Danes (Germanic tribe)

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The Danes were a Northern people residing in what more or less comprised modern-day Denmark in Iron Age Scandinavia. They are mentioned in the 6th century in Jordanes' Getica, by Procopius, and by Gregory of Tours. The Danes spoke Old Norse (dǫnsk tunga), which was shared by the Danes, the people in Norway and Sweden and later Iceland.[1]

In his description of Scandza, Jordanes says that the Dani were of the same stock as the Suetidi ("Swedes") and expelled the Heruli and took their lands.[2]

According to the 12th century author Sven Aggesen, the mythical King Dan gave name to the Danes.

The Old English poems Widsith and Beowulf, as well as works by later Scandinavian writers (notably by Saxo Grammaticus (c. 1200)), provide some of the written references to Danes. Archaeology has revealed and continues to reveal insights to their culture, organization and way of life.

Iron Age[edit]

Further information: Nordic Iron Age

In the Nordic Iron Age, the Danes were based in present day Denmark, the southern part of present-day Sweden, including Scania and Schleswig, now in Northern Germany. In Schleswig, they initiated the large fortification of Danevirke to mark the southern border of their realm. It was extended several times, also in the centuries after the Iron Age.

Viking Age[edit]

Further information: Viking Age

From around 800 AD, the Danes began a long era of well-organised raids across the coasts and rivers of Europe. Some of the raids were followed by a gradual succession of Danish settlers and during this epoch, large areas outside Scandinavia were settled by the Danes, including the Danelaw in England and countryside and newly established towns in Ireland, Scotland and northern France. In the early 11th century, King Cnut the Great (died 1035) ruled the extensive North Sea Empire for nearly 20 years, consisting of Denmark, England and Norway.


In the British Isles, the Danes began settling England in 865, when brothers Halfdan Ragnarsson and Ivar the Boneless wintered in East Anglia. Halfdan and Ivar moved north and captured Northumbria in 867 and York as well. Danelaw - a special rule of law - was soon established in the settled areas and shaped the local cultures there for centuries. Cultural remains are still noticeable today.[3]


The Danes first arrived in Ireland in 795 AD, at Rathlin Island, initiating subsequent raids and trade settlements, socalled longphorts. During the Viking Age, they established many coastal towns like Dublin, Cork and Limerick and were followed by Danish settlers. There were many small skirmishes and larger battles with the native Irish clans in the following two centuries, with the Danes sometimes siding with allied clans. In 1014 AD, at the Battle of Clontarf, the Vikings were eventually defeated and the remaining Danish settlers gradually assimilated with the local population.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Anderson, Carl Edlund. "The Danish Tongue and Scandinavian Identity" (PDF). p. 1. Retrieved 4 November 2013. Icelandic writers (who provide the bulk of our surviving documentation)commonly employed the term dǫnsk tunga (literally “Danish tongue”) to identify the language not just of those who were ruled by the Dana konungr, but of all Germanic-speaking Scandinavians. 
  2. ^ Jordanes. Mierow (1908), ed. Getica III (23). 
  3. ^ Flores Historiarum: Rogeri de Wendover, Chronica sive flores historiarum, p. 298-9. ed. H. Coxe, Rolls Series, 84 (4 vols, 1841-42)
  4. ^ "The Vikings in Ireland: 800AD–1169". DoCharra.com. Retrieved 10 February 2016.