Runes in Sweden, 1987/The oldest runic inscriptions

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Runes in Sweden, 1987 — The oldest runic inscriptions
автор Sven B. F. Jansson
Источник: Runes in Sweden. — Sweden, 1987. — С. 9-24

The oldest runic inscriptions

The origin of runes has long been a subject for speculation: it can be called a classic problem in runic research. But the lively and lengthy debate has led to no conclusive answer.

In very early times the runes were regarded as a gift from the gods. In Scandinavia, as elsewhere, the mysterious act of giving permanent form to ephemeral speech was ascribed to divine intervention. This is illustrated by the inscription on the seventh-century Noleby stone (Västergötland), where the carver refers to his runes as “derived from the gods”. The same highflown epithet, alliterating with the word “runes”, recurs in the inscription on the ninth-century Sparlösa stone, which enjoins the reader to interpret runaR þaR ræginkundu. This adjective (ON reginkunnr “of divine origin”) is otherwise attested only once in the Norse world, in Hávamál. It is used of runes there as well:

þat er þá reynt,
er þú at rúnum spyrr
inum reginkunnum,
þeim er gørðu ginnregin
ok fáði fimbulþulr...

“It is then tested when you ask about the runes derived from the gods, those which the ruling powers made and the mighty sage [Odin] painted...” According to Norse belief, it was Odin who discovered these mystic, potent signs.

Seventeenth-century workers in the field advanced some fantastic views on the genesis of runes, and in much later times too others have been propounded which may be safely transferred from the runological domain to that of the history of ideas and learning.

A few decades back it was generally thought that the problem of runic origins was by and large solved, but opinion is now once more divided and this old controversy again wide open. The problem now appears decidedly more complicated than it used to.

What can probably be said for certain is that runes were based on a southern [10] Man-made rune stones are now a natural element of the Swedish landscape.
Man-made rune stones are now a natural element of the Swedish landscape.
European alphabet and that it was a form of classical script which was the foundation of this great cultural advance among Germanic peoples. On general and typological grounds it seems easiest to believe that runes were created in the second century of our era and were inspired by classical alphabet forms. To achieve a universally acceptable explanation we clearly need some new finds that can be securely dated. At present, the very sparse material available as a basis for discussion of where and when runes were invented gives ample scope for airy constructions.

The oldest runic inscriptions found in Sweden have been dated to the third century. Among them are the inscriptions on a spear-blade from Mos in Stenkyrka parish (Gotland) and a silver brooch from Gårdlösa (Skåne). Both [11] The spearblade from Mos on Gotland bears one of the oldest inscriptions found in Sweden.
The spearblade from Mos on Gotland bears one of the oldest inscriptions found in Sweden.
objects are associated with graves dated by archaeological means. It is significant that these runes are scratched on metal objects of this kind, for it is on weapons and ornaments and suchlike that the oldest inscriptions have generally been preserved.

The Mos inscription is read gaois (or sioag), but what this sequence meant is impossible to decide. It may be the spear’s name, or part of its name. Such uncertainty of interpretation is typical of the great majority of the inscriptions we possess from the first centuries of our era.

The runes on the Gårdlösa brooch probably contain the name of the writer—“I Unwod”. His name means “the calm” (literally, “the unfrenzied”).

The so-called Primitive Norse inscriptions are cut with runes belonging to the 24-character rune series, the system of script once employed by all [12] Germanic peoples, not only the North Germanic tribes but also those of the East and West Germanic branches.

The total number of inscriptions in this archaic runic series is over 200, of which some 50 have been found within the present-day borders of Sweden. It is probable that most of them, like the Mos inscription, will never be definitively interpreted. That is one reason why these earliest inscriptions of ours are treated so summarily in this book, although they deserve a much more detailed study both for their own sake and for the great interest they have from many other points of view.

Primitive Norse runes were used among the Swedes until some time towards AD 800, when they were superseded by a runic “alphabet” of only 16 characters. I shall return to this younger system below.

Objects from the Migration Age (c. 350—550) on which the whole Primitive Norse rune-row is recorded have thrice been found in Sweden. The oldest of them is on the stone found in 1903 on Kylver farm in Stånga parish (Gotland). The stone made a side-slab in a sarcophagus, dated on archaeological grounds to the fifth century, most probably to its first half. Incised on it in fine lines is a largely undamaged 24-character rune-row.

It should be noted that runes 4 a and 18 b in the Kylver series are “reversed runes”. The general custom is for the side-strokes to be on the right hand of the stave (following the direction in which the runes were meant to be read). Further, rune 15 R has “collapsed”—usually the arms on it point upwards.

The Primitive Norse runic series is found on two gold bracteates, one from Vadstena, the other from Grumpan in Västergötland. Both were probably made about a century later than the Kylver stone. A third bracteate, found in the province of Närke (?), was clearly struck from the same die as the Vadstena bracteate. (The term “bracteate” is in this context reserved for small flat gold ornaments, worn suspended in some way, and with stamped or impressed decoration on one side only.)

One of the differences between the series on the Kylver stone and those on the bracteates is that in these the row is divided into three groups, so-called “families”, each of eight runes. In later tradition they were called Frey’s, Hagal’s and Tyr’s family respectively. It was a division which came to play an important part when runic ciphers were used (cf. p. 36 below).

In a normalised form the Primitive Norse futhark—so called from the opening characters—looked approximately like this:

[13]The Primitive Norse futhark.
The Primitive Norse futhark.
The first thing to strike us is, of course, how completely different the order of the “letters” is from that of the classical alphabets—and consequently from our own. There have been several attempts to explain this remarkable lack of similarity but none has so far proved persuasive.

A question that calls for an answer is what purpose was served by the futharks cut on the Kylver stone and stamped on the gold bracteates from Vadstena, Närke (?) and Grumpan. It cannot be doubted but that the futhark, cut in the right sequence, was believed to confer powerful magic protection.

In the case of the Kylver stone it must be grave-magic at work: the inscription was after all made on the side of a stone coffin before it was buried in the ground. But there is more to it than just the futhark: an inspection of the other symbols The stone from Kylver, Gotland, made a side-slab in a sarcophagus. On this stone the whole Primitive Norse rune-row is recorded.
The stone from Kylver, Gotland, made a side-slab in a sarcophagus. On this stone the whole Primitive Norse rune-row is recorded.
[14] Left: The gold bracteate from Vadstena in Östergötland has the Primitive Norse rone-row around the edge. Right: The runes on the Tjurkö bracteate were made by a man named Heldar.
Left: The gold bracteate from Vadstena in Östergötland has the Primitive Norse rone-row around the edge. Right: The runes on the Tjurkö bracteate were made by a man named Heldar.
incised on the stone bring out the magical purpose of the whole still more clearly.

Immediately after the last rune comes a sign which looks most like a simply-drawn fir-tree; and then higher up to the right are five runes sueus. The “fir-tree” must undoubtedly be interpreted as a t-rune with its “branches” six times repeated. To explain why an extra t-rune appears at this point and why it is furnished with so many “branches”, I must go back to the futhark.

Each rune in the series had its own name, and by and large that name was the same throughout the extensive areas that shared a common Germanic culture. Each runic name began with the sound the character stood for—obviously for mnemotechnic reasons. Thus, the rune h, for example, was called “hail”, n “need”, j “year” (jāra, cf. German Jahr)—in the sense of “good season, crops”, s “sun”, t “Tyr” (a god’s name), and so on. The rune a had the name ansuR, ON óss, áss (pl. æsir), “god”.

Through their names both the a- and the t-rune are thus associated with divine powers, and it is significant that it is these two that we find most often in inscriptions of magic import. The name of the t-rune is that of the god Tyr, who was associated with war and success in war. This rune appears on the Kylver stone with sextuple branches—its magic power, its invocation of the god, has been magnified six times. We may compare the sixth-century Lindholm amulet (Skåne), which has an a-rune repeated eight times in a row, along with the r-, n- and t-runes each repeated thrice. The Sjælland bracteate offers a still more striking parallel, for its inscription ends with a triple-branched t-rune. It thus makes use of precisely the same method of intensification as on the Gotland [15] Kylver stone. On the Lindholm amulet the magic is reinforced by writing the whole rune three times. Information about this use of magic t-runes can be drawn from a different quarter. In the eddaic poem, Sigrdrífumál, a valkyrie imparts much handy runic lore to Sigurd the Dragon-slayer, Sigurðr Fáfnis-bani. Among the stanzas is the well-known:

Sigrúnar þú skalt kunna,
ef þú vilt sigr hafa,
ok rísta á hialti hiǫrs,
sumar á véttrimum,
sumar á valbǫstum,
ok nefna tysvar Tý.

“Victory runes you must know
if you will have victory,
and carve them on the sword’s hilt,
some on the grasp
and some on the inlay,
and name Tyr twice.”

It was indubitably with magic intent that the isolated sequence sueus was also cut on the Kylver stone. We can find no intelligible meaning in it—it is an “abracadabra” word and like many such key-words it is a palindrome, reading the same backwards as it does forwards. It was a long time before such spellbinding formulas, used for mysterious ends, were treated as empty words.

Thus from start to finish the Kylver inscription was intended to bestow potent and effective protection. The carver had recourse to three related means: the futhark, the reinforced t-rune, and the magic word sueus. So much can be counted certain. What we cannot know for certain, on the other hand, is whether the carver intended to protect the grave and assist the dead amid the perils of the dark, or whether he meant to bind the dead man to his new home and prevent him from “walking”, from coming back to interfere with the living and disturb their existence.

The gold bracteates were worn as jewellery; with their futharks they protected their wearers from misfortune. The Vadstena bracteate is like the Kylver stone in having a separate magical rune sequence.

Magic and sorcery occur remarkably often in the Primitive Norse inscriptions—one reason why they are so obscure. For we have the utmost difficulty in treading confident paths in this thick undergrowth, whose roots twine deep and round and through layers of cultural history millennia-old. In Primitive Norse times the rune-carvers were evidently often striving to gain power over the secret forces of nature. In various ways they sought to make contact with divine powers — to destroy an enemy, to find protection against disease and death, to defend the living from the dead and the dead from grave-robbers. With the help of runes they tried to make a spear never miss its mark, a man inviolable against weapons and a girl incapable of resisting his advances.

[16]Still, we must make it clear that by no means all Primitive Norse inscriptions in Sweden serve the shadowy purposes of magic. The Tjurkö bracteate, for example, probably from the early sixth century, and found in 1817 not far from Karlskrona, has a different sort of message, at least in the main. An inscription which goes from right to left round the edge of it says: wurte runoR an walhakurne heldaR kunimudiu.

The start of the inscription, with verse rhythm and alliteration, is clearly artistically framed. The first word, wurte, is third sg. pret. of a weak verb wurkian, “make, produce, perform”, Goth. waurkjan, ON yrkia, Sw. yrka, Engl. work; wurte (ON orti) alliterates with walhakurne. This is a compound whose second element is PN kurna, “corn, seed, grain”, in the dat. sg. The first element is thought to contain a tribal name referring to Gauls or Celts or with a more general connotation of “southern people”. This tribal name (OHG Walh) gave rise to OE wælisc, modern Engl. “Welsh”, ON valskr “Gallic”, Sw. välsk. An interpretation of the compound on the bracteate as “the Gallic (foreign?) grain” is thus possible. an immediately before it is of course prep. an, ON á, Engl. on, which takes the dat.

wurte runoR an walhakurne ought then literally to mean “made runes on the Gallic grain”. The obscure last phrase would then seem to be a designation of the gold bracteate on which the runes have their place. The compound can be taken as a poetic periphrasis, a kenning, for “gold”—in that case, it is the earliest gold-kenning we know. In later centuries Norse scalds were to make constant reference to that coveted doomladen metal in ringing kennings: “billow’s brightness”, “dragon's bed”, “seedcorn of Frode”.

Everything suggests that heldaR kunimudiu, the inscription’s last two words, are personal names. The first, an a-stem, is in the nom.; the second, a u-stem, in the dat. HeldaR, who has a name not otherwise attested, must be the man who “made” the runes on the bracteate. In kunimudiu (dat.) a nasal, n, is omitted before the the homorganic d; the nom. is PN KunimunduR. This is a well-known name in West Germanic regions, found in sources as old as the sixth century (OE Cynemund, OHG Chunimunt).

The whole inscription on the Tjurkö bracteate can thus be read: “Heldar, for Kunimund, made the runes on the Gallic grain (= the gold pendant?).”

Of all the Primitive Norse inscriptions in Sweden, that on the Möjbro stone is by far the most famous. The inscription and the whole carving are different in kind from those so far considered. The Möjbro stone is an imposing monument, a rune stone set up to public view. It is on memorial stones of this sort that most of our runic inscriptions came to be preserved.

The Möjbro stone owes its fame not least to the skilful art of its unique pictorial addition. It is the high quality of this scene which explains why the stone figures more often than any other Swedish rune stone in works of reference of various kinds.

The stone was raised about AD 500 (perhaps earlier than that) at Möjbro in Hagby parish, southwest of Uppsala—that is, in the heart of the ancient realm of [17] the Swedes. As far as we can tell, it was erected in memory of a dead chieftain. His name was frawaradaR, “the agile doer, the resourceful”. Cf. ON frár “active, agile, quick”; radaR is nomen agentis from PN *rāðan, ON ráða “prevail, decide, rule”. The d-rune stands here for the voiced dental fricative ð.

The rider springing forward on his loose-reined horse dominates the Möjbro stone. He holds his shield in his left hand and brandishes his weapon in his right. Two animals run beside the horse. The whole scene has a rare living quality, everything caught in motion. It might well seem natural to regard the picture as a representation of the FrawaradaR named in the inscription. But that can hardly be the case. The impression the picture gives is rather of a classical representation of a cavalryman: we can imagine that it offers a glimpse of fruitful contact with late Roman culture in the Migration Age.

Since the Möjbro stone is reproduced in so many works, not all of them runological, it should perhaps be mentioned that several important details on it were only first observed some thirty years ago (in 1950). Neither the round shield with its central boss nor the two animals lower down on the stone had previously been noticed. Of the animal on the left, running just in front of the rider, von Friesen had made out only a couple of lines. They played some part in his interpretation of the carving, for he thought that these “right-angle lines ... could be thought to indicate the vanquished opponent”. (The two “lines” he saw are actually part of the back and tail of the animal.) His view did not go unchallenged. W. Krause wrote, for example: “Die gekrümmten Linien links unten halte ich nicht für die Andeutung eines am Boden liegenden Gegners des Reiters, sondern für Darstellung des Geländes, etwa einer Bodenerhebung” (Runeninschriften im älteren Futhark, 1937, p. 149).

The inscription is in two lines and must be read from right to left, starting with the bottom line. In the top line there was no room for the last rune of all, so it is cut higher up again. It reads: frawaradaR anahahaislaginaR.

The latter part of the long sequence after the name FrawaradaR gives the words is [s]laginaR; the first is PN is —still the same in English; the second is undoubtedly nom. sg. masc. of the past part, of the PN verb *slahan “strike, slay, hit”. The s-rune can be read double, since it was found unnecessary to repeat a rune at the start of a word when it was the same as the last rune in the preceding word. There have been many energetic attempts to interpret the sequence anahaha but the sense remains uncertain.

Memorial stones set up in roughly the same period as the Möjbro stone are known from other parts of Sweden, but they lack pictures and their inscriptions usually consist simply of one or two personal names. On the Skärkind stone (Östergötland), for example, is the name skiþaleubaR, on the Berga stone (Södermanland) the woman’s name fino, PN Finnō “Finna”, and the man’s name saligastiR Salgæstr; cf. the PN masculine names HlewagastiR and AnsugastiR.

[18]The Möjbro stone from Uppland is a memorial stone. It is famous bouth for its inscription and its unique pictorial addition.
The Möjbro stone from Uppland is a memorial stone. It is famous bouth for its inscription and its unique pictorial addition.

[19]A longer inscription occurs on the Rö stone from Otterö (Bohuslän). Like the Möjbro stone, it was probably raised in memory of a man killed in battle. The inscription, unfortunately damaged where the surface has weathered, is in four parallel lines. If we start with the second line from the right—as was possibly the carver’s intention—we can read it like this: swabaharjaR... sairawidaR stainawarijaR fahido ek hra-aR satido [s]tain[a]. “SwabaharjaR is treacherously slain (?). [I] StainawarijaR cut. I Hra-aR set up the stone.”

PN SwabaharjaR represents a name well known from West Germanic (e.g. OHG Suabheri). Its Old Icelandic form is Svávarr. Among others, the father of Garðarr, one of the first discoverers of Iceland, had this name. According to Landnámabók, he was Swedish: Garðarr hét maðr, son Svávars bins svænska. Hann átti iarbir í Siólandi en var fœddr í Svíaríki (Hauksbók).

The word sairawidaR is obscure. It has been read as the past part. of a PN verb sarwijan “capture, betray”, but also as an otherwise unattested sairawindaR “wound-covered". (On the omission of n in such a position see p. 16 above.)

With one exception, the other words pose no problems. stainawarijar is the man’s name that appears in Old Icelandic as Steinarr. fahido (older faihido) is first pers. sg. pret. of the verb faihian “paint, colour, write, cut” (ON , fáði). The fourth rune of hra-aR, the subject of the last sentence, is illegible because of damage. satido (ON setta, OSw. sætte) is first, sg. pret. of the verb satjan “set, put, place”, and staina is of course acc. sg. of stainaR (ON steinn).

The inscriptions now cited represent classical Primitive Norse. In the sources it appears as a relatively uniform language and it provides us with the most antique form we know not only of Scandinavian but of any Germanic tongue.

On some seventh-century rune stones in south Sweden traces are apparent of the radical changes which the language (and runic writing) underwent in Scandinavia in the period between the Migration Age and the Viking Age. This time of transition, the seventh and eighth centuries, partly coincided with the culturally distinguished Vendel Period. The late Primitive Norse inscriptions of Istaby, Björketorp and Stentoften give an impression of incipient disintegration in what had at least appeared to be a firmly fixed language and a traditional and uniform writing system.

An interesting change in runic writing can be observed on the Istaby stone in Mjällby parish (Blekinge), a change which is illuminating in a number of ways and which may therefore merit a more detailed description.

As noted above, the name of the old j-rune was jāra “good season” (see p. 14). Now, the fact is that significant developments were beginning in Primitive Norse already in the sixth century. Initial j and w, for example, were lost and short vowels in final syllables were syncopated. A runic name like jāra was equally affected and came to be pronounced ār, cf. ON ár, Sw. år “year”. Since the runic names were based on a mnemotechnic system (the name began with the [20] sound represented by the rune), the system was upset by the loss of initial j. By analogy the old j-rune then came to be regarded as the sign for an a-sound. A contributory cause to the disappearance of the j-rune was naturally that the loss of initial j in speech meant a considerable reduction in the number of cases where a j-rune was needed at all. An a-rune (), on the other hand, already existed in the futhark. Its name was PN *ansuR (> óss, áss), a word, that is, beginning with a nasalised a-sound. Thanks to the pronunciation change two signs for a thus came into being, and in time it became the practice to restrict to nasalised a and to use the old j-rune for the corresponding unnasalised sound. This distinction between nasalised and unnasalised a was to remain in runic writing for nearly 500 years—for the two runes with their different functions were adopted in the new 16-character futhark of the Viking Age. In transliterating late Primitive Norse texts we distinguish the unnasalised a-rune (i.e. the old j-rune) as A, the nasalised (i.e. the original a-rune) as a.

After this discussion of a detail in the development of runic script and the language it recorded, we can return to the Istaby stone. The new a-rune (A) there has the form . The inscription is divided into three lines:

hAþuwulafR hAeruwulafiR
AfatR hAriwulafa
warAit runaR þAiAR

As will be seen, the inscription has seven A-runes and seven a-runes. The stone was carved in the seventh century by a man who lived in the transition period between Primitive Norse times and the Viking Age: can we observe him making any systematic distinction in his use of the two runes? Let us make a closer inspection.

The second line contains two words, the first of them undoubtedly the prep. aftR “after, in memory of”. The carver here uses the A-rune for the unnasalised a-sound and the a-rune for the svarabhakti between f and t. The second word in the line also contains both types. hAriwulafa is acc. of the well-known man’s name Hæriulf (ON HerjólfR “host-wolf, war-wolf”). Again the A-rune stands for the unnasalised sound and the a-rune for the svarabhakti between l and f. But the a-rune () is also used for the final vowel in -wulafa. What quality shall we attribute to it? Since the name is in the acc. and must thus originally have ended in -n, we may conclude that the a-rune stands for nasalised a here as well. In the other parts of the inscription we also find that the carver makes consistent use of the A-rune for unnasalised a and the a-rune for the svarabhakti a.

We can thus confirm that the carver of the Istaby stone employed the two runes in different functions: A for unnasalised a, a partly for nasalised a and partly for the vowel sound he thought he heard between certain consonants. We may infer that in his language a marked distinction was audible between nasalised and unnasalised a, and that the svarabhakti sounded closer to the nasalised than to the unnasalised pronunciation.

It may be noted that the changes in form of prep. aftR (which we see takes the acc.) can be followed in our runic inscriptions. In the earlier part of the Viking Age (ninth century) it has the form aft, while in the eleventh century there are many—one can almost say innumerable—instances [21]The Istaby stone from Blekinge was carved in the transition period between the Primitive Norse period and the Viking Age.
The Istaby stone from Blekinge was carved in the transition period between the Primitive Norse period and the Viking Age.
[22] of it in the form at. This at (with the acc.) “after” is thus to be distinguished from prep. at (with the dat., ON and OSw. at, Latin ad) “to, at, by” etc., a word etymologically identical with the infinitive marker at, Sw. att.

The Istaby inscription begins with a man’s name in the nom., hAþuwulafR. (In standard PN it would have been written hAþuwulfaR.) It is a compound of haþu- (ON hǫð “battle, war”—only known in poetry) and -wulfaR, an a-stem with nom. ending -R (ON úlfr, OSw. ulver “wolf”). The carver thus inserts a svarabhakti vowel between l and f but omits the weak-stressed stem-vowel a between f and R: an example of syncope after the preceding long syllable. On the other hand, the stem-vowel u remains after the short syllable in haþu, as does also the initial w before u in the second element.

In thirteenth-century Icelandic the name HaþuwulfaR appears as Hálfr — a telling illustration of the radical changes in North Germanic in the period just before the Viking Age.

From a formal point of view, and from other aspects too, the sequence hAeruwulafiR is also of interest. It is clearly the nom. of a masc. ia-stem and in apposition to hAþuwulafR. It is formed from the name HeruwulfaR with the suffix -ia-, and if it had been cut a couple of centuries earlier, it would have appeared as heruwulfijaR; cf. holtijaR on the fifth-century Gallehus horn. In this case the suffix indicates descent and shows that HaþuwulfR (“battle-wolf”) belongs to the kindred of HeruwulfR (“sword-wolf”—heruR, the first element, becomes ON hiǫrr m. “sword”, with u-breaking).

The names on the Istaby stone admirably illustrate the naming customs in leading Germanic families of the Migration Age. The three names are compounded of two substantives, all with a notably warlike content. The first elements are words meaning “war-host”, “battle” and “sword” respectively and each is completed by the word “wolf”. These personal names are akin to kennings for “warrior”: “war-host-wolf”, “battle-wolf”, “sword-wolf”.

Finally, it should be observed that all the names begin with h-. They are thus examples of alliterating names with first-element variation. In this they represent a very widespread type of Migration Age personal nomenclature.

The third line of the inscription is on the left side of the stone. Its first word, warAit, is third sg. pret. of the strong verb wrītan “write, inscribe, carve”. (The form shows svarabhakti a between w and r.) runaR is acc. pl. of PN runu f. (ON rún, early OSw. run). It agrees completely with the pl. runan, rúnar found in Viking Age and medieval sources. We find the older pl. form runoR on the Tjurkö bracteate (p. 16 above). The word run f. “rune” is thus an ō-stem. (Modern Sw. runa is a later form, first attested in the fifteenth century.) The last word of the inscription—þAiAR—is acc. pl. f. of the demonstrative sa, ON (f. [23] pl. þaR, ON þœr, “those, these”—the spelling in the inscription can be explained as analogically affected by the pl. stem form þai-).

What the inscription says is thus: “Hådulv, Hjorulv’s descendant, cut these runes in memory of Härjulv.”

There has been some controversy about the order in which the lines should be read. Several scholars (including O. von Friesen) take the view that the reading should start with AfatR hAriwulafa and interpret this prepositional phrase as an elliptical clause with both subject and verb understood: “In memory of Härjulv [the stone is set up]. Halv [=Hådulv] Hjorulvsson cut these runes.” The chief reason for their opinion is that the inscription otherwise appears to be at odds with PN and ON The Björketorp rune stone from Blekinge is one of three imposing stones arranged in a triangle, forming one of the most impressive monuments in Sweden. The inscription talks about the secret of mighty and potent runes.
The Björketorp rune stone from Blekinge is one of three imposing stones arranged in a triangle, forming one of the most impressive monuments in Sweden. The inscription talks about the secret of mighty and potent runes.
[24] rules of word-order. It must however be said that the runic texts preserved from the PN period are inadequate to give us clear ideas about syntax in general and that no precise PN parallel exists to the type of ellipsis postulated in “In memory of Härjulv [the stone is set up]”.

Three other rune stones from Blekinge show close affinity to the Istaby stone, those of Stentoften and Gummarp (Gammaltorp parish) and Björketorp (Listerby parish). True, they do not share the Istaby stone’s frank avowal of its memorial status—their inscriptions are more obscure and menacing—but the runeforms and writing style are at once enough to show the close connections between them. And the most striking link of all is found in the reappearance of the names hAþuwolAfR and hariwolAfR on the Stentoften stone. The first of these was once also to be found on the Gummarp stone—that stone was moved to Copenhagen in the seventeenth century and perished in the great fire of 1728 there. According to a drawing made in 1627, it was apparently inscribed haþuwolAfA[R] sate staba þria fff “Hådulv set three staves fff”. The three f-runes must be ideographs. The name of the rune was fehu n., ON “goods, cattle, wealth”. The thrice-carved f-rune was presumably intended to assist the Blekinge lord, Hådulv, to riches.

The Björketorp stone makes part of one of the most impressive monuments in Sweden—and one that most kindles the imagination. It consists of three imposing stones, arranged in a triangle. The one with runes on it, standing 4 m above ground-level, has an inscription which can be plausibly rendered as follows: “I hid here the secret of mighty runes, potent runes. Whoever breaks this monument shall always be tormented by sorcery. Treacherous death shall strike him. I prophesy destruction.”

The same formula occurs in the curse called down on anyone who breaks the monument found on the Stentoften stone.

In these two inscriptions the carver is thus saying that he has here “concealed” powerful runes—falh ek heðra ginnarunaR. In all probability the expression must refer to the customs of an older age, when inscriptions conferring magical protection were literally concealed—underground, down in the grave itself. In that way the Björketorp and Stentoften stones are related to the Kylver coffin-slab.

Parallels to these curses on disturbers of graves are known from classical Greek and Roman funerary inscriptions. And a number of Viking Age inscriptions, especially in Denmark, are similarly designed to threaten and scare.

In many respects, and not surprisingly, traditions from the Migration Age can be seen to live on into the Viking Age, but nevertheless with the ninth century we get a strong impression that a new epoch has dawned in Scandinavia, the historical situation has changed. The early migrations of Germanic tribes were of a totally different character from the Scandinavian expansion of the Viking Age, and no real connection exists between them.