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Beowulf Chronology

The following chronology of events is based primarily on the work of Klaeber ("Beowulf & the Fight at Finnsburg," III. Historical Elements), who in turn relied upon the work of Heusler. Additional use was made of studies done by George Clark and Marijane Osborn. These were taken as the basis of a further scrutiny of the poem by the author, who made extensive use of secondary source documents, along with much inferrence and extrapolation, to develop the sequence of events. All dating must be taken as highly conjectural, and only relatively accurate, as the single piece of datablehistorical evidence comes from the sketchy reference to Hygelac's raid on Frisia, as given by Gregory of Tours in his "Historia Francorum", and this can only be confined reliably to a period roughly between 515-525 C.E., with 521 generally accepted as the best guess.

* * *

COLOR KEY:

DATE

3rd Century
c.350
c.370
c.373
c.374
c.375
 
c.390
 


c.400
c.420
c.425
c.443
 
c.444
445
 
c.449
449
450
c.469
470
 
472
473
c.475
475
 

c.477
 
c.478
 
478
480
481
490
493
c.494
 
c.495
 
 
 
495
498
 
 
c.499
499
 
 
 
 
 
c.500
 
 
500
501
c.502
 
502
 
503
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
c.505
505
c.509
c.510
510
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
511
 
 
c.512
 
514
515
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
518
520
 
521
 
 
 
 
 
 
525
 
 
 
527
c.530
532
 
 
 
533
 
 
 
 
535
 
 
 
545 
 
 
 
 
c.545
 
 
 
 
 
???
 
 
???
 
c.575

DANES     GEATS    SWEDES     OTHERS

EVENT

The Last Survivor buries the Dragon-Hoard
Offa I marries & reforms the evil Queen Modthrytho
Hama steals the Brosing Necklace from the Goth King Eormanric
Adulturous union of Swanhild & Randover, wife & son of Eormanric
Eormanric puts his wife and son to death
Death of Eormanric
Heremod, son of Ecgwela, deposes elder brother to become King of Denmark
Heremod exiled (he is likely killed by the Jutes who take him in)
Period in which Danish throne stands empty (-420)


Scyld Scefing comes to Denmark as a helpless child in a boat
Scyld assumes the throne of Denmark to begin a new dynasty
Beow "the Dane" born (d.c.475), son and heir of Scyld Scefing
Death of Scyld Scefing; ship burial at sea
Beow the Dane, son of Scyld, becomes King of Denmark
Beow marries the daughter of Jorundr
Hrethel born (d.503), only son (nefa) of Swerting (of the Swerting clan)
Healfdene born (d.498), only son of Beow the Dane and a Swedish princess
The Fight at Finnsburh occurs no later than this time
Hengest & Horsa invited to Britain by Vortigern
Ongenþeow born (d.510), later King of the Swedes
Hrethel takes a wife
Herebeald born (d.502), 1st son of Hrethel
Heorogar born (d.500), 1st son of Healfdene
Hæthcyn born (d.510), 2nd son of Hrethel
Hrothgar born (d.525), 2nd son of Healfdene
Beow the Dane probably dies around this time, leaving the throne to Healfdene
Halga "the Good" born (d.503), 3rd son of Healfdene
Hygelac born (d.521), 3rd son of Hrethel
Yrse born, daughter of Healfdene
Ongenþeow marries Elan
Froda born (d.499), later King of the Heathobards
Hrethel’s daughter born about this time (making her 16 at the time of her marriage)
Ohthere born (d.532), 1st son of Ongenþeow
Onela born (d.535), 2nd son of Ongenþeow
Childeric dies; Clovis rules the Frankish Empire (-511)
Heoroweard born (d.545), 1st son of Heorogar
Ecgþeow’s Exploit
Ecgþeow marries Hrethel’s only daughter
Hygelac marries 1st wife
Hygd born to Hæreth by about this time
Hrothulf born (d.545), only son of Halga "the Good"
Hygelac’s daughter must be born about this time
Onela marries Yrse
Beowulf born (d.570/83), only son of Ecgþeow and Hrethel's daughter
Froda slays Healfdene during an attack on the Danes, beginning the blood-feud
Heorogar becomes King of the Danes (a short reign of two years)
Ingeld born (d.520), son of Froda
Hrothgar marries Wealhþeow of the Helmings (a Wylfing or a Celt)
Aun (or Ani) dies of old age; his son Ongenþeow succeeds to the Swedish throne
Heorogar, Hrothgar, and Halga attack the Heathobards
Froda falls in battle (burned in his hall by the attacking Danes)
Ingeld succeeds at age 1, possibly under the regency of Withergyld
The [Brosing?] Necklace is taken by Hrothgar from Froda (?)
Hrethric "the Niggard" (Coward) born (d.525), 1st son of Hrothgar

The Franks (Hugas and Hetware clans) conquer Gaul about this time
Heorogar dies about this time (503 at latest); possibly also falls in battle
Hrothgar becomes King of the Danes (Heoroweard is still a child at age 10)
Hrothmund born (d.?), 2nd son of Hrothgar
Freawaru born, only daughter of Hrothgar
Ecgþeow slays Heatholaf of the Wylfings and is exiled
Ecgþeow travels to Denmark and Hrothgar settles the feud
Beowulf, age 7, sent to Hrethel’s court for his upbringing
Herebeald killed accidentally by Hæthcyn
Hrethel dies of grief
Hæthcyn becomes King of the Geats
Heorot built at Leire, Zealand
Grendel begins his nightly raids
Ecgþeow slain by Grendel (?)
Onela & Ohthere attack Geats at Sorrow Hill, beginning Swede-Geat feud
Halga slain by Hothbrod the Swede
Hrothulf (age 8) raised at Heorot
Beowulf’s "inglorious youth" period (-511, age 16)
Eanmund born (d.533), 1st son of Ohthere
Hygelac’s 1st wife dies by this time
Hygelac marries Hygd (who is 20 years his junior, and Beowulf’s age)
Battle of Ravenswood: Hæthcyn and Hygelac attack the Swedes
Queen Elan captured, then rescued
Hæthcyn killed by Ongenþeow
Hygelac becomes King of the Geats
Ongentheow wounds Wulf, but is killed by Eofor
Ongentheow buried at Uppsala
Ohthere becomes King of the Swedes
Eofor given the hand of Hygelac’s daughter
Eadgils born, 2nd son of Ohthere
Beowulf’s youthful exploits begin (-514, ages 16-19)
Heardred born (d.533), only son of Hygelac & Hygd
Clovis dies; Frankish Empire divided: Theodoric rules Metz-Austrasia (-534)
Beowulf’s Swimming Contest with Breca
Unferth slays his brothers prior to this time
Ingeld, now 16, achieves his majority; Withergyld slain by this time
Beowulf sails to Denmark (he wears the mail-shirt of Weland)
Hondscioh slain by Grendel
Grendel slain by Beowulf, ending a 12-year reign of terror
The [Brosing?] Necklace given to Beowulf by Weahltheow
Æschere killed by the Troll-Hag
Troll-Hag slain by Beowulf
Hrothgar plans Freawaru-Ingeld union by this time
Beowulf returns home
Beowulf gives the [Brosing] Necklace to Queen Hygd
Beowulf is given Nægling, his grandfather Hrethel’s sword
Freawaru betrothed to Ingeld as a peace-weaver to settle the feud
Ingeld attacks and burns Heorot, but is routed, probably slain; Heorot is rebuilt
Hrothmund disappears after this time (presumably he dies)
Geat raid on Friesland against the Franks & Frisians [524 per Klaeber, et.al]
Hygelac (wearing Necklace) slain by Theodobert, son of Theodoric
Dæghrefn of the Hugas takes the [Brosing] Necklace from the fallen Hygelac
Beowulf slays Dæghrefn and 30 others, reclaiming the Necklace, then swims home
Hygelac’s bones are buried on an island in the mouth of the Rhine
Hygd offers the throne to Beowulf, but he declines
Heardred (age 10) becomes King of Geatland, with Beowulf as regent (-527/9)
Possible attack on King Hothbrod of Sweden by Hrothgar in revenge of Halga
Hrothgar slain by Hothbrod
Hrethric becomes King of Denmark
Hrothulf slays Hrethric to attain the throne [Klaeber says only that “Hrothwulf” succeeds]
Heardred (now 16) achieves his majority
Wiglaf probably born around this time
Ohthere "Vendel-Crow" dies & is buried at Vendel
Onela succeeds to the Swedish throne against the rightful heirs
Eanmund and Eadgils rebel against Onela and are exiled
Eanmund and Eadgils seek refuge in Geatland
Onela, pursuing his nephews, invades Geatland
Onela slays Heardred [and Eanmund, according to Klaeber]
Weohstan (a half-Swede Geat in the service of Onela) slays Eanmund in battle
Onela gives Eanmund’s sword and armor to Weohstan
Beowulf becomes King of Geatland
Eadgils invades Sweden with arms and men supplied by Beowulf
Eadgils slays Onela on frozen Lake Wener
Eadgils assumes the Swedish throne
Weohstan becomes an exile from Sweden (Eanmund’s death left unavenged)
The usurper-King Hrothulf is slain by Heoroweard, the rightful heir
Heoroweard assumes the Danish throne at age 55 (the only remaining male Dane)
Heoroweard slain by Wiggo, the sole survivor of Hrothulf’s band
Heorot burns to the ground for the final time
Beowulf turns 50 (it is most likely in this year that he dies *)
Weohstan gives Eanmund’s Heirloom to his young son Wiglaf (now 15)
The Dragon-Hoard disturbed: Beowulf’s hall and lands destroyed
Beowulf dies fighting the fiery dragon [582 according to Klaeber]
Wiglaf given the [Brosing] Necklace
Beowulf’s Barrow constructed, his funeral procession held
Wiglaf becomes King of the Geats
Sometime after this it is likely that Eadgils will seek revenge against Wiglaf, the son of Eanmund’s killer (it is this act which is thought to bring about the final downfall of the Geats)
Wuffing dynasty founded in East Anglia by exiled Geats with Danish connections; they are possibly the descendants of Wiglaf
Eadgils dies (580 at the latest)

 

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* NOTE: The Dragon-Battle most logically occurs c.550 at latest, due more than anything to the age of Beowulf: in 583 (the 50th year of his kingship) he would be 88 years old, and could not hope to effectively battle a dragon, regardless of his other mythic capabilities. Eadgils, also, must revenge his feud upon the young Wiglaf: in 583 he would be 73, too old to be a convincing threat to the younger man. The "fifty winters" stated for both Beowulf's reign and that of Hrothgar are clearly not literal, especially in Hrothgar's case where we have fairly substantial dates for his actual life span, which is itself only 52 years. It is commonly taken as a poetic figure of speech to mean only "a long time". I have thus dated the dragon battle in Beowulf's 50th year to account poetically for the passing of fifty winters: he "reigns" for fifty winters by surviving that long against the fickle whims of Wyrd.

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