The Viking-Age Rune-Stones: Custom and Commemoration in Early Medieval Scandinavia

The Viking-Age Rune-Stones: Custom and Commemoration in Early Medieval Scandinavia

The Viking-Age Rune-Stones: Custom and Commemoration in Early Medieval Scandinavia

The Viking-Age Rune-Stones: Custom and Commemoration in Early Medieval Scandinavia


'This book marks a big step forward in the study of commemorative runic inscriptions and late Viking-Age history. By assembling and analysing so much information from tenth- and eleventh-century rune stones the author has provided scholars with a wealth of readily accessible data for future research. By raising so many interesting questions she will also, as she hoped, have stimulated fellow workers to delve into that data.' -Saga-Book'Extremely detailed analysis... The Viking-Age Rune-Stones has many strengths. The result of years of painstaking work, it demonstrates an intimate knowledge of the late Viking-Age rune stone corpus and its background... The Viking-Age Rune-Stones has brought a wealth of important data to the attention of the scholarly community.' -Saga-Book'The secions on the patterns of social order and inheritance will make this book an indispensable example of runology applied to social history, a line of study with a future. It is worth buying for the careful tabulation of inscriptions and motifs alone.' -English Historical Review'This is a stimulating book, challenging accepted interpretations and suggesting new sources for Viking Age social history.' -R. I. Page, Times Higher Education Supplement'Thorough statistical coverage, backed up by a seventy page 'Catalogue'... her work puts the English-speaking reader for the frst time in possession of the basic information painstakingly recorded by Scandinavian scholars, as well as providing an entirely fresh and convincing explanation of the Viking Age corpus... Birgit Sawyer [has] offered models of patient and dispassionate research in potentially exciting and contested areas.' -Tom Shippey, Times Literary SupplementThis is the first historical study of the whole body of late Viking runic inscription stones in Scandinavia. The 2300 inscriptions which are more or less complete yield unexpected information on a wide range of topics, including the conversion of Scandinavia to Christianity, the growth of royal power, and, most important of all, the inheritance customs of the period.


In 1988 I published a preliminary report about my research on the runic inscriptions in late Viking-Age Scandinavia. It was then—and still is— my conviction that this material is a very important source, which has hitherto been largely untapped by historians.

The first stages of my research (and the publishing of the preliminary report) were financed by the Swedish Research Council for Humanities (HSFR), to which my first thanks are due. Thanks are also due to the Norwegian Research Council for a grant towards the cost of illustrating this book. Without the help of many colleagues in different disciplines, however, I would not have been able to pursue the project, and heartfelt thanks are due to all of them, above all to Börje Westlund and Rune Palm, who have also read and commented on this manuscript. Börje has encouraged me from the very start and has since then always been ready to guide and advise me; during the final months of writing the telephone line between Trondheim and Linköping was busy for hours on end! Rune, whose own work (on regional differences in the runic material) has been a source of inspiration, has likewise been prepared to help whenever needed. I am also indebted to Torgunn Snædal and Helmer Gustavson (Swedish Runverket’, Riksantikvarieämbetet, Stockholm), James Knirk (Norwegian Oldsaksamlingen’), and Marie Stoklund (Danish National Museum), who have generously and patiently helped me over the years.

For help with linguistic questions I would especially like to thank Lena Peterson (Uppsala University), and I also owe a great debt to Jan Owe (Hässelby), who has gone through the Catalogue with a fine-tooth comb. Indeed, all of us who work on runic material are indebted to Jan, who is untiring in collecting and systematizing every runic inscription he comes across!

For large parts of the contents in this book I have benefited from discussions in different seminars, at Scandinavian, English, Austrian, American, and Canadian universities. For having arranged these rune seminars and for valuable contributions to the discussions special thanks are due to Else Mundal (University of Bergen), Gro Steinsland (University of Oslo), Janet Nelson (King’s College, London), Patrick Wormald (Christ Church, Oxford), Simon Keynes (Trinity College, Cambridge), Heide Dienst, Otto Gschwantler, Herwig Wolfram (University of Vienna), Kaaren Grimstad (University of Minnesota), Jesse Byock (UCLA), and Roberta Frank (University of Toronto). Other scholars who have been very helpful and to whom thanks are due are Klaus Düwel (Universität Göttingen), Anne-Sofie Gräslund (Uppsala University), and —for help with maps— Ingemar Jansson (Stockholm University) and Sigurd Rahmqvist (Riksantikvarieämbetet, Stockholm).

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