Facts in Beowulf

Prelude of the Founder of the Danish House 1
"Danes..."   (Prelude of the Founder of the Danish House)

The Danes are the residents of Denmark. The Hrothgar, Hrothulf, and Scylding dynasty of kings mentioned are actually spoken of in other Danish and Germanic sources (such as the poem Widsith). Some believe that Heorot, the hall of the Danes mentioned in Beowulf, was located on the island of Sjaelland, near the modern-day city of Roskilde, Denmark.

"Geats..."   (Chapter III)

According to the poem, the Geats are a seafaring tribe from the south of Sweden; they appear to have been conquered at some point in the early Middle Ages. Gregory of Tours mentions that a group of “Danes” led by “Chochilaicus” (a possible Latinization of “Hygelac”) attacked the Franks around 520 A.D. Little other historical information is written about the Geats.

"Frisian..."   (Chapter XVI)

One of the more advanced societies in the time period known as the “Dark Ages," the Frisians were an early medieval tribe of people who occupied parts of what are the modern-day nations of Denmark, the Netherlands, and northern Germany. They traded with silver coins instead of bartering and engaged in maritime trade from the Baltic region to England. They were often rivals of the Franks, who lived to the southwest of their lands.

"Hondscio..."   (Chapter XXVIII)

Recall how when Grendel first entered Heorot, he killed one of the Geats while Beowulf laid in wait. This Geat is finally named here.

"a steep barrow of stone..."   (Chapter XXIX-XXXI)

The dragon's den is located within a barrow: a tomb or vault usually buried beneath a small hill or mound. The placement of the dragon suggests that these tombs contained riches, and perhaps the dragon serves as a warning to potential tomb-robbers.

"seven thousand hides of land..."   (Chapter XXIX-XXXI)

Land in medieval England was measured in “hides.” One hide was the amount required to support a family, or approximately 60-120 acres, depending on the quality of the land. The ownership of land was considered necessary to advancement in this society--the greater the land, the greater authority for the owner.

"champion of the Hugas, was killed by my hand...."   (Chapter XXXV)

Beowulf refers to his killing of the Hugas (another name for the Frisians) warrior Daeghrefn, who may have been Hygelac's killer. Little historical information appears to exist regarding the Hugas, apart from what is written in Beowulf.

"Merowings..."   (Chapter XL)

The name of a tribe of the Franks that eventually came to found the Merovingian dynasty of Frankish kings that began to rule in the early fifth century. Clovis, a Merovingian king who came to power around AD 486, united the Frankish tribes and made them subject to his leadership through conquest. He also converted to Catholicism and worked to establish it as the primary religion within his lands.

"Frank..."   (Chapter XL)

This is the name given to an aggregation of tribes that once inhabited the region of the Roman province of Gaul, an area containing roughly the modern nations of France, Belgium, and parts of western Germany. Much of what we know of the Franks comes from The History of the Franks, written by Gregory of Tours, the Bishop of Tours, who lived between AD 538 and 594.