Vallentuna, Sweden (CNN) — Drive north of the Swedish capital for about half an hour and you will attain the lakeside district of Vallentuna, a nice neighborhood with cobblestone church buildings, picnic areas and playgrounds.
It is also a journey deep into Sweden’s historical Viking previous.
Scattered amongst Vallentuna’s greenery are dozens of mystical runestones that kind the gateway to a 1,000-year-old Viking civilization now believed to be one among Scandinavia’s most important historic websites.
Often known as Runriket, or Rune Kingdom, this assortment of greater than 100 Viking age runestones — historical lichen-crusted slabs of Previous Norse inscriptions — are lovely relics that shine a lightweight on trendy Sweden’s previous, revealing stunning truths about its ancestors.
Vikings are sometimes depicted as brutish Odin-worshippers who pillaged, drank and made blood sacrifices. Whereas there’s fact to the stereotype, the relics of Rune Kingdom truly paint an image of commit Christian settlers on the cusp of embracing medieval existence.
Amongst them, one man stands out — an Eleventh-century Viking ruler named Jarlabanke who seems in additional runic inscriptions right here than anybody else — largely as a result of he appears to have been colossally self-important.
“He had many runestones made, each after others however extra famously after himself, one thing that was fairly uncommon,” says Eric Östergren, a information at Stockholm’s Viking Museum whose personal lengthy auburn beard and gray-blue eyes have a taste of Previous Norse about them.
“From these runestones, we will assume Jarlabanke’s energy grew and he modified the native political panorama,” Östergren provides.
Jarlabanke’s gargantuan ego — sufficiently big to echo via the ages — has left treasured archaeological proof of a civilization which, as a result of Vikings largely used wooden for development, is in any other case scarce.
The runestones created by Jarlabanke reveal the affect of his dynasty throughout 5 generations and archaeologists have been ready to make use of them to piece collectively a key chapter for Viking society little recognized exterior of Scandinavia — the arrival of Christianity.
Sweden’s first Christians
Norse code: The runestones of Runriket make clear a little-understood chapter of Sweden’s historical previous.
On the east aspect of Vallentuna Lake stand two formidable granite runestones that bear similar inscriptions and face one another. Measuring about 1.65 meters (5 ft, 5 in), their etchings declare they mark the unique location of a bridge constructed by Jarlabanke.
Archaeologists imagine this historical construction was raised as a passage over marshland to a church.
The bridge — regionally often called “Jarlabanke bro” — is the most typical place to begin to conduct a tour of Runriket, which could be finished by automobile or on foot.
As is frequent with stones linked to Jarlabanke, Previous Norse letters are written inside the winding tail of a legendary serpent that frames a big, artistically drawn cross.
Lots of the runestones at Runriket are carved with these unmistakably Christian crosses, some elaborate in design, like the 2 at Jarlabanke Bridge, and others with easy, shallowly engraved strains.
These are among the many first Christian symbols present in Sweden. In reality, archaeologists have linked the arrival of Christianity in Sweden on to Jarlabanke via the stones at Runriket.
“We all know that they (Jarlabanke and his household) should have been the earliest Christians on this space and that Jarlabanke’s grandfather Östen traveled all the best way to Jerusalem on a pilgrimage as early as the primary half of the Eleventh century,” says Magnus Källström, a researcher on the Swedish Nationwide Heritage Board and one among Sweden’s most sought-after runologists.
The stones additionally inform us of an necessary transition in funeral practices, signaling the departure of pagan rituals in alternate for Christian burials.
“In Vallentuna’s runestones, we will doc a change of tradition, from a time when a burial mound was constructed to an embrace of extra medieval customs,” Östergren says.
‘He alone owned all’
Jarlabanke’s imposing presence can nonetheless be felt throughout Vallentuna. If he have been round at the moment, Östergren likes to joke to guests to his museum, the Viking “would most likely add selfies day by day” to Fb.
Whereas there are lacking items to the puzzle, every thing recognized about Jarlabanke has come from the runic inscriptions on the stones.
“Jarlabanke should have been a vital and rich individual within the neighborhood of Vallentuna Lake,” observes Källström. “He constructed his spectacular bridge and he organized an meeting place most likely near the place Vallentuna church stands at the moment.”
Källström factors to a two-sided runestone that sits alongside the Vallentuna church on a sunny hillside over the lake. It gives a elementary clue to understanding Jarlabanke’s energy.
Tracing his finger throughout runes partially obscured by grey and brown moss, he reads out the inscription in Previous Norse, which to the untrained ear sounds loads like a mystical spell from a J.R.R. Tolkien novel.
“Jarlabanki let ræisa stæin þenn at sik kvikvan,” he recites. “Jarlabanke had this stone raised in reminiscence of himself whereas alive.
“And made this meeting place, and alone owned all of this hundred.”
Right here, the phrase “hundred” refers to a big administrative area. In line with Källström, it is debatable whether or not Jarlabanke was merely a strong landowner, or performed one other extra important position.
“It is a very giant space and it appears unattainable that each one this land was in Jarlabanke’s non-public possession. Most likely, the verb æiga — ‘to personal’ — means one thing totally different right here: that he was the chieftain for this hundred, or the legislation speaker or choose.”
The quantity of occasions Jarlabanke writes his identify in Vallentuna additionally means that he was fairly highly effective, and needed to verify everybody knew it.
Källström additionally means that there may have been an influence battle along with his half-brother, which might clarify why Jarlabanke took pains to obviously state that “he alone” dominated the world.
Nonetheless, different researchers like Östergren say that the ruthless nature of Viking politics mixed with a narcissistic persona would make for a ruler that was seemingly extra “mafia boss” than easy adjudicator.
“Jarlabanke is talked about on 10 of those stones, and 6 of those he has put up in reminiscence of himself!” Källström excitedly factors out.
Messages from the previous
Furthermore, Jarlabanke’s love of runestones seemingly impressed many others within the space to observe go well with in in search of political affect by paying for a craftsman to boost a runestone.
Regardless of the motivation, the consequence was the creation of a kingdom of late Viking Age inscriptions that might endure via the centuries.
Studying the russet-colored Runic letters — a few of that are just like Latin — is one factor. Decoding the which means of an Previous Norse message is one other. For that reason, there are nonetheless many mysteries left in Viking runestones nonetheless to be understood.
This 12 months, for example, runologists lastly managed to decipher the Rok stone, Sweden’s most well-known runestone.
An inscription that famously mentions Ragnarok, the Viking apocalypse, the Rok’s inscription is written within the type of a riddle that tells of a local weather change occasion that impacted the Vikings of the ninth century.
Östergren says that Runriket is a portal via which numerous extra mysteries could but be solved.
“Runriket is each a street to additional information for many who need to go in depth, but additionally for these which are simply beginning to scratch the floor of understanding who the Vikings actually have been.”