Runic stone with mask decoration

Runic stones

The most conspicuous artefacts bearing runic inscriptions are runic stones. A total of 2307 runic stones have been recorded from Scandinavia, of which more than 200 were found within the area comprising Viking Age Denmark, that is present-day Denmark, South Schleswig, Scania and Halland. The greatest concentration of runic stones is seen in Uppland in Sweden.

Most of the Danish runic stones can be dated to the period around 950-1050. The earliest were made in the 8th century.

Memorials

Runic stones are memorials which were erected in places where there were many passers-by – by busy roads, major crossroads, fords, bridges, borders, thingsteads and large farms. They could also be included in a stone monument or stand by a burial mound.

The inscriptions on runic stones are short and rather uniform. A runic stone always tells who had the stone erected and who it was a memorial for – in that order. In addition to this the inscription may also contain various pieces of information such as family relationships, place names, events, exploits and indication of the deceased’s occupation and rank. Sometimes the text also includes an invocation or prayer.Indskrifterne på runestenene er korte og temmelig enslydende. En runesten oplyser altid, hvem der har ladet stenen rejse, og hvem stenen er rejst over – i denne rækkefølge. Derudover kan indskriften rumme forskellige oplysninger som eksempelvis familieforbindelser, stednavne, begivenheder, bedrifter og betegnelser for den afdødes erhverv og stand. Nogle gange omfatter teksten også en besværgelse eller en bøn.

Most runic stones were erected in memory of the most prominent members of society, but the practice was not limited to them alone. This is shown, for example, by the Hørning stone which now stands in Moesgård Museum’s Runic Hall: it was erected by a liberated thrall.

The great majority of surviving runic stones – 94 % – were erected in memory of men, and 81 % were erected by men.

Decoration

In addition to the actual runic inscription, many runic stones are also decorated with ornaments and symbols.

Paint

Faint traces of paint found on a few runic stones reveal that inscriptions and patterns on the stones were originally also painted. A Swedish runic stone even bears the inscription ”Esbern carved and Ulf coloured”. The colours used were black, red, yellow and blue.

Examples of texts

Gunulv and Øgot and Aslak and Rolf raised this stone in memory of Fuk, their fellow, who died…when kings fought Runic stone from Århus, Denmark. The stone can now be seen at Moesgård Museum.

Toste and Hove and Frebjørn, they raised this stone in memory of Asser Sakse, their fellow, a very noble ‘dreng’ (man). He died as the most unvillainous of men (hero); he owned a ship with Arne. Runic stone from Århus, Denmark. The stone can now be seen at Moesgård Museum.

Toste erected this stone for Tue, who died in the east, his brother, Asved’s smith. Runic stone from Kolind, Denmark.

Asråd and Hildvig erected this stone for their kinsman Frede; who was feared by all men, and when he found death in Sweden he was number one in Fregge’s troop, thereafter all Vikings’. Runic stone from Tirsted, Denmark.

Thorgisle made this memorial for his father Tomme the prophet, Frød’s son, a very honourable thane. Runic stone from Baldringe, Sweden.

Thorulv, Sven’s housecarl, erected this stone for his companion Erik, who found death when boys besieged Haithabu; and he was coxswain, a very honourable ‘dreng’. Runic stone from Haithabu, Germany.

Asfrid, Odinkar’s daughter, made this memorial for king Sigtryg, her and Gnupa’s søn. Gorm carved the runes. Runic stone from Haithabu, Germany.

Tove, Mistivid’s datter, Harald the Good’s, Gorm’s son’s wife, had this memorial made for her mother. Runic stone from Sønder Vissing, Denmark.

Jelling Stone

Click the pciture to view a gallery of decorated runic stones.