The Archaeology of Beowulf – The Dragon killer – the Hero of the Vikings – and the War-booty site of Finnestorp

What do we know:

Beowulf is an Old English heroic poem. The author is unknown, the poem is known only from a single manuscript (Novell Codex manuscript), which is estimate to date from close to A.D 1000. As Gad Rausing (1985) concludes – there are no Saxons, Angles or Jutes appearing in the poem. So it is unlikely, to say the least, that the lay of Beowulf was first sung in England or in the continental homeland of the Angles, the Saxons or the Jutes. Because the setting is placed in Denmark and in Geatland (now day Götaland in South Sweden).

Beowulf is a hero of the Geats and he battles against three antagonists. One is Grendel, a monster who has been attacking the resident warriors of the Royal mead hall in Denmark. The other two is Grendels mother and a dragon. The last battle, against the dragon, takes place later in life, after that Beowulf has returned to the land of the Geats and has become a king. In the final battle, Beowulf is fatally wounded. After his death his retainers bury him in a large mound in Geatland.

A description of the society

In the poem thus depicts a Germanic warrior society, in which the relationship between the lord of the region and those who served under him was of paramount importance. When a warrior vowed loyalty to his lord, he became not so much his servant as his voluntary companion, one who would take pride in defending him and fighting in his wars. In return, the lord was expected to take care of his thanes and to reward them richly for their valor. This society was typical for the Migration period (350-550 AD) in Southern Scandinavia, but this society is all gone in the Viking age.

Remarkably consistent

Other remarks that Rausing put forward is – that for a poem, it is remarkably consistent. All the objects described, such as swords, rings and goblets etc, are from an archeological point of view, typical artifacts of the Migration period in South Scandinavia. There is nothing whatever in these descriptions of actual objects to point to later periods. However, there are many of these sagas, with numerous cross-references to people, places and events and main course of events which also is attested by Continental contemporary chroniclers.

Legends as well as real persons and events

The poem of Beowulf deals with legends and does not separate between fictional elements and real historic events. For example, it seems to be based on real people in 6th century Scandinavia.One such historical event is the raid by King Hygelac, of the Geats, into Frisia, about 516 A.D.

Other examples of Scandinavian personalities are Egil (Ongentheow) and Rolf Krake (Hrothulf), these characters are presented in the Finnesburg Fragment as well as in Beowulf. But there are also continental Germanic personalities such as Offa, king of the continental Angles, named in Widsith.

Finnestorp and Beowulf

What has the offering site of Finnestorp to do with this world famous warrior – Beowulf? To start with, in Beowulf, there is a repeating theme concerning the large gold treasure. What do we know about the archeological evidence concerning the gold treasures from South Scandinavia during the Iron Age?

In Scandinavia is the fore coming period (375-550 AD), called the Golden Era. Historically we know that this can be connected to enormous quantities of gold, “which were pouring out” from the East Roman Empire. Thousands and thousands of kilos of gold were now circulating along with the Huns and their allies, for example the Germanic tribe. Large amounts of this Roman gold “came up” to Southern Scandinavia during this time period. Several large treasures – like hoards and spectacular collars as well as beautiful massive rings for the neck and arms are found from this time period in South Scandinavia. Nothing alike has been found in our area during later periods. In Sweden the largest amount of this Roman gold is found in Götaland. Here, in this landscape, more than 16 kilos of artifacts made of pure gold were found originating from less than a 200 year long time period.

The importance of a single word

During the first half of the 2000th century there were several Swedish archaeologist´s (Stjerna, Nerman and Lindqvist) who discussed the relationships between sagas and the archaeological remains in southern part of Sweden.

Arch. Prof. Stjerna´s, opinion was that the crucial point is the interpretation of the word – ”vong”. He proposed that the sentence “se pone vong sträde” (v. 3074) were not referring to a grave mound but instead to a large opened place. Stjerna means that there are two different alternatives in the poem about the dragon treasure. One is that the treasure was placed in an existing grave mound and in the other description it was placed in an opened field. The gold was presented as exclusive artifacts ”dyre mädmas” v. 3132) and as enormous amount of golden rings ”vunden gold aeghväs unrim” (v. 3135 f).

If we can accept that Beowulf is originating from (the land of the Geats) and that he actually lived around 600 AD. Then the following story turns out to be very interesting.

To sum up

Stjerna means that the struggle between Beowulf and the dragon should have been taking place in an opened field, a wetland. Where there were laying different war equipments (like swords, helmets and so on.) as well as large amounts of gold. It was this place that the dragon was protecting. The actual place should have been a war booty site.

So if we accept the theory of Stjerna, we can conclude that Beowulf, when he was king over Götaland (around 600 AD), was finally killed during a struggle with a dragon on a war booty site, – a legend story that should be placed some were in the central part of Götaland.