Runic Inscription on the Sword of Kings in Vikings 2.10

Lord’s Prayer, the Vikings TV series 2nd season final episode, features a so called sword of kings, which is regarded as part of royal insignia, a symbol of power that passes from defeated Horik to victorious Ragnar. The weapon is loosely based on gorgeous type D Carolingian swords but it has an unusually long grip and untypical blade construction, the fuller starting at a distance from the guard. The runic inscription on the sword reads:

Anglo-Saxon runes, incorrect text

Ulfberht Viking swordThis is a great example of difficulties that anyone has to face while attempting to produce a runic inscription. First of all: why Anglo-Saxon runes? The sword represents the power of a Norse warlord. Should he, or his ancestors, commission the manufacture of such a sword, the Younger Futhark would probably have been chosen. It was a runic alphabet used for ceremonial inscriptions during the Viking Age, an alphabet with which Scandinavian chieftains were familiar. At the period, quality swords were produced within the Carolingian empire, and if they had any inscriptions on the blade they were in Roman letters like +VLFBERH+T or INGELRII. These probably denoted producers or production centers but never characterized the individual weapon as for its meaning or use. Swords of the earlier Merovingian era sometimes had runic inscriptions, like the 5th century weapon from the grave of Theuderic I, excavated at Saint-Dizier, France (above left). The sword bears the formulaic word alu in Elder Futhark runes, but it is engraved on the pommel, not blade.

However, let’s get back to the runic inscription. First of all, it has a misprinting: hægl rune instead of wynn rune (hægl goes right after wynn in the Anglo-Saxon Futhorc, so the reason is clear). A simple double check could have helped to avoid that. But why use two runes (nȳd and gyfu) for ng in ‘kings’? The [ŋ] and [ŋg] sounds were conveyed through a single Ing rune. No less problematic is the use of the cēn rune not calc rune for k. Yes, cēn was responsible for the sound [k] but in Roman letters it corresponds to c, and if we have a modern English text, using cēn for both c and k is confusing. Thus we have SHORD OF CIN-GS instead of SWORD OF KINGS here. To tell the truth, when I first saw the inscription, I thought it said SHORT OF THINGS with a few mistakes. (Shord, by the way, is an interesting word, deriving from Old English sceard, ‘gap’, ‘notch’, from the verb sceran, ‘to cut’, ‘shear’. It is a surname found in Cheshire and Worcestershire in England). All this mess could have been easily avoided using my free online converter that does exactly that: helps people convert English texts into runes without mistakes. I think, a correct variant of what was intended should look like that:

Anglo-Saxon runes, correct text

However, if we use Anglo-Saxon runes, I believe modern English is not a great choice. To be sure, it is an easier way, but Ragnar would have it in Old English (cyninga sweord):

Anglo-Saxon runes and text

To my mind, the best option would be Old Norse translation (konunga sverð) in Younger Futhark runes:

Younger Futhark, Old Norse text

Or else, a Latin text (gladius regum) in Roman letters or Younger Futhark runes:

Younger Futhark, Latin text

Indeed, Latin texts were sometimes written in runes in medieval Scandinavia. I wrote about one such interesting example in my blog post back in December 2008: Runic Love Quotes. A wooden stick excavated in Bergen had a Latin line from Virgil written in runes: Omnia vincit amor, et nos cedamus amori (‘Love conquers all; let us too yield to love’). It is dated to ca. 1248 and is known as B145. I didn’t post the original inscription, but an image with normalized runes that I made myself. With time it grew very popular as a tattoo. It is easily recognizable for me, since I know the font I used and the way I normalized the inscription. To my great surprize I also discovered it on Floki’s wedding belt in Season 2, Episode 7 of the Vikings. Even though I did not release the images with inscriptions into the public domain, I still was happy to see my work in this great TV series.

Image of the Merovingian sword from Saint-Dizier is by G. Garitan. Used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported Licence. Images with runic inscriptions are copyright © The Viking Rune.

14 comments… add one
  • Nigel Wroe

    Watching the final series (6) of Vikings, Bjorn brandishes the sword and I decided to translate the runes on the sword, which unhelpfully he holds with the runes inverted. Just as stated above I derived SHORD OF KINGS, and then found this article where my findings were confirmed. For such an emblematic sword throughout the series, you would think that they would run the runes through a rune checker. Or consult this site, or Dr Jackson Crawford.

    • Viking Rune

      Yes, they really should!

  • Sara

    Could you tell me what Floki’s head tattoo from Vikings says please?

  • Stian

    Whats the saying in floki’s tattoo on the side of his head??

    • Viking Rune

      Is there a picture of it somewhere?

  • Tim

    Hello. Is there a single rune for the word or concept of “good health” across any of the runic systems? Thankyou.

    • Viking Rune

      There is no such rune as far as I know.

  • jane

    why is this written in modern English rather than in Anglo-Saxon? Makes me wonder if the runes were put on it much more recently, and then conveniently aged (forgers do things like that). Reminds me of the 3rd Weser bone (ulu hari dede), with the much later figure added to it (to increase the price?)

    Alu I can see; this sequence appears on the Nydam arrows as well as in many other places.

    • Viking Rune

      Hello Jane. I think also the sword itself was made recently. Probably a few hours before the shooting :)

  • Darksoulis

    I really enjoy your Site, I usually would never leave a comment noting what I think of someones work. I feel the need to express my gratitude towards your efforts. Actually, I had my right arm inked with your runes, reading “never forget.” Would of really enjoyed posting a picture of some sort for others to enjoy Your work aswell.

  • Eiríkr

    Very interesiting article. I really enjoy reading your posts!

    I have a question though: why did you use the Ur-rune for the O in konunga? Shouldn’t that be Óss?

    • Viking Rune

      Hello Eiríkr. Thank you! The problem of correlation of the Old Norse orthography created for the Roman alphabet and orthographical choices in the actual Younger Futhark inscriptions is very complex. Runestone of Harald Bluetooth (the larger of two Jelling runestones) has haraltr : kunukR for Haraldr konungr. Later Younger Futhark inscriptions tend to use different runes for [u] and [o], as well as [e] and [i], perhaps under the influence of the Roman literacy, or use dots to make clear which sound is implied. Earlier inscriptions tend to have úr rune for both [u] and [o].

Leave a Comment