Compendium Saxonis & Chronica Jutensis

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by Anders Leegaard Knudsen

Compendium Saxonis and Chronica Jutensis are the modern names of an epitome of the Gesta Danorum by Saxo Grammaticus and an annalistic continuation which takes the narrative down to ca. 1342. LANGEBEK believed that the author was a Franciscan friar in Odense by the name of Thomas Gheysmer, but this was shown to be an error in VELSCHOW 1839 even if it took a long time before the error was finally laid to rest. Some still argue that the compendium and its continuation were written by an anonymous Franciscan friar from Jutland, but this argument seems based on the assumption that only a Franciscan friar would be interested in Franciscan affairs, an assumption which seems somewhat rash. The question of Jutland as the place of origin is dealt with below (see Date and place). While it is possible that the author was a Franciscan friar from Jutland we must content ourselves with the cautious conclusion that the author is anonymous and the place of origin is unknown.


The Compendium is also sometimes known as the Abbreviatio Saxonis. It is probable that the title should really be Gesta Danorum as these are the opening words of the incipit. Since Saxo Grammaticus’s great history is known by that name and the name Compendium Saxonis has caught on it is preferable, however, to continue to use that title. The Danish name for Chronica Jutensis is “Jyske Krønike”, while the compendium is sometimes called “Saxokompendiet” or simply “Compendium Saxonis”.


Compendium Saxonis: Gesta Danorum quidam egregius grammaticus, origine Syalandicus, nomine Saxo, conscripsit ad instanciam domini Absalonis, archiepiscopi Lundensis, deducens hystoriam a Dan, primo rege Danorum, vsque ad Waldemarum primum et Kanutum, filium eius. Chronica Jutensis: Contra hunc Kanutum regem opposuit se Waldemarus, episcopus Sleswicensis; fugiensque in Norwegiam rediit postmodum cum .35. longis nauibus quasi regem impugnaturus.


Compendium Saxonis: Hic terminatur opus Saxonis de gestis Danorum; forsan hoc tempore vitam cum hystoria terminauit circa annum domini .M.C.XC.. Chronica Jutensis: Postquam plus quam per annum moram contraxisset in Sialendia, venit iterum in Juciam.


Compendium Saxonis: 223 quarto pages. Chronica Jutensis: 18 quarto pages.


Compendium Saxonis & Chronica Jutensis:

  • LANGEBEK, J. 1773: SRD 2, Copenhagen, 286–400.
  • • GERTZ, M.CL. 1917–1918: SMD 1, Copenhagen, 195–470.
  • KROMAN, E. 1962: CCD 4, Copenhagen, 44–250.

Chronica Jutensis:

  • BENZELIUS, E. 1709: Monumenta historica vetera ecclesiœ Sveo-Gothicœ, Uppsala, 145–56.
  • • JØRGENSEN, E. 1920: Annales Danici medii aevi, Copenhagen, 28 & 157–62.
  • • KROMAN, E. 1980: Danmarks middelalderlige annaler, Copenhagen, 284–97.


  • JØRGENSEN, E. 1927: Erik Klipping og hans Sønner. Rigets Opløsning. Udvalg af Kilder til Tidsrummet 1275–1286, Copenhagen, 39–46 (fragments of Chronica Jutensis).
  • JØRGENSEN, E. 1911: Valdemar Atterdag. Udvalg af Kilder, Copenhagen, 1–4 (fragments of Chronica Jutensis).
  • OLSEN, R.A. 1995: Jyske Krønike, Wormianum (Chronica Jutensis).


GERTZ 1917–1918; JØRGENSEN 1920 & 1931; ARUP 1926; KNUDSEN 1994; KNUDSEN 1996.

Date and place

The Compendium Saxonis is not dated nor does it allow any dating on internal grounds, other than the rather obvious one that it must have been made after >Saxo Grammaticus finished the Gesta Danorum. The Chronica Jutensis can be dated on internal grounds and it seems certain that it was written sometime between ca. 1342 and 1346. For reasons of language and style it can be assumed that the two works were written by the same person and this points to a date in the 1340s (GERTZ 1917– 1918 and KNUDSEN 1994). The name Chronica Jutensis is justified only in so far as it is not dominated by an interest in events and affairs in eastern Denmark as is so much of Danish medieval historiography. Ascribing it to Jutland or at least the western part of Denmark might therefore seem justified, but bearing in mind that Saxo Grammaticus, while almost certainly writing in Lund in Scania, had a Zealander’s view of Danish history, it is perhaps better to leave the question open.

Summary of contents, sources

To some extent the Compendium Saxonis supplements the narrative of Saxo Grammaticus with material from the Annales Ryenses, but otherwise it remains faithful to Saxo's text.

The text of the Compendium Saxonis and its continuation, the so-called Chronica Jutensis, only amounts to about twenty-three percent of that in the Gesta Danorum. A certain abbreviation has been achieved by jettisoning Saxo’s poems and the many stylistic variations on the same theme, of which he is so fond. However, this practice alone cannot account for the drastic reduction in size. Many of Saxo’s themes and stories have been left out, but the epitomizer, as we usually call the abbreviator, did not leave out persons, events and descriptions on a larger scale until the narrative reached the middle of the twelfth century. This point in time coincides with the beginning of Saxo’s panegyrical treatment of Bishop (later Archbishop) Absalon and his family. Saxo’s eulogy of his employer must have seemed obsolete and irrelevant to a later age, and was consequently left out.

The Christianization of the Danish people, and the idea of Denmark as a northern parallel to the ancient as well as the medieval Roman Empire, provide two of the main themes in the Gesta Danorum. Though not absent from the Compendium Saxonis, the Roman parallels are much less prominently situated. The Christian aspect, on the other hand, has suffered very little reduction. The reason must be that while Christianization never really lost its relevance, by the fourteenth century the Roman dimension had ceased to be of crucial importance.

Much more important was a third theme of Saxo’s: The strong monarchy in the hands of one and the same dynasty from the very first king down to Saxo’s own time. All the kings mentioned in the Gesta Danorum have been carefully recorded in the Compendium Saxonis, and their succession forms the backbone, as it were, of the narrative. When the epitomizer was working on his chronicle, Valdemar IV (1340–1375) had recently been made king of Denmark after an eight-year interregnum. Although the dynasty had its cadet lines, Valdemar was the last offspring of the main line. It would be his task to raise the realm to its former glory. This concern may have been the most important factor behind the making of the Compendium Saxonis and the Chronica Jutensis.

Composition and style

Even though about seventy-seven percent of Saxo’s text has been left out of the compendium it still follows the Gesta Danorum quite closely (see Summary of contents). One of the four manuscripts containing the Latin text has retained Saxo’s division into sixteen books of the whole work. If the reason behind making the compendium was Saxo’s difficult Latin, then the compendium contains a surprising number of Saxo’s own words and phrases. No modern reader will deny, however, that the compendium is much easier to read than the Gesta Danorum and this user- friendliness may indeed have been the epitomizer’s aim, even if other reasons are as likely to have influenced him (see Summary of contents). On the question of the epitomizer’s Latinity, GERTZ 1917–1918 should be consulted.

The compendium used prose-rhythm (cursus) although not to the extent that Saxo did. Compendium Saxonis has cursus in about fifty-seven percent of the period-endings with cursus velox being the most popular (thirty percent) followed by cursus planus (twenty-four percent) and cursus tardus (three percent). Chronica Jutensis has a much lower occurrence of cursus due to the fact that it belongs to the annalistic genre of medieval historiography rather than the genre of the chronicles, and therefore has a different style. There is only cursus in forty-one percent of the period-endings and these are found in the parts of a broad and descriptive nature. There are no instances of cursus tardus which was also very rare in the compendium. Cursus velox is found in twenty-seven percent of the period-endings and cursus planus in fourteen percent (KNUDSEN 1994).

Purpose and audience

There seems no doubt that the Compendium Saxonis and the Chronica Jutensis were meant to stimulate patriotism during the difficult years after Valdemar IV’s ascension to the throne (see Summary of contents). The purpose will be clearer if a comparison is made with the Annales Ryenses. There is an anti-German bias in the Compendium, but nowhere near as excessive as in the Annales Ryenses. Since the epitomizer knew and used these Annals we must deduce that he made a conscious decision to tone down this aspect. This development is surprising since anti-German feelings, especially against the Holsatians, were widespread in the 1320s and 1330s. There is a certain irony in the fact that this chronicle, despite its anti-German bias, was twice translated into Low German. The message of the chronicle was apparently not incompatible with the use of the German language, which indeed enjoyed a high status throughout the Nordic countries in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. This fact would point to the conclusion that nationalism, if we may call anti-German feelings by that name, was to be found only in some circles of society.

If we accept the hypothesis that some circles of society were more nationalistic than others, this might also explain why the Annales Ryenses were not rendered obsolete by the Compendium. The two texts fulfilled different roles. The Compendium was the more popular, apparently enjoying the support of the royal court, while the Annals enjoyed a more limited circulation, and were not to be found in the halls of power in the fifteenth century.

If ownership can be equated with readership we may be able to say something about the audience of the Compendium Saxonis and Chronica Jutensis in their Latin and Middle Low German versions. The audience, at least in the fifteenth century, was composed of ecclesiastical and noble circles. Among the nobility both men and women were owners and/or readers. It seems plausible that a knowledge of history was deemed necessary for identification with a great source of power and wealth: the monarchy.

Medieval reception and transmission

The Compendium Saxonis and the Chronica Jutensis are preserved in four fifteenth- century manuscripts: D (Copenhagen, Royal Library, E don. Var. 139 4°), ca. 1400. This is the only manuscript which retains the division of the Gesta Danorum into sixteen books. V (Uppsala, University Library, DG 44 4°), first half or middle of the fifteenth century. This manuscript is presumably of Scanian origin and may have belonged to an ecclesiastical institution. A (Copenhagen, Royal Library, Add. 49 2°), written in 1431 in the cathedral town of Odense by Henrik Duuel, for Thomas Gheysmer, probably a Franciscan friar. S (Stockholm, National Archives, Skoklostersamlingen Nr. 47, 4°), fifteenth century. Nothing is known about the origins and history of this manuscript.

M.CL. GERTZ came to the conclusion that D and V are closely related but independent descendants of a common ancestor. The other manuscripts A and S are closely related to each other and do not descend directly from the common ancestor of D and V, but rather from a hyparchetypus (GERTZ 1917–1918)

The Compendium Saxonis and the Chronica Jutensis were translated into Middle Low German twice in the Middle Ages. Translation no. 1 (so numbered not because of its age but because of its importance for the emendation of the Latin text) has survived in two manuscripts: Lt (Stockholm, Royal Library, K 11) fifteenth century; and Kt (Copenhagen, Royal Library, GKS 819 2°), completed 22 February 1476 at Skanderborg Castle, Jutland. Kt was written for Erik Ottesen Rosenkrantz (ca. 1427–1503), who belonged to a rich and powerful family and held the highest office in the royal household. It is unlikely that either of these manuscripts is descended from the other; rather they have a common ancestor. GERTZ noted that the translation in Kt seems to have been based on a Latin text which sometimes offered better readings than the now-extant Latin text, and thus the Latin model of Kt and Lt must have represented a branch which was independent of the archetype of DVAS.

Translation no. 2 has survived in one manuscript and one early printed edition: Mt (Stockholm, Royal Library, K 34), second half of the fifteenth century. Nt (printed by Matthäus Brandis ca. 1502). Nt is a descendant of Mt, which in turn is based on a Latin text related to (or identical with) the common ancestor of A and S. Mt and Nt were almost certainly connected in some way to the Cathedral of Odense and the noble Urne family.

The indirect transmission of Compendium Saxonis and Chronica Jutensis includes their use by later chroniclers such as >Ericus Olai and >Petrus Olai. The Danish Rhymed Chronicle and the Danish continuation of Saxo Grammaticus by Christiern Pedersen are also based on the Compendium Saxonis and Chronica Jutensis.

At least eight or nine now-lost manuscripts of the Compendium Saxonis and Chronica Jutensis can be shown to have existed: six in Latin and two or three in Middle Low German. Together with the surviving seven manuscripts (four in Latin and three in Middle Low German) this makes a total of at least fifteen manuscripts, plus the printed version. This number indicates a very wide diffusion of the text in medieval Denmark, and one that comprised the whole country.


  • ARUP, E. 1926: “Kritisk Vurdering af Klagedigtet af 1329,” Aarbøger for nordisk Oldkyndighed og Historie 3. ser. 16, 21–42.
  • AXELSON, SV. 1956: Sverige i dansk annalistik 900–1400, Stockholm.
  • ERSLEV, KR. 1890: “Erik Plovpennings Strid med Abel. Studier over œgte og uœgte Kilder til Danmarks Historie,” HistTD ser. 6, vol. 2, 359–442.
  • ERSLEV, KR. 1896: “Fra Holstenervœldens Tid i Danmark (1325–1340). Kritiske Smaastudier,” HistTD ser. 6, vol. 6, 389–437.
  • JØRGENSEN, E. 1920: Annales Danici medii aevi, Copenhagen.
  • JØRGENSEN, E. 1931: Historieforskning og Historieskrivning i Danmark indtil aar 1800, Copenhagen.
  • KANSTRUP, J. 1972a: “Valdemar III’s regering og Christoffer II’s tilbagekomst,” HistTD ser. 12, vol. 6, 1–20.
  • KANSTRUP, J. 1972b: “Huitfeldts fremstilling af Christoffer II’s tilbagekomst til Danmark,” HistTD ser. 12, vol. 6, 93–121.
  • KNUDSEN, A.L. 1994: Saxostudier og rigshistorie på Valdemar Atterdags tid (University of Copenhagen, Department of History, Skrifter 17), Copenhagen.
  • KNUDSEN, A.L. 1996: “The Use of Saxo Grammaticus in the Later Middle Ages,” in The Birth of Identities. Denmark and Europe in the Middle Ages, ed. B.P. McGuire, Copenhagen, 147–60.
  • KNUDSEN, A.L. 2000: ”Interessen for den danske fortid omkring 1300. En middelalderlig dansk nationalisme,” HistTD 100, 1–34.
  • KRISTENSEN, A.K.G. 1969: Danmarks œldste annalistik. Studier over lundensisk annalskrivning i 12. og 13. århundrede, Copenhagen.
  • KROMAN, E. 1936: “Ueber die Herkunft des Liber census Daniae,” APhS 11, 1–81.
  • KROMAN, E. 1962: CCD 4, Copenhagen.
  • NIELSEN, H. 1963: “Jyske krønike,” in KLNM 8, coll. 49–50.
  • SCHÄFER, D. 1872: Dänische Annalen und Chroniken von der Mitte des 13. bis zum Ende des 15. Jahrhunderts, Hannover.
  • USINGER, R. 1861: Die dänischen Annalen und Chroniken des Mittelalters, Hannover.
  • VELSCHOW, H. M. 1839: “Niels Ebbesen,” in Dansk Folkeblad, udgivet af Selskabet for Trykkefrihedens rette Brug. 5. Aarg., No. 5, Friday, 19 April.