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 group with cobblestone church buildings, picnic areas and playgrounds.
It’s additionally a journey deep into Sweden’s ancient 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 considered one of Scandinavia’s most vital historic websites.
Known as Runriket, or Rune Kingdom, this assortment of greater than 100 Viking age runestones — ancient lichen-crusted slabs of Old Norse inscriptions — are lovely relics that shine a lightweight on fashionable Sweden’s previous, revealing stunning truths about its ancestors.
Vikings are sometimes depicted as brutish Odin-worshippers who pillaged, drank and made blood sacrifices. While there’s fact to the stereotype, the relics of Rune Kingdom really paint an image of dedicate Christian settlers on the cusp of embracing medieval life.
Among them, one man stands out — an 11th-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, both after others but more famously after himself, something that was quite rare,” says Eric Östergren, a information at Stockholm’s Viking Museum whose personal lengthy auburn beard and gray-blue eyes have a taste of Old Norse about them.
“From these runestones, we can assume Jarlabanke’s power grew and he changed the local political landscape,” Östergren provides.
Jarlabanke’s gargantuan ego — sufficiently big to echo by means of the ages — has left treasured archaeological proof of a civilization which, as a result of Vikings largely used wooden for building, is in any other case scarce.
The runestones created by Jarlabanke reveal the affect of his dynasty throughout 5 generations and archaeologists have been in a position to use 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 ancient previous.
On the east aspect of Vallentuna Lake stand two formidable granite runestones that bear an identical 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 consider this ancient construction was raised as a passage over marshland to a church.
The bridge — regionally generally known as “Jarlabanke bro” — is the commonest start line to conduct a tour of Runriket, which will be carried out by automobile or on foot.
As is widespread with stones linked to Jarlabanke, Old Norse letters are written throughout the winding tail of a legendary serpent that frames a big, artistically drawn cross.
Many 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 truth, archaeologists have linked the arrival of Christianity in Sweden immediately to Jarlabanke by means of the stones at Runriket.
“We know that they (Jarlabanke and his family) must have been the earliest Christians in this area and that Jarlabanke’s grandfather Östen traveled all the way to Jerusalem on a pilgrimage as early as the first half of the 11th century,” says Magnus Källström, a researcher on the Swedish National Heritage Board and considered one of Sweden’s most sought-after runologists.
The stones additionally inform us of an essential transition in funeral practices, signaling the departure of pagan rituals in alternate for Christian burials.
“In Vallentuna’s runestones, we can document a change of culture, from a time when a burial mound was built to an embrace of more medieval customs,” Östergren says.
‘He alone owned all’
Jarlabanke’s imposing presence can nonetheless be felt throughout Vallentuna. If he have been round at present, Östergren likes to joke to guests to his museum, the Viking “would probably upload selfies every day” to Facebook.
While there are lacking items to the puzzle, all the things recognized about Jarlabanke has come from the runic inscriptions on the stones.
“Jarlabanke must have been a very important and wealthy person in the vicinity of Vallentuna Lake,” observes Källström. “He built his impressive bridge and he arranged an assembly place probably close to where Vallentuna church stands today.”
Källström factors to a two-sided runestone that sits alongside the Vallentuna church on a sunny hillside over the lake. It supplies 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 Old Norse, which to the untrained ear sounds rather a lot 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 memory of himself while alive.
“And made this meeting place, and alone owned all of this hundred.”
Here, the word “hundred” refers to a large administrative region. According to Källström, it’s debatable whether Jarlabanke was merely a powerful landowner, or played another more significant role.
“This is a really massive space and it appears not possible that each one this land was in Jarlabanke’s personal possession. Most in all probability, the verb æiga — ‘to personal’ — means one thing completely different right here: that he was the chieftain for this hundred, or the legislation speaker or decide.”
The amount of times Jarlabanke writes his name in Vallentuna also suggests that he was quite powerful, and wanted to make sure everyone knew it.
Källström also suggests that there could have been a power struggle with his half-brother, which would explain why Jarlabanke took pains to clearly state that “he alone” ruled the area.
Still, other researchers like Östergren say that the ruthless nature of Viking politics combined with a narcissistic personality would make for a ruler that was likely more “mafia boss” than simple adjudicator.
“Jarlabanke is talked about on 10 of those stones, and 6 of those he has put up in reminiscence of himself!” Källström excitedly points out.
Messages from the past
Moreover, Jarlabanke’s love of runestones likely inspired many others in the area to follow suit in seeking political influence by paying for a craftsman to raise a runestone.
Whatever the motivation, the result was the creation of a kingdom of late Viking Age inscriptions that would endure through the centuries.
Reading the russet-colored Runic letters — some of which are similar to Latin — is one thing. Decoding the meaning of an Old Norse message is another. For this reason, there are still many mysteries left in Viking runestones still to be understood.
This year, for instance, runologists finally managed to decipher the Rok stone, Sweden’s most famous runestone.
An inscription that famously mentions Ragnarok, the Viking apocalypse, the Rok’s inscription is written in the form of a riddle that tells of a climate change event that impacted the Vikings of the ninth century.
Östergren says that Runriket is a portal through which countless more mysteries may yet be solved.
“Runriket is each a highway to additional data for individuals who need to go in depth, but additionally for these which can be simply beginning to scratch the floor of understanding who the Vikings actually have been.”