Rune stones - more than 1000 year old memorials

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Rune stones - more than 1000 year old memorials

Discover Sörmland Blog
Published by Stefanie Schlosser in History · 21 April 2022
Tags: RuneStones
Runestones (Swedish runsten sg.; runstenar pl.) are vertical blocks of stone which bear runic inscriptions and are usually made of granite or gneiss. Runes are a collective term for the writing characters of the Germanic tribes. However, these are far from uniform. Runes include characters of different alphabets, which also differ in their use over space and time.

Most of the Swedish rune stones date from the Iron Age and are thus over 1000 years old. Rich people had rune stones carved, often as mementos of the deceased or those who went on long journeys. Even landowners were immortalized on rune stones. Therefore, rune stones are often found at bridges, estate entrances or road crossings. Other typical locations are at churches or near Viking graves. Several rune stones can also be found along Eriksgatan. In general, they are common in cultivated farmland, but not in dense forest areas.

At the time, the carvings were almost certainly brightly colored to be more visible and attract attention. Today, the rune stones are maintained, kept free of vegetation and the inscriptions are sometimes repainted with special paint.
Most of the runes were carved with a broad chisel. Rarely, a pointed chisel was used, which left holes in the middle of the carvings. The technique of scribing or scratching, as for the much older rock carvings, was rarely used for the inscriptions on rune stones.
There are about 400 rune stones in Sörmland, mainly north of Nyköping. This makes Sörmland the Swedish province with the second most rune stones! Only in Uppland can you find more.

Fig.1: Rune stone between Runtuna and Aspa (2020).

This rune stone is located along road 223 between Runtuna and Aspa. The inscription tells of Gudrun, who had the stone set up for Hidin who was the nephew of Sven and had been in Greece. The meaning of the last line is still discussed and could be translated as "May Christ help all Christian souls."


Fig.2: Rune stone in front of Gripsholm Castle (2019).  
This is one of Sweden's most famous runestones and stands by Gripsholm Castle in Mariefred, Sörmland. It shows an unusually long verse in Fornyrðislag, an old Norse, staff-rhyming verse measure. It is also one of the special Ingvar stones. There are 26 Ingvar Stones in Sweden, set up in memory of traders and warriors who died in an expedition under "Ingvar the Far-Travelled" between 1036 and 1041. Most of the Ingvar stones are located in Sörmland and Uppland. This rune stone near Gripsholm, was dedicated to Ingvar's brother or half-brother Harald and established by a woman named Tola. It gives a lot of information about the expedition at that time, for example, that the troop initially set out to the east where they "fed the eagles" - which means that they fought a battle and left the victims on the field. The ornament is relatively simple, a snake seen from above. The embellishment lies in the writing and the verses in Fornyrðislag.

Do you want to discover rune stones in Sweden yourself? I recommend the site There you will find maps for the individual provinces and within there more detailed maps in which all rune stones are listed.

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© Stefanie Schlosser 2023
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