Anglo Saxon Scops
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We have heard of the of the glory of the Spear-Danes
how in the old days, the kings of tribes--
how noble princes showed great courage!
Often Scyld Shefing seized the mead-benches
from enemy troops, from many a clan;
he terrified warriors, even though when he first was  found
a waif, helpless.  For that came a remedy,
he grew under heaven, prospered in honor
until every last one of the bordering nations
beyond the whale-road had to heed him and pay him tribute.
He was a good king!

-- Beowulf, author unknown

The proceeding was an excerpt from "Beowulf," a fifth century epic poem.  This poem and and handful of other literary fragments are the only direct evidence we have of the work of the scop.  The Anglo-Saxon scop was a professional or semi-professional tribal poet who celebrated cultural values by singing epics on occasions of great ceremony and festivity This performance was an important part of a larger cultural context which included: 


mead drinking, 

gift giving, 

harp playing, 

and displaying of trophies.

The scop was no common performer.  He was a man of repute, the equal of thanes.   In this time when property was equated with power, the scop could inherit land, hold the land himself, or pass it down to his children (Chambers 10).

The scop fulfilled  many roles in an Anglo Saxon tribe.  Among those functions were:

court singer

tribal historian






traveler and reporter

The scop defined the values of society by valorizing praiseworthy deeds and vilifying unacceptable actions.  Generous gift-giving and heroic leadership on the part of a king, courage and heroic fortitude on the part of a warrior are examples of conduct highly affirmed by the scop.

Compiled by Dr. Kelly S. Taylor
Copyright 2003 by University of North Texas. All rights reserved.
Revised: 30 Sep 2003 15:56:16 -0500