Our knowledge of ancient Germanic religion is mainly based on Old Norse sources, like the Prose Edda and the Poetic Edda, but there are other sources too. Most well-known is of course the Germania of Tacitus, but Paulus Diaconus (c. 725 – 799/800) too has a story to tell. When the Longobards were on their way from Scandinavia to the south during the great migrations of the 4th -6th century, they met another German tribe, the Vandals. At that moment the Longobardi had not yet taken that name, but were known as the Winili and two brothers, Ibor and Oio, were leading the Winili in their migration. The Vandals were stronger in number, but in Germanic belief, it was Woden, head of the Germanic pantheon, who gave victory. The following story is from the Historia Langobardorum, but Paulus has taken it from a source he is using, the Origo gentis Longobardorum. This source has a more elaborate version, but is unfortunately not online. It is quite possible that the version in the Origo is a Latin translation of a Germanic poem. To what extent this story reflects a historic reality is impossible to say, but it is not unlikely that there has been a conflict between the Vandals and the Longobards.
I won’t go into details of comparison between this story and Old Norse sources, but as it actually substantiates what we know about Woden from the Old Norse sources of the 13th century, its importance can hardly be underestimated.
Historia Longobardorum c.8.
Refert hoc loco antiquitas ridiculam fabulam: quod accedentes Wandali ad Godan victoriam de Winilis postulaverint, illeque responderit, se illis victoriam daturum quos primum oriente sole conspexisset. Tunc accessisse Gambaram ad Fream, uxorem Godan, et Winilis victoriam postulasse, Freamque consilium dedisse, ut Winilorum mulieres solutos crines erga faciem ad barbae similitudinem componerent maneque primo cum viris adessent seseque a Godan videndas pariter e regione, qua ille per fenestram orientem versus erat solitus aspicere, collocarent. Atque ita factum fuisse. Quas cum Godan oriente sole conspiceret, dixisse: "Qui sunt isti longibarbi?". Tunc Fream subiunxisse, ut quibus nomen tribuerat victoriam condonaret. Sicque Winilis Godan victoriam concessisse. Haec risu digna sunt et pro nihilo habenda. Victoria enim non potestati est adtributa hominum, sed de caelo potius ministratur.
refero: to tell
hoc loco i.e. in the source Paulus is using, the Origo gentis Langobardorum, which he refers to as antquitas.
accedo –cessi –cessum: to approach
Wandali: the Vandals, a Germanic tribe. The Vandals sacked Rome in 455 and up to this day their name is used for describing vandals….
Godan = Woden
postulo: to demand
oriente sole: at sunrise
conspicio –spexi –spectum: to see
Tunc accessisse Gambaram……..dedisse. The a.c.i. construction is depending on refert in line 1.
Gambara: the mother of Ibor and Oio.
Frea: Freya, the consort of Woden in Old Norse mythology
mulier -eris (f): woman
solutos crines: loose hair. Normally Germanic women had their hair in a braid.
erga + acc.: against
compono –posui –positum: to make, arrange, compose
mane primo: in the early morning
seseque a Godan videndas pariter ….collocarent: and to gather themselves together to be seen by Godan
e regione: from the region
oriens, entis: the east
versus + acc.: towards
soleo solitus: to use, be accustomed
dixisse, subiunxisse and concessisse are depending on refert
subiungo –iunxi –iunctum: here: to induce
ut quibus nomen tribuerat victoriam condonaret = ut illis victoriam condonaret, quibus nomen tribuerat
tribuo tribui tributum: to give, bestow
condono: to give, present
risu: supine form: worthy of laughing
hominum: the idea that Godan was a god, was already forgotten.