Saxo Grammaticus

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Imaginative portrayal of Saxo Grammaticus, Louis Moe (1857–1945), 1898
Saxo's original manuscript with personal additions Danish Royal Library , Copenhagen

Saxo Grammaticus (* around 1160 ; † after 1208 ) was a Danish historian and clergyman. Because of his polished, correct Latin , which was no longer common in the High Middle Ages , Saxo was nicknamed "Grammaticus".

Saxo came from an upper-class family and studied in northern France. He entered the service of Bishop Absalon von Lund and accompanied him as a clerk on the Danish war journeys. From 1185 onwards, at the instigation of Bishop Absalon, Saxo wrote the Gesta Danorum , a 16-volume history of Denmark in Latin. He could use the library of the Archdiocese of Lund .

Gesta Danorum

The Gesta Danorum (“The Deeds of the Danes”), also known as Historia Danica (“Danish History”), is the most important Danish historical work of the Middle Ages and at the same time a means of national identification. The work has been completely preserved in a single print (Paris 1514). There are also eight pages with handwritten additions from Saxo's original manuscript. The historian Anders Sørensen Vedel wrote the first translation into Danish in 1575 .

The Gesta Danorum consist of 16 books. The first eight books are devoted to the pagan and largely legendary prehistory, while the last eight books deal with the Christian period. The representation is linked by the Danish kings. Saxo names a legendary King Dan as the first king. The depiction ends with the year 1185 and the submission of the Wende prince Bogislaw under Canute VI.

For a long time, older research assumed that at least in the first nine books of his work, Saxo mainly resorted to myths from the Norse heroic sagas and heroic songs: Deities occur repeatedly, especially Odin , so that the Gesta Danorum primarily serves as a supplement the Edda were seen. In recent times, however, there has been an increasing tendency to believe that Saxo reproduces actual history from the third book at the latest, although not always in a sub-tendency and not without "explaining" incomprehensible developments through the intervention of the gods.

William Shakespeare drew from the saga of Amletus reported in the Gesta Danorum when he conceived the tragedy Hamlet , possibly without knowing it, because he was familiar with the material from previous plays by Thomas Kyd and François de Belleforest . In fact, the material was not unknown at the time, so Shakespeare may also have known a copy of the Gesta Danorum . The Gesta Danorum also contain an early form of the saga of the apple shot , which flowed into the saga of Wilhelm Tell and later in its design by Friedrich Schiller .

Work editions

  • Gesta Danorum. Danmark histories. Saxo Grammaticus. 2 volumes, ed. by Karsten Friis-Jensen, arr. by Peter Zeeberg, Copenhagen 2005. ISBN 978-87-12-04025-5 .
  • Gesta Danorum. Myths and legends of the famous medieval historian Saxo Grammaticus , ed. by Hans-Jürgen Hube, Wiesbaden 2004, 3rd edition 2013. ISBN 3-937715-41-X .
  • La Geste des Danois (livres I-IX) , trans. by J.-P. Troadec, Paris 1995.


  • Karsten Friis-Jensen: Saxo Grammaticus , in: Hoops Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde, Volume 26, pp. 549–554.
  • Niels Henrik Holmqvist-Larsen: Saxo Grammaticus in Danish historical writing and literature , in: Brian Patrick McGuire (Ed.): The Birth of Identities. Denmark and Europe in the Middle Ages, Copenhagen 1996, pp. 161-188.
  • Otto Holzapfel : Lexicon of Occidental Mythology. Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau, Berlin, Vienna 1993, ISBN 3-451-22487-9 , p. 373.
  • Anders Leegard Knudsen: The use of Saxo Grammaticus in the later Middle Ages , in: Brian Patrick McGuire (Ed.): The Birth of Identities. Denmark and Europe in the Middle Ages, Copenhagen 1996, pp. 147-160.
  • Lars Buje Mortensen: Saxo. (100 danmarkshistorier), Århus 2018.
  • Thomas Riis: Introduction to the Gesta Danorum of the Saxo Grammaticus. (University of Southern Denmark studies in history and social sciences, Vol. 276), Odense 2006.
  • Birgit Sawyer: Saxo Grammaticus and Gesta Danorum , in: Anton Scharer / Georg Scheibelreiter (eds.): Historiography in the early Middle Ages, (publications of the Institute for Austrian Historical Research, Vol. 32), Vienna 1994, pp. 531-538.
  • Christine Stöllinger-Löser: Saxo Grammaticus , in: The German literature of the Middle Ages. Author's Lexicon, Volume 11, Col. 1370–1371.
  • Ruprecht Volz: Saxo Grammaticus († approx. 1220) . In: Lexicon of the Middle Ages (LexMA). Volume 7, LexMA-Verlag, Munich 1995, ISBN 3-7608-8907-7 , Sp. 1422 f.

Web links

Wikisource: Saxo Grammaticus  - Sources and full texts