How he was induced to write his book has been mentioned. The expressions of modesty Saxo uses, saying that he was “the least” of Absalon’s “followers”, and that “all the rest refused the task”, are not to be taken to the letter. A man of his parts would hardly be either the least in rank, or the last to be solicited. The words, however, enable us to guess an upward limit for the date of the inception of the work. Absalon became Archbishop in 1179, and the language of the Preface (written, as we shall see, last) implies that he was already Archbishop when he suggested the History to Saxo. But about 1185 we find Sweyn Aageson complimenting Saxo, and saying that Saxo “had `determined’ to set forth all the deeds” of Sweyn Estridson, in his eleventh book, “at greater length in a more elegant style”. The exact bearing of this notice on the date of Saxo’s History is doubtful. It certainly need not imply that Saxo had already written ten books, or indeed that he had written any, of his History. All we call say is, that by 1185 a portion of the history was planned. The order in which its several parts were composed, and the date of its completion, are not certainly known, as Absalon died in 1201. But the work was not then finished; for, at the end of Bk. XI, one Birger, who died in 1202, is mentioned as still alive.
We have, however, a yet later notice. In the Preface, which, as its whole language implies, was written last, Saxo speaks of Waldemar ii having “encompassed (`complexus’) the ebbing and flowing waves of Elbe.” This language, though a little vague, can hardly refer to anything but an expedition of Waldemar to Bremen in 1208. The whole History was in that case probably finished by about 1208. As to the order in which its parts were composed, it is likely that Absalon’s original instruction was to write a history of Absalon’s own doings. The fourteenth and succeeding books deal with these at disproportionate length, and Absalon, at the expense even of Waldemar, is the protagonist. Now Saxo states in his Preface that he “has taken care to follow the statements ("asserta”) of Absalon, and with obedient mind and pen to include both his own doings and other men’s doings of which he learnt.”
The latter books are, therefore, to a great extent, Absalon’s personally communicated memoirs. But we have seen that Absalon died in 1201, and that Bk. xi, at any rate, was not written after 1202. It almost certainly follows that the latter books were written in Absalon’s life; but the Preface, written after them, refers to events in 1208. Therefore, unless we suppose that the issue was for some reason delayed, or that Saxo spent seven years in polishing—which is not impossible—there is some reason to surmise that he began with that portion of his work which was nearest to his own time, and added the previous (especially the first nine, or mythical) books, as a completion, and possibly as an afterthought. But this is a point which there is no real means of settling. We do not know how late the Preface was written, except that it must have been some time between 1208 and 1223, when Anders Suneson ceased to be Archbishop; nor do we know when Saxo died.