The American Heritage Dictionary tells us that a thane is:

a. A freeman granted land by the king in return for military service in Anglo-Saxon England.

b. A man ranking above an ordinary freeman and below a nobleman in Anglo-Saxon England.

To keep it simple, in Grendel a thane is a soldier, an early form of knight, a man who is bound to a king or to a vassal who himself owes allegiance to a king. These relationships are not incidental but appear to form the backbone of Anglo-Saxon/Scanian cultures. As Grendel puts it, "a king without men is a worthless thing, and thanes without a lord are exiles." (147)

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