Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Discovering the Land of the Vikings

On Saturday I went traipsing through the forests around Stockholm discovering the lost times of the Vikings. The Viking history class I am taking at Stockholm University took a field trip to areas around Stockholm that were once centers of Viking life. Saturday was wet and cold and miserable. I was soaked, my feet squished in my wet shoes, my jeans were soaked all the way through halfway up to my knees. And I had a blast.

There’s not much left of the Viking time that can actually be seen. It’s tricky that way. Aside from the Rune Stones there aren’t a whole lot of long lasting markers of life. That being said, the Rune Stones are amazing. Incredible to think that they were carved thousands of years ago and still around today. They are painted today so that it is easier to see the inscriptions but historians and archaeologists have found evidence of paint on well preserved Rune Stones that suggests that the entire stone was painted, usually with red and black paint. Those stones would have been incredible to see! After the Rune Stones though, you really have to use your imagination. But when you close your eyes you can see the long house where the Vikings had their parties, you can see the jetties the Vikings used to get their boats into the water that has receded over 100 meters, and you can see the Vikings living in a cold and dark landscape. We made it to quite a few sights around the area. It was amazing. We saw Granby, Orkesta, Åshusby, Sigtuna, Fornsigtuna, and Bro. All classic Viking areas a little bit north of Stockholm.

Granby really worked the imagination. The first stop at Granby was a huge rock covered in Runic inscriptions. Rune stones and rocks are incredibly intricate carvings on large rocks or stones that are raised in an area as a marker often times commemorating others. These things are just beautiful. Most Runic inscriptions are written inside a serpent or snakelike creature and are read from head to tail. Despite the inscriptions being carved inside the serpent it is important to note that this does not mean they were Pagan writings. In fact, many Runic stones have decorative crosses at the top of the stone as well as short prayers carved inside of the serpent. After the rock though, it got tricky. Just a bunch of open space that was at one time Viking buildings. Because so many of the buildings were made of wood it is seldom that much remains. Luckily though imprints can still be found, and outlines of where the building once stood became visible as features were pointed out. It’s almost like the buildings came to life in front of me.

Orkesta is a church with a few Rune stones. Two of these stand outside of the Church and were brought there later but are from the area. They are beautiful and tell a story of raids in England and famous Vikings. It's amazing how the Rune stones end up being like documents that when analyzed tell us history as well as personal messages from thousands of years ago. One of the Rune stones though, is built into a late 12th century church. A literal coming together of Christianity and the Paganism of the Vikings. Of course, by around this time Christianity had started to really take hold in Sweden, but it is interesting nonetheless to see how Christianity and the religion of the Vikings melded together. Christian crosses can be found in Viking graves as well as Thor’s Hammer. Just covering all of the bases I suppose.

After the Runes we moved on to some burial grounds. Vikings tend to bury their dead in mounds. Some of these mounds, like the ones in Gamla Uppsala are huge. Others are just a little bit off the ground and tough to see. In Åshusby there was a huge mound with a rock about as tall as me on the top. I’d say this mound was nearly 20 meters high and was pretty steep. Not the sort of hill that I would want to drag a large rock up to. No one really knows what’s in the hill. Most hills of that size tend to be actual burial mounds but this one has yet to be excavated. Of course that raises the question of its importance but it was definitely impressive to see.

Sigtuna was next on the list and probably my favorite. This became a Viking center and is actually a living, breathing town today with a lot of well preserved old stuff. This town came into being a bit later in the Viking Age so stone churches that started serving the Christian population have managed to stick around. The town actually became a very important religious center and had so many churches that when King Gustav Vasa began reforming he decided that it was unnecessary to have so many churches and ordered that only one be used. That's why there are a few old stone churches that fell into ruin. This is just one of those old towns that you can feel the history in when you walk around. The town plan can still be seen and a house still stands in the exact plot that a Viking house stood in. Most of the plots have been combined to allow for larger buildings but you can still walk down the street and see how the town used to look. It was incredible, plus, because so much was still around it wasn’t necessary to use that imagination as much. There's even an old Viking cemetery here where you can see the small mounds popping up on the hill where the Vikings buried their dead. If you’re ever in the Stockholm area with an extra day to kill and a need for some Viking history then this is definitely a good place to check out.

After Sigtuna we went to Fornsigtuna, basically Old Sigtuna. The imagination needed to kick in again for this one but it was pretty cool. This site was actually a lot easier to see the imprint of old buildings and how those buildings were built on plateaus that eventually led down to the water. It was incredible to see the jetties that were still in place, granted quite a ways from the water now.

Bro (that’s pronounced “broo” not like “he’s my bro,” I am so gangsta by the way) was our last stop. By this time, I weighed a few pounds extra because of all the water soaked into my clothes but it was well worth the stop. The sun was trying to peek out and we got to see a huge Rune stone telling about the building of a bridge (or Bro). The intricacy and size was just amazing. The story told allowed for all of us to once again get a feel for what life was like at that time. Rune stones are amazing documents, they just happen to be written on stone and raised for all to see.

All in all it was an incredible excursion that gave me a chance to be a true history nerd and walk the same path as Vikings had done over a thousand years ago. That’s tough to beat.


  1. I was going to tell you about my day but I can not compete with a day of Viking history, oh well I guess I will save my drunken adventures for a less captivating blog post. I like this business of burying people in large stone mounds, it sounds like a good way to weed out unambitious grave robbers. I often use the imagination technique when reading great philosophers in my political philosophy class but I usually pretend that they are sports teams.

  2. Yeah, it's not easy digging that much to get to the actual grave. Probably very effective actually. Of course people got into the pyramids and burial chambers in Egypt.

  3. alexandriahinkle@yahoo.comApril 24, 2008 at 1:47 PM

    I love your blog my mom was from stockholm and my goal is to learn swedish again and vist family in stockholm and uppsla vasby ( spelling? ) I hope you contiune to enjoy your time

  4. glad to hear it. you should definitely go for it.

    find a class at a local college or university or just start by buying one of those teach yourself swedish things.

    but regardless of your language skills, since everyone here speaks english, defnitely plan a trip out to Sweden.