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The Heruli were a Germanic people, originating, apparently, in southern Scandinavia, who lived in Eastern Europe between the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea.
They are reported to have been driven out of Jutland or thereabouts sometime in the early 3rd century. Thereafter, they wandered generally eastward, becoming over time more closely associated with the Ostrogoths. They managed to sack Byzantium in 267, but their eastern contingent was virtually annihilated at Nis two years later.
Serving first under the Goths, and later clients of the Huns, they re-emerged in the second half of the 5th century, to form a confederation of tribes in Italy and Austria. This Kingdom was destroyed by the Ostrogoths under Theodoric the Great, and thereafter Herulian fortunes waned. They disappear from historical record by circa 550 CE.
Heruli is the Latin for the Germanic tribal name Harjilaz, Herilaz, or Erilaz (plural, Heruloz). "Harj-ilaz" is Germanic for "belonging to the marauders", the Hari or Heri (i.e. "harriers" is the Modern English cognate). They thought of themselves as "wolf-warriors", consecrated to the early Germanic god Wodan. According to Prokopios (or Procopius), bishop of Caesaria, the Heruli practiced a warrior-based, ritual homosexuality. In his "De Bello Gothico", Prokopios is scandalized by the fact that "kai mixeis ouch hosias telousi, allas te kai andron" (Greek), or "and they have sex contrary to the ends of divine law, even with men". Precursors to the berserkers of the Vikings, they would attain states of ecstasy either for battle, or for composing and reciting poetry, riddles, and genealogies.
Organized as "wolf-packs", each pack of a dozen or so was lead by two older males, an alpha- and beta-wolf. Younger men (aged approximately 15-21) comprised the retinue of the two wolf-leaders. After their training in military, genealogy, cultic practice, sexuality, and other items necessary to social order, the youths were initiated into full manhood when they had killed another man in battle, or had killed a wild boar or large bear in the hunt. Exclusively foot-soldiers, the Heruli were a nomadic tribe who used horses only for moving their camps. A particularly frightening tactic of the Heruli which amazed the Romans, was that they were so fast on foot that they would team up with a horse-riding warrior, hang on to the mane of the horse with their left hand, wield their swords with their right hand, and charge into battle, running as fast as the horse directly into the fray.
The Heruli were also known for their skills as rune-carvers. Some dozen runic inscriptions exist naming the rune-carver and giving his tribe as "Erilaz". Several of these names also have homosexual innuendo, such as Hrozaz ("Agile"), Uha ("Big One"), Sa Wilag ("The Wily"), Wagigaz ("Audacious"), Wiwila ("Little Slave"), and Ubaz ("Mischievous").
Tales of the night-time raids of the Heruli became the basis for the legend of the Wild Hunt.