INVESTIGATIONS Into GERMANIC MYTHOLOGY “
– Volume 1 – by Viktor Rydberg
REMINISCENCES IN THE POPULAR TRADITIONS OF THE MIDDLE AGES OF THE HEATHEN MIGRATION SAGA
16. THE SAXON AND SWABIAN MIGRATION SAGA.
From the Longobardians, I now pass to the great Germanic group of peoples comprised in the term Saxons.
Their historian, Widukind, who wrote his chronicle in the tenth century, begins by telling what he has learned about the origin of the Saxons. Here, he says, different opinions are opposed to each other. According to one opinion held by those who knew the Greeks and Romans, the Saxons are descended from the remnants of Alexander the Great’s Macedonian army; according to the other, which is based on native traditions, the Saxons are descended from Danes and Northmen.
Widukind so far takes his position between these opinions that he considers it certain that the Saxons had come in ships to the country they inhabited on the lower Elbe and the North Sea, and that they landed in Hadolaun, that is to say, in the district Hadeln, near the mouth of the Elbe, which, we may say in passing, still is distinguished for its remarkably vigorous population, consisting of peasants whose ancestors preserved the communal liberty throughout the Middle Ages in successful conflict with the feudal nobility. Widukind’s statement that the Saxons crossed the sea to Hadeln is found in an older Saxon chronicle, written about 860, with the addition that the leader of the Saxons in their emigration was a chief by name Hadugoto.
A Swabian chronicle, which claims that the Swabians also came from the North and experienced about the same adventures as the Saxons when they came to their new home, gives additional details from popular traditions in regard to the migration and the voyage. According to this account, the emigration was caused by a famine which visited the Northland situated on the other side of the sea, because the inhabitants were heathens who annually sacrificed twelve Christians to their gods. At the time when the famine came, a king named Rudolph ruled over that region in the Northland from where the people emigrated. He called a convention of all the most noble men in the land, and there it was decided that, in order to put an end to the famine, the fathers of families who had several sons should slay them all except the one they loved most.
Thanks to a young man, by name Ditwin, who was himself included in this dreadful resolution, a new convention was called, and the above resolution was rescinded, and instead, it was decided to procure ships, and that they who, according to the former resolution, were doomed to die, should seek new homes beyond the sea. Accompanied by their female friends, they embarked, and they had not sailed far before they were attacked by a violent storm, which carried them to a Danish harbor near a place, says the author, which is called Slesvik. Here they went ashore, and to put an end to all discussion in regard to a return to the old dear fatherland, they hewed their ships into pieces. Then they wandered through the country which lay before them, and, together with much other booty, they gathered 20,000 horses, so that a large number of the men were able to ride on horseback. The rest followed the riders on foot. Armed with weapons, they proceeded in this manner through the country ruled by the Danes, and they came to the river Alba (Elbe), which they crossed; after which they scattered themselves along the coast.
This Swabian narrative, which seems to be copied from the Saxon, tells, like the latter, that the Thuringians were rulers in the land to which the immigrants came, and that bloody battles had to be fought before they got possession of it. Widukind’s account attempts to give the Saxons a legal right, at least to the landing-place and the immediate vicinity. This legal right, he says, was acquired in the following manner: While the Saxons were still in their ships in the harbor, out of which the Thuringians were unable to drive them, it was resolved on both sides to open negotiations, and thus an understanding was reached, that the Saxons, on the condition that they abstained from plundering and murder, might remain and buy what they needed and sell whatever they could. Then it occurred that a Saxon man, richly adorned with gold and wearing a gold necklace, went ashore. There a Thuringian met him and asked him: “Why do you wear so much gold around your lean neck?” The youth answered that he was perishing from hunger, and was seeking a purchaser of his gold ornaments. “How much do you ask?” inquired the Thuringian. “What do you bid?” answered the Saxon. Near bywas a large sand-hill, and the Thuringian said in derision: “I will give you as much sand as you can carry in your clothes.” The Saxon said he would accept this offer. The Thuringian filled the skirts of his frock with sand; the Saxon gave him his gold ornaments and returned to the ships. The Thuringians laughed at this bargain with contempt, and the Saxons found it foolish; but the youth said: “Go with me, brave Saxons, and I will show you that my foolishness will be your advantage.” Then he took the sand he had bought and scattered it as widely as possible over the ground, covering in this manner so large an area that it gave the Saxons a fortified camp. The Thuringians sent messengers and complained of this, but the Saxons answered that they had faithfully observed the treaty previously, and that they had not taken more territory than they had purchased with their gold.
Thus the Saxons got a firm foothold in the land. Consequently, we find that the sagas of the Saxons and the Swabians agree with those of the Longobardians in this, that their ancestors were supposed to have come from a northern country beyond the Baltic. The Swabian version identifies this country distinctly enough with the Scandinavian peninsula. Of an immigration from the East, the traditions of these tribes have not a word to say.