The House of Skiold Explained
The House of Skiold (Skjold) is the legendary dynasty in Denmark. Skiold was the founder of the dynasty and the eponym for the Skioldungs (Skjoldungs), his descendants. There are a number of traditions about the members of the Skioldungs, which differ from genealogy to the details of the narratives.
The Danish tradition is mostly found in Saxo Grammaticus, in his Gestuam Danorum. The legend however was not confined in Denmark, for (two) different traditions of the legend existed, one in Iceland and the other in Anglo-Saxon England.
Scattered Icelandic references are found in Poetic Edda and Snorri Sturluson’s Prose Edda. Neither of them tell complete story of Skiold or any of his descendants.
The full Icelandic legend from Halfdan to Hrolf can be found in the page titled Hrolf Kraki, which is based on the 14th century Hrolfs saga Kraka. Given that, there’s no need to repeat the story here, except to give a brief sketch on Skiold’s genealogy.
And in the Old English legend, Skiold, from the Icelandic legend, was called Scyld and his dynasty is called Scyldings.
For the full story of the legend read the following pages:
|The Danish tradition is quite different to both Icelandic Edda (Poetic Edda and Prose Edda), and to the Hrolfs saga, in both lineage and in some detail about the Skioldungs. The main Danish source comes from Gestuam Danorum, a history of Denmark, written by Saxo Grammaticus, who flourished between 1180 and 1220. His history was actually written in Latin.
According to Saxo, Skiold (Latin Skioldus) was not the son of Odin. His father was Lother, and his grandfather was Dan, who was eponym of the Danes.
Dan was the son of Humble, and brother of Anglus. He was a father of Humble and Lother. Dan was a warrior king, and supposedly a great hunter.
Skiold was a better king than his father, because Lother was a tyrant. Skiold was also known as a warrior and great hunter, like his grandfather, Dan.
The genealogy is quite different in many area. Skiold’s son was Gram, not Fridleif as in the Snorri’s Prose Edda, and his grandsons were Hadding and Guthorm, not Frodi in the Prose Edda. This Frodi (Latin Frode) was Hadding’s son.
When Frodi inherited the throne, the kingdom was impoverished by his father’s frequent wars. In the Eddaic literature, Frodi gained riches from the two female slave that grind a magical mill, known as Grotti, which would produce anything that Frodi wishes, and he wished for wealth and peace. But in Gestuam Danorum, Frodi there were no mill or giant slavegirls; Frodi had to kill a giant serpent that guarded the treasure.
In the Gestuam Danorum, Frodi was father of Helgi (Latin Helge) and (great-) grandfather of Hrolf (Latin Rolf). Helgi was the father of also Skulde (Skuld) and Rute, who married Bjarke.
|This article relied on several Icelandic sources about the Skioldungs.
The Poetic Edda, particularly the poem, Grottasong, record a bit on the life of Frodi, a descendant of Skiold. Although, the Grottasong is not found in Codex Regius, it is an eddaic poem, written possibly before 1200. Also in the Poetic Edda, is a poem called Hyndluliod, or Song of Hyndla, which speaks of Ali, though the Prose Edda written by Snorri Sturluson called Ali, Halfdan the Old. More about Ali or Halfdan the Old will be given at the end of this article.
The other Eddaic literature is called the Prose Edda, written by Snorri Sturluson, which is like a handbook on Norse literature and mythology. Snorri had also written about the history of Norwegian kings, titled Heimskringla, and the Skioldung dynasty has been alluded to briefly, in the section of Heimskringla, called the Ynglinga Saga. Since, the Ynglinga Saga is the work of Snorri, the saga is one of the sources of this article.
In the Prose Edda, Snorri writes that Skiold is the son of Odin, or Woden. Odin had originally come from Turkey, where Troy is located. Since he had the gift of prophecy, he knew that he would be always remembered in the northern kingdoms (Scandinavia and Germany). So he set off for northern land, and settled in Saxony for a long while. Odin then divided the land between his 3 sons:
See the genealogy page on the Houses of the Northern Kingdoms.
Odin then moved north to Reidgotaland, and often referred to as Gotland, but now called the Jutland, Denmark. There, Odin became the father of Skiold.
Not much detail is given about Skiold’s life in the Snorri’s Edda. What is known is that Skiold founded the royal dynasty in Zeeland, the main island of Denmark. Skiold was the father of Fridleif and grandfather of Frodi.
Snorri, however give more detail in the Ynglinga Saga, which is found in the prologue to the Heimskringla. Snorri says that Skiold married the goddess Gefjon, and they were the founders of the Skioldung dynasty. Gefjon had divided the land of the north, by physically cutting the land with her plough that were pulled by four giants in the forms of oxen.
The Poetic Edda provide no references to Skiold himself.
The Prose Edda do, however, allude to a couple of his descendants. Frodi, his grandson, ruled after Fridleif, and his reign was marked a period of peace and prosperity in the north, and was said to be a contemporary of Augustus Caesar. There is an Eddaic poem, titled Grottasong (“Song of the Hand-Mill of Grotti”), which tell of the same story, but in more detail. This poem is most likely where Snorri got his legend from.
Frodi was so wealthy because had purchased a magical mill, called “grotti”. Frodi had purchase the mill from Fiölnir, the king of Sweden. The “grotti” could grind anything that the owner could wish for; and Frodi wished gold and peace. Frodi have two slaves to work the mill and they were giantesses, named Fenia and Menia. Frodi would not let them rest, and have them grinded gold and peace nonstop.
Frodi was later murdered by Mysing, a Viking. Mysing plundered the “grotti” and brought it to his ship, and had taken the giantess slaves, Fenia and Menia, in his services. Mysing ordered them to grind nothing but salt, which Fenia and Menia did. Mysing gave no rest to Fenia and Menia any more than their former master.
Fenia and Menia grinded out so much salt that the ship sank because of the weight. Everyone aboard the ship drowned, including Fenia and Menia. The fresh water oceans and seas then became salty.
The poem also mention that Yrsa’s son, ie. Hrolf Kraki (though Hrolf’s name is not actually mentioned), who was a kinsman of Halfdan, and who will avenge Frodi, but do not state “how” Hrolf will do so.
Snorri does allude to Frodi and his slaves, without revealing Fenia and Menia by names, in the Heimskringla (King Harald Grafeld). Snorri mentioned Frodi’s meal, which is Frodi’s gold, but in the Heimskringla, it doesn’t mention the mill or the mill’s name, Grotti.
The Prose Edda also give more detail about Hrolf, another descendant of Skiold.
Both Edda, make no mentioned of Helgi, and how Helgi had unwittingly married his own daughter, Yrsa, which is found in full in the Icelandic saga – Hrolfs saga Kraka. Helgi fathered Hrolf from his own daughter. Though, Helgi is not mentioned, Yrsa’s name does appeared in both Prose Edda and Poetic Edda (in Grottasong), as the mother of Hrolf Kraki.
It is in the Prose Edda, which related to a couple of events in Hrolf’s life.
One of these events, is how he Hrolf gained the name “Kraki” appended to his name. This version is different to the one found in the Hrolfs saga Kraka.
Hrolf was a young king, when a young boy, Vogg, who lived in poverty, came to Hrolf’s court in Lejre (or Leidre; Hrolf’s capital), and was surprised by Hrolf’s appearance. Vogg had heard that Hrolf was the greatest man in the North, but all he saw is a youth who is skinny, like a “little pole” (kraki) sitting on the throne.
The king replied that he should always be known as Hrolf Kraki. Hrolf said that it was customary for a person to exchange gifts, but seeing that Vogg was poor, with no gift to offer, Hrolf gave the boy a gold ring, taken from his own finger.
For this ring, Vogg promised to avenge the king should he ever be killed (hence this is Vogg’s gift to Hrolf). Hrolf laughed that it doesn’t take much to please Vogg.
In the Hrolfs saga, Hrolf and Vogg were not young, and their meeting took place in Uppsala, Adils’ capital, not in Lejre.
The other event about Hrolf that Snorri related to, had to do with Adils, king of Sweden.
Adils had married Yrsa, Hrolf’s mother, so he was Hrolf’s stepfather. Adils belonged to the famous mythical dynasty, known as the Ynglings. Adils lived in Uppsala, his capital, about 70 km north of Stockholm. Adils was known as to be a very stingy ruler, cruel, manipulative, and in the Hrolfs saga, a coward.
Adils was currently at war against Ali, the king of Norway. Being his stepfather, he called Hrolf to assist him in the battle, promising Hrolf to pay his army, as well as any 3 treasures from Sweden. Hrolf didn’t go to the frozen lake of Vaeni, where the battle would take place, because he was fighting a war against the Saxons. Instead Hrolf send to Adils part of his army, commanded by his 12 berserkers; Hrolf’s champions.
Only seven out of the 12 berserkers were named by Snorri; they were Bodvar Bjarki, Hialti (or Hjalti), Hvitserk the Bold, Vott, Veseti, and the two brothers – Svipdag and Beigud.
With the 12 berserkers’ aid, Adils was victorious, and King Ali fell in battle. Adils took Ali’s helmet, Hildisvin, and horse Hrafn. The 12 berserkers asked for 3 pounds of gold for each warrior, and the treasures – the helmet Hildigolt, the mail coat Finnsleif and the gold ring Sviagris. The Sviagris was Adils’ most treasured possession. Adils refused both the salary and the 3 treasures. The Ynglinga Saga does mentioned this battle against Ali, but not Hrolf’s champions involvement.
The berserkers returned home in Lejre, angry at their treatment from the Swedish king. So Hrolf took ships to Uppsala to confront Adils because of the broken promise.
Yrsa welcomed her son, and offered Hrolf and the berserkers the hospitality without her husband’s consent. While Hrolf and his berserks drank ale and dine in the hall, Adils’ men started a large fire within the hall. Hrolf and the berserkers had reputation of not flee from fire and iron, so Adils was hoping that his stepson and his warriors would die in the fire. Instead of putting out the fire, Hrolf and the berserkers made the fire larger, by throwing their own shield into the fire. Then Hrolf and his warriors threw Adils’ men into fire, where they were burned to death.
Yrsa knowing her husband’s treachery and ungenerous nature, gave her son a large horn that was filled with gold coins, as well Adils’ ring, Sviagris. She also gave them horses, which they rode away.
So Hrolf left Uppsala with Adils’ army in pursuit. On the Fyri plain, Hrolf sowed the gold coin on the road. This caused Adils’ soldiers to stop and pick up the gold coins, forgetting to pursue their enemies. Snorri called the gold that Hrolf sowed into the Fyri plain as “Hrolf’s seed”. Adils rode ahead of his army on his horse, Slungnir.
Hrolf seeing Adils riding towards them, so he took the ring Sviagris, and tossed it on the road in front of Adils. Adils immediate stopped, using his spear to pick up.
In the Hrolfs saga, it was slightly different. Hrolf went to Uppsala, to get his inheritance, which Adils had stolen from Helgi. And when Adils went to pick the Sviagris, Hrolf used his sword Skofnung, to slice off Adils’ buttocks.
The absence of Helgi in Snorri’s Edda, Snorri wrote briefly about Helgi in his other work, the Ynglinga Saga.
According to the Ynglinga Saga, Adils was a son of Ottar, and succeeded his father to the throne. Adils was in one of his Viking raids in Saxland. The king, Geirthjof, and his wife, Alof, ruled Saxland together, but the king was absence at the time of the raid. Adils plundered Saxland, and took one of the girls back to Uppsala. The girl’s name was Yrsa, and she was intelligent and wise, as she was beautiful. He admired her so much that he married her.
However, his marriage to Yrsa was short, because Helgi, son of Halfdan and king of Denmark, invaded Sweden. Instead of confronting Helgi in battle with his army, Adils fled, leaving Yrsa behind. So when Helgi captured Uppsala, Helgi took Yrsa as his prisoner and returned to Lejre, where he married Yrsa.
Helgi and Yrsa had a son, called Hrolf Kraki (this translation called him Rolf Krake), and they were happy, until Yrsa’s mother arrived. Alof revealed that Helgi was actually Yrsa’s father, so they have committed incest.
So Yrsa left Helgi and her son, and returned to Adils, back in Sweden. Helgi ruled Denmark, until he was killed in battle, but the Ynglinga Saga don’t say who he confronted. But in the Hrolfs saga, Helgi had fallen in an ambush set up by Adils. So Hrolf succeeded his father in Denmark, when he was only 8 years old.
In the Ynglinga Saga, Adils was killed when he was riding his horse, Raven, an offspring of Ali’s horse Hrafn.
Finally, in the Song of Hyndla (Hyndluliod, Poetic Edda), the poem mentioned a powerful Skioldung, named Ali. The Prose Edda, written by Snorri Sturluson called this Ali – Halfdan the Old. Halfdan the Old (or Ali) is apparently different to a more famous Halfdan, who was the father of Helgi and Hroar, because in the Song of Hyndla, the poem says:
‘Ali was previously the most powerful of men,
The Song of Hyndla 15 from the Poetic Edda
Interestingly neither the Prose Edda Halfdan the Old being a Skioldung, nor the Hrolfs saga Kraka mentioned either Halfdan the Old or Ali at all; only The Song of Hyndla called Ali (Halfdan the Old) an Skioldung.
So this Ali (or Halfdan the Old) lived before the time of Halfdan father of Helgi and Hroar.
Both Prose Edda and The Song of Hyndla say Ali or Halfdan the Old say that he married Alvig the Wise (Almveig), daughter of King Emund of Novgorod, and they had 18 sons. The first 9 sons were born together, and they were named Thengil, Ræsir, Gram, Gylfi, Hilmir, Iofur, Tiggi, Skyli or Skuli and Harri or Herra. They were all great warriors but were all killed in battles, each one dying childless.
Ali-Halfdan’s other 9 sons were each ancestor of ancestor of famous dynasty. Below are the list of the sons of Halfdan the Old, dynasty and the kingdoms.
If this is true that Ali-Halfdan the Old being a Skioldung, then practically all these descendants, including the Volsung hero &150; Sigurd – were all related, and descendants of the Skiold, one way or another, despite belonging to different dynasties of different kingdoms.
|The main alternative source from Iceland comes from the 14th century Icelandic saga – Hrolfs saga Kraka. The Hrolfs saga is quite different from most Icelandic, including the Snorri Sturluson’s Prose Edda and the Heimskringla, particularly in the Ynglinga Saga, and in Eddaic poem (Poetic Edda), Grottasong (“Song of the Hand-Mill of Grotti”).
Since I have already written a page about the Hrolfs saga, then there would be no sense writing about the saga. However, I will write about the genealogy of Skiold, and how they differ from the Edda.
Skiold is not mentioned at all, but his dynasty is mentioned at least once in the saga.
The story begins actually with two brothers, who father were not named. They were Halfdan and Frodi. In the Edda, how Halfdan and Frodi are related is not given.
According to the saga, Frodi murdered his brother to gain the kingdom of Denmark. Frodi failed in finding and assassinating his brother’s sons, Helgi and Hroar, who would later avenge their father’s death, by burning Frodi in his own palace. In the Grottasong, however, Frodi’s death was the direct result of Mysing, not Helgi and Hroar. Judging by the saga, Frodi seemed to have died childless, hence without an heir.
So Helgi became king of Denmark, while his brother, Hroar, became king of Northumbria in northern England, through his marriage to Ogn, and became father of Hrok.
In the Old English epic, Beowulf, this Hroar was not king of Northumbria, but he have been equated with Hrothgar (or Hroðgar), king of Denmark. Also Hrothgar was the husband of Wealhtheow, not Ogn, and he had 3 children, not one; they were Hrethric, Hrothmund and Freawaru (daughter). It is this Hrothgar, who was plagued by the monster Grendal, and killed by the hero, Beowulf.. Beowulf have been equated with Old Norse hero, Bodvar.
Helgi could not marry Olof, who appeared elsewhere as Thora, so he raped Olof, who became mother of Yrsa. Helgi did not know Yrsa was his daughter, and when he saw her one day, fell in love with her and married her, making Yrsa, Queen of Denmark. And they had a son, named Hrolf. The marriage was broken, when Olof revealed that they were father and daughter. Hrolf stayed with Helgi, while Yrsa was reluctantly marry off to Adils, King of Sweden. Helgi had another child from another woman, and his daughter was named Skuld. Helgi was murdered by Adils’ berserkers in an ambush.
Hrolf became the new king of Denmark, and he was something like King Arthur or King Charlemagne, whom had the Knights of the Round Table or the Twelve Peers, respectively; they were champions who served their king. Hrolf’s greatest champion was Bodvar Bjarki (whom I’ve already mentioned earlier), who was like Beowulf. Bodvar became Hrolf’s son-in-law, when the hero married Drifa; there’s no mention of Bodvar’s having children in the saga. In Beowulf, the hero Beowulf does not marry into the Hrothgar’s family; after killing Grendal and his mother, Beowulf returned home. Hrolf has another daughter, named Skur.
The Hrolfs saga have also included two long episodes of two heroes, who became Hrolf’s champions – Bodvar Bjarki and Svipdag.
|Most of the Old English Tradition on the Skioldungs is found in the Old English epic, titled Beowulf, named after the hero (Beowulf). The king ruling Denmark at the time of Beowulf’s adventure was Hrothgar.
Since, I already have a page on Beowulf, I will not write anything about Beowulf’s adventures. Instead, I will concentrate on Hrothgar’s ancestry and his children.
In Beowulf, the Danish royal house was called the Scyldings, instead of the Old Norse Skioldungs. The founder was called Scyld, instead of the Old Norse Skiold (or Skjold).
Nothing is known about Scyld’s parents. Scyld was often called Scyld Scefing, so perhaps his father was named Scef, but this is just speculation.
As a boy, Scyld was not very strong, and was considered to be a “waif”, but things gradually changed when he reached manhood. He grew into a powerful warrior, and eventually became a ruler of Denmark and founder of his dynasty. According to Beowulf, Scyld’s predecessor, Heremod, had brought the kingdom (Denmark) to near ruin, and the Danes considered Scyld to be their saviour. His neighboring kingdoms both respect and fear him, so they accepted him as their liege lord, and pay tributes to Scyld.
In Beowulf, the poem indicated also that the Scyldings were descendants of Ing, a mythical king of the Danes.
In earlier Icelandic tradition, Skiold’s son was Fridleif, while the Danish sources (like in Gestuam Danorum), called his son, Gram. So different names was given to the son of the founder of Danish dynasty. But in the Old English tradition (like Beowulf), Scyld was the father of Beow.
In Beowulf, Beow was supposed to be a warrior too, like his father. When his father passed away, he succeeded Scyld as king. Beow arranged a grand funeral, and Scyld was given a boat burial. A large ship was used for his burial, richly equipped with many swords, armors and treasure, apparently for Scyld’s afterlife.
Beow’s reign was said to be long, but no details were given, but in Beowulf does state that he was the father of Healfdene, who can be equated with the Old Norse Halfdan.
Healfdene succeeded his father in Denmark, and had four children, one of them was a daughter; part of the text is defective, but it is assume that his daughter was Yrse, who married a Swedish king, named Onela (in Icelandic tradition, the Swedish king was Adils). His three sons were named Heorogar, Hrothgar (Icelandic Hroar) and Halga (Icelandic Helgi).
Heorogar was the eldest, but his early death brought about Hrothgar’s succession. Hrothgar (Hroar) had graciously indicated to the hero Beowulf that his brother was a better man than him. Hrothgar was known for his wisdom and generosity, as well winning wars. Hrothgar has many great warriors to serve him. He built a hall, called Herot, to celebrate his victories in battles and to house his warriors. But one night the monster Grendel entered Herot and attacked and killed Hrothgar’s warriors.
Hrothgar had married Wealhtheow, and he was the father of Hrethric, Hrothmund and Freawaru. While Halga, Hrothgar’s brother, was the father of Hrothulf (Hrolf).
When Beowulf killed Grendel, Wealhtheow was concerned that her husband may name Beowulf as his heir. She was also concerned with Hrothgar’s nephew, Hrothulf, who was also possible heir.
When Beowulf returned home to the land of Geats, he predicted that feud between Danes and Heathobards would reignite. Hrothgar thinking that marry his daughter, Freawaru, to the Heathobard prince, Ingeld, son of Froda, would reconcile the two sides; for previously the two sides were at war. The marriage was short-lived, as were the peace between two kingdoms.
For as they were feasting at Herot, one old Heathobard warrior noticing one Danish warrior, a retainer of Freawaru, was carrying a Heathobard sword, apparently taken from a Heathobard warrior. This angered the old Heathobard, and incited others to take action. That night, Freawaru’s thane was murdered by the old Heathobard, who escaped and returned to his own kingdom. Peace ended between the Danes and Heathobards, and war erupted.
In Herot, the future (as well as past history) of the Scyldings has been alluded to, several times.