Ásbjôrn cut the stone

3 August, 2015

With this entry I collapse OtRR and let it rest for good.

Last week I read a rune stone text, 28 words or 122 runes. The lix number was 4.37 – how hard can it be? In the two preceding sentences there were 23 words and 81 characters.


Sö 213. Södermanlands runstenar, Sveriges runinskrifter Nybble, Överselö sn. The style is Pr3 – Pr4 (and the stones thus produced in the later part of the 11th century CE).

Runic inscription: s^tain : hiuk : esbern : stintn : at : uitum : bat miþ : runum : raisti : kyla : at : gaiRbern : boanta : sin :· auk · kofriþ : at : faþur : sin : han uaR : boanti : bestr i : kili : raþi : saR : kuni :

 In Old Norse: Stein hjó Ásbjôrn, steindan at vitum, batt með rúnum, reisti Gylla at Geirbjôrn, bónda sinn, ok Guðfríðr at fôður sinn. Hann var bóndi beztr í Kíli. Ráði sá kunni.

 In Modern English: Ásbjôrn cut the stone, painted as a marker, bound with runes. Gylla raised (it) in memory of Geirbjôrn, her husbandman; and Guðfríðr in memory of her father. He was the best husbandman in Kíll. Interpret, he who can!

For this, and much more information, see Samnordisk runtextdatabas http://www.nordiska.uu.se/forskn/samnord.htm

Relevant parts of Södermandlands runinskrifter, which is an old publication in Swedish, can be found at:



In this master thesis Þórhallur Þráinsson demonstrated that if one wished to design a rune stone arranging the layout in relation to a small number of proportionate circles that also helped the artist draw the contour lines would make it easy to paraphrase a Late Carolingian Iron Age, LCIA, rune stone. The principles were published in a small exhibition catalogue from Museum Gustavianum in 1999 (01). As an experiment a rune stone was produced, painted in the most common CIA colours and put in the university park face up to see what Scandinavian weather in the age of global warming would do to it. This is what it looks like today – the maintenance of rune stones must be included in the commemoration of the diseased.


Since we know about the design methods we shouldn’t read a completely preserved stone like Nybble until its layout has been understood. In this case we must take a small shortcut to understanding by accepting that someone other than the carver had perhaps chosen the stone. What then did it look like to begin with? We don’t precisely know that either because today the stone stands in a private garden partly buried in the ground and not in its original place and position, which was on the nearby Iron Age cemetery.



But if we lift it up and put it down on the ground by means of computer programmes we can make it a blank sheet shadowing its small uneven parts and start the planning:


We know the name of the man who ‘cut’ the stone and this verb is taken to mean ‘designed and cut or carved’. He was called Ásbjôrn or Aesbjorn to OtRR. Aesbjorn would have had in mind the text that was supposed eventually to be fitted into the decoration, and this text was divided into two parts as the Runtextdatabase has it:

A-text: Ásbjôrn cut the stone, painted as a marker, bound with runes. Gylla raised (it) in memory of Geirbjôrn, her husbandman; B-text: and Guðfríðr in memory of her father. He was the best husbandman in Kíll. Interpret, he who can!

Aesbjorn chose a quite common design that would allow these two texts more or less to form a circle, and thus first of all he had to find a centre and a circle to go with them. He gave this main circle a diameter of 48 units (02).

The planning starts in the prime centre (PC) and the carver intends to divide the decoration into an A- and a B-part related to the future inscription. Moreover, he wants there to be an upper, a central and a lower ornamental focus (uf, cf and lf) of the A-part. These three elements are to be based on each their 12-units circles.

The centre of the upper focus, the secondary centre (SC) is situated 17 units above PC. From SC a secondary line defined by a point (SP) 4 units to the right of PC on the horizontal diameter slopes into the A-part of the stone. The upper focus (uf) is the same point as SC and Aesbjorn defines the central focus (cf) as 16 units below uf and defines the lower focus (lf) as an additional 17 units further below uf on the secondary line. This means that the distance between the upper and the central circle is 4 units. Between the central and the lower circle there are 5 units.


The three 12-unit circles aim at balancing the composition and in addition following part of their periphery helps to outline the contours of the key decorative elements. To facilitate the drawing of these elements a number of smaller circles are used, and although some of these may have been fixed by coordinates in the layout there seems to be no point in trying to figure out how.

The smaller inner and outer contour circles in the B-part are there to make the serpent in this part smaller than the A-part animal with its larger circles. The larger circles in the upper part of the stone make the overlapping ‘head bends’ larger than the separated ‘tail bends’, which are kept together by a leash that binds together text and decoration.

The central four-footed animal with its 12/6-unit circle combination is the most impressive of the three key elements and if we think that is body is a bit narrow it is because its breadth equals 4 units.

Finally, the construction of an 8/7-unit pair of circles guiding the small animal’s long ‘crest’ has resulted in ‘constructed’ irregularities.


The composition is based on two united serpent-like animals. Between them and probably bridging them stands the large four-footed animal, which is usually considered to be the Lion of Judah or Christ from the Book of Revelation, 5:5.

If we look at the A- and B-text they are different in a way that matches the decoration. The A-text is the important one, B is more straightforward and dependant on A. The widowed Gylle, the deceased Geirbjorn and Aesbjorn crowd the A-text and they have the lion’s powerful front among them. The B-text relates to Guðfríðr who commemorates her father repeating Gylle’s statement adding that her father was the best of Kil men. In the end she asks the reader to interpret the monument. This last sentence refers back to the beginning of the text since that is where the monument is described by Aesbjorn. Most often carvers mention themselves in the very end of a text – not so Aesbjorn, who proudly declares: Stein hjó Ásbjôrn, steindan at vitum, batt með rúnum … . The database has is:’Ásbjôrn cut the stone, painted as a marker, bound with runes ‘. The transation is correct, but not so faithful to the poet who wrote this part of the inscription as of a strophe. Viti means ‘a marker’, but so does the more frequent word mark and there is more to the word viti. Choosing viti, which is the same word as wit, Aesbjorn wants to make something known in a more manifest or extrovert way and at vitum could be translated ‘to witting’ in the dialectic sense: knowledge or awareness of something. That is why he also uses the verb steinda which means paint, but so does the more common word faði. Aesbjorn chose steinda because he needed an alliteration on stein, but steinda nevertheless has an emphasized element of adding something to something enhancing it as in the term stained glass – to colour, therefore, is a better choice than to paint if we think that stained is too negative. Batt með rúnum means bound with runes referring no doubt to the two-serpent layout carrying the runes. Thus the two first lines of the strophe run:

Stein hjó Ásbjôrn, steindan at vitum,
batt með rúnum, reisti Gylla

Aesbjorn cut the stone coloured (stained) to witting
Bound with runes Gylle raised it

Grammatically, with their insertions these two lines are but an unfinished statement waiting for

at Geirbjôrn, bónda sinn —‘after Geibjorn her husband’ to conclude the strophe.

The whole strophe therefore amounts to:


The first two lines are emphatic and repetitive, but that of course is meant to be contrasted by the less rigid concluding line that includes the strophe’s only anacrusis. From a rhythmic point of view the translation would be better if Geirbjorn was Gylle’s ‘lord’:

Aesbjorn cut the stone, stained to witting,
bound with runes, Gylle raised it
after Geirbjorn her lord.

It’s a Ljóðaháttr statement and the A-text therefore is poetry, the B-text (just) prose, albeit divided into three distinct parts: … and Guðfríðr in memory of her father.| He was the best husband in Kil. | Interpret, he who can!

The database has ‘husbandman’ for bónda, but why Geirbjorn should be a small landower or tenant rather than a yeoman is difficult to say. Bónda would seem to allude to the master of a household. Geirbjorn in his social capacity as a bónda unites the two different texts, the commemorators and the two serpents, which represent a basic divide and unity among those left behind.

I think it is fair to suggest that Ráði sá kunni—‘Interpret, he who can’ alludes to the text :: design relation, that is, ‘the text in interacting tandem with the design’. There are obviously interpretations that we can defend: the two serpents represent Miðgard and its people, among whom there are greater and smaller ones. The Lion of Judah, nevertheless, is there for everybody. So far so good, but when we read the text this ‘decorative’ meaning is not the only truth. Kil stands out as a miniature Miðgard and when a person dies the diseased belongs to the whole of Kil/Miðgard, the A- and B-text respectively, protected by Christ on doomsday. This kind of interactive interpretation will soon become guesswork only, albeit perhaps true, and that I think is the reason why ráði sá kunni—‘Interpret, he who can’ has been chosen as a conclusion. Checking the number of syllables and the meaning of words as well as the size and position of circles is not enough

Before we conclude that every one of us thinks the artist does construct too much, we shouldn’t forget that Aesbjorn added a new kind of metaphor to his verse: (the stone is) steindan at vitum—‘stained to witting’, perhaps it meant something even to the stone – perhaps Aesbjorn had true north on his poetic compass. This is not quite unbelievable since on Selaön of all places the text on a contemporary rune stone Sö 197 ends with a quite common prayer, which nevertheless stands out as singular because it is grammatically transformed and reformulated as the first rhyming pair of qualitative iambic trimeters in Swedish poetry. There’s a new one:


Metaphors and iambic verse – something happened to the poetry on Selaön in the 11th century. ráði sá kunni!



(01) See Þórhallur Þráinsson. 1999. The exhibition sketches. In Eija Lietoff (ed.). Rune stonesa colourful memory, pp. 21–21. Museum Gustavianum. Uppsala as well as, Þórhallur Þráinsson. 1999. Traces of Colour. In Eija Lietoff (ed.). Runestonesa Colourful Memory, pp. 21–30. Museum Gustavianum. Uppsala.

(02) Since the greatest height of the carving was 1.36 m and the breadth 1.38 m it stands to reason that the circle was 4.5 foot in diameter and the foot thus ((136+138)/2)/4.5=30.44 cm. The unit Aesbjorn used was 1½ inch.


The reading rest will be collapsed until Monday the 3rd of August.

This week on the Reading Rest I have a short text by Hotrsvit of Gandersheim (cf. OtRR 9 juni 2014): Her 35 hexameters describing scenes related to the Apocalypse of St John.


Research concerning Hrotsvit and her plays is characterized by a remarkable reluctance to make head and tails of the 10th century dramatic texts that Hrotsvit included in the manuscript called Clm 14885 (1). Originally Codices latini monacenses 14885 was a book produced at the Gandersheim canoness abbey where Hrotsvit lived. The book was sent to St. Emmeram’s in Regensburg some time between 968 and 993 ce and sent to Regensburg where it is known to have been 993. Originally the book comprising 346 pages. It was divided into three parts, and it was a purposeful collection composed by the author. The first part of the book consists of eight saints’ legends, the second of eight dramatic texts and the last one is a long poem Gesta Ottonis describing the life of Otto the Great until 965 CE.

The origin of the scholarly ‘Hrotsvit problem’ is rooted in the question: how can a nun in a cloister write plays? And if she did how could they be staged in a nunnery, not least when prostitutes and their clients figure in the plays with very realistic and even ironic lines?

Today, seven of the plays are accepted as indeed plays and Hrotsvit’s very existence is no longer doubted, but most researches aren’t sure that the plays were ever staged. Some, moreover, are convinced that Hrotsvit never expected them to be staged because it would be technically impossible especially in a nunnery. During the last 150 years scholars have asymptotically resisted accepting her plays. Nevertheless, as Katherina Wilson pointed out in the introduction to her translation of the second part of Clm 14885: most Hrotsvit scholars now agree that they [i.e. the plays] were eminently performable. (2)

Performable or performed? One wonders, because looking into the research history from the mid-19th century and onwards, it stands to reason that this question – performed or performable? – would not have been an issue had Hrotsvit been a man. Typical of the Hrotsvit research, her works are dismissed as not being actual theatre if one can suspect that they do not fit or influence a common-place understanding of the development of drama or a common-place understanding of religious institution.

To complicate matters there is the Apocalypse of St John, which Hrotsvit included among the plays. Actually, the last of the seven dialogical plays comes to an end on folio 129 recto leaving the next page, folio 129 verso, empty before the Apocalypse of John commences at the top of folio 130 recto with a first line that is also a revealing title:

John, the male virgin, saw the Heavens disclosed


Instead of letting folio 129 verso be an empty page, a quotation from Bede, four elegiac distics, the very end of a hymn in which the first letters forms the word AMEN, has been inserted to fill the blank and otherwise wasted page. The hymn, moreover, points out female chastity which is a central theme in the plays. The added comment about those who walk the road to salvation points in the same direction – perhaps too pedagogically. As a way of making use of a superfluous page of parchment the solution and is nevertheless relatively elegant since someone – probably with an alert feminine mind – must immediately have understood what to do and advised the a canoness Gandersheim scribe to continue with ‘John’ on top of folio 130 recto – and something dramatic, albeit completely different.

The hexameters concerning the Apocalypse of St John stand out as comments that someone guiding a group of people could read aloud while pointing at a number of pictures with motives from the Book of Revelation. This text, therefore, is not an obvous play – for instance, there is not dialogue – and so one may wonder why it was included among the plays, i.e. the drama section. Guided by Helene Homeyer’s edition (3) and Katherina Wilson translation one could begin with establishing a text and its structure:

1 The virgin John saw the heavens openILLU00
and beheld the Father of all on His resplendent throne,
Surrounded by a row of twice twelve elder
Who glittered with gleaming crowns,
5 All dressed in robes of gleaming white;
He also saw at the enthroned King’s right hand
A book whose secret no man can learn.
This angel here, seeking a worthy man, finds none
Who could solve the seal of the secret book.
10 He consoles John who is weeping
As he explains that the lamb can solve the seals.
Behold the secrets of the book lay open for the slain lamb
Whose praise Heaven’s citizens soon sing;
Behold the Faith’s martyrs bearing witness near the altar with clear voices.
15  They receive robes glittering with gleaming whiteness.
The angel, arriving from the direction of the rosy sunrise,
Marks the Eternal King’s servants on their foreheads
Afterwards John beheld many standing there in white,
Praising the lamb, and carrying palm leaves in hand.
20 Behold Heaven’s citizens are silent for half an hour.
He stood at the sacred altar with a censer
And carried incense, symbolizing the faithful’s holy prayers.
Behold, a woman glitters surrounded by the splendid sun.
Adorned with a gleaming crown of twice twelve stars
25  A snake wants to devour her tender young son,
But the dragon is defeated, the boy is lifted to the Lord*
And the dragon has fallen from Heaven and is cast to earth.
Behold the lamb standing here on the Mount the Zion,
And the company of virgins singing new songs.
30  The beast attacks the saint with all the dragon’s might;
But Truth† has laid him low; arriving on a white steed,
He whips the ancient snake to savage Tartarus
Behold the books of life are held open to the dead
And alive they rise freed from the chains of death
35  Soon all receive their due according to their merits.

* I have supplied this line since it was lost in Wilson 1989:152.
† Actually Verax – i.e. truth personified.
‡ The line Iste ligat veterem sub Tartara saeva draconem or in plain
prose: Iste ligat sub Tartara veterem saeva draconem means:
‘He binds under Tartarus the ancient furious dragon’. As it says in
Relevation 20:2-3: ‘[2] And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent,
which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years,
[3] And cast him into the bottomless pit, ….’ Tartarus is a deep
mythological ancient Greek abyss.


The hexameters are a kind of stage directions and pedagogical information pointed out to listeners and spectators, descriptions and information that a guide will tell an audience when guiding it through a series of tableaus illustrating parts of the Apocalypse of John.

There are two elements in these hexameters: the tableaus and the action and movements referred to as happening in them. But there is one tableau without action and some action that doesn’t take place in a scene. These element constitute the beginning of the text – that is the first 11 hexameters. To begin with we see a tableau with no movement, then an angel walks out of it with a book looking for someone. The angel finds John who leads her to next tableau which consequently is a tableau more vivant.


The second tableau or scene is built around an altar in a church.


In the end of the second scene there is the 30 minute intermission, after the opening of the seventh seal, which in practice will allow the audience to leave the church while John is symbolizing payers.

The third scene is outdoors, but before we leave the church there is a point in imagining how the church scenes could be realized. If we look at the plan of a 9/10th c. church, these revelation will make sense.


What happens in the first 22 Hexameters is tied together by bringing a book from the throne of the Lord to a crucifix – or a representation of Christ – at the altar in the other end of the church and later to create a pause in which the audience can leave the church and go outside to the next tableau-vivant, which is a performance divided into two scenes. One is an ascension the other Judgement day.



It is the beast that binds together the last scenes. It may seem difficult to arrange these tableaus, such as illustrating the dead who rise on Judgement Day, but given that there are quite a number of prehistoric inhumation cemeteries next to settlements, it is not impossible to let the dead rise as individuated human being – and that would make quite an impression. Complications such as Christ standing at Mount Zion and at the same time slaying the beast are solved by introducing Verax on the white steed. The beast of course shall have to be masked and dressed up like a beast/dragon/snake and eventually thrown into a pit in order to disappear.

The Ganderheim Abbey, which was a very large estate and engaged in high-quality education of upper-class girls, would not have had any economic problems creating the tableaus. White, symbolically important in the tableaus, was the favourite colour of the church clothes in Gandersheim and a very good contrast to the beast.

The Apocalypse of John is not a theatre play. Instead its affinities with passion plays is obvious. The second part of Clm 14485 therefore blends plays with an affinity to pre-Christian Rome, the first 7 plays, with an example of the more orthodox performances usually seen as typically Medieval. Although the Apocalypse of John is extravagant, it may nevertheless have entertained the Imperial court on its visits to Gandersheim. A central educational institution in the Holy Roman Empire could very well afford the installation, not least why there was quite a lot of singing in the scenes and song education was central to the canoness abbeys.

There is absolutely no reason why these tableaus and small scenes should not have be staged and performed. The poetical value of these matter-of-fact hexameters is negligible since they have no other purpose than guiding and informing someone looking at the tableaus or wanting to build them. Because the performance puts the two sides of Christ – the valiant dragon slayed and the slain lamb – into a meaningful context, they are pedagogically essential in a transitional religious phase. The last scene, to which the others built up, starting with a visions in the church ending with the dead actually rising in the open on Judgement day, is genuinely theatrical and dramatic – that’s Hrotsvit for you, always acutely aware of a dramatic situation and its climax. The monster slayer arriving on the white horse is spectacular, and the idea of ‘holding the books of life open to the dead’, that is above their graves for them to see, rather than just opening them as it says in the Apocalypse (Rev 20:12) is a significant example, since it creates something as mundane a cause and effect situation to the belief that the dead will rise to receive their due. The emphasis on what it says in books — on knowledge and the reproduction of correct knowledge is central to the Apocalypse of John (4).

Even today, similarly to what Chasles did in the 1870s, one finds some very conscious compositions when studying Hrotsvit. Her consciousness must not be overlooked and she must be taken serious, since it is unlikely that we have detected structures and meanings that she never thought of.

Hrotsvit research has for quite a while managed to overlook significant details, and chosen actively to hide behind some suitable kind of doubt rather than accepting the greater pattern of her work and writings. The Apocalypse of St. John, therefore, is seldom mentioned or analyzed in an unprejudiced way. Nobody has though that Bede’s AMEN was a conscious part of the composition of Clm 14485. That book in its turn was not considered a literary work in its own right.

The scholarly treatment of Hrotsvit is one of a most impressive and naïvely unconscious downgrades of a very structured female authorship – even by most of those who see themselves as her advocates.


(0) This is an old quotation from Chasles (1876:306), who after having understood that Hrotsvit’s plays were rhymed concluded: Peut-on nommer cela de la prose? Evidemment la religieuse a écrit en vers sans le savoir—‘Can one call this prose? Apparently the religious (fem.) has written in verse without knowing it’. Evidently, Chasles was puzzled by the chimera that emerged when something, which he himself had cleverly figured out, albeit with some difficulty, might perhaps have been intended by a nun 900 years earlier. Chasles, Philarète 1876. Le Moyen Age. Paris. Charpentier et Cie.

(1) Today at WWW one can look at this manuscript from St. Emmeram’s monastery in Regensburg, kept in the collections of the Bayerischen Staatsbibliothek München
on the web at this address:

(2) See Wilson (1989:xxx) in Wilson, Katherina M. 1989. The plays of Hrotsvit of Gandersheim. New York. Garland Publishing.

(3) Homeyer (1970:376-80) is indispensable. See Homeyer, Helene. 1970. Hrotsvithae Opera. Mit Einleitung und Kommentar. München, Paderborn, Wien. Ferdinand Schöningh.

(4) Lately Julia Becker has discussed the importance of precise knowledge and its transfer in the 9th century – the library at Lorsch being her example.  Becker, Julia. 2015. Präsenz, Normierung und Transfer von Wissen: Lorsch als „patristische Zentralbibliothek“. In: Julia Becker, Tino Licht, and Stefan Weinfurter (eds). Karolingische Klöster: Wissenstransfer und Kulturelle Innovation. Walter De Gruyter. Berlin. Pp. 71-87.

This week On the Reading Rest I have a small report in Danish from an excavation in Jutland. This kind of report is called a developer’s report. It is a short description of an excavation partly paid for by the developer because prehistoric remains would have been damaged by the planned construction work. In this case the archaeologists responsible for the excavation and the report have chosen among other things to present a house from the period 400 to 550 CE, that is the Early Pre Carolingian Iron Age. The site is called ‘Domdalsgård’ or ‘Dooms dale Farm’ and although this direct translation is probably not correct I shall comment upon the house calling it Doomsdale.

Illu 00

Terkildsen, Kamilla Fiedler and Boddum, Sanne 2011.Domdalsgård: gravplads fra ældre romersk jernalder, landsby fra ældre og yngre germansk jernalder (Domdalsgård: Cemetery from Early Roman Iron Age, Village from Early and Late Germanic Iron Age). Bygherrerapport nr. 61. Viborg Museum. ISBN 978-87-92778-11-6  http://www.viborgstiftsmuseum.dk/data/imagemanager/pdf/61_domdalsgaard.pdf


Illu02On today’s farm the dwelling houses are small in comparison with dairy barns and manure basins because milk production at an industrious scale shapes the farm and its farmland, as well as and the agricultural firm called I/S Søndergaard that runs the estate. The relation employee:milk-cow is c. 1:75. It’s modern market-sensitive Denmark.


In the 5th century when Doomsdale was built, times were different and for the first time in centuries the byre or ‘the dairy barn’, in those days part of a main house, stated to become shorter than the dwelling quarters. This change was pointed out OtRR: 16 April, 2012, and exemplified by the St Darum village. In this regulated village the change was more marked and probably the result of a change in the agricultural economy favouring crops over cattle. The byres shrank and the dwelling quarters grew – the cattle became fewer and there were more people in the household. The number of heads would have balanced each other.

At Doomsdale which might be a somewhat earlier farm the proportions dwelling:byre are a little more balanced, but Doomsdale is still a typical EPCIA building because of its formalized planning, but also a little odd.


Usually in the PCIA the proportions between the lengths of the rooms were expressed in even numbers of feet. The central main room with the hearth was the largest room. The private quarters above the heath room were larger but divided into the gable room and the chamber. In most PCIA farms the outer room was not smaller than the chamber and frequently larger probably as a reflection of the number of farm hands in the household. In Doomsdale this is not the case although a minimal change from the proportions 8-12-17-11, 5 to 8-12-17-12 would have been a natural solution if proportions mattered as much as they usually did.

Other proportional solution such as:

A four room residence with lovely chambers and a capacious central room featuring 8-12-18-10 ft. proportions …


The classical balanced 48 ft. room solution: 8-12-16-12 ft., often favoured on better farms in Southern Jutland …

simply didn’t fit Doomsdale.

The size of the gable room is a consequence of the roof construction, but the three other rooms are there to express a social and practical balance. When we visit one of the evenly proportioned farm we understand that there are quite a number of farmhand and that the private quarters in the upper end of the house are capacious. The central room, therefore, may be a bit crowded, but that was probably just as it ought to be on a busy modern farm. Visiting Doomsdale, on the other hand, would give the impression that the farm hands were few or their living quarters crammed, the central room was large and the chambers capacious. This would have reminded one of a Late Roman Iron Age situation being an echo of the time when cattle were more important, and large farm owners larger.


In the byre part of the house there are no simple proportions other than the ones that were dependent upon the construction of the house. This is quite a modern trait compared to Southern Jutland where the post setting in this part of the house was functional, mirroring the construction of the cow’s compartments, dividing this part of the main farm house into byre and barn. At Doomsdale the post pairs were probably spread out evenly east of the entrance room in order to support the roof in a rational way. This solution probably involved measuring, but also small factions of the foot which cannot be measured on an excavation plan. The general impression of the main house would thus have been a mixture of rooms mirroring the social order of the household as well as rational and practical solutions to house construction. Compared to the RIA the byre part of the house would have lost a little of its ideologically inspired Early Iron Age design.


As mentioned, the technical construction of the building shows in the distance between the short end of the house and the nearest post pair – eight feet. In reality, however, this distance is linked to a relation between the wall plate in the corner of the house and the first roof-supporting trestle. Doomsdale was built according to a proportional system which starts with a rule of the thumb stating that if the distance from the short end to the first trestle is equal to 2 and the distance from the wall plate to the side ridge equals 1, then all the roof angles in the house will fit a thatch roof, if the height of the post in the trestle is 4, given that 2 equals the wall height. In this case the central ridge will be 5 units above the ground. Moreover, owing to the rounded corners, and supported by the first trestle and the side ridges, the rafters from the short end will meet with the rafters from the side roofs in one and the same point at the central top ridge. This will not happen if the wall height isn’t equal to the distance from the short end to the first trestle. Consequently, wall height at Doomsdale equals 8 feet, i.e. 2×4 feet. The total height of the house was thus 4×5 = 20 feet, i.e. 0.312×20 = 6.24 meter.

In the ever more open Early Iron Age landscape finding the necessary timber in order to build a house gets more and more difficult and there is thus a great point in being able beforehand to figure out the dimensions needed to build the house. In tandem it becomes all the more important to build large main houses as a symbol of the status of the owner. Social competition is in other words important and little by little architecture turns away from the functionalism of the Pre Roman Iron Age to the formality and rational technique of the Early Pre Carolingian Iron Age. There is a short revival of the functional ideal in the beginning of the Late Carolingian Iron Age, but Harold Bluetooth, who else, sees to it that formalism gets back in business (cf. OtRR 11 August, 2014).

This week On the Reading Rest I have a print-out of an article from the open access journal, JAAH http://www.arkeologi.uu.se/Journal/

framsidaFischer, Svante & Lind, Lennart 2015. The Coins in the Grave of King Childeric. Journal of Archaeology and Ancient History 14. Pp. 1-36.

Fulltext: http://uu.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:793693/FULLTEXT01.pdf   Acronym: FiLi

In the end of the 1990s it was proposed that the time depth and distribution of coins in a hoard could be compared with that of the names of Kings used in a chronological series to give historical i.e. time depth to a certain context. The series consists of a few old and famous kings and many partly unknown younger ones. The example given was the first series of kings in the poem Widsith, which includes several of the kings mentioned in poetic texts – that is the Finnsburh Fragment and a section in Beowulf – about the hall called Finnsburg. The chronological distribution of coins in hoards could be read as kings’ names and linked to events in the past in similar way as name series. Ten years later is was suggested that a series of weapon could be viewed in the same perspective. When the small hall in Uppåkra, Scania (0) was smashed in the beginning of the 6th century it would seem that a series of weapons were deposited in a waterlogged depression just north of the house. In a traditional weapon offering after a victory this kind the weapons date the battles – each battle forming a chronological peak among the offered military equipment. At Uppåkra nevertheless, the series resembled a long chronological period with a few very old and several younger weapons. Since halls are known to have contained weapons it was thus conceivable that the weapons in the Uppåkra depression were the offered spoils taken from the walls of the hall when it was conquered and smashed.

The idea is simple enough: by collecting a series of objects or names one can create a network that will sustain a historical narrative. The point being that this was done consciously in the middle of the first century CE. Ideas may be interesting, but do the lend themselves to be proved? This is where FiLi comes in.

Ch's signetKing Childeric’s grave is a signed installation excavated in the 17th century and immediately understood to be Childeric’s grave because of the signet ring probably found on the finger of the buried person: childerici regis it says referring to what of his he signed with this the king’s ring while alive. The grave installation was soon understood to contain a message respecting the new Byzantine Empire created 476 CE when West Rome disappear. But as FiLi points out the installation is actually ‘signed’ by Childeric’s son Clovis, who used his right as a descendant to design the funeral and burial.

During later years earlier interpretations stressing the devout attitude of dependency to the new Byzantine Empire, thought to be symbolized by the Byzantine artefacts on display in the grave, have been questioned and now FiLi sets out to reinterpret the most outstanding objects in the grave: the two hoards (1) the 100 gold coins, 5th c. solidi, of which 89 were described and 12 depicted in the 1655 publication and (2) the 200 silver coins of which four were illustrated. It is FiLi’s combined and numismatic knowledge and overview of the period in question, the late 5th century that allows them incorporate the hoards into a much more rewarding reading of the burial context – the hoards being the most complex messages in the installation.

I’ll concentrate on the gold coins. FiLi shows that originally the coins were collected in the West Roman Empire foremost Italy during the chaotic decades leading up to the fall of Rome 476 CE and Childeric’s death 481/82. Contrary to what one might have expected this didn’t mean that the coins in the hoard were a mirror of the coins that circulated in the West during those years. On the contrary someone (read Clovis) have sorted out the coins that mirror the coinage of the last emperors in the West and opponents of the East Roman emperors. What the gold hoard signals is thus not just King Childeric’s and Clovis’ dependency of Byzantium, but all the more actively a wish to distance themselves from the former West and its last more or less dubious emperors. Clovis wanted to emphasize that the Franks had created the new West. To many, the message of the coins may have been obscure, but as FiLi argues not only Clovis could read the coins, many of the funeral guests would have been familiar with the coin legends.

en tabell

FiLi’s analysis discloses a sophisticated insight into the mind of Clovis adding a material statement to oral eulogy in what was probably a masterly directed lit de parade and funeral. Moreover, the statement delivered by the hoard is a historical statement summarizing the outcome of a number of turbulent and decisive decades in European history.

Since On the Reading Rest is free to develop analysis a little further, interpreting context in a textual way, it seem possible to add an interpretation to the gold hoard developing its perspective on the past. This interpretation falls within the frames established by FiLi.


One way of looking at the hoard is to consider of a mirror of Childeric’s life dividing it into phases such as before he became king 457 CE (a period of c. 20 yrs); between that date and the fall of Rome or Childeric’s alliance with Odovacer, i.e. 476 (a period of 19 yrs), and the rest of his life until 481, a period of 5 yrs).

If we divide the coins into these three periods the 89 coins are distributed 12 – 64 – 15, but since they amount to no more than 89% of the coins, the expected numbers are 13,48 – 71,91 – 16,85 respectively. Since 11 coins are missing it is likely that the original composition was (12+0) = 12 – (64+6) = 70 – (15+3) = 18.


The years covered by the periods are c. 20, 19 and 5 years respectively.

The periods covered by the coinage according to legends and types are 431-5 to 456 CE ; 457 to 476 CE and 474/5 to 491 CE.

The start of the last period is a result of the Emperor Zeno’s troubles in the beginning of his reign. That period is mirrored in the sample because it was a Constantinopolitan problem. After 476 CE we may confidently see him as a powerful ruler who died 491 CE. In practice therefore, the emperor who would have been told about the burial was Zeno. What Clovis describes is Childeric’s life in terms of gold coin success as a sign of general success as seen in the above success rate.

This is obviously not bad on the contrary it is a growing success and Clovis saw the life of his father as a period of success irrespective of whether the West Roman Empire existed or not. Since he is depicted as the King of the West and loyal to Byzantium, Childeric did better when he came into power and always well.

It was a success when Childeric became king, and the fall of Rome caused him no trouble.

In addition to the coins as measures of success the collection is also one of names and as FiLi has shown this is its most obvious expression of intent. This should worry the Southeast Scandinavians because some of their most historical coins from this period, collected by themselves in Italy, were issued by the very emperors excluded by Clovis. Everybody may not have been happy with what they when they examined the coins — or rather when they saw what was lacking. The importance of warfare, nevertheless, wasn’t doubted and among his contemporaries, the Gallo-Roman rulers in the domain of Soissons were probably among those who noticed the peculiar lack of western coins in the funeral hoard although these rulers were not defeated by Clovis until 486.

Honouring his father, Clovis sets a new agenda and he doesn’t keep his father’s signet ring as a sentimental object of veneration. Probably he would have explained he decision not to keep it with reference to his father needing in the next world, in which by his funeral definition he seems no more than his son’s father.


(0) On Uppåkra in general, see for instance: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Upp%C3%A5kra

This week On the Reading Rest I have one of the less rewarding poetic compositions among the Eddic texts. Usually it is known as Helgakviða Hjǫrvarðssonar—The lay of Helgi son of Hjorvarth. In codex Regius, the only manuscript in which the text exists, it is called Fra hiorvarþe oc sigrlin—On Hjorvard and Sigrlinn and that is a level 2 caption, which designates a primary section within the first or the second part of the manuscript (1).


Since King Hjorvard wants a fourth wife and one more beautiful than the three beautiful ones he already has he sends Atli, the son of his Earl Idmund, together with some men to King Svavner to ask for his King’s daughter Sigrlinn’s hand in marriage. Hjorvard has heard that she is the most beautiful. Of course he wants a son too. He already has three, one with each wife, so why not a fourth. Hjorvard sends out his suitor, as we would expect him to do.

In Svavaland the neighbouring King Svavner’s realm the Earl, Franmar, is also the foster father of the King’s daughter and Franmar advices against the marriage – case closed!


We get the impression that Hjorvard collects beautiful young women and that power in King Svavner’s kingdom is divided in order to curb the king.

One day, before he returns, Atli is standing in a groove listening to a gossiping bird. He strikes up a conversation with the bird, who obviously has information to sell, but while negotiating an agreement the bird gives away the essence of its secrets. Atli understands that Sigrlinn’s consent is in fact not the problem.

Returning to Hjorvard’s court, Atli doesn’t mention his bird talks. Instead he explains his lack of success with reference to the difficult journey over the liminal elements of the world – high mountains and a river separating the kingdoms. Probably Atli and his men didn’t look too good when they arrived at Svavner’s, but their difficulties are just the ones a suitor meets when he sets out to woo on behalf of his master within the model of the Holy Wedding. In this case the differences between the kingdoms could not be overcome.

King Hjorvard suggests that they try again and this time he will join them.

The common reader and indeed King Svavner, not to mention Franmer, will tend to find it odd and threatening that King Hjorvard takes such an undiplomatic step, given that any king could be expected to use force to get hold of Sigrlinn.

Not surprisingly therefore, when the wooing party reaches the top of the mountains and looks down on Svavaland, they see a country plagued by war. It would seem that a certain King Rodmar has killed Svavner and ravaged and burnt the country because he couldn’t have Sigrlinn.

Well in Svavaland in their first camp, Atli, despite being on guard, crosses a river in the middle of the night and hits upon a house guarded by a bird that has fallen asleep. He snipes the bird with his spear, enters and finds Sigrlinn and Alov – what a coincidence! Since this calls for an explanation we are told that because of Rodmar and his warriors, Earl Framnar who had to save his two daughters brought them to this safe house defending them with magic while dressed in his eagle guise. With no father, foster-father to trouble them Hjorvard takes Sigrlinn and Atli puts up with Alov. Since all readers of Eddic texts are supposed to be as conventional as a Wagnerian opera audience with double standards we know that Atle’s raid leaving his duty is wrong, but also model WW1 behaviour: leave your own lines, cross no-man’s-land, snipe a guard, take two prisoners and bring them back.

This concludes the first section of the texts related to Helgi Hjörvardsson. The strophes quoted so far relate to Atli, his bird talking capacity, audacity and cunning behaviour – taking risks and being successful.

As expected Hjorvard and Sigrlinn produces a son, big, beautiful and taciturn. None of the names given to him fasten on him. Then in the stage direction way dialogues are most often introduced in Eddic texts we are told: He sat on a hill. He saw nine Valkyries riding and one was the noblest. She said:

In the small dialogue that follows this Valkyrie calls the boy Helgi. She tells him where he can find a good sword and since the reader hasn’t yet been told in the strophes, this section ends in prose announcing that the helpful Valkyrie is called Sváva, her father being King Eylime.

After this rite of passage when the taciturn teenager becomes a man and adopted by the young Valkyrie, he pulls himself together and criticizes his father for not having stopped Rodmar when Svavaland was wasted. Hjorvard, who seems to be a cunning coward, immediately gives Helgi enough men to revenge his grandfather Svavner. Whatever the outcome when Helgi turns Beowulfian, travelling the country solving problems by killing things, Hjorvard will benefit. Helgi collects the sword, sets out together with Atli, who else, and slays Rodmar. This is the beginning of his great deeds.

So far the persons responsible for making Helgi a man have been presented. The strophes have been no more than interesting quotes of direct speech from epic narratives. The prose on the other hand has created a framework for the poetic fragments.

The next section consists of 19 strophes, a dialogue interrupted by prose, between the evil giantess Hrimgerd, loyal old Atli and capable young Helgi. Touring Norwegian fjords doing their deeds Atli and Helgi have killed the giant Hata a horrible and habitual bride abductor. Afterwards in the night when Helgi, Atli and his men are on board their ship, and Atli keeps watch while the others are sleeping, Hata’s daughter Hrimgerd tries to lure Atli ashore. This time he wisely stays on board and together with Helgi they quarrel with Hrimgerd until it dawns and she, being a troll, is petrified.

In the standard carrier of a mythological king Helgi has reached the point where he has shown good strategic sense on top of bravery, righteousness, good looks and a taciturn childhood. Consequently, Helgi is ready to become a king.

It is obvious that Helgi and Atli, Sváva and Hrimgerd as well as Hjorvard and Hata constitute complementary pairs. The two kings, man and giant, are obviously mostly interested in beautiful young women and of the two young but violent women Sváva is the righteous one while Hrimgerd is the over sexualized monster. The male pair – the old retainer and the young prince – is not unheard of either. There’s a touch of Falstaff and Prince Hal when Atli and Helgi wrangle with Hrimgerd. However, in the process of making Helgi a king, Atli develops from the daring young man who leaves his night watch to the loyal old retainer who doesn’t.

Significantly, Helgi, who must have an H-name like his half-brothers and their father, is called just that: Helgi – the holy one (he who is dedicated to the gods) by Sváva who is the equivalent of a God sent angel. His father the powerful Hjorvard—the sword guardian, moreover, is not as good as Hegli.

The long 19 strophe-dialogue in which Helgi gets the last word, calls for minor epic continuation or why not just another break and a new prose section jumping to the next predictable stop in Helgi’s life.

So, when Helgi passes by King Eylime’ court he asks to marry Sváva and since they love each other they are betrothed. He continues to fight and she doesn’t stop being a Valkyrie. Everything seems prosperous! But then Hedin, Helgi’s half-brother, meets a witch riding on a wolf on Yule-eve. She bauð fylgð sína Heðni—offered Hedin her help, but Hedin just cries out ‘No!’ stupidly giving the witch a reason to get annoyed and curse him. Yule-eve rituals eating pork and sharing a mead cup includes a serious New Year’s resolution, Consequently, Hedin being cursed and bent by magic, vows that he shall gain Sváva for himself. Having sworn, Hedin is devastated by his pledge and seeks out Helgi who is campaigning in the southern part of the country. And we the readers are in for another fragment of a dialogue, five strophes, between Hedin and Helgi.

Super-neurotic Hedin is heartbroken, but Helgi tells him not to bother and explains that since he has a duel coming up they might as well wait and see – fate being fate. And then, clairvoyantly, Helgi tells Hedin exactly what happened on Yule-eve when Hedin met the witch. Since clairvoyant kings are usually more carefully introduced, as in the Finnsburg fragment, this strophe calls for an explanation. In this text explanation is matter of prose and the author goes on to tell us what we expect: In the duel Hegli is lethally wounded by Alf the son of King Rodmar.

The duel took place at Sigarsvoll and Helgi sends Sigar off to fetch Sváva. She comes, Helgi dies and dying he expresses his opinion that Sváva should love Hedin, but Sváva doesn’t think so Hedin being jöfur ókunnan—an unknown prince. Being what he is the ever-vowing Hedin who is present cries out: ‘kiss me Sváva’ before he promises not to return until he has revenged Helgi, the best lord etc. Notably in this scene Sváva is not present to begin with although as a Valkyrie she is supposed to look after her Helgi. On wonders whether her active years were over.

Finally in plain prose we are told that Helgi ok Sváva er sagt at væri endrborin—it is said that Helgi and Sváva were born again. Many poems end in some sort of poetic vein but why elaborate in a text that just wants it readers to know so that they don’t forget.


If ever there was a cut-and-paste author ridden by topoi (cf. On the Reading Rest, Devotional Formula 19 August, 2013) it is the compiler of the Eddic text we call helgakviða hjörvarðssonar. At least two metrically different poems have been cut up and patched together.

Everything is chucked in, the cunning king, the suitor in an echo of the Hieros Gamos myth, the perfect retainer, the bipolar loser-brother, the vicarious parricide on Hata, trolls – wolf-riding as well as petrified, madonna and whore (the filth is in strophes 19-22), the clairvoyant king, curse, vow, fate and the objectified female beauty Sigrlinn. We are not even spared an offer death and resurrection reminding us of Christ’s. There is no Christ, no Easter, no supper, no wine, no Judas, no crucifixion, and no Mary Magdalene. But there is a twist: Sváva, duel, Hedin, beer, pork, Yule and prophetic Helgi.

That Helgi and Sváva are born again is more or less the whole point. The love-driven resurrection story might come in handy if we intend to compose something on the cause and effect of Fimbulwinter and Ragnarök (cf. On the Reading Rest, Codex Regius is a Synopsis, 9 March, 2015).

And would you know! Everything started with Hjorvard – topos: old king with dubious habits, sending off Atli – topos: young man who speaks with birds, to woo – topos: standard upper-class procedure.

It seems that all this happened in Western Norway and in a larger historical perspective this is not a bad setting. Not because the events in the patchwork took place in Norway, they didn’t inasmuch as everything happened in a study defined by its narratives. Fictional Western Norway is suitable a setting because we can imagine that in it intellectuals understood that outside their study they witnessed the interaction between, and the practical transition from a folk-religious society accepting a an autonomous reality demonstrated as fate to a society accompanied by a universal religion, which in principle didn’t accept fate and its consequence an autonomous reality.




(1) On the captions and the structure of Codex Regius see:
Lindblad, G., 1954. Studier i Codex Regius av Äldre Eddan i-m. [Lundastudier i nordisk språkhistoria 10.] Lund.
Or more specifically on captions:
Herschend, F. 2002. Codex Regius 2365, 4to – Purposeful Collection and Conscious Composition. Arkiv för nordisk filologi. Vol 117:121-143.  http://journals.lub.lu.se/index.php/anf/article/view/11655

This week On the Reading Rest I have a report from a road section excavated by archaeologists before the road was built.

Skeke framsidaLarsson, Fredrik et al. 2014. Skeke – gudar, människor och gjutare. Rituella komplex från bronsålder och äldre järnålder samt en höjdbosättning från yngre järnålder med gjuteriverkstad. Utbyggnad av väg 288, sträckan Jälla–Hov, Uppsala län; Uppland; Uppsala kommun; Rasbo socken; Skeke 1:3, 2:6; Rasbo 55:1–2, 654, 655, 669, 695, 696, 697, 626:1–627:1, 682–688 samt delar av Rasbo 628:1 och 629:1 UV rapport 2014:53 Riksantikvarieämbetet. Stockholm.



Skeke översiktIt is difficult to know what the place name Skeke means, but it could in principle refer to a landscape element characterized by oak trees or less likely contain a word meaning ‘to spread’ (Larsson et al., p. 42 with references). In this entry I shall use the very unlikely but at least pronounceable Spread-Oaks or Spreado for short.

All kinds of things are dated at Spreado. 14 C-wise ‘everything’ gives rise to a number of questions and looks like this:

Illu All dates with questionsHowever, if we disregard questions about continuity and discontinuity and filter the dates according to categories some patterns arise.

ILLU dating of groupsSpreado is inaugurated with a grave indicated by the earliest date of cremated human bones. This monument is probably a pre-settlement manifestation although there may of course be some kind of settlement outside the excavated road corridor. For 400 years one burial seems to suffice, but c. 1000 BCE graves start to become more common. Sometime during the 3rd c. BCE this grave period comes to an end. As expected in this kind of ‘cemetery monument’ there are structures that did not contain any burial remains. Perhaps, and in that case typically, there is a small burial-revival during the Carolingian Iron Age (Spreado:55; 65).

The first dwelling house, House 16 doesn’t convince the reader although on can naturally build something makeshift on a random distribution of post holes. Not until the late Bronze Age are there any typical dwelling houses at Spreado. They are just two but in all probability there were many more in the environment owing to the temporary character of the one-house farms of the period. Nevertheless, grains, animal bones and houses covariate although many of the grain finds are intrusions in much later houses build on top of the earlier temporary farms. Spreado is a good example of the Early Iron Age habit of resettling a place that has already been settled albeit hundreds of years earlier.

The situation at Spreado reflects the fact that Late Bronze Age and Early Pro Roman Iron Age living produced a lot garbage that wasn’t moved out of the settlement as well as holes and layers in which to trap garbage and ecofacts. Later settlements at Spreado are not characterized in the same way.

The dates of the dwelling houses at Spreado reveal the expected pattern: a few short dwelling periods during a millennium and then the establishment of a more stable settlement during several hundred years. This often happens before or the beginning of the Common Era, but in Spreado it happens late. The farm, which may at times have had two households, is eventually characterized by a small hall, House 2. The precise date is difficult to give owing to contaminations, but c. 400 CE is a plausible date. The farm on which House 2 is the emblem doesn’t survive the turbulent 6th century. Exactly when House 2 was rebuilt as House 21 is difficult to know since it is dated by an animal bone in a layer. The bone has little precise linkage to the house.

The interesting thing about House 2 is its measures. they are formalized in a way that is characteristic of the end of the Early Iron Age. Although the house may not have been an elegant or well-proportioned building – it was, however, a well-measured edifice, which shares some common South Scandinavian traits and perhaps some sort of architectural norms emphasizing measure and structure rather then function, in a way that would not have suited the general functionalistic norms of the Early Iron Age.

Skeke proportioner

Lika hallar

At the same time there are some local characteristics in the post setting and wall height and in the fact that the building was erected on a terrace on top of a small hill in order to be seen from afar. This landscape statement was deemed important because older graves had to be removed in order to give room for the building (Spreado Fig2:6 p:25; p:61ff.).

Roof and walls at Skeke

As an ideological statement, the hall at Spreado is older than the middle of the 6th century and the 536-45 CE dust veil, that is earlier then the new large halls characteristic of Lejre and Tissø. It is in other word a manifestation of the old upper classes, their inter-Scandinavian hall-designing network as well as their wish to prove themselves locally.

The contrast between Gilltuna (On the Reading Rest: 6 October, 2014: 536 and all that – the Gilltuna case) and Skeke is in other words model: Gilltuna, a traditional village closing down in the 6th century, happened to become one of the new large estates of the Late Iron Age characterized by its large 27-metre hall; Skeke, a traditional village formed in the 3rd century, developed into a 5th-6th century estate with a 20-metre hall. Both sites are exceptional: Skeke because it survived long enough to become a hall farm giving us a glimpse of an Early Iron Age success that came to nothing; Gilltuna because it was Late Iron Age success that came to nothing. The two farms happen to mirror something significant: the social change among the well-to-do in the 6th century.

ILLU Skeke hall fasad02

Since the fate of the Spreado hall and events central to Beowulf or Codex Regius as a synopsis (cf. On the Reading Rest 9 March, 2015) exemplify the way real-time archaeological past on a hillock in Uppland link-in with the fictional pan-European alleged time perspective in Beowulf and Codex Regius, it stands to reason that the Spreado hall, like many other halls, was the home of local real-life Hrothgar, Unferth and Beowulf as well as Sigurðr, Guðrún, Gunnarr and Brynhildr loving and hating each other. Although Spreado was a small place — the spiral gold ring buried outside the hall (house 2/21) (Spreado:241, A26) was actually made of gilded copper — there is nevertheless a chance that when Guðrún from Spreado left for Denmark and married Jonakr she went to Dejbjerg on Jutland.

Today, little by little archaeology in Scandinavia excavates both the large halls where the heroic epics were recited as well as the small ones in which the historical events that formed the backbone of the epics took place.



This week On the Reading Rest I have Codex Regius – well a copy printed from the web: http://www.germanicmythology.com/works/CODEXREGIUS.html

Codex Regius-sidaCodex Regius is a manuscript, a compilation of more or less ancient Old Norse texts, mostly poems. In the manuscript, the prose is thought to have been added in the process of compiling the poetry. The actual vellum is a copy of a lost original. Some alterations may nevertheless have been made when the copy was produced. The original collection was based on several different sources and its compilation is dated to the first half of the 13th century CE. Regius dates to the second half. The manuscript consists of two major parts each divided in to two smaller ones and traditionally (in printed editions) it is divided into sections as listed below. Some texts are monologues, mo, some have a prose introduction, pi, others a prose epilogue, pe. Some are pure poetry, some mix prose and poetry and two are just prose.

Regius structureOriginally the manuscript consisted of 96 or 98 pages, but today only 90 pages remain since there is a lacuna between page 64 and 65. In this lacuna c. 200 or c. 270 lines, i.e. 6 or 8 pages have disappeared. Four pages of a poem in the style of Brot af Sigurðarkviðu, that is, ‘A fragment of the poem about Sigurd’, contain c. 300 poetic long lines or c. 75 strophes. On the 6 or 8 pages that once filled up the lacuna both the end of the poem Sigrdrífomál from strophe 38 and onwards and a ‘long’ Siguðarkviða, except for the last 18.5 strophes, must have got room. We can expect either 100 or 130 strophes to have disappeared in the lacuna, given that part of the pages were probably filled with prose. If we can imagine a Siguðarkviða twice the length of the short one (Sigurðarkviða in skamma) and thus about the same length as Hávamál, then we can imagine that only the end of Sigrdrífomál and major part of The long Siguðarkviða were lost. Be this as it may, the loss would have been part of a group of poems centring on Sigurð, Guðrún, Gunnarr, Brynhildr and their world. This series of poems, the second part of the manuscript starting on page 39, is introduced by the poem Helgakviða Hundingsbana I.

It is odd that Codex Regius consists of two components, prose and poetry, rather than just one or the other. Prose is always explanatory or narrative. Direct speech is used in most texts, predominantly in poetry, but even in prose as quotations, quoted strophes or half strophes. In the poetry direct speech occurs in monologues and dialogues. Dialogues may characterize the entire poem or blend with narrative strophes. Dialogues may constitute scenes or they may be used as references. Direct speech is also used when it is not part of a dialogue.

When dialogues are used in scenes, the scenes themselves play a part in the dialogue and the scene is often referred to by those who talk to each other. Stranding in front of her lover Helgi’s mound where the dead Helgi contrary to what she has hoped does not turn up, Sigrún laments: Kominn væri nú ef koma hygði, Sigmundr burr frá sǫlum Óðins—‘he would have come now, if he meant to, Sigmund’s son from Óðinn’s halls’. The strophe explains the situation to us when we see Sigrún by the mound. And it refers to a lost or suppressed dialogue between Sigrún and her maid in which the maid tells her mistress that she had met the dead Helgi and his dead men riding towards his mound. With a great presence of mind the maid had asked him whether what she saw was a delusion or Ragnarök. It was neiher. Formally, when seeing Sigrún by the mound we may wonder where she is and what she is doing. In effect, therefore, the strophe explains something in relation to the dialogue and identifies the mound as Helgi’s rather than one of the other mounds.

Roughly speaking, there are three ways of using dialogue in Eddic poems.

Group I. Dialogue is consistently used in scenes. There may be some explanatory prose lines, half strophes or strophes, e.g. in the beginning of a poem as in Oddrúnargrátr. Prose occurs between the strophes, but it is redundant if the scene is performed. Generally speaking poems in this group have two metrical forms – either A, ljóðahattr or B, fornyrðislag/málaháttr, but meters may also be mixed as in Fáfnismál, or deviant ljóðahattr as in Hárbarzlióð.

Group II. Dialogue is used in scenes within a narrative where direct speech stands out as quotation or explanation. There is also descriptive prose and explanatory strophic poetry. The meter is fornyrðislag/málaháttr except for one strophe in Helgakviða Hundingsbana II (st. 29) and several in Reginsmál, in which ljóðahattr is used. Reginsmál and Fáfnismál is actually one section in the manuscript (page 56:line 30 to page 61:line 19), and Reginsmál, in which there is more prose than poetry, uses strophes from at least two poems, sometimes embedding a strophe in a prose description. Reginsmál pinches together quotations, fragments of scenes and explanatory prose in order to introduce the reader to Fáfnismál, which is dominated by poetry.

ReginsmálGoup III. Narratives that makes use direct speech as quotations. Sometimes the direct speech is organized as dialogues, but not as dramatic scenes in their own right. Dialogues in these poems may be echoes of actual dramatic scenes or composed as referring to fictitious scenes never staged. There is no sharp divide between groups, II and III. The meter used is fornyrðislag as one would expect from a narrative or epic poem.

Codex R structureThe poems in Codex Regius sort themselves in different ways. Their point of departure is the obvious performative poems i.e. the monologues, designated mo. These poems are followed by the most dialogical and scenic poems, Goup I. The mixed poems, which blend narrative, direct speech, dialogue and scenes, follow suite. One group of mixed poems, Group II, has scenes embedded in descriptions and direct speech. The latter stands out as quotations. The other, Group, III, lacks genuine scenes inasmuch as the dialogues are meant to support a more straightforward narrative. Passages that formally speaking are dialogues or monologues, therefore, stand out as quotations or references.

In sections which mix poetry and prose (the underlined ones) prose is used either in order to explain something that may actually be inferred from a close reading of the strophes (Fǫr Skirnis and Lokasenna), or it may have been inserted in order to make up for missing parts, i.e. something that cannot be inferred. The beginning of Regius, Part II there are four sections Helgakviða Hundingsbana I, Helgakviða Hiǫrvarzonar, Helgakviða Hundingsbana II and Reginsmál in which one has tried, but not really succeeded, to reconstruct and/or piece together a poem by means of a glue made of prose. Together with the prose section Frá dauða Sinfiǫtla these poems form the introduction to the rest of Regius, Part II. It is their contents rather than their poetic qualities that matters to the compiler.

Völunderkvida vers 15 mflAn instructive example of moderate reconstruction of the contents of lost strophes suggests itself in the poem Vǫlundarkviða between strophe 15 and 18. The manuscript is easy to read and obviously the last part of strophe 15 and most of strophe 16 have not been remembered completely. In order to understand strophe 17 and 18, prose would seem to have been added to make up for what was not readily remembered as poetic strophes.

Regius prose & poetry

Looking at Regius as a structured manuscript and at the technical character of its sections, the two main parts I & II stand out as different. Moreover, Regius, Part I is Æsir-centred (from Vǫluspá to Alvissmál) and Part II is Guðrún-centred (from Helgakviða Hundingsbana I to Hamðismál). Each part is marked by specific relations to the future. The Æsir-centred material contains a number text that makes it obvious that ‘now’, when Tyr has lost his hand and Balder is no longer among us, everybody is waiting for the Fimbulwinter and its consequence Ragnarök. Gods, giants and the odd human being are looking towatds inevitable fate looming in a future winter that never ends.

BrakteaterMotives on gold bracteates hint that humans such as Sigrún’s maid may think that this could be a 5th century situation. The Æsir-centred poems are composed for those who were wise after the event.




Gudrun in the centreIn the Guðrún-centred Part II, nobody of importance pays heed to imminent Ragnarök let alone its prelude. In fact, living their upper-class pre-Fimbulwinter Miðgard life the upper classes cannt be bothered with catastrophe as long as it doesn’t involve family. Guðrún’s life is a complete failure inasmuch as all her seven children die without having reproduced themselves. Name dropping suggests that Guðrún’s was a pre-Ragnarök dysfunctional ‘lifetime’ involving kings and queens of the kind that played a role in 4th, 5th and 6th century affairs. The poems erre composed to satisfy the curiosity of those who were not involved in days of yore. This means that relatively speaking Regius Part I & II are more or less contemporary and pre-Fimbulwinter.

Gods and members of the upper classes think differently about Ragnarök. Gods are preoccupied by their fate and freak out, the upper classes cannot be bothered as they have their hands full of fighting, loving, hating, and killing each other. Thus the loyalty of the maid is deviant, cleverly seeking information to pass on to her mistress. Sigrún herself couldn’t have asked her lover Helgi whether he had become an illusion or gone Ragnarök, but since her maid knows that Sigrún wants to know she asks the stupid question and gets the reassuring answer.

Codex Regius is not a collection of old verse, it is a composition that aims at compiling a base for describing the trauma and moral dissolution among gods and upper classes in the years leading up to the Fimbulwinter (the cold decade 536-45 CE) and the ensuing Ragnarök. The imminent outcome of these events is known: nearly all gods will die and some humans survive. The audience therefore consists of the progeny of those who survived the decade and populate the new world overseen by surviving goddesses and new gods like Rigr and the resurrected Balder. The audience will not be surprised to hear that in the past the upper classes proved themselves fighting, loving and hating each other in much the same way as they have continued to do after Ragnarök, when society started from scratch although spite and iniquity hadn’t been stamped out.

Obviously, composing poems in the Æsir-centred Part I makes sense only in order to settle the scores. Having done that, this kind of poetry will stand out as a critical conclusion to the era of old gods. This is an interesting genre allowing a poet to compose grotesque works like Lokasenna, but in the long run it will not be as productive as poems concerning the lives of the upper classes, who, accepting the end of the old society, see themselves as ancestors to the old gods as well as survivors of Ragnarök.

Codex Regius, therefore, is a purposeful collection of works compiled to describe the mid-6th c. end of the old society and its gods. The balance between the two parts – Part I being shorter than Part II – suggests that composing poems in the Guðrún-centred genre, digging up the historical roots of the surviving upper classes, was more popular than composing Æsir-centred works. But this is of minor importance in a collection composed to point out a traumatic past rather than collecting old poems. Regius is a collection of material needed and ordered by someone who wanted to write an epic poem about the world that disappeared in the middle to the 6th century. Writing about this period is nothing unique, Beowulf treats the same period albeit from a purely human point of view. Contrary to Regius, people in Beowulf are forced to experience the breakdown of society with little hope of surviving. Beowulf offers a simple explanation: this happens to a society that doesn’t know God! Today we are not convinced, but in Beowulf as well as Regius, we can appreciate their dystopic end in which death signals that nothing but silence remains.

Regius is a collection of texts needed to compose a long poem juxtaposing the harsh fate of the gods and the arrogant recklessness of the horrible old regime. It is easy to see that such a poem could start by criticizing the gods, their appalling behaviour, which helped to bring about catastrophe, and continue focusing on the equally appalling behaviour of the worldly upper classes – a poem about a rotten Ásgard mentality making itself felt in Miðgard. If we want a hero like Beowulf to be the protagonist of the poem we might opt for Skirnir, the Gods’ messanger.

Without really interfering with fate, the story and its digressions, adding some Christian points of view in the simplistic way characteristic of Beowulf could easily explain the cultural breakdown and deranged behaviour referring to the fact that people didn’t know God. In short: we don’t know whether Regius was ever composed as a poem or written down, luckily, however, the compilation lived a literary life of its own.

In visible silence

23 February, 2015

This week On the Reading Rest I have two essays from 1931 and 33 respectively. Next autumn a new series of banknotes is introduced in Sweden. The national bank – Riksbanken – takes the opportunity to link these notes with a Swede hopefully and probably recognizable in- and outside Sweden. On the 500 SEK note we see Birgit Nilsson as Brünnhilde in Wagner’s opera Die Walküre. This choice has been criticised, because one may always wonder whether it is possible to separate Wagner’s late operas from his anti-Semitism (1).

Birgit 500SEK

When I was a child my mother told me that one had to see or listen to one opera by Wagner and one by Richard Strauss, after that one could do as one pleased. I listen to Salome and Die Walküre on records because the local opera couldn’t stage them. By 1960 I had stopped listening to Wagner except to compare Wagner’s and Schumann’s setting (both 1840) of Heine’s poem Die beiden Grenadiere (1820). And although one could argue that Wagner’s pompous setting purposely destroys the irony that hides inside the grandiosity of Heine’s over-exaggerating grenadiers – Wagner taking grandiosity for granted – it doesn’t amount to anti-Semitism. It is just a measure of egocentric misinterpretation on Wagner’s part – a step in Wagner’s development, but not anti-Semitism. Schumann’s music and Heine’s text on the other hand complemented each other creating more where Wagner created less. The way Schumann ends Heine’s lied about the two French grenadiers, who are engaged in defeat, one dying of his wounds, as well as in creating a myth about Napoleon, is very much to the point.

Schuman kadans

Spotify will allow you to listen for yourself.

Thinking of the 1960s, of Wagner and Heine I remembered Anatoly Lunacharsky. In the 1960s subscribing to Sovjet Literature before I left school, I also bought a collection of his essays. Since I couldn’t read Russian my interest in modern Russian literature referred me to Sovjet publications in English although I see that my Danish copy of One day in the life of Ivan Denisovich was a Christmas present in 1963. I found my copy of Lunacharsky’s essays in a moving box in the outhouse.

Lunacharsky lit and art omslagLunacharsky, Anatoly Vasilyevich. (1965). On Literature and Art. Moscow. Progress Publishers. http://www.marxists.org/archive/lunachar/ Acronym: OLA

When Lenin formed his first government in 1917 he chose Anatoly Lunacharsky for the post of the Commissar of Enlightenment (2). In the midst of revolution one might have thought that Lenin would have preferred a tougher man, not least while Lenin hadn’t always agreed with Lunacharsky’s ideas, to say the least. Nevertheless, he did appoint him in 1917, being of the opinion that in matters of culture, nothing is as harmful as hate, arrogance and fanaticism. In these matters great care and tolerance must be exercised. This is a very Lunacharskian opinion and not surprisingly, as told by Isaac Deutscher in a sketch of Lunacharsky’s life: After a few days in office he resigned (as Commissar) in order to protest against the alleged firing by the Red Guards at the Kremlin in Moscow, during the October insurrection, which had damaged the walls. He published a fierce Manifesto denouncing this ‘act of vandalism’, and appealed to the working class to take under its protection all architectural monuments and treasures of art. He resumed office only after he was reassured that the Kremlin had suffered no damage during the insurrection (3). Lunacharsky would have been proud of those who four years ago stopped the thugs in the Egyptian Museum next to Tahrir in Cairo.

Lunacharsky halvprofilThat Lunacharsky immediately stepped down when the revolution threatened Russian heritage, must also be seen as a reflection of the fact that he was content not to take a leading role among the top political leaders of Sovjet Russia. Culture and education were his fields and he had strong opinions about them. But he was cautious too. In 1919 he published a book called Revolutionary Silhouettes featuring Lenin, Trotsky, Zinoviev, Martov and Kamenev, all of whom he knew. He introduced the sketches with an account of his own ‘Party history’. In 1924 the book was enlarged and slightly altered. His party history and the silhouette of Kamenev had disappeared, but the silhouettes of Plekhanov, Sverdlov, Volodarsky and Uritsky were added together with silhouettes of F. Kalinin and Bessalko. However, there was no silhouette of Stalin, who was actually mentioned only once and en passant. It could be argued that Lunacharsky didn’t know Stalin as well as he knew the others and lacked the necessary personal reason write about him. Nevertheless, the absence was ostentatious.

Lunacharsky was a great revolutionary speaker and having cut out himself from the list of revolutionaries he could describe the others with an emphasis on their performance. His descriptions allow us to liken the revolutionaries to great composers, conductors and musicians, virtuosi, concertmasters, chamber musicians and members of the orchestra – competent and performative characters. They all participated to the revolution despite their individuality, political differences and capacities. Fyodor Kalinin and Pavel Bassalko at the very end of the book were members of the orchestra, but also the protégés of the Commissar of Enlightenment and silhouettes of exemplary new proletarian cultural workers, who developed the cultural identity of the proletariat without forgetting pre-revolutionary heritage or the contributions of its intellectual elite. Kalinin and Bassalko didn’t live to become great front figures (both died 1920), but in Revolutionary Silhouettes they signify the cultural and educational spirit of the future as well as Lunacharsky’s visions. Their fate could also be said to echo the difficulties of the Prolekult — Lunacharsky’s cultural project. Obviously, including them in Revolutionary Silhouettes says a lot about how Lunacharsky ranked Stalin.

Not surprisingly, Lunacharsky lost influence when Stalin came to power, but he didn’t rock the boat and although from 1929 he was no longer Commissar of Enlightenment, he was still used, for instance as delegate and diplomat. He was appointed ambassador to Spain in 1933, but died in Menton on his way to Madrid.

In the 1960s, when being a revolutionary, a close friend of Lenin’s and unable to remember Stalin, became politically correct, Revolutionary Silhouettes were published once again. The book was accompanied by a volume called On Literature and Art. Revolutionary Silhouettes had lost half of its revolutionaries and the editor of On Literature and Art felt obliged to end his ‘From the Compiler’ telling his readers that:

The compiler has never considered abbreviating any of the articles published here, or publishing extracts from these articles. This is not merely because Lunacharsky’s articles represent in themselves a unique manifestation of art: the ‘spirit of the times’ becomes organically revealed in Lunacharsky’s works, and very often some fleeting remark about some fact or other of the social life of those years turns out to be an essential detail which recreates in our minds the epoch which gave us Lunacharsky’s talent OLA:6.

This is more than reassuring. When an editor tells you that he hasn’t tampered with the text because it is difficult, then most readers will think that he is lamenting the difficulties he encountered in his work, rather than the reason why he didn’t consider making some changes. Let’s suggest that the concluding remarks are the compiler Cand. (Phil. Sc.) A. Lebedev’s way of telling us that, believe it or not, he actually had to make some corrections, not just a correct collection, and that Lunacharsky’s technique made it difficult – so, read between the lines.

In the years around 1930 Lunacharsky, who was a prolific writer, was able to write about complex questions and to die of natural causes. It stands to reason that he wrote about Heine as well as Wagner in a way that may be interesting today when double standards next to outspoken neo-fascism and nationalism is once again a public phenomenon.

Reading the essays on Heine and Wagner, which Lebedev conveniently puts next to each other, I will do it with reference to Lunacharsky’s method in Revolutionary silhouettes – look for his opinions in the unobtrusive formulations in the end of the essays.

The essay about Heine is actually a speech from 1931 a lecture is seems, to listeners who will understand the meaning of impressionism, be acquainted with a series of Marxist concepts and listen carefully to a number of quotations used to analyse Heine’s character and attitudes. On the other hand, the audience is supposed to be informed and educated when told the significant historical background of the expression ‘gallows humour’. Lunacharsky is probably wrong when he refers to the criminals in Old England, but this allows him to avoid the obvious references to Jewish humour developed in the late 19th century, that is, during a period of oppression.

Lunacharsky is educating an elite giving his listeners an overview. In the beginning he is quite critical of Heine, who after all wasn’t a communist, despite his acquaintance with Marx. The major part of the essay, therefore, gives the reader a large number of interesting and analytical facts about Heine pointing out a number of shortcomings not least concerning Heine’s ever-present wit. Two pages from the end of the essay Lunacharsky concludes that Heine lacked the real social perspective and will. The social will of an individualist (i.e. Heine’s) is equal to nothing (OLA:336). This is a bit harsh, but very politically correct, and needed in order for the essay to end in a coda that only a reader, who unlike the listener is not carried away by Lunacharsky the speaker, would notice. To introduce his coda Lunacharsky introduces an undogmatic Karl Marx, who at some point in time defended Heine. Then Lunacharsky jumps to Pushkin, something completely different and quotes him as a misunderstood author and then as a parallel he quotes Heine’s poem Enfant Perdu (all six strophes) in German (OLA:338f.) (4).

And then in the last lines of the essay he concludes:

This glorious poem shows how Heine – for all the variety of his lyrics and the tremendous place which a free attitude to his surroundings and his inner world occupied in his work – evaluated his social role; it shows the significance which he attached to himself as a political poet. And we have the right to say that, in praising Heine as one of the most outstanding poets of inner freedom, we are introducing him into the pantheon of the great precursors of the genuine revolution – the proletarian revolution which we have the great honour and fortune to be accomplishing (OLA:339).

This is not a necessary conclusion and not one we would necessarily have expected, but there it is in the last six lines. Formally speaking, Heine is not in the pantheon since we need to praise him before we invite him in and some may not do that. The speech is over and there is a minimal silence before the ovation. Comparing Pushkin in Russian with Heine in German is not straightforward and probably only a few would have heard the dissonance in the middle of Lunacharsky’s last sentence. A reader, nevertheless, gets his drift.


If we turn to the essay about Wagner, written at the 50th anniversary of his death, and jump directly to the end we may read the conclusion: Wagner could at times channel his exalted musical and dramatic force to serve ideas that were wrong and even harmful, thus making this great power poisonous, but he never demeaned it to become a reflection of the petty, he never debased it to the level of the trivial or the casual (OLA:354).

Wagner i Petersburg 1863Indeed, Wagner knew what he was doing, and Lunacharsky, who defines Wagner as a ‘thinker’ (OLA:343), goes on to say that Russian composers possess ‘Wagner’s ability in a very small measure’. This is lack of Wagner’s method, not a lack of music, but lack of an ‘exalted musical and dramatic force to serve ideas’, that is, method. Lunacharsky goes on to lament that although there is a need, there is no major opera about the revolutionary passion (OLA:354). Lunacharsky had appriciated Wagner’s method during the first decades of the 20th century and Wagner was staged in a futurist production 1918 (6). However, by 1933 during Stalins cultural revolution, lamenting this lack of Wagnerian method doesn’t ring true anymore (7). If we look at Revolutionary silhouettes (the 1924 edition) once again, we shall find that Lunacharsky’s revolution was no longer about Wagnerian Art and Revolution (8), passion and method cast as futuristic rather than nationalistic revolution and future. Nevertheless, in 1933 under Stalin and nationalism, there was still a need for Wagerian method, so great in fact that the lack of such an opera about revolutionary passion, stands out as a sign of intellectual reluctance or betrayal. Shostakovich didn’t and wouldn’t use the method nor the type of musical performance that goes with it. He wrote Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District instead (it’s on Spotify as Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk). In 1934 his opera was a great success, two years later it was officially condemned.

Lunacharsky, writing in the beginning of the Stalin era cannot risk pointiing out that Heine, one of the great German authors, was a Jew, and Wagner an outspoken nationalistic German anti-Semite. Instead, as in any period in which the obvious is reluctantly admitted to, he writes in a convoluted way. Indeed the confessing compiler, Phil. sc. Lebedev, in a similar period of insecure change, may have figured out that under such circumstances there could be a point in juxtaposing Heine and Wagner. Be this as it may, today, fifty years later, I still subscribe to Lunacharsky’s opinion that Wagner’s work is primarily method – musical and dramatic method. When Wagner applies this method as the powerful method of his Niebelungen theatre and drama, then, owing to this method, the result becomes an expression of his anti-Semitism. Music is not per se anti-Semitic, but methods may well be.

Contrary to Wagner, Lunacharsky prefers an indirect method. This approach makes it possible for his readers to discuss Wagner in such a way that they don’t need to judge Wagner the person, the composer or the anti-Semite; suffice it to discuss his method as that of a thinker. Indirectly, however, analysing his method rather than his work, that is, applying silence rather judgement, will make Wagner’s anti-Semitism ever present and inevitable. In  Stalin’s cultural revolution this way of reasoning, applying silence rather than judgement, is dated.

The Swedish banknote exhibits a result of Wagner’s seductive method pretending that the design of the note recalls a scene, which Birgit Nilsson would have been proud of as proof of her being a great singer. Riksbanken, the national bank, has been silent about all this, but having pushed forward a former chairman of a committee under its General Council (5), we understand that the bank will not change the design of the note, drawing for instance on Tosca instead of Die Walküre, in order to contextualize Birgit Nilsson. This means that again and again and again and again this banknote will demonstrate Lunacharsky’s point that Wagner’s method and its inherent anti-Semitism is powerful.


(1) The matter can be looked up at: http://sverigesradio.se/sida/artikel.aspx?programid=2054&artikel=6073910

(2) Lunacharsky and the ‘The Commissariat of Enlightenment’ can be looked up on the www, e.g. Wikipedia. Presently, this article doesn’t mentioned that Lunacharsky wrote a two volume work Religion and Socialism (2 vols, 1908, 1911). It was immensely unpopular with Lenin, but important if we are to understand how Lunacharsky thought about socialism, cf. http://essential.metapress.com/content/1607u27200662232/ In this blog entry neither education nor socialism is in focus, but one could argue that writing essays about literature and art Lunacharsky continues his way of thinking about socialism, consciously steering clear of religion.

(3) Isaac Deutscher Introduction in Michael Glenny ed. Revolutionary Silhouettes — Anatoly Vasilievich Lunacharsky London 1967. Allen Lane The Pinguin Press. cf. https://www.marxists.org/archive/lunachar/works/silhouet/

(4) The poem is on the web http://www.textlog.de/heine-gedichte-enfant-perdu.html .

(5) Link to the council http://www.riksbank.se/en/Press-and-published/Press/Press-photos/The-General-Council/

(6) Cf. Carnegy, Patrick. 2006. Wagner and the Art of the Theatre. New Haven. Yale University Press. p.311f.

(7) O’Connnor, Thimothy Edward. 1983. The politcs of Soviet Culture. Ann Arbor, Michigan. UMI Research Press has a chapter on Lunacharsky and Stalin with a discussion of the Shakhty affair, the end of the NEP cultural politic and the beginning of Staöin’s cultural revolution 1928 (p. 89f.). See also Fitzpatrick, Shiela. 1967. A. V. Lunacharsky: Recent Soviet Interpretations and Republications Soviet Studies, Vol. 18, No. 3 (Jan., 1967), pp. 267-289.

(8) Cf. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Art_and_Revolution

Once again this week On the Reading Rest I have a report on the excavation of a small Iron Age village. Once again in the easternmost part of Uppsala, Old Uppsala a suburb incorporated in of today’s city. Once again the primary reason is the possibility to define new local time frames, i.e. new historical situations. The secondary, overarching reason, has to do with research history and the way the present, which holds the power over the historical records, shapes the past making it more or less interesting – that is more or less historical in a contextual sense.

When the Greater Stockholm area went through an unprecedented expansion 1965 to 1975 archaeology was generally confined to excavating cemeteries and visible monuments, i.e. graves. Emphasizing traditional heritage categories, and the same procedure as usual, during a vogue of pressing development, rather than focusing on developing the concept of ancient monuments, is typical of metropolitan areas, especially that of the Capital. In these areas, in addition to the pressing needs, the conservative influence of the national boards of antiquities, most often situated in the Capital, is manifest simply because these categories were once pointed out by the boards as ‘our’ significant monuments of the past. During a large-scale modernistic urban development project, history simply isn’t not called upon to rock the boat.

Later on, in a less modernistic period, when provincial towns expanded, local autonomy played a greater role in tandem with a central wish to monitor local administration and see to it that they didn’t overlook any ancient monuments on their road to modernity. One of the effects of this situation was the introduction of new categories expanding the concept of ancient monuments. Adding invisible settlement remains in arable land to the categories was a typical example of development and the reason why expanding towns such as Västerås, Helsingborg and Uppsala can boast so many IA farms in their outskirts. Sometimes small is less ugly than large.

Berget omslagGöthberg, Hans; Frölund, Per and Fagerlund, Dan. 2014. Gamla Uppsala – åter till Berget. Om undersökningen av en förtätad bosättning från äldre järnålder med begravningar från äldre bronsålder till romersk järnålder. Fornlämning 614:1, Uppsala Gamla Uppsala 21:52 Uppland. [With contributions by] Thomas Bartholin, Ylva Bäckström, Stefan Gustafsson & Emma Sjöling [Upplandsmuseets rapporter 2014:16]. Uppsala, Upplandsmuseet. Acronym: GUB.

There is a summary in English and the report can be found at:


Berget – the mountain in English – is a small rocky hillock. Once in the beginning of the Early Bronze Age (EBA) it was surrounded by water, but gradually, owing to the isostatic uplift, by arable land sloping north and northeast facing a narrow sound that was turned into bay. Today this water has become the small river Samnan. In the IA the farms at Berget would have benefitted from the low-lying meadows north of the village.

ILLUo1ILLU02The history of the site starts in the BA when rituals in connection with funerals and burials took place by the blocks on the hillock. Twenty nine context were excavated. Some may reasonably be called graves others are less evident. Now and again from c. 1400 BCE until the end of the 300s CE a few people were buried on the hillock and a number of contexts have probably disappeared during Iron-Age and modern occupations (cf. Göthberg & Frölund GUB:51ff.). Being already a site in the human landscape the first house was built here in the very beginning of the EIA (cf. Göthberg GUB:109:Hus 33, fig. 78). As expected this was a One-Generation House, never rebuilt and thus standing c. 30 years without major repairments before the house was demolished and people moved somewhere else.



If we map the earliest 14C-dates we see a dispersed settlement structure with One-Generation Houses in the eastern part of the settlement area. Circa 1950-1900 bp (i.e. in the beginning of the Common Era) the farms move westwards and started to cluster. If we look at the latest 14C-dates, circa 1650-1500 bp (the century around 500 CE), we see a more clustered settlement in the western part of the settlement close to what will eventually become the situation of the historical farm. In the 5th c. some farms have already been pulled down, but the surviving ones, on the crowded plots in the west, respect the larger deserted plots in the east such as that of Farm D, inasmuch as they do not spread out to occupy them.

ILLU03Between the long sporadic beginning of the settlement and the end phase there lies a dynamic period with a massive and varied cluster of 14C-dates. With the Bcal program (1), this beginning and end can be modelled quite well and it would seem that the central dynamic period of occupation commences c. 180 and ends c. 400 CE. Perhaps the time limits are less wide. This period is not just an intensive settlement period, it is also the period characterized by tar production. Cause and effect are impossible to judge, but the correlation adds to the dynamics of the village and indeed to seeing these two centuries as an era in its settlement history.

ILLU04Göthberg & Frölund have analysed the farms and summarized the whole history of the settlement and its farms (GUB:251ff.). Owing to the numerous and strategically chosen 14C-dates a more precise chronology of the individual farms may nevertheless be obtained by means of Bayesian statistics. In the following Farm D will be taken as an example (cf. GUB:259-61).



All these numbers, plans and diagrams boil down to a small history of farm and property. Farm D occupied a site in close spatial relation to an ancient place, a historical site, and developed into one of the oldest farms when Berget became a village with permanent farms in the second century CE. In the 200 dynamic years in the third and fourth c. CE, the main house at Farm D was the largest in the village and in the human landscape its situation was quite prominent. We would perhaps have expected that this farm should be the last to be demolished, but that was not the case. On the contrary it was pulled-down before the smaller neighbouring farms and the farm was succeeded by a barn, erected to claim the property. This indicates that the owners of one of the economically more important units chose to move somewhere else without giving up their land. Since we have never excavated a large solitary farm established in the 5th c. CE we don’t know where the land owners lived, but in all probability it wasn’t at Berget. This means that land could be owned by people who didn’t live on the land. The original idea, emanating in the beginning of the EIA, stating that a family could settle for a generation or two sustaining itself on the land surrounding it, was replaced by an ownership that wasn’t based on the presence of a household. Ownership to a property became more abstract. Since the small farms couldn’t occupy the large abandoned plot of Farm D, we may suggest that they were in some way or other dependant on the non-present landowner although they may of course have been autonomous land owners themselves. Already in the 5th c. it would seem that there was an organisation of plots that forced farmer to build their farms on a plot that reflected the size of their property. This didn’t create a formal pattern at Berget, but plots were nevertheless respected. The barn on the plot of Farm D, i.e. House 20, was the first example of a formal definition of a plot – not its boundaries – but its centre representing presence and non-presence at the same time. Berget, Farm D is a prime example of the early centuries in the development of landownership, which eventually allowed land owners (probably the large ones) to live on one property and control an estate composed of several unoccupied properties – claiming their right with reference to a concept of ownership that wasn’t based upon land use.