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HALFDAN. Halfdan ("half dane") (Old Norse sources) or Healfdene (Beowulf) or Haldan (Danish Latin sources)
HUSBAND AND WIFE Halfdan (Old Norse) or Healfdene (Beowulf) or Haldan (Danish Latin sources) (late 5th century, early 6th century) was a legendary Danish king of the Scylding (Skjldung) lineage, the son of king named Fri in many accounts, noted mainly as the father to the two kings who succeeded him in the rule of Denmark, kings named Hrogar and Halga in the Old English poem Beowulf and named Hrar and Helgi in Old Norse accounts.

His name would in his own language, Proto-Norse, have been *Halbadaniz (Danish on only one side of the family).

Various Accounts

According to the Chronicon Lethrense and Saxo Grammaticus' Gesta Danorum (Book 2), Halfdan had two brothers named Ro and Skat who also sought the throne. Both were killed by Halfdan. Saxo adds that his brothers' supporters were hanged and that Halfdan continued to reign with great cruelty, but that he reigned long and died peaceably in extreme old age.

The Ynglinga saga gives Halfdan (in this work also son of a king named Fri) a brother named Fridleif and says both were great warriors but that Halfdan was the better of the two. This might have been a lead-in to a feud between the brothers if Snorri had been dealing with Danish matters rather than Swedish matters.

Snorri here only tells us that Halfdan attacked King Aun of Sweden and drove him into exile into Gtaland. Halfdan then ruled Sweden for twenty years until he died in Uppsala of sickness and was buried in a mound.

According to Ynglinga saga, a Danish king named Fri the Bold aided Aun's successor Egil against the rebelling thrall Tunni. This may be Froda the Heathobard of Beowulf who becomes Fri the slayer of Halfdan in other Norse traditions which do not make his end peaceful.

In the Saga of Hrolf Kraki, this Fri is Halfdan's younger brother but in the Latin epitome to the Skjldunga saga the younger brother, here a half-brother, is named Ingjalldus and this Ingjalldus is later father of a son named Frothi. Since in Beowulf Froda is father of a son named Ingeld, it is usually considered that the names have accidentally been interchanged in the tradition behind the Skjldunga saga. In the Saga of Hrolf Kraki, Fri brother of Halfdan is ruler of a separate kingdom. Halfdan was calm and good-natured but Fri was cruel and vicious. Fri attacked Halfdan's hall by night and burned it. Halfdan was killed in the battle and Fri took over his country and his widow.

But eventually Halfdan's sons in turn killed Fri to avenge their father's death. Thus the tradition in Beowulf of a feud between the Danes and Heathobards in which Frda king of the Heathobards was slain appears in Norse texts as a family feud in which Halfdan's brother Fri kills Halfdan and Halfdan's sons kill Fri.

The Children of Halfdan

The poem Beowulf reads (lines 5963):
59 m feower bearn forgerimed
60 in worold wocun weoroda rswa
61 heorogar. 7 hrogar 7 halga til
62 hyrde ic elan cwen
63 heao-Scilfingas healsgebedda

This appears in Gummere's translation as:
59 Then, one after one, there woke to him,
60 to the chieftain of clansmen, children four:
61 Heorogar, then Hrothgar, then Halga brave;
62 and I heard that ela's queen,
63 the Heathoscylfings helpmate dear.

There is obviously something wrong with line 62. A name of a daughter has dropped out, a daughter who was the wife of someone whose name ends in -ela and who was a Heatho-Scylfing, a battle-Scylfing. It is likely enough that at some time in copying the poem a scribe was unable to make out the exact spelling of these names and so left the text blank at that point to be fixed up later. It was never fixed up and so the names were lost in later copies.

Surviving Scandinavian texts know nothing about Heorogar though they speak much of the other two sons. Two sources also mention Halfdan's daughter. According to the Latin eptiome of the Skjldung saga, the sons of Halfdanus are called Roas and Helgo and their sister Sigyna is married to a certain Sevillus. In Hrlf Kraki's Saga, Halfdan's eldest child is his daughter Signy who is married to a certain Jarl Svil. Then Hrar and Helgi are born.

Friderich Kluge (1896) accordingly suggested that the line be restored as hyrde ic Sigeneow ws Swelan cwen, rendering the Norse names in Old English forms. But Kluge has been seldom followed by editors or translators, in part because Svil in Hrlf Kraki's Saga is in no way connected with Sweden so far as is told. Since the only certain Swedish (Scylfing) royal name ending in -ela that has come down to us is Onela, more often -ela is expanded instead to Onela. By Old English poetic rules of alliteration the name of the daughter must also begin with a vowel. The choice is usually the name Yrs or Yrse, since Scandinavian tradition speaks much of Yrsa the grand-daughter of Halfdan and wife of King Adils of Sweden. This assumes great shifting of names and roles, since Adils is the Eadgils of Beowulf, the enemy of Onela. Onela appears in Norse texts as li. Accordingly many editors and translators prefer to simply note that the line is corrupt. But modern commentary sometimes refers to the marriage of Onela and Yrsa without indicating that this exists only through somewhat dubious conjectural emendation. If the tradition of Halfdan/Healfdene being slain by Fri/Froda is an old one, it might be that the Beowulf poet knew that tale and that Heorogar (Healfdene's eldest son in Beowulf) was imagined Heorogar to have died with Halfdan. Unfortunately the Beowulf poet skims over all such matters. [edit] Traditions of Harold, Fri and Halfdan possibly related or confused with the above A similar story is told in the Gesta Danorum (Book 7) of two brother kings named Harold and Fri in which the envious Fri has his brother Harold killed by treachery. Harold leaves two sons behind named Harald and Halfdan, and the story of their vegeance on their uncle Fri for killing their father Harald is almost identical to that found in Norse texts about Hrar and Helgi's vengeance on their uncle Fri for killing their father Halfdan. The Chronicon Lethrense indeed says that some call Halfdan's son Ro (that is Rar/Hrothgar) Halfdan instead. As to this second Halfdan, Saxo has much to say about him, including his slaying of Siward king of Sweden and his battles against Erik son of his uncle Fri by Signe, this Erik now the rightful king of Sweden. After many battles Halfdan gained the upper hand, Erik was bound with chains and left in a wild place for beasts to consume, and Halfdan became king of both Denmark and Sweden. Saxo relates further warlike exploits. Finally, this Halfdan died childless and left his kingdom to his friend King Ungvin of Gtaland (see Geatish kings).

It is likely that more than one Halfdan has been confused with one another and with other kings, not to speak of simple invention by story tellers.

See also Origins for Beowulf and Hrlf Kraki for more on the historical background of these characters.

See also Halfdan the Old for another Halfdan.


  1. HROAR Halfdansson. (Hrogar).