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The Saxon And Swabian Migration Saga


Source: Teutonic Mythology

From the Longobardians I now pass to the great Teutonic group of peoples
comprised in the term the 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 throughout the middle ages preserved the
communal liberty 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

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 from popular traditions additional details
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 there ruled a king Rudolph over that region in
the Northland whence 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rescinded, and instead, it was decided to procure ships, and that all
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 harbour 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 harbour, 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 by was 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 hitherto they had faithfully observed
the treaty, and that they had not taken more territory than they had
purchased with their gold. Thus the Saxons got a firm foothold in the

Thus 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.

Next: The Frankish Migration Saga

Previous: The Longobardian Migration Saga

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