The Heaðobards (Old English: Heaðubeardan, Old Low German: Headubarden, "war-beards") were possibly a branch of the Langobards,[1] and their name may be preserved in toponym Bardengau, in Lower Saxony, Germany.[1]

A mention of Heaðobards in the Beowulf

They are mentioned in both Beowulf and in Widsith, where they are in conflict with the Danes. However, in the Norse tradition the Heaðobards had apparently been forgotten and the conflict is instead rendered as a family feud,[2] or as a conflict with the Saxons, where the Danes take the place of the Heaðobards.[3]


In Beowulf, the Heaðobards are involved in a war with the Danes. When Beowulf reports on his adventure in Denmark to his king Hygelac, he mentions that Hroðgar had a daughter, Freawaru.[4] Since Froda had been killed by the Danes, Hroðgar sent Freawaru to marry Ingeld, in an unsuccessful attempt to end the feud.[5] An old warrior urged the Heaðobards to revenge,[6] and Beowulf predicts to Hygelac that Ingeld will turn against his father-in-law Hroðgar.[7] In a version given in the Danish chronicle Gesta Danorum, the old warrior appears as Starkad, and he succeeded in making Ingeld divorce his bride and in turning him against her family.[3] Earlier in the Beowulf poem, the poet tells us that the hall Heorot was eventually destroyed by fire,[8] see quote (Gummere's translation[9]):

Sele hlīfade
hēah and horn-gēap: heaðo-wylma bād,
lāðan līges; ne wæs hit lenge þā gēn
þæt se ecg-hete āðum-swerian
æfter wæl-nīðe wæcnan scolde.
....there towered the hall,
high, gabled wide, the hot surge waiting
of furious flame. Nor far was that day
when father and son-in-law stood in feud
for warfare and hatred that woke again.

It is tempting to interpret the new war with Ingeld as leading to the burning of the hall of Heorot, as Sophus Bugge did,[1] but the poem separates the two events (by a ne wæs hit lenge þā meaning "nor far way was that day when", in Gummere's translation).


Whereas Beowulf never dwells on the outcome of the battle with Ingeld, the possibly older poem Widsith refers to Hroðgar and Hroðulf defeating the Heaðobards at Heorot:[10]

Hroþwulf ond Hroðgar heoldon lengest
sibbe ætsomne suhtorfædran,
siþþan hy forwræcon wicinga cynn
ond Ingeldes ord forbigdan,
forheowan æt Heorote Heaðobeardna þrym.
Hroðulf and Hroðgar held the longest
peace together, uncle and nephew,
since they repulsed the Viking-kin
hewn at Heorot Heaðobards' fame.
and Ingeld to the spear-point made bow,