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Sceafa equated here with Ing as a child in the boat

Sceaf ( Old English : Scēaf), Sceafa (Scēafa) or Scef (Scēf) , according to Anglo-Saxon tradition, was a legendary king who ruled the Lombards according to the Widsith . According to the legend, one day Sceafa mysteriously appeared as a young child in an unmanned boat on the Scandinavian coast . The name also appears corrupted in the genealogies as Seskef , Stefius , Strephius or Stresaeus or Latinized Scefius . British author JRR Tolkien used a fairly modern translation of the name as King Sheave .


Name interpretation

Scēaf and Scēafa are identical to the Old English word scēaf "Garbe" and correspond to Old High German scoub "Garbe" and the German word (Korn-) Schaub.


In the old English poetry Widsith from the 6th or 7th century in the Exeter book , his name is entered in the listing of well-known kings and their territories as "Scēafa Longbeardum", so as "Sceafa (ruled) the Lombards". Longobard tradition has no king of that name. After the origo Gentis Langobardorum which Lombard from Scandinavia ( "Scan Danan"), where they originate Winniler were called, and led by the brothers also legendary Ybor and Agyo.

Lineage of Anglo-Saxon Kings

Sceaf appears as the oldest progenitor of Germanic coinage in the chronicles and registers of the English kings and is considered the son of the biblical Noah . Most royal lines of the Anglo-Saxon heptarchy name the god Woden as their common ancestor . Some family trees go back to Geat . The Historia Britonum describes Geat as the Son of God. Asser, on the other hand, reports in his life for King Alfred that the pagans themselves worshiped Geat as a god for a long time. The Old Norse name Gautr is a common nickname for Odin. The Anglo-Saxon lineage from Woden to Geat to Sceaf was included by Snorri Sturluson in the introduction to the Prose Edda and thus found its way into Nordic saga literature.

The historian Æthelweard reports on Sceaf in his Chronica :

“This Scef came in a light boat to an island of the ocean which is called Scani, arms around about him, and he was a very young boy, unknown to the dwellers in the land. But he was accepted by them and cared for like one of their own kind, and afterwards they chose him as king, from whose family descended King Æthelwulf. "

“This Scef came in a light boat to an island in the ocean called Scani, with guns all around him, and he was a young boy, completely unknown to the people of this country. However, he was received and cared for by them like one of their clan, and later they elected him their king, from whose family King Königthelwulf was descended. "

- Æthelweard : "Latin Chronicle".

William of Malmesbury wrote:

“[...] Sceaf; who, as some affirm, was driven on a certain island in Germany, called Scandza, (of which Jornandes, the historian of the Goths, speaks), a little boy in a skiff, without any attendant, asleep, with a handful of corn at his head, when he was called Sceaf; and, on account of his singular appearance, being well received by the men of that country, and carefully educated, in his riper age he reigned in a town which was called Slaswic, but at present Haithebi; which country, called old Anglia, when the Angles came into Britain, is situated between the Saxons and the Goths. "

“[...] Sceaf; who, as some claim, was driven off a certain island in Germania called Scandza (of which Jornandes , the historian of the Goths, spoke), a little boy in a boat , unaccompanied, asleep, with a handful of grain with him his head, hence the name Sceaf; and because of his unique appearance, he was welcomed and gently raised by the men of this area; in his more mature years he ruled a town called Slaswic , but now Haithebi ; This land, called Old Anglia , from where the Angles came to Britain , is located between that of the Saxons and the Goths. "

- William of Malmesbury : Gesta regum anglorum .

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles from the year 855, in versions B and C, instead report that Sceaf was born on Noah's ark and see him as a son of Noah. They carry it on to Adam and Eve , as it is in the Book of Genesis .

Sceaf is largely unknown outside of the English sources, except for a mention in Snorri Sturluson's Introduction to the Prose Edda , which is based on the English sources.

Beowulf, Scyld Scefing

The old English poem Beowulf instead connects the story of the boy in the boat with the Danish royal family and sees in him Skjöld , the legendary namesake of the royal line of the Scyldingen or the Skjöldungen . In the first lines of Beowulf “Scyld Scefing” is mentioned, which can mean either “Scyld son of Scef” or “Scyld of the sheaf”. The poem does not give the exact meaning, but in connection with the glory of Scyld's reign he describes his funeral and how his body was placed in a ship and surrounded with treasures in the following words:

"They adorned his body no less richly
than with gifts like the first ones
who sent him as a child
and gave him out to the waves alone."

No other sources report anything similar about Scyld / Skjöld, so that it cannot be said with certainty whether these are similar stories from different heroes or whether two originally separate characters were linked together. Beowulf Scylding is given as Scyld's son, but he is not identical to the protagonist of the epic. It is believed that the epic writer accidentally spelled Beow's name as Beowulf.

The Scyld / Sceaf ritual

A connection between Sceaf and Scyld (Sheaf and Shield) appears in the 13th century Abingdon Chronicles , which tells of a dispute between the Abbot of Abingdon and men from Oxfordshire over the ownership of a pasture called Beri . The dispute was resolved by a ritual in which the monks placed a sheaf (sceaf) of wheat on a round shield (scyld) and placed a burning wax candle on it. Then it was left to the waters of the Thames to see where it would drift. The sign is said to have stayed exactly in the middle of the Thames until it arrived at the controversial field, which has now formed an island due to a flood, whereupon it changed direction and circled the meadow between the Thames and the Iffley.

Variations of the Sceaf Strain Lines

Woden as the progenitor of Anglo-Saxon royal families. Libellus de primo Saxonum uel Normannorum adventu ; 12th Century.

Scyld is sometimes the son of Sceaf and then again the son of Heremod, a descendant of Sceaf. William of Malmesbury combines both variants by making Scyld a son of Sceaf and calling this in turn Heremod's son, he derives Heremod's lineage up to Strephius, son of Noah in the ark.

In his report, The Life of Alfred, Asser largely reproduces the list from the "Anglo-Saxon Chronicle". He only replaces Sceaf's name with Seth, without mentioning his birth in the ark. Some modern translations see Seth as " Sem ", a son of Noah from Genesis.

Some of the differences between the family trees are simple omissions. Another version of the parentage makes "Seskef" (as it is called in the Edda ) Noah's son.

The Beowulfepos also names Heremod and Ecgwela as earlier Danish kings who ruled before Scyld Scefing, without specifying a genealogical connection.

Sceaf and its different lineages
8th century?
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.
from the year 855
Æthelweards Latin Chronicle
11th Century
William of Malmesbury
12th century
Prose Edda.
13th Century
Noe Noe Magi
Scēf Scef Strephius Seskef
Bedwig Bedwigius Beðvig
(Ecgwela?) Hwala Gwala
Hratha Hadra Athra (Annarr)
Ītermon Stermon Ítrmann
Heremod Heremod Heremodius Hermóðr
Scyld Scēafing Sceldwa Sceldius Sceldius Skjaldun ( Skjöldr )
Bēowulf Scylding Bēaw Beowius Beowius Bjáf (Bjárr)
Tætwa Tætwa Tetius
Gēat Geat Getius Ját

It is possible that the name "Beaw", the son of Scyld, is a variant of "Beow" (barley) and that these figures have partly mixed with the shield element through the traditions of King Sheave and his son Barley. Perhaps a misleading translation of Scyld Scefing as "Scyld of Scefing" instead of "Scyld of the Sheaf" led to the story with the boat and the alleged father Scyld was transferred to Sceaf and thereby became the true king of the first dynasty. So there could be some confusion between the Danish Scyld / Skjöld and the Anglo-Saxon Sceaf. However, the scientists disagree with the possibility that Bedwig's son Sceaf is a corruption of Beaw's son Scyld. Only Scyld, Beaw and Heremod are known for sure as descendants of Sceaf.

Tolkien's reception: King Sheave

JRR Tolkien described Sceaf in his poem King Sheave , which after his death in " The Lost Road and Other Writings " and in a slightly revised form also as a prose story in "The Notion Club Papers (Part 2)" in Volume 9 of " History of Middle-earth(Sauron Defeated) .

In Tolkien's tale, a ship was washed up on the coast of a northern Lombard country. It was washed up on the beach. The people of that country entered and found a beautiful boy with dark hair. He lay there asleep, his head resting on a sheaf of corn, and next to him was a silver harp. They carried the sleeping boy to their village and guarded him in a barn. The next morning he woke up and sang a song in a foreign language that banished all horrors and fears from the hearts of those who heard it. The boy taught them how to grow wheat and how to store it. This gave them prosperity and prestige, which is why they later named him their king, and crowned him with a wreath of golden wheat. Tolkien's Sheave fathered seven sons from whom the families of the Danes, Goths, Swedes, Normans, Franks, Frisians, swordsmen (Brongdingas) , Saxons, Swabians, English and the Lombards descended. After his death, Sheave was buried in a ship laden with weapons and treasures and returned to the vastness of the sea to return to where he had come from. Tolkien describes this funeral in an essay as follows:

“[...] Treasures made of gold and gems, fine clothes and precious fabrics were put aside for him. His golden banner fluttered over his head. In this way he was richer than when he came to them, and they pushed him out to sea and the sea pulled him with it, and the ship carried him uncontrolled far to the far west, out of sight and people's thoughts. They never found out who was waiting for him, nor in which port he would arrive at the end of his voyage. […] But none of the Sheaf's children went this way, and some of them initially lived to an old age, […] then they would have been placed in great stone graves or in graves like green hills, and those Most of these were on the western sea, [...] where they could be seen by the men who steered their ships through the shadows of the sea. "

- JRR Tolkien : The Lost Road


  • JRR Tolkien: The Lost Road and Other Writings. George Allen & Unwin (HarperCollins), London 1987, ISBN 0-261-10225-7 .
  • Alexander M. Bruce: Scyld and Scef: Expanding the Analogues. Taylor & Francis, London 2002, ISBN 0-8153-3904-6 .
  • Johannes Hoops, Heinrich Beck, Dieter Geuenich, Heiko Steuer: Mandatory continuation: Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde. Volume 29. De Gruyter, Berlin 2005, ISBN 3-11-018360-9 .
  • The Exeter book riddles. (Translation and revision by Kevin Crossley-Holland). Enitharmon Press, London 2008, ISBN 978-1-904634-46-1 .
  • Eberhard Gottlieb Graff: Old high German vocabulary or dictionary of the old high German language. Nabu Press, 2010, ISBN 1-142-91041-5 .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Book of Exeter, "Widsith". Line 32.
  2. The monk Asser on the life of King Alfred. ( Memento of the original from April 15, 2012 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. on (in English). @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  3. ^ WF Bolton: Beowulf. University of Exter Press, 1988, ISBN 0-85989-321-9 . P. 37.
  4. Anglo Saxon Chronicle ( Memento of the original from April 7, 2004 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. on (English). @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  5. Jacobus Langebek: Vetustissima Regum septentrionis Series Langfethgatal dicta. Scriptores rerum Danicarum Medii. Volume I: Hafniae. 1772. pp. 1-6 and Klaeber: Klaeber's Beowulf and The Fight at Finnsburg. University of Toronto Press, Toronto 2008, ISBN 978-1-4426-8844-5 , p. 301.
  6. describes Heremod as Scylding and also his people, so that he is considered a descendant of Scyld. But that could also be an anachronistic use of the term.
  7. ^ Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Version B and C. Version A omits the names "Hwala", "Bedwig", and "Scef", probably an oversight, so that "Hrathra" is given as the son of Noah in this text.
  8. Of the three supposed Nordic counterparts, the equation with Skjöld is correct, but nothing is known about Bjárr or Annarr.
  9. JRR Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien: The Lost Road and Other Writings. (= The History of Middle-earth . Volume 5.) Harper Collins, London 1993, ISBN 0-261-10225-7 .