It is through their runic inscriptions that the Vikings speak to us with their own voices and in their own language. They are our most important direct sources, though as such they are regrettably brief and very frequently stereotyped in form. Yet they do tell us something, if only in snatches, about the modes of expression, beliefs, and social conditions of the time.
ORIGIN AND PURPOSE
At the beginning of the Viking period runes had already been known in the North for many centuries. Without elaborating on the numerous theories of the origin of the runes, we will only mention the one interpretation which seems the most likely. This is that the oldest Germanic runic alphabet, consisting of twenty-four characters and now called the futhark, was created by the Germanic peoples themselves somewhere about the year 200 or soon after, under direct or indirect Roman influence, based on one or more of the southern European alphabets. These twenty-four characters – the ‘longer rune-row’, as it is called, to distinguish it from the later sixteen-letter alphabet used in the Viking period – have characteristic angular shapes, which suggest they derive from the technique of wood-carving.
throughout the ages there must have been something of a mystery about each newly-created script, for it could only be used and interpreted by the select few. The runes were thought by the Germanic peoples, and the Northerners too, to posses occult powers, powers which could be turned to advantage. These powers were not invented by the rune-masters who carved the letters in stone or wood; they existed already in the runes themselves, and could be released only by the initiated. This concept is reflected in the Norse myth of Odin, wisest of the gods: even he is not credited with inventing the runes but rather with finding them and releasing form them their magical powers.
A further confirmation of this attitude is provided by the practice, common in the centuries immediately preceding the Viking Age, of putting short runic inscriptions – of more or less magic content – on arms, jewels, and implements: often a short but significant phrase, at times only the owner’s name; and sometimes only on the back of the object, where it would not be exposed to general view but where the spell could work secret. On a scabbard chape, for instance, there is engraved ‘May Marr [the name of the sword] spare nobody’. These runes would invest with irresistible potency. And on another chape: ‘I Alla own the sword Marr’, a formula designed to increase the weapon’s value to its owner. Such hidden magic runes can also be found on the back of a woman’s brooch or on the underside of a shield boss. A similar belief in rune magic is shown by the carving of the entire runic alphabet on a stone which formed the side of a fourth-century grave at Kylver in Gotland; the dead alone were to benefit by its power. Another runic inscription, cut on the underside of a slab covering a grave of about a century before the Viking Age at Eggjum in Sogn, (Norway), declares that neither stone nor runes have ever been exposed to the sun’s light and that the runes were not carved with an iron knife. In other words: both stone and runes are dedicated in secret to the dead man and to none other. This, the longest of all the early inscriptions, commands further that the stone must never be brought out into the light of day. In these early times, then, the Germanic runes were not used for literary or practical everyday purposes. There is no doubt they were, first and foremost, sacred, magic symbols which the initiated could employ for good or evil.
But in the period immediately before the Viking Age runes were already developing into something else; they were being used in commemorative inscriptions. In the pre-Viking period inscriptions of this kind are found in Sweden and Norway, though not in Denmark. At Mojebro, in Uppland, for instance, there is a stone bearing a picture of a horseman above a runic text. The rune-stone from Tune, in Ostfold (Norway), was undoubtedly raised as a memorial. In these cases rune magic or sorcery are out of the question. In Denmark no rune-stones of the pre-Viking period are known, either hidden in graves or raised as memorials. The practice of setting up inscribed monuments probably came to Norway from western Germany in the late Roman period, by the sea route from the mouth of the Rhine round Denmark; from Norway the practice may have travelled to Sweden by the ancient route from Trondelag to Jamtland and so to Uppland and other central Swedish provinces.
This double use of runes, for hidden magic and open commemoration, continued into the Viking period. The two uses were not always differentiated. A stone erected primarily as a memorial might bear in addition a magic formula, either an open curse upon anyone who might deface or remove the monument, or a group of secret words, perhaps involving numerical magic, incomprehensible to modern runologists. There can be no doubt that number-magic was used by Scandinavian rune-masters – thought some philologists have so exaggerated its importance as to promote strong reaction against their interpretations on the pat of more cautious scholars.
At the time of the transition from pre-viking times the twenty-four signs of the older rune-row were replaced by a shorter set of sixteen, the ‘later futhark’. why this transformation occurred is a debatable question. With the relatively small number of runic inscriptions available, it is difficult to trace the continuity and identify transitional forms, and the reasons for this reform may have been purely practical; but the use of fewer runic signs for the same number of phonetic values must mean that a single rune now covers several related sounds – a factor which in itself presents the modern interpreter of the later inscriptions with a number of difficulties.
Three different rune-rows can be traced in these later inscriptions: first, the Danish, or ‘ordinary’ runes, which are encountered throughout Denmark (including Skane), western (later the whole of) Sweden, and Norway; second, the Swedish-Norwegian runes of eastern Sweden, southern and western Norway, which also appear in the Norwegian colonies of the west, especially the Isle of Man; and, thirdly the so-called Halsinge runes, a sort of cryptic or cursive script, prevalent in north Sweden, producing by omitting the stem of each rune form.
In Denmark most rune-stones belong to the period 950-1059, and they are fairly evenly distributed throughout the country, though with special concentrations in south-west Skane and east Jutland (e.g., Randers, Aarhus, Slesvig). The island of Bornholm has, as a late group of its own, some rune-stones of the eleventh century. In Norway there is a concentration of them in the region of Jaeren, south of Stavanger, and Ostland has some interesting decorated examples. The Isle of Man, a Norwegian colony, has runic croosses of the tenth and eleventh centuries. In Sweden, rune-stones occur throughout the south and the middle of the country; the provinces in which they are most abundant is Uppland, which has a total of about 1,000 stones. This Uppland group belongs mainly to the eleventh century and is distinguished by its abundance of ornamentation. Of all the Scandinavian countries Sweden can claim by far the most rune-stones, some 2,500 in all.
what do the rune-stones reveal? ‘first of all, they tell a little about leading personalities in the aristocratic circles of the community: the kings, chieftains, and warriors. The man who erected the stone often gives his name and always, of course, that of the man in whose memory the stone was raised; the latter is sometimes briefly, characterized. Now and then the rune-master’s name is given, and not infrequently a stone records that it was raised in memory of someone who fell in battle in a foreign land, on a raid to the east and west, or within Scandinavia itself. Occasionally the social position of the dead man is recorded, his position in the hird or in the heathen priesthood. Less often a rune-stone mentions peaceable occupations, such as road-making or bridge-building. The inscription may express a wish of some kind, that the stone will remain long in its place, that the dead man may enjoy his grave, that the god Thor will sanctify the runes, or that the Christian God will help the soul of the dead man. Many of the late Viking rune-stones show Christian influence.
REFERENCES TO KINGS AND PRINCES
The most important references in this category are to the Danish royal house of Jelling. The two Jelling stones have already been mentioned, one set up by King Gorm for his wife Queen Thyri, calling her Danmarkar bot, the second erected by Harald Bluetooth in commemoration of his parents, King Gorm and Queen Thyri. The latter is the most impressive runic stone in the whole of Scandinavia, including in its inscription a summary of Harald’s own achievements as king – the pompous final statement that he was ‘the Harald who conquered all Denamrk and Norway and Christianized the Danes’. There are three Jutland stones in this category, one from Sonder Vissing, one from Laeborg, and one from baekke, all of which refer, as it seems, to King Harald and his mother Queen Thyri. The Swedish royal house in Hedeby is commemorated in a pair of rune-stones from this locality, both raised by Queen Asfrid and dedicated to Sigtryr, her son, by King Gnupa. Two other stones from Hedeby probably refer to Swein Forkbeard: one erected by Swein’s housecarl Thorolf over his comrade Eric, a most distinguished warrior who ‘met his death while men sat around [besieged] Hedeby’; the other put up by King Swein himself and inscribed: ‘King Swein raised this stone in memory of his housecarl, Skardi, who had roamed the west but now has met his death at Hedeby.’
REFERENCES TO CHIEFS AND NOBLES
A Danish rune-stone from Snoldelev is carved with various pagan-symbols – swatika, sun-wheel, and tricorns – and its inscription says: ‘The stone of Gunnvald, son of Hroald, pulr in Sallov’. A pulr probably occupied a religious post, but the wording is so terse that we cannot determine whether Gunnvald or his father Hroald was the pulr.
Two Danish chieftains were both married to a Ragnhild presumably one and the same woman. The first was Gunnulf, from Zealand, ‘a baying man’ (this is a pagan priest and sorcerer); the second was a chieftain and priest from Fyn called Alli Solvi. The first to die was Gunnulf; his rune-stone (at Tryggevaelde in Zealand) says:
Ragnhild, Ulf’s sister, raised this stone and constructed this mound, placing stones in the outline of a ship, in memory of her husband Gunnulf, a baying man, the son of Narfi. Few men nowadays are better born than he. A rati* be he who destroys this stone or drags it from here.
*What the ward rati meant can only be surmised: an outlawed spirit perhaps.
Next, Alli died, having several sons by Ragnhild; and his stone (at Glavendrup on Fyn) declares:
Ragnhild raised this stone in memory of Alli Solvi, priest of the ve most worthy pegn of the lid* The sons of Alli made this monument in memory of their father, and his wife in memory of her husband. Soti Carved these runes in memory of his lord; may Thor consecrate them. A rati be he who destroys this stone or drags it for another.
*Ve means ‘holy shrines’. Degn means ‘chief’; lid, ‘housecarls’ (hird).
Dragging a stone for another can be interpreted as using it to commemorate some other dead man, a form of thrift which is evidenced by stones thus used at Tillitse in Lolland, and Alstad in Norway. Another stone at Ronninge in Fyn, also refers to the carver Soti, whom it describes as ‘son of Asgaut with the red shield’.
The inscriptions frequently emphasized the honourable lineage of the person they commemorate: ‘a highly born chieftain’, ‘a warrior of very good descent’, ‘a chieftain of noble-lineage’, ‘a most noble warrior’, ‘a woman of noble birth’, ‘a man of noble birth’, and so on. Still better, of course , is the stone which embodies the family tree or a portion of it, as the north Swedish stone from Malsta does, proclaiming: ‘Freymund raised this stone in memory of Fe-Gylfi, the son of Bresi; amd Bresi was the son of Lini, and Lini the son of Aun, and Aun the son of Ofeig, and Ofeig the son of Thor.’
REFERENCE TO VIKING LIFE
Two qualities especially appreciated by the Vikings were hospitality and generosity; and both these are sometimes specifically referred to on memorial stones. The runic stone from Sovestad in Skane declares: ‘Tonna raised this stone in memory of her husband Bram and [i.e. together with] Asgaut his son. He was the best among the land-owners and the most generous with food.’ Bram was evidently a land-owner who kept a good table.
Another merit much valued by the Vikings was a land-owner’s readiness to employ his men on such public utilities as making roads across marshes, filling up swampy patches and building bridges across rivers. It seems probable that it was the clerics who persuaded noblemen to act in this way, because it is most often Christian runic inscriptions which praise a man for ‘bridge-making’, as this kind of public-spirited action was called. A classic example is provided in Uppland, where Jarlabanki, a great landowner, refers to himself on several rune-stone, two of which are still standing on the road through the village (Taby) where he lived, and where he filled in swamps and made paths. These two stones testify that ‘Jarlabanki raised those stones in his own honour, while he was alive, and made this bridge for the good of his soul. He was the sole owner of Taby. May God help his soul’. It may well have been in his mind that these beneficent actions would assist his passage through purgatory. Three other similar stones are still in the vicinity. Farther north in Sweden, on the small island Froso (Frey’s island) in Lake Stor, Jamtland, mentioned earlier, lived another great Christian landowner, Austmann Gudfastarson, who commemorated himself on a stone inscribed: ‘Austmann, the son of Gudfast, had this stone raised and this bridge made, and he made Jamtland Christian. Asbjorn made the bridge, Trion and Stein carved the runes.’ The Kallstorp stone in Skane says: ‘Thorkel, son of Thord, made this bridge after his brother Vragi – the word ‘after’ probably signifying that by building the bridge he wished to benefit his brother in the next world. Similarly, a rock inscription at Sodertalje, near Stockholm reads: ‘Holmfast had the ground cleared and a bridge built in memory of his father Geir, who lived in Nasby. May God help his soul. Holmfast had the ground cleared in memory [also] of his good mother Ingigard.’
There are rune-stones of this type in Denmark too. One which now stands in Fjenneslev Church on Zealand reads: ‘Sazur raised the stone and made the bridge’; and in a swamp near-by there is actually a little bridge crossing a rivulet, and to this day this bridge bears the name ‘Sassebro’ (Sazur’s bridge).
In Norway only one example of this type exists, but it is one of the few which, like the Kallstorp stone already mentioned, declares that the bridge was made to benefit the soul of the dead. This is the high, pointed, carved stone, belonging to the mid eleventh century, which originally stood at Dynna in Hadeland, and is now in Oslo. The carvings show God the Father and the star of Bethlehem, and below, on horses, the Three Wise Men; the inscription says: ‘Gunnvor Thririk’s daughter made the bridge after Astrid her daughter. She was the most skilful maiden in Hadeland.’ This good deed performed by a woman landowners for her dead daughter is one of many reminders that women enjoyed a high degree of freedom and respect among the Vikings.
One more Norwegian carved stone, this too erected by a woman, deserves to be mentioned. This is the splendid stone (now also in Oslo) from Alstad in Ringerike, which tells of a well-to-do family estate and a freedom bride’s journey to her bridegroom. The actual inscription reads: ‘Jorun raised this stone in memory of Ol-Arni who took her hand in marriage and took her away from Ringerike from Ve to Olvestad. Ogmund’s stone commemorates this occasion.’ The stone is a work of art on which there are elegant pictures of a hunt, with horses, hounds, and falcons. No wonder Ogmund wanted his name on it. There is, however, a later and a very significant additional inscription at the foot of the stone: ‘Igli raised this stone in memory of Thorald hos son, who met his death in – .’ This is a clear case of pilfering of someone else’s magnificent memorial, a bold action by Igli; but as the stone was not protected by a curse upon defacers and thieves he was evidently willing to take the risk. Another example of the same kind (Danish this time) is the rune-stone from Tillitse, Lolland, which reads: “Askel the son of Sulki had this stone raised in his own honour. While stone lives, this memorial which Askel made, will always stand. May Christ and St Michael help his soul.’ Elsewhere on the stone, however, there is a further inscription: ‘Toki carved the runes in memory of his step-mother, Thora, a woman of good family.’
REFERENCES TO WARRIORS
One would expect a common theme of Viking runic inscriptions to be the commemoration of the prowess of warriors killed on raids to the west or east, but nearly all the ones which do so are Swedish, and belong to the later part of the Viking period. There are, however, some memorial stones set up over slain Vikings of Norway and Denmark, for instance the Stangeland stone from Jaeren, South of Stavanger in Norway, refers to Steinthori ‘who fell in Denmark’ and in Denmark there is the Kolind stone in Jutland in memory of Tofi ‘who met his death in the East’, and the Uppakra (Skane) stone to Toki ‘who met his death out in the West’. These are rarities, however, and it is central and eastern Sweden which provide large numbers of this type of stone, telling of the great Viking raids to the West and especially to the East.
Of the Western raids there is a commemoration in the stone at Grinda in Sodermanland, raised by two sons ‘in memory of a brave father. Gudve went west to England, and received a share of the geld. Fortresses in Germany he bravely stormed,’ Danegeld is mentioned again on the stone at Orkesta in Uppland: ‘But Ulf received danegeld three times in England. The first was that which Tosti gave. Then gave Thorkel. Then gave Cnut.’ These men were undoubtedly the famous historical personalities. Thorkel the Tall and Cnut the Great. Another rune-stone in uppland is dedicated to ‘Geiri who was a member of the housecarls in the west’, the celebrated hird of Cnut the Great. Another Swedish Viking with a similar mane is mentioned on the Harlingtorp stone in Vastergotland: ‘Tola raised this stone in memory of his son Geir, a very good man. He died on the western road during a Viking raid.’
Most of the Swedish Viking stones, however, naturally refer to campaigns in the east rather than the west; and prolific in stones of the tenth and eleventh centuries, when such famous rune-masters and artists as Asmund Karason, Lifstein, Balli, and Opi inscribed and decorated an immense number of memorial stones for brave Vikings who had perished in the east. Austrleid, austrferd, austrveg were general terms for many places in the ‘greater Sweden’ of the east, but many individual eastern countries and places are specifically mentioned on the Swedish stones: ‘Semgall’ is a part of Latvia. ‘Domesne’ is in Courland, ‘Virland’ in Estonia (all three in the Baltic); ‘Holmgard’ is Novgorod, ‘Gardariki’ Russia, ‘Grikkjaland’ either Greece or more often Byzantium; ‘Serkland’ (which means ‘Silk land’) comprises the territories south and south-west of the Caspian Sea. ‘Jerusalem’, finally, is just what it says. Let us quote some of these Swedish voices from the Eastern road.
Both sides of the rock at Ed in Uppland have runes by the Viking Rognvald. One side says: ‘Rognvald had runes carved for Fastvi, his mother, Onaem’s daughter. She died in Ed. May God help her soul.’ The other says: ‘Rognvald had runes carved; in Byzantium he was commander of the lid.’ The Byzantine lid may be the Emperor’s bodyguard, the Varangian Guard, of Constantinople; if so, Rognvald held a very important position indeed. Two inscriptions are found on a large stone at Hogby in Ostergotland: the first says: ‘Thorgerd set up this stone in memory of Oxur his uncle, who died in the east, among the Greeks’; on the second we are told more of this Ozur and his brothers: ‘Gulli the Good had five sons. The brave Asmund fell at Fyris. Ozur died in the east, among the Greeks. Halfdan was slain in a duel. Karl died at home. Dead too is Bui.’ Thus could a Viking family lose all its menfolk. The stone at Angeby in Uppland records that Bjorn fell in Virland (in Estonia), and that Asmund (Karason) carved the runes. The Broby stones in Uppland tells of a Viking, Eystein, who went to Jerusalem and died in Greece (perhaps Byzantium). A stone of special interest is that from Sjusta, in Uppland, which declares of the warrior Spjallbodi: ‘he met his death in Holmgard [Novorgod] in the church of St Olaf. Opi carved the runes.’ An inscription from Turinge in Sodermanland first relates in pose that the stone is a memorial to the warrior Thorstein, erected by his sons Ketil and Bjorn, his brother Onund, his housecarls, and his wife Ketillaug; and then breaks into a poem of praise of both brothers – the dead Thorstein and the still-living Onund – thus:
Ketil and Bjorn erected this stone in memory of Thorstein, their father, and Onund of his brother, and the housecarls of their equal, and Ketillaug of her husband. these brothers were the best of men both in their homeland and away at the wars. They looked after their housecarls. He fell fighting in the east, in Russia. He was in the forefront of battle, the best of countrymen.
Finally we quote the rune-stone from Gripsholm castle: ‘Tola had this stone raised for his son Harald. Yngvar’s brother. They went boldly away in search of distant gold, and in the east they gave to the eagles – they died in the south – in Serkland.’ To give (food) to the eagle means to kill in battle. In such words a Scandinavian land commemorates her fierce sons.
The Yngvar referred to on this last stone as a remarkable figure, part real and part fictitious, from the later part of the Swedish Viking Age: Yngvar the Far-Travelled appears in a late Icelandic saga as a Swedish royal prince who went with many companions on a difficult and disastrous campaign to Serkland in the distant East. In fact no fewer than twenty-five rune-stones from eastern Sweden, dating, it seems, from the mid eleventh century, refer to Yngvar (and his four brothers). Yngvar himself was killed on this great enterprise, and the Swedish Yngvar stones, set up as memorials to his many high-born compatriots, commemorate the raid in such phrases as: ‘He fell on the eastern road with Yngvar. May God help his soul’, or ‘He met his death in Yngvar’.
A number of Swedish Viking stones refer to a single great event: the celebrated battle on Fyris plain near Uppsala, where the Swedish king, Eric the Victorious, defeated his dangerous and turbulent nephew Styrbjorn who, with a force including Danish warriors and Jomsborg Vikings, was attempting to gain the throne. There are two of these stones in Skane, one from Hallestad, one from Sjorup. They commemorate Toki (‘He did not flee at Uppsala’) and Asbjorn (‘He did not flee at Uppsala, but fought as long as he had weapon’). Another such stone is the one mentioned above from Hogby celebrating, among five brothers, the brave Asmund, Gulli’s son, who also ‘fell at Fyris’.
REFERENCES TO PEACEFUL PURSUITS
Scandinavian rune-stones seldom mention peaceful activities, except for the occasional references, already noted, to road-making or bridge-building. Yet there is one, now badly defaced, from Mervalla in Sodermanland, which records that ‘Sigrid had this stone raised in memory of her husband Swein. He often sailed to Semgall [Lativia] with his fine ship round Domesnes [Courland].’ This Swein was apparently a peaceful thrifty trader, who followed a regular route across the Baltic.
Not infrequently the texts of rune-stones are cast in metrical form. The phrases, pithy yet splendid ,are strongly rhythmical. Here, as a matter of interest, are the texts of two of the rune-stones mentioned above. The Tiringe stone says;
Braedr vary peir – bestra manna – a landi ok –
i lidi uti – Heldu sina – huskarla vel – Hann fell i
orrostu – austr i Gordum – lids foringi –
landmanna bestr. erni gafu – Dou sunnarla – i Serklandi.
The Gripsholm stone says :
peir foru drengila – fiarri at gulli – ok austarla –
erni gafu – Dou sunnarla – i Serklandi.
To this splendour of language the rune-stones often added an ornamental and colourful splendour of appearance. The eleventh-century rune-stones of Uppland developed a whole decorative tradition of curling scrolls and animals. One recurrent motif, intended to ward off evil spirits as well as to decorate, is the large human mask with braided beard and round eyes. Ships are used solely for ornamental effect. Significant symbols as well as illustrations of Christian or pagan myths occurs on stones of all three Scandinavian countries: at Dynna in Norway, Jelling in Denmark, Sparlosa, Altuna, Hunnestad in Sweden, and on the carved stones from Gotland. The Ramsund rock in Sodermanland depicts the myth of Sigurd, Killer of Fafni. From traces of paint which have occasionally been found on rune-stones it may be concluded that colour was used to emphasize both text and ornament. Yellow, red, and blue are the favourite colours.
Not all extant rune-stones can be deciphered; some use cryptic runes or obscure wording which may never be certainly interpreted. The classic example is the famous stone of Rok in Ostergotland containing the longest runic inscriptions in Scandinavia – about 800 characters – which begins: ‘In memory of Vaemod these runes are cut. But Varin carved them, the father in memory of his doomed son.’ this mammoth inscription, full of cryptic runes, number magic, and puzzling and inscrutable passages, has given rise to a large and controversial literature among specialists, one of whom has claimed a connexion between it and the fortress of Trelleborg in Zealand.
RUNE-STONE OUTSIDE SCANDINAVIA
Are there any Viking rune-stones outside the North? The question is really a double one: (a) Did the Viking erect stones over their families in the lands they colonized? and (b) Did they set up stones to their fallen dead on raids into foreign countries? To both these questions the answer is yes.
Example of the first kind are the richly decorated Anglo-Danish stones crosses found in northern England, many with runic inscriptions and animal patterns of Scandinavian type. There are also the Norwegian-Celtic runic crosses on the Isle of Man (some of them the work of the rune-master, Gaut). The latter have been described by the Norwegian scholar Haakon Shetelig as ‘Christian memorials inspired by Celtic culture, but Norwegian in their language and runes and showing conspicuously the survival of pagan traditions.’ These Manx grave-stones are often decorated with a great Celtic cross in relief, filled with Celtic interface, but frequently surrounded by figures illustrating Nordic pagan myths, such as those of Odin and the wolf Fenri, Sigurd, killer of Fafni, etc. ; also their decorative pattern is sometimes of Norse type. A similar example is the fragmentary stone cross found in the churchyard of Killaloe in Ireland, with a Norwegian runic inscription, ‘Thorgrim erected this cross’.
Rune-stones raised over a fallen comrade by Vikings on a foreign raid or journey are rare, but they do exist. In the Guildhall Museum, London, is a rune-stone, apparently once forming the side of a coffin, decorated with the figure of a lion in early eleventh-century style, and bearing an incomplete runic inscription: ‘Ginni had this stone laid and Toki . . . .’ The remainder of the text, containing the name of the buried person, was probably on another side of the coffin, which has now disappeared. The stone, probably Danish, was found in 1852, and at that time showed clear traces of blue colouring. Another stone, Swedish in origin and rather insignificant in appearance, was found on the island of Berezani in the Dnieper Delta (it is now in Odessa). There the Swedish Viking, Grani, lost his comrade Karl, and recorded it thus on the stone: ‘Grani made this grave for his comrade Kark.’ In this connexion mention must be made, too, of the celebrated classical marble lion which now stands at the entrance to Venice’s old naval arsenal, where it was brought long ago by Venetians who found it in the Greek harbour of Piraceus. this lion is not a memorial, at any rate not a Scandinavian one, but it is undeniably a Scandinavian (Swedish) runic monument, as its left shoulder still bears the indistinct remains of a runic scroll or ribbon of the same kind as those on Uppland rune-stones of the tenth and eleventh centuries. The inscription unfortunately is so weathered that it is no longer decipherable – it would have been interesting to know what a Swedish Viking wished to confide to a Greek lion.
Finally, before we leave the Viking rune-stones, let us return to Sweden for a look at the stones from Skarpaker in Sodermanland. The whole of its broad front side is taken up by a richly luxuriant Christian ring-cross, the arms and top of which, however, are entwined with pagan decorations, while the foot of the cross is planted as a mast in a ship, the old heathen Viking ship. In the surrounding runic scroll, which bears a heathen animal’s head, is carved: ‘Gunnar raised this stone in memory of Lydbjorn his son’ – and then partly in Halsinge runes: ‘the earth shall fall asunder and high heaven.’ In other words: ragnarok. Were these two, father and son, pagan or Christian? No one can tell – but this they knew: all things shall perish.