by Sebastian Maskell Andersen
The anonymous Chronicon Lethrense is probably the oldest narrative dealing with Danish legendary history, a subject matter that was subsequently taken up by Sven Aggesøn (Sueno Aggonis) and Saxo Grammaticus. The author demonstrates a clear interest in Lejre, the ancient seat of power close to Roskilde (on Sealand). Although most likely conceived as a separate work, the chronicle owes its preservation to the fact that it was inserted in the Annales Lundenses. The original name of the chronicle is not known. A version in Old Swedish may go back to a fuller and more original Latin text than the one preserved.
Primo tempore inuadente Daciam imperatore … Que eciam Dacie imperans ciuitatem sui nominis Hethæby apud Jutlandiam in portu statuit Sleswicensi.
Separate edition of Latin text:
- • M. Cl. GERTZ 1918-22, I 34-53.
Editions that are part of the Annales Lundenses:
- LANGEBEK 1772 223-227
- WAITZ 1850 21-7
- WAITZ 1892 192-5.
Old Swedish version:
- FANT 1828, 247-50.
- KLEMMING 1868-81, 241-48.
OLRIK 1900-01 1-22 (Danish translation of Latin text); HEMMINGSEN 1996 422-59 (English translations of Latin text and Old Swedish text).
Date and place
The most widely accepted theory about the date and place of composition of the Chronicon Lethrense is that of GERTZ (1918-22, 35f). According to Gertz the chronicle was written by a cleric with connections to the diocese of Roskilde, since the city of Roskilde and its surroundings, including the legendary royal residence of Lejre and its kings, play such a prominent role in the text. Moreover, there are clear verbal borrowings in the text from the Roskilde Chronicle and its somewhat later continuation, a fact which provides a date at the end of the 12th century and which have led scholars to establish its connection to Roskilde. On the basis of the pronounced anti-German bias of the text Gertz dates it to the second half of the twelfth century, or c. 1170, when antagonism between king Valdemar I and emperor Frederic Barbarossa was at its height. A.K.G. KRISTENSEN (1969, 124 (n. 21) & 131) argues for the chapter of Lund Cathedral as the place of origin of the chronicle, but she does not commit herself on the question of dating. Anders Leegaard KNUDSEN (2000, 5-7) points out that anti-German feelings were strong in the thirteenth century, too, thus weakening the foundations of Gertz’s dating. TOLDBERG (1963) seems to be the only one who argues for a date earlier than the mid-twelfth century: he is inclined towards a dating to the reign of Knud II the Great (1016-35), whose rivalry with the German empire was a political fact; this would explain the British element among the sources of the chronicle (cp. below). According to Hemmingsen the particular blend of source material which we find in the chronicle is most likely to have been brought together in the early 1190s (HEMMINGSEN 1996, 465-7), but he finds it probable that the original text of the Latin chronicle was revised in the thirteenth century, perhaps more than once (ibid. 398 – 401).
The Chronicon Lethrense is a history of pre-Christian Denmark. It deals with the kings whose common denominator is that they are buried at Lejre. In the beginning Denmark was divided in three parts; Withesleth, Fiona and Jutland. They were in a non-tributary way dependent upon the king of Sweden Ypper, as Denmark was not subjugated to any foreign sovereign besides Louis (the Pious) who baptized Harald, who converted the Danes. Ypper assigns one part to each of his three sons. At Danevirke Dan relieves the Jutes, who are attacked by Augustus, and is therefore made king. Dan is succeeded by his son Ro, who founds Roskilde and is succeeded by his sons Helgi and Haldan. Helgi marries Thora and gets the daughter Ursula. Thora is buried on Thorø, while Ursula marries the king of the Swedes Athisl and gives birth to Sculd. The hated king Raki of Denmark, a whelp who pays tribute to the Swedish king Athisl, is killed by his dogs. Læ the giant of Læsø dispatches his shepherd Snyo to Sweden in order for him to trick Athisl into understanding that Raki is dead. As a result Snyo is appointed to be king of Denmark. Røth opposes Snyo and is therefore dispatched to Læsø, where Læ hesitantly reveals that Snyo will die from fleabites. Snyo is succeeded by his coregent Rolf Krake, the son of Helgi. Rolf is killed by a German noble, who in turn is killed by Aki the new king of Denmark. Aki is killed and succeeded by Fritleff who marries Rolf Krake’s daughter and gets the son Frothe Largus. Frothe succeeds his father and is succeeded by his son Ingyald who is succeeded by his son Olav. Olav is succeeded by his daughter Asa, who is succeeded by Harald Hildetand the conqueror of all the regions until the Mediterranean. Harald dies at Brawal in the battle against the Swedish king Ring. Hethæ, who fought at the battle, is by Ring’s permission made queen of Denmark and she founds Hedeby.
Models and sources
The most tangible relation between the CL and another known text is the fact that the CL borrows the entire characterisation of king Erik Emune in the CR and transfers it to king Snyo (see e.g. GERTZ 1918-22 I 36f). However, this is not sufficient proof that the CL was composed as an introduction to the CR, as has been suggested by OLRIK and others. The most thorough discussion of the sources of the CL was made by HEMMINGSEN (1996 390- 467). In his view the material of the CL consists of several quite different elements. The most important part springs from an identification of the Danes (Dani) with the ancient Dacians (Daci), a learned construction that was current among eleventh- and twelfth-century historiographers in western Europe. In this particular case Hemmingsen points out an interesting similarity between the names of the rulers of Dacia c. 410-555 and almost the entire list of Danish legendary kings in the CL, not only those identified by Lukman on several occasions (e.g. LUKMAN 1943 passim and id. 1975 118-22). Hemmingsen suggests that this information originated in Byzantine sources and was brought to Denmark by Danish participants in the third crusade. Other important source material stems from English tradition (Beowulf, cp. LUKMAN 1943) and from orally transmitted Danish folklore.
Olrik and Gertz see CL as an introduction to CR, Toldberg on the other hand sees it as political propaganda with anti-German tendencies (SØGAARD 1968, 150-3). Søgaard follows Gertz and Olrik in considering CL as an introduction to CR because of syntactical similarities at the same time as he acknowledges the oral nature of the material (SØGAARD 1968, 160–72).
The Chronicon Lethrense has been transmitted (together with the Annales Lundenses) in the following manuscripts:
- København, Den arnamagnæanske samling, AM 843, 4° (c. 1300) (A)
- København, Den arnamagnæanske samling AM 841 4° (c. 1400) (M)
- Erfurt, Universitäts- und Forschungsbibliothek Erfurt/Gotha, CE 8o 23 (part V, ff. 184-221), late 13. cent. (HEYNE 2005, 65-73, cf. GERTZ I, 37 – 41)
All three MSS are available in facsimile in KROMAN 1965. It is possible, but not certain, that M was derived from E. Gertz built his edition on A (p. 40). Chronicon Lethrense is believed to have been an independent work which due to its content has been copied with Annales Lundenses. Later texts which use the chronicle are the Annales Ryenses, Gesta Danorum paa Danskæ and a version written in medieval Swedish (HEMMINGSEN 1996 p. 394, GERTZ 1970 p. 37, KNUDSEN p. 7). In the case of Saxo Grammaticus’s Gesta Danorum, the chronicle may have been used to a very limited extent. In CL Dan is made king by being placed on a great rock, Saxo (1.2.1) writes that Humble is made king by the nobility who is standing on great rocks. Both CL and Saxo mentions a king Snyo, although the resemblance ends here. They both mention the battle at Brawal, a battle we know was also being celebrated in orally transmitted songs.
- FANT, E. M. 1828, Scriptores rerum Svecicarum, vol. I pp. 247-50.
- GERTZ, M. Cl., (ed.) 1918-22: Scriptores minores historiæ Danicæ, vols. I-II, Copenhagen (reprint 1970).
- BRANDT, Troels Danernes Sagnhistorie, København, 2004
- HEMMINGSEN, Lars 1996: By Word of Mouth: the origins of Danish legendary history, Ph.D. diss. University of Copenhagen, København, esp. pp. 389-467.
- HEYNE, S. 2005: Die mittelalterlichen Codices Erfordenses in der Universitäts- und Forschungsbibliothek Erfurt / Gotha, Erfurt – Gotha.
- KLEMMING, G. E. 1868-81: ”Småstycken på forn svenska”, pp. 241-48 & 257, Samlingar utg. av Svenska fornskrift-sällskapet, Stockholm.
- KRISTENSEN, A.K.G. 1969: Danmarks ældste annalistik, København.
- KROMAN, E. (ed.), 1965: Corpus codicum Danicorum, vol. V, København.
- KNUDSEN, A.L. 2000: “Interessen for den danske fortid omkring 1300,” in Historisk Tidskrift, nr. 100/1, København,
- LUKMAN, N. 1943: Skjoldunge und Skilfinge, Hunnenund Herulerkönige in ostnordischer Uberlieferung, København.
- LUKMAN, N. 1961: “Heltesagn,” in Kulturhistorisk Leksikon for nordisk middelalder, København, (pp. 419 – 425)
- LUKMAN, N. 1975: "Sagnhistorien hos Saxo. Det 12. århundredes normannerromantik i Saxos udformning" in Saxostudier (Saxo-kollokvierne ved Københavns Universitet) (ed. I. Boserup), Copenhagen.
- MØLLER, K. 1997: Vikingeætten, København.
- OLRIK, J. 1899: “Sagnkrøniken I Lundeårbøgerne”, (Dansk) Historisk Tidsskrift 7. Rk. Bd. 2, 222-9.
- OLRIK, J. 1900 – 01 “Krøniken om Lejrekongerne,” in Krøniker fra Valdemarstiden, København, , pp. 1 – 22
- PESCH, A. 2001: “Lejre-Chronik,” in Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde, Berlin.
- SØGAARD, H. 1968, “Om forholdet mellem Roskildekrøniken og Lejrekrøniken,” in Historie/Jyske Samlinger, nr. 8 Ny række, 149-72
- TOLDBERG, H. 1961: “Lejrekrøniken,” in Kulturhistorisk Leksikon for nordisk middelalder, København (pp. 485 – 486).
- TOLDBERG, H. 1963: ”Stammer Lejrekrøniken fra Jakob Erlandsøns, Valdemarernes eller Knud den stores tid?”, Arkiv för nordisk filologi 79 [V, 23], 195-240.
- WAITZ, G. 1850: ”Die Quelle der Annales Esromenses, oder Annales Lundenses”, Nordalbingische Studien. Neues Archiv der Schleswig-Holstein-Lauenburgischen Gesellschaft für vaterländische Geschichte, vol. 5 1-55
- WAITZ, G. (ed.) 1892: Monumenta Germaniae historica. Scriptores, vol. 29, Hannover.