In this image, from an 8th-Century Vesparian Psalter, we see an Anglo-Saxon lyre. Although the image itself is from a religious work depicting David, the psalm-writer-performer, it is helpful to see an Anglo-Saxon lyre which scops (storytellers) would likely have used during a Beowulf performance. Image online via Swarthmore College.
If the Geats lived in the southwestern part of Sweden, as experts believe, not much sea separated the Danes from the Geats. Under normal conditions, it would have taken about a day to sail from place to place.
Roskilde today would not have looked the same during the mid-sixth century. One of Denmark’s oldest towns, it was first established as a Viking trading post more than a thousand years ago. Remnants of Viking ships, discovered during modern times, are preserved in a local museum.
During the time of Beowulf, people in Denmark had not yet been converted, so there were no Christian churches or monasteries. Hrothgar, then King of the Danes, would have ruled over people living in small dwellings not large homes. Bodies of kings would not have been placed inside royal coffins, then housed inside a cathedral, as they are now.
Lejre is the larger municipality where Roskilde is situated. Once the capital of an iron-age kingdom, ruled by a legendary dynasty called Skjöldung (in Old Norse) and “Scylding” (in Old English), Lejre has archaeological sites which are important to the Beowulf story.
There is something else about Lejre, a primarily rural environment, which ties it to the Beowulf story. Kings, like Hrothgar, built “long halls” in which to congregate with their warriors. Archaeologists have uncovered such a place in Lejre.
Was it once Heorot, the mead-hall where Grendel - the monster - attacked the Danes?
Let’s take a look.