‘Hjuggu þér hælfnings millum hann, en í hafn þæssi þér mænn hjuggu rúnar at Horsa, bónda góðan á vág. Réðu Svéar þætta á león. Fór ráðum, gull vann hann farinn. Drængjar ristu rúnar, á ríkan stræng hjuggu. Þér Ǽskill… ok Þorléfr létu hugga væl, þér á Roðrslandi byggu… -sun hjúg rúnar þæssar. Ulfr ok… sténdu at Horsa; gull vann farinn.’
‘They cut him down in amidst the host, and in this harbour those men cut runes after Horsi, a good yeoman upon the waves. The Swedes undertook this (i.e., cutting the runes) on the lion. Acting on advice, he won gold travelling. Warriors carved the runes, cut in a rich cord. They Ǽskil… and Thorléf had [them] cut well, they who lived in Roslagen… son of… carved these runes. Ulf and… coloured [them] after Horsi; [he] won gold travelling.’
The Piraeus Lion (By NT1984;32) is a peculiar piece of runic graffito. The Lion had been a famous landmark at Piraeus, a port city in Greater Athens, having stood there since the first century A.D. So well known was the Lion, that the port was called ‘Porto Leone’ by the Italians.
At some point in the eleventh century, Swedish mercenaries serving in the Byzantine Emperor’s Varangian Guard carved runes on the Lion’s shoulders, according to this reading, in memory of their fallen comrade Horsi.
Today the Lion stands in front of the main gate of the Venetian Arsenal, one of several. It was taken as plunder by future Doge of Venice Francesco Morosini in 1687, after the occupation of Athens in the Morean War (the same attack in which the Parthenon was destroyed when the Venetians blew up the gunpowder the Ottomans had stored within).
It wasn’t until the end of the eighteenth century that the carvings on the Lion were recognised as runes by a Swedish diplomat, the Egyptologist Johan David Åkerblad.
The runes are, sadly, heavily eroded, making the inscription hard to read. Here I have followed Erik Brate’s 1914 reading.
Photo: The Piraeus Lion facing right by Wikimedia User:Asatruar, CC BY-SA 3.0 / Link