History Files
 

 

European Kingdoms

Germanic Tribes

 

 

 

Widsith List / Minor Germanic Tribes
c.AD 430s - 520s

Describing a Europe of about AD 500, the Old English poem Widsith mentions several Germanic peoples, not all of whom can be properly identified. The list of rulers covers a span of up to a century, and was probably cobbled together from all the famous warriors known to the poem's composer, while Widsith himself may have made his trip to the court of the Ostrogothic King Ermanaric around AD 375, just before the latter's death.

Many of the more obvious tribal groups are included, such as the Angles, the Austrasian Franks, Burgundians, Chattuarii, Danes, Finns, Frisians, Geats, Jutes, Ostrogoths, Rugians, Thuringians, and Warini, along with the Gloms and Heatho-Ream of Norway, various tribes in Sweden, and the Swæfe (a tribe of Suevi under the rule of Witta of Wehta's Folk). The newly-formed Bavarii are not included. While each of these major group is covered in more detail in their own pages, the more obscure tribes or groups are listed below. They are shown not in date order but in alphabetical order of tribal name so dates may seem somewhat random.

Amongst the very minor groups, some have been linked to tribes that were recorded by Tacitus, Ptolemy, Jordanes, or other ancient authors. These tribes are also covered in pages of their own, including the Eowan who have been included with the Aviones, the Hætwerum who are shown with the Chattuarii, the Rondingas who are included with the Reudigni, and the Sweodwaras who are shown with the Suardones.

(Additional information by Edward Dawson, from Hetware and Hugas: Datable Anachronisms in Beowulf, Walter Goffart, and from External Link: The Gutenburg Text of Beowulf, translation by Lesslie Hall, 1892.)

fl c.500

?

King of the Aenenes. Location unknown.

fl c.500

?

King of the Amothing. Location unknown.

fl c.500

Becca

King of the Banings. Location unknown.

fl c.500

Breoc / Breca

King of the Brondings in Sweden.

The Brondings (or Brondingas) are mentioned both in Beowulf and Widsith. Breca is a childhood friend of the Geatish prince Beowulf himself. The tribe can probably be located on the island of Brännö, to the west of the Geats (in Västergötland) in Sweden.

c.411

The Burgundiones have Gifica mentioned, a Burgundian warrior hero who is regarded as being at least partially mythical. He is mentioned as one of a long list of famous Germanic tribal rulers and leaders in the poem.

fl c.500

?

King of the Eols. Location unknown.

c.500

A King Caelic is mentioned for the Finns, a presumed reference to Kaleva or Kalev, a national figure for both Finland and Estonia. The latter's national epic, Kalevipoeg (Son of Kalev), tells of a time in which Christianity is pushing Kalev and his pagan sons to the edges of society where they stubbornly resist conversion and are eventually ostracised completely.

Kalevipoeg
The Estonian artist, Oskar Kallis, depicted Kalevipoeg in his traditional form of a giant, perhaps mixed with a little Viking, in this pastel from 1915, but the giants of legend are usually accepted as being descriptive forms of earlier, pre-Christian peoples

c.448

The eldest son of Finn of the Frisians is killed at the 'Fight at Finnesburg' in Frisia, as is Hnæf of the Danes, as mentioned in Widsith. Finn himself is subsequently killed by Hnæf's Anglian comrade in arms, Hengest (Hengist), presumably the great-grandson of Wehta. Hildeburh, the Danish wife of the dead Frisian king, is returned to her people. Finnes ham is sacked.

fl c.500

?

King of the Frumtings/Frumtingas. Location unknown.

fl c.500

?

King of the Gefflegs (Gefthas/Gevlegs). Location unknown.

c.500

There is a town called Gävle in Sweden, the capital of Gävleborg County, but this location is much too far north for the early medieval period. The Gefflegs (sometimes shown as Gevlegs) are far more likely to have been located between far southern Sweden and northern Germany.

c.500

The Germanic Gloms are mentioned in Widsith. They are probably located along the River Glomma (or Glåma) in south-western Norway.

c.525

The Hætwerum (Hetwaras) are the Chattuarii, appearing both in Beowulf and the Widsith list under that name, which is a more Germanic form of their otherwise Romanised tribal name. Around this date they form a coalition with the Frisians and the Hugas (perhaps the Chauci) to fight a Geatish raiding party led by Hygelac. The king of the Geats is killed, his party heavily defeated, and only Beowulf escapes. This is the final mention of the Chattuarii. They are subsequently absorbed entirely by the Merovingian Franks, possibly as a division of the more minor Ripuarian Franks.

Citadel of Namur
The Meuse valley, shown here at the citadel of Namur, formed the western border for the Chattuarii following their crossing of the Rhine

fl c.500

Wada

King of the Hälsings in Sweden.

The Hälsings (or Haelsings or Halsingas) are probably located in Hälsingland (or Helsinga) in central Sweden, which could be a province of the Swedes.

c.500

The Heatho-Reams are mentioned in Widsith. They form the later Norwegian kingdom of Romerike.

Hreð-Gotum or Hreiðgoths is the name used in Widsith to describe the Ostrogoths during their period of independent greatness in Eastern Europe. The Widsith version of the name means 'victory Goths'.

c.525

The Germanic Chattuarii form a coalition with the Frisians and the Hugas (perhaps the Chauci) to fight a Geatish raiding party led by Hygelac. The king of the Geats is killed, his party heavily defeated, and only Beowulf escapes.

fl c.510s

Hund ('Hound')

King of the Hundings. Possibly Langobards. Killed by Danes.

fl c.520s

Mearchalf

King of the Hundings. Possibly Langobards.

The Hundings or Hundingas (the 'hound clan') are known for their feud with the Wulfings, a clan associated with the early Danish kings (Wealhtheow, wife of Hrothgar Scylding, is a Wulfing, as are the kings of the East Engle) and probably the Eastern Geats. Mearchalf would appear to be a descendant of Hund, founder of the people and later claimed as a Saxon, who is slain by the later Danish King Helgi Hundingsbane (king about the 520s). The story of Hund is sometimes identified with a similar story of Lamicho of the Langobards, suggesting that they may be one and the same person.

fl c.500

?

King of the Iduming/Idumingas. Location unknown.

fl c.500

?

King of the Ists. Location unknown.

fl c.430

?

King of the Mofdings. Location unknown, but close to the Myrging.

fl c.430

Meaca

King of the Myrging. Killed by the Mofdings.

fl c.450

Eadgils

King of the Myrging. Killed by Saxon princes Ket & Wig.

Widsith himself is a Myrging, member of a clan which is descended from Saxons who occupy territory in modern Schleswig-Holstein, on the border with the Angles to their north-west. Etymologist Kemp Malone puts forward 'mire dwellers' as a translation of their name. This mire would have been near, or on, the River Eider, which flows through Schleswig-Holstein. A probable sub-tribe were the With-Myrgings.

The Myrging become involved in a war with Offa, king of the Angles, who kills two of the sons of Eadgils. Eadgils is subsequently killed by Ket and Wig, the sons of the Saxon prince, Freawine, perhaps allowing the Myrging to overrun the border district between Saxons and Angles until they are completely conquered by Offa. The Myrging are totally absorbed into the Anglian tribal collective, probably disappearing as a distinguishable people under the rule of Angeltheow of Angeln, who abolishes the title king of the Myrging. In all likelihood, the majority of Myrging follow the Angles in their later exodus to Britain.

Text
The rich countryside and easily-navigable rivers of eastern Britain proved very welcoming to emigrating Angles, leaving their former homeland massively depopulated

c.490s?

The Rugians (or Rugs) of Widsith, seem to be the same people as the Rugii of the first century AD. The poem seems to confuse the post-Hunnic foundation of a kingdom of the Rugii in parts of Bohemia and Lower Austria with their pre-Hunnic settlement in the Danube valley (in modern Hungary). The ruler mentioned for the Rugians is Hagena, who could be an important figure during the tribe's entry into Italy with Theodoric.

fl c.500

?

King of the Seringum (Serings). Location unknown.

fl c.450

Sæferð / Saeferth

Lord of the Sycgs. Danes, located probably in Jutland.

Sæferð of the Sycgs is mentioned both in Widsith and the Fragment (latterly as the lord of the Secgs). He is a member of the party which is led by the Danish prince, Hnæf Healfdena, and Hengist of Wehta's Folk and which defends the hall in Finnsburg against the comitatus of the Frisian king, an event known as the Freswæl ('the Frisian Slaughter'). Sæferð survives, and is probably one of those who urges Hengist to do his duty to his deceased lord and exact revenge upon the Frisian king.

fl c.500

?

King of the Throwens. Location unknown.

It is relatively easy to see the Throwens as Thuringians, but they are mentioned quite separately in Widsith, before the Thuringians.

c.500

The king of the Werns in Widsith is Billing, with a tribe that occupies and apparently dominates the region of Mecklenburg to such an extent that in the early medieval period, the Germans know the region as the Mark of Mecklenburg-Billing. Could the use of Billing as a king of the Warini be a mistake, or a suggestion of Billing overlordship or intermarriage? Another possibility is that Billing may derive his name from the god Belinus (Belin can be equated with Billing).

fl c.500

Wald

King of the Woingum (Woings). Location unknown.

fl c.500

Holen

King of the Wrosum (Wrosns). Location unknown.

571 - 578

Wuffa rules the East Engle in Britain, and his descendants are known as the Wuffingas ('wolf-people' or 'wolflings'). The Wuffinga name is also connected to the Geats and Danes, primarily through Wealhtheow of around the 490s. She is the queen of the Danes, wife of Hrothgar. He appears in Norse Sagas and two Old English epic poems, Beowulf and Widsith, while she is a Wulfing, an eastern Geatish ancestor (or mother) of the Wuffingas. Therefore she must have some relationship to one or more of the names in the list of Caser's Folk, although it would be speculation to go any further.

Queen Wealhtheow of the Danes
Queen Wealhtheow of the Wuffingas pledges Beowulf in this illustration by George Timothy Tobin (1864-1956) for the work entitled Lost in Translation: The Queens of Beowulf

fl c.500

Sceafthere

King of the Ymbers. Location unknown.

The Ymbers (or Ymbrum) may be the Imbers of the Island of Femern, which lies off the eastern coast of Schleswig-Holstein.