Danevirke (modern Danish spelling: Dannevirke; in Old Norse;
Danavirki, in German; Danewerk, literally meaning earthwork of the
Danes) is a system of Danish fortifications in Schleswig-Holstein,
Germany. This historically important linear defensive earthwork across
the neck of the Cimbrian peninsula was initiated by the
Danes in the
Nordic Iron Age at some point before 500 AD. It was later expanded
multiple times during Denmark's Viking Age. The
Danevirke was last
used for military purposes in 1864 during the Second War of Schleswig.
Danevirke consists of several walls, trenches and the Schlei
Barrier. The walls stretch for 30 km, from the former Viking
trade centre of
Hedeby near Schleswig on the
Baltic Sea coast in the
east to the extensive marshlands in the west of the peninsula. One of
the walls (named Østervolden), between the
Schlei and Eckernförde
inlets, defended the
According to written sources, work on the
Danevirke was started by the
Gudfred in 808. Fearing an invasion by the Franks, who had
Frisia over the previous 100 years and
Old Saxony in
772 to 804, Godfred began work on an enormous structure to defend his
realm, separating the
Jutland peninsula from the northern extent of
the Frankish empire. The
Danes however, were also in conflict with the
Saxons south of
Hedeby during the Nordic Iron Age and recent
archaeological excavations have revealed that the
initiated much earlier than King Gudfred's reign, around 500 AD and
probably well before that even.
2 Archaeological record
4 Stages in the building of the Danevirke
5 Second Schleswig War
6 In World War II
7 See also
10 External links
Lorenz Frølich's impression of
Thyra Dannebod ordering the foundation
of the Danevirke.
Legend has it that queen
Thyra ordered the
Danevirke to be built. She
was the wife of the first historically recognized king of Denmark,
Gorm the Old
Gorm the Old (reign c. 936 – c. 958).
With the emergence of national states in Europe during the 1800s, the
Danevirke became a powerful symbol for
Denmark and for the idea of a
unique Danish people and Danish culture. Throughout the nineteenth
Denmark and Germany struggled politically and militarily for
possession of the territory variously known as Sønderjylland or
Slesvig by the
Danes and Schleswig by the Germans. Two wars were
First Schleswig War
First Schleswig War (1848–1851) and the Second Schleswig
War (1864), eventually resulting in a Danish defeat and subsequent
German annexation. In this hostile context, the
Danevirke played an
important role, at first as a mental cultural barrier against Germany,
but soon also as a concrete military fortification, when it was
strengthened with cannon emplacements and entrenchments in 1850 and
again in 1861.
In the early 1800s Dannevirke was adopted as the title of several
Danish nationalist journals dealing specifically with the question of
Danish autonomy vis-à-vis Germany, the most notable of these being
N. F. S. Grundtvig
N. F. S. Grundtvig in 1816–19. In earlier times, the
Danevirke had indeed defined a cultural and linguistic border between
Danish and German fiefdoms, but the cultural and linguistic frontiers
had gradually moved north, and by the 19th century territory as far
Flensburg was predominantly German-speaking, but remained
part of Denmark.
Archaeological excavations in 1969–75 established, with the help of
dendrochronology, that the main structure of the
Danevirke had been
built in three phases between AD 737 and 968. It is, therefore,
contemporary with Offa's Dyke, another great defensive structure of
the late 8th century.
Recent investigations suggest that the
Danevirke was not only, and not
even primarily, built for military purposes. The archaeologist Henning
Hellmuth Andersen found that in an early stage the main "wall"
consisted of a ditch between two low embankments. The historian argued
that the Kograben (Danish: Kovirke) south of the main wall consists of
an embankment accompanied by a ditch on its northern side, which would
have been counterproductive for a Danish fortification. Rather, the
main construction, in its earliest stage, and the Kograben would have
been shipping canals. The existence of a shortcut for shipping between
the Baltic and the
North Sea via the
Schlei in the east and the rivers
Treene and Eider in the west had long been recognized, but historians
had previously believed that boats had been moved between the Schlei
and Treene by portage on rollers.
New carbon-14 dating in 2013 has revealed that the second stage
started around 500 AD, and the oldest fortifications are even older
than that. Previous carbon-14 dating dated some of the early
constructions to the second half of the 7th century, and
dendrochronology also suggests that the examined constructions began
not very long after 737, a few decades before the reign of king
Danevirke (shown in red) on the 16th-century Carta Marina
Danevirke is about 30 kilometres (19 mi) long overall, with a
height varying between 3.6 and 6 metres (12 and 20 ft). During
the Middle Ages, the structure was reinforced with palisades and
masonry walls, and was used by Danish kings as a gathering point for
Danish military excursions, including a series of crusader raids
against the Slavs of the south Baltic. In particular, the 12th-century
King Valdemar the Great reinforced parts of the
Danevirke with a brick
wall, which enabled a continued military use of this strategically
important structure. The reinforced parts of the structure are
consequently known in Danish as Valdemarsmuren (lit: Valdemar's
Stages in the building of the Danevirke
Map showing Danevirke/Danewerk and the Hærvejen/Ochsenweg
Map of the rivers Eider, Treene, and Rheider Au, and
Danevirke 1 – Hovedvolden ("the main rampart"), Nordvolden ("the
north rampart"), Østervolden ("the east rampart")
Danevirke was built in five stages, starting about 650,
according to carbon-14 dating. The first three stages were simple
ramparts of soil, and the fourth stage was a palisade rampart with
heavy timber front, built in 737. In the final stages the timber
palisade was reinforced with a heavy stone wall around the timber.
Work said to have been started by Angantyr, and continued by
Siegfried, and ended by Guðfrið according to annales in 808.
Hovedvolden: From Rejde Å (now called Rheider Au) to a small
lake called Dannevirke Sø. It was the main segment of the
Danevirke. About 2 m high and 12 m wide.
Nordvolden: From the northeastern side of Dannevirke Sø, and further
north about 7 km.
Østervolden: About 3.3 km long, and protecting Schwansen.
A 900 m long submerged construction in Slien.
Danevirke 2 – Kovirke ("cow-work")/Kograben ("cow-moat" or "district
Built either by Guðfrið or by
Harald Bluetooth (if it is the work
mentioned as newly made in the Frankish royal annals in 808, then
Harald did not build it) it stretched from the Rheide Å about
7 km to a southern extension of the
Schlei bay which is now a
lake called Selker Noor. Its palisade was about 3 m high, and was
a little more solid than that on the first ramparts. The bank of earth
behind the palisade was about 2 m high and 7 m wide. It had
a V-shaped moat, 4 m wide and 3 m deep.
The construction period of this rampart would have been some time
between 770 and 970.
Danevirke 3 – Hovedvolden/Hauptwall/"main rampart",
Krumvolden/Krummwall/"curved rampart", Buevolden/Bogenwall/"bow
rampart"), Dobbeltvolden/Doppelwall/"double rampart",
Forbindelsesvolden ("the connecting rampart")/Margarethenwall
Hovedvolden was expanded, so that it was now about 5 m high and
about 20 m wide. Krumvolden was built through the Rheide Å,
and overlapped with Hovedvolden. Forbindelsesvolden closed a gap
between Halvkredsvolden ("the semicircle rampart", a bank that
protected Hedeby) and Hovedvolden near Dannevirke Sø. Buevolden
and Dobbeltvolden protected an important road junction. This wall is
connected to most of the building work is attributed to Harald
Bluetooth. Arild Hvitfeldt's Danmarks Riges Krønike adds a little
detail to the extension of the
Danevirke in that time period. "Then
Thyra (wife of Gorm the Old)
Danes from all the
kingdom's regions to meet at the border and under her supervision they
built a wall of earth and timber from
Slien over the moors to Trene.
The Scanians received the western section from Karlegat to Trene.
Zealanders and Funen dwellers received the section east from Slien
Schlei bay) to Karlegat. Jutlanders provided provisions to the whole
army." This would place Thyra's extension sometime before 940.
Forbindelsesvolden was attacked by the
Saxons of the Ottonian dynasty
Danevirke 4 – Hovedvolden/Hauptwall/"main rampart".
Reinforcement on the Main Wall finished in 954, and a new
Forbindelsevold build from 964 to 968.
Harald Bluetooth is thought to
be the main constructor.
Danevirke 5 – Forbindelsesvolden, Krumvolden, and Hovedvolden
Under Canute IV of
Denmark was at war with the
German empire. The
Danevirke was strengthened at the beginning of the
12th century: the moats were deepened and the ramparts were made
higher. A granite boulder palisade wall was built on a part of
Danevirke 6 – Hovedvolden and Thyraborg
Valdemar I fortified the rest of Hovedvolden with the famous
"Valdemar-wall", a 7-m high wall of stones in mortar on a granite
boulder base, propped up with buttresses and covered with tiles. This
was a large reinforcement, and doubtless deterred many who tried to
send an army northwards through Jutland. It was the last true
reinforcement of the ramparts. Later Thyraborg castle was built.
Danevirke began to lose its purpose in the 14th century, owing
both to the expense of manning it and to the development of ballistas,
trebuchets, and similar siege engines.
Main Wall (Hovedvolden/Hauptwall)
Eastern Wall (Østervolden/Osterwall) near Kochendorf
Second Schleswig War
Main article: Evacuation of Danevirke
The last military use of the
Danevirke was during the Second Schleswig
War in 1864. Due especially to the above-mentioned emotive nationalist
symbolism, public opinion in
Denmark and the Danish military had
expected the coming battle to take place along the Danevirke. After
centuries of abandonment and decay, the
Danevirke fortifications were
partially restored, strengthened, and equipped with artillery
installations in 1850 and 1861. In the Second War of Schleswig, there
was some early skirmishing to the south of the Danevirke, but
ironically no battle took place at it, as the Danish Commander in
Chief, General de Meza, withdrew all soldiers to the trenches at
Dybbøl, owing to an unexpected threat of being outflanked. The Schlei
and the wetlands between the
Husum had frozen solid in a
hard winter, and the territory immediately south of the
been conquered by the advancing German army. This retreat came as a
surprise to the Austro-Prussian army, and almost all of the Danish
army succeeded in completing the evacuation. It resulted, however, in
the abandonment of important pieces of heavy artillery, and it remains
a matter of historical debate why the railway to
Flensburg was never
properly used for the evacuation. News of the retreat came as a great
shock to Danish public opinion which had considered the
be impregnable, and General de Meza was promptly relieved of his
Danevirke has remained in German possession ever
In World War II
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Following the Allied invasion of
Normandy during World War II, the
Wehrmacht feared that a second Allied invasion might take place
through Denmark, and contemplated converting the earthen wall into an
anti-tank trench to counter this threat. Had the proposal been
implemented, it would have destroyed the structure.
Hearing of the plans, Danish archaeologist Søren Telling – aware
that all archaeological investigation was under the ultimate
jurisdiction of SS chief
Heinrich Himmler – immediately telephoned
both the head of the SS's archaeological department, Amt für
Ahnenerbe ("Office for ancestral heritage"), and Himmler himself.
Telling argued strongly against the destruction of an important
remnant of "
Aryan civilization" and Himmler authorized him to stop the
construction of the anti-tank trench. He informed Telling that a
written order would be dispatched but that it would take several days
to arrive. Telling then drove to the site and ordered the commanding
Wehrmacht officers to immediately stop the construction process. When
Wehrmacht commander refused, Telling threatened him with
reprisals from the SS. Construction was called off and Himmler's
written order arrived two days later countering the Wehrmacht's
original instructions. Telling later settled near the site and
considered himself a custodian of it until his death in 1968.
Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Dannevirke.
Götavirke (Geatish Dyke)
History of Denmark
History of Schleswig-Holstein
H. Hellmuth Andersen: "Til hele rigets værn, Danevirkes arkæologi",
edited by Moesgård and Wormianum in 2004 (in Danish). About the
archaeology of Dannevirke.
^ Else Roesdahl. "Broer, Ringborge og Dannevirke [Bridges, Ringcastles
and Danevirke]". danmarkshistorien.dk (in Danish). Aarhus University.
Retrieved 20 December 2014.
^ Ordbog over det danske Sprog: Virke
^ a b c Lotte Flugt Kold (3 November 2014). "Dannevirke".
danmarkshistorien.dk (in Danish). Aarhus University. Retrieved 20
Danevirke – Ældre end hidtil antaget! Museum South-Jutland. (in
^ Uffe Christensen (27 August 2013). "
Danevirke er noget ældre end
antaget". Jyllandsposten (in Danish). Archived from the original on 1
October 2013. Retrieved February 27, 2014.
^ Matthias Schulz (August 27, 2010). "'Sensational' Discovery:
Archeologists Find Gateway to the Viking Empire". Spiegel Online
International. Retrieved February 27, 2014.
^ a b c d "Dannevirke" (in Danish). Gyldendal Business.
^ Anders Bøgh. "Valdemarstiden 1157–1241". danmarkshistorien.dk (in
Danish). Aarhus University. Retrieved 20 December 2014.
^ Henrik Dannemand Jensen (4 February 2014). "Da 40.000 danske
soldater opgav Dannevirke og forsvandt i ly af natten [When 40,000
Danish soldiers gave up
Danevirke and disappeared under cover of
darkness]". Berlingske (Kultur) (in Danish). Retrieved 20 December
Slesvig Wars in English and Danish
Klaus Goldmann on early medieval canals and water management (in
Museum at the Danewerk
Parts of this article are based on the articles Dannevirke and Søren
Telling on the Danish, accessed on 23 July 2006.
Coordinates: 54°38′N 9°35′E / 54.633°N 9.583°E /