Who are the Swedes and Frisians? Why are we given so mmuch detailed information about the history of their quarrels with the Geats?


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The Swedes lived in Sweden north of the Vaner and Volter lakes, north of the Geats. Archaeology in Sweden reveals the grave mounds of Ongenþeow who was buried in 510-515, and his grandson Eadgils, buried in 575. These dates correspond with the events described in Beowulf.

Known as the Sweon (Swedes), the Scylfingas (Sons of Scylf), Guð-Scylfingas (War-), and Heaðo-Scylfingas (War-). (1)

The fragment of the Finnsburh poem and the Finnsburh reference in Beowulf somewhat overlap. The song sung during the celebration at Heorot follows the events described in the poem. This overlap in narratives is one reason why these two works are studied together.

The original manuscript of the Fight at Finnsburh is now lost, but it is known to have existed on a single leaf in the Lambeth Palace Library, page 489. The text was published in a transcription made by George Hikes in 1705.

The Fight at Finnsburh is an example of a typical Germanic `heroic lay' describing warriors' deeds in battle and the speeches of significant warriors during the battle. The poem resembles others of the same genre such as The Battle of Maldon, and is quite different from the epic form of Beowulf.

Beowulf is the only poem that associates the parties involved as Danes and Frisians. (1)

The minstel chants the story of the fight between the Danes and the Frisians (these stories were once called the transgressions). His song does not have ant bearing on Beowuld's story, but it does present the reader with the historic world in which the poem takes place. (2)


(1) (2) Beowulf, Heaney translation, Copyright 2000

Because I'm using the Heaney version of Beowulf, I'm cross referencing other sites for information. There are changes in the different translations, and I myself use the Heaney version with my own students, but I really don't remember where the differences are anymore. Sorry.

The following excerpt tells of the historical importance of the battle with the Frisians. It explains the compilation and contract of the Geat's current royal family per se. Historically, those considered to be royalty were married...... loyalty was often divided as women were used for political reasons in arranged marriages. This is an ancient practice............. it still goes on today. But its significance in the story is to provide us with background. Beowulf was born in oral history........... it's been written beautifully.

The Finnsburg episode relates loosely to Beowulf’s central narrative. Although it isn’t relevant to the main plot, it invokes the idea of vengeance as a component of honor. The story also highlights a tension in the heroic code by presenting the point of view of the Danish princess Hildeburh. Married to the Frisian king but herself a daughter of the Danes, Hildeburh experiences a divided loyalty. She has a son fighting on one side and a brother on the other. Like many other women in the Germanic warrior culture depicted in Beowulf, Hildeburh functions as a “peace-pledge between nations”—an epithet that the poet later applies to Wealhtheow (2017). Through marriage, Hildeburh helps to forge a connection between tribes. Of course, the practice of using women as peace tools is problematic for the men too. Here an uncle and a nephew are on opposing sides, even though their Germanic culture prizes a particularly strong bond between a man and his sister’s son. In the Finnsburg episode peace proves untenable. Hildeburh must be taken back to Denmark—the ties between the two groups must be severed—before the conflict can rest.