The Sparloesa Stone
In Vaestergoetland at the church of Sparloesa one of the most famous runestones is placed. The text is only fragmentary, but opposite the stone in Roek the Sparloesa Stone is covered with pictures and these pictures are carved in a style quite different from the Gotlandic picture stones. The stone has been dated to the end of the 8th or the 9th century by most scholars.
The text is written in the late runic alphabet with 16 runes in an early form - but also with some short-twigged runes. Due to runes and language it is dated to 750-850 AD by the runologists - probably the first part of the period. An exception is line E, which is a later text added around 1000 AD.
The text is partly damaged and consequently the official translation by Elisabeth Swaerdstroem is impossible to interpret due to her very cautious and minimalistic reading. Her edition is quoted below.
Transliteration of the runes:
A (Plate 1): a¤iuls kaf ÷ airikis sunR kaf alrik- -
B (Plate 2): ---t---la kaf rau- at kialt(i) * ...a sa- faþiR ubsal faþiR suaþ a-a-u--ba ...-omas notu auk takaR ÷ aslriku lu--R ukþ-t a(i)u(i)sl
C (Plate 3): ...s---n(u)(R)-a-- þat sikmar aiti makuR airikis makin(i)aru þuno * aft aiuis uk raþ runoR þaR raki-ukutu iu þar suaþ aliriku lu(b)u faþi
D (Plate 3): ui(u)-am ...--ukrþsar(s)k(s)nuibin- ---kunR(u)k(l)ius-- ...iu
E (Plate 1): : kisli : karþi : iftiR : kunar : bruþur [:] kubl : þisi
A: Æivisl gaf, Æiriks sunR, gaf Alrik[R] ...
B: ... gaf at gialdi [Þ]a(?) sa[t] faðiR Upsal(?), faðiR svað ... ... nætR ok dagaR. AlrikR ugð[i]t(?) Æivisl
C: ... þat Sigmarr hæiti maguR Æiriks. Mæginiaru(?) <þuno> aft Æivisl. Ok rað runaR þaR rægi[n]kundu þar, svað AlrikR faði.
D: ... ... ...
E: Gisli gærði æftiR Gunnar, broður, kumbl þessi.
A: Eyvísl(?), Eiríkr's son gave, Alríkr gave...
B: ... gave ... as payment. Then(?) the father sat(?) (in) Uppsala(?), the father that ... ... nights and days. Alríkr feared(?) not Eyvísl(?).
C: ... that Eiríkr's boy is called Sigmarr/celebrated-for-victories. Mighty battle(?) ... in memory of Eyvísl(?). And interpret the runes of divine origin there... , that Alríkr coloured.
D: ... ... ...
E: Gísli made this monument in memory of Gunnarr, (his) brother.
An alternative translation of A-D was made in 1998 by Svante Norr:
A: Oeyuls gave. Eirik's son gave ( the kingship) to Alrik.
B: And a great people gave their lord honour in return (acclaimed the designation). Then/there the father sat in the Uppsal, a father so that food remained (a provider of food). Night competed with day as Alrik was born to the vi's guardian (Erik) and so also Oeyuls (brother to Alrik).
C: Now it is said on the vi of honour that victorious was the name of Eriks son, fierce battle's Odin (leader). After Oeyuls and interpret these runes which are god-given, here on the vi, that Ali-rich, as behoves glory made.
D: The vi's guardian am I .....
It has to be noticed that the alternative translation is speculative.
Many scholars have noticed that Upsal is mentioned in a combination with the names Erik and Alrik - the two sons of Agne - kings of Uppsala in the early Ynglingatal. Alrik had the sons Yngve and Alf, but we do not know the names of Eriks' sons, and we do not know the name Aiuls - unless it is Adils. The names were also used by the Eastgermanic Goths and Heruls. In the 9th century Rimbert mentioned a dead king Erik being worshipped in Uppland.
If the inscription referred to the two brothers of the Ynglinga family the purpose was probably to tell that the king was descending from that family - most likely descendents of the victorious son, Aiuls. That must be in order to support his right to be king due to their descent from the gods.
Pictures have been carved more or less on all four vertical plates of the stone. Especially the last plate with a house, a ship and a horseman has been eagerly discussed and is the main topic of this appendix too.
Some of the latest contributions about the topic are Christer Westerdahl in Västgötabygden nr 5 (1996), Svante Norr's book "To rede or to rown" (1998), Bengt Nordqvist in "Kult, Guld och Makt" (2007), Ingemar Nordgren in "HistorieForum - Tidsskrift for Historisk Debat 2" (2009) and Laila Kitzler Åhfeldt in "The Sparlösa Monument and its three carvers" (2000).
The motive at the top - a building:
The building at the Sparloesa Stone - Valhalla, Ardre - Valhalla, Tjaengvide - Coin from Hedeby - The mausoleum of Theodoric.
Both the building at the Sparloesa Stone, the buildings at the Gotlandic picture stones and the building at the coin from Hedeby show a half round roof, which is opposite the archaeological reconstructions of the Scandinavian halls and houses. Another coin from Hedeby found in Tissø has a usual roof with seperate diagonal support posts while the support posts from Hedeby appear to be a part of the rafters in the roof. Both houses at the coins have dragonheads at the eaves. The house in Sparloesa appears to be constructed in timber, as the walls look like the walls i.e. in the escavations of Lejre. The coins are dated to the 9th century.
The two Gotlandic picture stones with a round hall and many doors date to the 9th or 10th century (Imer). They are already by most scholars interpreted as the Valhall of Odin as the one in Tjängvide is combined with Odin, Sleipner, the EinherjaR and a Valkyria. The building with the round roof at the Sparlösa stone is most likely a symbol of the Valhall too. Round roofs were known as the cupolas of the churches like the church of Charlemagne in Aachen and as Roman buildings like the Pantheon or the Mauseleum of Theodoric. It was possible to depict Valhall in the same way as as no one had ever seen Valhall. It may simply have been inspired by the buildings in the Holy Empire around 800 AD, just like it was accepted by the scolars that the contemporary Rök Stone was inspired by the equestrian statue of Theodoric moved by Charlemagne to Aachen. The alternative is that the building on the Sparloesa Stone is a royal hall (a symbol of the royal power and the cultic life in the hall (Svante Norr 1998)). It is irrelevant if the known examples are a little younger as it probably was an accepted picture in Scandinavia since the time of inspiration.
Ingemar Nordgren (Nordgren 2009) has presented another alternative explanation. According to him the hall could depict the mausoleum of Theodoric in Ravenna which as mentioned has some similarities in the construction. In that case we have to forget the lower part of the building, but it is a theoretical possibility. In that case the motive would be a memory or a symbol of the ideal of royal Scandinavian kingship and the time which could be from 526 to 815 AD.
However, a weak similarity with the distaint mausoleum can not be used as an argument to deviate from the dating of the archarologists - especially not when Valhall and the royal hall is in accordance with the runologic dating with a close similarity to the Gotlandic picture stones, where there is no doubt about the motive. The circle in the door is not explained. It could be a window in the back wall (in Theodorik's Mausoleum a small window as a cross can be seen against east), but the circle could also be a cultic symbol of the sun through an opening against the west, a ring or something else.
The motive in the middle - a ship:
The Sparloesa Stone - Ravenna Mosaic - Carolingian Quentovic coin - Carolingian coins - The Carolingian church in Aachen - Oseberg.
Christer Westerdahl (Westerdahl 1996) has compared the ship with Carolingian coins from the time around 800 AD. It is quite obvious from pictures at the coins and in the palace chapel in Aachen that the ship was a symbol used by the Frankish emperor, Charlemagne, to demonstrate the power and richness of his new empire - which he regarded as the continuation of the Western Roman Empire. As demonstrated at the pictures above the peacock and the cross were used as symbols on his ships being pictured in nearly the same way as the ship on the Sparloesa Stone. The peacock was used as an imperial symbol in Byzans and later by Charlemagne - originally a symbol of eternity. The cross was of course the Christian symbol, but this Christian symbol was also supposed to be used to signal that a ship was a peaceful trader. In that case the ship was inspired in procisely the same way as the house.
It is rather obvious from the similarity of the pictures above that the carver of the Sparloesa Stone knew the ship with its imperial symbols from the Frankish coins. It is a probable explanation too as this was the time when the traderoutes were established from Dorestad and Quentovic via Hedeby to Birka and Skiringssal. The motive on these coins are regarded to demonstrate the economical power of the reestablished West Roman Empire. The type of ship at the coins is a hulk, but Christer Westerdahl has even found a Scandinavian type of ship matching the picture in Sparloesa. Both the types of mast and of sail are found at the coins too.
The origin of the motive is in this way convincingly explained by Christer Westerdahl. Consequently the motive should most probably be dated after 780 AD - just as the stone has been dated until now based on style and runes. The trading ship may in this way symbolize Charlemagne, the Frankish/Roman emperor.
We cannot, however, exclude that the carving was earlier as the Ravenna Mosaic above is showing a similar boat with a cross in the mast. The sail from Ravenna is not similar with the stone and the coins, but it is similar with the reconstructed mosaic from Aachen.
Ingemar Nordgren (Nordgren 2009) has claimed that the ship was carved as a crescent moon in the 6th century as a symbol of Virgin Mary, but at that time they used the crescent moon itself - no ships are known in that connection from that time. The connection between Virgin Mary and a ship was Mary as "Stella Maris", but that name is first attested in the 9th century in a poem by Paschasius Radbertus. St. Jerome may have caused the later mistake when he tried to explain the Hebrew name Miriam as "stilla maris" (a drop of the sea) - if we should believe Wikipedia.
The first ships with sails being attested in Scandinavian archaeology are found at a group of Gotlandic picture stones with a dating 500-700 AD. As Procopius wrote in 553 AD (VIII.xx.31) that the islanders were rowing without sails when describing the Varni going to Britain, these Gotlandic stones with sails are probably from the 7th century. Of these stones showing very primitive ships the stone from Naer, Rikvide, presents the closest similarity with the Sparloesa Stone, but not as close at all as the Carolingian coins. The first mast in Scandinavian marine archaeology is known from around 800 AD.
It is important to notice that both the house and the ship could be inspired by the closest Christian enemy and tradepartner - Charlemagne - around 800 AD. This is contemporary with the dating of the runes.
The motive in the bottom - a horseman:
The hunting scene at the Sparloesa Stone.
The motive in the bottom of the plate is showing a horseman with a phrygian cap hunting or following a big spotted cat surrounded by game. It is no Scandinavian symbol.
Already in 2007 Bengt Nordqvist described the motive as a hunting scene and later in his web report from a journey to Byzans in 2008 he described a mosaic with an imperial hunt where hunting leopards were used. The mosaic was from around 550 AD. This spectacular way of hunting (at least in a Scandinavian view) was used in the following millenium too, and was consequently also used, when connection was established again around 800 AD between Scandinavia and the East Roman Empire. The phrygian cap was in general used in the west to symbolize men from the east - known ao. from mosaics in the churches of Ravenna.
It is in other words convincingly explained by Bengt Nordqvist that the motive is a hunting scene from the imperial Byzanteen court. The dating, however can be later than the 6th century. Also the 8th century and later is possible due to the new connections along the Russian rivers or to an old picture brought to Scandinavia in the 6th century. Hunting leopards are known from the second century in Rome to the 14th century in Byzans.
The motive is probably a symbol of the sophisticated imperial court in Byzans - the East Roman Empire.
The other pictures:
The most interesting of the other pictures is the frieze with Greek crosses below the text at the first plate. Such crosses in a frieze are known ie. from the graves in the pagan Vendel in the 7th century, from the palace chapel of Charlemagne and from Oseberg in the 9th century. As Vendel and Oseberg are no Christian burials the cross must have been used for decorative purposes by others than the Christians - which is obvious as it is one of our most simple geometrical figures. When looking at the frieze it may even appear that it shall not be regarded as crosses as the decoration can be regarded as the opposite figures too. Nordquist has shown that both the frieze and the man wearing the frieze with the text above could be from the Migration Ages (Nordqvist 2007), but they could be later too. Especially the cross-band is claimed to be from the 11th century together with the late "grafitti" according to Laila Kitzler Åhfeldt in 2000 based on the types of carving.
The picture with the two snakes, a bird and an owl is close to Oseberg and "gripedyr" style from the 9th century and it is pointing against later Borre and Jelling Style.
Interpretation of the motives and dating:
In common the three motives at the last plate show the symbols of the highest power - the two "Roman" emperors and Valhall - the hall of the Odin and the einherjaR. It was a manifestation of power in order to defend his kingship - he was not just boasting of his superior connetions. Just like the big runestones in Rök and Jelling.
Some scholars claim that the carvings and runes could be from different centuries (except the late grafitti). It is of course a theoritical possibility, but as the text and the pictures appear to be mixed at three plates this theory is not likely. Laila Kitzler Åhfeldt has analyzed the strokes using lasers. According to her two carvers worked contemporary at the stone whre one carved letters and one carved both letters and pictures. Two hundred years later a carver made the inscription at the top, the crossband and the spiral.
It is obvious that some of the motives of the stone could origin from the 6th century as pointed out by Bengt Nordqvist, but as they could all be younger too, the youngest motive shall be chosen for the dating - which is the ship being convincingly explained by Christer Westerdahl, the unusual style of the house and the runes in the new alphabet. Together the three motives at the last plate indicate a dating from 780 to 830 AD - and probably in the beginning of this period before Charlemagne attacked the Danes. That is in accordance with the official scholary dating until now.
The crosses could be regarded as an indication that Christ was worshipped in Scandinavia at that time, but as mentioned the crossband was probably added in Christian times and earlier it could be used as a decoration as in Vendel and Oseberg. The cross in the sail was simply telling that it was a peaceful trader from the Christian emperors.
Troels Brandt, January 12, 2016 - originally 2007.