Geats: Wikis


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Sweden in the 12th century before the incorporation of Finland during the 13th century.      Geats      Swedes      Gotlanders

Geats (Old English Geatas, [ňąj√¶…Ďt…Ďs]; Old Norse Gautar, [ňą…°…Ďut…Ďr]; Swedish G√∂tar, [ňąj√łňźtar]), sometimes associated with the Goths,[1] were a North Germanic tribe inhabiting what is now G√∂taland ("land of the Geats") in modern Sweden. The name of the Geats also lives on in the Swedish provinces of V√§sterg√∂tland and √Ėsterg√∂tland, the Western and Eastern lands of the Geats, and in many other toponyms.




Early history

The earliest mention of the Geats may appear in Ptolemy (2nd century A.D.), where they are referred to as Goutai. In the 6th century, they were referred to as Gautigoths and Ostrogoths (the Ostrogoths of Scandza) by Jordanes and as Gautoi by Procopius. In the Norse Sagas they are referred to as Gautar, and in Beowulf and Widsith as Gńďatas.[2] Geats should not be confused with the Thracian Getae.

Beowulf and the Norse sagas name several Geatish kings, but only Hygelac finds confirmation in Liber Monstrorum where he is referred to as Rex Getarum and in a copy of Historiae Francorum where he is called Rege Gotorum. These sources concern a raid into Frisia, ca 516, which is also described in Beowulf. Some decades after the events related in this epic, Jordanes described the Geats as a nation which was "bold, and quick to engage in war".

Before the consolidation of Sweden, the Geats were politically independent of the Swedes, whose old name was Sweonas in Old English. When written sources emerge (approximately at the end of the 10th century), the Geatish lands are described as part of the still very shaky Swedish kingdom, but the manner of their unification with the Swedes is a matter of much debate.

Based on the lack of early medieval sources, and the fact that the Geats were later part of the kingdom of Sweden, traditional accounts assume a forceful incorporation by the Swedes, but the only surviving traditions which deal with Swedish-Geatish wars are of semi-legendary nature and found in Beowulf. The Swedish invasion of Geatish lands has been explained with Geatish involvement in the Gothic wars in southern Europe, which brought a great deal of Roman gold to Götaland, but also naturally depleted their numbers (see Nordisk familjebok). The Hervarar saga is believed to contain such traditions handed down from the 4th century. It relates that when the Hunnish Horde invaded the land of the Goths and the Gothic king Angantyr desperately tried to marshal the defenses, it was the Geatish king Gizur who answered his call.

There are widely diverging opinions among scholars as to when the Geats were finally subdued by the Swedes and made a part of the Swedish kingdom.[3] According to Curt Weibull, the Geats would have been finally integrated in the Swedish kingdom c. 1000, but according to others, it most likely took place before the 9th century, and probably as early as the 6th century.[3] The fact that some sources are silent about the Geats indicates that any independent Geatish kingdom no longer existed in the 9th century.[3] In Rimbert's account of Ansgar's missionary work, the Swedish king is the sole sovereign in the region and he has close connections not only with the king of the Danes but also with the king of the Franks.[3] However, the oldest medieval Swedish sources present the Swedish kingdom as having remaining legal differences between Swedes and Geats.[3]

Viking Age

In the Heimskringla, Snorri Sturluson writes about several battles between Norwegians and Geats. He wrote that in the 9th century, there were battles between the Geats and the Norwegian king Harald Fairhair, during Harald Fairhair's campaign in G√∂taland, a war the Geats had to fight without the assistance of the Swedish king Erik Emundsson. He also wrote about Haakon I of Norway's expedition into G√∂taland and Harold I of Denmark's battle against Jarl Ottar of √Ėsterg√∂tland, and about Olaf the Holy's battles with the Geats during his war with Olof Sk√∂tkonung.

Middle Ages

The Geats were traditionally divided into several petty kingdoms, or districts, which had their own things (popular assemblies) and laws. The largest one of these districts was Västergötland (West Geatland), and it was in Västergötland that the Thing of all Geats was held every year, in the vicinity of Skara.

Unlike the Swedes, who used the division hundare, the Geats used hærrad, like the Norwegians and the Danes. Surprisingly, it would be the Geatish name that became the common term in the Swedish kingdom. This is possibly related to the fact that several of the medieval Swedish kings were of Geatish extraction and often resided primarily in Götaland.

In the 11th century, the Swedish House of Munsö became extinct with the death of Emund the Old. Stenkil, a Geat, was elected king of Sweden, and the Geats would be influential in the shaping of Sweden as a Christian kingdom. However, this election also ushered in a long period of civil unrest between Christians and pagans and between Geats and Swedes. The Geats tended to be more Christian, and the Swedes more pagan, which was why the Christian Swedish king Inge the Elder fled to Västergötland when deposed in favour of Blot-Sweyn, a king more favourable towards Norse paganism, in the 1080s. Inge would retake the throne and rule until his death c. 1100.

The Geats were not treated as equals with the Swedes. In his Gesta Danorum (book 13), the Danish 12th century chronicler Saxo Grammaticus noted that the Geats had no say in the election of the king, only the Swedes. When in the 13th century, the West Geatish law or Westrogothic law was put to paper, it reminded the Geats that they had to accept the election of the Swedes at the Stone of Mora: Sveær egho konong at taka ok sva vrækæ meaning It is the Swedes who have the right of choosing and deposing the king.

One of these Swedish kings was Ragnvald Knaphövde, who in 1125 was riding with his retinue in order to be accepted as king by the Geats of Västergötland. As he despised the Geats, he decided not to demand hostages from their prominent clans. He was slain near Falköping.

The distinction between Swedes and Geats lasted during the Middle Ages, but the Geats became increasingly important for Swedish national claims of greatness due to the Geats' old connection with the Goths. They argued that since the Goths and the Geats were the same nation, and the Geats were part of the kingdom of Sweden, this meant that the Swedes had defeated the Roman empire. The earliest attestation of this claim comes from the Council of Basel, 1434, during which the Swedish delegation argued with the Spanish about who among them were the true Goths. The Spaniards argued that it was better to be descended from the heroic Visigoths than from stay-at-homers. This cultural movement, which was not restricted to Sweden went by the name Gothicismus or in Swedish Göticism, i.e. Geaticism, as Geat and Goth were considered synonymous back then.

Modern times

After the 15th century and the Kalmar Union, the Swedes and the Geats appear to have begun to perceive themselves as one nation, which is reflected in the evolution of svensk into a common ethnonym.[4][5] It was originally an adjective referring to those belonging to the Swedish tribe, who are called svear in Swedish. As early as the 9th century, svear had been vague, both referring to the Swedish tribe and being a collective term including the Geats,[4] and this is the case in Adam of Bremen's work where the Geats (Goths) appear both as a proper nation and as part of the Sueones.[4] The merging/assimilation of the two nations took a long time, however. In the early 20th century, Nordisk familjebok noted that svensk had almost replaced svear as a name for the Swedish people.[6]

Today, the merger of the two nations is complete, as there is no longer any tangible identification in G√∂taland with a Geatish identity, apart from the common tendency of people living in those areas to refer to themselves as v√§stg√∂tar (West Geats) and √∂stg√∂tar (East Geats), that is to say, residents of the provinces of V√§sterg√∂tland and √Ėsterg√∂tland. The city G√∂teborg, known in English as Gothenburg, was named after the Geats (Geatsburg or fortress of the Geats), when it was founded in 1621.

Until 1973 the official title of the Swedish king was King of the Swedes, the Geats/Goths and the Wends (with the formula "Sveriges, Götes och Vendes konung") The general understanding of this title, also used by Danish royalty, is "King of the Wends". The Wends is a term normally used to describe the Slavic peoples who inhabited large areas of modern east Germany and Pomerania. See the Wikipedia article on the subject [[1]]

This, however, changed when the new king Carl XVI Gustaf in 1973 decided that his royal title should simply be King of Sweden. The disappearance of the old title was a decision made entirely by the king. The old title in Latin was "N.N. Dei Gratia, Suecorum, Gothorum et Vandalorum Rex."


     traditional G√∂taland      the island of Gotland      Wielbark Culture in the early 3rd century      Chernyakhov Culture, in the early 4th century      Roman Empire

Geatas was originally Proto-Germanic *Gautoz and Goths and Gutar (Gotlanders) were *Gutaniz. *Gautoz and *Gutaniz are two ablaut grades of a Proto-Germanic word *geutan with the meaning "to pour" (modern Swedish gjuta, modern German giessen). The word comes from an Indo-European root meaning to pour, offer sacrifice.[7] There were consequently two derivations from the same proto-Germanic ethnonym.[8]

It is a long-standing controversy whether the Goths were Geats. Both Old Icelandic and Old English literary sources clearly separate the Geats on one hand (Isl. Gautar, OEng Geatas) from the Goths/Gutar (Isl. Gotar, OEng. Gotenas); on the other, however, the Gothic historian Jordanes wrote that the Goths came from the island of Scandza. Moreover, he described that on this island there were three tribes called the Gautigoths (cf. Geat/Gaut), the Ostrogoths (cf. the Swedish province of √Ėsterg√∂tland) and Vagoths (Gutar?) - this implies that the Geats were Goths rather than vice versa. The word Goth is also a term used by the Romans to describe related, culturally linked tribes like the Tervingi and the Greuthungs, so it may be correct to label Geats as Goths.

Scandinavian burial customs, such as the stone circles (domarringar), which are most common in G√∂taland and Gotland, and stelae (bautastenar) appeared in what is now northern Poland in the 1st century AD, suggesting an influx of Scandinavians during the formation of the Gothic Wielbark culture [2][3]. Moreover, in √Ėsterg√∂tland, in Sweden, there is a sudden disappearance of villages during this period.[9]

Jutish hypothesis

There is a hypothesis that the Jutes also were Geats, and which was proposed by Pontus Fahlbeck in 1884. According to this hypothesis the Geats would have not only resided in southern Sweden but also in Jutland, where Beowulf would have lived.

The generally accepted identification of Old English Gńďatas as the same ethnonym as Swedish g√∂tar and Old Norse gautar is based on the observation that the √∂ monophthong of modern Swedish and the au diphthong of Old Norse correspond to the ńďa diphthong of Old English.

Swedish     Old Norse      Old English                         

töm (rein)
öd (archaic)

taum (rein)

lńďac (onion, cf. leek)
rńďad (red)
nńďat (head of cattle)
cńďap (purchase)
ńďage (eye)
hńďah (high)
ńďad (wealth/property)
hlńďapan (run)


Thus, Gńďatas is the Old English form of Old Norse Gautar and modern Swedish G√∂tar. This correspondence seems to tip the balance for most scholars. It is also based on the fact that in Beowulf, the Gńďatas live east of the Dene (across the sea) and in close contact with the Sweon, which fits the historical position of the Geats between the Danes and the Swedes. Moreover, the story of Beowulf, who leaves Geatland and arrives at the Danish court after a naval voyage, where he kills a beast, finds a parallel in Hr√≥lf Kraki's saga. In this saga, B√∂dvar Bjarki leaves Gautland and arrives at the Danish court after a naval voyage and kills a beast that has been terrorizing the Danes for two years (see also Origins for Beowulf and Hr√≥lf Kraki).

The Geats and the Jutes are mentioned in Beowulf as different tribes, and whereas the Geats are called gńďatas, the Jutes are called ńďotena (genitive) or ńďotenum (dative).[10] Moreover, the Old English poem Widsith also mentions both Geats and Jutes, and it calls the latter »≥tum.[11] However, Fahlbeck proposed in 1884 that the Gńďatas of Beowulf referred to Jutes and he proposed that the Jutes originally also were Geats like those of southern Sweden.[12] This theory was based on an Old English translation of Venerable Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People attributed to Alfred the Great where the Jutes (iutarum, iutis) once are rendered as gńďata (genitive) and twice as gńďatum (dative)[11] (see e.g. the OED which identifies the Geats through Eotas, I√≥tas, I√ļtan and Ge√°tas). Fahlbeck did not, however, propose an etymology for how the two ethnonyms could be related.[12]

Fahlbeck's theory was refuted by Sch√ľck who in 1907 noted that another Old English source, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, called the Jutes ńęutna, ńęotum or ńęutum.[12] Moreoever, Sch√ľck pointed out that when Alfred the Great's translation mentions the Jutes for the second time (book IV, ch. 14(16)) it calls them ńďota and in one manuscript »≥tena.[13] Bj√∂rkman proposed in 1908 that Alfred the Great's translation of Jutes as Geats was based on a confusion between the West Saxon form Geotas ("Jutes") and Gńďatas ("Geats").[13]

As for the origins of the ethnonym Jute, it may be a secondary formation of the toponym Jutland, where is jut is derived from an Proto-Indo-European root *eud meaning "water".[14]

Gotlandian hypothesis

Since the 19th century, there has also been a suggestion that Beowulf's people were Gotlanders (or Goths). According to the poem, the weather-geats or sea-geats, as they are called are supposed to have lived east of the Danes and be separated from the Swedes by wide waters. Some researchers have found it a little far fetched that wide waters relates to Lake Vänern in Västergötland or Mälaren. The weather in weather-geats, and sea-geats marks a people living at a windy, stormy coast by the sea. The Geats of Västergötland was historically an inland people, making an epithet such as weather- or sea- a little strange. Moreover, when Beowulf dies he is buried in a mound at a place called Hrones-naesse, meaning "the cape of whales". Whales have for obvious reasons never lived in Vänern, where, according to Birger Nerman, Beowulf is buried. However, an expanse of water separates the island of Gotland from the Swedes. The island lies east of Denmark and whales were once common in the Baltic Sea where Gotland is situated. The name of the Gotlanders in Swedish, Gutar, is an ablaut-grade of the same name as that of the Geats in Beowulf. These facts made the archeologist Gad Rausing come to the conclusion that the weather-Geats may have been Gotlanders. This was supported by another Swedish archeologist Bo Gräslund. According to Rausing, Beowulf may be buried in a place called Rone on Gotland, a name corresponding to the Hrones in Hrones-naesse. Not far from there lies a place called Arnkull corresponding to the Earnar-naesse in Beowulf, which according to the poem was situated closely to Hrones-naesse.

This theory does not exclude the ancient population of V√§sterg√∂tland and √Ėsterg√∂tland from being Geats, but rather holds that the Anglo-Saxon name Geat could refer to West-geats (V√§sterg√∂tland), East-geats (√Ėsterg√∂tland) as well as weather-geats (Gotland), in accordance with Jordanes account of the Scandinanian tribes Gautigoth, Ostrogoth and Vagoth.

See also


  1. ^ E.g. Microsoft Encarta (on Swedish history), translations from Old Norse, Anglo-Saxon or Latin and the Primary Chronicle and modern scholarly works on Germanic tribes.
  2. ^ Michael Alexander's 1995 (Penguin Classics) edition of Beowulf mentions a variant:Gńďotas
  3. ^ a b c d e St√•hl, Harry (1976), Ortnamn och ortnamnsforskning, Uppsala: Almquist & Wiksell, pp. p.131, ISBN  
  4. ^ a b c The article Svear in Nationalencyklopedin.
  5. ^ The earliest attestation of this meaning is from the mid-15th century Swedish Chronicle.
  6. ^ The article Sverige, språkv. in Nordisk familjebok
  7. ^ "god" in The Oxford English Dictionary Online. (2006).
  8. ^ cf. Serbs and Sorbs, Polans and Poles, Slovenes and Slovaks in Slavic languages.
  9. ^ Oxenstierna, Graf E.C. : Die Urheimat der Goten. Leipzig, Mannus-Buecherei 73, 1945 (later printed in 1948).
  10. ^ Nerman, Birger (1925). "Det svenska rikets uppkomst". p. 108
  11. ^ a b Nerman, Birger (1925). "Det svenska rikets uppkomst". pp. 108-109
  12. ^ a b c Nerman, Birger (1925). "Det svenska rikets uppkomst". p. 109
  13. ^ a b Nerman, Birger (1925). "Det svenska rikets uppkomst". p. 110
  14. ^ (Swedish) Hellquist, Elof (1922). "Jut-, Jute". Svensk etymologisk ordbok. Project Runeberg. Retrieved 2007-11-21.  


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary




  1. Plural form of Geat.



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