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How the Saxons are Portrayed in the Eddas & Sagas

The Saxons are not mentioned in the Poetic Edda. The Saxons are mentioned a great deal in the Prose Edda, and in the Sagas. In this article, I am going to focus on how the Saxons are presented in the Prose Edda and Heimskringla.


The Saxons in the Prose Edda The Saxons (and Saxland) first appear in the Prose Edda in chapter 10 of Snorri's introduction to the Prose Edda. Snorri says the following: Prose Edda Introduction. ch 10: "Odin had the power of divination, and so had his wife, and from this knowledge he found out that his name would be held high in the north part of the world, and honored beyond that of all kings. For this reason he was eager to begin his journey from Turkey, and he had with him very many people, young and old, men and women, and he had with him many costly things. But wherever they fared over the lands great fame was spoken of them, and they were said to be more like gods than men. And they stopped not on their journey before they came north into that land which is now called Saxland; there Odin remained a long time, and subjugated the country far and wide. There Odin established his three sons as a defense of the land. One is named Veggdegg; he was a strong king and ruled over East Saxland. His son was Vitrgils, and his sons were Ritta, the father of Heingest (Hengist), and Sigar, the father of Svebdegg, whom we call Svipdag. Another son of Odin was named Beldegg, whom we call Balder; he possessed the land which now called Vestfal; his son was Brander, and his son Frjodigar, whom we call Froda (Frode). His son was Freovit, his son Yvigg, his son Gevis, whom we call Gave. The third son of Odin is named Sigge, his son Verer. These forefathers ruled the land which is now called Frankland, and from them is come the race that is called the Volsungs. From all of these many and great races are descended.


From this passage we learn the following: 1. Odin and Frigg are presented as human kings who traveled from Asaland (Asia). (See Chapters 1-9 of the Introduction to the Prose Edda. In these chapters, Troy, in Turkey, was thought to be the center of the world which had twelve kingdoms and some famous sons: Troan, Thor, and Odin). In Chapter 10, Odin and Frigida (Frigg) go to "the North Country" where he and his queen Frigg stayed in a burg (hillfort) and gave names to the land. Odin and Frigg began to rule the Northland.

2. Odin and Frigg went to Saxland (Saxony) where Odin subjugated Saxland (Saxony). Odin stayed in Saxland a long time, and had his three sons defend Saxland. 3. Odin had Veggdegg rule East Saxland (Eastphalia?).

4. Vestfal (Westphalia) was ruled by a son of Odin called Beldegg (Baldur).

5. Sigge, the third son of Odin, ruled Saxland as well. Was this "Engern" or "Angria?" I would assume so. It seems to me Snorri was familiar that Old Saxony was divided into four territories, the largest and most famous of the three were Westphalia, Angria, and Eastphalia. Due to this, I would assume that Snorri was well aware that Westphalia was the main center of resistance to the Christian Franks with the Saxon Heathen Hero, Widukind, who is not mentioned by Snorri.


A Map of Odin's travels in the Prose Edda:

Free Map provided by Alexschneider250


The Saxons (and Saxland) then appear in the Prose Edda in chapter 13 of Snorri's introduction to the Prose Edda. Snorri says the following:


Prose Edda Introduction. ch 13:

Thereupon he fared north until he reached the sea, which they though surrounded all lands, and there he established his son in the kingdom, which is now called Norway. He is called "Saming" and the kings of Norway count their ancestors back to him, and so do the jarls and other mighty men, as it is stated in the Haleygjatal. But Odin had with him that son who is called Yngve, who was king in Sweden, and from him is descended the families called Ynglings (Yngvelings). The Asas (Aesir) took to themselves wives there within the land. But some took wives for their sons, and these families became so numerous that they spread over Saxland, and thence over the whole north region, and the tongue of these Asiamen became the native tongue of all these lands. And men think they can understand from the way in which the names of their forefathers is written, that these names have belonged to this tongue, and that the Asas have brought this tongue here to the north, to Norway, to Sweden, and to Saxland. But in England are old names of places and towns which can be seen to have been given in another tongue than this.


From this passage were learn the following: 1. Saxland (Saxony) is considered a Heathen land, just as Heathen as Scandinavia. The Asia men, or "Asgard-ians" lived in Saxland, and gave their name and language to Saxland.

2. The Asa-men intermarry in Saxland, and the Asa-tongue, the Asgardian language was in Saxland.

3. England, or Anglaland, is a different land than Saxland. Snorri also shows understanding that England, was originally Britannia, an area not inhabited (originally) by Germanic Tribes, as the oldest place names are not Germanic (Asa-tongue.)

PS- Please understand I realize that the Prose Edda Introduction, or Prologue is fictional. But this article is discussing how the Saxons are portrayed in the Younger Edda and Heimskringla.

**Please note, Saxland (Saxony) is mentioned these four times in the Prose Edda, and England is mentioned only once in the Prose Edda, in the passage above (ch 13 of the Prologue/Introduction). However, Anglandi is mentioned much more in the Sagas than Saxland.


Saxland (*Saxony*) in Heimskringla of Snorri:

The Saxons are mentioned quite often in the Heimskringla. I am going quote all the passages, and then give my conclusions/summary of Saxland (Saxony) and the Saxons in Heimskringla. Again, this is 100% of the word occurances for the words "Saxon" and "Saxland" (Saxony) in the Eddas and Heimskringla. Ynglinga Saga chapter 5: There goes a great mountain barrier from north-east to south-west, which divides the Greater Swithiod (Sweden) from other kingdoms. South of this mountain ridge it is not far to Turkland, where Odin had great possessions. In those times the Roman chiefs went wide around in the world, subduing to themselves all people; and on this account many chiefs fled from their domains. But Odin having foreknowledge, and magic-sight, knew that his posterity would come to settle and dwell in the northern half of the world. He therefore set his brothers Ve and Vilje over Asgaard; and he himself, with all the gods and a great many other people, wandered out, first westward to Gardarike, and then south to Saxland. He had many sons; and after having subdued an extensive kingdom in Saxland, he set his sons to rule the country. 

 

Ynglinga Saga chapter 32: Adils was the name of King Ottar's son and successor. He was king a long time, became very rich, and went also for several summers on viking expeditions. On one of these he came to Saxland with his troops. There a king was reigning called Geirthjof, and his wife was called Alof the Great; but nothing is told of their children. The king was not at home, and Adils and his men ran up to the king's house and plundered it, while others drove a herd of cattle down to the strand. The herd was attended by slave-people, churls, and girls, and they took all of them together. Among them was a remarkably beautiful girl called Yrsa. Adils returned home with this plunder. Yrsa was not one of the slave girls, and it was soon observed that she was intelligent, spoke well, and in all respects was well behaved. All people thought well of her, and particularly the king; and at last it came to this that the king celebrated his wedding with her, and Yrsa became queen of Sweden, and was considered an excellent woman.

 

Ynglinga Saga chapter 44: Ivar Vidfavne subdued the whole of Sweden. He brought in subjection to himself all the Danish dominions, a great deal of Saxland, all the East Country, and a fifth part of England. From his race the kings of Sweden and Denmark who have had the supreme authority in those countries, are descended. After Ingjald the Evil-adviser the Upsal dominion fell from the Yngling race notwithstanding the length of time they could reckon up the series of their forefathers.

 

Harald Harfager's Saga chapter 34: Eirik, Harald's son, was fostered in the house of the herse Thorer, son of Hroald, in the Fjord district. He was the most beloved and honoured by King Harald of all his sons. When Eirik was twelve years old, King Harald gave him five long-ships, with which he went on an expedition, -- first in the Baltic; then southwards to Denmark, Friesland, and Saxland; on which expedition he passed four years. He then sailed out into the West sea and plundered in Scotland, Bretland, Ireland, and Valland, and passed four years more in this way.

 

Harald Harfager's Saga chapter 38: King Harald's son, Bjorn, ruled over Vestfold at that time, and generally lived at Tunsberg, and went but little on war expeditions. Tunsberg at that time was much frequented by merchant vessels, both from Viken and the north country, and also from the south, from Denmark, and Saxland. King Bjorn had also merchant ships on voyages to other lands, by which he procured for himself costly articles, and such things as he thought needful; and therefore his brothers called him Farman (the Seaman), and Kaupman (the Chapman).

 

King Olaf Trygvason's Saga, Chapter 24: The Emperor Otta (Otto) was at that time in Saxland, and sent a message to King Harald, the Danish king, that he must take on the true faith and be baptized, he and all his people whom he ruled; "otherwise," says the emperor, "we will march against him with an army." The Danish king ordered the land defence to be fitted out, Danavirke (the Danish wall) to be well fortified, and his ships of war rigged out. He sent a message also to Earl Hakon in Norway to come to him early in spring, and with as many men as he could possibly raise. In spring (A.D. 975) Earl Hakon levied an army over the whole country which was very numerous, and with it he sailed to meet the Danish king. The king received him in the most honourable manner. Many other chiefs also joined the Danish king with their men, so that he had gathered a very large army.

 

King Olaf Trygvason's Saga, Chapter 26: The Emperor Otta assembled a great army from Saxland, Frankland, Frisland, and Vindland. King Burizleif followed him with a large army, and in it was his son-in-law, Olaf Trygvason. The emperor had a great body of horsemen, and still greater of foot people, and a great army from Holstein. Harald, the Danish king, sent Earl Hakon with the army of Northmen that followed him southwards to Danavirke, to defend his kingdom on that side. ... Of Vind, and Frank, and Saxon there... The Saxons (Saxar) to their ocean-steeds..."


King Olaf Trygvason's Saga, Chapter 29: The Emperor Otta went back to his kingdom in the Saxland, and parted in friendship with the Danish king. It is said that the Emperor Otta stood godfather to Svein, King Harald's son, and gave him his name; so that he was baptized Otta Svein. King Harald held fast by his Christianity to his dying day.


King Olaf Trygvason's Saga, Chapter 30: Olaf Trygvason was three years in Vindland (A.D. 982-984) when Geira his queen fell sick, and she died of her illness. Olaf felt his loss so great that he had no pleasure in Vindland after it. He provided himself, therefore, with warships, and went out again a plundering, and plundered first in Frisland, next in Saxland, and then all the way to Flaemingjaland (Flanders). So says Halfred Vandredaskald: --"Olaf's broad axe of shining steel For the shy wolf left many a meal. The ill-shaped Saxon corpses lay..."


King Olaf Trygvason's Saga, Chapter 59: But when Svein Forked-beard, immediately after his father King Harald's death, went out on war expeditions in Saxland, Frisland, and at last in England, the Northmen who had taken up Christianity returned back to heathen blots, just as before; and the people in the north of the country did the same.


King Olaf Trygvason's Saga, Chapter 80: When King Olaf Trygvason had been two years king of Norway (A.D. 997), there was a Saxon priest in his house who was called Thangbrand, a passionate, ungovernable man, and a great man-slayer; but he was a good scholar, and a clever man. The king would not have him in his house upon account of his misdeeds; but gave him the errand to go to Iceland, and bring that land to the Christian faith.

Saga of Olaf Haraldson, Chapter 62: King Olaf made Christian law to be proclaimed in Viken, in the same way as in the North country. It succeeded well, because the people of Viken were better acquainted with the Christian customs than the people in the north; for, both winter and summer, there were many merchants in Viken, both Danish and Saxon. The people of Viken, also, had much trading intercourse with England, and Saxony, and Flanders, and Denmark; and some had been on viking expeditions, and had had their winter abode in Christian lands.


Saga of Olaf Haraldson, Chapter 84: King Olaf came to Tunsberg before Easter (A.D. 1018), and remained there late in spring. Many merchant vessels came to the town, both from Saxland and Denmark, and from Viken, and from the north parts of the country. There was a great assemblage of people; and as the times were good, there was many a drinking meeting.


Saga of Magnus the Good, Chapter 24: One day, as King Magnus sat in his high-seat and many people were around him, Svein Ulfson sat upon a footstool before the king. The king then made a speech: "Be it known to you, chiefs, and the people in general, that I have taken the following resolution. Here is a distinguished man, both for family and for his own merits, Svein Ulfson, who has entered into my service, and given me promise of fidelity. Now, as ye know, the Danes have this summer become my men, so that when I am absent from the country it is without a head; and it is not unknown to you how it is ravaged by the people of Vindland, Kurland, and others from the Baltic, as well as by Saxons. Therefore I promised them a chief who could defend and rule their land; and I know no man better fitted, in all respects, for this than Svein Ulfson, who is of birth to be chief of the country. I will therefore make him my earl, and give him the government of my Danish dominions while I am in Norway; just as King Canute the Great set his father, Earl Ulf, over Denmark while he was in England."


How Saxony (Saxland) is presented in Heimskringa:

  1. Like the Prose Edda's introduction, Odin's sons subdue and rule Saxland (Ynglinga Saga ch5).

  2. Yrsa, a Saxon woman, became Queen of "all Sweden." (Ynglinga Saga ch32)

  3. Anglaland (England) and Saxland (Saxony) are presented as two different lands throughout Heimskringla. The Saxons in Saxony are called "Saxar" (meaning "Saxons" by the Norsemen, and the men of England (Anglaland) are called "Anglish."

  4. Otto the Great, the first Saxon (christian) king of the Frankish Christian Reich, is remembered for behaving like Charlemagne. (King Olaf Trygvason's Saga, Chapter 24). This is a TERRIBLE fact in history to me. The Saxons were forced into Christianity via a thirty-three year war of forced conversion called the "Saxon Wars." A century and a half or so after this forced conversion, in the 10th century, the Saxons were trying to force their former Heathen allies into Christianity by force. I do not understand why modern historians do not mention this.

  5. King Olaf Trygvason's Saga, Chapter 26 shows Frankland and Saxland attacking Heathens together as part of a christian coalition.



The English (or Anglo-Saxons)

Many Old English Heathens feel wrongfully that I, a Saxon Heathen, am somehow "anti-Old English Heathenry" and anti English peoples. This is completely false. Old English Heathenry is an amazing Heathenry, just as Aldsidu (Old Saxon) Heathenry is amazing.

What I think this issue is, is that I believe that most of the Germanic migrants to "England" or "Angleland" were Angles, and other non-Saxon Germanic Peoples. I am not saying "zero" Saxons went to England, but what I believe is, the overwhelming majority of settlers to Roman Britannia were Anglo-Frisians from Frisia. This is why those in England called themselves and their language "English" and this is why they called their country "England." Old English and Old Saxon are two different languages, though they are related.

While the Britons in Britannia called all Germanic settlers "Saxons", those in England did not call themselves this. Also, the Norse Sagas clearly show that those in England were called "English" and those in Saxony (Saxland) were called "Saxons" (Saxar.).

I am well aware that when most people hear the word "Saxon" they think of England. But I am also aware that English people over-use this term, often leaving out or ignoring various Germanic tribal strains that went to Britannia and became the English Peoples. I am very surprised that the Angles themselves, whom England is named after, are given so little respect in England by the English. I personally think the English preference for the word "Saxon" does come from the Romans originally. But I also think the word "Saxon" simply sounds more "cool" today than the word "Angle", and for some reason, many prefer to call early post Romano-British settlers "Saxons" instead of "English", even though these settlers used the term "English" to describe themselves.


Quoting the book: "Origin of the Anglo-Saxon Race", by Thomas William Shore; page 31: "We have so long been accustomed to call some of the English settlers 'Saxons' that it is with some surprise we learn none of them called themselves by this name.”

A quote from Oxford scholar J.N.L. Myres: "In giving this priority to the Saxons we are doing no more than following the contemporary usage of the Romans themselves. It was, after all, Roman administrators who had given the Saxon Shore its name (despite the fact Angles, Frisians, and Jutes were also invading), and their example was followed by most of the writers within the Empire, such as Sidonius Apollinaris, who had occasion to refer to the barbarian sea- robbers who were still ravaging the coastlands of Gaul and Britain alike in the fifth century. In this usage a fashion was started which became almost universal, not only among Latin writers but also among the Celtic peoples of the west (Britons), whose early contacts with the Germanic invaders would mostly have come through Latin speaking and Latin writing officials, whether civilian or military, of the occupying (Roman) power. This general use of the word “Saxon” to cover Germanic folks of all kinds has been extraordinarily long lived. It has led to many difficulties experienced by historians intent on distinguishing the various independent strains of Teutonic people which eventually merged to form the English nation. Thus, the Celtic peoples, following in this respect the usage of their Latin-speaking ancestors, continued for centuries to label all the Germanic inhabitants of Britain as Saxons. Even Penda of Mercia, sprung apparently from the purest Angle stock in England, from the old royal family of Angeln itself, appears in the Welsh annals as “Panta the Saxon.” To this day it is rather the Sassenach than the Angle or Jute whose name is used in Celtic circles to contrast the English unfavourably with the native inhabitants of Wales or Scotland." (J.N.L. Myres “The English Settlements” The Oxford History of England, p. 104.) And thank you Myres for calling us Saxons correctly as “Sassen”!


Here are some passages (but please note, there are many of these. England is mentioned in Heimskringla a lot more than Saxland, I am guessing the ratio is 5 to 1. I am only going to give a sample of the words "England" and "English" as used by Snorri, to state plainly England and Saxland are considered two different countries and peoples by the Norse. The English are remembered by the Norse for their christianity, and the Saxons are remembered for being once great and Heathen, and later turning to christianity before the Norse did themselves.

Harald Harfager's Saga ch19: From the West countries round about, English and Scotch...

Harald Harfager's Saga ch24: Rolf Ganger went afterwards over sea to the West to the Hebrides, or Sudreys; and at last farther west to Valland, where he plundered and subdued for himself a great earldom, which he peopled with Northmen, from which that land is called Normandy. Rolf Ganger's son was William, father to Richard, and grandfather to another Richard, who was the father of Robert Longspear, and grandfather of William the Bastard, from whom all the following English kings are descended.

Harald Harfager's Saga ch41: At this time a king called Aethelstan had taken the Kingdom of England. Harald Harfager's Saga ch19: The following summer King Harald sent a ship westward to England, and gave the command of it to Hauk Habrok. He was a great warrior, and very dear to the king. Into his hands he gave his son Hakon. Hauk proceeded westward to England, and found King Athelstan in London, where there was just at the time a great feast and entertainment. Hakon the Good's Saga ch1: Hakon, Athelstan's foster-son, was in England at the time (A.D. 934) he heard of his father King Harald's death, and he immediately made himself ready to depart. Hakon the Good's Saga ch3: He first sailed to Orkney, and took many people with him from that country; and then went south towards England, plundering in Scotland, and in the north parts of England, wherever he could land. Athelstan, the king of England, sent a message to Eirik, offering him dominions under him in England; saying that King Harald his father was a good friend of King Athelstan, and therefore he would do kindly towards his sons. Messengers passed between the two kings; and it came to an agreement that King Eirik should take Northumberland as a fief from King Athelstan, and which land he should defend against the Danes or other vikings. Eirik should let himself be baptized, together with his wife and children, and all the people who had followed him. Eirik accepted this offer, and was baptized, and adopted the right faith. Northumberland is called a fifth part of England. Hakon the Good's Saga ch4: After him his brother Jatmund was king of England, and he was no friend to the Northmen... Then he sailed to the Hebrides, where there were many vikings and troop-kings, who joined their men to his. With all this force he steered to Ireland first, where he took with him all the men he could, and then to Bretland, and plundered; and sailed thereafter south to England, and marauded there as elsewhere... A dreadful battle ensued, in which many Englishmen fell; but for one who fell came three in his place out of the country behind, and when evening came on the loss of men turned on the side of the Northmen, and many people fell. Hakon the Good's Saga ch4: When Gunhild and her sons knew for certain that King Eirik had fallen, after having plundered the land of the King of England, they thought there was no peace to be expected for them; and they made themselves ready to depart from Northumberland, with all the ships King Eirik had left, and all the men who would go with them. They took also all the loose property, and goods which they had gathered partly as taxes in England, partly as booty on their expeditions. Hakon the Good's Saga ch5: When King Hakon heard of his brother Eirik's death, and also that his sons had no footing in England, he thought there was not much to fear from them...

Saga of King Harald Frafeld and of Earl Hakon Son of Sigurd ch2: Gunhild's sons embraced Christianity in England, as told before; but when they came to rule over Norway they made no progress in spreading Christianity. They pulled down the temples of the idols, and cast away the blots where they had it in their power, and raised great animosity by doing so.


I am stopping my examples of England and English here. These words occur far more in Heimskringla than the words "Saxland" and "Saxar" do. The English are NEVER called "Saxons" in the Eddas and Sagas. I understand I will be crucified on social media for saying such a thing, so be it. This is an educational blog, and us at Aldsidu, Old Saxon Heathens, struggle to find actual Old Saxon literature due to the English over-use and abuse of the word "Saxon" in their own studies. I think I give more homage and respect to the Angles and other Germanic tribes in England than the English tend to themselves. Nonetheless, let's remember the greatness of the Angles, Jutes, Frisians, Franks, (and the Saxons), and other Germanic settlers to England. They accomplished mighty deeds.




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