Gesta Danorum

Gesta Danorum ("Deeds of the Danes") is a patriotic work of Danish history, by the 13th century author Saxo Grammaticus ("Saxo the Literate", literally "the Grammarian"). It is the most ambitious literary undertaking of medieval Denmark and is an essential source for the nation's early history. It is also one of the oldest known written documents about the history of Estonia and Latvia.

Consisting of sixteen books written in Latin on the invitation of Archbishop Absalon, Gesta Danorum describes Danish history and to some degree Scandinavian history in general, from prehistory to the late 12th century. In addition, Gesta Danorum offers singular reflections on European affairs in the High Middle Ages from a unique Scandinavian perspective, supplementing what has been handed down by historians from Western and Southern Europe.

Saxo original 001
Gesta Danorum (Angers Fragment), page 1, front.


The sixteen books, in prose with an occasional excursion into poetry, can be categorized into two parts: Books 1-9, which deal with Norse mythology, and Books 10-16, which deal with medieval history. Book 9 ends with Gorm the Old, the first factual documented King of Denmark. The last three books (14-16), which describe Danish conquests on the south shore of the Baltic Sea and wars against Slavic peoples (the Northern Crusades), are very valuable for the history of West Slavic tribes (Polabian Slavs, Pomeranians) and Slavic paganism. Book 14 contains a unique description of the temple on the island of Rügen.


When exactly Gesta Danorum was written is the subject of numerous works; however, it is generally agreed that Gesta Danorum was not finished before 1208. The last event described in the last book (Book 16) is King Canute VI of Denmark subduing Pomerania under Duke Bogislaw I, in 1186. However the preface of the work, dictated to Archbishop Anders Sunesen, mentions the Danish conquest of the areas north of the Elbe in 1208.

Book 14, comprising nearly one-quarter of the text of the entire work, ends with Absalon's appointment to archbishop in 1178. Since this book is so large and Absalon has greater importance than King Valdemar I, this book may have been written first and comprised a work on its own. It is possible that Saxo then enlarged it with Books 15 and 16, telling the story of King Valdemar I's last years and King Canute VI's first years.

It is believed that Saxo then wrote Books 11, 12, and 13. Svend Aagesen's history of Denmark, Brevis Historia Regum Dacie (circa 1186), states that Saxo had decided to write about "The king-father and his sons," which would be King Sweyn Estridson, in Books 11, 12, and 13. He would later add the first ten books. This would also explain the 22 years between the last event described in the last book (Book 16) and the 1208 event described in the preface.


The original manuscripts of the work are lost, except for four fragments: the Angers Fragment, Lassen Fragment, Kall-Rasmussen Fragment and Plesner Fragment. The Angers Fragment is the biggest fragment, and the only one attested to be in Saxo’s own handwriting. The other ones are copies from ca. 1275. All four fragments are in the collection of the Danish Royal Library in Copenhagen, Denmark.

The text has, however, survived. In 1510–1512, Christiern Pedersen, a Danish translator working in Paris, searched Denmark high and low for an existing copy of Saxo’s works, which by that time was nearly all but lost. By that time most knowledge of Saxo’s work came from a summary located in Chronica Jutensis, from around 1342, called Compendium Saxonis. It is also in this summary that the name Gesta Danorum is found. The title Saxo himself used for his work is unknown.

Christiern Pedersen finally found a copy in the collection of Archbishop Birger Gunnersen of Lund, Skåne (Skåne is now part of Sweden, but at the time was still part of Denmark), which he gladly lent him. With the help of printer Jodocus Badius, Gesta Danorum was refined and printed.


Saxo Chr P front version 001
Front page of Christiern Pedersen's Saxo version, Paris 1514.

The first printed press publication and the oldest known complete text of Saxo’s works is Christiern Pedersen's Latin edition, printed and published by Jodocus Badius in Paris, France on 15 March 1514 under the title of Danorum Regum heroumque Historiae ("History of the Kings and heroes of the Danes"). The edition features the following colophon: ...impressit in inclyta Parrhisorum academia Iodocus Badius Ascensius Idibus Martiis. MDXIIII. Supputatione Romana. (the Ides of March, 1514).

The full front page reads (with abbreviations expanded) in Latin:

Danorum Regum heroumque Historiae stilo eleganti a Saxone Grammatico natione Zialandico necnon Roskildensis ecclesiae praeposito, abhinc supra trecentos annos conscriptae et nunc primum literaria serie illustratae tersissimeque impressae.

Danish language:

De danske Kongers og Heltes Historie, skrevet i pyntelig Stil for over 300 Aar siden af Saxo Grammaticus, en Sjællandsfar og Provst ved Kirken i Roskilde, og nu for første Gang oplyst ved et Register og omhyggeligt trykt.

English language:

Histories of the Kings and heroes of the Danes, composed in elegant style by Saxo Grammaticus, a Zealander and also provost of the church of Roskilde, over three hundred years ago, and now for the first time illustrated and printed correctly in a learned compilation.

Latin versions

The source of all existing translations and new editions is Christiern Pedersen's Latin Danorum Regum heroumque Historiae. There exist a number of different translations today, some complete, some partial:

  • Christiern Pedersen (1514), Danorum Regum heroumque Historiae
  • Johannes Oporinus (1534), Saxonis Grammatici Danorum Historiae Libri XVI
  • Philip Lonicer (1576), Danica Historia Libris XVI
  • Stephan Hansen Stephanius (1645), Saxonis Grammatici Historiæ Danicæ Libri XVI
  • Christian Adolph Klotz (1771), Saxonis Grammatici Historiae Danicae libri XVI
  • Peter Erasmus Müller (1839), Saxonis Grammatici Historia Danica
  • Alfred Holder (1886), Saxonis Grammatici Gesta Danorum
  • Jørgen Olrik; Hans Ræder (1931), Saxonis Gesta Danorum
  • Karsten Friis-Jensen (2005), Gesta Danorum

Danish translations

English translations

  • Oliver Elton (1894), The First Nine Books of the Danish History of Saxo Grammaticus
  • Peter Fisher (translator); Hilda Ellis Davidson (1979–1980), Saxo Grammaticus: The History of the Danes, Books I-IX
  • Eric Christiansen (1980–1981), Saxo Grammaticus: Danorum regum herorumque historia, books X-XVI
  • William F. Hansen (1983), Saxo Grammaticus and the life of Hamlet
  • Karsten Friis-Jensen (editor); Peter Fisher (translator) (2015), Saxo Grammaticus: Gesta Danorum The History of the DanesCS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link) , Volume 1 includes books I-X and Volume 2 includes books XI-XVI.

Other translations

Gesta Danorum is also translated partially in other English, French and German releases.


Certain aspects of Gesta Danorum formed the basis for William Shakespeare's play Hamlet. It is thought that Shakespeare never read Gesta Danorum, and instead had access to an auxiliary version of the tale describing the downfall of the Prince of Denmark, whose real name, Amleth, was used in anagram by Shakespeare for Hamlet.

Saxo’s version, told of in Books 3 and 4, is very similar to that of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. In Saxo's version, two brothers, Orvendil and Fengi are given the rule over Jutland by King Rørik Slyngebond of the Danes. Soon after, Orvendil marries King Rørik’s daughter, Geruth (Gertrude in Hamlet). Amleth is their first and only child.

Fengi becomes resentful of his brother’s marriage, and also wants sole leadership of Jutland, so therefore murders Orvendil. After a very brief period of mourning, Fengi marries Geruth, and declares himself sole leader of Jutland. Eventually, Amleth avenges his father’s murder and plans the murder of his uncle, making him the new and rightful King of Jutland. However, while Hamlet dies in Shakespeare's version just after his uncle's death, in Saxo's version Amleth survives and begins ruling his kingdom, going on to other adventures.



External links


Arngrim was a berserker, who figures in Hervarar saga, Gesta Danorum, Lay of Hyndla, a number of Faroese ballads and Orvar-Odd's saga in Norse mythology.

Bödvar Bjarki

Bödvar Bjarki (Old Norse: Böðvar Bjarki), meaning 'Warlike Little-Bear', is the hero appearing in tales of Hrólf Kraki in the Saga of Hrólf Kraki, in the Latin epitome to the lost Skjöldunga saga, and as Biarco in Saxo Grammaticus' Gesta Danorum.


Gestumblindi is a character in Norse mythology who appears in Hervarar saga and in Saxo Grammaticus' Gesta Danorum as Gestiblindus. Later, he also appears in several Scandinavian folk tales as Gest Blinde.


In Norse mythology, Gróa (possibly from Old Norse "growing") is a völva and practitioner of seiðr, the wife of Aurvandil the Bold.


Hadingus was one of the earliest legendary Danish kings according to Saxo Grammaticus' Gesta Danorum, where he has a detailed biography. Georges Dumézil and others have argued that Hadingus was partially modelled on the god Njörðr.

Hagbard and Signe

Hagbard and Signe or The Red Mantle (Danish: Den røde kappe, Swedish: Den röda kappan, Icelandic: Rauðu skikkjuna) is a 1967 Danish-Swedish-Icelandic drama film based on the story of Hagbard and Signy from the twelfth-century work Gesta Danorum by Saxo Grammaticus, directed by Gabriel Axel and starring Gitte Hænning. The film won a Technical Prize (Mention spéciale du grand prix technique) at the 1967 Cannes Film Festival.


Hake, Haki or Haco, the brother of Hagbard, was a famous Scandinavian sea-king, in Norse mythology. He is mentioned in the 12th century Gesta Danorum, and in 13th-century sources including Ynglinga saga, Nafnaþulur, Völsunga saga. If historical, he would have lived in the 5th century.


Harthgrepa or Harðgreip in Old Norse (« Hard-grip ») is a giantess who appears in the legend of the Norse hero Hadingus, which is reported by Saxo Grammaticus in his Gesta Danorum.


Hjaðningavíg (the "battle of the Heodenings"), the legend of Heðinn and Hǫgni or the Saga of Hild is a Scandinavian legend from Norse mythology about a never-ending battle which is documented in Sörla þáttr, Ragnarsdrápa, Gesta Danorum, Skíðaríma and in Skáldskaparmál. It is also held to appear on the image stone at Stora Hammar on Gotland (see illustration). Moreover, it is alluded to in the Old English poems Deor and Widsið, and in the Old Norse Háttalykill inn forni, and a version of it survived down to the 18th century in the traditional Norn language ballad "Hildina". An altered version of the saga is found in the Middle High German poem Kudrun, as a prologue to the story of Kudrun herself. Yet another version is found in the Old Yiddish Dukus Horant.

Like the names Heðinn (O.E. Heoden) and Hǫgni (O.E. Hagena), the legend is believed to have continental Germanic origins.


Hothbrodd was a legendary Norse hero, details of whose life appear in several related variations.

In the legends of the Ylfing Helgi Hundingsbane, he was the son of king Granmar of Södermanland, and he was killed by Helgi.

The Chronicon Lethrense and included Annales Lundenses relate that Hother was the king of the Saxons and son of Hothbrod, whom Helghe had killed to win all of Denmark. Hother first slew Othen's (i.e. Odin) son Balder in battle and then chased Othen and Thor. Finally, Othen's son Both killed Hother. Hother, Balder, Othen and Thor were incorrectly considered to be gods.

In Gesta Danorum, Saxo Grammaticus has merged the Ylfing Helgi Hundingsbane with the Danish skjöldung king Helgi. He has also made Hothbrodd a king of Sweden and father of Höder and Adils.

In Hversu Noregr byggdist, Höddbrodd (Hǫdbroddr) was the son of a Höd. The name Höd is identical to that born by the slayer of the god Baldr in other tales. And while the Höd of the Hversu is said to be father of a son named Höddbrodd, in Saxo Grammaticus' Gesta Danorum (Book 3) Høtherus, the slayer of Balderus, is the son of Hothbrodus or Hothbroddus.)


Ingeld or Ingjaldr (Old Norse) was a legendary warrior who appears in early English and Norse legends. Ingeld was so well known that, in 797, Alcuin wrote a letter to Bishop Higbald of Lindisfarne questioning the monks' interest in heroic legends with: 'Quid enim Hinieldus cum Christo?' - What has Ingeld to do with Christ?The legends that survive tell of Ingeld as an enemy of Hroðgar, Halga and Hroðulf. The conflict between the Scyldings Hroðgar and Hroðulf on one side, and the Heaðobards Froda and Ingeld on the other, appears both in Beowulf and in Widsith. Scholars generally agree that these characters appear in both Anglo-Saxon (Beowulf) and Scandinavian tradition (Norse sagas and Danish chronicles). However, in the Norse tradition the Heaðobards had apparently been forgotten and the conflict is instead rendered as a family feud, or as a conflict with the Saxons, where the Danes take the place of the Heaðobards.

List of Germanic heroes

This is a list of Germanic heroes.


Rindr (Old Norse) or Rinda (Latin) (sometimes Anglicized Rind) is a female goddess in Norse mythology, alternatively described as a giantess or a human princess from the east. She was impregnated by Odin and gave birth to the avenger of Baldr's death—in the Old Norse sources, Váli.

Snorri Sturluson's Prose Edda refers to Rindr as the mother of Váli and one of the ásynjur (goddesses). The most detailed account is in Book III of the Gesta Danorum, written by Saxo Grammaticus around the early 13th century. There she is called Rinda and is the daughter of the King of the Ruthenians. After Balderus' death Odin consulted seers on how to get revenge. On their advice Odin went to the Ruthenians disguised as a warrior called Roster. There he was twice turned down by Rinda. He then wrote runes on a piece of bark and touched her with it, causing her to go mad, and disguised himself as a medicine woman called Wecha, who was allowed to see her. Finally she fell ill; the disguised Odin then said he had medicine with which to cure her but that it would cause a violent reaction. On Odin's advice, the king tied Rinda to her bed, and Odin proceeded to rape her. From the rape was born Váli, who would later avenge Balderus.Óðinn’s rape of Rindr is described once outside the Gesta Danorum, in a line of stanza 3 of Sigurðardrápa, a poem by Kormákr Ögmundarson praising Sigurðr Hlaðajarl, who ruled around Trondheim in the mid-10th century. Like other such praise-poems, it is generally assumed to be genuine rather than a later pseudo-historical composition. Kormákr’s verse contains the statement, seið Yggr til Rindar (Yggr [Óðinn] ?enchanted Rindr), denoting Óðinn’s magical rape of Rindr with the verb síða. This suggests that Kormakr thought the magic known as seiðr was integral to Óðinn’s raping of Rindr, and is important evidence for Óðinn's association with this kind of magic. Another passage that may refer to the same event is in verse 6 of the Eddic poem "Grógaldr": þann gól Rindi Rani (that [charm] Rani chanted to Rindr).Rindr's name occurs in several skaldic verses and in "Baldrs draumar", where alliteration suggests it may originally have been *Vrindr; the etymology remains uncertain but there may be a connection with the Swedish placename Vrinnevi or Vrinnevid, near Norrköping.

Roar (Dane)

Roar or Roari was Danish woman in Gesta Danorum. She was raised together with Prince Gram and later married him. Marriage however ended when Gram grew tired of his wive and arranged her marriage to his retainer, Bess.


In Norse mythology, Róta is a valkyrie. Róta is attested in chapter 36 of the Prose Edda book Gylfaginning, where she is mentioned alongside the valkyries Gunnr and Skuld, and the three are described as "always [riding] to choose who shall be slain and to govern the killings." Otherwise, Róta appears in two kennings, one by Egill Skallagrímsson and one by Hallfreðr vandræðaskáld. Theories have been proposed about the possible appearance of Róta in Gesta Danorum and the meaning of her name.

Saxo Grammaticus

Saxo Grammaticus (c. 1160 – c. 1220), also known as Saxo cognomine Longus, was a Danish historian, theologian and author. He is thought to have been a clerk or secretary to Absalon, Archbishop of Lund, the main advisor to Valdemar I of Denmark. He is the author of the Gesta Danorum, the first full history of Denmark, from which the legend of Amleth would come to inspire the story of Hamlet by Shakespeare.


Svanhild is the beautiful daughter of Sigurd and Gudrun in Germanic mythology, whose grisly death at the hands of her jealous royal husband Ermanaric was told in many northern European stories, including the Icelandic Poetic Edda (Hamðismál and Guðrúnarhvöt), Prose Edda and the Volsunga Saga; the Norwegian Ragnarsdrápa; the Danish Gesta Danorum; and the German Nibelungenlied and Annals of Quedlinburg.

She was "the most beautiful of all women," and was married to Ermanaric (Jörmunrekkr) the king of the Goths. She was accused of infidelity with the king's son, Randver. Because of this Ermanaric had her trampled to death under horses.

Her mother made her half-brothers Hamdir and Sörli exact revenge on her death, a story which is retold in Hamðismál and Guðrúnarhvöt, Bragi Boddason's Ragnarsdrápa, in the Völsunga saga and in Gesta Danorum. Jordanes wrote in 551 AD that Ermanaric, king of the Gothic Greuthungi, was upset with the attack of a subordinate king and had his young wife Sunilda (i.e. Svanhild) torn apart by four horses. As revenge Ermanaric was pierced with spears by her brothers Ammius (Hamdir) and Sarus (Sörli) and died from the wounds. The Annals of Quedlinburg (end of the 10th century) relates that the brothers Hemidus (Hamdir), Serila (Sörli) and Adaccar (Erp/Odoacer) had cut off the hands of Ermanaric.

Tale of Ragnar Lodbrok

The Tale of Ragnar Lodbrok (Old Norse: Ragnars saga loðbrókar) is an Icelandic legendary saga of the 13th century about the Viking ruler Ragnar Lodbrok. It is part of the manuscript of the Völsunga saga, which it immediately follows. The tale covers the origin of Aslaug, Ragnar's quest for the hand of Þóra Borgarhjǫrtr, his later marriage to Aslaug, the deeds of their sons (and Aslaug) in battle, and Ragnar's death at the hands of king Ælla of Northumbria.

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