboc", and when a manslayer proceeded (in order to clear himself of murder) to announce the manslaughter as his act, he brings the dead man's head as his proof, exactly as the hero in the folk-tales brings the dragon's head or tongue as his voucher.

A "will" is spoken of. This seems to be the solemn declaration of a childless man to his kinsfolk, recommending some person as his successor. Nothing more was possible before written wills were introduced by the Christian clergy after the Roman fashion.


"Lawgivers". -- The realm of Custom had already long been curtailed by the conquests of Law when Saxo wrote, and some epochs of the invasion were well remembered, such as Canute's laws. But the beginnings were dim, and there were simply traditions of good and bad lawyers of the past; such were "Sciold" first of all the arch-king, "Frode" the model lawgiver, "Helge" the tyrant, "Ragnar" the shrewd conqueror.

"Sciold", the patriarch, is made by tradition to fulfil, by abolishing evil customs and making good laws, the ideal of the Saxon and Frankish Coronation oath formula (which may well go back with its two first clauses to heathen days). His fame is as widely spread. However, the only law Saxo gives to him has a story to it that he does not plainly tell. Sciold had a freedman who repaid his master's manumission of him by the ingratitude of attempting his life. Sciold thereupon decrees the unlawfulness of manumissions, or (as Saxo puts it), revoked all manumissions, thus ordaining perpetual slavery on all that were or might become slaves. The heathen lack of pity noticed in Alfred's preface to "Gregory's Handbook" is illustrated here by contrast with the philosophic humanity of the Civil Law, and the sympathy of the mediaeval Church.

But FRODE (known also to the compiler of "Beowulf's Lay", 2025) had, in the Dane's eyes, almost eclipsed Sciold as conqueror and lawgiver. His name Frode almost looks as if his epithet Sapiens had become his popular appellation, and it befits him well. Of him were told many stories, and notably the one related of our Edwin by Bede (and as it has been told by many men of many rulers since Bede wrote, and before). Frode was able to hang up an arm-ring of gold in three parts of his kingdom that no thief for many years dared touch. How this incident (according to our version preserved by Saxo), brought the just king to his end is an archaic and interesting story. Was this ring the Brosinga men?

Saxo has even recorded the Laws of Frode in four separate bits, which we give as A, B, C, D.

A. is mainly a civil and military code of archaic kind:

(a) The division of spoil shall be -- gold to captains, silver to privates, arms to champions, ships to be shared by all. Cf. Jomswickinga S. on the division of spoil by the law of the pirate community of Jom.

(b) No house stuff to be locked; if a man used a lock he must pay a gold mark.

(c) He who spares a thief must bear his punishment.

(d) The coward in battle is to forfeit all rights (cf. "Beowulf", 2885).

(e) Women to have free choice (or, at least, veto) in taking husbands.

(f) A free woman that weds a slave loses rank and freedom (cf. Roman Law).

(g) A man must marry a girl he has seduced.

(h) An adulterer to be mutilated at pleasure of injured husband.

(i) Where Dane robbed Dane, the thief to pay double and peace- breach.

(k) Receivers of stolen goods suffer forfeiture and flogging at most.

(l) Deserter bearing shield against his countrymen to lose life and property.

(m) Contempt of fyrd-summons or call to military service involves outlawry and exile.

(n) Bravery in battle to bring about increase in rank (cf. the old English "Ranks of Men").

(o) No suit to lie on promise and pledge; fine of gold lb. for asking pledge.

(p) Wager of battle is to be the universal mode of proof.

(q) If an alien kill a Dane two aliens must suffer. (This is practically the same principle as appears in the half weregild of the Welsh in West Saxon Law.)

B. An illustration of the more capricious of the old enactments and the jealousy of antique kings.

(a) Loss of gifts sent to the king involves the official responsible; he shall be hanged. (This is introduced as illustration of the cleverness of Eric and the folly of Coll.)

C. Saxo associates another set of enactments with the completion of a successful campaign of conquest over the Ruthenians, and shows Frode chiefly as a wise and civilising statesman, making conquest mean progress.

(a) Every free householder that fell in war was to be set in his barrow with horse and arms (cf. "Vatzdaela Saga", ch. 2).

The body-snatcher was to be punished by death and the lack of sepulture.

Earl or king to be burned in his own ship.

Ten sailors may be burnt on one ship.

(b) Ruthenians to have the same law of war as Danes.

(c) Ruthenians must adopt Danish sale-marriage. (This involves the abolition of the Baltic custom of capture-marriage. That capture-marriage was a bar to social progress appears in the legislation of Richard II, directed against the custom as carried out on the borders of the Palatine county of Chester, while cases such as the famous one of Rob Roy's sons speak to its late continuance in Scotland. In Ireland it survived in a stray instance or two into this century, and songs like "William Riley" attest the sympathy of the peasant with the eloping couple.)

(d) A veteran, one of the Doughty, must be such a man as will attack one foe, will stand two, face three without withdrawing more than a little, and be content to retire only before four. (One of the traditional folk-sayings respecting the picked men, the Doughty or Old Guard, as distinguished from the Youth or Young Guard, the new-comers in the king's Company of House- carles. In Harald Hardrede's Life the Norwegians dread those English house-carles, "each of whom is a match for four," who formed the famous guard that won Stamford Bridge and fell about their lord, a sadly shrunken band, at Senlake.)

(f) The house-carles to have winter-pay. The house-carle three pieces of silver, a hired soldier two pieces, a soldier who had finished his service one piece.

(The treatment of the house-carles gave Harald Harefoot a reputation long remembered for generosity, and several old Northern kings have won their nicknames by their good or ill feeding and rewarding their comitatus.)

D. Again a civil code, dealing chiefly with the rights of travellers.

(a) Seafarers may use what gear they find (the "remis" of the text may include boat or tackle).

(b) No house is to be locked, nor coffer, but all thefts to be compensated threefold. (This, like A, b, which it resembles, seems a popular tradition intended to show the absolute security of Frode's reign of seven or three hundred years. It is probably a gloss wrongly repeated.)

(c) A traveller may claim a single supper; if he take more he is a thief (the mark of a prae-tabernal era when hospitality was waxing cold through misuse).

(d) Thief and accomplices are to be punished alike, being hung up by a line through the sinews and a wolf fastened beside. (This, which contradicts A, i, k, and allots to theft the punishment proper for parricide, seems a mere distorted tradition.)

But beside just Frode, tradition spoke of the unjust Kinge HELGE, whose laws represent ill-judged harshness. They were made for conquered races, (a) the Saxons and (b) the Swedes.

(a) Noble and freedmen to have the same were-gild (the lower, of course, the intent being to degrade all the conquered to one level, and to allow only the lowest were-gild of a freedman, fifty pieces, probably, in the tradition).

(b) No remedy for wrong done to a Swede by a Dane to be legally recoverable. (This is the traditional interpretation of the conqueror's haughty dealing; we may compare it with the Middle- English legends of the pride of the Dane towards the conquered English. The Tradition sums up the position in such concrete forms as this Law of Helge's.)

Two statutes of RAGNAR are mentioned: --

(a) That any householder should give up to his service in war the worst of his children, or the laziest of his slaves (a curious tradition, and used by Saxo as an opportunity for patriotic exaltation).

(b) That all suits shall be absolutely referred to the judgment of twelve chosen elders (Lodbroc here appearing in the strange character of originator of trial by jury).

"Tributes". -- Akin to laws are the tributes decreed and imposed by kings and conquerors of old. Tribute infers subjection in archaic law. The poll-tax in the fourteenth century in England was unpopular, because of its seeming to degrade Englishmen to the level of Frenchmen, who paid tribute like vanquished men to their absolute lord, as well as for other reasons connected with the collection of the tax.

The old fur tax (mentioned in "Egil's Saga") is here ascribed to FRODE, who makes the Finns pay him, every three years, a car full or sledge full of skins for every ten heads; and extorts one skin per head from the Perms. It is Frode, too (though Saxo has carved a number of Frodes out of one or two kings of gigantic personality), that made the Saxons pay a poll-tax, a piece of money per head, using, like William the Conqueror, his extraordinary revenue to reward his soldiers, whom he first regaled with double pay. But on the conquered folks rebelling, he marked their reduction by a tax of a piece of money on every limb a cubit long, a "limb-geld" still more hateful than the "neb-geld."

HOTHERUS (Hodr) had set a tribute on the Kurlanders and Swedes, and HROLF laid a tribute on the conquered Swedes.

GODEFRIDUS-GOTRIC is credited with a third Saxon tribute, a heriot of 100 snow-white horses payable to each Danish king at his succession, and by each Saxon chief on his accession: a statement that, recalling sacred snow-white horses kept in North Germany of yore makes one wish for fuller information. But Godefridus also exacted from the Swedes the "Ref-gild", or Fox- money; for the slaying of his henchman Ref, twelve pieces of gold from each man of rank, one from every commoner. And his Friesland tribute is stranger still, nor is it easy to understand from Saxo's account. There was a long hall built, 240 feet, and divided up into twelve "chases" of 20 feet each (probably square). There was a shield set up at one end, and the taxpayers hurled their money at it; if it struck so as to sound, it was good; if not, it was forfeit, but not reckoned in the receipt. This (a popular version, it may be, of some early system of treasury test) was abolished, so the story goes, by Charles the Great.

RAGNAR'S exaction from Daxo, his son's slayer, was a yearly tribute brought by himself and twelve of his elders barefoot, resembling in part such submissions as occur in the Angevin family history, the case of the Calais burgesses, and of such criminals as the Corporation of Oxford, whose penance was only finally renounced by the local patriots in our own day.