The Eddic god Tyr was known to other Teutonic tribes as Zio or Ziu (OHG), Tyw or Tiw (AS). These names are deduced from the Teutonic names of the third day of the week — OHG Ziestag, AS Tiwesdaeg (English Tuesday), ON Tyrsdagr and Tysdagr. The prevalence of these names in the Rhine region, Upper Germany, North Germany, Saxony, and Scandinavia, shows that this god was widely known. The primitive form of the name was *Tiwaz, which has been regarded as the equivalent of the Vedic Dyaus, Greek Zeus, Latin Diespiter (Jupiter). Others connect *Tiwaz rather with a primitive *deivos (= deus), Sanskrit devas, Latin divus, cf. Norse tivar, “gods,” probably a plural of tyr, “god.” This would agree with the Norse use of tyr in the general sense of “god,” as in Sigtyr, Veratyr, Hangatyr, etc.

The former derivation would point to *Tiwaz as an early Teutonic Sky-god. But the occurrence of the various forms of the name in the titles of the third day of the week as equivalents of dies Martis, suggests that this Sky-god had become a god of war, or that greater emphasis had been laid on some of his functions,1 the result of the growing place of war as a business of life among the Teutons.

Tacitus says that Mars had a high place with certain tribes or groups of tribes. The Tencteri on the east side of the Rhine regarded Mars as chief of the gods. The god who had a highly sacred grove among the Semnones, a branch of the Suevi, and to whom human sacrifices were offered, is supposed to have been Zio. He is not named, but he is called regnator omnium.2 In the sixth century Jordanes says of the Goths that they sacrificed


their prisoners of war to Mars as the best means of placating him.3 Procopius similarly relates of the Scandinavians in the sixth century that they regarded human victims as the best offering. They sacrificed them to Mars (Ares), whom they regarded as the greatest god.4 The place of Tyr as War-god must have decreased before the growing power of Odin. Yet in the late Middle Ages an Icelander could translate in templo Martis by í týs hofi, showing that Tyr’s place had not been forgotten.5 It is also significant of the pre-eminence of Tiwaz that in inscriptions which give Roman equivalents of the three great Teutonic gods, Mars is often first. The Wessobrunner gloss (eighth century), which speaks of the Suabian descendants of the Semnones of that time, speaks of them as Cyuuari, “Worshippers of Ziu.”6 In the region of this people their chief town Augsburg was called Ciesburc, “Ziu’s town.”

Another name or epithet of the god is seen in the Thingsus (Mars Thingsus) to whom Frisian soldiers from Twenthe (in the territory of the Salic Franks) dedicated altars with figures in relief. These were brought to light at Housesteads on the line of Hadrian’s wall in 1883. The names of the two Alaisiagae, Bede and Fimmilene, are joined with that of Mars Thingsus. The god is represented as a warrior, at his right hand a swan or goose. Female figures, the Alaisiagae, hover in the receding sides of the semi-circular reliefs, with sword or staff in one hand, and a wreath in the other. Thingsus is regarded as a name of Ziu in his capacity as tutelary god of the Thing or assembly, i.e., the Frisian cohort regarded as a unit or Thing. The same divine name appears in Dinsdag, Dingsdach (Tuesday). Thingsus has also been explained as meaning “Warrior.” The explanations of the names and functions of the two goddesses are numerous. They may possibly be equivalents of Valkyries.7

In the Eddas Tyr has a subordinate place and, if he was once a Heaven-god, Odin had ousted him. He was called Odin’s son, and even as War-god he had fallen into the background



This altar, dedicated to Mars Thingsus and the two Alaisiagae, Bede and Fimmilene, is one of two found at Housesteads on the line of Hadrian’s wall. They were erected by Frisian soldiers from Twenthe (see p. 98).


through Odin’s supremacy. Snorri says of him: “He is most daring and stout-hearted, and has chief authority over victory in battle. It is good that brave men should invoke him.” “A Tyr-valiant man” is one who surpasses others in stoutness of heart. Another proverbial saying, illustrating Tyr’s wisdom, was to call the wisest man “Tyr-prudent.” “Tyr cannot be called a reconciler of men.”8 Runes for victory were written on swords, Tyr being invoked in the process.9 Scaldic kennings for Tyr were “god of battles,” “son of Odin,” “the one-handed god,” and “fosterer of the wolf.”10 Famous chiefs were known as Tyr’s offspring, and Tyr occurs in personal names and in place-names.

The myths told of Tyr are few in number. Loki’s offspring, the Fenris-wolf, was brought up by the Æsir, of whom Tyr alone ventured to give him meat. When the gods saw how he grew, and recalled the prophecies which told how the Wolf would be their destruction, they resolved to bind him. Two fetters in turn were tried, but these were broken in pieces. Then the gods sent to the dwarfs, who made the fetter Gleipnir out of six things — the noise of a cat in walking, a woman’s beard, the roots of a rock, the sinews of a bear, the breath of a fish, and the spittle of a bird (all non-existent things). The fetter was soft and smooth, yet strong and sure. The gods then held debate with the Wolf about submitting to have this fetter put on him. He finally agreed, provided that one of them put his hand in his mouth. None of the Æsir was willing to part with a hand, until Tyr stretched out his and put it in the Wolf’s mouth. The more the monster lashed out, the firmer became the fetter, but Tyr’s hand was bitten off. Then the Wolf was chained to a great rock, and there he is bound until the Doom of the gods.11 Much ingenuity has been expended in inventing explanations of this myth. Beyond suggesting that Tyr is in conflict with dark and demoniac powers, it does not explain itself further. That Tyr, as god of war, should have lost a hand, may reflect what often happened to warriors in battle. Similar


myths are told of gods elsewhere, e.g., the Irish Nuadu, whose hand, struck off by an opponent, was replaced by one of silver; Zeus, who lost his tendons; the Vedic Vispala, whose leg was cut off in battle and replaced by one of iron.12

When Tyr was present at Ægir’s feast, and spoke in defence of Frey, Loki bade him be silent, for he could never fashion friendship between men, and then taunted him with the loss of his hand. Tyr replied that it boded ill for Loki’s Wolf, now awaiting in chains the great battle. Loki retaliated by saying that Tyr’s wife — mentioned for the first and only time — had a son by him, and that Tyr never got a penny in compensation for the wrong done to him.13

The Hymiskvitha, which tells how Thor and Tyr, at the latter’s advice, sought the mighty cauldron of the giant Hymir, makes this giant father of Tyr by “the white eye-browed one,” with golden hair, who welcomes Tyr at Hymir’s abode, and who may have been a goddess, not a giantess. A nine-hundred-headed giantess, also present, is Tyr’s grandmother, whom he loathed. Hence Tyr is called “kinsman of giants.” Tyr takes no further part in the action, save that he twice tries to move the kettle, but cannot, and then, when Thor has raised it, returns with him to the Æsir.

The meaning of this myth as well as of Tyr’s relationship to the giant Hymir has been the occasion of much debate. While it is in keeping with mythology that an important god should be related to a giant, it is possible that “Tyr” in this poem means not the War-god, but is used merely in the sense of “the god.” This god might be Loki, for at the end of the poem we hear that Thor on his return found his goats lame, and this was Loki’s doing. Snorri gives an incident of the laming of Thor’s goat in another connexion, when he and Loki were on a journey.14

The only other reference to Tyr in the Eddas is the notice of his conflict with the dog Garm at the Doom of the gods, when each slew the other.15