Hlöðskviða or The Battle of the Goths and Huns is an epic poem found in Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks.
The poem's historicity is uncertain or confused, with many attempts at reconstructing a historical setting or origin for the saga – most scholars place the tale sometime in the mid 5th century AD, with the battle taking place somewhere either in central Europe near the Carpathian Mountains, or further east in European Russia.
Texts, historicity, and analysis
Of the two main sources for the saga, "H", from the Hausbók (A.M. 544) early 14th C.; and "R", the 15th century parchment (MS 2845). The final parts of the saga including Hlöðskviða are absent in H and truncated in R – the remainder of the text, is found in better preserved 17th C. paper copies of these works.
The poem itself is though to have originally been a stand-alone work, separate from the saga. It has several analogues, containing similar or related content, including the English Widsith, as well as Orvar-Odd's Saga. and the Gesta Danorum.
The historicity of the "Battle of the Goths and Huns", including the identification of people, places, and events, has been a matter of scholarly investigation since the 19th century, with no clear answer. Locations proposed for the setting include a number of places around the Carpathian Mountains, and in the Valdai Hills; the actual battle has been identified as either Battle of the Catalaunian Plains (451 AD), between Flavius Aetius and the Visigoths under Theodoric I against the Huns under Attila); or between gothic king Ostrogotha and the Gepid king Fastida; or between the Langobards and the Vulgares (Bulgars) in which the Lombard king Agelmundus (Agelmund) was killed; or a post-Attila (d.453) conflict between the Gepids and Huns, possibly during the reign of the Gepid Ardaric; another interpretation makes the goths the Crimean Goths; whilst the battle itself has been placed as early at 386 AD, a destruction of peoples under Odotheus in a battle on the river Danube. Similarities between the story in the saga and the Battle of Nedao have also been noted. The identification of persons in the poem with historical figures is equally confused. Additionally any historical date of the "Battle of Goths and Huns" (whatever the exact attribution to historical events) is several centuries earlier than the supposedly preceding events recorded in the saga.
The poem preserved as separate stanzas interspersed among the text in Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks. The poem in the saga consists of 29 strophes or parts of strophes, of which most are narrative not speech. Much of it is now in prose form, though it is thought that the original had been verse, with some textual evidence in the prose for a versic original. (Tolkien 1960) supposes that it originally formed a complete narrative in itself, outside of the context it is now found in the saga.
Some damaged verses were recorded differently by different editors, and the text show signs of different dates of composition or recording in different parts of the text – including rich verses similar to those found in early eddaic poems such as Atlakviða or Hamðismál, whilst other lines are less rich.
The stanzas are generally numbered, but the numbering may start from the first poetic stanza in the saga, not the poem.
Heiðrekr, king of the Goths, had two sons, Angantýr and Hlöðr. Only Angantýr was legitimate, so he inherited his father's kingdom. Hlöðr, whose mother was the daughter of Humli, king of the Huns, and who was born and raised among the Huns, claimed half the inheritance, Angantýr refused to split evenly and war ensued, claiming first Hervör, their sister, then Hlöðr himself as casualties.
The first poetic frame peoples and their rulers:
Ár kváðu Humla
Of old they said Humli
|—(Tolkien 1960, (75) pp.45–6)|
Valdar is also named as a king of the Danes in Guðrúnarkviða II.
After Heidrek's death, Hlod travels to Arheimar to claim half of the Gothic realm as his inheritance. In Hlod's demand the forest on the boundary separating the Goths and the Huns, and a "holy grave" is referred to, apparently an important sanctuary of the Goths, but its background is unknown.
hrís þat it mæra,
the renowned forest
|—(Tolkien 1960, (82) pp.48–9)|
Angatyr offers Hlod a third of his realm, and Gizur, the old foster-father of Heidrek's says that this is more than enough for the son of a slave. On Hlod's return to the Hunnic realm, his grandfather Humli is enraged at the insult and gathers the army of the Huns.
The poem ends with Angantýr finding his brother dead:
Bǫlvat es okkr, bróðir,
We are cursed, kinsman,
|—(Tolkien 1960, (103) pp.57–8)|
- Oium, the Gothic realm in Scythia, overrun by the Huns in the 370s
- Poetic Edda, the poem generally does not appear in Eddic poetry collections (exceptions include Vigfússon & Powell 1883 and Jónnson 1956), but contains some poetry in a similar style
- Tolkien, Christopher (1953–1957), "The Battle of the Goths and the Huns" (PDF), Saga-Book, 14, pp. 141–163
- Vigfússon, Gudbrand; Powell, F. York, eds. (1883), "(Book.5 § 5) The Hun's Cycle : Hlod and Angantheow's Lay", Corpus Poeticum Boreale: The Poetry of the Old Northern Tongue, 1 Eddic Poetry, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 348–352, 565
- Kershaw, Nora (1921), Stories and Ballads of the Far Past, Cambridge University Press, pp. 79–150 , e-text
- Also Kershaw's translation alongside the Old Norse Hervarar Saga og Heiðreks [The Saga of Hervör and Heithrek]
- Also in Kershaw, N., ed. (1922), "13. The Battle of the Goths and the Huns", Anglo-Saxon and Norse poems
- The Saga of King Heidrek the Wise (PDF), translated by Tolkien, Christopher, 1960
- Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks [R] -and- Saga Heiðreks konúngs ens vitra [H] [The Saga of Hervor & King Heidrek the Wise], translated by Tunstall, Peter, 2005