A historical journey through a medieval landscape

Beowulf Heroic Poem

Beowulf is an Old English heroic poem, author is unknown. The poem is known only from a single manuscript ( Novell Codex manuscript ), which is estimate to date from close to A.D 900.

Beowulf is a hero of the Geats and he battles against three antagonists. One is Grendel, a monster who has been attacking the resident warriors of the Royal mead hall in Denmark. The other two is Grendels mother and a dragon. The last battle, against the dragon, takes place later in life, after that Beowulf has returned to the land of the Geats and has become a king. In the final battle, Beowulf is fatally wounded. After his death his retainers bury him in a large mound in Geatland.

Our Geatland guides will compare "Beowulf" three or four times with what you see when it comes to artifacts and places.

A description of the society

The poem depicts a Germanic warrior society, in which the relationship between the lord of the region and those who served under him was of paramount importance. When a warrior vowed loyalty to his lord, he became not so much his servant as his voluntary companion, one who would take pride in defending him and fighting in his wars. In return, the lord was expected to take care of his thanes (those who served him) and to reward them richly for their valour. This society was typical for the Migration period (350-550 AD) in Southern Scandinavia.

Remarkably consistent

For a poem, it is remarkably consistent. All the objects described, such as swords, rings and goblets etc, are from an archaeological point of view typical artefacts of the Migration period in Southern Scandinavia. There is nothing whatever in these descriptions of actual objects that points to later periods. However, there are many of these sagas, with numerous cross-references to people, places and events and the main course of events that are also attested by contemporary continental chroniclers.

Legends as well as real people and events

The poem of Beowulf deals with legends and does not separate between fictional elements and real historic events. For example, it seems to be based on real people in 6th century Scandinavia. One such historical event is the raid by King Hygelac, of the Geats, into Frisia, in about 516 A.D.

The first page of the Beowulf manuscript