While the poem is Old English, it focuses on the Geats (a people who lived in the southern part of Sweden before being conquered by their traditional enemies, the Swedes, toward the end of the sixth century) and Danes. Assumed to be composed sometime in the eighth century A.D., it seems to accurately reflect Scandinavian society and history of the sixth century A.D.; Higlac’s raid of the Hathobards is historical fact.
The Angles, Saxons, and Jutes came to England from an area just below Denmark during the first great wave of Germanic migration in the fifth century when they were invited by Vortigen, king of the Britons, to help him repel the Picts and the Scots. Their easy victory and the fertile land they discovered led them to come in force, subjugating the Britons as they did. Once settled, they preserved the memories of their heroes using oral poetry, thereby keeping alive the ancient Germanic heroic code by which they lived.
This code included a rigid feudal system. The continuance of feuds and friendships established by fathers was expected of the next generation, although tribute was accepted as a means of concluding feuds and abolishing dishonor. The people were quite civilized and equally violent, being a warrior culture which valued courage the most and cowardice the least. Their chief was surrounded by companions who swore allegiance to him and would die in battle, rather than retreat (except to return), while the chief, in turn, was expected to perpetually prove his courage and generosity. The chief’s greatest shame was to be outdone by either one of these companions or an enemy. As a rite of passage into manhood, once having proved their valor, the young men were publicly presented with spears and shields. If no battles presented themselves at home, the chief and his companions would go abroad to seek battles.
The reverence these people had for their women is demonstrated by their monogamy, and their acceptance of as close a bond... [continues]
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