Notes from The Runes of Sweden

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Ok, firstly, these are in note form. They just give the name of the stone and it's inscription in most cases. It's really interesting to see the start of the spread of Christianity written in some of the stones. They seem to go from traditional pagan practices to notes of baptism, taking christianity to places and bizzarely, saying that the father of the parish should know how to read the runes (in one source)
They also record the spread of the viking people: to Greece, England and other reaches of their own empire.
Some rune cutters and writers can be identified by their own 'signatures'. Some of them have done several of the works, they may have financed part of their livelihood through this practice.
Watch for the evidence that the rune stones where coloured in their original form. The people must have been very proud of them to want them to stand out so much.

Notes taken from "The Runes Of Sweden", Sven Jannson, 1962, Phoenix House Ltd, London

Thing Places

Thing Places were where the local court would meet, hence a work of public benefit and social need.

Ballsta, Vallentuna parish (Uppland)
Inscription begins on one stone and finishes on another.
"Ulvkel and Arnkel and Gye, they made here a Thing Place. / There shall be no mightier, / Memorial to be found / Than the one Ulv's sons / Set up after him, / Active lads / After their father. / They raised the stones / And made the staff / The splendid one / As a sign of honour. / Likewise Gyrid / Loved her husband / So a song of sorrow / Sustains his memory. / Gunnar hewed the stone"

Jarlabanka stone, Vallentuna, (Uppland)
"Jarlabanke made this Thing Place and alone owned the whole of this hundred"
According to provincial laws, a local court had to be provided for each 'hundred' or district.

Fyrby inscription
"I know Hasten / And Holmsten, brothers / To be men rune - wisest / In Middle - gard / They set up the stone / And many staves / After Frosten / The father of them."

NB " During his travels in Russia in 921 - 2 the Arabian diplomat Ibn Fadlan, had the opportunity of witnessing first hand the funeral of a Norse chieftain. When Ibn Fadlan arrived, the chieftains ship had already been dragged ashore and the preparations for the funeral ceremonies already begun. The end of his extraordinarily interesting description deserves to be quoted in full
' the nearest kinsman first kindled the funeral pyre and then everyone helped to make it burn. In less than an hour, the ship, the timber, the girl and the dead man had been reduced to ashes. Then on the place where the ship, dragged up out of the water, had stood, something like a circular mound of earth was thrown up. In the middle of the mound they erected a thick pillar of birch wood, and on it they cut the dead mans name and the name of the king of the Rus. Then they went on their way'
There seems to be little doubt that the birch wood pillar mentioned in Ibn Fadlans account corresponds to the 'staff' mentioned on the rune stones. The phrase 'staff and stones' evidently refers to a custom with a long tradition behind it.

Aspa, Sodermanland
"This stone / Stands after Opir / On the Thing - Place / After Thora's man"

Badelunda, Vastmanland (dated beginning of 11th Century)
"Folkvid had all these stones raised after Heden, his son, Anunds brother. Vred cut the runes"
This memorial was originally an avenue flanked by standing stones, leading from the river ford on the North - east to the Badelunda ridge on the South - west. At the centre of this roadway stood the rune stone.

The Good Man

Vastra Vappeby, Veckholm parish
"a man generous with food and eloquent"

Gado, Boglosa parish
Holmbjorn sings his own praises " liberal with food and eloquent"

Krageholm, Sovestad parish
" he was the best of yeomen and the most liberal with food."

Ilva stone, Smaland
The stone was raised by Vimund in memory of his brother, Sven: " gentle with his folk / and generous with food, / in great esteem / with all people."

Transjo stone, Smaland
"He was among men / the most 'un - dastard' / He in England / Lost his life"

Flackebo stone, Vastmanland
Set up by Holmgot of Hassmyra in memory of Odindisa, his wife. "There will not come to Hassmyra a better mistress, who looks after the farm. Balle the Red cut these runes. To Sigmund was Odindisa a good sister."

Karlevi stone, Oland
Hidden lies the man whom greatest virtues accompanied - most men knew that - 'executor of the goddess of battles'( i.e. the warrior, lord) in this mound. A more honest battle strong god of the wagon of the mighty ground of the sea - king (i.e. a more honest battle strong sea - captain) shall not rule over land in Denmark."

Nobbele stone, Smaland
"Rodsten and Eliv / Ake and Hakon, / The lads have raised / After their father / An imposing kuml / After Kale dead. / So shall the good man / Be mentioned hereafter, / As long as the stone lives / And the letters of the runes."

Hagstugan, Sodermanland
"Four sons made / after their noble father / manly a memorial / after Domare, / gentle in word / and generous with food…..end of inscription damaged.

Tjuvstigen, Sodermanland ( the high road)
"Styrlog and Holm / raised the stones / after their brothers / by the road nearest. / They met their end / On the Eastern voyage, / Thorkel and Styrbjorn, / noble thanes. / Ingiger had raised / Another stone / After his sons, / A visible cenotaph."

Ryda stone, Uppland
Carved by Balle. / "Here shall stand / the stone near the road."

Brakentorp and Skaftarp, Smaland
The memorial stands at the road junction

Fagerlot rock, Sodermanland
He waged battle / On the Eastern way / Before the fierce host chief / Fell perforce."

Skarparker stone, Sodermanland.
After the introduction "Gunnar raised this stone after Lydbjorn, his son," come two lines cut in the Halsinge runes that were developed for practical everyday use. The lines read:
"Earth shall be riven / and the over - heaven."
These could be two lines as a quotation from a Swedish poem on the 'doom of the Gods' (Ragnarok). Perhaps the poem was so well known at the time, a fathers grief used the two lines to describe his own pain.

Ribe stick, Denmark
A charm against sickness (malaria)
"Earth I pray ward off / and over heaven / sun and Saint Mary / and Lord God himself."

Vallentuna church stone
"He was drowned in the Holm's sea / his ship sank bodily, / those who lived where only three."
This is unique because of it's end rhyme, the oldest known Swedish example of this kind. The end rhyme became a general rule in the middle ages.
Two hundred years earlier, end rhymes had been produced in the hall of King Erik Bloodaxe, York.

Rune inscriptors : Asmund Karesson, Askil, Fot, Livsten, Balle the Red and Opir in Sweden.

Picture Stones

Tangelgarda, Larbro parish, Gotland (dated early 8th Century)
Has no runic inscription, but pictures of figures, horses and warriors, together with ships with lozenge shaped sails.

Ramsund rune rock, Sodermanland
Depicts the legend of Sigurd, his slaying of the dragon Fafnir plus runic inscription.
Shows him slaying the dragon, the body of Regin with his head cut off, the smithy where Sigurd sits and roasts the dragons heart. The bird who warn him are sitting in a tree, which his horse Grane is tethered to.

The story of Gunnar in the snake pit is also a favourite illustration (Volsung story)

Ardre stone, Gotland
The moving story of Volund the smith. This stone contains the pictures of the master craftsman, the murdered boys and his feather shape.

Altuna Church, Uppland
Carved by " Balle and Frosten, companions of Livsten," the story of Thor fishing for the Midgard serpent is illustrated. The stone was raised in memory of Holmfast and his son Arnfast who "were both burnt in their house"
A picture of a man standing in a boat, which has a very high stem and stern and a massive rudder. The man in the boat faces out to the spectator: in his right hand he holds a hammer, in his left a thick piece of rope with a clumsy object in the water. Below and beside the boat a sea monster is coiled.
The man in the boat is Thor, the hammer is Mjolner, the bait is the ox head, which Thor wrenched off one of the giant Hymer's beasts and the monster is the Midgard serpent.
The agreement between the picture and legend is that in the illustration, Thors left foot has gone through the bottom of the boat. The legend states that Thors feet go through the botom of the boat and he uses the sea bed for support when the monster takes the bait.

Ledberg stone, Ostergotland
Carvings on three sides. A helmeted warrior (Odin?) is being bitten on the foot by a beast (Wolf, Fenrir?)

Stone Cross, Kirk Andreas, Isle of Man
Picture of Odin armed with a spear, is being attacked in the same way as the Ledberg stone.

Hunnestad stones, Skane
A witch - woman riding an animal (wolf) and using a snake for reins. Hyrrokin? She was summoned by the Gods from the world of giants.

Boksta stone, Uppland
Pictures of an elk - hunt in winter. A horseman with a spear in his hand, in front two dogs give chase to an elk. At the extreme left is a man standing on skis, ready with a bow and arrow. A large bird is depicted at the top and another is pictured attacking the elks head. (hawks?)

The inscriptions where originally painted in different colours.

Overselo church, Sodermanland
"Here shall stand / these stones, / red with runes / Gudlog raised them…"

Gerstaberg stones, Ytterjarna parish: Inscription ends with the words "Asbjorn cut and Ulv painted."

Nybble stone
"Asbjorn carved the stone, /coloured as a memorial, / he bound it with runes. / Gylla raised it / After Gerbjorn, her husband, and Gudfrid after his father / He was the best Yeoman in Kil. / Let him read who can."

Hogran stone, Gotland
"Here shall stand / the stone as a memorial / bright on the rock / and the bridge in front. / Rodbjern cut / These runes, / Gerlev some / Who well knows how."

Venantius Fortunatus (poem written towards the end of the 6th century)
Barbara fraxineis pingatur runa tabellis.
' the runes of the barbarians are painted on boards of ash'

The commonest colours were red (iron oxide) and black (soot) although traces of white, brown and blue have also been found.

Koping church, Otland
Some 60 large and small fragments where found in 1953 - 4. They reveal that not only where the incised lines of the inscription picked out in colour, but the intervening surface was also painted. This applied to the ribbon along the edges of the stone and to the coiled traceries inside the inscribed surfaces.
Some colours were used alternately, odd words in red and even words in black. Different colours used for different parts of the sentence. Colour not only served as an embellishment but also a help to understanding the inscription.
By painting the runes, a writer might also have the opportunity to correct any mistakes made in carving.
An example of an Uppland stone shows the end of the inscription was only painted and not carved.

Runes in later times

Last part of the 11th Century saw the building of runic monuments in church cemeteries

Eskiltuna Sarcophagus
Consists of five stone slabs, two forming sides, one forming a roof and two forming gable ends, sometimes pointed, sometimes gently rounded.
These where erected on top of the grave in which the corpse was laid and never meant to contain a dead body.
These where also painted on their runes and decoration.

Hammarby Church stone, Uppland
Coffin stone discovered in 1959. Runic inscription runs along four edges:
" Kristin had the memorial made after her son. Let everyone who interprets the runes say prayers for Alle's soul. Sune was Alle's father."

Backgard stone, Bolum parish, Vastergotland
"Sven Gislarsson had this bridge made for his soul and his father's. Everyone should say a Paternoster here."

Ukna, Smaland (c. 1300)
"Hic iacet Turgillus, son of Herr Gudmund Gas. Got not hence, stay and see and read your prayers for the soul of Tyrgils. Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum. Benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui. Amen. In manus tuas Dominae."

Ugglum stone, Vastergotland
"Three men lie under this stone / Gunnar, Sigvat, Hallsten."

Norra Asum church, Skane
"Christ, marys son, help those who built this church, Archbishop Absalon and Asbjorn Mule."

Akirkby, Bornholm.
Church font craved by Gotlander Sigraf. Dated to 12th Century on artistic grounds.
Eleven panels showing scenes from the life of Christ. Runic inscription on the top of each panel indicates the subject of each carving. The whole inscription is over 400 runes long.

Norum, Bohuslan
"Sven made me." Plus picture of Gunnar in a snake pit, playing his harp with his feet.

Burseryd font, Smaland (dated late 13th Century)
"Arinbjorn made me. Vidkunn the priest wrote me. And here I shall stand for a while."

1611:- Johannes Bureus publishes his runic ABC intended for use in schools.

Alvdalen in Dalarna - runic script has survived as a form of popular writing to the present day.

Otland church inscription - "The pastor of the parish should know how to read runes and how to write them."

There's some really nice inscriptions in there, and that's still not all of them! Time to go back to the advanced page and choose where to go next!