The Viking Rune

This blog is on Vikings and for Vikings. Warriors and traders from Nordic countries reached as far as North America, leaving lasting marks of their presence everywhere. In battle, Vikings feared nothing, eager to join Odin in his hall. They knew that valkyries chose who would die and become one of the einherjar in Valhalla.

runestoneYou cannot translate anything into runes, full stop. Runes are not a language, they are signs devised to represent the sounds of a language, the same way as letters. You also cannot represent anything in runes correctly. No kind of correctness standard may be applied to the Viking Age runic inscriptions, at least in the current state of research.

Lewis Carroll while travelling in Russia liked the word защищающихся (meaning ‘those who protect themselves’ as he noted in his diary) and wrote it down in English: zаshtshееshtshауоushtshееkhsуа. The Russian word has 12 letters, the English one as many as 30. Did Carroll write it correctly? [click to continue…]


OdinHávamál or Sayings of the High One is part of the Elder Edda also known as Poetic Edda. The high one is Odin, and thus all the sayings of this Eddaic poem are attributed to the Allfather. In the original Old Norse the verses are composed in the meter called Ljóðaháttr, which in the Viking Age was associated with wisdom poetry. Practical advice and deep insights as for what it means to be human and live in this world make this little book a gem of the Norse literature. I admire it and today I would like to share with you a few of my favourite quotations from it. [click to continue…]


Viking coinsThe Silverdale hoard and the Vale of York hoard were discussed a lot both in the press and the blogs. However, there are at least 10 more Viking hoards that have been discovered during the last 10 years, which you probably have not heard about.

1. September 2012, Bornholm, Denmark. A Viking Age treasure consisting of 152 silver Arab and Persian coins was found on the island of Bornholm in the Baltic Sea. The treasure dates back to 854 AD. About 20 coins are intact, while others are cut into pieces, which is very typical for the period, since the payment was based on the weight of silver, not on the quantity of coins. The total weight of the treasure is about 250 grams. The first coins were found by an amateur archeologist. The museum of Bornholm conducted subsequent excavations. [click to continue…]


Ragnar Viking hairstyleLately, I have been receiving a lot of questions concerning Viking hairstyles, all inspired by Travis Fimmel’s fancy haircut in The History Channel’s Vikings. A recent blog post Ragnar Lothbrok’s Viking Style by Nancy Marie Brown inspired me to delve deeper into the matter. The present article will quote the original sources on Norse male hairstyles during the Viking Age, then it will give a translation and interpretation of each, and finally it will offer a few thoughts on whether Ragnar’s haircut in Vikings looks historically accurate.

We have two witnesses as for the hair of the Norsemen in early Middle Ages:

  • Leo the Deacon (born ca. 950). In his History, written about AD 989—992, Leo describes how John I Tzimiskes (Byzantine emperor) met Sviatoslav (prince of Kievan Rus) in July 971. Whether Leo himself was present at the meeting, is unclear.
  • Ælfric of Eynsham (also born ca. 950). In his Letter to Edward, written about AD 1000, partly in rhythmical alliterative prose, Ælfric speaks about English people who adopt heathen Danish customs, which he considers to be shameful. [click to continue…]

The first to appear here is a huge tree. It is symbolic of the world ash tree, Yggdrasil, which is central to Norse cosmology. Gods go to the world tree daily to assemble at their meetings. The imagery of the following scenes connects the characters of the series with various gods of Norse mythology. [click to continue…]


Pendant from GnezdovoGnezdovo is an important Varangian center of the ancient Russia that flourished between the 9th and 11th centuries. It is larger than the Viking Age settlements in Birka, Dublin and Ribe. Gnezdovo is perhaps second only to Hedeby, but its unique feature is that no later city is built on the site, so that excavations can be freely conducted. The site was surrounded by the semicircle of burial mounds (kurgans in Russian), up to amazing 6,000 in number, of which only 1,500 exist today, about 1,200 being excavated since 1867, when a treasure trove was discovered by chance on the site during railroad construction works. Since then, eight more treasures were found there. Gnezdovo is equivalent to Smolensk of the Russian annals and Miliniska mentioned by Constantine Porphyrogennetos in De Administrando Imperio from 950s (modern Smolensk is 12 km east of Gnezdovo). It may also be the same as Sýrnes described in Hauksbók, a 14th century Scandinavian geographical treatise. Sýrnes means “swine promontory” in Old Norse, and Gnezdovo is located on a promontory at the confluence of the rivers Dniepr and Svinets, the latter name being related to the Russian word for ‘swine’. [click to continue…]