Denmark has always been on the periphery of Europe and only on a few occasions have this minor power had decisive influence on the chain of events that were to shape the fate of Europe.

However one of these occasions happened in 810 and this event would reshape the entire history of Europe and the world itself. Indeed the Danish king Gudfred would go on and sack Aachen and kill Charlemagne in the process. This is the main PoD for this timeline. Yet I will start the timeline with the beginning of the Saxon Wars to better explain the motivation for both sides and why Gudfred went on and sacked Aachen.

One of subjects I wanted to explore is the Pagan reformation but it comes as no surprise that the written sources about Norse mythology were also influenced by Icelandic mythology with a huge catholic influence. The mythology was also later influenced by protestant reformation, 19th century nationalist romanticism and Hollywood.

As such I would approach Norse mythology from a more academic perspective and try to look at it as my ancestors in Denmark did before their conversion to Christianity. Last and not least I would also use my own creativity and interpretation of Norse mythology.

Therefore you might read something which wouldn’t match with what you know from pop culture. So forget everything you know from Marvel.

The Norse is not the only focus in this timeline but also the Carolingian empire as well as Christianity are in focus hence the title “The Hammer and The Cross”. However it has no connection to the science fiction novel by Harry Harrison of the same name beyond his idea for a reformed pagan religion. I have not read the trilogy either.

Last but not least I would like to thank following Youtubers:

Arith Härger, pagan and an archaeologist by trade for his educated videos and providing me access to a vast library of books and other written sources.

Jackson Crawford, Ph.D. Real expertise in Norse language and myth, free of both ivory tower elitism and the agendas of self-appointed gorus.

Norse Magic and Beliefs. A channel dedicated to exploring the evidence of magic, rituals and religion in the Norse world.


Prologue: Art of Writing

Saxon Wars, part 1 (772 - 781)

Saxon Wars, part 2 (782 - 792)

Saxon Wars, part 3 (793 - 804)

Saxon Wars, part 4 (804 - 810)

Saxon Wars, part 5 (811 - 818)

Gyldendal og Politikens Danmarkshistorie, bind 1 - 17

Dansk Udenrigspolitisk Historie, bind 1 - 6

Danmarks krigshistorie, bind 1 - 2

Vikinger i krig by Kim Hjardar & Vegard Vike og Spartacus

Ancient Scandinavians by T. Douglas Price

The Conquest and Forced Conversion of the Saxons under Charlemagne by Alexander Dessens

The level and scale of literacy in the Viking World

The Poetic Edda and Prose Edda

Essential Asatru by Diana L. Paxson

Gods and myths of Northern Europe by H. Davidson
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Prologue: The Art of Writing
We have a rich and immense oral tradition, but it was also our greatest weakness as the Christians could use our Skálds to spread their written words. The introduction of the Art of Writing by Christian monks in the 8th century allowed our oral tradition to become standalizing, the establishment of a literate tradition and the emergence of a priesthood as a distinct class.
Excerpt of “History of Writing in Scandinavia”

The Early Middle Ages started with the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century and the following centuries saw a great Germanic and Slavic migrations across Europe. Some of these people were the Goths and Lombardy settling in Southern Europe, the Franks settled in Gaul and Ango-Saxon crossed the North Sea and settled in Britain.

Meanwhile the Eastern Roman Empire was violently shaken by the pressure from the Avars and later the Bulgurians, and fought bitterly with the ancient Persian enemy. The rise of Islam saw the Arabs conquering immense amounts of territories in the Middle East and Africa. In the steppes, the Khazars grew in power and connected east with west.

However in Scandinavia things were about to change in a way that was to affect the entire continent and this change was heralded by the mythological Skjöldungar dynasty. A Danish royal family with its origin shrouded in myth and legend.

To the Christian Europe, the land of the Danes was an uncivilized and barbarous land. Its inhabitants were known to be fierce warriors and great sailors. Still the Danes as well as the rest of the northern people were far more than the bloodthirsty barbarians the rest of Europe saw them to be.

The northern people were skilled in warcraft, true, but they were also fine smiths, poets and intrepid traders. They lived in a stratified warrior-aristocratic peasant society, where family, lineage, honor and land were the most crucial factors in achieving status and rights. A war-oriented religion and a focus on strength and warfare providing the framework for their culture.

While Christianity had a presence in the land of the Danes since at least the 6th century and a church had indeed been built some few kilometers southwest of Ribe on a settlement apt named Dankirke and possibly the site of an earlier Christian mission. The first recording missionary work was however in the early 8th century with the arrival of the Anglo-Saxon bishop Willibrord. Unlike what Alcuin had written down in his Life of St Willibrord decade later, this was not the Word of God that convinced jarl Angantyr to erect a church in Ribe, but rather the prosperity of trade in the region.

Angantyr was elected as jarl at a time with increasing trade between the North Sea and East Sea after Dorestad became established southeast of the former Roman fortress of Levefanum, now Utrecht. Due to its proximity to the fork in the Rhine, it quickly became the most important port in the North Sea with access to all of Western Europe. It was the meeting point for traders at the time.

As a result the Franks and the Frisians fought over control of the township. The Franks won out in 695, established the Diocese of Utrecht, and appointed Willibrord as its first bishop. Dorestad experienced rapid growth under Frankish control. Willibrord was also tasked with spreading the Word of the Gods among the Frisian, and even visited the court of the Frisian king Radbod without luck.

Many frisian merchants and craftsmen however refused to be under the Franks overlordship and fled north along the coast and settled down near a seasonal marketplace exactly where an ancient inland trade route crossed one river with easy access to the sea. They built a settlement in 704 and named it Ribe. The settlement flourished and quickly grew into an important export centre of Jutlandic goods in only a few years.

It was when the jarl Angantyr eyed an opportunity and put Ribe under his protection in return for revenue in the form of taxes or gifts from the merchants and craftsmen. He relocated the marketplace in the abandoned settlement of Dankirke to Ribe, established a new harbour and fortificered the young settlement with rampart. The first town in Scandinavia had been founded.

Around spring of 710 when Angantyr oversaw the construction of the trade town, a group of Anglo-Saxon missionaries led by bishop Willibrord approached the jarl and offered him riches and gifts and propagated the Gospel teaching.

While Anganty was initially unsympathetic toward the words of the White Christ, the bishop had learned from his failed mission at the court of the Frisian king Radbod. Instead he told the king about the administrative advantages a church could provide. Most important of all, a church would also attract Christian merchants not only seeking the protection of the local jarl, but also from the protection from their own God.

Unlike the Frisians and the Saxons to the south, Anganty didn’t feel treated by the powerful Frankish king and merely saw the White Christ as one of the gods equally with his own pantheon. He was also an opportunist and approved the construction of a church, as well as liberating thirty thralls.

Bishop Willibrord picked thirty boys from among the king’s thralls and instructed them in the words of the While Christ and baptized them. Around one decade later the future Saint Boniface returned to Ribe with the now-growth boys and established a small abbey in the edge of the town.

Yet they had limited success in converting the Danes and the abbey soon became forgotten by the Christian Europe until the abbey was abandoned. According to the Annal of Skoldungar, an unnamed abbot attempted to fell a sacred tree on the marketplace at Ribe only to be struck by Þór’s lightning from a clear sky, and the Danes took it as sign from the gods and burned the abby down.

However the most important impact from this short-living mission was the introduction of a writing tradition. While the Danes were already highly literate and had their own runic writing system, the runes were mostly carved on stones, metal, bones or bark. This process was not suitable for long and detailed records.

In its short lifespan, the missionaries taught the Danes in the art of writing and its usefulness was quickly caught on. Initially it was mostly used for writing contracts, land dreed and trade agreements, while bark was still used in daily use. Early on parchment was brought from the Anglo-Saxons and the Franks, but since Ribe’s main export was cattle, the craftsmen began to produce their own parchment. The most important change was however that the goðar and skálds began to write their oral law and oral lore down.

A goði was a lawspeaker and master of ceremonies, and his main task was to preside over Þing, an assembly of free men. A place where they could voice their options, to solve legal disputes, dictate judgment, change laws, make political decisions and even elect their leaders. The goði would advise the community leader and everybody else in the Þing, as he was considered impartial and one of the most respektive figures in the community. Yet these goðar were at best a half-time position and only summoned when Þing was assembled or in religious ceremonies and festivals.

There were at the time no written laws, so past laws, decisions or sentences would be memorised by the goði and eventually passed on to the next generation. Soon or later the goðar decided to write all what they knew down on parchment so nothing would go lost. It didn’t go long before they wrote ritual practices and religious traditions down. Eventually a number of legal and religious texts were written down, and future generations of goðar began to use these texts as reference.

As writing books were time consuming and expensive, the goðar began to demand tithe from every fine passed through the Þing or promoting a public commitment to donate a tithe to them and their position eventually turned into full time position. Many eventually consulted with goðar on both legal and religious matters as they considered these holy texts to be the words of their ancestors and a source of wisdom. It didn’t last long before the goðar assumed the role of spiritual leaders.

The skálds on the other hand were already a professional class of individuals whose lives were dedicated to poetry and storytelling who performed at courts of jarls and konungs. All folklore, histories, legends, heroic deeds, sagas and stories of the gods were memorised and get told around after generations and generations. Like the goðar, the skálds held a prominent position in Norse society as wealthy patrons needed a skáld in their court constantly not just to perform at a certain occasion or entertainment at the mead hall, but also to memorize the deeds of his patron.

They knew how to read and write in runes, but writing runes on parchment was much easier than carving runes on stones. This didn’t last long before their wealthy patrons asked their court skálds to record the deeds of their patrons and their ancestors down on parchment, for legitimation and prestige, and they began to record historical accounts of events down as chronicles and eventually put rest of oral lore on the parchment.

From Ribe, the art of writing rapidly spread to the rest of Scandinavia through the vast trade network over the next centuries together with the creation of a new group of craftsmen, a new product, the solidifying of skáld as a class of chroniclers and the emergence of priesthood. The runes likewise saw a shift from craved to written runic.

Both skálds and goðar created what later was known as Poetic Edda and Holy Edda. The former a collection of recorded poems, deeds and legends of the extensive Norse mythology, and the later a collection of poems containing code of conducts, legal texts, discussion of philosophy and belief, and ritual practices. Neither eddas were considered divinely nor a definitive canon like the Christian bible.

It was first during the reign of Gudfred the Great that the foundation of what would become the Church of Forn Siðr was created in the aftermath of the Saxon Wars.
Thank you for your kind words.
I expect to update the timeline each sunday.

Why are Christian missionaries teaching pagans how to write?
More introducing than teaching. According to the latest research, the Norse was already literaced and at the time used wax table stylus. When they saw these Christian missionaries use parchment and quill, it didn't last long before they saw useness in this writing tool and material and begun to use it themselves. The wax table and stylus was found at Birka and Sigtuna, two important viking centers in Sweden. Birka from early viking age and Sigtuna from late viking age. In the case of Sigtuna, it have being found clear evidence of the Christian church's effect on the writing style long before Christianity was a official religion with the establishment of Latin script as an administration tool. There have also be found that Latin script had being used as a practical tool in Birka which existed paralled with Runic script.

So I would agrued that had Angantyr appoved Wilibrod's mission in his land, then parchment and quill, Christian writing style and the Latin script would be introducted in Ribe and then spread to rest of Denmark from there. I attempted in the above prologue to introduced the art of writing earlier so the Norse people could begin to get accustomed to writing and evolved their oral tradition into a concrete and structured writting system before Christianity took over. This prologue last over several decades with a large bloom of literarcy take place in 9th century.

My source on this research: The level and scale of literacy in the Viking World
Well, color me interested!

If I may suggest a written course, I'd look into Thomas DuBois as well. He was one of Dr. Crawford's pofessors at Madison, and (having met him personally, and read one of his works) is deeply knowledgable. I think you'd find his work, especially Nordic Religions in the Viking Age to be very useful.

But yeah, I'm totally jonesing for this TL now :)
If I may suggest a written course, I'd look into Thomas DuBois as well. He was one of Dr. Crawford's pofessors at Madison, and (having met him personally, and read one of his works) is deeply knowledgable. I think you'd find his work, especially Nordic Religions in the Viking Age to be very useful.
Thank you for the recommentation. This book looks good and I had just ordered it. If you or you other have other good recommendations for books I should look at, please suggust away
Speaking of which.
For the last chapters, I've been Rosamond McKitterick's work The Frankish Kingdom under the Carolingians, 751-987; History and Memory of the Carolingian World and Marios Costambeys' book with the similar name of Carolingian World. Especially McKitterick was useful in reconstructing the Carolingian political stage at the time, while Costambeys' looks into how the society and economy worked helped me later on. Would recommend all three of them, but in my honest opinion, Costambeys is a bit dry to read, but nonetheless very informative.
I would like to look at works on the Carolingian periods for this timeline. Which of these above mentioned books should I look at first? I cannot afford to buy all three at once. Or if it is enough to buy one book, which one would you suggust?
Pretty interesting, the fact that this hit a century before the Franks are a problem for the Danes and vice versa will allow a lot of transfer of know how, but also make the Danes more open for for Frankish knowledge, Ribe as center for Norse/Baltic parchment production will also mean a lot of transfer of capital to Ribe and the rise of a strong local craftsmen class. This could lead to other manufacturing to develop in the town. But we could

It should be said that Ribe have a lot of potential as a town, Ribe River flow through it, giving it access to large amount of fresh water, the region around ribe still have the old forest, giving Ribe access to fuel and building materials. It’s pretty much the only natural port on the Jutish west coast south of the Limfjord and north of the Eider. Kongeåen (King’s River) slightly north of Ribe make transfer of cattle and goods from East Jutland. The primary reason Ribe never became a major city was because it ended up as a enclave. The main limiting factor is the tendency to flooding and the lack of hydropower (through it have plenty of access to windpower).
I would like to look at works on the Carolingian periods for this timeline. Which of these above mentioned books should I look at first? I cannot afford to buy all three at once. Or if it is enough to buy one book, which one would you suggust?
Of those three I'd recommend The Frankish Kingdom under the Carolingians, 751-987 by McKitterick as it is relatively introductory in nature and gives a general and, more importantly, digestible overview of the dynasty and how it functioned in terms of state-building, economics, and culture. That said, the Carolingians ruled for a long time, so many papers and larger works are specialized in specific aspects, be it individual reigns, regions, or aspects of the Frankish society, be it the church or the fruits of the Carolingian renaissance. Though be warned, all three of the books (and many more) are (relatively) academic in nature which shows both in writing and especially the price tag. In your spot, I'd try to get access to them through libraries to check out whether they are worth the expense in the first place. Good luck with your timeline nonetheless, certainly an interesting premise.