Ingvar Stones, Part I: Gripsholm

‘Tóla lét ræisa stæin þænnsa at sun sinn Harald, bróður Ingvars. Þæir fóru drængila fjærri at gulli auk austarla ærni gáfu, dóu sunnarla á Serklandi.’
‘Tóla had this stone raised after her son Harald, the brother of Ingvar. They travelled manfully far after gold and gave to the eagle in the east, died in the south in Saracen-land.’

The Gripsholm Runestone (Sö 179) is a good place to start when looking at the series of runestones that honour the mid-eleventh century Swedish expedition to ‘Serkland.’ This expedition was led by a man named Ingvar (Yngvar in West Norse), and was remembered in Iceland in Yngvars saga víðfǫrla.

The saga cannot be taken as an accurate source, as, while the beginning of the journey, starting in Russia and going down the middle of three rivers that flowed from the south into Russia (presumably this was the Don, or perhaps the Dnieper), is accurate, the geography of the latter part is clearly based on Crusade era reports of ‘the land of the Saracens.’ Cities mentioned are Heliopolis (Baalbek, Lebanon) and ‘Citopolis,’ presumably a corruption of Scythopolis (Beit She’an, Israel).

Such inaccuracies would likely have led many to dismiss the journey as pure fiction, if it wasn’t for the nearly thirty runestones commemorating fallen participants in the disastrous journey.

It has been noted that it is strange that a commemorative runestone stands for Ingvar’s brother, but not himself. Many theories have been put forward to explain it, such as that Harald was Ingvar’s half-brother, and Tóla raised only a stone for her own son, or that Harald and Ingvar were ‘blood-brothers,’ sworn-brothers as opposed to brothers by birth. However, it is worth noting that the Gripsholm stone itself was found built into the cellar of Gripsholm Castle, and a potential memorial for Ingvar could likely have been destroyed by such use.

It is worth noting the alliterative elements at the end of the inscription, which can be fit into the metre of fornyrðislag: ‘Þæir fóru drængila / fjærri at gulli / auk austarla / ærni gáfu, / dóu sunnarla / á Serklandi.’ Lines of alliterative poetry are also found on other runestones commemorating this journey.

Photo: Sö 179, Gripsholm by Wikimedia User:Berig, CC BY-SA 3.0 / Link

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