This article is about the Heathen Heroes of Heathen Saxony, and not the heroes of England.
The greatest Heathen Saxon Hero. While many Christian Kings over the centuries persecuted and forcefully converted Heathens, none was more ruthless than Charlemagne. In one year alone (782 AD/CE), Charlemagne beheaded 4,500 Heathen Saxons for denouncing their forced baptismal vows, and taking up Heathenry again, and attacking the Franks, under the leadership of Widukind. These Saxons defeated the Franks in a large battle. When Charlemagne returned with more numerous Christian armies and the Franks won a battle, Charlemagne beheaded 4,500 Saxon Warriors, ones whom the surrendered Saxon nobles claimed followed Widukind in this "treachery." Widukind escaped and fled to the Danes, the Heathen allies of the Saxons. The Christian Frankish Annals, written by Charlemagne's own Christian court in the year 775, state this about Charlemagne: “While the king (Charlemagne) spent the winter at the villa of Quierzy, he decided to attack the treacherous and treaty-breaking tribe of the Saxons and to persist in this war until they were either defeated and forced to accept the Christian religion or be entirely exterminated." (See The Royal Frankish Annals published by Ann Arbor Paperbacks, translated by Bernhard Walter Scholz, p.51) The Franks first invaded Heathen Saxony in 772 AD, and destroyed Thunar's Well in Old Saxon Hohensyburg. They then destroyed the Irminsul in Old Saxon Westphalia. The Christian Franks continued to attack Heathen Saxony again and again from the years 772-804. Yet the Saxons arose again and again against the foreign Christian Frankish oppression and their Roman god. Widukind led the Saxons in the Saxon Wars, the wars for the freedom of Heathen Saxony. The Franks wrote of this great Heathen adversary, Widukind. Widukind defeated the Franks in many battles, and for ten years, Widukind kept the Franks at bay, and frustrated. While most of the time the history books are written by the victors, and rarely do the records of the victors record the greatness of their adversaries, the Franks wrote that Widukind's victories, which took a thirty-three year war to overcome, caused the Pope in Rome to proclaim a feast and a mass throughout the empire. While the Heathen Saxons lost the war, and were eventually forcefully Christianized, the Great Saxon Hero Widukind is remembered with a museum in Herford, Westphalia, Saxony, as well as several statues throughout Old Saxon lands, as the hero of the Saxons. A brief and accurate write up of the Saxon Wars, the war of Heathenry vs forced Christianization, can be found by pasting this link in your browser: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saxon_Wars
Theodoric The Saxon
The Franks wrote about their enemies, when the enemies proved great to overcome. The first Saxon in the Royal Frankish Annals was Theodoric the Saxon. The Royal Frankish Annals (Latin: Annales Regni Francorum) are annals written for the early Frankish kings, covering the years 741 to 829 AD. They are among the most important sources for the history of the reign of Charlemagne. They are continued by the Annales Fuldenses and Annales Bertiniani. The Royal Frankish Annals state the following regarding the year 743 AD: “Carloman and Pepin then started a war against Odilo, duke of the Bavarians. That year, Carloman advanced with his army into Saxony. By treaty, he took possession of the hill-fort called Hohenseeburg and made Theodoric the Saxon submit." In the year 744 AD, the Annals state: "Again Carloman and Pepin invaded Saxony, and Theodoric the Saxon was captured a second time." Please note, Hohenseeburg is also called Hohensyburg. While most today remember the Heathen Saxon Irminsul as a holy place, Thunar's Well (or Thor's Well) of the Saxons seems to have been the first holy place the Franks were pre-occupied with destroying or occupying. The year that the Irminsul was destroyed, most forget that Charlemagne first attacked and conquered Thunar's Well at Hohensyburg, and the well was later named "St. Peter's Well." For pictures of my archaeological study at Hohensyburg, please see this blog article (https://www.aldsidu.com/post/hohensyburg-a-saxon-holy-place-of-thunar-thor) and this YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tDbj_9mXmeY While not much else is known about Theodoric the Saxon, he clearly was an early defender of Thunar's Well (Thor's Well) at Hohensyburg. Theoderic or Theodoric (Old Saxon, but Diederik in modern Saxon and Dietrik in modern German) was the leader of the Saxons from 743–744. Onomastics (Onomastics is the study of the etymology, history, and use of proper names) suggests that Theodoric was related to the family of Widukind.
Abbi and Widukind were the only two Old Saxon nobles during the Saxon Wars who did not accept bribes from the Frankish King Charlemagne, to convert to Christianity in exchange for turning on the Saxon commoners, passifying them, allowing missionaries to conduct mass baptisms, and force Christianity on the Saxons. While the nobles who surrendered accepted bribes for land, both Widukind and Abbi refused. They lost all their lands, and gave up all they had in order to defend the "aldsidu", the Old Heathenry of the Saxons.
Berthoald (died 622) was the leader of the Saxons during the reign of the Frankish kings Chlothar II and his son Dagobert I. He despised Christian Frankish tribute, and rebelled against tribute and the Frankish attempts to rule Heathen Saxony. While Berthoald was defeated, his story is told in the Liber Historiae Francorum (727) and the Gesta Dagoberti (830s), both sources partial to the Christian Frankish kings.
In 622, Chlothar appointed Dagobert to rule Austrasia (a large land in Frankia which bordered the territory of the Saxons), Berthoald raised his army and attacked the Christian Franks. Dagobert fought the Saxons and was defeated by Berthoald. Dagobert lost a portion of his long Merovingian (Frankish ruling family's characteristically long) hair. Dabovert retrieved the hair that was cut off his head and sent to his father, to request his assistance. Chlothar, who was in the Ardennes at the time, but gathered an army. The Franks under Dagobert then encamped on the river Weser across from Berthoald's army. When Chlothar arrived, Dagobert's Franks applauded so loudly that the Saxons could hear on the other side of the river. Berthoald, however, refused to believe reports that Chlothar had arrived and accused his men of cowardice. The following day, Chlothar and Berthoald met in the river (according to the Frankish source), both on thier horses. After trading insults, Chlothar and Berthoald had a duel, in which Berthoald was killed. The Franks then defeated the Saxons in battle. While I doubt the historicity of the specific events in this Frankish retelling, Berthoald did lead the Saxons to keep their Heathenry, rebelling against the Christian Frankish attempts to conquer and Christianize Saxony.
Hathagat was an early Saxon leader in the sixth century. Later, Widukind of Corvey (a Saxon Christian Monk, not to be confused with the famous Saxon Heathen Widukind), wrote in his history of the Saxons in the tenth century, that Hathagat was considered the founder of the Saxon people. Hathagat led the Saxons to a great victory against the Thuringians in the battle of Burgscheidungen. The battle of Burgscheidungen was "a legendary victory, and one so great that [Hadugato] appeared to [later] Saxons as an epiphany of divinity itself." [Karl Hauck, "The Literature of House and Kindred Associated with Medieval Noble Families, Illustrated from Eleventh and Twelfth-century Satires on the Nobility", in Timothy Reuter, ed., The Medieval Nobility: Studies on the Ruling Classes of France and Germany from the Sixth to the Twelfth Century (Amsterdam, 1979), pp. 61–85.]
Hathagat was mentioned in the 9th century by Rudolf of Fulda in his Translatio sancti Alexandri, which was a work started in the year 863. This is the earliest historical source of Hathagat. Widukind of Corvey also gives his account of how Hathagat gives a rousing speech on the eve of battle. Hathagat spoke after a defeat, but on the night before a counter attack, saying "If Uurdgiscapou (Shapers, Old Norse: Nornir) has me die tomorrow, at least I will die with my friends. The examples of the strength of our Fathers are to be found in the bodies of our friends that lie around us. They preferred to die rather than be conquered. It is better to set your siolon (souls) free than to give way before your enemies... Follow me as your leader and if things do not turn out as I say, I will offer up my hoary head to you." (See Widukind of Corvey, 'Deeds of the Saxons' book 1, chapter 11.) The Saxons won the battle of Burgscheidungen, and in "the Kalends of October" held a three day feast of victory. (Is this by chance Winter Nights, the three day feast on a full moon in the time of around the Roman/Christian October (named after emperor Octavian) that was a three day feast to begin Winter?) Widukind of Corvey records: "When morning came, the Saxons placed an eagle before the eastern gate and constructed an altar of victory according to the error of their Fathers... they spent three days celebrating the defeat of their enemy and dividing the spoils of their defeat, celebrating funeral rites on behalf of the dead, and celebrating their leader to the skies. They proclaimed him of having a godlike strength since it was through his courage that they achieved this victory." Widukind claims this was done in October, but the Heathen Saxons were not yet christianized and still used the moon for "months." (PS- In all Germanic languages, including English, the word "moon" is related to the word for "month." A month was a cycle of the moon in Heathen times, before Romanized Christian months, having nothing to do with the moon, being of fixed days, became the calendar of a converted Saxony.) Maybe it is unlikely this is an attestation of Winter Nights by the early Saxons. Maybe this was a custom, after a great victory, to give three days of blot, sumble, and funeral rites?
Arminius or Hermann the Cherusker
Many will argue that Arminius was of the tribe of the Cheruski, and not of the Saxons. But the fact is that the Cheruski and Marsi and Fosi and Angrivarii, and the other tribes living in and near the Teutoburg Forest, were the tribes that became the Saxons. These tribes had no kings, and were ruled by an Althing, where the Gods were invited by these Heathen tribes to take part in the governence of their people. Arminius was responsible for the defeat of three Roman legions, which led to these Germanic tribes never being conquered by the Romans, never being ruled by Roman Caesars (Kaisers) or Kings. Arminius' great victory allowed these tribes, who later became the Saxons, to be free, venerating Uuoden (Odin), Thunar (Thor), and Sassnoth for another eight centuries, before the later Christian Franks brought the Roman Kaiser ideals and a Roman god to replace the Ancestral Gods of the Saxons. It was the stubborness of Arminius, which lived on in the great Saxon Heroes who also fought in the same Saxon lands Arminius fought the Romans, and against the same Frankish Oppression that the Romans brought to these Heathen tribes: a drive of Empire and the ambition of Roman and Christian Kaiser kings. The Saxon tribes had the same strength of their Ancestors, the drive to remain free, and to rule themselves through Heathen Thing and not through the dictatorship of a Kaiser or King. This stubborness lived on in the later Saxon heroes, as well as the Saxon People. While Arminius was later put to death by his own people for his drive to be a king/kaiser over them, the Germanic tribes still remembered his leadership of defeating Rome. While Arminius started strong and his story doesn't end in death on the battlefield, it is a story befitting of later Heathen Saxony. The Saxons did remain free and Heathen due to the strength of the later heroes. While in the end, the religion of Christianity did conquer Saxony (and we all agree that was clearly a step backwards), but the strength of these heroes allowed the Saxons to remain good people, and free people, for more time. Today, Germanic people are known for this same stubborness. Of all Germans, the Saxons are indeed the most stubborn. While I have the great Saxon surname of "Sass" (the Old Saxon word that means "Saxon") there are other great Saxon surnames, like Westphal, born in Old Saxon Westphalia, the lands of the Sassen and Widukind. As Saxon Scholar James Westphal Thompson wrote about the Saxons: "Social differences were jealously guarded by social prescription. The death penalty was imposed on any man who married above his rank; the marriage of a man below his station was severely condemned; bastardy was not tolerated; intermarriage between Saxons and other Germans was frowned upon; and strangers were hated. So tenaciously did the Saxons cling to their ancient customary law that clear traces of these social survivals persisted in Saxony down through the Middle Ages." Nonetheless, it is the stubborness of the Germanic tribes back in the time of Arminius, that later defined who the Saxons were, as the tribes he led, were the tribes that did not allow kings nor dictatorships, and was a true spirit of freedom that defined Saxony and this area of the world (Old Saxony) for centuries. May the Deeds of the Saxons and their heroes live on in our Sagas, in our Sumble halls, and in the blots of our Sacred Groves. May we never forget what our Saxon Heathen Ancestors stoof for, and died for. Nothing is more precious than freedom, self rule, and the right to hold onto our Ancestral faith. Please join us on Facebook in the group: Aldsidu:Saxon Heathenry.
Lebuini Antiqua 4, THE LIFE OF ST. LEBUIN, 9th Century AD “In olden times the Saxons had no king but appointed rulers over each village; and their custom was to hold a general meeting once a year in the center of Saxony near the river Weser at a place called Marklo. There all the leaders used to gather together, and they were joined by twelve noblemen from each village with as many freedmen and serfs. There they confirmed the laws, gave judgment on outstanding cases and by common consent drew up plans for the coming year on which they could act either in peace or war.” Bede - Ecclesiastical History of the English People (731 AD) “For these Old Saxons have no king, but several lords who are set over the nation. Whenever war is imminent, these cast lots impartially, and the one on whom the lot falls is followed and obeyed by all for the duration of the war; but as soon as the war ends, the lords revert to equality of status.” Nithard – Frankish count and historian, Grandson of Charlemagne (9th Cent AD) “Charlemagne, deservedly called emperor by all nations, converted the Saxons to the true Christian religion of God, from the vain cult of idols through much diverse toil, as it is known to all the nations living in Europe. The Saxons from the beginning were distinguished as nobles and often, with many indications, as most zealous for war. This people are entirely divided into three orders: there are those who are called in their language edhilingui, frilingi, and lassi. In the Latin tongue that is nobles, free, and servile.”