New Interpretation of Rökstenens

New interpretation of Rökstenens runic inscription changing the image of the Viking Age.


Rökstenen, erected in the late 800s south of Lake Takern in Östergötland, is the world’s most famous rune stone. Its long inscription has appeared impossible to comprehend, even though it is relatively easy to read. Now presented an interpretation of the inscription that completely breaks with a hundred-year-long tradition of interpretation. What had previously been regarded as references to heroism, kings, and wars, is in place on the memorial.

Rökstenens inscription is not quite as difficult to understand as believed, says Per Holmberg, Associate Professor of Nordic Languages at the University of Gothenburg. On the front are the mysteries of the daylight that we need to read the runes, and on the back are riddles that have the runic alphabet.

Previous research has dealt Rökstenen as a unique rune that would allude to the heroism no longer know anything about. This has opened the way for speculation about how Varin, stone carver, or his ancestors, participated in the war with the Gothic kings. Per Holmberg shows in his research that one can understand Rökstenen that much more similar to other rune stones from the Viking Age. Rune stones usually shop for themselves.

Ten years ago suggested Professor Bo Ralph to the old idea that the inscription would mention the Gothic King Theodoric is based on a misreading small, and a large portion nationalistic wishful thinking. What has been lacking is the interpretation of the whole inscription that can not be controlled by such fantasies.

The study Per Holmberg now presenting is based on social semiotic, a theory of how language can express various meanings in different kinds of texts.

Without a modern text, the theory had gone there to investigate the meanings that are most important to rune stones. It had not been possible to test the hypothesis that also Rökstenen express similar meanings, although the inscription is much longer than any other runic inscriptions.

One thing that puzzled scientists is that Rökstenens text starts counting what it wants the reader to guess ( “say secondly who …”), but then seems to jump to “the twelfth”. Previously it was therefore adopted an oral narrative tradition that also contained the skipped nine statements. Per Holmberg comes to a surprising conclusion:

If you let the inscription lead step by step around the stone, will actually “the Twelfth” just as the twelfth reader to decide. There is no inscription that skipped something. There are scientists who defected, all to get the text to be about heroism.

Rökstenen has the traditional “hjältedåds-interpretation” for more than a hundred years contributed to our picture of the Viking Age. With the new interpretation will not Rökstenen a message of courage, honor, and revenge. The message moves rather than the script allows us to preserve the memory of our dead.