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European Kingdoms

Northern Europe


Geats (Yeats) (Scando-Germanics)

The Germanic tribes appear to have originated in a homeland in southern Scandinavia (Sweden and Norway, with the Jutland area of northern Denmark, along with a very narrow strip of Baltic coastline). They had been settled here for over two thousand years following the Indo-European migrations.

The Germanic ethnic group began as a division of the western edge of late proto-Indo-European dialects around 3300 BC, splitting away from a general westwards migration to head towards the southern coastline of the Baltic Sea. By the time the Germanic tribes were becoming key players in the politics of Western Europe in the last two centuries BC, the previously dominant Celts were on the verge of being conquered and dominated by Rome. They had already been pushed out of northern and Central Europe by a mass of Germanic tribes which were steadily carving out a new homeland.

The Geats were to be found occupying areas of southern Sweden by the fifth and early sixth centuries AD, opposite the coastline of later Poland. To the north-west of Geat lands lay the kingdom of Alfheim, while the Swedes and the small territory of Nærríki lay to the north and Scania lay to the south.

Perhaps more correctly, Geats (or Geatas) should be 'zeats', and the yogh, 'z', is pronounced 'y' before fronting vowels, so the correct transcription would be 'Yeats'. Their name was sometimes confused by medieval writers with that of the Jutes, but while they are almost certainly a separate group, there is always the possibility that they and the Jutes were related.

At least six kings of the Geats are recorded in the epic poem, Beowulf, which was written down in an early England, based on an oral tradition which kept the poem alive for about three centuries after it was composed. Some confusion has arisen over the dating of the events in Beowulf, perhaps primarily due to the funeral scene for Scyld Scaefson, son of Scaef, at its start. There was also a Scyld, descended six generations from Sceaf of the ancestral kings of Angeln, and it seems likely that either the two Scylds have become confused or one was invented on the basis of the existence of the other.

Further theorising has suggested that if Beowulf was set in the first century AD (the time at which the earlier Scyld probably lived) then the Geats must be the Goths who probably migrated from that region at that time.

If, more realistically, Beowulf is set at the start of the sixth century, then the Geats could perhaps be a remnant of the Goths but are just as likely to be a more recently-emerged tribe of Scandinavians. Both Old Norse and Old English records clearly separate the Geats from the Goths, although they are still depicted as being closely related to each other.

The name of the Geats lives on in the Swedish counties of Västergötland and Östergötland, the former western and eastern lands of the Geats, as well as in many toponyms. The city of Göteborg (Gothenburg to English ears), was named after the Geats (Geatsburg or fortress of the Geats), when it was founded in 1621.

The Wulfingas, Wuffingas, or Ylfings (the 'wolf-clan') provided the core tribe or group of the eastern Geats. The Ylfing variation of the name raises the possibility that they were the otherwise mysterious Kylfings who traded and plundered in the Finnmark region of the far north.

Other than that, the Wulfingas are known for their feud with the Germanic Hundings or Hundingas (the 'hound-clan') who are mentioned in two Old English epic poems, Beowulf and Widsith - the hounds versus the wolves is classic tribal totemic behaviour. The feud clearly began in Scandinavia, and probably ended when the Wuffingas migrated to Britain to create the kingdom of the East Angles.

However, they may not have been the Wulfingas before the migration. Wolf coins found in East Anglia had been minted by the Iceni in the late first century AD. It seems likely that the Wulfingas could have taken their name from some element that already existed in the territory, much like many other migrants were taking local names and adapting them. In which case, the question is what were the Wulfingas known as before their arrival in East Anglia?


(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from Geography, Ptolemy, from English Writers: An Attempt Towards a History of English Literature (Volume 2), Henry Morley (formerly available online), from The Oxford History of England: The English Settlements, J N L Meyers, from The Oxford History of England: Anglo-Saxon England, Sir Frank Stenton, from the Alan Bliss/JRR Tolkein examination of the fragment known as The Fight at Finnesburg, and from External Link: The Gutenburg Text of Beowulf, translation by Leslie Hall, 1892.)


Ptolemy mentions the Goutai, who seem to be the early Goths rather than the later Geats. He places them on the island of Scandza (Skandia, near the mouth of the Vistula).

River Vistula
The mouth of the Vistula in the first century AD was an ideal route for settlement for groups coming south from the Baltic Sea, such as the Belgae, but also for groups which were migrating out of the river, such as the Armorica Veneti


Claiming descent from Tor, usually equated with Thor.

Swerting / Sguerthing

Mentioned in Beowulf. Probably not the Sguerthing of Deywr.

There is also a Sguerthing who is a lord of the Angles in Deywr, and probably a contemporary. Given that it is likely that Angles are indeed in Deywr at this time, then there are either two leading figures with the same name at the same approximate time on either side of the North Sea, or Sguerthing and his descendants have not yet arrived to take control of the Angles in this region of Britain.

Either is possible, although that would make these Anglian kings into Geats. A third option (perhaps the most favourable) is that the names simply become confused in oral tradition or later written form.

Scandinavian bracteate
This bracteate (medallion) dates from the fifth or sixth century and was unearthed in Scandinavia. It derived from the Roman or Byzantine portrait medallion style


Wealhtheow is the queen of the Danes, wife of Hrothgar. She is a Wulfing, an eastern Geatish ancestor (or mother) of the Wuffingas who, within twenty years, are to be found creating their own kingdom of the East Angles in Britain.

The Wulfingas, Wuffingas, or Ylfings (the 'wolf-clan') are known for their feud with the Germanic Hundings or Hundingas (mentioned in Widsith and thought by some to be the Langobards, but probably erroneously).

The founder of the Hundingas, the eponymous Hund, is slain by the later Danish King Helgi Hundingsbane (ruling in the 520s).

Hreðel / Hrethel

Son or son-in-law. Died of grief on the death of Herebeald.


Describing a Europe of about AD 500, the Old English poem Widsith mentions several Germanic peoples, not all of whom can be properly identified.

Several of them can be located in Sweden or in the islands which surround it in the Baltic Sea, including the Brondings (the chief of which tribe is a childhood friend of Beowulf). The Heruli may also be migrating into the region at this time, further complicating the political structure.

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


Son. Killed by Hæþcyn in a hunting accident.

? - 514/5?

Hæþcyn / Haethcyn



During the Swedish-Geatish Wars, Hæþcyn kidnaps the wife of Ongentheow of the Swedes. He comes to rescue her, and Hæþcyn is killed in the fighting. Hygelac arrives with reinforcements a day later and one of his warriors, Eofor (his daughter's brother-in-law), kills the king of the Swedes.

c.514? - c.525

Hygelac / Higlac

Brother. Born c.480-485. 'Rex Getarum' in Liber Monstrorum.


A prince of the Geat court who has been fostered by the king since the age of seven, Beowulf visits Hrothgar Scylding of the Danes, and rids him of the monster, Grendal. Beowulf returns to the Geats triumphant, and is further lauded by Hygelac.

The event is recorded in the epic Old English poem, Beowulf, as is the Freswæl of about 448 in Frisia in a tale told in the hall of Heorot.


The Germanic Chattuarii appear to be named both in Beowulf and Widsith as the Hætwerum (Hetwaras). 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.

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 in AD 420, taking territory from the fading Roman administration

c.525 - c.530

Heardred / Hearede

Son. Born c.515. Killed in battle against the Swedes.


The poem, Beowulf, states that Hygelac dies shortly after Beowulf's triumphant return from killing Grendal and is succeeded by the hero. In fact Beowulf acts as regent for Hygelac's young son, supporting him for five years or so.


Onela seizes the Swedish throne following the death of his elder brother. His nephews, Eanmund and Eadgils, find refuge with the Geats. Onela attacks them and Eanmund is slain, as is Heardred. Beowulf succeeds him and helps Eadgils to kill Onela.

A translation of the name of the earliest-known Goth king looks like 'King Bee'. 'Bee' would be in the form of Beon, shortened to 'ber', plus the 'rig' suffix which is the Celtic 'rix', meaning 'king'. This is clearly a Celtic name because the 'rix' is a suffix instead of a prefix. The use of 'Bee' as a Germanic name has support in Beowulf's own name.

Geat warriors
A depiction of the fearsome Geat warriors of the time in which Hygelac and Beowulf ruled, according to twenty-first century Hollywood

c.530 - 580


Nephew of Hygelac by his dau and Ecgþeow. Born 495-500.


Jordanes, a bureaucrat in the Eastern Roman capital of Constantinople, mentions a tribe called the Theustes who are situated in the Tjust region of Småland in south Götaland, the land of the Geats.

Tjust is in the north-eastern corner of the region, but nothing more is known of the tribe. They may be a branch of the Geats, although the region maintains its own laws and traditions right up to the early Middle Ages and retains self-rule until about 1350, when a unified code of law is imposed throughout Sweden.


As related in Beowulf, the king is mortally wounded slaying a fire-breathing dragon when all but one of the warriors of his court have abandoned him. Beowulf is given a hero's funeral by the remaining warrior, Wiglaf, who is a member of the Wægmundings, the same grouping from which Beowulf's father had hailed.

Finnestorp buckle, Västergötland
A miniature face on a fifth century gilded cast copper-alloy display buckle discovered at Finnestorp in Västergötland in southern Sweden

c.580 - ?


Son of Weohstan of the Swedes.


From this point onwards, Swedish domination of the Geats increases, reducing them to vassal status initially before absorbing them altogether. Snorri Sturluson supplies the next series of Geatish rulers in his Ynglinga saga, although the authenticity of the first, Gauti, is debatable.

He may be introduced simply to provide an eponymous founder for the Geatish kingdom. He also appears to be tied to two branches of Geatish rulers, perhaps showing that the subdued Geats are divided, or divide themselves, into two groups, east and west.

The eastern rulers are mentioned in the Bósa saga ok Herrauds. Rulers in the west are shown on the left-hand side of the list.

A Swedish borg of the type used on Oland island
This model at Kalmar County Museum shows the layout of the typical borg, with high walls and limited entrance points (although without the Roman gates), food stores inside the walls and a temporary village structure in the centre, presumably for times of need or perhaps the depths of winter

fl c.600s?


Vassal of the Swedes?

fl c.610s?


Son. King of 'West Götaland'. Vassal of the Swedes?

fl c.610s?

Ring / Hring

Brother. King of 'East Götaland'. Vassal of the Swedes?

fl c.620s?

Algaut / Algout

Son of Gautrek. King of 'W Götaland'. Vassal of the Swedes?


According to Snorri Sturluson's Heimskringla, Algaut rules 'West Götaland'. He has also established a degree of alliance with the Swedish King Ingjald ill-ruler, who is his son-in-law. Around now though, King Ingjald burns him to death.

fl c.620s?


Son of Ring. King of 'East Götaland'. Vassal of the Swedes?


Given that Wiglaf had been half-Swedish, it seems likely that Swedish dominance of the Geats increases through intermarriage, with the Algaut of about the 620s perhaps being the last Geatish ruler of any significance. No more kings of West Götaland are known. Only East Götaland appears to retain any semblance of independence.

Map of Norway
This map shows a host of the many petty Norwegian and Swedish kingdoms in eighth and ninth century Scandinavia, most of them arranged along the coastline, although penetration into the interior is clearly beginning (click or tap on map to view full sized)

Helm Wulfingum

King of 'East Götaland'. Vassal of the Swedes?


King of 'East Götaland'. Vassal of the Swedes?


King of 'East Götaland'. Vassal of the Swedes?


King of 'East Götaland'. Vassal of the Swedes?

late 600s


Last king of 'East Götaland'? Vassal of the Swedes?

9th century

Battles take place in this century as the Geats have to defend themselves against the Norwegians under Haraldr Hárfagri. They receive no help from their Swedish overlords.

During the same century the Geats begin to be referred to as ethnic Swedes, a process which is complete by the eleventh century when they supply the first of several Geatish kings to the Swedish throne in the form of Stenkil (1056-1066).

Barely threatened at all by attack from outside Scandinavia during the medieval period, Sweden was able to develop into a strong regional state by the twelfth century

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