Norse clans

The Scandinavian clan or ætt/ätt (pronounced [ˈæːtː] in Old Norse) was a social group based on common descent.


In the absence of a police force, the clan was the primary force of security in Norse society, as the clansmen were obliged by honour to avenge one another. The Norse clan was not tied to a certain territory in the same way as a Scottish clan, where the chief owned the territory. The land of the Scandinavian clan was owned by the individuals who had close neighbours from other clans. The name of the clan was derived from that of its ancestor, often with the addition of an -ung or -ing ending. The original meaning of ætt/ätt seems to have simply been "those who are related".[1] A person could technically belong to several clans, but usually the identification of an individual came with ancestry of most prestige. Therefore, through mostly the exception to the rule, a clan could have matrilineal name if the descent of the ancestral mother was considered more important than the father. Family names were not in use, instead patronyms and matronyms were used, likewise depending on the favoured ancestry. Therefore, the clan names reflected the common descent of family groups.[2]

The heavy dependence on family and kindred in early Scandinavian history was the foundation of the importance clan. The Thing served as a moderating force which could prevent blood feuds between the clans due to the importance of kinship. As central government gradually was established in Scandinavia, the ætt lost its relevance for commoners. For royalty and nobility, however, it remained in use as the name for line and dynasty.

Examples of clans:

See also


  1. ^ ^ "Ätt" i Elof Hellquist, Svensk etymologisk ordbok (första upplagan, 1922).
  2. ^ Harrison, Dick (2002). Jarlens sekel. Stockholm: Ordfront förlag. Sid. 100-101. ISBN 91-7324-999-8

The Casuari were an ancient Germanic people. Ptolemy mentions them as living on the southern border of Germany, east of the Abnoba mountains, that are east of the Rhine. They were therefore neighbours of the Tencteri, a tribe living between the Rhine and the Abnoba mountains. Their origins can be traced back to those of the Alemanni and Khatti, they descend from Assyrian tribes who migrated into Europe to settle. Ptolemy also mentions them as having founded the town of Suevos Casuari. The Casuari were most likely numerous during and around the time of Ptolemy, which is around 90 to 168 AD. Being a small tribe, very little remains of them, and most evidence comes from written sources.


The Chamavi were a Germanic tribe of Roman imperial times whose name survived into the Early Middle Ages. They first appear under that name in the 1st century AD Germania of Tacitus as a Germanic tribe that lived to the north of the Lower Rhine. Their name probably survives in the region today called Hamaland, which is in the Gelderland province of the Netherlands, between the IJssel and Ems rivers.


The Chauci (German: Chauken, and identical or similar in other regional modern languages) were an ancient Germanic tribe living in the low-lying region between the Rivers Ems and Elbe, on both sides of the Weser and ranging as far inland as the upper Weser. Along the coast they lived on artificial mounds called terpen, built high enough to remain dry during the highest tide. A dense population of Chauci lived further inland, and they are presumed to have lived in a manner similar to the lives of the other Germanic peoples of the region.

Their ultimate origins are not well understood. In the Germanic pre-Migration Period (i.e., before c. 300 AD) the Chauci and the related Frisians, Saxons, and Angles inhabited the Continental European coast from the Zuyder Zee to south Jutland. All of these peoples shared a common material culture, and so cannot be defined archaeologically. The Chauci originally centered on the Weser and Elbe, but in c. AD 58 they expanded westward to the River Ems by expelling the neighboring Ampsivarii, whereby they gained a border with the Frisians to the west. The Romans referred to the Chauci living between the Weser and Elbe as the 'Greater Chauci' and those living between the Ems and Weser as the 'Lesser Chauci'.The Chauci entered the historical record in descriptions of them by classical Roman sources late in the 1st century BC in the context of Roman military campaigns and sea raiding. For the next 200 years the Chauci provided Roman auxiliaries through treaty obligations, but they also appear in their own right in concert with other Germanic tribes, opposing the Romans. Accounts of wars therefore mention the Chauci on both sides of the conflict, though the actions of troops under treaty obligation were separate from the policies of the tribe.

The Chauci lost their separate identity in the 3rd century when they merged with the Saxons, after which time they were considered to be Saxons. The circumstances of the merger are an unsettled issue of scholarly research.


A clan is a group of people united by actual or perceived kinship and descent. Even if lineage details are unknown, clan members may be organized around a founding member or apical ancestor. Clans, in indigenous societies, tend to be exogamous, meaning that their members cannot marry one another. Clans preceded more centralized forms of community organization and government, and exist in every country. Members may identify with a coat of arms or other symbol to show they are an independent clan. The kinship-based bonds may also have a symbolic ancestor, whereby the clan shares a "stipulated" common ancestor that is a symbol of the clan's unity. When this "ancestor" is non-human, it is referred to as a totem, which is frequently an animal.

The word clan is derived from the Gaelic clann meaning "children" or "progeny"; it is not from the word for "family" in either Irish or Scottish Gaelic. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word was introduced into English in around 1425, as a label for the nature of the society of the Scottish Highlands. The Irish term for clan is fine [ˈfʲɪnʲə]; líon tí is a term for "family" in the sense of "household"; and muintir is a term for "family" in the sense of "kinsfolk".

Death in Norse paganism

Death in Norse paganism was associated with varying customs and beliefs. Not only could a Viking funeral be performed a number of ways, the idea of the soul was associated with various notions, as well as of where the dead went in their afterlife, such as Valhalla, Fólkvangr, Hel, and Helgafjell.


In Norse mythology, a dís ("lady", plural dísir) is a ghost, spirit or deity associated with fate who can be either benevolent or antagonistic towards mortals. Dísir may act as protective spirits of Norse clans. Their original function was possibly that of fertility goddesses who were the object of both private and official worship called dísablót, and their veneration may derive from the worship of the spirits of the dead. The dísir, like the valkyries, norns, and vættir, are almost always referred to collectively. The North Germanic dísir and West Germanic Idisi are believed by some scholars to be related due to linguistic and mythological similarities, but the direct evidence of Anglo-Saxon and Continental German mythology is limited. The dísir play roles in Norse texts that resemble those of fylgjur, valkyries, and norns, so that some have suggested that dísir is a broad term including the other beings.


Ecgþēow (pronounced [ˈedʒðeːow]) or Edgetho (Proto-Norse *Agiþewaz) or Ecgtheow is a character in the Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf. He is not mentioned outside the Bēowulf manuscript, and it is not known whether he was based on a real person. He belonged to a probably Swedish family (an ätt, see Norse clans) called the Waegmundings. He married the daughter of Hreðel, king of the Geats, and was the father of Bēowulf.

His name could be read as eċġ + þēow, "edge-servant" (that is, sword-thane); alternatively, if his name was a compound of the ancient bahuvrihi type as were many other Germanic heroic names, it would indicate proficiency with the sword, meaning literally, "whose servant is the sword".

He is first mentioned in Bēowulf at lines 262-266, when Beowulf tells the coast-guardian that "My father was known to everyone," calls him a "noble battle-leader", and says that he died after living through "many winters" and that he is remembered well by wise men everywhere.

At lines 372-375, Hrōðgār, the Danish king, recalls Ecgþeow, remembering that he married King Hreðel's only daughter.

At lines 456-472, Hrōðgār recalls the story of how Ecgþēow once came to him for help: he had slain Heaðolaf, a man from another tribe called the Wulfings (probably the rulers of the East Geats). One of the Germanic ways of resolving a blood feud was either to pay a wergild (Anglo-Saxon, "man-price") or to be banished. Either Ecgþēow's people could not pay a wergild, or the Wulfings refused to accept it from them; so Ecgþeow had to leave home. He went to Dane-Land; Hrōðgār paid the wergild, and Ecgþeow swore oaths of friendship to him.

The Wulfings were probably the same as the Wylfings mentioned in Widsith, and according to Widsith one of their lords was Helm. Hroðgar married Wealhþeow, a Helming lady, who thus likely belonged to the Wulfings, and this may explain why Ecgþeow went to Dane-Land particularly. Hroðgar may have been able to use his family ties to persuade the Wulfings to accept the wergild and end the feud.

Hrōðgār interprets Beowulf's journey as a son's gratitude for what Hrōðgār had done for Beowulf's father.

At lines 2428-2429 we learn that the young Bēowulf was fostered and raised in the home of Hreðel starting when he was seven years old; Ecgþēow may have died by then, or the family may just have been following a custom.

At lines 2813-2815 we learn that the thane Wiglaf is a Waegmunding; therefore his father Weohstan was in some way related to Ecgþeow.


In modern Swedish, Folkung has two meanings, which appear to be opposites:

The medieval "House of Bjelbo" in Sweden, which produced several Swedish statesmen and kings.

A group of people (singular Folkunge, plural Folkungar), who were at times in political opposition to the same House of Bjelbo. This "political party" fought for the ancient right of free men to elect the kings in Sweden.Until the 17th century, Folkunge was used only with the second meaning. However, many of these political opponents were also said to have been descendants of Jarl Folke the Fat (from the House of Bjelbo), who lived before the family became royal. Hence, in the 17th century, the whole family, then already extinct and without any established name, became known as the House of Folkung (Folkungaätten in Swedish).

Later research, though, showed that the political Folkungs were not just descendants of Jarl Folke—instead, they belonged to different Swedish noble families, united by the ambition to fight against a central ruler of Sweden. According to one theory, Folkungs wanted to keep the old "freedom" of the petty kingdoms, including the election of kings, and to retain local power in their own control. Many Folkungs came from the ancient provinces of Svealand, opposing the ruling families of the time that were mostly from Götaland. The first Folkung uprising in 1229 was successful, elevating Canute II onto the throne. Later developments were less promising, and the centralized system eventually suppressed their resistance.


The Hermunduri, Hermanduri, Hermunduli, Hermonduri, or Hermonduli were an ancient Germanic tribe, who occupied an area near the Elbe river, around what is now Thuringia, Bohemia, Saxony (in East Germany), and Franconia in northern Bavaria, from the first to the third century. At times, they apparently moved to the Danube frontier with Rome. The Thuringii may have been the descendants of the Hermunduri. Claudius Ptolemy mentions neither tribe in his geography but instead the Teuriochaemae, who may also be connected to both.

House of Sverker

After the extinction of the House of Stenkil and the ascension of Sverker I of Sweden in 1130, a civil war commenced. In the beginning, there were several pretenders, of whom Sverker I emerged as victorious, for a time. The antagonists in long run were finally the House of Sverker in Östergötland and the House of Eric in Västergötland and Uppland (Saint Eric was killed and buried in the latter province, others in the dynasty were buried in Varnhem Abbey in the former province as later also Birger Jarl was, a relative to the dynasty), which alternated on the throne for several generations, until in the 1220s the Eric dynasty got the upper hand, and the Sverker dynasty became extinct (at least in the male line).

As usual in medieval succession rivalries, the final outcome combined the blood of rival lines, as in 1250 Valdemar of the Folkungs (then a minor, his father Birger Jarl acting as regent) ascended the throne, having inherited the Eric dynasty claim from Valdemar's mother (who was sister of Eric XI of Sweden, the last Eric-dynast) and some of the Sverker dynasty claim from Birger's mother (who was daughter of a younger son of Sverker I).

Milford, County Donegal

Milford or Millford, historically called Ballynagalloglagh (from Irish: Baile na nGallóglach), is a small town and townland in County Donegal, Ireland. The population at the 2016 census was 1,037.

Norse funeral

Norse funerals, or the burial customs of Viking Age North Germanic Norsemen (early medieval Scandinavians), are known both from archaeology and from historical accounts such as the Icelandic sagas and Old Norse poetry.

Throughout Scandinavia, there are many remaining tumuli in honour of Viking kings and chieftains, in addition to runestones and other memorials. Some of the most notable of them are at the Borre mound cemetery, in Norway, at Birka in Sweden and Lindholm Høje, and Jelling in Denmark.

A prominent tradition is that of the ship burial, where the deceased was laid in a boat, or a stone ship, and given grave offerings in accordance with his earthly status and profession, sometimes including sacrificed slaves. Afterwards, piles of stone and soil were usually laid on top of the remains in order to create a tumulus. Additional practices included sacrifice or cremation, but the most common was to bury the departed with goods that denoted their social status.


Old English Scylding (plural Scyldingas) and Old Norse Skjöldung (plural Skjöldungar), meaning in both languages "People of Scyld/Skjöld" refers to members of a legendary royal family of Danes, especially kings. The name is explained in many texts, such as Friedrich Christoph Dahlmann's 'Research on the Field of History' (German: Forschungen auf dem Gebiete der Geschichte), by the descent of this family from an eponymous king Scyld/Skjöld. But the title is sometimes applied to rulers who purportedly reigned before Scyld/Skjöld and the supposed king Scyld/Skjöld may be an invention to explain the name. There was once a Norse saga on the dynasty, the Skjöldunga saga, but it survives only in a Latin summary by Arngrímur Jónsson.


Sippe is German for "clan, kindred, extended family" (Frisian Sibbe, Norse Sifjar).

It continues a Proto-Germanic term *sebjō, which referred to a band or confederation bound by a treaty or oath, not primarily restricted to blood relations. The original character of sibb as a peace treaty is visible in Old English, e.g. in Beowulf (v. 1858):

hafast þû gefêred, þæt þâm folcum sceal,

Geáta leódum ond Gâr-Denum

sib gemæne ond sacu restan.The Sippe came to be a cognatic, extended family unit, exactly analogous to the Scottish/Irish sept.Most of the information left about the nature and role of the Sippe is found in records left by the Lombards, Alamanni, and Bavarians. One of the functions of the Sippe was regulating use of forests. The average Sippe likely contained no more than 50 families. The Sippe seems to have been absorbed into the monogamous family later on; P.D. King asserts that this was already the case among the Visigoths during the time of the Visigothic Kingdom.


In Norse mythology, Völsung (Old Norse: Vǫlsungr) was the son of Rerir and the eponymous ancestor of the ill-fortuned Völsung clan (Vǫlsungar), which includes the well known Norse hero Sigurð. He was murdered by the Geatish king Siggeir and later avenged by one of his sons, Sigmund, and his daughter Signy, who was married to Siggeir.

Völsung's story is recorded in the Völsung Cycle, a series of legends about the clan. The earliest extant versions of the cycle were recorded in medieval Iceland; the tales of the cycle were expanded with local Scandinavian folklore, including that of Helgi Hundingsbane (which appears to originally have been part of the separate tradition of the Ylfings), and form the material of the epic poems in the Elder Edda and of Völsunga saga, which preserves material from lost poems. Völsung is also the subject matter of the Middle High German epic poem Nibelungenlied and is mentioned as Wæls in the Old English epic Beowulf.


A vǫlva or völva (Old Norse and Icelandic, respectively; plural forms vǫlur and völvur, sometimes anglicized vala; also spákona or spækona) is a female shaman and seer in Norse religion and a recurring motif in Norse mythology.


The Wulfings, Wylfings or Ylfings (the name means the "wolf clan") was a powerful clan in Beowulf, Widsith and in the Norse sagas. While the poet of Beowulf does not locate the Wulfings geographically, Scandinavian sources define the Ylfings (the Old Norse form of the name) as the ruling clan of the Eastern Geats.The Wulfings play an important role in Beowulf as Beowulf's father Ecgþeow of the Wægmunding clan had slain one of its members, and was banished for not paying the weregild. The Danish king Hroðgar, who was married to Wealhþeow, a Wulfing woman, graciously paid the weregild, and when Beowulf arrived at the Danish court in order to slay Grendel, Hroðgar interpreted this as a son's gratitude.

In Old Norse sources, the clan figure prominently in the Heimskringla and in Sögubrot, where Hjörvard and his son Hjörmund belong to it. It is also mentioned in the Lay of Hyndla and in Skáldskaparmál where Eiríkr the Wise was one of its members. However, its most famous member was Helgi Hundingsbane who had two poems of his own (Helgakviða Hundingsbana I and Helgakviða Hundingsbana II), in the Poetic Edda, and whose story is also retold in the Völsunga saga.

Sam Newton and others (including Rupert Bruce-Mitford), have proposed that the East Anglian Wuffing dynasty was derived from the Wulfings, and it was at their court that Beowulf was first composed.


The Wægmundings were a prominent probably Swedish clan (an ätt, see Norse clans) in Beowulf. A name such as Wægmunding meant "belongs to Wægmund", i.e. they were the descendants of a man named Wægmund. This was the normal way of naming a Germanic clan (see e.g. Sigurd the Völsung, descendant of king Völsung), Folkung (descendants of Folke) and Yngling (descendants of Yngvi-Freyr).


Wægmund (the ancestor of the clan)

Ælfhere (seems to have been a distinguished member of the clan as Wiglaf is described as his kinsman)

Ecgþeow (joined the Danes and the Geats as he was banished for slaying a man from another clan)

Beowulf (son of Ecgþeow and the hero of the epic by his name)

Weohstan (Swedish champion and slayer of his fugitive countryman prince Eanmund)

Wiglaf (the last of the Wægmundings and son of Weohstan. He fought with Beowulf against the dragon)The story of this clan in Beowulf is that Ecgþeow slew a man, Heaðolaf, from another clan, the Wulfings (probably the rulers of the less known East Geats). As the Wægmundings would not or could not pay the expected wergild, Ecgtheow was banished and sought refuge among the Danes. The Danish king Hrothgar paid the wergild and had Ecgþeow swear an oath. Later, Ecgþeow served the Geats and distinguished himself enough to marry the Geatish king Hreðel's daughter, with whom he had the son Beowulf.

During the Swedish-Geatish wars, Ecgþeow's close relative, Weohstan, fought on the Swedish side for Onela, and killed Onela's nephew Eanmund. The fact that these characters are described as Wægmundings explains why the Swedish warrior Wiglaf became the companion of Beowulf although his father had fought against the Geats. Since Ecgþeow, Beowulf's father, was a close relative of Weohstan, Wiglaf's father, it is not surprising that Wiglaf (after his father's death) joined his relative Beowulf in Geatland, and that Beowulf assumed responsibility for the young Swede.


The Ynglings were the oldest known Scandinavian dynasty, originating from Sweden. It can refer to the clans of the Scylfings (Old Norse Skilfingar), the semi-legendary royal Swedish clan during the Age of Migrations, with kings such as Eadgils, Onela and Ohthere (Aðils, Åle and Ottar). When Beowulf (Boðvar Bjarke) and Ynglingatal were composed sometime in the eighth to tenth centuries, the respective scop and skald (poet) expected his audience to have a great deal of background information about these kings, which is shown in the allusiveness of the references.

Ynglings also refers to the Fairhair dynasty, descending from the kings of Oppland, Norway. According to surviving early sources, such as Ynglingatal and Íslendingabók, these kings were descended from the Swedish Scylfings of Uppland, Sweden. The House of Munsö, a Swedish dynasty, also falls under the definition of Yngling. The earliest kings of this dynasty that historians generally agree are historical are Eirik the Victorious and Olof Skötkonung.

Some early kings were likely mythical, whereas others may have been real. Egil, Ottar, Ale and Adils are mentioned in several sources and are very likely to be real kings.

History of the Germanic peoples
Pagan society
(until about
Early Middle Ages)

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