Danernes Sagnhistorie - English summary
The book "Danernes Sagnhistorie" (The legends of the Danes) is written in Danish. Readers of Danish language will get more information about the book by using the brown Danish main menu above. Below is presented a brief summary of the book in English.
"Danernes sagnhistorie" covers the first nine books of Saxo until the official arrival of Christianity in Denmark in 965 AD. Though Saxo claimed that the Danish dynasty existed before the Roman Empire the author, Troels Brandt, states that the first legendary kings of Saxo probably are based on events in societies of the 5th century AD - but of course even more far from reality than Dietrich of Bern from Theodoric. Only scattered historical information is known about Scandinavia in that half millenium - primarily since 800 AD. The possible events of the period are therefore described in the book by using the old legends arranged in a new order.
The list of kings was probably deliberately prolonged in the 11-12th centuries in order to show, that the Danish kings had always been independent of the Roman emperor. This was not done only by Saxo, but also by the other clerical authors who in that period wrote down the first surviving legends of the Danish kings. The reason was that the German/Roman emperor wanted the Danish kings to accept his superiority. At the same time Saxo, who served Absalon, archbishop and fosterbrother of the king, tried to show that from old times the son always followed the father at the Danish throne and that an undivided Denmark had reached the river Ejder in Southern Jutland.
In order to persue that purpose - combined with mistakes due to missing identification - some of the same royal names or the same events told in various legends were probably divided into several kings in the genealogies. Also the chronological order was changed. The methode of "Danernes Sagnhistorie" is to comprime all kings of the same name in Saxo I-IX into one king - unless it is obvious that they belong to separate identities. The theory is that most of the legends were parts of cycles concentrated about a few legendary kings and heroes. The order of the kings in the reconstruction is determined by Beowulf, the sagas and internal correlations in that priority. The family connections inside the isolated episodes of Beowulf are regarded as the primary chronology of the first kings as the version, we know of Beowulf, is earlier than the manipulations of the Nordic chronicles we know.
It is obvious that this methode will result in uncertainty, and the following has to be regarded as an attempt to reconstruct the earlier legends told in the Viking Ages - the literature - this shall not be regarded as scholarly history as there is no evidence of these events. This chronology of the legends below makes surprisingly much sense - even compared with modern archaeology and European history - but this does not make these legends connecting the known historical events to history.
Saxo began his history with the brothers Dan and Angel, and it is obvious that he used them as symbols of an originally united kingdom covering the Jutes, the Danes and the Angles - which never existed.
Later among his legends we find the legends about Vermund and Uffe, which are the only Anglian legends (also found in Widsith) we are able to identify. Probably these kings lived in the first half of the 5th century before the Anglian migration.
Soon after Skjold is presented as a member of the family. In the sagas Skjold was son of Odin and the first king - Sculd in Beowulf. Skjold and his followers Gram and Hading appear like figures of a fairytale, but behind them are maybe elements of Skjold and Halfdan of Beowulf and of Hake - the father of Frode.
The Scylding, Frode, was probably the first superior king of the Danish dynasty. It is a main theory of "Danernes Sagnhistorie" that this Frode-figure represented a king gathering the various kings/chieftains of the Danes in a defence against the Heruls, who probably had settled in the borderareas between the Danes and Goetes northeast of Scania around 512 AD (Procopios). These Heruls were expelled by the Danes as described by Jordanes - an event which also appear to be mentioned by Beowulf, Widsith and Saxo. Saxo called them probably Huns (the Heruls had been a part of the ravaging Hunnic forces 370-454 AD). Next time the most likely settlement of the Heruls was Uppland where they were integrated among the Svear. In Ynglingesaga fragments of the events in Scania may have been described as the first wars between Danes and the Ynglinge-dynasty, and fragments of a story about the contemporary integration may have later been misused as an initial Odin-story. The original god, Odin, had nothing with this story to do, as he was derived from the Germanic god Wothan and other elements.
Frode probably became a superior king of most of the Danish tribes and he was later described - by his own family - in a Theodoric-like shape. Later in his rule an event was described in the sagas, which totally changed the conditions of his country. It was described as a natural disaster by Icelandic authors and was regarded as the death of Christ. Probably this was the historically welknown "dark years" in 536-38, which led to bad harvest and according to archaeologists also to some of the rich offerings of gold.
On his way to the throne Frode had murdered his halfbrother Aale and his relative (brother?) Halfdan. The sons of Halfdan, Roar and Helge, had escaped as children - probably to their old Anglian "neighbours" in East Anglia, where Roar married a princess (Waltheow of Beowulf / Oegn of the sagas). If there was a connection of this kind it may have caused the Scandinavian finds in Sutton Hoo and placed Roar as a great king in Beowulf and Widsith. When Frode became old the brothers returned and burned Frode to death in a chieftains hall. If this original story was real it took probably place in the 540'ies.
Roar and Helge were crowned as kings and Roar established the royal seat in Lejre. The first hall being escavated in 2004, is dated to the middle of the 6th century. A feud started between the Scyldings who accused each other to be the basest murderers. Ingeld, son of Frode, tried to settle the feud by marrying a daughter of Helge. This story is told both by Saxo and Beowulf and it ended up in a battle provoked by Starkad. The Heathobeards of Beowulf were not a separate people, but the family of Frode and Hake (Hading) existing only in the legends. "Heathobards" was probably a nickname used by the scalds at the royal Anglian courts - serving maybe at the family of Roar (if existing). As the family of Frode probably later became the ruling dynasty, Roar is in some Danish legends met under the nickname Sverting, while Frode became the great heroe in Denmark. Therefore we have several legends about these events with different symphaties and names - even spread over three different books of Saxo. After this change of chronology Starkad will be mentioned in a period of around 50 years - instead of 700 years and he may have been identical with the earl of Frode Fredegod, Erik. His background figure may have been a Herulian mercenarie officer - an ErilaR/Jarl.
Rolf Krake, son of Helge, followed Roar in Lejre. In his time the Vendel Period started in Uppland under Adils, the new husbond of his mother. Rolf was killed in Lejre and his hall was burned. After some changes the descendants of the Frode and Ingeld shapes probably took over in Lejre in the beginning of the 7th century, which appear to be a century of consolidation in Lejre and Uppsala.
In the 7th century the Franks attacked the Frisians and in the end of the century the Jutes constructed the first small Dannevirke behind the Ejder. In Sweden the legendary Ingjald Illraade expanded the reign of Ynglings, but in the Sagas he provoked the local Danish king of Scania, Ivar Vidfadme, by murdering his father. Ivar caught Ingjald in a hall in Uppland and Ingjald commited suicide. Afterwards the Ynglings escaped to Norway, where they by marriage became a new dynasty in Soloer.
Saxo totally neclected Ivar, but according to the sagas his daughter was first married to a king of Lejre - with Harald Hildetand as the result. The Danish king died - or was murdered by Ivar - and Ivar took over as Harald was still a child. Later Ivar's daughter married a king Radbard - not a king of Kurland as claimed by the sagas - but rather the legendary Frisian king Radboud.
Probably Radboud, the Danes, the Jutes and the Saxons established an alliance against the Franks, who historically were defeated in Aachen by Radboud assisted by "Saxons". Radboud died in 719 AD, and after defeating the Arabs Karl Martel conquered Frisia in 734 AD. This must be the reason why the strong palisades were constructed at Dannevirke in 736 AD a few years after the naval base at Samsoe (Kanhave) was build - the work of a strong central king according to archealogy. According to the sagas the Danish Ivar at least became king of the Danes and the Jutes.
Also the Lejre Chronicle described a king who unified the Danes and the Jutes, attacked the "emperor" and constructed Dannevirke. Unfortunately the Franks were called Romans, their king was called Augustus and the king of the new kingdom, Denmark, got the symbolic name Dan. Accordingly the story in the Lejre Chronicle was rejected as nonsense, but it is exactly the same story as above.
The threath from the Franks had moved the military powercenter of Scandinavia against south. Ivars Danish grandson, Harald Hildetand, followed Ivar, while the Frisian grandson, Randver, probably was married into the family of the Norwegean Ynglings. The son of Randver, Sigurd Ring, was as young placed by Harald as viceking in Sweden. The fameous "Battle of Braavalla" between Harald and Sigurd must be a fairytale inspired by earlier legends of battles, but under all circumstances a Sigurd followed Harald as king of Denmark, parts of Sweden and the Norwegean Viken. He was the first ruler of Denmark to be mentioned by the Franks (Siegfried), as Ongendus probably was a Jutish king before Denmark was united. When Sigurd died around 798 AD the Franks ruled by Charlemagne had subdued the Saxons and reached the Elb - and Charlemagne was annointed as emperor in 800 AD by the Pope.
Historically Sigurd was followed by Godfred, who probably was a nephew. He provoked Charlemagne and moved the tradecenter Reric and the important traderoute between Western Europe and the Russian rivers behind Dannevirke, where Hedeby was established. The Danish fleet now began to operate as "pirates" along the Frisian coasts. In the same years Scandinavian warriors attacked Lindisfarna and Dorset and became known as Vikings in Western Europe. They had probably behaved in this way for centuries in the Baltic Sea and Kattegat.
Godfred was murdered in 810 AD and again the family began fighting about the throne. Probably there were two parties - the pagan Godfred family against other family members seeking an alliance with the christian Franks. The sons of Godfred were supported by Swedes - maybe including Vaemod mentioned at the Roekstone. After 4 years and a short visit of a Frankish army in Jutland, the sons of Godfred lead by Horik established a kingdom strong enough to resist the Franks. In the beginning Horik had to accept the christian king Harald Klak and the priest Ansgar in order to please the Franks. Later the Franks were weakened by internal problems causing a split of their empire. Harald had to leave Denmark and the Danish viking raids were intensified - continuing until 892 AD.
Horik was a strong ruler together with a brother, but he was only mentioned one time by Saxo. Instead Saxo emphazised his relative Regnar Lodbrog, who was the leader of one of the biggest viking fleets. Regnar probably died by dissease after an attack on Paris in 845 AD. Nine years later most of the royal family - including Horik - was killed in an internal battle between different fractions of the family. He was followed by his young nephew Horik II. The surviving sons of Regnar were never mentioned in that connection.
Instead the sons of Regnar were mentioned in England and Ireland. The Danes established kingdoms in Eastanglia and Northumbria, and Ivar Regnarson may also have ruled parts of Ireland. In 873 AD Sigurd and Halfdan were mentioned as Danish kings by the Franks and according to the sagas this Sigurd was a young son of Regnar, who had killed Horik II. Shortly after Halfdan went to York and died in Ireland. Sigurd became king of Denmark where he probably was the king being killed under a battle in Germany in 892 AD which marked the ending of the first wave of viking raids.
Hedeby and maybe all Jutland was conquered by a Swedish chieftain Olaf. He may have been of Danish family on his mothers side as a Swedish king Anund was in exile in Denmark under Horik I and was supported by Horik in order to reconquer Uppsala. Olaf and his sons ruled in Hedeby until 934-35 AD, while Knud Sigurdson in the sagas was said to rule another part of the country - probably Sealand and Scania.
Around 935 AD Gorm arrived from England. According to Adam of Bremen his father was an unknown Norse chieftain, Sven, but Gorm may have been son of a line of Danish vassal kings representing the kings of Wessex in York. Maybe we can follow his family line back in the English sources to a certain Hardeknud who may have been identical with "Knuth the Found" of the sagas. Though the story of his birth in the saga of the Jomsvikings is unlikely, this may somewhere in the family of Gorm indicate a break of the extremely strong catholic rules of that time forbidding marriage between ancestors in 7 generations. Therefore Sven Estridsen could never tell Adam of Bremen about the family of Gorm and the present royal family.
Gorm met Bishop Unni in 936 AD and most likely he conquered Jutland in the years around 935 AD. He probably gathered most of Denmark again, while his son Harald gathered "Denmark all and Norway", as he wrote at the runestone in Jelling. The stone from around 965 AD marked the official christianisation of Denmark and the burial of Gorm, who died in 958 AD.
The Roek Stone
In an appendix a possible interpretation is presented of the longest runetext in the world The Roek Stone in Eastern Goetaland. Initially it is assumed that the text was arranged in riddles and answers as used in many poems and sagas of that time. The answers have to be hidden in the following riddle - as are the 9 missing riddles and answers. This rather simple explanation has resulted in a logical and coherent text about the family and the death of Vaemod ending up with an invocation of the gods. The dead son was probably connected with a branch of the royal family of the Heruls.