Review of Lecture 1
What is a myth?
• A myth is a traditional story of gods or godlike
beings that is used to relate the worldview of a
people or to explain a practice, a belief or a natural
• There are many ways to interpret or understand
myths. Our knowledge of Germanic mythology is
incomplete and often untrustworthy, because most
texts were written down by Christian authors.
• Germanic myths tell us very little about the actual
historical practices, ceremonies and rituals of
Germanic religion.
What is a Legend?
• A legend is a traditional story of ostensibly
historical events and mortal or semi-divine
heroes, often interacting with gods.
• Many legends deal with historical events, though
usually in a highly fictionalized fashion.
• Many legends, like myths, reflect the social or
political world view or mentality of a people or a
• Germanic legends were originally oral tales; their
transformation into written literature often
occurred several hundred years after the events
they describe.
What is a folk tale?
• Folk tales, like fairy tales, are traditional
stories told usually about common people
that reflect the worldview of a rural or
village population.
• Fantastical elements commonly appear in
folk and fairy tales, but they lack the
cosmological context that characterizes
• History is usually absent in these stories;
they are typically set in an unspecified time
and place.
What is a saga?
• A saga is a tale of Scandinavian origin,
originally recounted orally but later
preserved in written prose.
• Many types of sagas exist, such as
legendary heroic sagas, comic sagas, sagas
of kings or of saints, adventure sagas,
among others.
• The most famous sagas are the Icelandic
Family Sagas, written in the 13th to 14th
century about events that typically
happened in the earlier Viking age.
Who are the Germans?
• There is no racial, cultural, regional, or
tribal characteristic that defines the
Germanic people over time except their
• Germanic languages are a family in the
Indo-European language group
characterized by:
• The Great Consonant Shift (BDG – PTK, etc.)
• Stable stress placed upon the first syllable
• Early Germanic languages were not written
down, making it difficult to trace linguistic
developments until the fourth century, C.E.
What groups are considered Germanic?
• Germanic is traditionally divided into three
different linguistic groups:
• 1. Northern Germanic (Scandinavian languages)
• 2. Eastern Germanic (Goths, Vandals and
Burgundians, all extinct groups)
• 3. Western Germanic (English, Dutch, Low and
High German and their ancestors)
• Western Germanic is actually a very diverse
group with close affiliations to both
Northern and Eastern Germanic.
When and where did Germanic tribes appear?
• The Germanic language probably split
from Indo-European around 2500 BCE.
• By around 500 BCE Germanic people were
living in their “homeland,” southern Sweden,
Denmark and northern Germany (SchleswigHolstein).
• Germanic tribes enter the historical record
when they make contact with Rome; the
Bastarnians early in the 2nd century BCE, and
the Cimbri and Teutoni in 120 BCE.
Hermann the German
• During the reign of Augustus (31 BCE to 14
CE), continual warfare in central Europe led
to the apparent subjugation of the Germanic
• Augustus envisioned a northern border of
the Empire on the North Sea or along the
Elbe river.
• In they year 6, Publius Quinctilius Varus
was appointed governor of Germania, with
the command to transform the conquered
territory into a regular Roman province, as
had been done earlier with Gaul.
Hermann the German
• In 9 CE, the Cheruscan chieftain Arminius
(Hermann) annihilated Varus and his three Roman
legions in the battle of the Teutoburg forest– near
modern day town of Kalkriese.
• Most devastating defeat of a Roman army in the
classical era.
• Rome never again attempted to colonize Germanic
territory; the Roman border remained the Rhine
river to the west and the Danube (or the Limes
defensive wall) in the south.
• German tribes had a much contact with Rome in
later years; trade along Rhine river was important.
Hermannsdenkmal in Detmold
The Hermannsdenkmal
in Detmold is a
monument in memory
of the battle in the
Teutoburger Forest in
the year 9. In 1875
Ernst von Bandel
erected the monument
on the 386 m high
Merseburg Magic Spells
• The only purely heathen texts to survive
from the middle ages in Old High German.
• Copied down in the early 10th century on
the reverse pages of a church manuscript,
probably by a monk in Fulda.
• The language dates the original works to
sometime prior to 800 C.E.
Magic Spells
An image of the original
document from the 8th – 9th
Note that the scribe did not
divide the incantation into
verse, as it is reproduced
Merseburg Spell I.
eiris sâzum idisi sâzun hera duoder
suma hapt heptidun suma heri lezidun
suma clûbôdun umbi cuoniouuidi
insprinc haptbandun invar vîgandum
Once, the women (Idisis) were sitting,
Sitting here and there,
Some came cinching fetters,
some were hindering the army,
Some were picking at shackles:
Escape from the bonds,
get away from the enemy!
Merseburg Spell II. (text stems from the early 8th century)
phol ende uuodan
uuorun zi holza
Phol and Wodan rode into the woods.
dû uuart demo balderes uolon sîn vuoz birenkit Then Balder’ foal sprained its foot.
thû biguolen sinthgunt
sunna era suister
Then Sinthgunt cast a spell, Sunna her sister,
thû biguolen frîia uolla era suister
Then Freya cast a spell, Volla her sister,
thû biguolen uuodan
Then Wodan cast a spell, as he well knew how:
sôse bênrenkî
sô hê uuola conda
sôse bluotrenkî
sôse lidirenki
Be it dislocated bone, be it diseased blood,
be it a dislocated limb:
bên zi bêna bluot zi bluoda
Bone to bone, blood to blood,
lid zi gelinden
Limb to limb, as if they were glued together!
sôse gelîmida sîn
• Both charms have similar patters; they begin with a brief description of a
mythological context, which parallels the situation of the present speaker.
The magic which worked for the gods is then invoked for the speaker of the
Tacitus’s Germania
• First detailed account of Germanic tribes
and their beliefs.
• Written in Latin by Roman politician and
historian Tacitus (55 - c.120 CE) with
probable first-hand acquaintance with
Germanic tribes.
• Tacitus considered the Germans to be the
most dangerous, and therefore the most
important of Rome’s enemies.
• Text of Germania can be found easily with
an internet search. Recommended reading.
Tacitus’s Germania
• Germanic tribes praised for their personal virtues,
loyalty, honesty, bravery, fidelity; their few vices
included drunkenness (beer) and lethargy.
• Vigorous “noble barbarian” image contrasted
strongly with his condemnation of Roman vice
and self-indulgence.
• Describes Germans as a pure race, fair-skinned,
blue-eyed, with red-blonde hair (often painted a
fiery red)!
• A peasant-warrior culture, with heroic world view,
living in small towns and farming villages.
Religion in Germania
• Original God Tuisto (from root of “two”) begat:
• Mannus (man), who begat:
• Ingaevones, Hermiones and Istavones (three
leading tribal groups?)
• Tiu (=Roman Mars, god of war–same linguistic root
as Zeus!)
• Donar (=Roman Hercules, strongest of the gods)
• Wodan (=Roman Mercury, chief god of Germans)
• Nerthus (=Isis, fertility goddess with cult following)
• Alci (twin gods, =Roman Castor and Pollux)
Religion in Germania
• Germanic gods “beyond good and evil.”
• Personal bond of mutual service, trust and loyalty.
• Strong concept of fate, determining the lives of
men and gods alike.
• No permanent temples; gods worshiped in sacred
outdoor places, groves, springs, lakes.
• Animal and human sacrifices mentioned; Germans
very superstitious, but not more so than Romans!
• Runes and lots used to tell fortunes.
Die Völkerwanderung
The Migration of Peoples
• Germanic tribes spread beyond their borders
and overrun the Roman Empire.
• Traditional date for the beginning is 375
C.E. with the appearance of the Huns from
central Asia, who pressured the Germanic
tribes from the east.
• Actually, many earlier, smaller migrations
such as Cimbri and Teutoni several
centuries earlier.
Tribes of the Völkerwanderung
Angles and Jutes, from northern Denmark to Britain
Saxons and Frisians, from north Germany to Britain
Franks, from central Germany to France
Burgundians, from south Sweden to Belgium and France
Langobards, from Sweden to central Europe to north Italy
Ostrogoths, from Gotland in Sweden, to east Europe, to Italy
Visigoths, from Sweden to central Europe, to France and Spain
Vandals, from Sweden to France and Spain on to north Africa
Suebi, from central Germany to Spain and Portugal
Thuringer, to central Germany
Allemanni, to south Germany, Switzerland
Bavarians and Marcomanni, to southeast Germany, Austria
Many other smaller tribes were absorbed into these groups or
simply vanished during these years.
A brief Gothic History I.
• Ostrogoths, Visigoths and Vandals were East
Germanic-speaking tribes from Sweden that
settled in southeastern Europe, near Bulgaria.
• Contact with Eastern Roman Empire led in 341 to
the conversion of the Visigoths to Christianity
through the missionary Ulfilas.
• He translated the bible into their Gothic language,
the first and best documented record of an early
Germanic language.
• Ulfilas was an adherent of Arianus (256-336 in
Constantinople, declared heretic at Council of
Nicaea in 325). “Aryan” = Christian sect.
A Brief Gothic History II.
• Pressure from the Huns from 375-455 CE
forced these tribes into conflict with Rome.
• 378 CE Visigoths overrun Roman army at
Adrianople, devastating defeat, beginning
of the end of Roman Empire.
• Visigoths continue west, sack Rome in 410,
on to Spain where a Visigothic kingdom
lasts until 711, when they were defeated by
Islamic (Moorish) forces from Africa.
A Brief Gothic History III.
• Ostrogoths defeated by Huns, but recover quickly
after Attila is defeated by combined RomanGermanic force at Catalaunian Fields (451) and
dies on wedding night to German girl Ildico (453).
• Scirian chieftan Odovacar deposes the last Roman
Emperor in 476 CE, end of the Roman Empire.
• Theoderic of Verona (Dietrich von Bern)
Ostrogothic chieftain, assassinates Odovacar in 489,
rules all of Italy from Ravenna until 526.
• Many legends are recorded about the exploits of
Theoderic and his dealings with the Huns and with
other Germanic tribes.
The Lay of Hildebrand
• Part of a larger cycle of heroic songs about
Theoderic of Verona.
• Fragment represents the absolute beginning of
recorded German literature.
• Written in Old High German by two monks in
monastery in Fulda around the year 810, under
Charlemagne (Frankish king).
• Hildebrand a famous “Degen” (Thane) of
• Warrior honor code, heroic tragedy
• Form of alliteration known as “Stabreim”
The language dates to
around 800 in Old High
German (probably a
Langobard dialect).
The Lay of Hildebrand
Ik gihorta dat seggen,
dat sih urhettun ænon muotin:
Hiltibrant enti Hadubrant untar heriun tuem.
sunufatarungo iro saro rihtun,
garutun se iro gudhamun, gurtun sih iro suert ana,
helidos, ubar hringa, do sie to dero hiltiu ritun.
Hiltibrant gimahalta, Heribrantes sunu, — her uuas heroro man,
ferahes frotoro — her fragen gistuont
fohem uuortum, hwer sin fater wari
fireo in folche,
"eddo hwelihhes cnuosles du sis.
ibu du mi enan sages, ik mi de odre uuet,
chind in chunincriche. chud ist mi al irmindeot."

Review of Lecture 1 - Texas Tech University