This week On the Reading Rest I have a small report in Danish from an excavation in Jutland. This kind of report is called a developer’s report. It is a short description of an excavation partly paid for by the developer because prehistoric remains would have been damaged by the planned construction work. In this case the archaeologists responsible for the excavation and the report have chosen among other things to present a house from the period 400 to 550 CE, that is the Early Pre Carolingian Iron Age. The site is called ‘Domdalsgård’ or ‘Dooms dale Farm’ and although this direct translation is probably not correct I shall comment upon the house calling it Doomsdale.

Illu 00

Terkildsen, Kamilla Fiedler and Boddum, Sanne 2011.Domdalsgård: gravplads fra ældre romersk jernalder, landsby fra ældre og yngre germansk jernalder (Domdalsgård: Cemetery from Early Roman Iron Age, Village from Early and Late Germanic Iron Age). Bygherrerapport nr. 61. Viborg Museum. ISBN 978-87-92778-11-6


Illu02On today’s farm the dwelling houses are small in comparison with dairy barns and manure basins because milk production at an industrious scale shapes the farm and its farmland, as well as and the agricultural firm called I/S Søndergaard that runs the estate. The relation employee:milk-cow is c. 1:75. It’s modern market-sensitive Denmark.


In the 5th century when Doomsdale was built, times were different and for the first time in centuries the byre or ‘the dairy barn’, in those days part of a main house, stated to become shorter than the dwelling quarters. This change was pointed out OtRR: 16 April, 2012, and exemplified by the St Darum village. In this regulated village the change was more marked and probably the result of a change in the agricultural economy favouring crops over cattle. The byres shrank and the dwelling quarters grew – the cattle became fewer and there were more people in the household. The number of heads would have balanced each other.

At Doomsdale which might be a somewhat earlier farm the proportions dwelling:byre are a little more balanced, but Doomsdale is still a typical EPCIA building because of its formalized planning, but also a little odd.


Usually in the PCIA the proportions between the lengths of the rooms were expressed in even numbers of feet. The central main room with the hearth was the largest room. The private quarters above the heath room were larger but divided into the gable room and the chamber. In most PCIA farms the outer room was not smaller than the chamber and frequently larger probably as a reflection of the number of farm hands in the household. In Doomsdale this is not the case although a minimal change from the proportions 8-12-17-11, 5 to 8-12-17-12 would have been a natural solution if proportions mattered as much as they usually did.

Other proportional solution such as:

A four room residence with lovely chambers and a capacious central room featuring 8-12-18-10 ft. proportions …


The classical balanced 48 ft. room solution: 8-12-16-12 ft., often favoured on better farms in Southern Jutland …

simply didn’t fit Doomsdale.

The size of the gable room is a consequence of the roof construction, but the three other rooms are there to express a social and practical balance. When we visit one of the evenly proportioned farm we understand that there are quite a number of farmhand and that the private quarters in the upper end of the house are capacious. The central room, therefore, may be a bit crowded, but that was probably just as it ought to be on a busy modern farm. Visiting Doomsdale, on the other hand, would give the impression that the farm hands were few or their living quarters crammed, the central room was large and the chambers capacious. This would have reminded one of a Late Roman Iron Age situation being an echo of the time when cattle were more important, and large farm owners larger.


In the byre part of the house there are no simple proportions other than the ones that were dependent upon the construction of the house. This is quite a modern trait compared to Southern Jutland where the post setting in this part of the house was functional, mirroring the construction of the cow’s compartments, dividing this part of the main farm house into byre and barn. At Doomsdale the post pairs were probably spread out evenly east of the entrance room in order to support the roof in a rational way. This solution probably involved measuring, but also small factions of the foot which cannot be measured on an excavation plan. The general impression of the main house would thus have been a mixture of rooms mirroring the social order of the household as well as rational and practical solutions to house construction. Compared to the RIA the byre part of the house would have lost a little of its ideologically inspired Early Iron Age design.


As mentioned, the technical construction of the building shows in the distance between the short end of the house and the nearest post pair – eight feet. In reality, however, this distance is linked to a relation between the wall plate in the corner of the house and the first roof-supporting trestle. Doomsdale was built according to a proportional system which starts with a rule of the thumb stating that if the distance from the short end to the first trestle is equal to 2 and the distance from the wall plate to the side ridge equals 1, then all the roof angles in the house will fit a thatch roof, if the height of the post in the trestle is 4, given that 2 equals the wall height. In this case the central ridge will be 5 units above the ground. Moreover, owing to the rounded corners, and supported by the first trestle and the side ridges, the rafters from the short end will meet with the rafters from the side roofs in one and the same point at the central top ridge. This will not happen if the wall height isn’t equal to the distance from the short end to the first trestle. Consequently, wall height at Doomsdale equals 8 feet, i.e. 2×4 feet. The total height of the house was thus 4×5 = 20 feet, i.e. 0.312×20 = 6.24 meter.

In the ever more open Early Iron Age landscape finding the necessary timber in order to build a house gets more and more difficult and there is thus a great point in being able beforehand to figure out the dimensions needed to build the house. In tandem it becomes all the more important to build large main houses as a symbol of the status of the owner. Social competition is in other words important and little by little architecture turns away from the functionalism of the Pre Roman Iron Age to the formality and rational technique of the Early Pre Carolingian Iron Age. There is a short revival of the functional ideal in the beginning of the Late Carolingian Iron Age, but Harold Bluetooth, who else, sees to it that formalism gets back in business (cf. OtRR 11 August, 2014).

This week On the Reading Rest I have a print-out of an article from the open access journal, JAAH

framsidaFischer, Svante & Lind, Lennart 2015. The Coins in the Grave of King Childeric. Journal of Archaeology and Ancient History 14. Pp. 1-36.

Fulltext:   Acronym: FiLi

In the end of the 1990s it was proposed that the time depth and distribution of coins in a hoard could be compared with that of the names of Kings used in a chronological series to give historical i.e. time depth to a certain context. The series consists of a few old and famous kings and many partly unknown younger ones. The example given was the first series of kings in the poem Widsith, which includes several of the kings mentioned in poetic texts – that is the Finnsburh Fragment and a section in Beowulf – about the hall called Finnsburg. The chronological distribution of coins in hoards could be read as kings’ names and linked to events in the past in similar way as name series. Ten years later is was suggested that a series of weapon could be viewed in the same perspective. When the small hall in Uppåkra, Scania (0) was smashed in the beginning of the 6th century it would seem that a series of weapons were deposited in a waterlogged depression just north of the house. In a traditional weapon offering after a victory this kind the weapons date the battles – each battle forming a chronological peak among the offered military equipment. At Uppåkra nevertheless, the series resembled a long chronological period with a few very old and several younger weapons. Since halls are known to have contained weapons it was thus conceivable that the weapons in the Uppåkra depression were the offered spoils taken from the walls of the hall when it was conquered and smashed.

The idea is simple enough: by collecting a series of objects or names one can create a network that will sustain a historical narrative. The point being that this was done consciously in the middle of the first century CE. Ideas may be interesting, but do the lend themselves to be proved? This is where FiLi comes in.

Ch's signetKing Childeric’s grave is a signed installation excavated in the 17th century and immediately understood to be Childeric’s grave because of the signet ring probably found on the finger of the buried person: childerici regis it says referring to what of his he signed with this the king’s ring while alive. The grave installation was soon understood to contain a message respecting the new Byzantine Empire created 476 CE when West Rome disappear. But as FiLi points out the installation is actually ‘signed’ by Childeric’s son Clovis, who used his right as a descendant to design the funeral and burial.

During later years earlier interpretations stressing the devout attitude of dependency to the new Byzantine Empire, thought to be symbolized by the Byzantine artefacts on display in the grave, have been questioned and now FiLi sets out to reinterpret the most outstanding objects in the grave: the two hoards (1) the 100 gold coins, 5th c. solidi, of which 89 were described and 12 depicted in the 1655 publication and (2) the 200 silver coins of which four were illustrated. It is FiLi’s combined and numismatic knowledge and overview of the period in question, the late 5th century that allows them incorporate the hoards into a much more rewarding reading of the burial context – the hoards being the most complex messages in the installation.

I’ll concentrate on the gold coins. FiLi shows that originally the coins were collected in the West Roman Empire foremost Italy during the chaotic decades leading up to the fall of Rome 476 CE and Childeric’s death 481/82. Contrary to what one might have expected this didn’t mean that the coins in the hoard were a mirror of the coins that circulated in the West during those years. On the contrary someone (read Clovis) have sorted out the coins that mirror the coinage of the last emperors in the West and opponents of the East Roman emperors. What the gold hoard signals is thus not just King Childeric’s and Clovis’ dependency of Byzantium, but all the more actively a wish to distance themselves from the former West and its last more or less dubious emperors. Clovis wanted to emphasize that the Franks had created the new West. To many, the message of the coins may have been obscure, but as FiLi argues not only Clovis could read the coins, many of the funeral guests would have been familiar with the coin legends.

en tabell

FiLi’s analysis discloses a sophisticated insight into the mind of Clovis adding a material statement to oral eulogy in what was probably a masterly directed lit de parade and funeral. Moreover, the statement delivered by the hoard is a historical statement summarizing the outcome of a number of turbulent and decisive decades in European history.

Since On the Reading Rest is free to develop analysis a little further, interpreting context in a textual way, it seem possible to add an interpretation to the gold hoard developing its perspective on the past. This interpretation falls within the frames established by FiLi.


One way of looking at the hoard is to consider of a mirror of Childeric’s life dividing it into phases such as before he became king 457 CE (a period of c. 20 yrs); between that date and the fall of Rome or Childeric’s alliance with Odovacer, i.e. 476 (a period of 19 yrs), and the rest of his life until 481, a period of 5 yrs).

If we divide the coins into these three periods the 89 coins are distributed 12 – 64 – 15, but since they amount to no more than 89% of the coins, the expected numbers are 13,48 – 71,91 – 16,85 respectively. Since 11 coins are missing it is likely that the original composition was (12+0) = 12 – (64+6) = 70 – (15+3) = 18.


The years covered by the periods are c. 20, 19 and 5 years respectively.

The periods covered by the coinage according to legends and types are 431-5 to 456 CE ; 457 to 476 CE and 474/5 to 491 CE.

The start of the last period is a result of the Emperor Zeno’s troubles in the beginning of his reign. That period is mirrored in the sample because it was a Constantinopolitan problem. After 476 CE we may confidently see him as a powerful ruler who died 491 CE. In practice therefore, the emperor who would have been told about the burial was Zeno. What Clovis describes is Childeric’s life in terms of gold coin success as a sign of general success as seen in the above success rate.

This is obviously not bad on the contrary it is a growing success and Clovis saw the life of his father as a period of success irrespective of whether the West Roman Empire existed or not. Since he is depicted as the King of the West and loyal to Byzantium, Childeric did better when he came into power and always well.

It was a success when Childeric became king, and the fall of Rome caused him no trouble.

In addition to the coins as measures of success the collection is also one of names and as FiLi has shown this is its most obvious expression of intent. This should worry the Southeast Scandinavians because some of their most historical coins from this period, collected by themselves in Italy, were issued by the very emperors excluded by Clovis. Everybody may not have been happy with what they when they examined the coins — or rather when they saw what was lacking. The importance of warfare, nevertheless, wasn’t doubted and among his contemporaries, the Gallo-Roman rulers in the domain of Soissons were probably among those who noticed the peculiar lack of western coins in the funeral hoard although these rulers were not defeated by Clovis until 486.

Honouring his father, Clovis sets a new agenda and he doesn’t keep his father’s signet ring as a sentimental object of veneration. Probably he would have explained he decision not to keep it with reference to his father needing in the next world, in which by his funeral definition he seems no more than his son’s father.


(0) On Uppåkra in general, see for instance:

This week On the Reading Rest I have one of the less rewarding poetic compositions among the Eddic texts. Usually it is known as Helgakviða Hjǫrvarðssonar—The lay of Helgi son of Hjorvarth. In codex Regius, the only manuscript in which the text exists, it is called Fra hiorvarþe oc sigrlin—On Hjorvard and Sigrlinn and that is a level 2 caption, which designates a primary section within the first or the second part of the manuscript (1).


Since King Hjorvard wants a fourth wife and one more beautiful than the three beautiful ones he already has he sends Atli, the son of his Earl Idmund, together with some men to King Svavner to ask for his King’s daughter Sigrlinn’s hand in marriage. Hjorvard has heard that she is the most beautiful. Of course he wants a son too. He already has three, one with each wife, so why not a fourth. Hjorvard sends out his suitor, as we would expect him to do.

In Svavaland the neighbouring King Svavner’s realm the Earl, Franmar, is also the foster father of the King’s daughter and Franmar advices against the marriage – case closed!


We get the impression that Hjorvard collects beautiful young women and that power in King Svavner’s kingdom is divided in order to curb the king.

One day, before he returns, Atli is standing in a groove listening to a gossiping bird. He strikes up a conversation with the bird, who obviously has information to sell, but while negotiating an agreement the bird gives away the essence of its secrets. Atli understands that Sigrlinn’s consent is in fact not the problem.

Returning to Hjorvard’s court, Atli doesn’t mention his bird talks. Instead he explains his lack of success with reference to the difficult journey over the liminal elements of the world – high mountains and a river separating the kingdoms. Probably Atli and his men didn’t look too good when they arrived at Svavner’s, but their difficulties are just the ones a suitor meets when he sets out to woo on behalf of his master within the model of the Holy Wedding. In this case the differences between the kingdoms could not be overcome.

King Hjorvard suggests that they try again and this time he will join them.

The common reader and indeed King Svavner, not to mention Franmer, will tend to find it odd and threatening that King Hjorvard takes such an undiplomatic step, given that any king could be expected to use force to get hold of Sigrlinn.

Not surprisingly therefore, when the wooing party reaches the top of the mountains and looks down on Svavaland, they see a country plagued by war. It would seem that a certain King Rodmar has killed Svavner and ravaged and burnt the country because he couldn’t have Sigrlinn.

Well in Svavaland in their first camp, Atli, despite being on guard, crosses a river in the middle of the night and hits upon a house guarded by a bird that has fallen asleep. He snipes the bird with his spear, enters and finds Sigrlinn and Alov – what a coincidence! Since this calls for an explanation we are told that because of Rodmar and his warriors, Earl Framnar who had to save his two daughters brought them to this safe house defending them with magic while dressed in his eagle guise. With no father, foster-father to trouble them Hjorvard takes Sigrlinn and Atli puts up with Alov. Since all readers of Eddic texts are supposed to be as conventional as a Wagnerian opera audience with double standards we know that Atle’s raid leaving his duty is wrong, but also model WW1 behaviour: leave your own lines, cross no-man’s-land, snipe a guard, take two prisoners and bring them back.

This concludes the first section of the texts related to Helgi Hjörvardsson. The strophes quoted so far relate to Atli, his bird talking capacity, audacity and cunning behaviour – taking risks and being successful.

As expected Hjorvard and Sigrlinn produces a son, big, beautiful and taciturn. None of the names given to him fasten on him. Then in the stage direction way dialogues are most often introduced in Eddic texts we are told: He sat on a hill. He saw nine Valkyries riding and one was the noblest. She said:

In the small dialogue that follows this Valkyrie calls the boy Helgi. She tells him where he can find a good sword and since the reader hasn’t yet been told in the strophes, this section ends in prose announcing that the helpful Valkyrie is called Sváva, her father being King Eylime.

After this rite of passage when the taciturn teenager becomes a man and adopted by the young Valkyrie, he pulls himself together and criticizes his father for not having stopped Rodmar when Svavaland was wasted. Hjorvard, who seems to be a cunning coward, immediately gives Helgi enough men to revenge his grandfather Svavner. Whatever the outcome when Helgi turns Beowulfian, travelling the country solving problems by killing things, Hjorvard will benefit. Helgi collects the sword, sets out together with Atli, who else, and slays Rodmar. This is the beginning of his great deeds.

So far the persons responsible for making Helgi a man have been presented. The strophes have been no more than interesting quotes of direct speech from epic narratives. The prose on the other hand has created a framework for the poetic fragments.

The next section consists of 19 strophes, a dialogue interrupted by prose, between the evil giantess Hrimgerd, loyal old Atli and capable young Helgi. Touring Norwegian fjords doing their deeds Atli and Helgi have killed the giant Hata a horrible and habitual bride abductor. Afterwards in the night when Helgi, Atli and his men are on board their ship, and Atli keeps watch while the others are sleeping, Hata’s daughter Hrimgerd tries to lure Atli ashore. This time he wisely stays on board and together with Helgi they quarrel with Hrimgerd until it dawns and she, being a troll, is petrified.

In the standard carrier of a mythological king Helgi has reached the point where he has shown good strategic sense on top of bravery, righteousness, good looks and a taciturn childhood. Consequently, Helgi is ready to become a king.

It is obvious that Helgi and Atli, Sváva and Hrimgerd as well as Hjorvard and Hata constitute complementary pairs. The two kings, man and giant, are obviously mostly interested in beautiful young women and of the two young but violent women Sváva is the righteous one while Hrimgerd is the over sexualized monster. The male pair – the old retainer and the young prince – is not unheard of either. There’s a touch of Falstaff and Prince Hal when Atli and Helgi wrangle with Hrimgerd. However, in the process of making Helgi a king, Atli develops from the daring young man who leaves his night watch to the loyal old retainer who doesn’t.

Significantly, Helgi, who must have an H-name like his half-brothers and their father, is called just that: Helgi – the holy one (he who is dedicated to the gods) by Sváva who is the equivalent of a God sent angel. His father the powerful Hjorvard—the sword guardian, moreover, is not as good as Hegli.

The long 19 strophe-dialogue in which Helgi gets the last word, calls for minor epic continuation or why not just another break and a new prose section jumping to the next predictable stop in Helgi’s life.

So, when Helgi passes by King Eylime’ court he asks to marry Sváva and since they love each other they are betrothed. He continues to fight and she doesn’t stop being a Valkyrie. Everything seems prosperous! But then Hedin, Helgi’s half-brother, meets a witch riding on a wolf on Yule-eve. She bauð fylgð sína Heðni—offered Hedin her help, but Hedin just cries out ‘No!’ stupidly giving the witch a reason to get annoyed and curse him. Yule-eve rituals eating pork and sharing a mead cup includes a serious New Year’s resolution, Consequently, Hedin being cursed and bent by magic, vows that he shall gain Sváva for himself. Having sworn, Hedin is devastated by his pledge and seeks out Helgi who is campaigning in the southern part of the country. And we the readers are in for another fragment of a dialogue, five strophes, between Hedin and Helgi.

Super-neurotic Hedin is heartbroken, but Helgi tells him not to bother and explains that since he has a duel coming up they might as well wait and see – fate being fate. And then, clairvoyantly, Helgi tells Hedin exactly what happened on Yule-eve when Hedin met the witch. Since clairvoyant kings are usually more carefully introduced, as in the Finnsburg fragment, this strophe calls for an explanation. In this text explanation is matter of prose and the author goes on to tell us what we expect: In the duel Hegli is lethally wounded by Alf the son of King Rodmar.

The duel took place at Sigarsvoll and Helgi sends Sigar off to fetch Sváva. She comes, Helgi dies and dying he expresses his opinion that Sváva should love Hedin, but Sváva doesn’t think so Hedin being jöfur ókunnan—an unknown prince. Being what he is the ever-vowing Hedin who is present cries out: ‘kiss me Sváva’ before he promises not to return until he has revenged Helgi, the best lord etc. Notably in this scene Sváva is not present to begin with although as a Valkyrie she is supposed to look after her Helgi. On wonders whether her active years were over.

Finally in plain prose we are told that Helgi ok Sváva er sagt at væri endrborin—it is said that Helgi and Sváva were born again. Many poems end in some sort of poetic vein but why elaborate in a text that just wants it readers to know so that they don’t forget.


If ever there was a cut-and-paste author ridden by topoi (cf. On the Reading Rest, Devotional Formula 19 August, 2013) it is the compiler of the Eddic text we call helgakviða hjörvarðssonar. At least two metrically different poems have been cut up and patched together.

Everything is chucked in, the cunning king, the suitor in an echo of the Hieros Gamos myth, the perfect retainer, the bipolar loser-brother, the vicarious parricide on Hata, trolls – wolf-riding as well as petrified, madonna and whore (the filth is in strophes 19-22), the clairvoyant king, curse, vow, fate and the objectified female beauty Sigrlinn. We are not even spared an offer death and resurrection reminding us of Christ’s. There is no Christ, no Easter, no supper, no wine, no Judas, no crucifixion, and no Mary Magdalene. But there is a twist: Sváva, duel, Hedin, beer, pork, Yule and prophetic Helgi.

That Helgi and Sváva are born again is more or less the whole point. The love-driven resurrection story might come in handy if we intend to compose something on the cause and effect of Fimbulwinter and Ragnarök (cf. On the Reading Rest, Codex Regius is a Synopsis, 9 March, 2015).

And would you know! Everything started with Hjorvard – topos: old king with dubious habits, sending off Atli – topos: young man who speaks with birds, to woo – topos: standard upper-class procedure.

It seems that all this happened in Western Norway and in a larger historical perspective this is not a bad setting. Not because the events in the patchwork took place in Norway, they didn’t inasmuch as everything happened in a study defined by its narratives. Fictional Western Norway is suitable a setting because we can imagine that in it intellectuals understood that outside their study they witnessed the interaction between, and the practical transition from a folk-religious society accepting a an autonomous reality demonstrated as fate to a society accompanied by a universal religion, which in principle didn’t accept fate and its consequence an autonomous reality.




(1) On the captions and the structure of Codex Regius see:
Lindblad, G., 1954. Studier i Codex Regius av Äldre Eddan i-m. [Lundastudier i nordisk språkhistoria 10.] Lund.
Or more specifically on captions:
Herschend, F. 2002. Codex Regius 2365, 4to – Purposeful Collection and Conscious Composition. Arkiv för nordisk filologi. Vol 117:121-143.