12 Warriors plus 1?

The trailers for the movie “The 13th Warrior” brought to mind a question I had when I read the book it’s based on, Michael Crichton’s “Eaters of the Dead”.

The Norsemen make a point of going off with a dozen warriors and one outsider, on the basis that this arrangement will bring them luck (or the favour of the gods, or whatever; it was a while ago).

I can’t find any reference to such a custom. Is it real, or did Crichton just make it up for literary effect?

Bob the Random Expert
“If we don’t have the answer, we’ll make one up.”

Can’t answer your question, but I can tell you that I went to see the movie tonight and found it so-unentertaining that I actually left in mid-movie.

Contestant #3

Throw me in the Pit! I deserve it!

I just looked up the text of Beowulf (which the book is based on), and did a search. And there it is:

Look at http://www.georgetown.edu/irvinemj/english016/beowulf/beowulf.html

And, C#3, I’m sorry to hear the movie is bad, but I suppose I’ll have to go see for myself.

Bob the Random Expert
“If we don’t have the answer, we’ll make one up.”


What part of Beowulf is that? IIRC, when he first went to Hrothgar’s kingdom he was one of fifteen guys. But then, my Old English was always shaky at best …

rjk, I think you accepted word “thirteen” too soon.

In the section you quoted, Beowulf is the leader of twelve men (including himself) who bear with them the thief who roused the dragon that Beowulf has set out to slay.

The thirteenth man, in this case, is not brought along as a thirteenth warrior for luck. He is being brought along, a captive to prevent flight, to show the way to the lair of the dragon.

As to the original question, I suspect that it was made up for the screenplay. I don’t remember the Persian in Eaters of the Dead making up a magical thirteenth member of the party. (I could be remembering wrong, and I can’t find my copy at the moment.)


I’m a huge fan of Beowulf (My DeWalt drill is named Hrunting), and fail to see how 13th Warrior is based on it. I haven’t seen the movie, but have heard much about it from friends. If it is, in any way, similar to Beowulf, I may see it.

A long time ago, the number 12 was thought of as the ideal number and in perfect balence. (Hence one more, the number 13 being considered unlucky.) So, maybe it had to do with what they thought of twelve. Or maybe the thirteenth just had poor hygene.

Remember- If you’re angry it takes 42 muscles to frown, and only a few muscles to smack the idiot that mad you angry in the first place.

Porpentine, it was chapter(?) XXXIV, page 73 of the “better version” linked from the page above.

Tom, as you say, the thirteenth man in the text was a prisoner, but I seem to recall something in Eaters about the 13th being necessary (or at least preferred), as I mentioned in the OP.

And finally, Sonic, I know about the magical significance of twelve. Maybe the 13th was just there to throw to the wolves if necessary.

Bob the Random Expert
“If we don’t have the answer, we’ll make one up.”

I should have said that I didn’t recall the 13th as necessarily being a warrior, just somebody outside the main group.

Bob the Random Expert
“If we don’t have the answer, we’ll make one up.”

This isn’t exactly a historical precedent, but Tolkein, who was pretty well versed in Norse (and other) mythology and culture, used a similar concept in The Hobbit, where Bilbo Baggins is chosen as the fourteenth member of the party… thirteen being considered an unlucky number.

Assuming you believe in that sort of thing, I can see two arguments being made:

Thirteen members in a group is unlucky and will bring disaster upon us all; therefore, we should never have a group with thirteen members… or:

The thirteenth member will be unlucky and will attract all the “unluck” to himself, diverting it from the rest of the group; therefore, we should always have thirteen members, but probably it would be a good idea for the thirteenth member to be someone we don’t particularly care about.