Germanic Heroic Age
The Germanic Heroic Age, so called in analogy to the Heroic Age of Greek mythology
Greek mythology
Greek mythology is the body of myths and legends belonging to the ancient Greeks, concerning their gods and heroes, the nature of the world, and the origins and significance of their own cult and ritual practices. They were a part of religion in ancient Greece...

, is the period of early historic or quasi-historic events reflected in Germanic heroic poetry
Germanic hero
A Germanic hero is the protagonist of certain works of early medieval literature mostly in Germanic languages. This hero is always a warrior, concerned both with his reputation and fame, and with his political responsibilities. The way in which he "copes with the blows of fate" is extremely important...



The period corresponds to the Germanic Wars
Germanic Wars
The Germanic Wars is a name given to a series of wars between the Romans and various Germanic tribes between 113 BCE and 439 CE. The nature of these wars varied through time between Roman conquest, Germanic uprisings and later Germanic invasions in the Roman Empire that started in the late 2nd...

 in terms of historiography, and to the Germanic Iron Age
Germanic Iron Age
The Germanic Iron Age is the name given to the period 400–800 in Northern Europe and it is part of the continental Age of Migrations.-Germanic Iron :...

 in terms of archaeology, spanning the early centuries of the Common Era, in particular the 4th and 5th centuries, the period of the final collapse of the Western Roman Empire
Western Roman Empire
The Western Roman Empire was the western half of the Roman Empire after its division by Diocletian in 285; the other half of the Roman Empire was the Eastern Roman Empire, commonly referred to today as the Byzantine Empire....

 and the establishment of stable "barbarian kingdoms" larger than at the tribal level (the kingdoms of the Visigoths
Visigothic Kingdom
The Visigothic Kingdom was a kingdom which occupied southwestern France and the Iberian Peninsula from the 5th to 8th century AD. One of the Germanic successor states to the Western Roman Empire, it was originally created by the settlement of the Visigoths under King Wallia in the province of...

, the Franks and the Burgundians, and the Anglo-Saxon invasion of Britain). The Germanic peoples
Germanic peoples
The Germanic peoples are an Indo-European ethno-linguistic group of Northern European origin, identified by their use of the Indo-European Germanic languages which diversified out of Proto-Germanic during the Pre-Roman Iron Age.Originating about 1800 BCE from the Corded Ware Culture on the North...

 at the time lived mostly in pagan
Germanic paganism
Germanic paganism refers to the theology and religious practices of the Germanic peoples of north-western Europe from the Iron Age until their Christianization during the Medieval period...

 tribal societies.

William Paton Ker
William Paton Ker
William Paton Ker was a Scottish literary scholar and essayist.-Life:He was born in Glasgow in 1855. He studied at Glasgow Academy, the University of Glasgow and Balliol College, Oxford....

 in Epic and Romance (1897) takes the "heroic age" as predating the "age of chivalry
Chivalry is a term related to the medieval institution of knighthood which has an aristocratic military origin of individual training and service to others. Chivalry was also the term used to refer to a group of mounted men-at-arms as well as to martial valour...

" with its new literary genre of Romance
Romance (genre)
As a literary genre of high culture, romance or chivalric romance is a style of heroic prose and verse narrative that was popular in the aristocratic circles of High Medieval and Early Modern Europe. They were fantastic stories about marvel-filled adventures, often of a knight errant portrayed as...

. Ker would thus extend the Germanic heroic age to the point of Christianization, to the inclusion of the Scandinavian Viking Age
Viking Age
Viking Age is the term for the period in European history, especially Northern European and Scandinavian history, spanning the late 8th to 11th centuries. Scandinavian Vikings explored Europe by its oceans and rivers through trade and warfare. The Vikings also reached Iceland, Greenland,...

 and culminating in the Icelandic family sagas of the 13th century.
Indeed Christianization resulted in the loss of the tradition of heroic poetry, although there are examples of heroic poems that postdate Christianization by several centuries, such as The Battle of Maldon
The Battle of Maldon
The Battle of Maldon is the name given to an Old English poem of uncertain date celebrating the real Battle of Maldon of 991, at which the Anglo-Saxons failed to prevent a Viking invasion...

, composed three centuries after the Christianization of the Anglo-Saxons,or the Hildebrandslied, written at Fulda
Fulda monastery
The monastery of Fulda was a Benedictine abbey in Fulda, in the present-day German state of Hesse. It was founded in 12 March, 744 by Saint Sturm, a disciple of Saint Boniface, and became an eminent center of learning with a renowned scriptorium, and the predecessor of the Fulda...

 300 years after the Christianization of the Franks
The Franks were a confederation of Germanic tribes first attested in the third century AD as living north and east of the Lower Rhine River. From the third to fifth centuries some Franks raided Roman territory while other Franks joined the Roman troops in Gaul. Only the Salian Franks formed a...

. The Prose Edda
Prose Edda
The Prose Edda, also known as the Younger Edda, Snorri's Edda or simply Edda, is an Icelandic collection of four sections interspersed with excerpts from earlier skaldic and Eddic poetry containing tales from Nordic mythology...

 itself originated as a handbook for skald
The skald was a member of a group of poets, whose courtly poetry is associated with the courts of Scandinavian and Icelandic leaders during the Viking Age, who composed and performed renditions of aspects of what we now characterise as Old Norse poetry .The most prevalent metre of skaldic poetry is...

ic poets, compiled by Snorri Sturluson
Snorri Sturluson
Snorri Sturluson was an Icelandic historian, poet, and politician. He was twice elected lawspeaker at the Icelandic parliament, the Althing...

 more than 200 years after the Christianization of Iceland
Christianization of Iceland
Iceland converted to the Christian religion in 1000 AD. In Icelandic, this event is known as the kristnitaka .- Earliest observance :...

, because poetic tradition at that time was threatened by extinction.


Germanic mythology
Germanic mythology
Germanic mythology is a comprehensive term for myths associated with historical Germanic paganism, including Norse mythology, Anglo-Saxon mythology, Continental Germanic mythology, and other versions of the mythologies of the Germanic peoples...

 combines purely mythological material with historical events of this period.

Identifiable historical characters appearing in Germanic heroic poetry, notably in the Völsung
Volsung Cycle
The Völsung Cycle is a series of legends in Norse mythology that were first recorded in medieval Iceland. The original Icelandic tales were greatly expanded with native Scandinavian folklore, including that of Helgi Hundingsbane, which, in turn, originally appears to have been a separate tradition...

 and Tyrfing
Tyrfing Cycle
The Tyrfing Cycle is a collection of Norse legends, unified by the shared element of the magic sword Tyrfing. Two of the legends are found in the Poetic Edda, and the Hervarar saga can be seen as a compilation of these legends.-The forging and the curse:...

 cycles, include:
  • Gundaharius, king of the Burgundians, as Gunnar
    Gunnar is a male first name of Nordic origin The name Gunnar means fighter, soldier and attacker . Gunder is a Danish variant, Günther is the modern German variant...

    Gunther is the German name of a semi-legendary king of Burgundy of the early 5th century...

  • Theodoric the Great
    Theodoric the Great
    Theodoric the Great was king of the Ostrogoths , ruler of Italy , regent of the Visigoths , and a viceroy of the Eastern Roman Empire...

     (454–526) in the Þiðrekssaga as well as in Middle High German
    Middle High German
    Middle High German , abbreviated MHG , is the term used for the period in the history of the German language between 1050 and 1350. It is preceded by Old High German and followed by Early New High German...

  • Attila (406–453) in the Atlakviða
    Atlakviða is one of the heroic poems of the Poetic Edda. One of the main characters is Atli who originates from Attila the Hun. It is one of the most archaic Eddic poems. It is preserved in the Codex Regius and the same story is related in the Völsunga saga...

  • the Roman Emperor
    Roman Emperor
    The Roman emperor was the ruler of the Roman State during the imperial period . The Romans had no single term for the office although at any given time, a given title was associated with the emperor...

    s as Kjárr
    Kjárr, or Kíarr, is a figure of Norse mythology that is believed to be the reflection of the Roman Emperors. In Old Norse sources, he appears as a king of the Valir who were the people of Valland ....

A number of tribal kings of the 5th to 6th centuries reflected in heroic poetry are likely historical, but only rarely can this be established from independent historiographic tradition, as in the case of Hygelac
Hygelac was a king of the Geats according to the poem Beowulf. He was the son of Hrethel and had brothers Herebeald and Hæthcyn. His sister was married to Ecgtheow and had the son Beowulf. Hygelac was married to Hygd and they had the son Heardred, and an unnamed daughter who married Eofor...

, king of the Geats
King of the Geats
Geatish kings , ruling over the provinces of Götaland , appears in several sources for early Swedish history...

 who appears both in the heroic poem Beowulf
Beowulf , but modern scholars agree in naming it after the hero whose life is its subject." of an Old English heroic epic poem consisting of 3182 alliterative long lines, set in Scandinavia, commonly cited as one of the most important works of Anglo-Saxon literature.It survives in a single...

and in historiographic sources such as the Liber Historiae Francorum
Liber Historiae Francorum
Liber historiae Francorum is a book that briefly starts as secondary source for early Franks in the time of Marcomer, and it gives a short breviarum of events until the time of the late Merovingians, where it becomes an important primary source of the contemporaneous history...


See also

  • Germanic poetry
  • Heroic poetry
  • Heldenbuch
    Heldenbücher is the conventional title under which a group of manuscripts and prints of the 15th and 16th centuries has come down to us...

  • Migration period
    Migration Period
    The Migration Period, also called the Barbarian Invasions , was a period of intensified human migration in Europe that occurred from c. 400 to 800 CE. This period marked the transition from Late Antiquity to the Early Middle Ages...

  • The Battle of the Goths and Huns
  • Widsith
    Widsith is an Old English poem of 144 lines that appears to date from the 9th century, drawing on earlier oral traditions of Anglo-Saxon tale singing. The only text of the fragment is copied in the Exeter Book, a manuscript of Old English poetry compiled in the late 10th century containing...

  • Christianization of the Germanic peoples
  • Mythical kings of Sweden
    Mythical kings of Sweden
    In sources such as Heimskringla and Ynglinga saga there appear early Swedish kings who belong in the domain of mythology.From about the 6th century, these kings are gradually succeeded by Swedish semi-legendary kings with at least partial claim to historicity....

  • Legendary Danish kings
    Legendary Danish kings
    The legendary kings of Denmark are the predecessors of Gorm the Old, half history and half legend. The accounts of the Danish kings are confusing and contradictory, and so this presentation tries to separate the various sources from each other...

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