The Top 5 Runestones from Around the World

runestone

The Top 5 Runestones:

A runestone is, as you may expect, a stone or boulder with a runic inscription. Most runestones were created between the 4th and 12th Century by the Vikings, or Norsemen, and so are most often found in Scandinavia, but some have been discovered in far-flung locations such as Germany, Italy and the Ukraine. Interestingly enough, none have been found in Iceland. Runestones were often placed next to burial sites, and often bear inscriptions about the deceased. 

For men of consequence a mound should be raised to their memory, and for all other warriors who had been distinguished for manhood a standing stone, a custom that remained long after Odin’s time.

—The Ynglinga Saga

Others were placed on roads, assembly sites, or to mark out places of significance. Either way, runestones give us a fascinating look at the Vikings, as we can translate their inscriptions and yield their mysteries. Let’s take a look at some of our favourites.

 RUNESTONE #1

The Rök runestone, Sweden

Found in the 19th Century as part of a church wall, the Rök runestone appears to have been carved in the 9th Century and has the longest known runic

Runestone in Sweden

Runestone in Sweden

inscription ever found in stone. The stone is thought to be named after the village it was found in, either that or the village was named after the stone. The word ‘rök’ means, erm, stone, which doesn’t exactly help to clear that up! The 760-character inscription is intentionally hard to read – encrypted in two ways and containing ciphers, both younger and older Futhark runes, and kennings, i.e. metaphors typical of Old Norse skaldic poetry. According to translations, the stone was placed in memory of Vémóðr by his father Varinn, and goes on to mention “Þjóðríkr the bold, chief of sea-warriors” and Gunnr, the Valkyrie, who according to Norse legends, would carry warriors who perished in battle to Valhalla. There are many theories about the Rök runestone, but none have been proven true.

RUNESTONE #2

The Snoldelev Runestone, Denmark

The Snoldelev Runestone, found in Ramsø, Denmark, currently resides in the National Museum in Copenhagen and is one of the most intricate and detailed runestones. This stone was used to mark the burial site of a religious person who was part of the cult of Odin. This shows that the stone is over 800 years old, as it predates the Christianisation of this area. Decorated with a design of three interlocking drinking horns, and also features a Germanic Iron Age swastika, thought to symbolise Odin or Thor. The inscription on the Runestone reads: “Gunnvaldr’s stone, Hróaldr’s son, reciter of Salhaugar”.

Runestone from Snoldelev

Runestone from Snoldelev




 

Runestone #3

The Sparlösa Runestone, Västergötland, Sweden

 

This stone was found after a fire in a church in 1684, and promptly split in half for use in repairs to the church – people did not always realise the significance of these runestones. The two halves were removed and reunited in 1937. Much like the Rök runestone, the Sparlösa stone features both the younger and older Futhark runic alphabet. It also depicts images of a ship, various animals and birds, and two men, one on a horse and another wielding a sword. It also bears some more recent inscriptions reading “Gisli made this memorial after Gunnar, his brother”. The original text is somewhat garbled but makes tantalizing and mysterious references to a great battle, and also mentions Uppsala, an important religious, economic and political centre for the Vikings.

Runestone Sparlosa

Runestone Sparlosa

 Runestone #4

The Jelling Stones, Jelling, Denmark

 

The Jelling stones are a pair which stand in a churchyard, and represent Denmark’s transition from the old Pagan beliefs to the more modern Christianity. The oldest and smallest of these two stones was raised by King Gorm the Old, and reads “King Gormr made this monument in memory of Thyrvé, his wife, Denmark’s adornment.” The largest stone was raised by King Gorm’s son, Harald ‘Bluetooth’ Blåtand (who also inspired the name of Bluetooth technology) and reads “King Harald bade these memorials to be made after Gorm, his father, and Thyra, his mother. The Harald who won the whole of Denmark and Norway and turned the Danes to Christianity.” The stone features an image of Jesus on one side, depicted as standing in the shape of a cross and entangled in what appear to be branches – possibly symbolic of Odin hanging in the tree Yggdrasill.

Runestone Jelling

Runestone Jelling

 

 

Runestone #5

Piraeus Lion Runestone at Venice

Originally looted by the Venetians during the Great Turkish War against the Ottoman Empire in 1687, the Piraeus Lion was formerly a famous landmark in Piraeus, Athens since the 2nd century, and is one of the most interesting and unusual runestones in the world. It is unusual in that is not located in Scandinavia or carved on a naturally shaped rock, but instead is on the side of a statue of a marble lion. During the second half of the 11th Century, some rather bold Norsemen carved two lengthy runic inscriptions right into the side of the lion. These runes were not even recognised until the 18th Century, when a visiting Swedish diplomat spotted them on a visit to Venice. The runes depict a lindworm, a flightless dragon with two or no legs, and the runic lettering is hard to read as they have been heavily eroded over time. There have been many attempts to decipher the runes, but no-one has yet come up with a defining translation.

runestone lion

Conclusion About the Runestones:

There are thousands of runestones from around the world. All of them are badass.

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1 Response

  1. Emeli says:

    Great website, just heads-up: Rök means smoke in Swedish

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