The thousands of rune steles carved in stone and bearing inscriptions are one of the greatest artistic legacies we have from the Viking civilization. But it is not only an expression of their art, but they are also monumental documents that serve to better understand the history, customs and daily life of those people of Scandinavia.
A total of about six thousand runestones are preserved, dating mainly from the Viking Age to the 12th century, although there are also earlier ones, even from the 4th century. And they are distributed throughout different countries of Northern Europe, although they are most abundant in Denmark and especially in Sweden.
And what do these monumental stones mean? They are basically funerary monuments, whose inscriptions reveal the life that the deceased led, as well as other information. And everything is done through peculiar drawings, signs and symbols that make up the runic vocabulary. And although it has been lost, these stones were also decorated with very striking colors. Although, it is also true that to the Viking forms, we must add the presence of crosses typical of Christianity, which abound more as the centuries go by.
Rune stone in Uppland
As in other objectsand manifestations of Viking art, also with regard to runic stones, various styles can be distinguished: Oseberg, Berdal, Borre, Jelling, Mamme, Ringerike or Urnes.
But whatever the style, what these stones were looking for was to glorify the character they evoked. And he didn't have to be a great hero, but a Viking who had participated in the events of his society. But it is also true that these stones could also serve to delimit the possessions of the deceased or explain their heritage, and even in the case of the largest, they had some appearance and display of the economic and social rank of the clan to which that person belonged..
Actually, it's like an impressive document. The life of a character is told, his achievements, his travels, his possessions. They talk about his family and to whom he leaves his. Inscriptions also tell who commissioned the stone and who carved it.
Regarding the latter, the engraver ofrunestoneswas a true specialist in his work. He was not just anyone, in fact the prestige was such that they had the right to sign their works, something that did not happen, for example, with other works of sculpture on wood or bone. In short, only in Sweden during the 11th century there is evidence of more than 100 master stonemasons who signed numerous stones.
Obviously, some also ask for a prayer in memory of the deceased. And as a curiosity in a percentage of these stones you can also read curses against anyone who thought of damaging themonument or dishonor the honored character. And it is that these types of works were very important and they had no problem locating them in the busiest places such as crossroads.