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Stabreim is the German term for alliteration in Germanic meter measures . The most stressed words in a verse are emphasized by the same initial sounds (initial sounds).

The term stabreim goes back to Snorri Sturluson (1178-1241), the author of the Snorra Edda (Prose Edda or Younger Edda); there occurs old north. stafr (stick, pillar, letter, sound) in the meaning "rhyme stick". The German term Stabreim is a loan translation from the Danish stavrim .

All of the old Germanic poetry used the allotted rhyme until it was replaced by the end rhyme . The allotted rhyme formed the metric basis for the meter Fornyrðislag and Dróttkvætt as well as their original form, the Germanic long line . Important works in Old English ( Beowulf ), Old Saxon ( Heliand ), Old High German ( Hildebrandslied ) and Old Norse ( Lieder- Edda ) are written in long lines rhyming with bars.

In modern everyday rhetoric , too , alliterations similar to rhythms often occur in the formation of phraseological twin formulas (e.g. frank and free, clear and clear, body and life ).

Basic structure

The alliance poetry has its origins in oral speech. The transition between prose and verse is therefore very easy for them, in contrast to today's clear separation of poem and normal speech. The alliteration starts with the stressed syllables of a sentence and lets them alliterate or "staben". Line 3 of the Hildebrand song should make this clear:

"               "                "      '
hiltibrant enti haðubrant, untar heriun tuem      Hildebrand und Hadubrand, zwischen Heeren zweien

There are four words in this sentence, the beginning of which a contemporary speaker would have emphasized (marked by "and '). Three of the four stressed syllables, also called accentuation, letters (marked by"). The consonant h carries the staff. The speaker distributes the sticks according to fixed rules at the beginning and the end of a line, which is made up of anvers, caesura and abvers. The following structure results:

hiltibrant enti haðubrant,    untar heriun tuem
<---- Anvers ----------->Zäsur<---- Abvers --->

While one or two sticks can appear in the anverse, the abverse may only have one stick, which must always fall on the first of the two stressed words of this partial verse. The second stressed word always has no sticks (in the above example “tuem”). Since the position of the staff in the Abvers is always the same, Snorri Sturluson called it in his Snorra-Edda main staff (hǫfuðstafr). He called the sticks in the Anvers (stuðlar), as there are three different ways to put them.


Origin of the alliteration

The horn of Gallehus with the oldest surviving staff rhyme.

The stylistic device of alliteration comes among others. a. also in the Celtic and (less often) in the Latin language , which is why the origin is not to be sought exclusively in Old Germanic. One explanation for the spread of alliteration in largely independent language areas could be the typical linguistic accentuation. A language that is characterized by a dynamic accent or a stem syllable accent naturally has initial rhymes. So even today in advertising language there are occasional all-in-all rhymes (e.g. “Avarice is cool”), the origins of which also do not lie in the old Germanic verse tradition.

The alliance must have been deeply rooted among the Germanic peoples 2000 years ago. In any case, the first ancient sources that testify to the Germanic custom of having relatives' names written together come from this time. Examples of this are the three Cherusci Segestes , Segimundus and Segimerus , of which Tacitus reports, among others . From the Hildebrandslied Heri fire conditions, Hildebrand and Hadubrand known and from the Nibelungenlied the brothers Gunther, Gernot and Giselher .

All staff rhymes in runic inscriptions

Runic inscriptions with allied rhymes ( rune seals ) are numerically far behind the written sources in Latin script. Hardly more than 500 lines have survived. They are of particular value for research, since only through them can one learn something about the early alliance poetry. In general, the runic inscription on the gold horn from Gallehus (Denmark around 400 AD) is the oldest evidence of a Germanic allotted rhyme. The inscription shows a long line with four elevations and three bars.

ek Hl éwagastiR H óltijaR: h órna táwido. (I HlewagastiR, Holt's son, made the horn.)

The earliest (and only) runic evidence of an alliance rhyme in the South Germanic area can be found on the belt buckle of Pforzen (6th century). However, you have to read the runes “l” and “t” in the fourth word as a tie rune “el” in order to get a complete long line with three bars:

Ái gil andi Áï lr ûn  : é lah u gasók un

The meaning of the inscription is controversial in research. See some Runologen in the name of the mythical couple Egil and Ölrún, of which one in Wieland song of lieder Edda and in the Thidrekssaga reads. However, such early evidence of rune poetry is rare. It only flourished between the 9th and 11th centuries in the form of obituary poems on rune stones . Often the rules for the construction of verses are not taken exactly in these, but this is seen as an indication of how easily the alliteration emerges from natural speech. In some of the inscriptions one can recognize meter measures that are more or less correctly executed: Stone from Rök ( Fornyrðislag ), Tunestein ( Ljóðaháttr ), Stone from Karlevi ( Dróttkvætt ).

Written sources

Since in the 8th century AD it is mainly clergy who have the time and ability to write in Latin script, a large part of the first traditional all-round rhymes is Christian. The alliteration was used in part to bring Christianity to the pagans. For example, the old Saxon Heliand is a story about Jesus Christ designed as a heroic song . Little priority was given to pagan works, and their tradition is often due to fortunate circumstances. For example, the Hildebrand song, which is important for Old High German literature , was written on the first and last page of a spiritual codex . Since there was not enough space, the song was incomplete. The verse-rhyming poetry, which comprises around 63,000 lines, is therefore distributed very differently among the Germanic languages. More has been handed down from England and Scandinavia, where the clergy were more involved in the all-round rhyme than in Germany.

language Number of lines Main measure Works
Old High German 200 Long line Hildebrandslied , Muspilli , Merseburg magic spells
Old Saxon 6000 Long line Heliand , Old Saxon Genesis
Old English 30,000 Long line Beowulf , The Battle of Maldon
Old Norse 7000 Fornyrðislag Song Edda (e.g. Völuspá , Sigrdrífumál )
Old Norse 20,000 Dróttkvætt Scale seal (e.g. Ynglingatal , Ragnarsdrápa )

The alliance has been used for many different types of text. There are religious texts of pagan faith (songs of gods, magic spells) next to those of the Christian (prayers, transcriptions of Genesis or the Sermon on the Mount, Buchepik) and the secular area was also covered extensively (heroic songs and epics, poems, grave inscriptions). The alliance can therefore not be restricted to a specific area of ​​application. It is a stylized, emphatically intensified prose speech that was used wherever one wanted to give one's words special weight.


The old German alliance poetry was the first to dissolve in the course of the 9th century. Of the four Old High German and two Old Saxon works that have ever been handed down in the all-in-all, only two (the Hildebrandslied and the Merseburger Zaubersprüche ) are based on an oral tradition. The rest are new and therefore prone to new influences. It is therefore not surprising that the end rhyme with the gospel book of Otfrid von Weißenburg prevailed in Germany and remains to this day.

But it wasn't just a shift from pagan to Christian tradition that endangered the alliance. Linguistic reasons also played a role. Thus, the retained Althochdeutsche many short stressed syllables that have been weakened in other Germanic dialects to unstressed syllables (see. Old Norse. Haukr and ahdt. Habuh ). Old High German preserved the length where other dialects shortened and thus came into conflict with the metrical requirements of the alliteration.

In Scandinavia and England, the alliance poetry lasted much longer. In England it was used by the clergy until the 11th century to retell biblical stories (Old English Buchepik). This tradition ended almost exactly with the end of Scandinavian rule in England (1066, Battle of Hastings ). The last verses that were true to the rules come from a chronicle of the year 1065. However, there were still works like Piers Plowman in the 14th century that were rhyming with the bars, even if they were no longer true to the rules.

In the 13th century, Scandinavia finally opened up to the end rhyme. It did not take long before the alliance was only used in fixed formulas or with deliberately antiquated intentions.

Og u ikke danse hos mig,
s ót and s ýgdom shall follow!

Only in Iceland did the alliance make the leap into modern times. It was associated with other Skaldic elements such as the kennings or syllable counting, with the ending rhyme and the alternating rhythm. The product was the rímur (rhymes), which lived in popular poetry into the 20th century and are disappearing today.

V orið eg að v ini kýs,
v erður nótt að degi,
þegar g lóærð g eisladís
g engur norðurvegi.

( Literally: )
Spring'm voting for friends,
it will turn night into day,
when the sun goddess gluthaarige
goes way north. ( Meant: The Sun )

( Under replica of the bar and Endreims mutatis mutandis nachgedichtet: )
Fri Uehling dial to Fri. I eand only
fr will ish night into day,
when the G öttin G lutfrisur
g eht to North in position.

Afterlife and resuscitation

Remnants of the alliteration survived especially in places where the language did not change often - i.e. in proverbs, formulas, house inscriptions or the language in legal usage. However, rather than the alliteration itself, it was the tendency towards antiquated alliteration that survived because one cannot speak of an alliteration without the inclusion in a verse. However, the alliteration that determines a stick rhyming can still be traced in many twin formulas. They can be found in every Germanic language:

language formula translation
Danish folk and fæ People and cattle (see man and mouse)
German Child and cone in the sense of: entire offspring
English friend or foe friend or foe
Icelandic hús and home House and home
Dutch house en haard House and hearth (see house and yard)
Norwegian hus og hem House and home (see house and yard)
Swedish liv och lem Life and limb (see body and life)

In the 19th century, poets and scholars rediscovered the alliance rhyme. The composer Richard Wagner uses it in his works, but out of ignorance or artistic freedom he allows alliteration to run so free that he allows double and even triple bars not only in the reverse but also in the reverse, which strongly contradicts the original verse structure.

Whoever awakens the defenseless in this way was, awakened, she became a woman!
( Valkyrie )

Also JRR Tolkien busy in his works the alliteration again. In the novel The Lord of the Rings it is the Rohirrim people whom he puts rhyming verses in their mouths.

Arise now, arise, Riders of Théoden!
Dire deeds awake, dark is it eastward.
Let horse be bridled, horn be sounded!
Forth Eorlingas!
( The Two Towers )

Sound quality

The allotted rhyme captures the most strongly stressed words in a sentence and lets the first sound of their root syllables come together. It usually hits consonants ( consonant all-in-all), whereby the consonant pairs sc / sk, sp and st are each considered as a unit. So you only stab with yourself and not with a single "s" or other combinations. Another special feature is that all vowels are written below each other ( vowel all-in-all ), as line 33 from Beowulf shows:

i sig ond u tfus, æ þelinges fær (icy and ready to run out, the noble's vehicle)

The vowel alliteration , which has little to do with normal alliteration , is often explained with a crackling sound ( glottal beat ) that precedes the spoken vowel. According to this, the vowel rhyme would also be a consonant rhyme in which the crackling sound sticks. The crackling sound is still in German and Danish today. Its earlier existence in Germanic is doubtful. The vowel allotted rhyme was often used in poetry. The combination of unequal vowels was even preferred to equal vowels. The same predilection for variation can be demonstrated for the consonant rhyme. Unequal vowels were preferred to equal vowels after the stick consonant.

All staff rhyming meters

The Germanic Langzeile

The long line is the most original of the Germanic staff rhymes and the template for all later Eddic and Skaldic meter measures. It is not known whether she herself had a template - but because of her proximity to the prose speech, it is not absolutely necessary. The long line is characterized by the following rules, already described in the basic structure:

  • a long line consists of two half lines (front and back), separated by the caesura
  • two stressed words per half line (accentuation)
  • in the verse, the first or second stressed word or both stabs together
  • The first stressed word is always stipulated in the reverse, the second never
  • the number of unstressed words in the verse and verse is arbitrary

In addition, there is a different weighting of the word classes in the distribution of the bars. Since Germanic is a pronounced nominal language, nouns (nouns, adjectives, etc.) are also emphasized more often and given preference over verbs with bars. The mostly unstressed formal words (pronouns, auxiliary verbs, conjunctions, etc.) only carry the staff in rare exceptional cases. The order of nouns → verbs → formal words results from the natural tonal relationships of the Germanic languages. The long line always adapted to the currently valid language conditions.


The Fornyrðislag is the closest of all Nordic meters to the long line. The name itself, most likely translated as "old speech", indicates that this measure is very old. It occurs almost only in the heroes and gods songs of the Edda and differs from the long line mainly in its strophic form.

Á r var a lda, þar er Ý mir bygði,
vara s andr né s ær, né s valar unnir,
j örð fannsk æ va, né u pphiminn,
g ap var g innunga, en g ras hvergi.

It was early in the days when Ymir was alive, there
was no sand or lake, nor cool waves,
there was no earth, nor sky above,
the gulf of space, and grass nowhere.
(Völuspá, 3)

The example shows the difference between sentence structure and long line structure in Fornyrðislag . In the earliest Germanic long lines, a line was usually a complete sentence (see the second Merseburg magic spell , Gallehus inscription). In the epic long-line poem (e.g. Beowulf ) the sentence usually spans two lines. In Fornyrðislag , sentences over four lines are not uncommon. Often one even goes beyond that.


Wherever in the Edda sayings and memorabilia appear, e.g. B. in Hávamál , we find the Ljóðaháttr -measure. Translated, Ljóðaháttr means roughly "stanza verse". The main difference to the long line is the strophic form, which has a long line and a full line, i.e. H. a line that sticks in itself, combined. Two or more of these pairs (long line + full line) make up a stanza.

Hj arðir þat vitu, nær þær h eim skulu
ok g anga þá af g rasi;
en ó sviðr maðr, can æ vagi
síns of m ál m aga.

Herds know when to go home
and then leave the grass;
but the unwise man never knows the
measure of his stomach.
( Hávamál , 21)

Like the Fornyrðislag , the Ljóðaháttr shows the typical Nordic reduction in the total number of syllables, which sometimes shrinks the inverses and verses down to two syllables.

Deyr f é, deyja f rændr,
deyr sj alfr it s ama,
en o rðstírr, deyr a ldregi
hveim er sér g óðan g etr.

Cattle die, relatives die,
you die too;
but reputation never dies to those who
earn good ones.
( Hávamál , 76)


The main measure of Skaldic poetry (with a share of over 80% of all 20,000 lines) is the Dróttkvætt (the "Hofton"). The construction of this meter is relatively complicated. Basically, it consists of two long rhyming lines that together form a stanza. However, the Dróttkvætt adds some strict rules or tightens those that already exist.

  • In addition to the allotted rhyme, every half-verse must contain an inner rhyme that connects the beginning and the end of the verse
  • each half verse must consist of exactly six syllables
  • In the anverse, individual bars are forbidden, both stressed words must always be used
  • the first word of the verse must always be stipulated (in the long line, unstressed words could appear before the first stick)
  • every half verse must have a trochaic closure , d. H. the verse ends with a two-syllable word whose foot of the verse is falling (—◡).

In the following example from the second stanza of Lausavísur by the skald Sigvatr Þórðarson , the alliteration rhymes are marked in bold and the inner rhymes in red.

Hl ýð m ínum brag, / m eið ir
m yrk blás, / þvít kank yrk ja,
a llt íg inn / - mátt ei g a
ei tt sk ald - / drasils tj ald a.

(Listen to my poem, distinguished destroyer of the dark black tent horse, that is, of the ship, because I can write poetry - you must have a skald.)

The slash “/” within the half-verse marks a small pause (not to be confused with the caesura separating the up and down verses), which the skalds insert so that the listener can hear the partially intertwined content. Literally translated, the stanza would sound like this:

Listen to my poem, / the genteel
dark-black one, / because I can write poetry,
destroyer / - (you) must have
a skald - / tent horse

Remaining meter measures

There are a number of other meter measures in Skaldic usage. Snorri lists different types in the Háttatal of his Prose Edda and names example stanzas. Worth mentioning are the meters : Kviðuháttr , Tøglag , Haðarlag , Runhent , Hrynhent (all Scaldic) as well as two other Eddic meters - Málaháttr and Galdralag . Some of these meters serve a specific purpose. The Kviðuháttr was probably developed for the genealogical memory poetry (e.g. for the listing of kings of a certain sex), while the Galdralag , with its repetitions, was used for spells (cf. Háttatal 101 and the second Merseburg magic spell ). The other meters are either complicated variants of Dróttkvætt ( Tøglag , Haðarlag ) or Fornyrðislag ( Málaháttr ) or approach Christian usage by including the end rhyme ( Runhent ) or special rhythm ( Hrynhent ).

See also


  • Klaus von See: Germanic verse art ; Metzler Collection M 67; Stuttgart (1967)
  • Edith Marold : Stabreim , Fornyrðislag , Ljóðaháttr , Dróttkvætt . In: Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde Vol. 6, 9, 18, 29th (2nd edition) Berlin, New York 1986-2005.
  • H.-P. Naumann: Runic poetry . In: Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde Vol. 25 (2nd edition) Berlin, New York 2003.
  • W. Hoffmann: Old German metric . 2., revised. and supplemented edition Stuttgart: Metzler 1981. (Metzler Collection, M 64).

Web links

Wiktionary: Alliteration  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Hans-Peter Naumann : Scandinavian / German. In: Werner Besch u. a. (Ed.): History of language. A manual. 4th volume, Berlin a. a. 2004, pp. 3282-3290, p. 3288.
  2. ^ Tacitus: Annales . 1, 55-59 and 71.
  3. H.-P. Naumann: Runic poetry. In: Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde. Volume 25, p. 512.
  4. ^ Wilhelm Heizmann and Astrid van Mahl (eds.): Runica - Germanica - Mediaevalia. Supplementary volumes to the Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde, Volume 37. Berlin / New York, Walter de Gruyter, 2003. S. 174 ff.
  5. ^ Tineke Looijenga: Runes around the North Sea and on the Continent AD 150-700.
  6. K. von See: Germ. Verskunst p. 1
  7. a b Translation: Arnulf Krause: Die Götterlieder der Älteren Edda , Reclam Stuttgart 2006