- 1 Runic inscriptions of the Viking Age
Runic inscriptions of the Viking Age
Like the transition centuries (c. AD 600—800) between the Primitive Norse period and the Viking Age, the first couple of hundred years of the Viking Age itself (c. 800—1000) have left us few rune stones. We are not however to believe that runic writing was then practised less extensively than in Primitive Norse times. All we can justifiably say is that in this epoch there was no great inclination to inscribe runic memorials on stone. It was not until the eleventh century that this custom became fashionable in Sweden. We can on the other hand safely assume that in the ninth century, when the two 16-rune futharks were developed, people made considerable use of runic writing. It is difficult to think that in this age of innovation, when the first townships were being established, there was any the less need for the art of writing than there had been previously. As far as we can see, the reason why we have so few inscriptions from the early Viking Age is simply because what was written was on materials that lacked the durability of stone (and metal). There are indications on the few rune stones preserved from this period that that was indeed the case.
To this early part of the Viking Age, the ninth century, poor in inscribed stones as it otherwise is, belong nevertheless two of Sweden’s most remarkable and famous monuments: the Rök stone in Östergötland and the Sparlösa stone in Västergötland. The two stones are strikingly dissimilar. The Sparlösa stone is decorated with interesting pictures of an individual kind, which are as difficult to interpret as the runic inscription, unfortunately damaged in some important places. The Rök stone on the other hand is completely covered with runes, front, back, sides and top—no space has been given up to any other ornament.
The Rök stone is not only the most impressive monument ever raised in Sweden to commemorate a dead kinsman—it also stands as the great memorial of Swedish literature in antiquity. It is true that inscriptions in verse-form are already to be found in the Migration Age, chiefly in the potent language of sorcery, highly-wrought and archaically obscure, and it seems possible to glimpse a developed poetic art of magico-mythical character behind a number of Primitive Norse inscriptions. And later in the Viking Age we shall also meet rune carvers with some literary pretensions. But no inscription gives us such deep insight into the world of ancient literature as does the Rök stone. Some of the inscription is obscure; it reads thus:
Aft Væmoð standa runaR þaR. En Varinn faði, faðiR, aft faigian sunu.
Sagum mogminni(?) þat, hvœriaR valrauƀaR vaRin tvaR þaR, svað tvalf sinnum vaRin numnar at valrauƀu, baðaR saman a ymissum mannum.
Þat sagum annart, hvaR fur niu aldum an urði fiaru(?) meðr Hraiðgutum, auk do meðr hann umb sakaR.
Þat sagum tvalfta, hvar hæstR se GunnaR etu vettvangi an, kunungaR tvaiR tigiR svað a liggia.
Þat sagum þrettaunda, hvariR tvaiR tigiR kunungaR satin at Siolundi fiagura vintur at fiagurum nampnum, burniR fiagurum brøðrum. ValkaR fim, Raðulfs syniR, HraiðulfaR fim, Rugulfs syniR, HaislaR fim, Haruðs syniR, GunnmundaR fim, BiarnaR syniR...
Nu’k minni meðr allu sagi. AinhvaRR...
Sagum mogminni þat, hvaR Inguldinga vaRi guldinn at kvanaR husli.
Sagum mogminni, hvaim se burinn niðR drængi. Vilinn es þat. Knua knatti iatun. Vilinn es þat...
Sagum mogminni: Þorr. Sibbi viavari ol nirøðR.
“In memory of Væmod stand these runes. And Varin wrote them, the father in memory of his dead son.
I tell the ancient tale which the two war-booties were, twelve times taken as war-booty, both together from man to man. This I tell second who nine generations ago lost his life with the Reidgoths; and he died with them, because of his offences.
Theodric the bold,
The Rök stone was carved with short-twig runes. The beginning of the inscription at once gives the impression of artistically mannered prose.
That I tell the twelfth where the horse of Gunn [i.e. steed of the Valkyrie, the wolf] sees food on the battle-field, where twenty kings lie.
This I tell the thirteenth which twenty kings sat on Sjaelland for four winters,  with four names, born to four brothers: five Valkes, sons of Rådulv, five Reidulvs, sons of Rugulv, five Haisls, sons of Hord, five Gunnmunds, sons of Björn.
Now I tell the tales in full. Someone... [The stone is damaged here and decipherment and interpretation are uncertain.]
I tell the ancient tale which of the kinsmen of Ingvald was revenged by a wife’s sacrifice.
I tell an ancient tale to which young warrior a kinsman is born. Vilin it is. He could crush a giant. Vilin it is.
I tell an ancient tale: Thor. Sibbe of Vi, ninety years of age, begot [a son].”
This unique inscription appears to contain many allusions to heroic lays and legends now lost. It thus gives us an insight into the literature that flourished at the beginning of the Viking Age. But a modern reader must sadly admit that these allusions in their compressed form can call up no associations that live for him. All or almost all of it is wrapped in oblivion. The literary milieu in which Varin incised his runes is not to be recovered. The tales and poems that were well known in Östergötland in the ninth century are inaccessible to us and doubtless always will be. And yet this cannot destroy the Rök stone’s priceless value as a literary document.
The beginning of the inscription, with its alliteration and solemn rhythm, gives at once the impression of artistically mannered prose. Many poetic
The crosses on the top of the Rök stone form a numerical cipher which depends on the division of the futhark into “families”.
 expressions occur in the text, and in some places the word-order adopted is proper only to the elevated language of poetry.
The middle part of the inscription consists of a regular eight-line stanza in fornyrðislag, the narrative metre used in most of the eddaic poems. The stanza shows striking correspondences with the poetry familiar to us from early West Norse sources (cf. pp. 131—143 below on poetry in runic inscriptions).
Varin tests the reader’s mental agility—and doubtless expects to stir admiration for his esoteric skills—by putting parts of his long text into different kinds of “secret” writing. Such coded lines make a partial frame for the rest of the text on the back of the monument and in these we can see that Varin had 24 in mind as a desirable number—the magic total of the runes in the old Primitive Norse futhark. The most striking line with cryptic runes is the one at the top of the back of the stone.
There we see three big diagonal crosses, whose arms towards the extremities are furnished with short strokes. Three more such crosses are on the stone’s flat top. These crosses make a numerical cipher which depends on the division of the futhark into three “families” (see p. 12 above). In ciphers of this kind the “families” are counted from the end—the third, that is, as the first—so that the series appears as: 1. tbmlR, 2. hnias, 3. fuþąrk.
As well as the three crosses, the top surface also has five short-twig runes on it. The marks incised on the summit of the stone and at the top of the back look like this:
The strokes on the oblique line going down to the right give the number of the “family”, those on the other diagonal give the number of the rune in the “family”. If we start with the upper left of the first cross, we find two small strokes attached to it: they show it is “family” number 2. On the upper right arm are five strokes, so it is the fifth rune in that family we are to look for. We find that the fifth rune of the second “family” is s. In similar fashion the marks on the lower arms of the first cross lead us to the third rune of the second “family”— i. The two short-twig runes between the upper arms of the cross must now be included: the result is the well-known name, sibi, Sibbi, the hypocoristic form of Sigbiorn. Reading the second cross we first arrive at the 
The Rök stone is not only the most impressive monument ever raised in Sweden to commemorate a dead kinsman, it also stands as a great memorial of Swedish literature in antiquity. second rune of the third “family”— u —and once more the third rune of the second “family”— i. To them we must add the rune a cut between the upper arms of the cross. The third cross first gives the second rune of the third “family”— u again —and then the fourth rune of the second “family”— a. To these must be appended the r and i which come immediately after the cross and complete the inscription on the top face of the stone. The whole sequence concealed here is thus sibi uiauari. The top row on the back of the stone, deciphered in the same way, gives ul niruþR, with the last two runes, þ and R (ᛧ) placed in the lower “triangle” of the last cross, the one on the right.
This whole sequence in numerical cipher is thus to be read sibiuiauari ulniruþR Sibbi viavari ol nirøþR “Sibbe of Vi, ninety years of age, begot [a son]”.
The system which indicates a rune by the “family” it belongs to and its number in the “family” is found in several inscriptions, not least in Södermanland. The method by which the inscriber of the eleventh-century Rotbrunna stone (Uppland) gives his name is the same in principle. He ends with ||''''||'''|||'''''||'''|||''''''|||''''' + hiuk. The long lines give the “family”, the short lines the number of the rune. We thus get “family” 2, rune 4 = a, “family” 2, rune 3 = i, “family” 3, rune 5 = r, “family” 2, rune 3 = i, “family” 3, rune 6 = k, “family” 3, rune 5 = r. So his name is airikr ÆirikR Erik. The verb form hiogg “cut”, on the other hand, is in normal runes.
Immediately below the three large crosses on the back of the Rök stone we find an example of another kind of cipher, one making use of transposition. As the fig. on p. 35 shows, we have this line of short-twig runes: airfbfrbnhnfinbant-fąnhnu. In this case each rune must be replaced by the one next following it in the 16-rune futhark. The outcome is sakumukminiuaimsiburiniþ Sagum mogminni, hvaim se burinn nið.
The same type of cipher remained long in use. It is found, for example, on the font in Kareby church (Bohuslän), where the font-mason cut his name in the sequence orklaski, which transposed gives þorbiarn Torbjörn.
It is characteristic that Rök, the longest inscription we know, is written in the main with short-twig runes. It may add interest to pay attention to the external form of the stone and the way in which the carver has covered the surface with runes. Inspection of the stone has led several scholars to think of rune-inscribed wooden tablets, and it is indeed possible to feel that the Rök stone represents a gigantic magnification of a wooden board with its surfaces tight-packed with runic characters.
Among other inscriptions that appear to imitate inscriptions on wood the one at Oklunda deserves mention. It is of quite a different type from the Rök inscription which essentially belongs to the memorial group. The Oklunda inscription is a legal document from pre-Christian times, cut in a little rock eminence by the farm Oklunda in Ö. Husby parish (Östergötland). It says, among other things, that the man who cut the runes had fled because of an offence—probably a killing—and to save his life had taken refuge in a holy place, the sanctuary at Oklunda. The begining of the inscription where this extremely interesting message is conveyed reads: kunar ⋮ faþirunaRþisaR ⋮ insa flausakaR ⋮ sutiuiþita Gunnarr faði runaR þessaR. En sa flo sakR. Sotti vi þetta... “Gunnar cut these runes. And he fled under penalty. Sought this sanctuary...”
This is the earliest Scandinavian evidence we have of the right of asylum at a heathen cult-site. In the sanctuary Gunnar found an inviolable refuge, where no vengeance could touch him. The latter part of the inscription says that he made a settlement in accordance with law.
In connection with the Oklunda inscription it may be mentioned that an archaic prescription for atonement payments is found on the Forsa ring (Hälsingland), also cut in short-twig runes. A recent runological and linguistic investigation suggests that in all probability it is to be dated to the late ninth or early tenth century. Inscriptions of similar kind were doubtless made in considerable numbers, but of course almost exclusively on wood, the natural material for runic writing.
VIKING EXPEDITIONS IN THE LIGHT OF RUNIC INSCRIPTIONS
The great forays are generally felt to be the most typical expression of the Viking Age and the one that most catches the imagination. It is not inappropriate to give a more detailed account of what the rune stones can tell us of the Viking expeditions, for it was often precisely to commemorate kinsmen who had fallen in foreign lands that the stones were raised. When the great expeditions were over, the old trade routes closed, and the Viking ships no longer made ready each spring for voyages to east and west, then that meant the end of the carving and setting up of rune stones in the proper sense of the term. They may be called the monuments of the Viking voyages, and the sensitive reader may catch in many of their inscriptions the Viking’s love of adventure and exploits of boisterous daring.
It should perhaps be emphasised that the Viking forays did not merely mean ferocious raids—they were also of great importance as a realisation of commercial policy. In the Viking Age the Norsemen were the chief middlemen in the commercial traffic between the Orient and western Europe. For long periods the Scandinavian North was at the focal point of world trade—a fact which is at once evident from the enormous finds of English and Arabic coins in Swedish soil.
As has often been observed, Swedish preoccupations in the Viking Age lay to the east, those of the Danes and Norwegians to the west. That is why Sweden is so seldom mentioned in the historical sources of western Europe, which do on the other hand—and naturally enough—offer plenty of reliable information about the western expeditions. East European sources provide material which is both scantier and more problematic; their relative sparseness makes the evidence of the rune stones all the more precious.
That Viking forays were not confined to west and east is shown straightway by a rune stone which makes part of the grand monument at Västra Strö (Skåne). There it says that a man called Fader “had these runes cut in memory of Assur, his brother, who met death in the north on a Viking venture" (es norðr varð dauðr i vikingu).
On the eastern route
The expeditions eastward had the longest tradition behind them. When the Viking Age began, the long waterways east and south of the Baltic were, it can be said, already functioning as the channels by which Swedish commerce with Byzantine and Arabian realms was maintained. They were the foundation of Sweden’s position as a commercial power.
The oldest inscription to speak of a Viking expedition to the east is on the  Kälvesten stone (Östergötland), which can be dated to the ninth century: stikuR karþi kubl þau aft auint sunu sin | sa fial austr miR aiuisli | uikikR faþi aukrimulfR
“Stygg (?) made these monuments in memory of Öjvind, his son. He fell in the east with Ejvisl. Viking cut and Grimulv.”
The final sequence, aukrimulfR, must certainly be read as auk krimulfR. The final k in conj. auk must thus be read double (cf. p. 17 above: is [s]laginaR).
In aukrimulfR an attempt has been made to find an otherwise unknown personal name riiulfR. But the third rune is certainly m, slightly damaged at the top. The inscription is in short-twig runes, where m has the form †. This was easy to cut in wood but less so in hard, coarse granite: pieces readily flaked off when the short cross-stroke was cut through the top of the stave.
The oldest inscription that tells of a Viking expedition to the east is the one on the Kälvesten stone from Östergötland.
As we see, the stone was carved by two men, one called GrimulfR—a well-known name in the Viking Age, spread over the whole of Scandinavia, the other called VikingR. It is interesting to find this name inscribed as early as the ninth century. It occurs on ten or so other Swedish stones but all a good deal younger than the Kälvesten instance. The name was common in medieval Norway.—The name of the dead man, Øyvindr, is found fairly frequently in Swedish inscriptions, but the Viking leader, Æivisl, has a name reliably attested only once elsewhere, on the famous Sparlösa stone (p. 31 above). Since the two rune stones appear to have been carved at about the same time and belong to districts closely connected in cultural terms, it is undeniably tempting to assume that both inscriptions refer to the same man. If that association is correct, then the Sparlösa stone was set up 
Facing an old track which winds through an Uppland forest, the two Ed inscriptions tell us about a man who had been to Greece as “leader of the host” and who had this monument made in memory of his mother. in memory of the man Öjvind had followed on the eastern route. Unfortunately, however, the Sparlösa inscription, partly because of damage in several places, contains some important cruces which are either uninterpreted or interpreted very doubtfully. We can never be absolutely confident that it is a monument to the memory of a battle-slain chieftain, despite the fact that among the pictorial elements on the stone we see a ship with birds hovering round the rigging. As things stand, the identification of Ejvisl on the two stones as the same man must remain no more than a possibility.
It is on the Kälvesten stone, then, that we meet the first certain example of a Swedish Viking leader who sailed to the east. Many followed in his wake. It is a pity that the inscription gives no precise information about the place where this  evidently unsuccessful expedition met its fate. The same regrettable brevity is typical of most of our rune stones.
Unlike the first two centuries of the Viking Age, the eleventh century offers an almost overwhelming quantity of runic material. Many aspects of life in this period—one of rare vitality and variety in our history—are illuminated in quick flashes from the inscriptions. This is not least true of the eastward expeditions. The words which end the inscription on the Smula stone (Västergötland) could then have been said of many young men: En þæiR urðu dauðiR i liði austr, “they met death in the ‘host’ in the east”.
The foreign country whose name occurs most frequently is Greece, Grikkland, denoting the northeast Mediterranean lands of the Eastern Empire. It is clear that journeys there were especially common, and to judge by the inscriptions it was a destination found particularly enticing by men from the central Swedish provinces. We must bear in mind, however, that conclusions of this kind are hazardous, since these provinces are so incomparably rich in rune stones.
It is not of course to be expected that the brief runic texts should give any detailed account of adventures met with on the expeditions, but a number of them at least tell us something more than the bare fact that the man in whose memory the stone was set up varð dauðr i Grikkium—“met death among the Greeks”.
On a huge boulder at Ed, just north of Stockholm, are found two handsome inscriptions. They face an ancient track which winds through the forest along the shore of Edsjön. The inscriptions say:
“Ragnvald had the runes cut in memory of Fastvi, his mother, Onäm’s daughter. She died in Ed. God help her soul.
This Ragnvald, whose name alone is enough to show he was of high birth, had thus by his own account been commander of a troop of warriors in Greece—vaR a Grikklandi, vas liðs forungi. All things considered, it seems most likely that the reference here is to that famous band of Norse mercenary soldiers, known as the Varangians, who were in the service of the Byzantine emperors at this time. One can readily appreciate Ragnvald’s eagerness to announce to his contemporaries—  and to posterity—that he had held the distinguished post of commander in the Varangian corps in “Micklegard”—Constantinople. This élite corps in the imperial lifeguard, formed at the end of the tenth century, soon became famous. It was certainly a well-known institution to those who took the road past the boulder at Ed. To many a young man it breathed irresistible temptation to adventure.
That the voyages to Greece were frequent and on a large scale is also clearly indicated by one of our medieval provincial law-codes, which still retains a special provision concerning men who were in Greece. In the inheritance laws it says: “He takes no inheritance as long as he stays in Greece.”
In the period when the Swedish Greek-stones were inscribed, there were livelier connections between Scandinavia and Byzantium than at any other time. Swedish Viking ships were then a common sight in the Black Sea, the Sea of Marmara, and the Ægean. And wider Mediterranean waters were sheared by their long keels.
The inscription at Ed contains the oldest record we have of the parish name Ed: Ragnvald’s mother, Fastvi Onam’s daughter, died i · aiþi. Æið n. (ON eið, OSw. eþ) means “a neck of land between two stretches of water, over which vessels can be dragged”. The “neck” which has given the parish its name appears to be the one in the northwest corner of Edsjön which interrupts direct communication with the extensive channels that lead to Sigtuna and Uppsala. (On place-names on rune stones see pp. 95 ff below.)
From Ragnvald’s inscription we learn that he came home to Ed. He himself could tell of the honour he had won in Byzantium. But most of the runic inscriptions are memorials to men who sailed away and never returned. “They met death among the Greeks.”
At Ulunda ford (west Uppland) stand two rune stones, one on either side of the spot where the road crosses the stream. Like the boulder at Ed these stones thus stand by a road—and a much more important road than the bridle-path by Edsjön. The ford at Ulunda is on Eriksgata, the road, that is, by which a newly elected king had to travel through the country to be acknowledged as ruler by the judgment of the people at their provincial assemblies. It is noteworthy how many rune stones were set up in the vicinity of this road, the most important highway in Sweden. (On rune stones erected næR brautu “near the road”, see pp. 139 f below.)
The inscription on one of the Ulunda stones, raised by Kår and Kabbe, ends with a verse; the heir honours the dead man in these words:
Two rune stones in Södermanland also suggest the profits to be made on the Greek excursions. The one at Rycksta ends with the words: For OlæifR i Grikkium, gulli skifti; and in a verse couplet on one of the Grinda stones we find the same alliterative expression: VaR hann i Grikkium | gulli skifti —“He was in Greece, took his share of gold”.
Two rune stones stand on either side of Ulunda ford in Uppland, which was on the Eriksgata, the road by which a newly elected king had to travel through the country to be acknowledged as ruler in all the provinces.
One of the many Swedish runic monuments concerning men who journeyed to Greece is now preserved in England. What happened was that in the seventeenth century the English emissary in Stockholm sought permission on his royal master’s behalf to export two Swedish rune stones to Oxford. Permission was granted by King Karl XI in 1687, and both stones joined the University’s antiquarian collection. One of them is a typical Greek-stone, with the inscription:
| þorstin | lit×kera | merki | ftiR | suin | faþur | sin | uk | ftiR | þori | broþur | sin | þiR | huaru | hut | til | k[ir]ika | uk | iftir | inkiþuru | moþur | sin | ybiR risti |
Þorstæinn let gæra mærki æftiR Svæin, faður sinn, ok æftiR Þori,
broður sinn. ÞæiR vaRu ut til Grikkia. Ok æftiR Ingiþoru, moður
sin[a]. ØpiR risti.
“Torsten had the memorial made in memory of Sven, his father, and of Tore, his brother. They were abroad to Greece. And in memory of Ingetora, his mother. Öpir carved.”
The father had evidently taken one of his two sons with him on the expedition to Greece. Torsten doubtless had to stay at home to look after the farm with Ingetora, his mother. The family lived in Ed, where the rune stone originally stood—not far from the boulder by Edsjön described above. Sven and Tore and Torsten must often have read the inscription that told of Ragnvald’s successful journey to Micklegard and his career with the Varangians. Their expedition did not go so well. As the inscription shows, both father and son died out there.
The inscription is signed by Öpir, incomparably the most prolific of the runemasters: we know over 80 inscriptions by him. He was an artist of rank, active in the last decades of the eleventh century, chiefly in the south and west of Uppland. His name was originally a nickname, nomen agentis (with suffix -ia-) to the verb øpa “shout, cry” (cognate with Engl. “weep”), so Öpir properly means “the bawler”. As we learn from the signature on a couple of his stones, his true name was OfæigR.
On the Ed stone we can observe some confusion on his part over the h-sound —he writes hut for ut. It is a dialect feature still well known in Roslagen, the eastern coastal part of Uppland. A good many Uppland inscriptions also show omission of initial h- (e.g. an for han, agua · eli for hagua · heli “cut the rock”).
The voyagers to Greece steered their ships east across the Baltic. By the great river-systems of Garðaríki (Russia) they made their way “to Greek harbours”, as it says on the stone at Fjuckby (Uppland) that Ljut the ship’s captain set up in memory of one of his sons: ... styrði knærri, kvam hann GrikkhafniR... “He steered the ship, he came to Greek harbours”.
There were several routes to choose from. Once the open waters of the Gulf of Finland were crossed, the ship could be brought by the channels of the river Neva in to Ladoga, where the trade-routes divided, one going in a southerly and one in an easterly direction. The usual route went by the river Volchov down to Old Ladoga, called Aldeigjuborg, or Aldeigja, by the Norsemen. (The name is undoubtedly a corruption of Ladoga; Aldeigjuborg thus means “Ladoga’s burg”.) Then the travellers had arrived in that vast territory which medieval Icelandic sources call Svíþióð bin mikla—“great Sweden” (Scythia magna). Archaeological investigations have shown that the Swedes had an important trading-post at Aldeigjuborg from the beginning of the ninth until towards the middle of the eleventh century. In 1950 a little runic inscription came to light there, cut on a piece of wood (fir). As one would expect, the runes are of the short-twig kind. The piece is probably from the ninth century and appears to contain two lines of verse. It is a find of great cultural and literary interest, and one which offers
This boulder at Esta in Södermanland is now badly damaged by weathering, but the text can be restored with the help of this drawing from the seventeenth century. clear, written evidence of the penetration of Swedish culture in the Ladoga area very early in the Viking Age.
From Aldeigjuborg it was no great distance to the important commercial junction called Holmgarðr, Holmgård—Novgorod. It comes as no surprise to find this great station on the eastern route mentioned in the runic inscriptions of the homeland.
On a boulder at Esta (Södermanland) there is the following inscription, with its suggestion of strife in Holmgård: “Ingefast had the stone cut in memory of Sigvid, his father. He fell in Holmgård, the ship’s captain, with his crew.” (Unfortunately the Esta block is now badly damaged by weathering, but fortunately the text can be authentically restored with the help of a seventeenth-century drawing.) As in so many other instances, the last part of the inscription is in verse:
We see that on his voyage to Holmgård Sigvid had been skæiðaR visi—an interesting phrase with a poetic ring. (Syntactically it is, of course, in postpositional apposition to Hann.)
The word skæið f. “longship, warship (of larger dimensions)” is frequent in scaldic verse and West Norse prose literature. The Danish Tryggevælde inscription also contains the word—indeed, in its oldest occurrence since that stone was carved at the beginning of the tenth century. But its context on the Danish stone
On a boulder at Sjusta in Uppland it can be read that Runa had the famous rune carver Öpir make this memorial to Spiallbude, her husband, who met death in Holmgård (in Russia) in St Olav’s church.
 is surprising, for the introductory sentence of the inscription says that Ragnhild, Ulv’s sister, had set up the stone and made the mound auk skaiþ · þaisi (ok skæið þessi “and this ship”). Here skæið must certainly be used of a “ship-setting”, a series of stones set up to make the outline of a ship’s hull, which Ragnvald had commissioned as a memorial to the dead man. With its deck of green turf and the gentle curve of the stone gunwale, rising in height at stem and stern, the ship-setting’s affinity to the skæið is clear. The same word is used of the ships of the Varangians in the so-called Nestor Chronicle, the medieval Russian source which gives us important information about Swedish ventures to the east in the Viking Age. And to the west we find that the Anglo-Saxons borrowed the same word from the Norsemen (OE scægð).
For that matter, it was on a skæið—so Ynglinga saga tells us—that Haki, king of the Swedes, set sail with the ship itself as his funeral pyre. In his valiant fight on the Fyris fields he got such great wounds that his days, he knew, were numbered: þá lét harm taka skeið er hann átti ok lét hlaða dauðum mǫnnum ok vápnum, lét þá flytia út til hafs ok leggia stýri í lag ok draga upp segl, en leggia eld í tyrvið ok gera bál á skipinu. Veðr stóð af landi. Haki var þá at kominn dauða eða dauðr, er hann var lagiðr á bálit. Sigldi skipit síðan logandi út í haf, ok var þetta allfrægt lengi síðan. “Then he had a skeið fetched, one of his, and had it laden with dead men and weapons, had it moved out to open sea and the steering-oar shipped and the sail hoisted, and set fire to kindling and made a pyre on the ship. There was an offshore breeze. Haki was close to death or dead when he was laid on the pyre. Then the ship sailed blazing out to sea, and the fame of this lived long afterwards.”
Like skeið, the word visi m. “leader, prince” is also well known from West Norse poetry. We find it several time in the Edda, e.g. in Helgakviða Hundingsbana I, v. 10:
The word is a substantivisation of the adj. viss and so properly means “the wise one”, but in an expression like skæiðar visi it was most probably associated with the verb visa, in the sense of “direct, lead”.
Two bits of a rune stone have been found at Hallfrede in Follingbo parish (Gotland) which show that the stone was originally put up to commemorate a man who do i Holmgarði “died in Holmgård”. The inscription throws light on something we learn from different, later sources—that the Gotlanders had a trading-post in Novgorod.
Another inscription of interest in this connection is found at Sjusta in Skokloster parish (Uppland). Two women, Runa and Sigrid, commissioned the rune-master Öpir (p. 46 above) to make an inscription in memory of four men, Spjallbude, Sven, Andvätt and Ragnar. These four were sons of Runa, a widow;  Sigrid is her daughter-in-law, once wife of Spjallbude and now widowed herself. Of him the inscription says: “He met death in Holmgård in Olav’s church’’—an uar | tauþr | i hulmkarþi | i olafs kriki Hann vaR dauðr i Holmgarði i Olafs kirkiu. There can be little doubt but that by kriki Öpir meant kirkiu, dat. of the loanword kirkia. He often leaves out runes at the ends of words.
When we recall King Olav Haraldsson’s personal connections with Holmgård, it is not particularly surprising that a church dedicated to this martyr-king should exist there as early as the latter part of the eleventh century. The inscription shows that this church was built in Novgorod in honour of his sanctity only a few decades after his death at Stiklestad in 1030. It also throws a
The piont called Domesnäs projects into the Gulf of Riga, a hazardous place to pass on one’s way to Semgallen. Sven in memory of whom this stone at Mervalla was raised often sailed to Semgallen on his ship, a “knarr”.
 revealing light on another aspect of the Viking Age: the death toll was devastating.
The way by Ladoga, Aldeigjuborg, and Holmgård was the northernmost of the great routes to the east. A more southerly route had still older traditions. Rounding Domesnäs, the northern tip of Kurland, the ships sailed southeast across the Gulf of Riga towards the broad estuary of the Dvina, on whose calm lower reaches the voyage continued through the plains of Semgallen. Here, in Latvia, the existence of large Swedish colonies has been demonstrated by the archaeologist.
Both Domesnäs and Semgallen are named on the Mervalla stone (Södermanland), put up by Sigrid in memory of Sven, her husband. The memorial
This rune stone from Frugården in Västergötland recalls an ill-starred voyage: Sven was killed in Estonia.
 inscription reads: hn · uft · siklt · til · simkala · turum knari · um · tumisnis
Knarr (ON knǫrr) was the Norseman’s name for his roomy sea-going ship, heavier and stronger than the longship. (It is indicative of the importance of Norse shipbuilding and seafaring that the word knarr was borrowed into so many languages: OE cnearr, Irish cnarr, Old French canar, OHG gnarren. The name may well have arisen from the creaking of the massive hull in the waves—cf. the verb knarra “creak” and the cognate (obsolete) English verb, “gnar(l)” = snarl, growl.) It was the knarr that carried the Norsemen over the great and perilous seas to Iceland and Greenland and Vinland the Good. No ocean was too vast for their vessels. The ships were the pride of the Norsemen, their great technical achievement, and it is natural that they should often be pictured by the artists of the time, sung of by scalds, and named in inscriptions commemorating the men who sailed them.
If a man had held command in a ship or was an owner, alone or in partnership, it was understandably seen fit to mention the fact in a runic epitaph. One of the stones in the great Västra Strö monument, for example, was put up by a co-owner in memory of “Björn, who owned a ship along with him”.
It is worth noting that the phrase dyrum knærri (instrumental dat.) on the Mervalla stone has its exact verbal parallel in a well-known verse by Egill Skallagrímsson, composed in 920 according to the chronology of Egils saga. The young poet expresses his yearning for a ship and adventure; he wants to be off with Vikings—
standa upp í stafni,
“stand up in the stem, / steer the dear-prized knarr”.
Domesnäs projects into the Gulf of Riga towards Runö and Ösel, and continues as a reef which gives no safe depth for some miles off the point. It is a treacherous place, hazardous for “dear-prized ships”.
Semgallen is Latvian Zemgale, which is thought to mean “the low land”. The Norsemen thus borrowed the name from Latvian. The same thing happened in other cases—cf. Virland, for example, which in Estonian is Virumaa. and Aldeigja from Ladoga (p. 47 above).
Virland comprises the northeast part of Estonia and so lies on the southern shores of the Gulf of Finland. Two men from Uppland fell there, Anund Kåresson and Björn Kättilmundsson. Anund, from the parish of Roslags-Bro,
Many rune stones in Gotland have the same shape as the picture stones. This Sjonhem stone was raised in memory of a man who lost his life at the river Venta on the Baltic shore. uas · tribin + a + uirlanti—vas drepinn a Virlandi “was killed in Virland”. Björn has two handsome runes stones to commemorate him, one of them in the great grave-field at Lunda:
rahnfriþ | lit rasa stain þino | aftiR biurn | sun þaiRa | kitilmuntaR | kuþ mialbi hons ant aukuþs muþiR hon fil a uirlanti | in osmuntr markaþi. “Ragnfrid had this stone raised in memory of Björn, Kättilmund’s son and hers. God and God’s mother help his soul. He fell in Virland. And Åsmund cut.”
The inscription is thus signed by Asmundr Karason, one of the great pioneers among rune-masters. He carved over 40 stones in Uppland and Gästrikland, half of them with his signature included. Most of them were probably inscribed in the 1020s and ’30s but he seems to have been active much longer. His inscriptions have numerous characteristic features, some of them decidedly old-fashioned. He follows old tradition, for example, in letting a single rune serve as the last letter of one word and the first of the next. He also uses the ᚭ-rune for nasalised a. (Only a couple of decades later we find this rune used almost exclusively to denote o.) He uses division marks sparingly and dotted runes not at all (on the latter see pp. 29 f above).—It has been suggested that Asmundr Karason was an English cleric, referred to by Adam of Bremen as Osmundus, who later (about 1050) acted as archbishop under King Emund the Old. It is an identification which prompts interest but not belief.
Personal names such as Æistfari (“Estonia-farer”), ÆistulfR and Æistr, which appear in runic inscriptions, testify at once to close connections with Estonia. (In all probability Æistr was originally a name for a slave of Estonian provenance.) Direct evidence of an ill-starred voyage to Estonia is also preserved on a rune stone at Frugården in Norra Åsarp parish (Västergötland):
kufi : rsþi : stin : þesi : eftR : ulaf : sun : sin · trk · hrþa · kuþan · hn · uarþ · trbin · i · estlatum · ... Gufi ræisti stæin pennsi æftiR Olaf, sun sinn, dræng harða goðan. Hann varð drepinn i Æistlandum...
“Guve raised this stone in memory of Olav, his son, a very noble ‘dræng’. He was killed in Estonia...”
Southwest of Domesnäs lies Windau (Latvian Ventspils, Russian Vindava), one of the few harbours on this flat and unsheltered Baltic shore. It is the nearest haven for any ship sailing eastward from Gotland, and it was certainly often visited by traders from there. One of the fine stones in picture-stone form of the Sjonhem monument on Gotland was probably raised in memory of a man who
“Djärv got these scales from a man from Samland (or Semgallen)” is written on this little box found in Sigtuna.
 lost his life at the mouth of the river Venta (Windau): han : uarþ : tauþr: a : uitau : Hann varð dauðr a Vindøy. The place-name Winda was taken by Norsemen to be Vindøy, “wind-isle”, a natural enough folk-etymology in view of Swedish place-names like Vindö and Väderö (“wind-”, “weather-”).
Livonia, the country between Semgallen and Estonia, is also mentioned in two Swedish inscriptions of the Viking Age. On one of them, cut in the rock-face at Åda (Södermanland), we read:
: hermoþr : lit : hagua : at : barkuiþ : bruþur : sin : han trukn-þi : a lf : lanti : “Härmod had [the rock] cut in memory of Bergvid, his brother. He drowned in Livland.”
A runic inscription of a different kind deserves notice at this point. It is engraved on a copper box discovered in Sigtuna. In the box a little pair of scales was kept, used for weighing gold and silver. Well over a hundred such scales have been found in the graves at Birka, Sigtuna’s predecessor as the emporium of central Sweden: they were the insignia of the merchant.
The owner of the Sigtuna scales had his name inscribed on the box, and he also tells us how they came into his possession. The beginning of the inscription is of most interest to us at this point:
tiarfr×fik af×simskum×mąni×skalaR×þisaR... in uirmuntr×faþi×runąr þisar DiarfR fæk af sæmskum manni skalaR þessaR... En Værmundr faði runaR þessar
“Djärv got these scales from a man from Samland (or Semgallen)... And Värmund incised these runes.”
ON skál f., OSw. skal, vægskal f., means “the pan of a balance”; cf. Sw. skålpund “a pound as measured on weighing scales”. In a medieval text (Speculum Virginum) we find, for instance, rætuisonna skaal “scales of justice”. The pl. skálar on the Sigtuna box refers to the two pans, hence the weighing scales as a whole (cf. the pl. normal in English too).
The inscription, which is from the beginning of the eleventh century, does not give us altogether precise information about the provenance of Djärv’s scales. The adj. sæmskR remains ambiguous: af samskum manni may mean that the man came from Samland but it may possibly mean from Semgallen. Semgallen, famous already in the time of the Elder Pliny as a source of the amber so highly prized in Rome, lies in East Prussia, in the southeast corner of the Baltic. (See further on the inscription p. 133 below.)
Before leaving these frequently visited Baltic coastlands, I may speak briefly of one or two inscriptions that tell of men who fell in Finland.
The inscription on a rune stone that once stood in Söderby-Karl parish in Roslagen (Uppland) and is now unfortunately lost said that “Björn and Igulfrid raised the stone in memory of Otrygg, their son. He was killed in Finland”—a Finnlandi. This inscription, which can be dated to the beginning of the eleventh century, is the oldest Swedish source in which the name of Sweden’s eastern  neighbour occurs. It is in itself natural that the name should be found on a stone in the coastal district of Roslagen in eastern Uppland, where many voyages to Finland had—and still have—their beginning. It must however be remembered that the name Finnland in Runic Swedish did not have the same significance as it has now. The area to which the name was then applied was certainly only that part which later, typically enough, was to be called Finland Proper, i.e. the southwestern part of the modern country. This coastal area, which is closer to Roslagen than any other part of the Finnish mainland, has thus in time given its name to the whole land. Here we may compare the similar development of the Finnish name for Sweden—Ruotsi. Originally this name was probably only used of Roslagen, the Uppland coastal region, but in time it became the Finnish name for the whole Swedish territory westward over the Baltic. When the rune stone commemorating Otrygg was inscribed, Swedish had no collective term for the different parts of Finland.
It was in a remoter Finnish province, in Tavastland, that a man named Egil lost his life. His stone at Söderby (Gästrikland) tells: hann varð dauðr a Tafæistalandi. He had taken part in a Viking expedition under the chieftain Fröger. Bruse, Egil’s brother, had the splendid stone put up to his memory. Åsmund Kåresson and Sven cut the runes. Connections with Tavastland are also attested by the occurrence of the personal name Tafæistr in Runic Swedish.
As we just saw, the first time we meet the name of Finland is on the Söderby-Karl stone. A handsome grave-slab from Rute churchyard on Gotland offers a later example. It was placed over a man who “died in Finland”.
We now leave these Baltic coastlands to follow the Swedes on their travels still farther to the east, guided by the terse directions of the runic memorials.
Immediately to the east of these coastal regions lay Garðariki, Gårdarike, where large commercial colonies were established along the ancient trade-routes. Garðariki most probably got its name from the many garðar “garths” (cf. Russian gorod “town”) built to protect the trade-routes, in the same way as Castille in Spain is thought to have got its name from the castella put up by the Visigoths as a defence against the Moors. The commercial importance of Sweden in the Viking Age was based on the unique wealth of Garðariki in slaves, furs and hides. (Direct evidence of the Gotland fur-trade remains on the Stenkumla stone, erected in memory of a man who sunarla : sat : miþ : skinum sunnarla sat með skinnum “dealt in furs in the south”.)
A profitable undertaking in Garðariki is clearly attested by the runic inscription on the Veda rock (Uppland): þurtsain×kiarþif×tiR irenmunt×sun sin aukaubti þinsa bu×auk×aflaþi×austr×i karþum Þorstæinn gærði æftiR Ærinmund, sun sinn, ok kaupti þennsa by ok aflaði austr i Garðum.
“Torsten made it in memory of Ärnmund, his son, and bought this farm, and  made the money east in Garðariki.” The notice of the money made in Russia has alliteration and the movement of verse: ok aflaoi | austr i Garðum.
The inscription also shows that inalienable land (oðal) could now be acquired by purchase. This must certainly have been the result of radical changes in society brought about by long-distance trading and Viking expeditions.
“East in Garðariki’' is a familiar expression on Swedish rune stones. It occurs for example in the verse which ends the inscription on the Turinge stone (Södermanland): bruþr uaRu þaR bistra mana : a : lanti auk : i liþi : uti : hiltu sini huskarla : ui-+han+fial+i+urusti+austr+i+garþum+lis+furugi+lanmana+bestr
Left: This grave slab from Rute churchyard on Gotland was placed over a man who died in Finland.
Right: On this stone in Turinge church in Södermanland family and retainers commemorate their chieftain Torsten and his brother.
This is the fine poem in which the Södermanland chieftain, Torsten, and his dead brother are commemorated by the surviving members of their family and their retainers.
harþruþr + raisti + stain + þinsa + aiftiR + sun + sin + smiþ + trak + kuþan + halfburin + bruþiR ans + sitr × karþum brantr × riti + iak þu raþa khn
“Härtrud set up this stone in memory of her son, Smed, a noble ‘dræng’. Halvboren, his brother, stays in Garðariki. Brand cut [the runes] right so they can be read.”
The expression sitr×karþum must obviously be interpreted as here, “stays, lives, in Garðariki” (cf. the sentence translated on p. 43 above, which renders the Inheritance Section 12:2 of Äldre Västgötalagen. Ingsinss manss arv takær hæn mæn i girklandi sitær).
It is true that it has been suggested that we should take the phrase to mean “stays in Gårdby”, but this presupposes that the first element of Gårdby was the substantive garðr. This is not the case however: the first element is gorr (går), “dirt, muck”. The name was originally Gorby; cf. the name of the neighbouring parish, Sandby.
The expeditions to Russia and through Russian territory are thus reflected again and again on the rune stones set up in the homefields of the voyagers, by the high road and at assembly places. And sometimes memorial runes were inscribed out on the distant routes themselves.
Near the mouth of the Dnieper, on the island Berezanj in the Black Sea, Grane buried his comrade, Karl. We know this from the gable-stone of a coffin discovered in excavations on Berezanj in 1905: krani : kerþi : half : þisi : iftir : kal : fi : laka : sin “Grane made this sarcophagus after Karl, his partner.”
It appears from this that Karl and Grane were felagaR, partners who pooled their resources and undertook this trading venture together. The word felagi m. occurs in two other eleventh-century Swedish inscriptions.
Karl has his stone-coffin grave on an island whose sheltered bays have given protection to many a Swedish ship on the eastern voyage. When the traveller came from the north, with the perils of the Dnieper cataracts (mentioned on the Pilgård stone) and the difficulties of sandbanks and treacherous shoal-water still fresh in his memory, he came at last, here by Berezanj, to open water, where the Black Sea, bigger than the Baltic, opened up before his ship’s prow. And when he came to Berezanj from the south—on his way home to the thick-wooded creeks of Mälaren or the stony havens of Gotland—he could gather strength here before being forced to bend back and oar in the long struggle against the river currents and all the other obstacles on his way. Soon enough the time would come for the unloading and the dragging over the portages and the reloading, all in the sticky heat of the interior, hardly relieved by the steppe winds and the summer rain. And all the while his longing for a sail-bellying breeze and salt water grew stronger.
At Gårdby church on Öland there is a rune stone which Härtrud had raised in memory of her son Smed. Another Swedish inscription which it is natural to mention in company with the Berezanj slab is the one on the Piræus lion. This magnificent marble lion had kept guard in Porto Leone, the harbour of Athens, for many centuries before a Swedish Viking incised his inscription on its flanks. The serpent-band, filled with runes, coils itself round the classic marble in just the same way as on the Uppland granite. Unfortunately, the inscription is now for the most part illegible, for since it was cut the lion has suffered much from battles in the harbour as well as from wind and weather. (The victorious Venetians carried off the lion as a trophy in 1687 and it now stands in Venice—where its runes were finally recognised for what they are by a Swedish diplomat, the Egyptologist Johan David Åkerblad.)
In a region that lay between Berezanj and the Piraeus—in Wallachia—the Gotlander Rodfos was treacherously killed by men beyond the reach of family vengeance. One of the handsome rune stones of the Sjonhem monument tells us of his fate:
roþuisl : auk : roþalf : þau : litu : raisa : staina : eftir : sy[ni : sina :] þria : þina : eftir : roþfos : han : siku : blakumen : i : utfaru kuþ : hielbin : sial : roþfoaR kuþ : suiki : þa : aR : han : suiu :
“Rodvisl and Rodälv, they had the stones set up in memory of their three sons. This one in memory of Rodfos. Wallachians betrayed him on an expedition. God help Rodfos’s soul. God betray those who betrayed him.”
As the name of a people, blakumen must clearly mean the inhabitants of Wallachia, the southernmost part of present-day Rumania. This region—in the Migration Age a playground for Vandals, Marcomanni, Gepids, Langobards and other tribes—was ruled in the eleventh century by the Turkish people called the Cumans. The blaku on the rune stone may be compared with Old Slavonic vlachtu: in early Gotlandic the combination vl-, unknown in Old Scandinavian, was replaced by bl-. The second element is naturally -mænn “men”. (In Swedish the word valack has long been used of a “gelding”: its proper sense is “horse from Wallachia”.)
We cannot say for certain what kind of expedition Rodfos was on when he was killed, but it seems most likely that it was a trading venture.
In the last sentence—Guð sviki þa, eR hann sviku—we find a formula typical of the transition from paganism to Christianity. The duty of vengeance on the inaccessible slayers of their son is handed over to God. There can as yet be no question of forgiving those who trespass against us.
The largest and from some points of view the most interesting group of stones commemorating the eastern expeditions comprises, however, the so-called Ingvar stones. They were put up in memory of men who had followed Ingvar the Far-travelled on his long journey to Serkland.
It is impossible to define the boundaries of the rune stones’ Serkland—“the Saracens’ land”. The Norsemen probably meant by it the lands of the Abbasid caliphate, whose capital in the Viking Age was Baghdad.
Ingvar’s expedition is mentioned on nearly thirty rune stones, most of them found in the Mälar region. It undoubtedly attracted many participants and must have been one of the great events in the central Swedish districts in the first half of the eleventh century. The inscriptions show clearly that this bold Viking venture met a dismal end. Not a single one refers to a man who returned from those far-off lands. All the members of the expedition died “south in Serkland”. Through a hazy distance the rumour of the disaster filtered home to their native hamlets.
The rune stone at Lundby in Södermanland as it appears in Richard Dybeck’s “Svenska Run-Urkunder”, published in 1885, an illustration which mirrors the national romanticism of the age. The stone belongs to the so-called Ingvar group. On a rune stone at Stora Lundby (Södermanland), for example, we read: : sbiuti : halftan : þaiR : raisþu : stain : þansi: eftiR : skarþa : bruþur sin : fur : austr : hiþan : miþ : ikuari : ą sirklanti : likR : sunR iuintaR
Spiuti, Halfdan, þætR ræisþu stæin þannsi æftiR Skarða, broður sinn.
For austr heðan
“Spjute, Halvdan, they raised this stone in memory of Skarde, their brother.
Went east from here
Ingvar’s expedition has its noblest monument in the inscription on the Gripsholm stone. It was set up by Tola in memory of her son, Harald. According to the runes, he was Ingvar the Far-travelled’s brother:
×tula : lit : raisa : stain : þinsat : sun : sin : haralt : bruþur : inkuars : þaiR furu : trlkila : fiari : at : kuli : auk : a : ustarlar : ni : kafu : tuu : sunar : la : a sirk : lan : ti
Tola let ræisa stæin þennsa at sun sinn Harald, broður Ingvars.
It undeniably strikes one as rather peculiar that Tola raised a rune stone only in memory of her son Harald and referred only in passing, as it were, to his famous brother, Ingvar, the leader of the expedition, as a means of further identifying Harald and adding lustre to his name. Three possible explanations can be found for this, on the face of it, surprising mode of expression. Ingvar may have had a stone of his own, set up beside his brother’s and since lost. It could have been used for building purposes in the same way as Harald’s was. (The Gripsholm stone was discovered as a threshold flagstone in the bottom vault of the east tower of the castle there.) The second conceivable reason is that “brother” in the inscription does not have its usual family sense but refers to membership of the same fraternity: “foster-brother”, “brother in arms”, “sworn retainer”—such a sense is securely attested on the Hällestad stone in Skåne (see p. 86). The third possibility is that Ingvar was not Tola’s son and was thus only a half-brother of Harald.
It is clear that Tola’s husband, the father of the two brothers, was dead when the Gripsholm stone was inscribed—otherwise Tola would not have set it up solely on her own account. Who then was the father of Ingvar and Harald?
The fame of Ingvar spread far and wide. He is the hero of the Icelandic Yngvars saga víðfǫrla, where his expedition is described in the fantastical manner of the so-called legendary sagas (fornaldarsögur). The saga, which was written a good 200 years and more after the end of the ill-fated expedition, says that Ingvar’s father was named Eymundr: Nú fór Eymundr ór Garðaríki með mikilli sæmd ok virðingu af allri alþýðu ok kemr nú til Svíþjóðar ok sezt at ríki sínu ok eignum, ok brátt aflar hann sér kvánfangs ok fær ríks manns dóttur, ok gat við henni einn son, er Yngvarr hét. Eymund is thus said to have returned from Garðariki to Sweden, where he married the daughter of a mighty man “and had with her a son, who was called Yngvar”.
It is in fact possible that the saga’s report of his father’s name may be corroborated by the inscription on a rune stone at Strängnäs. Unfortunately, the stone is only fragmentarily preserved and this inevitably makes for some uncertainty about the association. The names of the dead men are not contained on what is left of the stone but their description as suni : aimuntaR “sons of Emund” remains. What makes the Ingvar association possible is the interesting fact that the formulation of the Strängnäs inscription clearly corresponded to that on the Gripsholm stone. On the stone remnant we find these fragmentary words, evidently from a verse, ... sunarla : a : serkl ... sunnarla a Særklandi “southward in Serkland”. It would be a cause for celebration if the lost bits of the Strängnäs stone were one day restored to us.
In Yngvars saga víðfǫrla (and in three of the Icelandic annal compilations) we are given the following date for the death of this high-born Viking leader: En þá er Yngvarr andaðist, var liðit  frá burð Jesú Kristi MXL ok einn vetr. Þá var hann hálfþrítugr, er hann dó. Þat var ellefu vetrum eftir fall Ólafs konungs ins helga Haraldssonar. “And when Yngvar died, 1041 winters had passed since the birth of Jesus Christ. He was then twenty-five when he died. It was eleven winters after the fall of King Olav the Saint, son of Harald.”
It should perhaps be mentioned that the phrase in the Gripsholm verse, “give the eagle food”, means to “kill enemies”. It is a well-known expression in eddaic and scaldic verse. Helge Hundingsbane, for example, interrupts a flyting between Sinfjötle and Gudmund with the words:
The warriors slain by Erik Blood-axe, whose bodies are strewn over the battlefield at the end of the day, are called “the eagle’s supper” by Egill Skallagrímsson (náttverð ara; Hǫfuðlausn, v. 10), and we find many similar pictures in scaldic verse. In the poetry of the Vikings eagle and raven hover over the carnage, thirsting for the blood of dead and wounded men; they sate their hunger on
Right: A ship’s captain named Gunnlev knew well “how to steer a ship” but was “killed in the east with Ingvar”. His memorial is an impressive rune stone at Varpsundet in Uppland. Left: This rune stone stands outside Gripsholm castle. It was put up in memory of Ingvar the Far-travelled’s brother Harald. the corpses. The wolf, “the horse of the witchwoman” (flagðs goti, flagðs hestr), roams there, scouting for food (cf. “the horse of the Valkyrie” on the Rök stone, p. 33 above). In the eddaic poem called Guðrúnarkviða in forna all these ravening beasts of the battle field come together in the stanza in which Högne pitilessly tells Gudrun of the death of Sigurd, her husband:
How many ships took part in Ingvar’s expedition cannot be determined. Once or twice, it is true, captains are mentioned who joined him and steered their own ships, but of course we cannot expect the rune stones to give us a full tally of his fleet. On the Svinnegarn stone (Uppland), originally part of an imposing monument that probably stood on the assembly place at Svinnegarn, parents had this epitaph inscribed for their son:
baka×sun sin×is ati×ain×sir×skib×auk×austr×stu[rþi×]
Þialfi ok Holmlaug letu rætsa stæina þessa alla at Banka, sun sinn.
Es atti æinn seR skip ok austr styrdi i Ingvars lið. Gud hialpi and Banka.
“Tjälve and Holmlög had all these stones set up in memory of Banke, their son. He had a ship of his own and steered eastward in Ingvar’s host. God help Banke’s soul. Ăskil carved.” (In æinn seR, “alone owned for himself’, seR is the dat. of the third person reflexive pron.)
Of another Uppland man the Steninge inscription—clearly also the work of Äskil—says that “he steered a ship eastward with Ingvar”—Es styrði austr skipi med Ingvari... The Varpsund stone is also of interest, raised in memory of the ship’s captain Gunnlev, who vas austr með Ingvari drepinn, “killed in the east with Ingvar”. His memory lives in the terse but pregnant sentence: Es kunni vel knærri styra, “He well knew how to steer a ship”.
The writer of Yngvars saga says that Yngvar had thirty ships in his fleet—probably something of an exaggeration. As a whole the saga must be characterised as a romantic fiction spun round a kernel of historical fact. If it were not for the positive and contemporary evidence of the rune stones, then the greatest of  all Swedish enterprises in the Viking Age would, like so much else, have been lost to history.
On the Varpsund stone just mentioned we saw that the dead man was remembered with honour as one who “well knew how to steer a ship”. In the age of the rune stones the commander of a vessel was called styrimaðr, “steersman,
Banke’s parents had this stone raised at Svinnegarn in Uppland in memory of their son who “had a ship of his own and steered eastward in Ingvar’s host”.
This rune stone was found a few years ago during excavation and restoration of Uppsala Cathedral. It was originally set up to commemorate Vigmar who was a ‘steersman’, that is commander of a ship. the man at the helm”, and we meet several such in our Viking Age inscriptions. A stone found in almost perfect condition a few years ago was set up by three sons in memory of their father, Vigmar—styriman · koþan. The stone came to light in the course of excavation under a buttress in Uppsala Cathedral—a building notably rich in rune stones.
A very fine example of a “steersman stone” is the Örby stone from Rasbo parish, which now stands in Uppsala. It was inscribed and erected by Vigmund and Åfrid—the latter a rare woman among the rune-masters. It reads: uihmuntr | lit | agua · stain · at | sig | selfon | slyiastr | mono | guþ | ialbi sial | uihmuntar · styrimons uihmuntr · auk | afiriþ : eku merki | at kuikuan · sik · Vigmundr let haggva stæin at sik sialfan, sløgiastr manna. Gud hialpi sial VigmundaR styrimanns. Vigmundr ok Afrid hioggu mærki at kvikvan sik.
On a pilgrimage to Jerusalem Östen died in Greece. His wife and sons raised the memorial. “Vigmund, shrewdest of men, had the stone cut in memory of himself. God help the soul of Vigmund the steersman. Vigmund and Åfrid cut the memorial in his lifetime.”
In the company of two other rune stones from Uppland, the Örby stone had the honour of representing Sweden at the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1867—where they won a bronze medal. The carriage to Paris went smoothly but the Örby stone had an adventurous time on the way back. During reloading at Le Havre, the handsome stone went overboard. Since the three stones were insured for a total of 600 Swedish kronor, the insurance company paid out kr 200 for the Örby stone. It lay at the bottom of the muddy harbour for thirty years but then, as luck would have it, the harbour had to be dredged. The dredge came upon the great heavy rune stone and scooped it up undamaged. It was then sent home to Uppsala and set up there once more. To the best of my knowledge, the insurance money was never repaid.
The courses and destinations of these captains, these steersmen, to what lands and havens their navigation took them, usually find no record in their concise epitaphs. An exception is the inscription on the Fjuckby stone (Uppland), set up by Liutr styrimaðr in memory of two sons. Of one of them it says that “he steered his ship to Greek harbours”. We see that both Ljut and one of his sons were ship’s captains.
It was not only to win gold and “feed eagles” that men voyaged eastward. Journeys were made to Jerusalem for other reasons.
At Broby bridge in Täby parish, just north of Stockholm, stand two rune stones raised in memory of Östen by his sons and his wife. One of the things the inscriptions tell us is that Östen went out to Jerusalem and died in Greece: ×is×suti×iursalir auk antaþis ubi×kirkum Es sotti IorsaliR ok ændaðis uppi i Grikkium. His pilgrimage was probably made at about the same time as King Canute the Great went to Rome (1027), where he founded a hospice for pilgrims from Scandinavia.
Another pilgrimage, also undertaken in the first half of the eleventh century, is attested by the handsome inscription which Ingerun, Hård’s daughter, had carved as her own memorial at Almarestäket, west of Stockholm.
It is thanks to that industrious “seeker of antiquities”, Mårten Aschaneus, that we know what the Almarestäket rock and its inscription looked like, even though it had already disappeared by the end of the seventeenth century. He copied the inscription not many years after 1600 and described its situation in this way: “These pilgrim’s runes are on a rock by Lilla Hiderstäk, north of the public bridge. West of Almarestäk. Towards the south.” A few decades later Johan Peringskiöld added some details about the site: “The high road to Lilla Stäket goes round a steep slope, now called Dalekarlsbacken, on the rock-face of which there is a remarkable runic inscription cut in a shieldshape 2 ells high and 1 1/2 ells wide, situated north of the public bridge and west of Almarestäk, with the inscription facing south, but now so completely covered with earth and brushwood by road-workers raising the road-level that it can no longer be seen—and therefore fortunate that we possess the copy which the late antiquarian, Hr Mårten Aschaneus of Bårgby, made with his pen from the rock itself fifty years ago...” According to Aschaneus, the inscription read:
· iskirun · harþiR · totiR · lit · risti · runiR · ati · sik · sialfan · hn · uil · austr · fara · auk · ut · til · iursala · fair · risti · runiR ·
Aschaneus undoubtedly misread the runes in a number of places. It is very probable that the following offers an accurate transliteration:
Ingirun, HarðaR dottiR, let rista runaR at sik sialfa. Hon vill austr fara ok ut til Iorsala. Fotr risti runaR.
“Ingerun, Hård’s daughter, had the runes cut in memory of herself. She means to go east and out to Jerusalem. Fot cut the runes.”
A rune stone found in Uppsala Cathedral refers to a man who “died in the south”. Remarkably enough, the expression vaR dauðr i suðr occurs nowhere else in Swedish inscriptions. We cannot exclude the possibility that it meant that he died on a pilgrimage: cf. ON suðrferð, -fǫr, ganga suðr—normal expressions with reference to pilgrimage to Rome.
Langbarðaland—Lombardy but used by Norsemen as a general term for Italy—was also reached by way of Greece. Gudlög put up two rune stones in memory of her son, Holme, who lived in Fittja in Täby parish (Uppland) but who died a Langbarðalandi.
kuþluk × lit · raisa · staina · at · hulma · sun · sin · han · to · a · lank · barþa · lanti×
And the runic epitaph of Olev which Inga, his mother, had inscribed on his stone at Djulefors (Södermanland) ends with this highly-wrought verse, with ringing alliteration and assonance:
“He to the eastward / ploughed with his prow I and in Langobard’s / land met his end.”
A rune stone, sadly much damaged, found at Lagnö in Vansö parish (Södermanland) is also of interest in this context. It says of the dead man: : han : iR : entaþr : i : austruiki : ut : o : la-... This fragment is probably to be read: Hann eR ændaðr i austrvegi ut a Langbarðalandi.
These men who died in Italy were probably Varangians in the service of the Byzantine emperor.
Archaeological discoveries put the rune stones’ sketchy references to eastern voyages in a deeper perspective. Large hoards of Arabic coins and oriental jewellery have been dug up in Swedish soil. The commerce with Garðariki, Micklegard and the East brought great wealth to Sweden, and fostered contacts with the civilisation of Byzantium and the Orient. We are justified in seeing many of the voyages as part of a calculated and effective commercial policy, and as a whole it may be said that it was on the eastern routes that the Swedes made their most significant contribution to European history in the Viking Age.
In some cases the runic obituaries show that young men from the same family tried their luck in different directions. A rune stone from Dalum parish in Västergötland commemorates two brothers and ends: eR : uarþ · tuþr uestr : en · anar : austr : Er varð dauðr vestr, en annarr austr—“One died in the west and the  other in the east”. And Gunnald put up two stones at Berga in Skultuna parish (Västmanland), one in memory of his son, Gerfast, dræng goðan, ok vas farinn til Ænglands, the other in memory of his stepson, Orm, dræng goðan, ok vas farinn austr með Ingvari.
We learn of other men who had made the eastward journey that they had also been on board when a different course was set. The Tystberga stone (Södermanland) was erected in memory of Holmsten who had first been “long in the west” but who had then returned and with one of his sons, Rodger, had sailed away with Ingvar—and with him “they died in the east”. We discover this from the four lines of fornyrðislag which end the inscription:
We need not doubt that ystarla is rightly read as vestarla—it is demanded by the alliteration on v-: vestarla—vaRit. The second couplet has vowel alliteration: austarla—Ingvari.
These men who had been both “westward and eastward” had come into contact with two very different civilisations. It is not hard to imagine their wonderment at what they saw, these locals from Uppland, Södermanland and Småland. There can be little doubt but that at first they would feel more at home in the western Germanic world than in the Byzantine-Oriental atmosphere, with its gardens and oases, its desert regions quivering in the heat-haze, its richly decorated buildings and its inquisitive and motley multitudes. But in the west too they saw much that, at least to begin with, must have seemed incomprehensible and foreign. They encountered a highly developed western culture and made fruitful contact with a politically divided Europe. And if luck was on their side, whether they sailed east or west, they came home again with the fresh and influential knowledge that was part of their profit from having seen the world.
On the western route
The fact that the name England occurs nearly as often as that of Greece in the runic inscriptions of the early eleventh century is at once enough to show that westward voyages were also common. In several cases, however, the country or countries visited in the west are not defined by name. All that is said on the Kjula stone (Södermanland) of the dead chieftain Spjut, for example, is that “he had been in the west”:
At Kjula ås in Södermanland this impressive rune stone was set up in memory of Spjut “who had been in the west”.
And on the Spånga stone (Södermanland) Gudmar’s memorial is worded like this: stuþ : triki : la · i · stafn skibi : likR uistarla...
The Härlingstorp stone (Västergötland) was put up in memory of a man of whom the inscription says: sa × uarþ : tuþr : o : uastr : uakm : i : uikiku Sa varð dauðr a vestrvegum i vikingu “He met death on the ‘western routes’ on a Viking venture.’’
To some extent the Viking forays to the west had a different character from the eastern voyages. In one respect at least, however, there is a striking external similarity: the Varangian Guard of the Eastern emperors had its parallel institution in the famous body of retainers of Canute the Great, the bodyguard called þingalið. Membership of this renowned corps of distinguished and well-trained warriors was an honour eagerly sought. Gere from Kålsta in Häggeby parish (Uppland) was a member and his sons did not omit to mention it in his epitaph: “Stärkar and Hjorvard had this stone set up in memory of their father Gere, who in the west had his place in the þingalið (sum vestr sat i þingaliði). God help his soul.”
A rune stone from Landeryd (Östergötland) also deserves mention in this connection. It reads: · uirikR : resti: stan : eftiR: þialfa : bruþur : sin : trak : þan : aR · uaR miR · knuti: VæringR ræisti stæin æftiR Þialfa, broður sinn, dræng þann, eR vaR meðr Knuti. “Väring raised the stone in memory of Tjälve, his brother, the ‘dræng’ who served with Canute.” It is of some interest to note that the man who set up the stone, the dead man’s brother, is called Väring (= Varangian). In this way the Landeryd stone carries the reader’s thoughts both to the Varangians of Micklegard and to the royal body guard of England.
The name London occurs on the Valleberga stone (Skåne). It was erected in memory of two men, Manne and Svenne, who found their graves in London. The end of the inscription says: Guð hialpi sial þæiRa vel. En þæiR liggia i Lundunum “May God help their souls well. And they lie in London.”
It may be mentioned that two stones with runes on them have been found in the heart of London itself, one of them in St Paul’s churchyard. Both were parts of coffins from the first half of the eleventh century.
In a similar sort of stone coffin lies Gunnar, Rode’s son, from Småland. He is buried in Bath. His brother buried him there; his son raised his runic monument at home in Nävelsjö in Småland: : kuntkel : sati : sten : þansi: eftiR : kunar : faþur : sin : sun : hruþa : halgi : lagþi : han : i : sten : þr : bruþur : sin : a : haglati : i : baþum Gunnkell satti stæin þennsi æftiR Gunnar, faður sinn, sun Hroða. Hælgi lagði hann i stæinþro, broður sinn, a Ænglandi i Baðum. “Gunnkel placed this stone in memory of Gunnar, his father, Rode’s son. Helge laid him, his brother, in a sarcophagus in England in Bath.”
A Swedish rune stone from Schleswig tells of a man who “rests in England in ‘Skia’”—a place so far unidentified.
Stones of especial historical interest are those which mention the Danegeld,  the tribute payments that from the end of the tenth century onwards were imposed on the English people to buy off Viking attacks. The huge finds of English silver in Swedish soil give some idea of the size of these payments. There are more English silver coins from this period in Swedish museums than there are in England itself. At Betby in Österhaninge parish (Södermanland) there is a rune stone set up in memory of Järund: : aR · uaR : uestþr : meþ : ulfi : suni · hakunar · ER vaR vestr með Ulfi, syni HakonaR “He was in the west with Ulv, Håkon’s son”. And just by Betby, sunk in a river, a silver hoard has come to light which included a couple of hundred English coins minted in the Viking Age.
To this group belong the notable Yttergärde stones (Uppland), inscribed in the 1020s. They were set up by Karse and Karlbjörn in memory of their father, Ulv of Borresta, a great yeoman of Uppland. The inscription on one of the stones reads: in ulfr hafir onklati · þru kialtakat þit uas fursta þis tusti kalt · þa [kalt] þurktil · þa kalt knutr En UlfR hafiR a Ænglandi þry giald takit. Þet vas fyrsta þet’s Tosti galt. Þa galt Þorkætill. Þa galt Knutr. “And Ulv took in England three gelds. That was the first which Toste paid. Then Torkel paid. Then Canute paid.”
This terse statement, with which the sons saw fit to commemorate their dead father, was full of meaning to their contemporaries. An adventurous career is traced here in phrases that could hardly be more laconic. Ulv’s contemporaries
The Landeryd stone from Östergötland commemorates Tjälve who served in the royal bodyguard of England.
Gunnar from Nävelsjö in Småland died and was buried in Bath. At home his son raised a runic monument to his memory. could not read this inscription without hearing the tempting chink of good English silver. And their ears must have been filled too with the familiar sound and surge of the North Sea waves.
Toste, who was the first to pay Ulv his share of the tribute money, was probably the Swedish Viking leader mentioned once or twice by Snorri Sturluson. In the Heimskringla he writes: Tósti hét maðr í Svíþjóð, er einn var ríkastr ok gǫfgastr í því landi, þeira er eigi bæri tígnar-nafn. Hann var inn mesti hermaðr ok var lǫngum í hernaði; hann var kallaðr Skǫglar-Tósti. “Toste was the name of a man in Sweden, one of the mightiest and most respected of men in that land who had no title of rank. He was a very great warrior and spent long periods on campaigns abroad. He was called Sköglar-Toste [= Toste of the Valkyrie,
The sons of the great yeoman Ulv of Borresta set up a stone in memory of their father. He took three gelds in England. Battle-Toste].” According to Snorri, Toste was the father of the Sigrid who was called “the lady of great undertakings” (in stórráða), and in that case he had as sons-in-law two of the most renowned figures in this obscure period of Scandinavian history towards the end of the tenth century: the Swedish king, Erik the Victorious, and the Danish king, Sven Forkbeard.
The second leader who distributed payment to Ulv was Torkel the Tall, chief of the Jomsvikings and a figure swathed in legend. He was involved in more than one attack on England in the early years of the eleventh century.
The third was Canute, Sven Forkbeard’s son. He became ruler of England at the beginning of 1017, and in 1018 he paid the last and biggest Danegeld to his homeward-bound Viking troops.
Toste, Torkel and Canute were the names of the leaders in whose wake Ulv of Borresta had sailed to England. They were names that indeed deserved record on Ulv’s rune stone, names that added lustre to the mighty yeoman of Uppland and his family. And with the rune stone the sons thanked their father for the inheritance he had left them of wealth and honour.
Another Uppland man who “received Canute’s payment” and came back to his farm safe and sound was Alle in Väsby. He saw to the preparation of his own monument, on which he records his proud exploit: Alli let ræisa stæin þenna æftiR sik sialfan. Hann tok Knuts giald a Ænglandi. Guð hialpi hans and! “Alle had this stone raised in memory of himself. He took Canute’s geld in England. God help his soul.”
One of the Lingsberg stones (Uppland) says among other things that Ulvrik had taken two payments in England (Hann hafði a Ænglandi tu giald takii). And on the Grinda stone, also from the first decades of the eleventh century, it says that Gudve was west in England and took his share of a Danegeld payment—GuðveR vaR vestr a Ænglandi, gialdi skifti. See pp. 89 f.
Many Swedes at that time might have had the same memorial as Hävner Torstensson (Bjudby, Södermanland):
Canute the Great was not the only ruler of England to be named on Swedish rune stones. It is most likely that it is his son and successor, Harald Harefoot, who is referred to on the Tuna stone (Småland): Tummi ræisti stæin þennsi æftiR Assur, broður sinn, þann eR vaR skipari Haralds konungs “Tumme raised this stone in memory of Assur, his brother, who was King Harald’s crew-man”.
One of the two Sävsjö stones (Småland) commemorates a man who had held the important post of stallare, “marshal”, under Håkon Jarl: tufa : risti : stin : þina : eftiR : ura : faþur : sin : stalara : hkunaR : iarls “Tova raised this stone in memory of Vråe, her father, Håkon Jarl’s marshal”. We cannot be perfectly sure who this Håkon Jarl was, but it seems likely that he was Canute the Great’s nephew and ally, a member of the famous dynasty of the Lade-jarls of Norway. Håkon was drowned in the Pentland Firth in 1029. Tova, daughter of his marshal from Småland, erects the stone in memory of her father, proudly conscious of the fact that he had once held one of the highest offices at Håkon Jarl’s court. There were other English voyagers in her family too; we are told that a brother of her father’s “died in England”.
A voyage that came to an end before the beckoning coast of England was
Above: In Lingsberg in Uppland two rune stones were set up by three brothers in memory of their father and grandfather who had taken two gelds in England. Below: Left. While he was still alive, Alle who lived in Väsby in Uppland had this rune stone raised in memory of himself. Right. One of two Sävsjö stones from Småland was raised in memory of Vråe who once held high office in Håkon jarl’s court. reached is spoken of on a rune stone from Husby-Lyhundra (Uppland): tiarfR × uki ×urika × uk × uiki × uk × iukiR × uk × kiRialmR × þiR bryþr × aliR × litu × risa × stin þina × iftiR × suin × bruþur × sin × saR × uarþ × tuþr a × iutlati × on skulti fara × til × iklanþs × kuþ × ialbi × ons at uk salu × uk × us muþiR × betr × þan an karþi til. DiarfR ok Orøkia ok Vigi ok IogæiRR ok GæiRhialmR, þæiR brøðr alliR letu ræisa stæin þenna æftiR Svæin, broður sinn. SaR varð dauðr a Iutlandi, hann skuldi fara til Ænglands. Guð hialpi hans and ok salu ok Guðs moðiR bætr þan hann gærði til. “Djärv and Orökja and Vige and Joger and Gerhjälm, all these brothers had this stone raised in memory of Sven, their brother. He died in Jutland. He was on his way to England. May God and God’s mother help his spirit and soul better than he deserved.” The statement of particular interest in this context is: SaR varð dauðr a Iutlandi, hann skuldi fara til Ænglands.
Some archaeological discoveries of recent years throw a fascinating light on the contents of this inscription. The sites of two large fortified circular camps have been found in Jutland, one at Aggersborg on the north side of the Limfjord, the other at Fyrkat at the head of the Mariagerfjord. These great establishments were evidently military bases, built at the end of the tenth century and in use until the middle of the eleventh. Ships’ crews from the whole of Scandinavia foregathered in these camps: in them the Vikings were quartered and trained and initiated into the great fraternity of the sea until at last under strong and resolute captains they sailed out into the North Sea towards the rich goals of France and England.
We know that Viking attacks on England were mounted from the Limfjord. Canute’s great invasion fleet collected in its calm sheltered waters in 1015. Like so many others, Sven of the Husby-Lyhundra stone, tempted by tales of the Danegeld, had set off to join an enterprise against England early in the eleventh century. But when the longed-for moment came and the longships were running free with the Jutland coast astern, Sven was not on board—SaR varð dauðr a Iutlandi. He lies in a Jutish grave, perhaps at Aggersborg or Fyrkat.
A number of rune stones tell of historical events which were clearly well known at the time they were inscribed, but which we can unfortunately neither locate nor date with certainty. Thus we do not know, for example, what battle is meant by the Råda inscription (Västergötland): + þurkilsati + stin + þasi + itiR + kuna + sun · sin + iR · uarþ + tuþr + i uristu + iR · bþiþus + kunukaR + Þorkell satti stæin þannsi æftiR Gunna, sun sinn. ER varð dauðr i orrostu, eR barðus kunungaR. “Torkel placed this stone in memory of Gunne, his son. He met death in battle when the kings fought.” One is naturally tempted to guess that it was the sea-battle of Svöld in the year 1000, when Olav Tryggvason of Norway fought against Sven Forkbeard of Denmark and Olav the Swede. But we do not know.
A reference to a sea-battle on one of the rune stones at Fresta church
Above: Sven, commemorated by his brothers on the rune stone at Husby-Lyhundra church in Uppland, never reached England. He died in Jutland. Below: "... varð dauðr a Iutlandi ...” (Uppland), which also dates from the beginning of the eleventh century, is equally obscure: kunar × uk × sasur × þiR × litu × risa × stin × þina × iftiR × kiRbiarn × faþur × sin × sun × uitkars × i × suạḷunisi × on × trabu × nurminr × o kniri × asbiarnaR Gunnarr ok Sassurr þæiR letu ræisa stæin þenna æftiR GæiRbiorn, faður sinn, sun Vittkarls i Svalunæsi. Hann drapu norrmænnr a knærri AsbiarnaR. “Gunnar and Sassur, they had this stone raised in memory of Gerbjörn, their father, son of Vittkarl in Svalnäs. Norwegians killed him on Åsbjörn’s ship.” It may have been in the battle of Svöld that Gerbjörn fell on board the knarr of the ship’s captain Åsbjörn, but we must bear in mind that most events of the past have gone unchronicled. And when we consider the unusually good opportunities available in the Viking Age for losing one’s life on board a ship, we must again admit the impossibility of putting the inscription’s statement into any known historical context.
A battle of some importance was evidently fought at Gårdstånga in Skåne. The Forsheda stone (Småland) has this inscription: : rhulf : auk : oskihl : riþu : stin þonsi : etiR : lifstin : fuþur : sin : es : uarþ : tuþr : : o : skonu : i : karþ : stokum : auk : furþu : o : : finhiþi HrolfR ok Askell ræispu stæin þannsi æftiR Lifstæin, faður sinn. Es varð dauðr a Skanøy i Garðstangum, ok førðu a Finnhæiði. “Rolf and Äskil raised this stone in memory of Livsten, their father. He met death in Skåne at Gårdstånga. And they brought him to Finnheden.” (On Finnveden see pp. 102 f.)
It has been maintained that this battle took place during Canute the Great’s war against King Anund Jakob of Sweden and Olav the Saint of Norway, i.e.
"In battle when the kings fought” Gunne met death. He is commemorated by his father on this rune stone at Råda in Västergötland.
This rune stone stands outside the church of Fresta in Uppland. It tells us that Gerbjörn was killed by Norwegians in a sea-battle. during hostilities in Skåne in 1025—26. That is possible, even probable, and in that case Livsten also fell in battle “when the kings fought”. But we can come no closer to the historical facts: the rune stone in memory of Livsten of Finnveden is the only source we have that tells of an action at Gårdstånga.
We seem to be on rather firmer ground when we come to identify the historical events that are reflected in the inscriptions on stones at Hällestad and Sjörup in Skåne. They give significant expression of the ideal of loyalty to leader. In considering the relationship between chieftain and retainer, it is illuminating  to see how the dead leader is called “brother” by his men. On the stone at Hällestad we read: : askil : sati : stin : þansi : iftiR : tuka : kurms : sun : saR : hulan : trutin : saR : flu : aigi : at : ub : salum / satu : trikaR: iftiR : sin : bruþr stin : o : biarki : stuþan : runum : þiR : / kurms : tuka : kiku : nistiR Æskill satti stæin þannsi æftiR Toka, Gorms sun, seR hullan drottin.
SaR flo æigi
“Äskil placed this stone in memory of Toke, Gorm’s son, his gracious lord.
He fled not
(The phrase seR hullan drottin may be compared with the compound adj. ON dróttinhollr, “loyal to one’s lord”. Sighvatr Þórðarson used it in his Bersǫglis-vísur, “Frank-speaking verses”, composed towards 1040:
Vask með gram, þeims gumnum
“I was with the king who proffered gold to lord-loyal men...”)
The same battle at Uppsala is referred to on the Sjörup stone, where the inscription ends with this homage to the dead man: saR : flu : aki : at: ub : salum : an : ua : maþ : an : uabn : afþi
Toke, commemorated on the Hällestad stone in Skåne, took part in a famous fight at Uppsala at the end of the tenth century. The battle mentioned in these inscriptions was very likely that great fight, famous in legend, which took place on the banks of the Fyris river at Uppsala sometime between 980 and 990. It is one of the most celebrated battles in early Scandinavian history, and King Erik of Sweden is supposed to have won his cognomen “the Victorious” because of the defeat he inflicted on his enemies on Fyris fields.
One of the five men named on the Högby stone (Östergötland) also appears to have died in this battle: · feal · o · furi · frukn · treks · asmuntr. Fiall a Føri frøkn drængR Asmundr. “Fell on Fyris plain (‘Føret’) the valiant ‘dræng’ Åsmund.”
The Torsätra stone gives us concise information about another aspect of early history—the tributary status of the Gotlanders in relation to the Swedish king in  the eleventh century: · skuli · auk · folki · lata · reisa · þinsa · stein · iftR · broþur · sin · husbiorn · hn usiok · uti · þa þiR · kialt · toku · a kutlanti · Skuli ok Folki lata ræisa pennsa stæin æftiR broður sinn Husbiorn. Hann vas siukR uti, þa þæiR giald toku a Gutlandi. “Skule and Folke have this stone raised in memory of their brother, Husbjörn. He fell sick abroad, when they took tribute in Gotland.” The stone was undoubtedly carved by Visäte, so the inscription can be dated to the 1060s or ’70s.—A bloodstained affray on Gotland is referred to in the inscription on the Aspö stone (Södermanland), set up in memory of Björn, who “was killed on Gotland. He lost his life for his companions fled...”—uaR trebin : a : kut : lanti : þy : lit : fiur · sit : fluþu : kankiR :... vaR drepinn a Gutlandi.
Þy let fior sitt,
Swedish kings ruled in South Jutland for some decades in the early tenth century. Among the evidence which demonstrates the existence of this Swedish dominion are the two stones which Asfrid, Odinkar’s daughter, had set up in memory of King Sigtrygg, Gnupa’s son and hers.
The Swedish kings in South Jutland had their seat in Hedeby—the nodal point for Baltic and North Sea trade and, with Birka in Mälaren, Scandinavia’s most important township. From the point of view of commercial policy and power, no place in the North was more rewarding—or more difficult—to rule
Left: This rune stone from Torsätra in Uppland was set up in memory of Husbjörn who “fell sick abroad, when they took tribute in Gotland”. Right: On one of the rune stones at Grinda in Södermanland we read about a man who was in Greece and took his share of gold. The other was raised to commemorate a man who went to the west and took his share of the geld in England.
 over. It is not surprising to find this famous name recorded on two rune stones in central Sweden commemorating men who died i Hæiðaby.
South of Hedeby, on the other side of the ramparts of the mighty Danevirke, lay the land of the Saxons. The frontier between the Scandinavian North and Saxland was marked by this great defensive wall, which extends across South Jutland at its narrowest point. Two rune stones in Södermanland preserve the memory of Viking forays against the Saxons. The Grinda inscription (cf. p. 80 above) mentions both Saxland and England: : kriutkarþr : ainriþi : suniR : kiarþu : at faþur: snialan : kuþuiR : uaR uastr : a : aklati : kialti : skifti : burkiR : a : sahks : lanti : suti : karla :
The Högby stone in Östergötland commemorates five brothers, one of them fell in battle on the banks of the river Fyris in Uppsala.
The inscription of the Högby stone, mentioned above, deserves to be quoted in full. It offers striking evidence of the restlessness of the Viking Age, of the constant movement on many different routes, and of the heavy losses in men: · þukir · resþi · stin · þansi · eftiR · asur · sin · muþur · bruþur · sin · iaR · eataþis · austr · i · krikum · / · kuþr · karl · kuli · kat · fim · suni · feal · o furi · frukn · treks · asmutr · aitaþis · asur · austr · i krikum · uarþ · o hulmi · halftan · tribin · kari · uarþ · atuti · auk · tauþr · bui · þurkil · rist · runaR
Þorgærðr ræisþi stæin þannsi æftiR Assur, moðurbroður sinn. Er ændaðis austr i Grikkum.
“Torgärd raised this stone in memory of Assur, her mother’s brother. He died out east in Greece.”
Þorkell ræst runaR. “Torkel cut the runes.”
Unfortunately, no certain interpretation of uarþ · atuti can be offered. The suggestion that the line means “Kåre died at Dundee” (in Scotland, that is) must be regarded as extremely dubious, even though it would provide suitable alliteration (Dundee—dauðr). Doubt must also attach to the proposal that we should read it as at Uddi—“Kåre was killed at Od”.
The long-distance voyages of the Viking Age may perhaps be read out of the even briefer words inscribed on a whetstone found in 1940 at Timans in Roma (Gotland): : ormiga : ulfua-r : krikiaR : iaursaliR : islat : serklat. There are just six names on it: two personal names and four names of remote places, Greece,
Four geographical names on a whetstone from Roma on Gotland perhaps tell us where the owner had been. Jerusalem, Iceland and Serkland. The inscription can be dated to the second half of the eleventh century.
The Högby stone, carved by Torkel at the beginning of the eleventh century, and the little Gotlandic whetstone can be taken as monuments that symbolise all those aspects of Viking Age activity we have so far reviewed.
THE HOMELAND IN THE LIGHT OF RUNIC INSCRIPTIONS
Naturally, the Swedish coasts were themselves also liable to attack from foreign fleets. The Bro stone (Uppland) gives us a glimpse of Swedish coastal defence organisation, of the watch that was kept against Viking raiders: kinluk × hulmkis × tutiR × systiR × sukruþaR × auk × þaiRa × kaus × aun × lit × keara × bru × þesi × auk × raisa × stain × þina × eftiR × asur × bunta sin × sun × hakunaR × iarls × saR × uaR × uikika × uaurþr × miþ × kaeti × kuþ × ialbi × ans × nu × aut × uk × salu Ginnlaug, HolmgæiRs dottir, systiR SygrøðaR ok þæiRa Gauts, hon let gæra bro þessi ok ræisa stæin þenna æftir Assur, bonda sinn, son HakonaR iarls. SaR vaR vikinga vǫrðr með Gæiti. Guð hialpi hans nu and ok salu. “Ginnlög, Holmger’s daughter, sister of Sygröd and of Göt, she had this ‘bridge’ made and this stone raised in memory of Assur, her husband, son of Håkon Jarl. He kept watch against Vikings with Geter. May God now help his spirit and soul.” The  inscription introduces us to two of the most distinguished among the high-born families of the Mälar region, known to us in two other inscriptions from the beginning of the eleventh century—the Ramsund rock and the Kjula stone.
A couple of words on a rune stone fragment from Giberga in Södermanland belong in the same context: (þæiR) gerðu skipvǫrð “...they kept ship-watch”.
I shall cite only one of the inscriptions from later times that provide historical information. It is on a handsome grave-slab in Lye church on Gotland. The long inscription reads: + þinna · sten : þa · lit · husfru · ruþvi · giera · yfir sin · bonda · iakop · i · managardum · sum skutin · uarþ · ihel · miþ · en : pyrsu · stin · af · uis · borh · þa · en · kunuung · erik · uar · bi · stallaþ · pa · þi · for · nemda · slot · en · þa · uar · liþit · af · guz · byrþ · fiurtan · hundraþ : ar · ok · ainu : ari · minna · þen : femtigi : ar · biþium · þet: et · guþ :
This rune stone at Bro in Uppland informs us of the watch kept against Viking raiders along the Swedish coast.
 naþi · hanz · sial · ok · allum · krisnum · sialum : amen “Lady Rudvi then let this stone be made [to lie] over her husband, Jakob of Mannagården, who was shot to death by a cannon ball from Visborg, when King Erik was besieged in the aforesaid castle. And then fourteen hundred years and one year less than fifty years had passed since God’s nativity. Let us pray that God have mercy on his soul and all Christian souls. Amen.”
It is however not only of warfare, feats of arms and death at home and in distant lands that the Swedish rune stones can tell us. They can also throw light on peaceful trade and on the labours and aspirations of men and women in their local sphere, although of course we cannot expect them to bring us into living contact with the everyday existence of Viking Age people.
The Bjälbo stone was rasied in memory of a guild-brother near the ancient market-place Skänninge in Östergötland.
This grave-slab was made to lie over Jacob of Manngården’s grave in Lye church on Gotland. He was killed at Visborg castle in 1449.
Trade was a prime mover in the dynamics of the Viking Age. A number of the rune stones described above were undoubtedly raised in memory of Swedish merchants who had sailed distant seas. Birka flourished for two hundred years as the centre for transit-trade between East and West. Later, Sigtuna took over the role of Sweden’s commercial capital. Here the merchants established their guilds for mutual protection and aid.
Two of Sigtuna’s many runic inscriptions well illustrate its commercial connections. One reads: + frisa : kiltar · letu · reisa · stein : þensa : eftiR · þur[kil · kiltja · sin : kuþ : hialbi : ant · hans : þurbiurn : risti Frisa gildaR letu ræisa stæin þennsa æftiR Þorkil, gilda sinn. Guð hialpi and hans. Þorbiorn risti. “The guild-brethren of the Frisians had this stone set up in memory of Torkel, their guild-brother. God help his soul. Torbjörn carved.”—The other inscription is found on a boulder embedded in the ground in the middle of the town. It has a similar message: × frisa : kil [tar : letu : rista : runar] : þesar : eftR : alboþ : felaha : sloþa : kristr : hia : helgi : hinlbi : ant : hans : þurbiun : risti “The guild-brethren of the Frisians had these runes cut in memory of Albod, Slode’s partner. Holy Christ help his soul. Torbjörn carved.”
To these inscriptions, which give such interesting insight into the early history of these important social and commercial institutions, the guilds, may be added two more of a similar kind. Both these rune stones have come to light in Östergötland, and it is significant that the site of each is close to a notable commercial and cultural centre. One is situated at Bjälbo, near the ancient market-place, Skänninge, and the other is at Törnevalla, not far from Linköping.
The Bjälbo stone has this inscription: “ ‘Drængs’ raised this stone in memory of Grep, their guild-brother.” The Törnevalla stone, discovered in 1960, was put up by members of a guild “in memory of Dräng, Öger’s son, their guildbrother”—æftir Dræng, ØygæiRs sun, gilda sinn.
Like that of the Frisians in Sigtuna, these guilds in Östergötland must, it seems, have been guilds of merchants. The members of the “Bjälbo guild” and the “Törnevalla guild” were most probably well-to-do yeomen who engaged in trade as well as farming. It seems likely that these Swedish commercial guilds in the last part of the Viking Age were modelled on west European counterparts, even though associations of such a kind came into being early in the Norse world.
The farm-names recorded on rune stones also take us into our native countryside. Not a few farmers in the Mälar districts can be—and usually are—proud of
The Törnevalla stone was discovered not far from Linköping in Östergötland. It commemorates a guild-brother named Dräng. the fact that the name of their farm is inscribed on the rune stone they have at home, standing somewhere close to the farmstead or on the slope that once, long ago, was the ancestral burial ground.
These runic records of place-names are of course the oldest in Sweden, and this lends them special interest. The rune stones show that for the most part the farms had the same names in ancient times as they have now.
In a number of cases the farm-name was evidently included in the inscription because it was felt important to indicate clearly where the ownership of the land lay. The rune stone then served a double purpose, acting both as a memorial and as a title-deed. It could remind the outside world of how the survivors or descendants had gained possession of their property.
The runic inscription at Nora (Uppland) may be regarded as such a title-deed —one that literally stands as firm as a rock: Biorn, FinnviðaR sunn, let hǫggva hælli þessa æftiR Olæif, broður sinn. Hann varð svikvinn a Finnæiði. Guð hialpi and hans. ER þessi byR þæiRa oðal ok ættærfi, FinnviðaR suna a Ælgiastaðum. “Björn, Finnvid’s son, had this rock carved in memory of Olev, his brother. He was betrayed [i.e. treacherously killed] on Finnveden. God help his soul. This farm is their odal and family inheritance, the sons of Finnvid at Älgesta.”
This elegant carving thus tells of Olev Finnvidsson’s violent end on Finnæiði, now Finnveden, in southwest Småland. (On the name of this well-known district see pp. 102 f.) But it is the close of the inscription which particularly attracts our attention at this point.
The place meant by þessi byR, “this farm’’, is Nora, the site of the inscription. But the great farm of the sons of Finnvid, Älgesta ( o ilhiastaþum), lies in Husby-Ärlinghundra parish, 30 km due north of Nora. There is no need to doubt the identification of this Älgesta as the family estate of the sons of Finnvid, for we find a rune stone there which says that “Björn, Finnvid’s son, had the stone raised in memory of himself”.
At Ågersta village (Uppland) there is a rune stone, inscribed by Balle, which serves as a boundary mark between two properties. The inscription says: “Vidhugse had this stone raised in memory of Särev, his noble father. He lived at Ågersta”—Hann byggi Agurstaðum (han · byki · agurstam ·).
A peculiar chain of inheritance is recorded on the rune-inscribed rock at Hillersjö (Uppland), where the passer-by is also exhorted to “read”—i.e. interpret—the runes. “Read the runes! Germund took Gerlög to wife when she was a maid. Later they had a son, before Germund was drowned. Afterwards the son died. Then she had Gudrik as her husband. He... [part of the inscription is  destroyed, with the loss of about 25 runes]. Then they had children. Of them only a girl lived; she was called Inga. Ragnfast of Snottsta took her to wife. Afterwards he died and then the son. And the mother took the inheritance after her son. Inga afterwards had Erik as her husband. Then she died. Then Gerlög came into the inheritance after Inga, her daughter. Torbjörn Scald cut the runes.” The Viking Age rules of inheritance that were applied in this case agree with the statutes of the Uppland Law, codified in 1296.
Ragnfast of Snottsta, i · snutastaþum, is known from four other inscriptions at home on his patrimonial estate. They were made in his memory by his widow, Inga, also mentioned in the Hillersjö inscription above. In one of the inscriptions we read: “Inga had the runes cut for Ragnfast, her husband. He alone owned this
The inscription on this rock at Nora in Uppland served a double purpose, as a memorial and as a title-deed.
 farm in succession to Sigfast, his father. God help their souls.” In another of these Snottsta inscriptions we find a direct link with the one at Hillersjö: “Inga raised staff and stones in memory of Ragnfast, her husband. She came into the inheritance after her child.”
The history of another inheritance is traced in the inscriptions on the two Hansta stones in Spånga parish (Uppland). The stones were put up in memory of the brothers, Ärnmund and Ingemund, who had died in Greece. The inscriptions read: Gærðarr ok Iorundr lata ræisa þessa stæina æftiR systursyni sina Ærnmund ok Ingimund. Þessun mærki eRu gar æftiR syni InguR. Hon kam þæiRa at arfi, en þæiR brøðr kamu hænnaR at arfi, Gærðarr brøðr. ÞæiR dou i Grikkium “Gärdar and Jorund have these stones raised in memory of their sister’s sons,
At Ågersta in Uppland there is a rune stone, which serves as a boundry mark between two properties.
In this inscription on the Malsta stone from Hälsingland, cut with stave-less runes, an ancient family can be traced through seven generations. Ärnmund and Ingemund.—These memorials are made in memory of Inga’s sons. She came into the inheritance after them [viz. Ärnmund and Ingemund], and the brothers—Gärdar and his brother—came into the inheritance after her. They [viz. Ärnmund and Ingemund] died in Greece.”
So the sequence of inheritance had gone like this: Ärnmund and Ingemund had succeeded to the patrimonial estate on their father’s death. They had then made the traditional journey to Greece, where they lost their lives. The inheritance then passed to their mother, Inga, and on her death it went to her brothers, Gärdar and Jorund. These, in gratitude, then raised the two rune stones to the memory of their nephews, dead in Greece.
We learn the names of some members of Swedish Viking Age families from these inscriptions at Hillersjö, Snottsta and Hansta. Sometimes we get to know a family through several generations.
This is particularly the case with the Malsta stone in Rogsta parish (Hälsingland). In this inscription we can trace an ancient family through seven generations. It must undoubtedly also have had a legal purpose. It is a significant fact, and one of no small interest to any student of Sweden’s ancient culture, that this inscription is written in staveless runes. As noted on pp. 28 f. above, these runes might be called the shorthand of the ancients: they were developed for practical use, for records of various kinds, and only in rare and exceptional cases employed for memorial inscriptions on rune stones.
The Malsta stone bears this inscription: “Frömund raised this stone in memory of Rike-Gylve, Bräse’s son. And Bräse was Line’s son, and Line was Ön’s son, and Ön was Ofeg’s son, and Ofeg was Tore’s son. Groa was  Rike-Gylve’s mother, and she... and then Gudrun. Frömund, Rike-Gylve’s son, cut these runes. We fetched this block of stone north in Balsten. Gylve acquired this district and also three estates farther north. He also acquired Lönnånger and afterwards Färdsjö.”
Another remarkable stone from this point of view is at Sandsjö (Småland), on which six generations are counted: “Ärnvard had this stone raised in memory of Hägge, his father, and of Hära, his father, and Karl, his father, and Hära, his father, and Tegn, his father, and in memory of these five forefathers.”
It is the Norseman’s inborn interest in genealogy, clearly fully alive in ancient times, that we meet in these last inscriptions.
Just two or three more of the farm-names occurring in Viking Age inscriptions can be considered in this account. At Lövhamra in Skepptuna parish (Uppland) there is a rune stone set up in memory of ulf × i lukobri, undoubtedly to be read as Ulf i Laughambri. The rune stone’s farm-name thus differs from the present Lövhamra. On the other hand, there can be no doubt whatever that the original form is the one that appears on the stone. The first element is the word laug “bath”, found for example in the Scandinavian word for Saturday, lördag ( < laugardagr), properly “bath-day”. Later, when both the bathing-place there and the word laug had gone out of use, the farm-name was reinterpreted and turned into the inappropriate Lövhamra (löv is English ‘leaf’). On one of the Skårby stones raised in memory of Tumme, it is said that “he owned Gusnava”—iR ati × kuþis × snaba ×. It is a farm lying some 10 km northwest of Ystad (Skåne).—Probably the Gotland market-place Boge is referred to on the Vidbo stone, set up to commemorate Vinaman: “he died in Boge”—hon uarþ tauþr i buhi.
Place-names of other kinds also occur here and there. The name of the lake Båven (Södermanland) is found on the Sund stone, set up on the shore of the stretch of water in which Vred was drowned: han + turuknaþi + i + bagi + harmtauþ + mukin + Hann drunknaði i Bagi, harmdauð mykinn “He drowned in Båven, a death that caused great grief”.
Names of Swedish provinces and larger settlements also occur, often in a warlike context. Gotland is named several times. One instance is on the Torsätra stone, see pp. 87 f. above, and another on the Aspö stone (cf. p. 88), raised in memory of a man who vaR drepinn a Gutlandi—uaR trebin : a : kut : lanti : . On Östman Gudfastason’s stone on Frösön we find the name of Jämtland: hąn lit kristną eątaląnt. The Forsheda stone has both Skåne (o skanu a Skanøy) and “Finnheden” ( o : finhiþi a Finnhæiði), see p. 84 above. Skåne recurs on the Ärja stone (Södermanland), which also supplies the oldest record we possess of the name of Kalmarsund. Of one of the men named the inscription says: Varð uti drepinn i Kalmarna sundum, foru af Skanøy—“He was killed out in Kalmarsund—i · kalmarna · sutuma—when they were going from Skåne (afu · skani)”. In Snorri’s Heimskringla we find forms which fully agree with the Runic Swedish pl. KalmarniR: Kalmarnir, Kalmarnar, Kalmarna-leiðangr.
The Malsta stone itself is now in Hudiksvall Museum, but this replica has been placed on its original site. Öresund occurs in the inscription on the Mejlby stone, put up by a father to commemorate his son who “died with Tore in Öresund”—ias : tauþr uarþ : maþ : þuri : i : ura : suti. And a rune stone on Bornholm was inscribed in memory of a man who “was killed in the battle at Utlängan” (off southeast Blekinge)—i orrostu at Utlængiu.
“Finned” must apparently be the earliest name for the district now called Finnveden, comprising the hundreds (härader) of Sunnerbo, Östbo and Västbo in the southwest corner of Småland. The sixth-century Gothic historian Jordanes mentions the inhabitants of Finnveden in his De origine actibusque Getarum, calling them Finnaithæ. It was, we recall, in Finnveden that Olev Finnvidsson
“Götrad made this monument in memory of Astrad, his father, best of kinsmen and of thegns who in times past lived in Finnveden” is the message of the Replösa stone. was treacherously killed (see p. 97 on the Nora inscription): han uarþ suikuin o finaiþi. This important part of Småland is also named on the Replösa stone, which is in the Sunnerbo hundred and so belongs to Finnveden itself: : kutraþr : karþi : kubl : þisi : iftiR : astraþ : faþur : sin : þan : frita : ak : þih : na : bistan : iR a : fin : iþi : forþum : ufaRi : Gautraðr gærði kumbl þessi æftiR Astrað, faður sinn,
The man in memory of whom this stone was raised was killed in Kalmarsund on his way from Skåne.
“Götrad made these monuments in memory of Astrad, his father, best of kinsmen and of ‘thegns’ who in times past lived in Finnveden.”
Another of these venerable Småland regional names is perhaps to be read on a stone found at Västerljung (Södermanland): haunefR + raisti · at · kaiRmar · faþur · sin + haa · iR intaþr · a · þiusti · skamals · hiak · runaR þaRsi + “Honäv raised it in memory of Germar, his father. He died in Tjust. Skamhals cut these runes.”
It would be a valuable acquisition if this could be counted the earliest record we so far know of the name of this coastal district of Småland—one of the “small (tribal) lands” that make up the province. The name of the people of Tjust—the  tribal name—appears in a much older source, Jordanes’ De origine actibusque Getarum mentioned a few lines above. In a list of Swedish “nationes” he includes theu(s)tes, which can hardly mean anything but the inhabitants of Tjust. It must however be noted that Västerljung has a neighbouring parish called Tystberga, with a first element which appears to be the same word as Tjust. In Tystberga it may also represent an ancient district-name, and it might in consequence be this place in Småland whose name is preserved in the rune stone’s a Þiusti.
It is a local settlement-name of this kind, this time in Södermanland, which occurs on the Aspa stone, found in 1937 near the old assembly place of Rönö hundred. Two Södermanland magnates have their epitaphs on the stone: ostriþ : lit : [k]ira : kum[bl : þ]usi : at : anunt : auk : raknualt : sun : sin : / : urþu : ta[uþi]R : i : tan [mar]ku : uaRu : rikiR : o rauniki : ak : snialastiR : i : suiþiuþu Astrið let gæra kumbl þausi at Anund ok Ragnvald, sun sinn.
Urðu dauðir i Danmarku,
“Astrid had these monuments made in memory of Anund and Ragnvald, her son.
They died in Denmark,
The Astrid who set up this imposing memorial was thus wife of Anund and Ragnvald was their son. The inscription tells us that they lived a Rauningi. In all probability this was one of the old principal settlements in Södermanland; rauniki appears to be related to the name of the Rönö hundred (OSw. Røna hundare) and the parish-name, Røntuna (now Runtuna).
In this connection it is of interest to consider a place-name, which has caused problems, recorded in Ynglingatal and Snorri’s Ynglinga saga: á Ræningi. In the saga (ch. 39) Snorri describes how Ingjald the Ill-doer burnt to death Granmar, king of Södermanland, in a house on Selaön, and in the following chapter he says that Ingjaldr then stayed a Ræningi: Ingjaldr konungr var þá staddr á Ræningi at veizlu. It may be worth noting that one of the manuscripts, the so-called Jöfraskinna (AM 33 fol.) has the spelling rauningi. The identification of this important place has long been discussed and it appears that the Aspa stone’s a rauniki could help towards a solution. The stone was sunk in the ground at the Rönö hundred’s old assembly site in a parish rich in antiquities, among them the biggest grave-mound in Södermanland. May not a Rauningi in the Aspa inscription be the very place referred to in Ynglingatal and by Snorri?
|Left: This monument was made in memory of a father and his son, who both died in Denmark. It was set up near the assembly place of Rönö hundred. Right: This rune stone is one of four practically identical ones that were set up by Jarlabanke’s bridge in Täby, Uppland.|
If we dare judge by the information imparted by rune stones, there were three kinds of peaceful public works undertaken in the home-districts that were of special significance: clearing roads, building bridges, and laying out assembly or thing places.
Bridge-building is mentioned particularly often, carried out to commemorate dead kinsfolk in this world and to ease their passage in the next. This custom was undoubtedly connected with the activity of the missionary church in Sweden. Roads that were serviceable in all weathers were essential if people were to come to God’s house. To build bridges and to clear tracks through difficult terrain thus became good works, which were believed to be efficacious in helping souls through the searching fires of purgatory. In this way the eleventh century in Sweden was a road-building epoch.
In runic inscriptions the word “bridge” usually means a causeway over marshland or a stone-laid ford over watercourses crossing important roads.
Above: Jarlabanke’s bridge in Täby, Uppland. Below: On a cliff-face just by the road in Södertälje one can read that Holmfast had the road cleared. Despite radical changes in the communication network, there are still many places in Sweden today where the main road crosses the “bridge” that was first built in the Viking Age. An inscription in Södertälje, on a cliff-face just by the road, reads: hulfastr lit × braut × ryþia × auk × bro kiara iftiR gamal × faþur × sin × sum × byki : nesby × kuþ × hialbi ant hans aystain Holmfastr let braut ryðia ok bro gæra æftir Gamal, faður sinn, sum byggi Næsby. Guð hialpi and hans! Øystæinn. “Holmfast had the road cleared and the bridge made in memory of Gammal, his father, who lived in Näsby. God help his soul. Østen [carved].”
The most famous of all these rune-stone causeways is Jarlabanke’s at Täby (Uppland). As far as we can tell, Jarlabanke put up four rune stones by his bridge, two facing each other at the north end and two at the south end. The bridge was also flanked by smaller standing-stones (ON bautasteinar), without runes on them. The length of the causeway was about 150 m, its width 6.5 m.
All four rune stones have practically identical inscriptions, which is naturally a pity from our point of view: × iarlabaki × lit × raisa × staina × þisa × at sik × kuikuan × auk bru × þisa × karþi × fur ont × sina × auk ain ati × alan × tabu × kuþ hialbi ont hans Iarlabanki let ræisa stæina þessa at sik kvikvan, ok bro þessa gærði fyr and sina, ok æinn atti allan Tæby. Guð hialpi and hans! “Jarlabanke had these stones raised in memory of himself in his lifetime. And he made this bridge for his soul. And alone he owned the whole of Täby. God help his soul.”
This was undoubtedly one of Sweden’s most impressive rune-stone bridges, rivalled only by a roadway at the Badelunda assembly place—see p. 125 below.
A rune stone at Årby in Lena parish (Uppland), originally put up as a road sign on the banks of the river Fyris, has this inscription nasi × auk : þair : bruþr : raistu : stain : þisa × aftir : iarl: faþur: sin : kuþan : auk : bru : kus : þaka × kiarþu × Nasi ok þæiR brøðr ræistu stæin þennsa æftiR Iarl, faður sinn goðan, ok bro Guðs þakka gærðu. “Nase and his brothers raised this stone in memory of Jarl, their noble father. And they made the bridge to please God.” The expression gæra bro Guðs þakka (Deo gratias) also occurs on a Norwegian rune stone discovered in 1972. On the language of the missionary age see pp. 111, 112 f. below.
The phrase (til) guðs þakka is well known in medieval Norwegian and Icelandic, “to God’s pleasure”, often used of a work of Christian charity. It will suffice to quote an article in the early tithe laws of Iceland, which also illuminates the interest of churchmen in “bridges” and ferries: þat fé þarf eigi til tíundar at telia, er áðr er til guðs þakka lagit, hvárt sem þat er til kirkna lagit eða til brúa eða til sáluskipa—“that property need not be counted for the tithe which has already been contributed til guðs þakka—i.e. to works pleasing to God—whether to churches or bridges or charity-boats”.
Another of the many “bridge” inscriptions in Uppland deserves notice. It is cut on the natural rock-face at Näs in Frösunda parish, and here again the motive of  Christian piety is clearly in evidence: lefstein · lit kera · siR · til · sialu · botar · ok · sini kunu · ikirun · ok · sinum · sunum · iarntr · ok · nikulas · ok · luþin · broaR · Lifstæinn let gæra seR til sialubotaR ok sinni kunu Ingirun ok sinum sunum Iarundr ok Nikulas ok Luðin broaR. “Livsten had the bridges made for his soul’s health and for that of Ingerun, his wife, and of his sons, Jarund and Niklas and Luden.”
A splendid bridge-memorial once stood at Sälna (Uppland). We can feel the bridge-builders’ pride in their work as we read: Øystæinn ok Iorundr ok Biorn þæiR brøðr ræisþu..., faður sinn. Guð hialpi hans and ok selu, forgefi hanum sakaR ok syndiR.
Æi mun liggia
“Östen and Jorund and Björn, those brothers raised [this stone in memory of...], their father. May God help his spirit and soul, forgive him offences and sins. Always will lie / while mankind lives / the bridge firm-founded / broad after the noble man. / The boys made it / in memory of their father. / No road-monument / can be made better.”
On a boulder at Runby in Ed parish, located at an important point in the network of Uppland waterways, are two inscriptions, which read as follows: · ikriþ | lit · laþbo · kiara · auk · stain · hakua · eftir ikimar bota sin · auk · eftar · tan · auk · eftir · baka · suni · sina | þaiR byku | i rynby | auk | bo atu | kristr · ialbi | salu · þair[a] | þit skal | at minum · mana | miþan · min lifa “Ingrid had the laðbro made and the stone cut in memory of Ingemar, her husband, and of Dan and of Banke, her sons. They lived in Runby and owned the farm. Christ help their souls. It shall stand in memory of the men as long as mankind lives.”
The laðbro (laþb[r]o—the first element is ON hlað-) was probably a quay or jetty for loading vessels, an amenity which must have been of great importance to the inhabitants of this central district.
The most usual verb in the prayer uttered for the soul of the dead is hialpa “help”, but others occur, e.g. letta “lighten, relieve”. The Gryta stone (Uppland) has an inscription which says: “Tjälve made the bridge in memory of Bolla, his daughter. Alle and Olev had [the stone] cut in memory of Tjälve, their father, and Inga in memory of her husband. God give relief to their souls.” The last part of this reads: ika + at + uer sin + kuþ + liti + sal þaira.
The Sälna stone was a bridge monument set up by sons in memory of their father. liti is the third sg. subj. (optative) of the verb letta. It may be noted that uer represents the archaic word verr “man, husband” (cognate with Latin vir), which in its second sense was early replaced by boandi, bondi (usual on rune stones) and fell out of general use in its first. This old common Germanic noun in the sense of “man, human being” is found e.g. in ON verǫld, OE weorold, modern Sw. värld, Engl, world.
As was mentioned earlier, the modern main roads of Sweden are in many places bordered by rune stones that tell us who first built the way on which we now travel. But some stones are also located in places where traces of an ancient path are now only to be found with difficulty, among rocks and brushwood. In this way the siting of rune stones can sometimes give information about the land routes of the Viking Age, once important but now otherwise disappeared.
Another work of general public benefit, also intended to make travelling  easier, was the building of sæluhus, “hospices, shelters”. Such huts for the use of weary and weather-beaten travellers have been found in a number of districts, where the roads lie far from the settlements.
A rune stone, unfortunately damaged, at Karberga in Funbo parish (Uppland) bears witness to this custom: ainkriþ × auk × inkikir · litu × risa × stin · auk | kera | aur |... sunti | iftiR | þuri | faþur sin | þur... t | kira · siluaus | iftR | ink[iþu]ru × kunu · sina | auk | iftR... “Ingrid and Ingegärd had the stone set up and the ford made in the channel in memory of Tore, their father. Tore had the hospice built in memory of Ingetora, his wife, and in memory of...”
The word siluaus is naturally an error for siluhus. The daughters litu... kera | aur in memory of their father; gæra aur means “to make a (gravel) bank”, i.e. a causeway or ford; cf. ON aurr, m. “mud, clay”, eyrr, f. “gravel bank, spit”, modern Icel. eyri (frequent in place-names), Sw. ör. Another rune stone, found in 1973, uses the same expression, gæra aur, in recording that in memory of the dead a crossing was made over a difficult watercourse.
On a rune stone at Gryta in Kulla parish (Uppland) and on another in Aspö church in Södermanland it says that the surviving members of the family have had built likhus : auk : bru—likhus ok bro. The combination of the two words may make it tempting to identify the first element in likhus as likn “mercy”—although a compound liknhus is not found elsewhere—and to take it as meaning “house of mercy”, another form of sæluhus “hospice”. A different and preferable interpretation can however be offered.
The word likhus may mean literally “corpse-house” (cf. lik with the first element in English “lyke-wake”, “lich-gate”), and, if so, it could denote a monument in the shape of a little house built over the grave. Such “grave-houses” have an ancient Christian tradition behind them, but it will be enough here just to mention their appearance in the early Germanic world. A statute in the laws of the Salic Franks says: “If anyone damages the house in the form of a basilica which has been set up over a dead man, let him pay thirty solidi in atonement.”
One would presume that Viking Age “corpse-houses” in Sweden were made of wood, which perished as time passed. We know in fact that the custom of erecting little wooden houses over graves survived for hundreds of years in Sweden, and such buildings, so-called gravrord (-rol, -ror), were still common in the eighteenth century.
If this interpretation of likhus is correct, we have interesting information concerning Viking Age burial customs. These would be edifices in wood corresponding to the so-called Eskilstuna sarcophagi and other coffin-shaped grave monuments in stone. Since many of the latter have runes on them, I shall return to them later.
In connection with these laudable acts, bearing witness as they do to a public-spirited Christianity, it is appropriate to cite a few inscriptions whose mode of expression is characteristic of the missionary age in Sweden.
The interesting phrase, “to die in white clothes”, occurs on seven Uppland rune stones, the last of them found in 1972. The Amnö stone says: “Ingelev had this stone raised in memory of Brune, her husband. He died in Denmark in white clothes. Balle carved.” Hann varð dauðr a Danmarku i hvitavaðum. The Torsätra inscriptions reads: Unna let ræisa þennsa stain æftiR sun sinn Øystæin, sum do i hvitavaðum. Guð hialpi salu hans “Unna had this stone raised in memory of her son, Östen, who died in white clothes. God help his soul.” The Molnby stone has: “Holmlög and Holmfrid had the stones raised in memory of Faste and Sigfast, their sons. They died in white clothes.” ÞæiR dou i hvitavaðum. The Håga stone in Bondkyrka parish was put up by parents in memory of their son. He died i hvitavaðum i Danmarku.
The hvitavaðiR, “white clothes”, baptismal robes, were worn by the convert at his baptism and for a week afterwards. The Upplanders in whose memory this group of rune stones was put up were thus baptised on their deathbed. It is the missionary period, the age of conversion, that we encounter in these inscriptions—their language is the language of the early church in Scandinavia, and
The so-called “Skrivar stone” from Skoghall in Södermanland is a large boulder with the inscription on one side. It is pictured here from a sketch made at the end of the nineteenth century by O. Hermelin.
 those who set up the stones found consolation in the knowledge that their close kinsmen had escaped eternal punishment by accepting baptism as their last hour drew near.
It is typical that two of the dead men named in these inscriptions are said to have been baptised in Denmark. Voyages by Swedish men to countries where the new faith had been long established—England, Greece, Denmark, Saxland—were naturally of great significance for the introduction of Christianity in Sweden itself.
The language of the missionary age is already to be found on rune stones from the beginning of the eleventh century. The prayer formula which the sons of Ulv of Skålhamra had inscribed on his monument is extremely illuminating (Risbyle, Täby parish): Ulfkætill ok Gyi ok Unni þæiR letu ræisa stæin þenna æftiR Ulf, faður sinn goðan. Hann byggi i Skulbambri. Guð hialpi hans and ok salu ok Guðs moðiR, le hanum lius ok paradis “God and God’s mother help his spirit and soul, grant him light and paradise”.
This prayer for the gift of heavenly light and paradise to the soul of the dead man is found on two other stones, one in Uppland and one on Bornholm.
The Uppland stone stands at Folsberga in Vallby parish. The inscription ends with the prayer: +[kr]istr + lati kumo + ot + tumo + i lus yk baratisi + yk i þon em + besta + krisnum + Kristr lati koma and Tumma i lius ok paradisi ok i þann hæim bæzta kristnum “May Christ let Tumme’s soul come into light and paradise and into the world best for Christians”.
On the Bornholm stone (Klemensker 1) the formula is found twice. The second reads: kristr : hialbi : siolu : auþbiarnar : auk : kuniltar : auk : santa mikel : i lius : auk : baratis “Christ and Saint Michael help the souls of Ödbjörn and Gunnhild into light and paradise”.
The celestial light also occurs in an inscription in Östergötland, on the Kimstad stone, put up by Sven and his brothers in memory of their father. It ends: kuþ × hialbi × aut × has × auk × kus × muþir × i × lius × “God and God’s mother help his soul into light”.
The inscriptions just quoted indicate that the missionary church in Scandinavia used a relatively uniform language in its preaching. We may have a suspicion that the task of the missionary in Sweden was an arduous one: Valhall had to be exchanged for paradis, Thor and mysterious magic charms had to be replaced by God and God’s mother, Christ and Saint Michael. It was a change of old currency for a new Christian coinage.
St Michael is invoked on the Ängby stone in Knivsta parish (Uppland) and the fine Hogrän stone on Gotland (as well as on three Bornholm stones and another from Lolland). The Ängby inscription has: : mihel : kati : at : hans Mihel gætti and hans “Michael take care of his soul”, while on the Hogrän stone the prayer to the  “weigher of souls” reads: santa mikel hie[lbi ant h]ans.
Odin, god of strife, once saw to the conveyance of dead heroes to Valhall—now the archangel Michael, captain of the heavenly host, has inherited his role and conducts Christian souls to “light and paradise”.
The inscription on a handsome grave-slab in Tofta church (Gotland), carved at the end of the twelfth century, calls on one of the apostles to intercede for the soul of the dead man: saktus barþolimeus irni miskunaR sialu roþurms “May Saint Bartholomew obtain mercy for Rodorm’s soul”.
The inscription on a stone in Västergötland (Vg 186) ends with this supplication: Guð hialpi salu hans ok Guðs moðiR, hæilagR Kristr i himinriki “God and God’s mother help his soul, holy Christ in heaven”. Two other stones in the
The inscription on the Risbyle stone prays for “light and paradise” for the deceased’s soul.
 same province (Vg 105, 122) have an appeal to the Blessed Virgin: “God help his soul and holy Saint Mary”. A lost gravestone once in Sparlösa churchyard had a runic inscription which ended “May his soul have heaven’s joy. Amen”—Hans sal hafi himinglæði. Amen.
Another prayer formula, one which also shows a truly Christian frame of mind, is found on a number of rune stones, most of them set up in the first decades of the eleventh century. The Eggeby stone in Spånga parish (Uppland) may serve as an example: RagnælfR let gærva bro þessi æftiR Anund, sun sinn goðan. Guð hialpi hans and ok salu bætr þæn hann gærði til.
“May Christ let Tumme’s soul come into light and paradise and into the world best for Christians” is a prayer that ends the inscription on the Uppland Folsberga stone.
Munu æigi mærki
MoðiR gærði æftiR sun sinn æiniga.
“Ragnälv had this bridge made in memory of Anund, her noble son. May God help his spirit and soul better than he deserved (kuþ [ × hil]bi × ons × ant × uk × salu × bitr × þan × on krþi × til ×). No memorials will be greater. The mother made it for her only son.” Slight variations on the same theme occur elsewhere: Guð biargi sel hans bætr þæn hann hafR til gært “God save his soul better than he deserved” (Brössike, Södermanland). On the Lilla-Lundby stone (Södermanland) it has this form: Guð hialpi sal hans bætr þæn hann kunni til gærva “God help his soul better than he knew how to deserve it”.
In these petitions we must naturally see the humble hope that God will let mercy temper justice when the time comes to pass sentence on a poor and sinful creature. Such expressions must of course not be taken—as they recently have been—to mean that the dead man was a heathen or a particularly bad Christian. It is Christian humility which here speaks in the rune stone’s voice. The formula has the same significance as the Sälna stone’s supplication for forgiveness of the dead man’s “offences and sins” (p. 109 above).
The end of the inscription on a stone found a few years ago in Uppsala deserves to be quoted in this context: Guð signi oss, gumna valdr, hæilagR drottinn “May God bless us, ruler of men, holy lord”.
Of the people who raised these last-named monuments we might use the words that stand as Fare’s memorial on the Källbyås stone (Västergötland): SaR hafði goða tro til Guðs “He had good faith in God”.
The rune stones show in a variety of ways what important changes Christianity brought about in the social life of the Viking Age. Undoubtedly, one of the most radical changes was that the dead man was now to be buried in the consecrated ground of the churchyard, separated from his kin. He was no longer to lie in his grave on the slopes by the homestead where his ancestors lay.
An archaic provision in the church-section of the Uppland Laws leaves a deep impression of the cleavage this meant between old custom and new faith: “No one shall sacrifice to idols and no one shall put trust in groves or stones. All shall honour the church, thither all shall go, both the quick and the dead, coming into the world and leaving it”—Allir skulu kirkiu dyrkæ, þit skulu allir, baþi quikkir ok døþir, komændi ok farændi i weruld ok aff. Venerable custom and family tradition were broken, and the ecclesiastical sections of the provincial laws enunciated the new obligations. (As a point of interest it may be recalled that the earliest legal provision preserved in Old Swedish is found incised in runes on a ring of forged iron that now belongs to Forsa church in Hälsingland; cf. p. 37 above.)
|On this grave slab in Tofta church on Gotland one of the apostles is called on to intercede for the soul of Rodorm.|
The new burial customs are reflected in one or two runic inscriptions. The Bogesund stone (Uppland) gives us one testimony: “Gunne and Åsa had this stone raised and (made this) coffin of stone in memory of... their son. He died at Ekerö. He is buried in the churchyard (a[n · i]R · krafin · i · kirikiu · karþi ·). Fastulv cut the runes. Gunne raised this slab of rock.” It is interesting to observe that in this transition period a rune stone was evidently set up in the ancestral cemetery at home, while a more ecclesiastical sort of monument was provided in the churchyard at Ekerö.
A rune stone stands at Bjärby bridge in Runsten parish (Öland), raised in memory of Fastulv by his wife and sons. From it we learn that hann eR grafinn i kirkiu. This must, it seems, mean that he had his grave inside the church itself, a very honorific place both then and now. Burial in consecrated ground is probably also indicated by the inscription on a rune stone, unfortunately damaged, from the ruin of St Pers (Peter’s) church in Sigtuna. It ends by saying that the stone was set up by a man sem hana førði til Sigtunum. The dead person, a woman, seems thus to have been brought for burial in Sigtuna, at this time the stronghold of the missionary church in Uppland.
Left: The most northerly rune stone in Sweden stands on Frösön in Jämtland. Its inscription tells of the conversion of a whole province. Right: The Velanda stone in Västergötland was put expressly under Thor’s protection.
Rune stones can thus tell us that churches existed in Sweden in the latter part of the Viking Age, though of course they are not our only sources of information about this early church-building.
It should be observed at this point that the change in burial customs may not always have been so deeply felt after all. The fact is that in a surprising number of cases the site chosen for the new enclosed churchyard adjoins some ancient family burial ground with all its traditional associations. In such cases, perhaps, the break in custom did not seem so definitive, at any rate for the family on whose land the church was built.
The conversion of a whole province, round about 1020—30, finds unambiguous record on the stone that stands on Frösön (Jämtland): austmąþr kuþfastaR sun · lit rai... þiną aukirua bru þisauk h[ąn li]t kristną eątaląnt ąsbiurn kirþi bru triun raist auk tsain runąR þisaR “Östman, Gudfast’s son, had this stone raised and this bridge made, and he had Jämtland made Christian. Åsbjörn made the bridge. Tryn and Sten cut these runes.”
It seems likely that the conversion of Jämtland was the result of a decision taken at the assembly of the Jämtlanders, where Östman perhaps held office as law-man. In that case, we should have a parallel, on a modest scale, to the
The man in memory of whom one of the Källby ås stones was raised had “good faith in God”. The two rune stones stand on either side of the road.
 momentous decision of the Icelandic Althing, when this national assembly adopted Christianity in the year 1000, not many decades before the conversion of Jämtland.
Denmark had become Christian some time earlier, probably c. 960 or not long after, as is shown by the famous Jelling stone: “King Harald commanded these monuments to be made in memory of Gorm, his father, and of Tyre, his mother—that Harald who won all Denmark and Norway and made the Danes Christian”.
Information preserved on contemporary rune stones thus enables us to draw some conclusions concerning the advance of Christianity in Sweden. Christian influence is also readily discernible in the personal names on the stones, which even in the missionary period show many new names of Christian provenance alongside the traditional pagan stock—Johan, Botvid, Nikulas and others.
One scans the inscriptions in vain for any evidence of violent conflict between the old faith and the new. On the contrary, they give the impression that the conversion was a rather tranquil process. From the transition period between heathendom and Christianity we have only one Swedish inscription which invokes a pagan deity. The Velanda stone (Västergötland) was set up by Tyrvi in memory of her husband, Ogmund, and it was put expressly under Thor’s protection. The inscription, probably carved about the year 1000, ends: þur : uiki Þorr vigi “May Thor consecrate”.
Inscribed grave monuments and other memorials with runes on them give us valuable information about the period that followed the eleventh-century missionary age itself. We shall come back to these in a later section.
Rune stones at assembly places
I have mentioned certain works of public benefit, undertaken to the glory of God and to the advantage of souls in the next world. A work that also met a social need was the laying-out of an assembly site, a thing place.
Modern building has fortunately not yet disturbed the thing place at Bälista in Vallentuna parish (Uppland). Two rune stones stand there, with an inscription that begins on the one and continues on the other: [ulfkil ·] uk · arkil · uk · kui · þiR · kariþu · iar · þikstaþ · [m]unu · iki mirki · maiRi · uirþa · þan · ulfs · suniR · iftiR · kir [þu · snial]iR · suinaR · at · sin · faþur ristu · stina · uk · staf · uan · uk · in · mikla · at · iartiknum uk kuriþi · kas at · uiri · þu mon i krati · kiatit lata kunar ik stin
Ulfkell ok Arnkell ok Gyi þæiR gærðu hiar þingstað.
“Ulvkel and Arnkel and Gye, they made here a thing place.
What interests us especially at this point is that Ulv’s sons laid out an assembly place on this beautiful and convenient site by the shore of the Vallentunasjö, where the rune stones stand. As far as we can see, however, the thing place, with its “mighty staff” and rune stones, remained in use for only a few decades—a surprising conclusion but unavoidable if we are to accept the evidence of another rune stone in the same parish. This is the Jarlabanke stone at Vallentuna church, with an inscription cut on both sides, one of which reads:
× iarlabaki × lit raisa × stain × þina × at sik × kuikuan × auk × þinkstaþ × þina × karþi × auk × ain ati × alt huntari × þita × Iarlabanki let ræisa stæin þenna at sik kvikvan, ok þingstað þenna gærði, ok aeinn atti alt hundari þetta.
We thus learn the interesting facts that in his lifetime Jarlabanke “made this thing place” and “alone owned the whole of this hundred”. The phrasing suggests that Jarlabanke’s thing place was intended to serve the whole Vallentuna hundred. The recorded Uppland laws say that there should be one assembly site in each hundred.
In passing it should be noted that Jarlabanke’s claim to own the whole hundred may strike us as an exaggeration. He was probably the local magnate or perhaps the king’s bailiff in charge of the Vallentuna district. It is certainly obvious that he was one of the leaders of the Vallentuna assembly.
Jarlabanke’s establishment of a new thing place, at no great distance from the one laid out only twenty or thirty years earlier at Bällsta, might be explained in the following way. Jarlabanke has now become the most powerful man in the district. He could hardly preserve his equanimity as he entered the thing place at Bällsta, where the rune stones and “mighty staff” (stafR hinn mikli) would
The thing place at Bällsta in Uppland was laid out by sons to commemorate their father. The two rune stones tell us about it. constantly remind him—and everyone else there—of the Skålhamra family who before his time were the greatest and most influential landowners in the locality. We know Ulv of Skålhamra from the clear witness of a number of rune stones. There is good reason to suppose that Jarlabanke was all too jealous of his own reputation to be able to tolerate, before his very eyes at the assembly place, the sight of the proud poem which the sons of Ulv had inscribed in their father’s honour. No one was more concerned than Jarlabanke to look after his own obituary by means of rune-inscribed monuments; no one took such pains as he to preserve the memory of his own greatness. We can only agree that he was successful in his aim of preserving his name for posterity to admire.
A great “staff’ or pole had been raised on the thing place at Bällsta in memory of Ulv. This custom is also attested in a number of other inscriptions. On the Vreta stone (Uppland) it says: inka · raisti · staf · auk · staina · at · raknfast · bonta · sin · han · kuam · at · arfi barn · sins · “Inga raised staff and stones in memory of Ragnfast, her husband. He came into the inheritance of his child”. It is possibly the same custom that is implied in the Fyrby inscription (Södermanland): setu : stain : auk : stafa : marga “They placed the stone and many staves...”
On a rune stone that once did service in the doorway of the now ruined church at Stora Ryttern (Västmanland) occur the words: “Gudiev placed staff and these stones in memory of Slagve, his son...”
This custom is described and light thrown on it from an unexpected quarter—in a source that is totally different in kind and about a century older than these rune stones. During his travels in Russia in 921—2 the Arabian diplomat, Ibn Fadlan, had the opportunity of witnessing at first hand  the funeral of a Norse chieftain. When Ibn Fadlan arrived, the chieftain’s ship had already been dragged ashore and preparations for the funeral ceremonies begun. When they were complete, the dead man’s nearest kinsman first kindled the funeral pyre and then everyone helped to make it burn. In less than an hour the ship 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 birchwood, and on it they cut the dead man’s name and the name of the king of the Rus. Then they went their way.—There seems little doubt but that the birchwood pillar in Ibn Fadlan’s account corresponds to the “staff” mentioned on rune stones. The alliterative phrase of the inscriptions, “staff and stones”, evidently refers to a long-standing traditional custom.
An assembly place must, of course, have been a distinguished site for a rune stone. It had a central position in the district and all the members of the assembly had its inscription before their eyes. The grand Kjula stone stands on Jarlabanke, who was a rich Upplander in Täby, made a thing place not to commemorate a dead relative but in honour of himself while he was still alive.
At the assembly site at Aspa in Södermanland Tora had two rune stones set up in memory of her husband. On this stone we read that it stands on the thing place.  the Rekarne thing place, while it was on the assembly site at Aspa (Södermanland) that Tora set up the rune stone that commemorates her husband, Öpir, who had fought vestarla.
: stain : saR : si : stanr : at ybi : o þik : staþi : at : þuru : uar
The finest rune stone in Västmanland stands on the thing place at Badelunda. We may take it for granted that the men whose names are recorded on it belonged to the greatest family in the neighbourhood at the beginning of the eleventh century. The inscription reads:
× fulkuiþr × raisti × staina × þasi × ala × at × sun × sin × hiþin × bruþur × anutaR × uraiþr hik × runaR
“Folkvid set up all these stones in memory of Heden, his son, Anund’s brother. Vred cut the runes.”
Since it is beyond all doubt that the rune stone has always stood in the same place, the phrase “all these stones” must refer to stones which are, or were, to be found in the immediate vicinity of Heden’s memorial. A good many years ago I made a preliminary survey of the site and was then able to show that at least thirteen of the stones were still there, sunk deep in the ground and hidden for centuries. In the autumn of 1960 excavation of the area around the rune stone was begun by staff of the State Department of Antiquities, and the work was finished in the spring of 1961. We found fourteen of the original standing-stones (bautasteinar), lying in a long, straight row. It is clear that Heden’s memorial had consisted of a roadway constructed on a truly grand scale: an avenue, flanked by a long row of standing-stones, which had led from the river-ford on the northeast to the Badelunda ridge on the southwest. The rune stone, taller than the flankers, had stood at the centre of this stretch of roadway. It is of particular interest that “all these stones” border Eriksgata, cf. p. 43 above. The complete lay-out of the memorial now uncovered has been damaged by the removal of a number of the standing-stones in connection with cultivation of the land round the rune stone. Nevertheless, this may be justly called Sweden’s proudest “bridge” monument from the Viking Age. (On bridge-building see p. 106 f. above.)
The good man
A man’s distinction as sailor, warrior or public benefactor was not the only subject of eulogy in the runic inscriptions. Qualities such as generosity, benevolence and eloquence also find record in runic epitaphs.
The memorial of the dead brothers in the Turinge inscription (p. 58 f. above) includes the statement, “they maintained their household men well”. Generosity was a characteristic of the chieftain, often praised in the ancient poetry. The little runic stanza on the Turinge stone expresses the same thoughts as are found, for example, in Beowulf, when in the last scene of the Anglo-Saxon epic the retainers stand lamenting round the burial mound of the hero. Beowulf's “hearth-companions” laud him as manna mildust “the most munificent of men”, leodum
The men whose names are recorded on the Badelunda stone in Västmanland belonged to the greatest family in the neighbourhood.
 liðost “the kindest to his people”, and “keenest for fame”—lofgeornost.
An Uppland rune stone at Vappeby in Veckholm parish praises the dead man as · mantr · matar · koþr · auk · mis · risia mandr mataR goðr ok malsrisinn “a man generous with food and eloquent”. On the Gådi stone (Uppland) Holmbjörn sings his own praises as miltr · mataR · auk · mals · risin “liberal with food and eloquent”.
The same qualities are celebrated on the stone at Hagstugan (Södermanland), set up by four sons in memory of their good father, Domare: : at : tumara : miltan : urþa uk : mataR kuþan : at Domara, mildan orða ok mataR goðan. Precisely the same expression—mildan orða ok mataR goðan—is used of a dead father on the Ryssby stone (Småland).
A housewife who had run the estate while her husband was on Viking expeditions receives her homage in the inscription on the Hassmyra stone from Västmanland.
The nickname inn malspaki “the word-wise, eloquent” may also be mentioned. It is found on the Gillberga stone (Uppland), raised by sons in memory of kara : faþur : sin : in : mal : sbaka : .
A rune stone at Krageholm in Sövestad parish in Skåne ends its inscription with these words of praise: hann vaR bæztr bomanna ok mildastr mataR “he was the best of yeomen and freest with food”. The same liberality is given prominence in a stanza, unfortunately defective, on the Ivla stone (Småland). The stone was put up by Vimund in memory of his brother, Sven:
mildan við sinna
—“gentle towards his people / and generous with food, / in great esteem / with everyone”. The old poem Hávamál provides close parallels to the expressions found on the rune stones:
Fannka ek mildan mann
“I did not find so free a man I or one with food so liberal...
The noun oniðingR, literally “un-dastard”, is used in a number of verse inscriptions to denote an outstanding and munificent man. The Transjö stone (Småland) says:
Hann vaR manna
“He was among men / the most ‘un-dastard’. / He in England / lost his life.” That generosity was a highly-prized feature of character is suggested too by the name Osnikinn which appears in some inscriptions; it originally meant “the ungreedy”.
In the busy times of sowing and harvest a farmer might well find himself abroad in Russia, Greece, Saxland or England, or stuck in a ship on the North Sea or the Black Sea. The responsibility of running the farm in his absence rested then on the shoulders of his wife. A Swedish housewife receives her homage on the Hassmyra stone (Västmanland), set up by “the good yeoman”, Holmgöt of Hassmyra, in memory of Odindisa, his wife:
buonti × kuþr × hulmkoetr × lit× resa × ufteR × oþintisu × kunu × seno × kumbr ×  hifrya × til × hasuimura × iki betr × þon × byi raþr roþbalir × risti × runi × þisa × sikmuntaR × aR [ × oþintisa ×] sestR × kuþ
Boandi goðr Holmgautr let ræisa æftiR Oðindisu, kunu sina.
“There will not come to Hassmyra a better mistress who holds sway over the farm. Balle the Red cut these runes. To Sigmund was Odindisa a good sister.”
The pride taken by the widowed mistress of the house in the monument which she and her four sons raised in memory of Fot finds appealing expression in the verse which ends the inscription on the Härene stone in Västergötland:
In conclusion, it is perhaps not out of the way to emphasise that the runic inscriptions, however strident and warlike they may be, are themselves representative of cultural and artistic endeavours. The inscriptions convey not only feelings of loss and grief but also give expression, eloquent and precious, to the artistic aspirations of the age. They are among the most outstanding examples of ancient Sweden’s artistic creativity. The rune carvers often reveal themselves as veritable masters of their art, both in the visual effects they achieve with their adornment of the stone’s variously shaped surfaces and in the literary composition of the epitaphs they inscribe. The inscriptions are memorial notices cut on cramped faces, and as such must inevitably be limited both in subject-matter and in extent. Nevertheless, it is possible to learn something from them of the capabilities of the language at that time, and with their help not a few conclusions concerning the early history of Swedish and Norse literature can be drawn. Despite all their limitations they can, for example, give us some insight into the poetry which attentive audiences once heard the ancient makers deliver.  Some runic inscriptions may be regarded as fragments of that poetry itself—otherwise never recorded and now irretrievably lost. Such fragments cannot of course reflect the whole range of literature in those long-past times, but we must be grateful for the authentic intimations they give us.
When Latin script was introduced in the middle ages, there was no interest in Sweden in recording the old oral literature. Like the runes themselves, it lacked the backing of the Church, of the booklearned men. The gulf between ancient and medieval times in Sweden was wide and deep, and oral traditions, unwritten, were not vigorous enough to pass over it. Unfortunately in Sweden no guards were mounted on the frontier of engulfing oblivion—things were better in Iceland.
Various kinds of record were undoubtedly made in the early period, but virtually the only ones preserved are those in materials that could withstand the tooth of time—stone and metal. It is equally certain, on the other hand, that from the oldest times it was the everyday practice to cut runic records in more easily-handled material, above all in wood. The preserved inscriptions can thus by no means be considered fully representative of the use of runes in the Viking Age, in spite of the large numbers of rune stones that have survived. They give us a one-sided picture of the subject-matter that was recorded and of the general uses to which runic writing was put.