Tag Archives: runes

Gallehus Horn

‘Ek Hlewagastiz holtijaz horna tawiðó.’
‘I, Hlewagasti the Holsteiner, made the horn.’

The gorgeous Golden Horns of Gallehus (DR 12) were a set of drinking horns made from sheet gold dating to the fifth century. They were both found on the same farm in South Jutland, about a hundred years apart, with the second, shorter one bearing an Elder Fuþark inscription. Unfortunately, in 1802, they were stolen by the nithing Niels Heidenreich and melted down. The gold was used to make counterfeit pagodas, but Andreas Holm, Grandmaster of the Goldsmiths Guild, recognized their illegitimacy, and therefore suspected Heidenreich of the theft. After being caught trying to dump his coin stamps, Heidenreich was arrested and sentenced to prison, where he was locked up for thirty-seven years. Plaster casts of the horns had been made, but were lost off the coast of Corsica. The reconstructions found in museums today are based on various artistic renderings of the horns before their destruction.

The inscription can be divided into a line of alliterative verse: ‘Ek Hlewagastiz holtijaz / horna tawiðó.’ The man’s name means ‘fame-guest,’ with the latter part being a common early Germanic name element, and the former part being cognate with the Greek name element ‘Kleo-’ (Κλεο-). He is said to be ‘holtijaz,’ meaning ‘of the holt,’ ‘holt’ being a word for ‘forest’ or ‘woodland.’ This gives a meaning of ‘inhabitant of the holt,’ which is identical in meaning to Low German ‘Holtsate,’ from whence ‘Holstein,’ the southern half of the German state of Schleswig-Holstein. Given the close proximity, it is plausible that Hlewagasti was, in fact, a Holsteiner.

Photo: Guldhornene DO-10765 original by the National Museum of Denmark (Nationalmuseet), CC BY-SA 3.0 / Link

Tune Stone

‘Ek Wíwaz after Wóðuríðé witandahlaiban worhtó, [þi]z Wóðuríðé, staina. Þrijóz dohtriz da[i]liðun arbija si[b]jóstéz arbijanó.’
‘I, Wíw, after Lord Wóđuríđ worked – for you, Wóđuríđ – a stone. Three daughters divided the inheritance of the closest inheritors.’

The Tune Runestone (N KJ72) is the longest Elder Fuþark inscription of its period, dating to sometime around c. A.D. 400, and a unique example of a runestone, especially for such an early inscription, which directly addresses the issue of inheritance. We read that the ‘inheritance’ [arbija] ‘of the inheritors’ [arbijanó] – who are described as the ‘most related’ [sibjóstéz], i.e., the closest relatives – is ‘divided’ [dailiðun] by ‘three daughters’ [þrijóz dohtriz].

The term which I have chosen to translate as ‘Lord’ means literally ‘one who observes the loaf,’ which we can compare to the word ‘lord’ itself, which is derived from Old English ‘hláford,’ from older ‘hláfweard,’ a compound meaning ‘warden/guardian of the loaf’ (the feminine form ‘hláfdíġe’ means ‘kneader of the loaf’). The title refers to the duty of the patriarch to provide for his household. Such a compound does not survive to the Old Norse period, but its usage here shows that it was once a pan-Germanic (or at the very least, a common North-West Germanic) title.

The name of the deceased is notable, meaning ‘Mad-rider;’ the first element is ‘*wóðuz,’ the same root from which comes ‘*Wóðanaz,’ the Proto-Germanic form of ‘Wóden/Óðinn,’ perhaps being a cultic name, in which case, one can make the obvious observation of shamanic implications, with the meaning being one who ‘rides’ while ‘mad’ or ‘in a religious fervour.’

The name of the carver means ‘the sacred/holy one,’ comparable to the religious connotations of the name Wóđuríđ (although Antonsen asserts the meaning ‘the darting one,’ from the same Indo-European root, see Antonsen, Elmer H. A Concise Grammar of the Older Runic Inscriptions. De Gruyter, 1975. p. 44).

As a final note, my reading of the missing runes in the line ‘-zwoduridestaina’ is highly speculative.

Photos: Tune stone I and Tune stone III by Wikimedia User:Skadinaujo, CC BY-SA 2.5 / Link, Link

Einang Stone

‘[Ek Go]ðagastiz rúnó faihiðó.’
‘[I, Go]đagasti, painted [the] runes.’

The Einang Stone (N KJ63) is one of the oldest runic monuments in Norway, dating to the mid- to late-fourth century, and the oldest to remain in its original location. It stands on a gravemound near Slidre in Oppland (a former Norwegian ‘fylke,’ now merged with Hedmark to form Innlandet). The reading given is Erik Moltke’s 1938 reading, which is given on the plaque at the location. The esteemed Norwegian runologist Sophus Bugge had a slightly different reading which he made in 1873:

‘Dagaz [þa]z rúnó faihiðó.’
‘[I], Dag, painted these runes.’

Photos: Einangsteinen, Vestre Slidre, 2005-08-18, 02 by John Erling Blad, CC BY-SA 3.0, Einangsteinen inscript by Lars Gustavsen, CC BY-SA 4.0 and Norway Einangsteinen 1995-05-G-11-150 by Wikimedia User:Gangleri, CC BY-SA 3.0 / Link, Link, Link

Ledberg Stone

‘Bessi sætti stén þæssi æftir Þorgǿt ve[lvæ]iði, faður sinn, ok þǿ Gunna bǽði. Þistill, mistill, kistill.’
‘Bessi set this stone after Þorgǿt Good-Hunter(?), his father, and they both [he and] Gunna [did this]. Thistle, mistletoe, casket.’

The Ledberg Runestone (Ög 181) is an interesting instance of mixed Pagan-Christian imagery. On side C there is a cross, while on sides A and B, where the actual inscription is located, the images seem to be of Ragnarǫk. We see on side B a man being bit on the foot by a wolf, interpreted as Odin being eaten by Fenrir, while below him another(?) man is seen reaching out, without legs.

On side A we see two men, both armed, walking in opposite directions, one flanked by what appear to be dogs or wolves. Below them is a ship. Following the interpretation of the scene as that of Ragnarǫk, we could see the ship as Naglfar, the ship on which the jǫtnar will sail west (Jǫtunheim is said to be east of Ásgarđ) at Ragnarǫk. The man flanked by hounds may again be Odin, with his wolves Geri and Freki.

My reading of the seventh word is incredibly speculative, as most of the word is missing.

The magical formula ‘þistill, mistill, kistill,’ meaning ‘thistle, mistletoe, casket,’ is a semi-common runic charm, found on several runestones, becoming extended in later Mediaeval inscriptions. It is even found in ‘Bósa saga ok Herrauðs,’ where it is used as a riddle (unsolved) at the close of the Pagan curse (continuously derided, between the fragments given, as too wicked and unchristian to be written down in full) laid against King Hring of Götaland by Bósi’s foster-mother, the witch Busla.

Mistletoe is well known as that which kills Baldr in Norse myth, and thistle is mentioned in Fǫr Skírnis/Skírnismál, when Skírnir tells Gerđ, as part of a curse: ‘be thou as the thistle, / which was pressed / in the later part of the haying-season.’

The formula may be referencing preparation of the dead with herbs, with the ‘casket’ being a coffin.

I may return to this or another ‘þistill, mistill, kistill’ stone upon further reading, but for now see further: MacLeod, Mindy and Bernard Mees. Runic Amulets and Magic Objects. Boydell, 2006. pp. 145-6. and Thompson, Claibourne W. ‘The Runes in Bósa saga ok Herrauðs.’ Scandinavian Studies, vol. 50, no. 1, 1978, pp. 50-56. (The latter I have not yet been able to read, but recommended in Pálsson and Edwards’ translation of ‘Bósa saga ok Herrauðs.’)

Photo: Ledbergsstenen 20041231 by Olof Ekström, CC BY-SA 3.0 / Link

Tirsted Stone

‘Ásráðr auk Hildulfr ræisðu stæin þænnsi aft Freða, frǽnda sinn, en hann vas þá fæikn vera; en hann varð dauðr á Svéþjúðu auk vas fyrst í Frekis sæði, þá allir víkingar.’
‘Ásráđ and Hildulf raised this stone after Fređi, their kinsman, and he was then the terror of men; but he died in Sweden and was first into the satisfaction of the wolf (i.e., into battle), [they were] then Vikings all.’

The Tirsted Runestone (DR 216) is a usual runestone in most respects: it names the raisers, after whom it was raised, the relation between the raisers and the deceased, and the place where the deceased died. But the language on the stone is quite elusive, and my reading differs from Moltke’s (Moltke, Erik. Runerne i Danmark og deres oprindelse, Copenhagen, Forum, 1976.) due to my dissatisfaction with the reading of ‘iąþi’ as ‘liði.’

To elaborate on my reading, I take ‘frikis’ to read ‘Frekis’ the genitive of a long ja-stem variant of ‘Freki’ (compare: the name of Óđin’s brother, which appears as both ‘Vili’ and ‘Vílir’), the name of one of Óđin’s wolves, and the following ‘iąþi’ as ‘sæði,’ supplying the ‘s’ from the end of ‘frikis’ (runic inscriptions regularly omit repeated sounds between word barriers), which I take to be derived from the verb ‘seðja,’ meaning ‘satisfaction, satiation.’ This creates the kenning ‘satisfaction of Frekir/Freki (i.e., the wolf),’ i.e., ‘battle.’

Photo: Kbh DR216 Tirsted sten 1 by Christian Bickel, CC BY-SA 2.0 DE / Link

Lingsberg Stones, Part II

‘En Dan auk Húskarl auk Svæinn létu rétta stæin æftir Ulfrík, faðurfaður sinn. Hann hafði á Ænglandi tvau gjæld takit. Guð hjælpi þæira fæðga sálu auk Guðs móðir.’
‘And Dan and Húskarl and Svæin had [this] stone raised after Ulfrík, their paternal grandfather. He had taken two gelds in England. May God and God’s mother help the souls of father and son.’

The second of the two Lingsberg Runestones (U 241) raised by the sons of Halfdan. Found not far from the first, the second begins with ‘and,’ indicating that the second is a continuation of the first, as can be seen from the rest of the inscription.

Ulfrík is an interesting name, occurring very rarely in Scandinavia. Its Old English cognate, Wulfríċ, is well known from Anglo-Saxon England, suggesting that the name might be a borrowing from Old English.

As I have done before, I have normalized the inscription with diphthongs, despite the inscription showing that the carver likely did not retain diphthongs in his speech, as indicated by every instance of ‘stæin’ being spelt ‘stin,’ and ‘tvau’ being written as simple ‘tu,’ representing monophthongal ‘tvǿ.’ I do this because the carver himself has tried to retain the older diphthongal spelling throughout, as can be seen by the spelling of ‘Svæinn’ and ‘auk.’

Photo: U 241, Lingsberg by Wikimedia User:Berig, CC BY-SA 3.0 / Link

Lingsberg Stones, Part I

‘Dan auk Húskarl auk Svæinn auk Holmfríðr, þau mǿðgin létu rétta stæin þenna æftir Halfdan, faður þæira Dans, auk Holmfríðr at búanda sinn.’
‘Dan and Húskarl and Svæin and Holmfríđ, they, mother and sons, had this stone raised after Halfdan, the father of Dan and his brothers, and Holmfríđ after her husband.’

The first of the two Lingsberg Runestones (U 240) raised by the sons of Halfdan. They are rather typical runic monuments, commemorating dead kinsmen. The first, commemorating Halfdan, is co-signed by Halfdan’s wife and their mother, Holmfríđ.

Photo: U 240, Lingsberg by Wikimedia User:Berig, CC BY-SA 3.0 / Link

Berga Stone

‘Sværtingr auk Kári auk Guðmundr auk Skári auk Knútr ræistu stæin þenna æftir Ótrygg, faður sinn, es féll í liði Guðvés.’
‘Sværting and Kári and Guđmund and Skári and Knút raised this stone after Ótrygg, their father, who fell in Guđvér’s retinue.’

The Berga Runestone (Sö 217) is not a particularly notable inscription, its wording standard: naming the raisers, then the deceased, and then something about the deceased. But the deceased is said to have died ‘in Guđvér’s retinue,’ and Erik Brate has suggested that this Guđvér is one and the same as the Guđvér commemorated on the Grinda Runestone, 27mi (43km) to the south-west.

Photo: Sö 217, Berga by Wikimedia User:Berig, CC BY-SA 3.0 / Link

Grinda Stone

‘Grjútgarðr, Æinriði, synir gærðu at faður snjællan. Guðvér var vestr á Ænglandi, gjældi skifti, borgir á Saxlandi sótti karla.’
‘Grjútgarđ, Æinriđi, the sons made [this stone] after the valiant father. Guđvér was west in England, divided the geld, manfully attacked fortresses in Saxony.’

The Grinda Runestone (Sö 166) is a memorial for a Viking captain named Guđvér. It is a common misconception that the Viking Age ended with the conversion to Christianity, but this inscription is an excellent example of a Christian family not only partaking in Viking raids, but leading them.

The ‘geld,’ often called a ‘Danegeld,’ was a tribute paid to Vikings as an alternative to battle. The raids were motivated by financial and reputational gain, and Western European kings, occupied in their own local conflicts, often chose to sue for peace over risking waiting for troops to arrive from conflict zones. The Vikings were usually paid in silver, and often these contracts included the employment of the Vikings as mercenaries.

The taxes raised to pay off Vikings became the basis of the funding of a standing army in Norman England, where the name ‘Danegeld’ actually came from, before that the tax was referred to as ‘ġeld,’ ‘gafol’ (both translatable as ‘tax’ or ‘tribute’), or ‘hereġeld’ (‘army-tax/tribute’).

Photo: Sö 166, Grinda by Wikimedia User:Berig, CC BY-SA 3.0 / Link

Stora Rytterne Stone

‘Guðléfr sætti staf ok sténa þæssi æftir Slagva, sun sinn, ændaðr austr í Karusm.’
‘Guđléf placed a staff and this stone after Slagvi, his son, [who] met his end east in Khwarazm.’

The Stora Rytterne Runestone (Vs 1) appears to commemorate a journey all the way to Khwarazm in modern Uzbekistan. If this interpretation is correct, it would be the furthest confirmed eastern journey by Viking Age Norsemen, roughly 5,000mi (8,000km) from the L’Anse aux Meadows site in Newfoundland, Canada.

Photos: Vs 1, Stora Rytterne and Vs 2, Stora Rytterne by Wikimedia User:Berig, CC BY-SA 3.0 / Link, Link