Hygelac, Proto-Norse *Hugilaikaz [1], Latin Chlochilaicus, Old Norse Hugleikr (d. ca 516) was king of the Geats. He was the son of Hrethel and had brothers Herebeald and Haethcyn. His sister was married to Ecgtheow and had the son Beowulf. Hygelac was married to Hygd and they had the son Heardred, and an unnamed daughter who married Eofor. When Hygelac's brother Haethcyn was fighting with the Swedes, Hygelac arrived one day too late at Hrefnesholt to save his brother, but managed to rescue the surviving Geatish warriors, who were besieged by the Swedish king Ongentheow. The Swedes found refuge at a hill fort but were assaulted by the Geats and the Swedish king was slain by Eofor. After the death of his brother, Hygelac ascended the Geatish throne. Hygelac then went on a Viking raid to Frisia and was killed. Hygelac was succeeded by Heardred.[2]

The raid to Frisia helped scholars approximate the date of Hygelac's death to ca 516, because the raid was documented by Frankish scribes. In these sources he appears as King Chlochilaicus, who invaded the Frankish Kingdoms in the early sixth century, and was killed by a military force led by Theudebert, son of the king of the Franks.[3]

The double identification of Hygelac as either Dane or Geat is not surprising, since Dane seems to have been used as a generic term for Scandinavians (cf. Danish tongue and East Dane referring to the Geats in Beowulf) by many. The use of the word 'Danes' to describe the Geats may be due to the Geatish-Danish alliance and the Danish influence in Götaland. It is worth noting that there it is unlikely that Hygelac was a King of Denmark (Hrothgar is the King of Denmark in Beowulf and many other Kings are said to be in power during Hygelac's raids into Frisia). It is very possible that Hygelac is related to the Danish Kings and thus the confusion could have been caused by that. He is called 'Rex Getarum' (or varients) in accounts which clearly point to him being the King of the Geats however he is not called Rex Danorum (or Rex Ad Dener) in any accounts. The use of the word Dane in the Historia Francorum is a very debated issue that may never see an end.

Preceded by:
King of the Geats Succeeded by:

Sources and notes

  1. PDF
  2. Beowulf
    • Rex Getarum in Liber Monstrorum
    • Rege Gotorum in Decem Libri Historiarum or "Ten Books of History", better known as the Historia Francorum or "History of the Franks" by Gregory of Tours), III, 3. "the Danes sent a fleet under their King Chlochilaicus and invaded Gaul from the sea. They laid waste one of the regions ruled by Theuderic and captured some of the inhahitants. [...] The Danish King was killed, the enemy fleet was beaten in a naval battle and all the booty was brought back on shore once more."

Nerman, B. Det svenska rikets uppkomst. Stockholm, 1925.

Further reading


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