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Medieval Lithuania


Tomas Baranauskas

Saxo Grammaticus on the Balts


       Information on the Balts provided by Saxo Grammaticus and other Scandinavian sources is known to Lithuanian historians since the 1st half of the 19th century, but up till now it has still been very poorly investigated. As many as 10 out of 15 of Saxo's passages on the Curonians, Sembians, and Semigallians are in the first 9 books of "Danish history," where the historical tradition is mixed up with mythology and this makes the passages' interpretation very difficult. It is the lack of historical information on the Balts of the Viking Age, which compels us to investigate the legends provided by Saxo Grammaticus and to try to find some of the actual traces of historical events in them.
       Research on the data of historical tradition is urgent not only in the case of Saxo Grammaticus. Legends about Lithuania's oldest past are still very poorly investigated; herein lie some still undiscovered possibilities to at least hypothetically extend our knowledge about the oldest history of Lithuania.1 The analysis of Saxo Grammaticus' data, just as that of any other source of historical tradition, is also important methodologically, as it helps us understand the relationship between legends and historical facts.


       The prominent, romantically minded Lithuanian historians of the 19th century, Teodor Narbutt and Simonas Daukantas, were the first to introduce the data supplied by Saxo Grammaticus and other Scandinavian sources into the history of Lithuania. However, they did not evaluate these data critically, moreover, they had no access to the primary sources.2
       Later, the historiography of Saxo Grammaticus' information on the Balts did not receive much attention. His information was not used fully, nor was it given credit and analysed further. Most historians used only excerpts of Saxo Grammaticus, which were included in the source collections of East Baltic history,3 and this predetermined a rather superficial knowledge of this complex source of historical data.4 Some historians rejected the information he posited in the first 8 books,5 and looked with distrust at the rest of the information;6 others did not mention the information at all. Nor is this information reflected in the general surveys of Lithuanian history.
       Paul Johansen evaluated Saxo Grammaticus' information about the East Baltic countries hypercritically.7 In Johansen's opinion, the information concerning the legendary part of Saxos's work reflects the events of the 13th century in Livonia about which Saxo found out from Teoderich, the bishop of Estonia, who visited Denmark in 1218–1219. In order to simply enrich his work by details of such doubtful worth, Saxo had to make approximately 10 insertions and rewrite almost all of the legendary history books, which were already finished or almost finished. This in itself is unbelievable, just as the concrete parallels between legendary history and the events of the 13th century are unbelievable.
       Not all researchers appreciated such a hypercritical point of view. As far back as 1929, Swedish archaeologist Birger Nerman undertook an historical interpretation of Scandinavian sources' legendary information. Linking legends with archaeological data, he tried to substantiate the legends' kernel of the historical reality, but he did not pay much attention to Saxo's information.8 Latvian historian Arveds Švabe also devoted much attention to data on legends concerning the Viking Age.9
       Recently, Lithuanian historians Zigmas Raulinaitis and Arturas Mickevičius have discussed Saxo Grammaticus' information on the Balts. In 1966–1976 in the U.S.A., Zigmas Raulinaitis published a series of articles and two booklets about the interrelations between the Balts and the Scandinavians in the Viking Age, in which he heavily made use of the data of Saxo Grammaticus.10 In 1993, Arturas Mickevičius defended a dissertation entitled "The Curonians in the 9–12th century," on whose basis he published several articles.11 One of them is devoted to Saxo's information on the Curonians, although he also discussed information on the Sembians.12
       Z. Raulinaitis focused his attention on the military and political history of the Balts, while A. Mickevičius additionally sought to reveal traits of the Balts' social structure. Both authors essentially considered the information of Saxo Grammaticus a reliable source and used all of it, sometimes accepting it too much at face value. They did not, for example, recognise the epos of Hermanaric in Saxo's text and considered Jarmeric a Danish king. However, A. Mickevičius did evaluate the chronology of the events mentioned by Saxo more critically, and ascribed all the legendary information on the Balts to the Viking Age, while Z. Raulinaitis dated the military operations of Frothi and Jarmeric against the Balts erroneously to the middle and 2nd half of the 6th century.13

       The victory of Hermanaric over the Balts

       The oldest information on the Balts in Saxo's work came from the Gothic epos, which he widely used in "Danish History," since he identified the Goths with the Juts.14 The information on the Balts in the epos of the Goths is associated with Hermanaric, whom Saxo called Iarmericus.
       Already in the 6th century, Jordan wrote that the king of the Ostrogoths, Hermanaric (who reigned c. 350–376), had subjugated the Slavic and Baltic tribes and created a large empire between the Black Sea and the Baltic Sea. Similar information is also reflected in Saxo's work.
       Let us compare the information of Saxo and Jordan. In both accounts, Hermanaric takes possession of the Germanic tribes first (Jordan mentions the Heruls, Saxo speaks of the Danes and Swedes). Then, according to Jordan, Hermanaric conquered the Slavs (the Veneds) and "also the Aistian nation, which live on the most remote shore of the Germanic Sea, subjugated by his wit and prowess."15 Saxo recounts everything more extensively. After the conquest of the Slavs, Jarmeric "devastated the Sembians, the Curonians, and many tribes of the East". The Slavs, taking advantage of this, rose in rebellion, and thus, on his way back, Jarmeric dealt with them once more.16
       It is interesting to note that Saxo himself could not link the Aistians with the Sembians and Curonians because in his time the term Aistians-Estonians already meant only the modern Estonians. The meaning of the ethnonym changed in the 10–11th centuries. In the account of Wulfstan (end of the 9th century), the term "Aistians" still meant the Balts (the Prussians),17 but in 1075, Adam of Bremen already ascribed this ethnonym to only the modern Estonians.18 Thus, linking the Aistians who were conquered by Hermanaric with the Sembians and Curonians must be a rather old tradition. Essentially, the assertion of Jordan that the conquered Aistians lived near the seacoast does not contradict it.
       Both sources further recount the widely spread legend about Sunild (Svanhild) – a woman put to death by the command of Hermanaric, who was mortally wounded for this reason by her avenging brothers.19 Saxo presented it according to the source that was close to the versions of Völsungasaga and Snorri Sturlusson, rejecting the erroneous links with the epos of Dietrich.20
       Jordan derives Svanhild from the Rosomons, but Saxo treats her as the princess of the Hellespontians who lived in the East Baltic countries. Her localisation near the Baltic Sea is an invention of Saxo Grammaticus alone; this localisation is not known to other epical sources that present the legend of Svanhild. However, Saxo's general knowledge concerning ethnic relations in the Baltic countries is reflected here. Saxo considered the evil counsellor Bicco, by whose advice Jarmeric killed Svanhild, to be the son of the Livian king, who escaped to Jarmeric from Hellespontian captivity. Thus, the Hellespontians lived in the vicinity of the Livians and were having conflicts with them. This ethnic situation should be linked with the Viking Age, as should Saxo's other knowledge about the Hellespontians.
       In his account of Hading, Saxo mentions "Daugava town" of the Hellespontians, which corresponds with the Semigallian hillfort Daugmale. According to the popular explanation, the name "Hellespontians" was applied to the inhabitants of the shores of the River Daugava because the Daugava was an important trade route to Greece, which connected the Baltic Sea with the real Hellespont (the Dardanel straits).21 The end of the trade route, however, was not Hellespont, but Constantinople, furthermore, it remains unclear why only the inhabitants of the beginning of this route were called Hellespontians. In Paul Johansen's view, Hellespont is a translation of the Livian name of Daugava – Väina – which mean "straits of the sea".22 But if this were so, Saxo should have been calling all the straits of the sea "hellesponts." Instead, he even called Daugava "Duna," not Hellespont.
       It is very likely that the term "Hellespontians" refers not to the place inhabited by the Semigallians, but to their supposed origin. Bartholomew the Englishman, encyclopaedist of the 13th century, wrote: "The Semigallians are thusly called because they originate from the Galls, or the Galats, and the local people" (Unde Semigalli sunt dicti, qui ex Gallis, siue Galatis, et illis populis processerunt).23 Thus, the name of the Semigallians was interpreted as "semi-Galats". The Galats lived in Asia Minor – not near Hellespont, but close to it.

       The Balts in the battle of Bråvalla

       Saxo Grammaticus mentions the Balts in his account of the battle of Bråvalla. This battle, in which the Swedish king Sigurd Hring overcame the Danish King Harald the War Tooth, is dated traditionally to c. 750.24 However, the historical Harald, who was fighting unsuccessfully for power in Denmark, lived in the 1st half of the 9th century. In 812, 823, and 826 he was asking for help from the Frankish emperor in his fight against the sons of Godfred; they, in their turn, were seeking help in Sweden.25 In 827, Harald was finally expelled from Denmark, and this event could be reflected in the legend about the battle of Bråvalla.
       Saxo ascribed the inhabitants of the East Baltic countries to different camps: the Curonians and Estonians (or Aistians) were fighting on the side of the Swedes,26 while the Livians – on the side of the Danes.27 The Icelandic sagas, which were the source of information for Saxo Grammaticus, do not confirm this episode, and it should thus be treated as not historical.28 However, it is very likely that Saxo was using geographical knowledge of the Viking Age in his account, which is rather interesting. The ascription of the Livians and the Balts to different camps could reflect the reality of their actual confrontation in the Viking Age.29 It should also be noted that Saxo consistently ascribes the Curonians and Estonians (Aistians) to the Swedish sphere of influence,30 what is also confirmed by contemporary sources.31

       The raids of Ragnar Lodbrok

       The earliest Danish raids on Baltic lands should be associated with the name of Ragnar Lodbrok. The legendary Ragnar Lodbrok is usually linked with the Viking leader Ragnar, who attacked Paris in 845 and died shortly after this.32 Thus, his raid on the East Baltic lands could be dated to c. 840. Saxo supplies data on two successful raids on the Balts, including Ragnar's fights against the Permians. The first raid was made on the Hellespontians (Saxo splits it into two raids), the second – against the Curonians and Sembians.33
       At least three versions of the legend are connected in the accounts of Ragnar's battles with the Hellespontians. The first version briefly mentions that Ragnar slew Dian (Dainius?), King of the Hellespontians, who was succeeded by his son Daxon (Daukša?34).
       Saxo continues this account by reintroducing Dian as the second son of the perished Dian and by adding a second version of the legend. According to this latter version, Ragnar defeats Dian, Daxon, and their father-in-law, King of Ruthenia, and lays a tribute upon Daxon, which he must pay barefoot.
       Saxo inserts yet a third version into the second, between the battle lost by Daxon and the demnd for a tribute from him. In this version, Daxon is assisted not by the Ruthenians, but rather by the Scythians, his relatives from his mother's side. In this version, Ragnar appoints his son Hwitserk as the king of Scythia. But Daxon overcomes Hwitserk by guile, hiding his warriors in merchant wagons. Ragnar kills Daxon for this – "sent him to Utgard". Saxo, however, did not understand this expression and thus ended the story by the second version, forcing Ragnar to generously return Daxon from exile and to be satisfied with the tribute.
       It was noted long ago that the way in which Daxon overcame Hwitserk resembles a legend about Oleg's victory over Askold and Dir and the seizure of Kiev. In both cases, the attackers feigned being merchants. A similar motif is characteristic of many nations. In the beginning, Hwitserk himself was most likely not linked with the legends of Ragnar's cycle and was not made his son any earlier than the 12th century.35 Thus, the third version of the legend is influenced by other legends, digressed from the original account, and is essentially unreliable.
       We can judge from the first two versions that when Ragnar had slain Duke Dian of the Helespontians (Semigallians), his son Daxon fled to the Duke of Ruthenia, who was his uncle from his mother's side. Saxo writes that in order to overcome the united army of the Hellespontians and the Ruthenians, Ragnar turned bronze steeds raised up on wheels against the army. Since "steed" is a poetic symbol of a ship, this part of the legend can be understood as the transference of Ragnar's fleet in wagons from Daugava to the other river36 – most likely to the Lovat' or Dnieper. After this, Ragnar defeated Daxon and the Duke of Ruthenia, and demanded and obtained an indemnity from Daxon.
       Immediately after this victory, on his way back to Denmark, Ragnar most likely assailed the Curonians and Sembians. They greeted him as conquerer, i. e., ransomed themselves out of devastation.37

       The raids of Hasting against the Balts

       Hasting was a famous Viking in West Europe in the 2nd half of the 9th century. It is thought that Saxo Grammaticus knew him by the name of Hading.38
       Saxo describes how in his youth, Hading, with the help of a one-eyed old man, made an alliance with the Viking Liser. Their first common raid against Loker, the tyrant of the Curonians, was unsuccessful. Hading was under the guardianship of the one-eyed old man, who took Hading into his house, refreshed him with a pleasant drink, and foretold him that he would gain extraordinary power. He confirmed this prophecy by a song, which said that it would happen when Hading was taken captive, but broke free after killing a lion and drinking its blood. After this, Hading was flown over in the air to the prior place and "was captured by Loker and lived out by actual experience that every event of the prophecy was fulfilled."
       Having fled from captivity, Hading attacked the Hellespontians. He set fire to the castle of Daugava which was ruled by King Handwan of the Hellespontians, seized it, and captured Handwan, who had to pay ransom for his body with gold. After this, Hading overcame many more eastern forces.39
       The historical Hasting appears in West Europe for the first time as a leader of the Viking raid of 859–862 on the Mediterranean Sea. In 860, having arrived in Luna in northern Italy, he feigned serious illness and accepted baptism. Then he pretended to be dead and his soldiers requested a Christian funeral for their chief. This is how the Vikings entered the city and devastated it.40
       Saxo does not mention this exploit of Hasting-Hading, but he does ascribe two similar frauds to Hading's son, Frothi I. Having feigned his death, Frothi captured Polotsk and later – London (Lundonia).41 This "London" is the distorted name of Luna. The fact that Frothi and Hading were confused in the legends is also confirmed by the legend of a Swedish King who drowned in a vessel of mead (or ale); Snorri Sturlusson ascribes this event to the times of Frothi,42 while Saxo Grammaticus inserts it into the history of Hading.43
       Saxo repeatedly ascribes to Frothi the raids of Hading on the Curonians and Andwan, the King of Hellespontians. Only this time the raid against the Curonians is represented as a successful raid against the Curonian King Dorno,44 while Frothi's fights in Ruthenia are inserted among the raids on Curonia and Hellespont. During these fights in Ruthenia, Frothi seizes Polotsk – as mentioned, he does this in the same way as the historical Hasting captured Luna. This episode shows that this is most likely the same legend whose hero is the historical Hasting.
       The raids on Curonia and the region of the River Daugava are ascribed to the very beginning of Hading's and Frothi's activities. Since Hasting already appears in Western Europe in 859, his raid to eastern Baltic lands can be dated to the 6th decade of the 9th century.
       As testified by Rimbert, the Danes really did attack Curonia in 853. The nucleus of the legends about Hading is comprised of his fights with the Swedes. Rimbert also reveals the discord between the Swedes and the Danes who attacked Curonia. The Danes attack Curonia when they hear that the Curonians used to belong to the Swedes, but had rebelled and freed themselves from subjugation. When the Danes suffer a defeat, the Swedish King Olaf hurriedly makes this a matter of his concern for the sake of the Curonians, quickly organises a successful attack, captures Seeburg (Grobiņa), and forces the ransoming out of Apuolė.45
       Having defeated the Danes, the Curonians took away much gold from them, which they were forced to give to the Swedes as a ransom later. Thus, the Danes had already successfully amassed plunder for themselves in another place before they attacked the Curonians. This successful raid may correspond to Hading's raid on the Hellespontians that was described by Saxo Grammaticus. The successful and unsuccessful raids in the legend could have had their places switched so that Hading's loss would not darken his victory near Daugava.
       There are many mythological elements in the legend about Hading. The one-eyed man is identified with the god Odin, the name of the Curonian tyrant Loker resembles that of the god Loki, Handwan's (Andwan) name resembles that of the dwarf Andvari, custodian of a treasure hidden at the bottom of a lake.46 In a second variant of the legend, he even put his wealth onboard ships and sinks the ships.
       The city of Handwan near Daugava is identified with the hillfort of Daugmale. Paul Johansen drew attention to a bronze sculpture which was found in a hillfort during archaeological investigations, and likens the sculpture to Andvari with his magic ring.47 Daugmale was a Semigallian town, which had controlled trade on this important trade route and accumulated great riches.48 The inhabitants of the wealthy town could, in fact, have worshipped Andvari, guardian of treasures, while Hading, who robbed them, could take pride in seizing the wealth of the famed Andvari. In the legend, Andvari became the ruler of the town of Daugava.
       In mythology, the god Loki seizes the riches of Andvari.49 If the assumption that Hasting had first robbed the castle of Daugava and then lost his booty in Curonia is correct, then the events of the original version of the legend coincided with this myth: in both cases, Andvari's riches fell into Loki's hands. However, it is difficult to say whether the legend was composed according to the plot of the myth, or whether the myth was influenced by the legend, because the appearance of Loki's name in the legend could be explained in another way as well. Loker wanted to give Hading to be torn up by a beast, which Saxo calls a lion. According to Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini, in the beginning of the 15th century, Vytautas, the Grand Duke of Lithuania, really did hand over criminals to be torn up by bears.50 Hasting could have associated the Baltic word for bear (Lithuanian lokys, Latvian lacis) with the god Loki, whom he knew well. In the legend, the king of the "worshipers of Loki" became Loki, just as the king of the worshipers of Andvari became Andvari.
       The one-eyed old man who helped Hading escape is identified with Odin, but it is also possible to see in his person an inhabitant of Curonia who was secretly supporting Hading. He predicts the future, and the Curonians were truly well known for their prophets. Adam of Bremen wrote: "all of their [Curonian] homes are full of diviners, augurs, and sorcerers who are dressed in monastic clothes. Prophecies are sought there from all parts of the world, especially by the Spaniards ("Hispanis" or "his paganis" – these pagans) and Greeks (i. e., people of Greek faith, the Ruthenians)".51
       Saxo associates the name of Frothi with the Balts twice more. Frothi III, in preparing to battle with the Huns, sends Olimar against Sweden, who conquers Aistia (Estonia) and Curonia.52 The battles of Frothi III with the Huns reflect widespread legends about the Goths' and their collaborators' victory over the Huns in Panonia in 455.53 Olimar is also mentioned in other legends of this cycle (he is called Ormar in Hervararsaga and Wyrmhere in Widsith).54 Undoubtedly he could not have had anything in common with the conquest of the Curonians and Aistians. This connection appeared only through the legend about Hasting's raids, which was connected with Frothi.
       The Balts' conquest ascribed to Starkad, who served Frothi IV at that time should be treated similiarly. Saxo mentions this raid twice – in his account of the times of Frothi IV and in Starkad's dying song. In the first variant, Frothi sends Starkad and Win, the Duke of the Slavs, to squelch the revolt in the East: "They, having fought against the armies of the Curonians, the Sembians, the Semigallians, and finally, of all the Easterners, won splendid victories everywhere."55 In the second variant, in place of the Sembians and other Easteners, "many tribes of Estonia" (the Aistians) are mentioned.56
       In the dying song, Starkad mentions one more of his raids on the Curonians, during which he taught the Danes to cross roads bestrewn with caltrops, using wooden clogs.57 In the account of the times of Frothi IV, this episode is associated with Starkad's raid on the Ruthenian Duke Flock,58 while in the sagas Flock is considered to be King of the Finns.59 This tangle could also have originated from reminiscences about the eastern raids of Hading-Frothi.

       Rorik's battle against the Curonians and the Swedes

       Saxo also connects the battles of the Danes against the Curonians with the name of Rorik. The Curonians and Swedes, who used to pay an "annual tribute" to the Danes, attacked Denmark when Rorik became King of Denmark. The Slavs and many other tribes joined the revolt and elected one king to reign over all. Rorik defeated these "barbarians" in a sea battle.60 Then he dealt with the rest of the Slavs, whom he forced to obey him and to once again pay him tribute.
       This Rorik can be identified with the Viking Rorik who was active in Friesland and Jutland in the middle of the 9th century. In about 837, Emperor Ludwig the Pious appointed him to defend the city Dorestad in Friesland, which was being attacked by the Vikings. Emperor Lothar expelled him from there in about 841, but in 850 Rorik regained Dorestad by force. With rising inner conflicts in Denmark, Rorik attacked Denmark in 855 and 857 and fortified his position in South Jutland. At that time, his situation in Friesland became unstable. In 863, he and the Danes attacked Dorestad unsuccessfully. In 867, the intentions of the then expelled from Friesland Rorik to regain his former fief, are mentioned again. Only in 870–873 did the Frankish kings approve him his fief. But by 882 Rorik was already dead.61
       Since Saxo connects Rorik's battles in the Baltic Sea with the beginning of Rorik's reign in Denmark, it is possible to connect the battles with his growing power in Jutland in 857. This date also fits well with the events in Ruthenia. At that time, an opinion takes root that Rorik the Jutlander, and Rurik, the founder of the house of the Ruthenian dukes, are one and the same person.62 His invitation to North Ruthenia is dated to 862, his death – to 879 in the Ruthenian chronicles. These are conditional dates, but they essentially coincide with the dates of Rorik's historical life.
       Rorik's battles with the Curonians and the Swedes, described by Saxo, are like a connecting link of Rorik's road to Ruthenia. The Swedes had had colonies in both Curonia (Seeburg) and Ruthenia (Ladoga) for a long time. In the middle of the 9th century, the tribes living near Ladoga revolted against the Swedes and expelled them. The mighty Viking Rorik, who was fighting successfully with the Swedes and the Curonians, appeared in the Baltic Sea at approximately the same time. It is only natural that the inhabitants of the Ladoga region invited Rorik to defend them from the Swedes.

       The Danish colony in Sembia

       Saxo ascribes the last attack on Baltic lands to Hakon, son of Harald Bluetooth, who crushed the Sembians and took over their land. In an obstinate battle, he even ordered to set his landed ships on fire, in order to stimulate his warriors to fight until the end, giving them no hope to retreat. The Danes married the wives of the perished Sembians after the victory, and stayed to live in the conquered country.63
       Saxo mentions Hakon as the son of Harald only in connection with these events. Meanwhile, the good relations between Harald Bluetooth and Norwegian Jarl Hakon, son of Sigurd, are well known. Jarl Hakon was attacking the lands of the Balts with the support of Harald. In the Norwegian royal saga Fagrskinna, it is pointed out that in the summers around 970 Jarl Hakon used to plunder the Baltic seacoasts, including that of Curonia, and spend winters with Harald Bluetooth.64 Jarl Hakon and the son of Harald mentioned by Saxo are most likely the same person.
       Danish colonisation is also mentioned by the Annales Ryenses, which ascribes it to the times of Lothųnųknut: "During his times, every third slave and the common person left the kingdom. And once they left, they subjugated for themselves all of Prussia, Semigallia, the land of the Karellians, and many other lands, and rejoicing in the fertility of the lands did not want to return, but stayed there until this day".65 This is most likely the same historical tradition, which reached us in a different way.66
       Russian archaeologist Vladimir Kulakov thinks that the Danes led by Hakon landed in the Sembian peninsula near the Curonian spit and settled in Wargenau. In about the middle of the 10th century, in the graves of the neighbouring Wikiau cemetery (Irtekapinis), the number of expensive arms and ornaments suddenly increased, and graves appeared which contained cremations buried in ships. The warriors that lived in Wargenau also protected the Scandinavian town of Kaup-Wiskiauten, which was in their neighbourhood. The Scandinavian colony existed here until the beginning of the 12th century, when the Brokist strait in the southern part of the Curonian spit, through which trade ships used to sail into the River Nemunas, was finally blocked up with sand.67

       The attacks of the Balts on Denmark

       The activity of the Balts in the Baltic Sea increased noticeably in the 11th century. An important role here could have been played by the colonisation of the Vikings. It is precisely with this colonisation that Saxo connects the beginning of Sembian attacks against Denmark. According to Saxo, the descendants of the Danes that settled in Sembia began to attack Denmark after Hakon's death. After the death of the Danish King Sweyn in 1014, his son Canute the Great raided the western Slavs and Sembia.68 Saxo's contemporaries Andrew Sunesen and Sweyn Aggesen, also point out these conquests of Canute the Great. In addition to the Sembians, Andrew Sunesen mentions the Varmians for the first time.69
       We know from the Heimskringla that in the middle of the 11th century the Curonian attacks were a constant problem for Denmark,70 but Saxo Grammaticus passes over this in silence. Saxo only mentions the raids against the Sembian and Estonian pirates made at the very end of Sweyn's reign, in 1074, by his son Canute.71 In about 1080, having become King of Denmark, Canute IV made one more raid on the "kingdoms of the Curonians, the Sembians, and the Estonians", overcame them, and devastated them.72
       Saxo mentioned the Balts for the last time in connection with the events of 1170. Valdemar the Great, aspiring to guarantee peace during the festivities of the coronation of his son, sends ships to clear up the Baltic Sea from pirates in a greater radius from Denmark than usual. Curonian and Estonian pirates were detected near the island of Oland and were crushed after a long and variable fight.73 It was hardly a more noteworthy Curonian raid than usual. It was most likely mentioned only because of the stronger than usual resistance against the Curonian pirates. Saxo did not even mention the Danish missions in Curonia and Estonia, however, where bishops were appointed in 1161 and in about 1165, respectively.74 Saxo also does not mention the crusade against Estonia, proclaimed in 1171 in all of the Scandinavian countries.75 This would suggest that it either had no significant consequences or that it did not take place at all.


       Saxo supplies some unique information on the earliest history of the Balts. He supplements Jordan with more extensive information on the Gothic King Hermanaric's conquest of Aistian lands in the 4th century, by pointing out concrete Aistian tribes – the Curonians and Sembians. We also learn much information on the Balts of the Viking Age from Saxo. It is not possible to rely on this information unconditionally, since the historical truth is distorted and mixed both with fantasy and elements of mythology. Nevertheless, the legends supplied by Saxo have an historical base. In comparing them with other sources, we can identify the legendary characters' historical prototypes, define the time of their activities, and use these legends to reconstruct the history of these times. Most of the legends supplied by Saxo are associated with three Danish raids of the 9th century, which were led by Ragnar Lodbrok (c. 840), Hasting (853), and Rorik (c. 857–862). One hundred years later, we learn about the last Danish raid on Sembia, led by Norwegian Jarl Hakon (c. 970).
       Saxo reflects the events of the 11–12th centuries associated with the Balts fragmentarily, because the piracy of the Curonians and the other East Baltic pirates characteristic of this period, were not interesting for the creator of an heroic history of the Danes. Accidental information on this time period's Balts (in 1014, 1074, 1080 and 1170) confirms these pirates' great activity, but it is difficult to single out the more important attacks. We can say, however, that when the Viking Age ended in the Scandinavian countries it was continued by the inhabitants of the East Baltic countries.

       1 T. Baranauskas, Lietuvos valstybės ištakos, Vilnius, 2000, p. 42–48, 153–156, 165–167.
T. Narbutt, Dzieje starożytne narodu litewskiego, Wilno, 1837–1838, t. 2–3; Narbutas T. Lietuvių tautos istorija, Vilnius, 1994–1995, t. 2–3; S. Daukantas, Lietuvos istorija, Plymounth, 1893, kn. 1; S. Daukantas, Istorija žemaitiška, Vilnius, 1995, t. 1, p. 43–52, 142, 146, 152–153.
Scriptores rerum Prussicarum = Die Geschichtsquellen der Preussischen Vorzeit, herausgegeben von T. Hirsch, M. Töppen und E. Strehlke, Leipzig, 1861, Bd. 1, p. 735–736; Senās Latvijas vēstures avoti = Fontes historiae Latviae medii aevi, ed. A. Švābe, Rīga, 1937, burtn. 1, p. 5–8, 13–14. (Latvijas vēstures avoti = Les sources de l'histoire de Lettonie; Vol. 2).
H. Łowmiański, Studja nad początkami społeczeństwa i państwa litewskiego, Wilno, 1932, t. 2, p. 242–243; B. Dundulis, Normanai ir baltų kraštai (IX–XI a.), Vilnius, 1982, p. 9, 62, 67, 69–70; E. Gudavičius, Kryžiaus karai Pabaltijyje ir Lietuva XIII amžiuje, Vilnius, 1989, p. 16–17.
H. Łowmiański, Studja nad początkami społeczeństwa i państwa litewskiego, Wilno, 1932, t. 2, p. 242.
K. Ślaski, Stosunki krajów skandynawskich z południowo-wschodnim wybrzeżem Bałtyku od VI do XII wieku, Przegląnd zachodni, Poznań, 1952, Nr. 5–6, p. 40.
P. Johansen, Saxo Grammaticus und das Ostbaltikum, Zeitschrift für Ostforschung, Marburg/Lahn, Dezember 1974, Heft 4, p. 623–639.
B. Nerman, Die Verbindungen zwischen Skandinavien und dem Ostbaltikum in der jüngeren Eisenzeit, Stockholm, 1929, p. 14, 16, 62.
A. Schwabe, Histoire du peuple Letton, Stockholm, 1953.
Z. Raulinaitis, Prieš vikingų audrą, Brooklyn, 1968; Z. Raulinaitis, Apuolės užpuolimas, Brooklyn, 1972; Z. Raulinaitis, Baltų kraštai švedų žygiams prasidėjus, Karys, 1966 kovas, Nr. 3 (1419), p. 73–79; Z. Raulinaitis, Danai pradeda puldinėti Baltijos kraštus, Karys, 1966 gegužė, Nr. 5 (1422), p. 145–147; Z. Raulinaitis, Starkadas, Karys, 1966 lapkritis, Nr. 9 (1426), p. 265–268; Z. Raulinaitis, Bravalos mūšis, Karys, 1967 balandis, Nr. 4 (1431), p. 102–107; Z. Raulinaitis, Vikingų žygių pradžia, Karys, 1967 spalis, Nr. 9 (1436), p. 260--263; Z. Raulinaitis, Pabaltijys vikingų žygiams prasidėjus, Karys, 1968 kovas, Nr. 3 (1440), p. 79–81; Z. Raulinaitis, Kovos su danų varingais VIII–IX amž., Karys, 1969 vasaris, Nr. 2 (1449), p. 48–51; 1969 birželis–liepa, Nr. 6 (1453), p. 171–174; Z. Raulinaitis, Apuolės užpuolimas, Karys, 1970 vasaris, Nr. 2 (1459), p. 43–50; 1970 kovas, Nr. 3 (1460), p. 65–71; Z. Raulinaitis, Karinė veikla Pabaltijy IX amžiaus pabaigoje, Karys, 1971 balandis, Nr. 4 (1471), p. 117–120; Z. Raulinaitis, Žygis į Kuršą (Vikingų audrai siaučiant), Karys, 1972 vasaris, Nr. 2 (1479), p. 42–47; 1972 kovas, Nr. 3 (1480), p. 89–91; Z. Raulinaitis, Varingų puldinėjimų audra Pabaltijy XI amžiaus bėgyje, Karys, 1976 kovas, Nr. 3 (1520), p. 81–87; 1976 balandis, Nr. 4 (1521), p. 124–130.
A. Mickevičius. Curonia in the 'Eastern Policy' of Viking Age Scandinavia, Archaeologia Baltica, Vilnius, 1997, vol. 2: The Balts and their Neighbours in the Viking Age, p. 191–199; A. Mickevičius, Curonian ,,Kings" and ,,Kingdoms" of the Viking Age, Lithuanian Historical Studies, Vilnius, 1997, vol. 2, p. 7–14; A. Mickevičius, Valstybingumo pradžios problema vakarų baltų teritorijose, Lietuvos valstybė XII–XVIII a., Vilnius, 1997, p. 233–246.
A. Mickevičius, Kuršiai Sakso Gramatiko duomenimis, Acta Historica Universitatis Klaipedensis, Kalaipėda, 1994, t. 2: Klaipėdos miesto ir regiono archeologijos ir istorijos problemos, p. 160–167.
Z. Raulinaitis, Prieš vikingų audrą, p. 23–31.
G. Labuda, Żródła, sagi i legendy do najdawniejszych dziejów Polski, Warszawa, 1961, p. 124.
Iordanis Romana et Getica, recensuit Th. Mommsen, Monumenta Germaniae historica. Auctores antiquissimi, Berolini, 1882, t. 5, pars 1, p. 89 (§120); Иордан, О происхождении и деяниях гетов. Getica, вступительная статья, перевод, комментарий Е. Ч. Скржинской, Москва, 1960, р. 150.
Saxonis Gesta Danorum, Hauniae, 1931, t. 1, p. 232.
Baltų religijos ir mitologijos šaltiniai, sudarė N. Vėlius, Vilnius, 1996, t. 1: Nuo seniausių laikų iki XV amžiaus pabaigos, p. 166–167.
Adam Bremensis, Gesta Hammaburgensis Ecclesiae Pontificum, ed. B. Schmeidler, Scriptores rerum Germanicarum in usum scolarum ex Monumentis Germaniae Historicis separtim editi, Hannoverae et Lipsiae, 1917, p. 244.
H. Schneider, Germanische Heldensage, 2 Aufl., Berlin, 1962, Bd. 1, Buch 1: Deutsche Heldensage, p. 238–252.
E. Götz, Saxo Grammaticus und die deutsche Heldensage : Inaugual-Dissertation zur Erlangung der Doktorwürde einer Hohen Philosophischen Fakultät der Eberhard-Karls Universität zu Tübingen, Tübingen, 1934, p. 15, 17, 23.
Z. Raulinaitis, Prieš vikingų audrą, p. 29.
P. Johansen, Saxo Grammaticus und das Ostbaltikum, p. 632.
Baltų religijos ir mitologijos šaltiniai, sudarė N. Vėlius, Vilnius, 1996, t. 1: Nuo seniausių laikų iki XV amžiaus pabaigos, p. 232–233.
B. Nerman, Die Verbindungen zwischen Skandinavien und dem Ostbaltikum…, p. 14; Z. Raulinaitis, Prieš vikingų audrą, p. 45.
Г. Ловмянский, Рорик Фрисландский и Рюрик Новгородский, Скандинавский сборник, Таллин, 1963, т. 7, р. 230–232.
Saxonis Gesta Danorum, Hauniae, 1931, t. 1, p. 217 (VIII, 3:13).
Saxonis Gesta Danorum, Hauniae, 1931, t. 1, p. 218 (VIII, 4:1).
A. Mickevičius, Kuršiai Sakso Gramatiko duomenimis, p. 163.
Z. Raulinaitis, Prieš vikingų audrą, p. 61–62.
Saxonis Gesta Danorum, Hauniae, 1931, t. 1, p. 73 (III, 5:1), 132 (V, 7:10–11).
Rimbertus, Vita Anscarii. Accedit vita Rimberti, recensuit G. Waitz, Sriptores Rerum Germanicarum, Hannoverae, 1884, p. 60 (cap. 30).
A. Mickevičius, Kuršiai Sakso Gramatiko duomenimis, p. 161; Е. А. Мельникова, Образование Датского государства (VIII – середина ХI в.). Эпоха викингов, История Дании с древнейших времен до начала ХХ века, Москва, 1996, р. 50; plg.: Saxo Grammaticus, The history of the Danes, vol. 1, translated by P. Fisher; edited by H. E. Davidson, Cambridge, 1979, p. 277.
Saxonis Gesta Danorum, t. 1, p. 257 (IX, 4:20–24), 259–260 (IX, 4:29–32).
The Baltic equivalents of the names were suggested by Z. Raulinaitis (Z. Raulinaitis, Kovos su danų varingais VIII–IX amž., Karys, 1969 vasaris, Nr. 2 (1449), p. 49).
J. de Vries, Die ostnordische Überlieferung der Sage von Ragnar Lodbrók, Acta Philologica Scandinavica, 1927, II. aarg., 2. h., p. 115­149.
Е. А. Рыдзевская, Древняя Русь и Скандинавия IХ – ХIV вв., Москва, 1978, р. 179–181.
Saxonis Gesta Danorum, t. 1, p. 257 (IX, 4:23).
Z. Raulinaitis, Kovos su danų varingais XIII–IX amž., Karys, 1969, Nr. 6 (1453), p. 171.
Saxonis Gesta Danorum, Hauniae, 1931, t. 1, p. 23–24 (I, 6:7–11).
Й. Херрман, Славяне и норманны в ранней истории Балтийского региона, Славяне и скандинавы, Москва, 1986, p. 44–46 (versta iš: Wikinger und Slawen, Berlin, 1982); J. Brøndsted, The Vikings, Baltimore, Maryland, 1965, p. 59–60.
Saxonis Gesta Danorum, t. 1, p. 38 (II, 1:8), 46 (II, 3:8).
Snorre Sturlason, Heimskringla, or the lives of the Norse Kings, ed. with notes by E. Monsen and translated into English with the assistance of A. H. Smith, Cambridge, [1932], p. 8 (I, 11).
Saxonis Gesta Danorum, t. 1, p. 34–35 (I, 8:27).
Saxonis Gesta Danorum, t. 1, p. 37 (II, 1:4–5).
Rimbertus, Vita Anscarii, p. 60–63 (cap. 30).
V. Rydberg, Teutonic Mythology, London, 1889.
P. Johansen, Saxo Grammaticus und das Ostbaltikum, Zeitschrift für Ostforschung, 1974, Heft 4, p. 634.
E. Vasiliauskas, Žiemgalos prekybiniai keliai ir centrai VIII–XII a., Lietuvos archeologija, 1999, t. 18, p. 81–83.
Е. Мелетинский, Андвари, Мифы народов мира. Энциклопедия, 2 издание, Москва, 1998, т. 1, с. 80 Е. Мелетинский, Локи, Мифы народов мира. Энциклопедия, 2 издание, Москва, 1998, т. 2, с. 67–69.
A. Janulaitis, Enėjas Sylvius Piccolomini bei Jeronimas Pragiškis ir jų žinios apie Lietuvą XIV/XV amž., Kaunas, 1928, p. 58.
Adam Bremensis, Gesta Hammaburgensis Ecclesiae Pontificum, p. 244.
Saxonis Gesta danorum, p. 132 (V, 7:10–11).
G. Labuda, Żródła, sagi i legendy do najdawniejszych dziejów Polski, Warszawa, 1961, p. 133–148.
G. Labuda, Żródła, sagi i legendy…, p. 108–110.
Saxonis Gesta danorum, p. 155 (VI, 5:14).
Saxonis Gesta danorum, p. 227 (VIII, 8:9).
Saxonis Gesta danorum, p. 227 (VIII, 8:9).
Saxonis Gesta danorum, p. 153 (VI, 5:9).
P. Johansen, Saxo Grammaticus und das Ostbaltikum, p. 631.
Saxonis Gesta Danorum, t. 1, p. 73–74 (III, 5:1).
Г. Ловмянский, Рорик Фрисландский и Рюрик Новгородский, Скандинавский сборник, Таллин, 1963, т. 7, р. 233–238.
Г. С. Лебедев, Эпоха викингов в Северной Европе, Ленинград, 1985, р. 214.
Saxonis Gesta danorum, p. 274 (X, 5).
Е. А. Рыдзевская, Древняя Русь и Скандинавия IХ – ХIV вв., Москва, 1978, р. 50; Fagrskinna. Nóregs kononga tal, ed. F. Jónsson, Kobenhavn, 1902–1903, p. 58.
Annales Ryenses, Monumenta Germaniae Historica. Scriptores, 1925, vol. 16, p. 398.
E. Gudavičius, Kryžiaus karai Pabaltijyje ir Lietuva XIII amžiuje, Vilnius, 1989, p. 16.
V. Kulakovas, Sembų palikimas, Užmirštieji prūsai : archeologija, istorija, padavimai ir turistiniai maršrutai, Vilnius, 1999, p. 170–179.
Saxonis Gesta danorum, p. 285 (X, 14:1).
Scriptores rerum Prussicarum, Leipzig, 1861, Bd. 1, p. 736.
Snorre Sturlason, Heimskringla, or the lives of the Norse kings, p. 490 (IX, 23), 535 (X, 48).
Saxonis Gesta danorum, p. 315 (XI, 8).
Saxonis Gesta danorum, p. 319 (XI, 11:1).
Saxonis Gesta danorum, p. 477–480 (XIV: 40:1–12).
E. Anderson, Early Danish missionaries in the Baltic countries, Gli inizi del Cristianesimo in Livonia-Lettonia, Cittą del Vaticano, 1989, p. 259–267.
E. Anderson, Early Danish missionaries in the Baltic countries, p. 266, 268–269; F. Benninghoven, Der Orden der Schwertbrüder : Fratres Milicie Christi de Livonia, Köln; Graz, 1965, p. 16–17.


Saxo and the Baltic region


Published in:
Saxo and the Baltic Region. A Symposium, edited by Tore Nyberg, [Odense:] University Press of Southern Denmark, 2004, p. 63–79.

(Lecture, read in Odense University (Denmark), in Symposium "Saxo and the Baltic region" on November 20, 2000)

The book is available on

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