Book Series Arizona Studies in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, vol. 22

Beowulf and Lejre

John D. Niles (ed)

  • Pages: 495 p.
  • Size:175 x 255 mm
  • Illustrations:100 b/w, 48 col.
  • Language(s):English
  • Publication Year:2007

  • ISBN: 978-2-503-52734-5
  • Hardback
  • Available


On the basis of legendary analogues, specialists in the Old English poem Beowulf have long inferred that the action of the main part of that poem is situated at the village of Gammel Lejre on the island of Zealand, Denmark. Archaeological excavations undertaken from 1986 to 1988 under the direction of Tom Christensen of Roskilde Museum yielded spectacular confirmation of that inference by uncovering the remains of two great halls at Lejre dating from ca. AD 680 to 990, one built on the site of the other. At that time, this discovery had little impact upon Beowulf scholarship, in part because the chief monograph reporting on the excavations was available only in Danish. In 2004–05, however, a new round of excavations revealed that a still earlier hall had once stood elsewhere at Lejre. This hall has been dated to the mid-sixth century, very close to the time when the action of Beowulf is set. The question of the Danish origins of the Beowulf story is thus now highlighted.

The main purpose of this book is to bring these archaeological discoveries to the attention of a wider public, with analysis of their significance. The book consists of five parts:

1. A translation into English of Tom Christensen's 1991 monograph Lejre—Syn og Sagn (Lejre—Fact and Fable), together with a new chapter by Christensen on the most recent excavations.

2. A presentation of other important archaeological studies relating to Lejre, including reports on the Iron Age cremation mound named Grydehøj, which dates from ca. 630 to 660.

3. Essays by John D. Niles and Marijane Osborn evaluating the significance of these finds from the perspective of Old English scholarship, with attention to the complex legendary history of Lejre.

4. A presentation, in their original texts and in modern English translation, of the chief medieval Latin and Old Norse documents that mention Lejre as the seat of power of the early kings of Denmark.

5. Some impressions of Lejre made by antiquarians, travellers, poets, and artists who have known that place during the modern period and have described or evoked it in various ways.

Prospective purchasers within North America should contact MRTS at Arizona State University.