The Longobardian Migration Saga

: Teutonic Mythology

What there still remains of migration sagas from the middle ages, taken

from the saga-treasure of the Teutons themselves, is, alas! but little.

Among the Franks the stream of national traditions early dried up, at

least among the class possessing Latin culture. Among the Longobardians

it fared better, and among them Christianity was introduced later.

Within the ken of Roman history they appear in the first century after

Christ, when Tiberius invaded their boundaries.

Tacitus speaks of them with admiration as a small people whose paucity,

he says, was balanced by their unity and warlike virtues, which rendered

them secure in the midst of the numerous and mighty tribes around them.

The Longobardians dwelt at that time in the most northern part of

Germany, on the lower Elbe, probably in Luneburg. Five hundred years

later we find them as rulers in Pannonia, whence they invade Italy. They

had then been converted to Christianity. A hundred years after they had

become settled in North Italy, one of their Latin scholars wrote a

little treatise, De Origine Longobardorum, which begins in the

following manner: "In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ! Here begins the

oldest history of our Longobardian people. There is an island called

Skadan, far in the north. There dwelt many peoples. Among them was a

little people called the Vinnilians, and among the Vinnilians was a

woman by name Gambara. Gambara had two sons: one by name Ibor, the other

named Ajo. She and these sons were the rulers among the Vinnilians. Then

it came to pass that the Vandals, with their dukes Ambri and Assi,

turned against the Vinnilians, and said to them: 'Pay ye tribute unto

us. If ye will not, then arm yourselves for war!' Then made answer Ibor

and Ajo and their mother Gambara: 'It is better for us to arm ourselves

for war than to pay tribute to the Vandals'. When Ambri and Assi, the

dukes of the Vandals, heard this, they addressed themselves to Odin

(Godan) with a prayer that he should grant them victory. Odin answered

and said: 'Those whom I first discover at the rising of the sun, to them

I shall give victory'. But at the same time Ibor and Ajo, the chiefs of

the Vinnilians, and their mother Gambara, addressed themselves to Frigg

(Frea), Odin's wife, beseeching her to assist them. Then Frigg gave the

advice that the Vinnilians should set out at the rising of the sun, and

that the women should accompany their husbands and arrange their hair so

that it should hang like a beard under their chins. When the sky cleared

and the sun was about to rise, Frigg, Odin's wife, went to the couch

where her husband was sleeping and directed his face to the east (where

the Vinnilians stood), and then she waked him. And as he looked up he

saw the Vinnilians, and observed the hair hanging down from the faces of

their women. And then said he: 'What long-beards are they?' Then said

Frigg to Odin: 'My lord, as you now have named them, you must also give

them victory!' And he gave them victory, so that they, in accordance

with his resolve, defended themselves well, and got the upper hand. From

that day the Vinnilians were called Longobardians--that is to say,

long-beards. Then the Longobardians left their country and came to

Golaida, and thereupon they occupied Aldonus, Anthaib, Bainaib, and


In the days of Charlemagne the Longobardians got a historian by name

Paulus Diaconus, a monk in the convent Monte Cassino, and he was himself

a Longobardian by birth. Of the earliest history of his people he

relates the following: The Vinnilians or Longobardians, who ruled

successfully in Italy, are of Teutonic descent, and came originally from

the island Scandinavia. Then he says that he has talked with persons who

had been in Scandinavia, and from their reports he gives some facts,

from which it is evident that his informants had reference to Scania

with its extensive coast of lowlands and shallow water. Then he

continues: "When the population on this island had increased beyond the

ability of the island to support them, they were divided into three

parts, and it was determined by lot which part should emigrate from the

native land and seek new homes. The part whose destiny it became to

leave their native land chose as their leaders the brothers Ibor and

Ajo, who were in the bloom of manhood and were distinguished above the

rest. Then they bade farewell to their friends and to their country, and

went to seek a land in which they might settle. The mother of these two

leaders was called Gambara, who was distinguished among her people for

her keen understanding and shrewd advice, and great reliance was placed

on her prudence in difficult circumstances." Paulus makes a digression

to discuss many remarkable things to be seen in Scandinavia: the light

summer nights and the long winter nights, a maelstrom which in its

vortex swallows vessels and sometimes throws them up again, an animal

resembling a deer hunted by the neighbours of the Scandinavians, the

Scritobinians (the Skee[7] Finns), and a cave in a rock where seven men

in Roman clothes have slept for centuries (see Nos. 79-81, and No. 94).

Then he relates that the Vinnilians left Scandinavia and came to a

country called Scoringia, and there was fought the aforesaid battle, in

which, thanks to Frigg's help, the Vinnilians conquered the Vandals, who

demanded tribute from them.

The story is then told how this occurred, and how the Vinnilians got the

name Longobardians in a manner corresponding with the source already

quoted, with the one addition, that it was Odin's custom when he awoke

to look out of the window, which was open, to the east toward the rising

sun. Paulus Diaconus finds this Longobardian folk-saga ludicrous, not in

itself, but because Odin was, in the first place, he says, a man, not a

god. In the second place, Odin did not live among the Teutons, but among

the Greeks, for he is the same as the one called by the Romans Mercury.

In the third place, Odin-Mercury did not live at the time when the

Longobardians emigrated from Scandinavia, but much earlier. According to

Paulus, there were only five generations between the emigration of the

Longobardians and the time of Odoacer. Thus we find in Paulus Diaconus

the ideas in regard to Odin-Mercury which I have already called

attention to. Paulus thereupon relates the adventures which happened to

the Longobardians after the battle with the Vandals. I shall refer to

these adventures later on. They belong to the Teutonic mythology, and

reappear in mythic sources (see No. 112), but in a more original form,

and as events which took place in the beginning of time in a conflict

between the Asas and Vans on the one hand, and lower beings on the other

hand; lower, indeed, but unavoidable in connection with the well-being

of nature and man. This conflict resulted in a terrible winter and

consequent famine throughout the North. In this mythological description

we shall find Ajo and Ibor, under whose leadership the Longobardians

emigrated, and Hengist, under whom the Saxons landed in Britain.

It is proper to show what form the story about the Longobardian

emigration had assumed toward the close of the twelfth century in the

writings of the Danish historian Saxo Grammaticus. The emigration took

place, he says, at a time when a Danish king, by name Snoe, ruled, and

when there occurred a terrible famine. First, those starving had

resolved to kill all the aged and all children, but this awful resolve

was not carried out, thanks to a good and wise woman, by name Gambaruc,

who advised that a part of the people should emigrate. This was done

under the leadership of her sons Aggo and Ebbo. The emigrants came first

to Blekingia (Blekinge), then they sailed past Moringia (Moere) and came

to Gutland, where they had a contest with the Vandals, and by the aid of

the goddess Frigg they won the victory, and got the name Longobardians.

From Gutland they sailed to Rugen, and thence to the German continent,

and thus after many adventures they at length became masters of a large

part of Italy.

In regard to this account it must be remarked that although it contains

many details not found in Paulus Diaconus, still it is the same

narrative that has come to Saxo's knowledge. This Saxo also admits, and

appeals to the testimony of Paulus Diaconus. Paulus' Gambara is Saxo's

Gambaruc; Ajo and Ibor are Aggo and Ebbo. But the Longobardian monk is

not Saxo's only source, and the brothers Aggo and Ebbo, as we shall

show, were known to him from purely northern sources, though not as

leaders of the Longobardians, but as mythic characters, who are actors

in the great winter which Saxo speaks of.

The Longobardian emigration saga--as we find it recorded in the seventh

century, and then again in the time of Charlemagne--contains

unmistakable internal evidence of having been taken from the people's

own traditions. Proof of this is already the circumstance, that although

the Longobardians had been Christians for nearly 200 years when the

little book De Origine Longobardorum appeared, still the long-banished

divinities, Odin and Frigg, reappear and take part in the events, not as

men, but as divine beings, and in a manner thoroughly corresponding with

the stories recorded in the North concerning the relations between Odin

and his wife. For although this relation was a good and tender one,

judging from expressions in the heathen poems of the North (Voelusp., 51;

Vafthr., 1-4), and although the queen of heaven, Frigg, seems to have

been a good mother in the belief of the Teutons, this does not hinder

her from being represented as a wily person, with a will of her own

which she knows how to carry out. Even a Norse story tells how Frigg

resolves to protect a person whom Odin is not able to help; how she and

he have different favourites among men, and vie with each other in

bringing greater luck to their favourites. The story is found in the

prose introduction to the poem "Grimnismal," an introduction which in

more than one respect reminds us of the Longobardian emigration saga. In

both it is mentioned how Odin from his dwelling looks out upon the world

and observes what is going on. Odin has a favourite by name Geirrod.

Frigg, on the other hand, protects Geirrod's brother Agnar. The man and

wife find fault with each other's proteges. Frigg remarks about Geirrod,

that he is a prince, "stingy with food, so that he lets his guests

starve if they are many." And the story goes on to say that Geirrod, at

the secret command of Odin, had pushed the boat in which Agnar was

sitting away from shore, and that the boat had gone to sea with Agnar

and had not returned. The story looks like a parable founded on the

Longobardian saga, or like one grown in a Christian time out of the same

root as the Longobardian story. Geirrod is in reality the name of a

giant, and the giant is in the myth a being who brings hail and frost.

He dwells in the uttermost North, beyond the mythical Gandvik

(Thorsdrapa, 2), and as a mythical winter symbol he corresponds to king

Snoe in Saxo. His "stinginess of food when too many guests come" seems to

point to lack of food caused by the unfavourable weather, which

necessitated emigrations, when the country became over-populated. Agnar,

abandoned to the waves of the sea, is protected, like the Longobardians

crossing the sea, by Frigg, and his very name, Agnar, reminds us of the

names Aggo, Acho, and Agio, by which Ajo, one of the leaders of the

Longobardians, is known. The prose introduction has no original

connection with Grimnismal itself, and in the form in which we now

have it, it belongs to a Christian age, and is apparently from an author

belonging to the same school as those who regarded the giants as the

original inhabitants of Scandinavia, and turned winter giants like

Joekull, Snaer, &c., into historical kings of Norway.

The absolutely positive result of the Longobardian narratives written by

Longobardian historians is that the Teutonic race to which they belonged

considered themselves sprung, not from Troy or Asia, but from an island,

situated in the ocean, which washes the northern shores of the Teutonic

continent, that is to say, of Germany.

[Footnote 7: The snow-skate, used so extensively in the north of Europe,

is called Ski in the Norse, and I have taken the liberty of

introducing this word here and spelling it phonetically--skee, pl.

skees. The words snow-shoes, snow-skates, hardly describe sufficiently

these skees used by the Finns, Norsemen, and Icelanders. Compare the

English word skid, the drag applied to a coach-wheel.--Tr.]