This week on the Reading Rest I have a book:

James Graham-Campbell, Søren M. Sindbæk and Gareth Williams (eds). Silver Economies, Monetisation and Society in Scandinavia, AD 800-1100. Aarhus University Press. 2011.

This is a conference publication and a good one too not least while it is a mixture of current ideas, and some old ones. The new perspectives dominate, but there are a number of problems that one would hope had general answers although the answers have a contextual basis only. To mention just one essential question: What is the relation in time between the date representing the minting of a coin and the one representing the day it was hoarded and eventually forgotten?

Far from being a comprehensive overview Silver Economies is a collection of mostly interesting contributions. Notwithstanding, I chose to comment upon a phenomenon that I happened to observe thirty odd years ago, when I was interested in coin weights and Oriental coins found on Gotland. The phenomenon was a simple one:

Early Oriental coins are slightly underweight compared to later coins.
Oriental coins are overrepresented among stray finds, i.e. coins probably lost while circulating rather than being hoarded.
When circulating coins, there is a general tendency to introduce lightweight and consequently early Oriental coins. Consequently, once again, one would tend to hoard surplus i.e. relatively speaking inactive coins i.e. fortune in relatively speaking younger and heavier coins.

One of the problems characterizing studies concerning the period in question is the old view upon the Viking Age as a leap from prehistory to history, from Heathendom to Christianity, from petty kingdoms to nation states. A period of progress, when a number of hitherto unknown and more advance cultural phenomena were introduced as part of the evolution of society, the Viking Age is supposed to be Viking and vigorous. Traditionally, monetization, i.e. understanding the principle of the nominal value and commensurability in a coin, and thus currency as being a legal or agreed upon tender, was one of the progresses embraced by barbarian Vikings, about to become civilized Christians. The idea of the brutally primitive Pagan becoming tolerably Christian is an old one, reflected already in Carolingian poetry commenting upon Danes and Northmen (cf. On the Reading Rest June 13th 2011), but also in the odd 20th century Viking Congress.

When it comes to the introduction of monetization in Scandinavia this Viking view has to be abandoned.

When the Roman Empire expanded northwards some coins started to reach Scandinavia. They were mostly silver or gold and few and far between. Silver and gold coins were valuable, but generally speaking uninteresting from a monetary point of view although they must have changed hands. The interesting coins, as it happens, are the ones with a negligible metal value, i.e. coins consisting mainly of copper.

These low-value coins have been known for years, but the use of metal detectors has added significantly to their number, especially in Denmark where the method is safely organized. Their distribution in Scandinavia meets the eye, because they are frequent in Central Scandinavia where there are no other Roman coins. Their chronological distribution is odd too, because they are sometimes very old, even 3rd century BC. Their greatest quality, nevertheless, is the fact that they are often very uncommon types – the further inland the odder. Lastly, when found in inland hoards the time span represented by the coins may be several hundreds of years and the youngest coins in such a hoard may be an Ottoman copper coin [1]. Like old Oriental coins they don’t easily drop out of circulation.

Low-value Roman coins in Scandinavia

Antiquaries once had a tendency to see them as imported in modern times, but today there is little reason to believe that, not least why the distribution of these coins mirrors routes from inland to coastland Scandinavia and vice versa. The most frequented seems to have been the one stretching from the Stockholm area to Darlecarlia.

We cannot see the roads themselves, only places along the route where the coins were likely to be lost or hoarded.

Stockholm is the obvious import situation and transshipment area with small hoards on the islands, e.g. under the Parliament or from Djurgården and stray finds such as the one on the hillock where Historiska Museet stands today as well as further off in the outskirts of today’s city. The first stop along the route towards the inland is Stäket, a couple of stray finds at a typical communication point, or Väsby. The next is Sigtuna, hoard and stray finds, before we reach the Uppsala area. From these plains we proceed all the way to Darlecarlia where hoards and stray finds are plentiful.

Further north this coastland-inland pattern is even more obvious owing to communication along the rivers.

It stands to reason that the use of coins in the inland has something to do with the exploitation of the inland and the transshipment of goods bringing them further south. Likewise the simplest way of understanding this usage, within a restricted economy involving trappers and farmers, middleman or supercargo, is to suggest that the coins fulfill their purpose because they are uncommon and impossible to imitate in Scandinavia. Their value is negotiated in a market situation. This economy was probably limited: valuables such as fur against everyday commodities and clothes. The reason for such an economy is in all probability the fact that trappers cannot be expected to carry off their surplus in goods.

The point in all this is the fact that from the Early Iron Age and onwards Scandinavians understood the idea of monetization, of nominal coin value and of the self-regulating market. It was a limited market circulating goods. The nominal value of a coin was probably just ‘one’, and the real value negotiated.

But it was a market and it had nothing to do with the Viking Age. The Viking Age, as it happens, is just the enhancement during the Carolingian Iron Age of phenomena introduced during the Early Iron Age.

In Silver Economies, Monetisation and Society in Scandinavia, AD 800-1100, Birgitta Hårdh and Ingrid Gustin draw attention to the abovementioned facts about the circulating Oriental coins, they are old, in their cases on Viking Age market places such as Kaupang, Birka and Uppåkra where the expected relation to the hoards from Scania is pointed out by Birgitta Hårdh. The pattern disclosed by Hårdh and Gustin link in with the well-known fact that there is much more silver in Scandinavian than necessary to keep the market economy going. And obviously those who owned silver didn’t find it necessary to put their silver into circulation, creating inflation, in order to get hold of the goods on the market. Nominal circulation of coins and coins factions simply wasn’t big business. Predictably the weight of coins and coin fragments, even their accumulated weight, is negligible. That large amounts of silver changed hands at market places as well as on farms and in halls is obvious and so is the inflation when it comes to the value of beads and bronze (cf. Sindbæk’s article in Silver Economies, Fig.2.1.). By the way, there are early hoards of beards and simple jewelry belonging to the  5th and 6th century in Eketorps borg on Öland.

Ultimately, coins circulating on the market place originate with the large silver owners. They in their turn belong to landowning families mainly engaged in import and contractual distribution and redistribution of large amounts of bullion and jewelry outside the market place. Buying ships and arranging marriages, e.g. in order later on to inherit land, may be activities belonging to this sphere of economy. There is a limit to these transactions since, e.g. on insular Gotland, landowning families cannot avoid making fortunes of their silver. Obviously, these sliver owners must also have supplied the market place economy with small amounts of silver, successfully controlling inflation. Some of the silver goes back into their hoards, because ultimately they produce real values such as goods, and some enters into the surplus of those who sell on the market, e.g. craftwork or services. When we consider the small amount of silver, it seems likely that large owners of silver introduces only a very small fraction of their silver directly into the market place. They may of course buy on the market, but also supply their pit house dwellers, such as weavers and smiths, with silver coins for their products, before the farm owners bring cloth, combs and iron tools to the urban economy. Their pit house dwellers and farm hands on the other hand will benefit from the nominal market economy in places such as Kaupang and Birka and Uppåkra.

The Roman copper coins and the Oriental silver coins circulating in market economies during the first millennium AD suggest that in Scandinavia market economy was introduced in the periphery of the economy, not as a splendid mind-broadening innovation, but reluctantly and primarily as a result of the social stratification of society in which there is a need to satisfy a demand for commodities among the landless, such as trappers and pit house dwellers. This stratification and the number of landless were no doubt growing during the whole of the first millennium AD. When it comes to economy, the Carolingian Iron Age was a revival or a renaissance enhancing concepts and phenomena understood already in the Early Iron Age. As pointed out in Silver Economies, e.g. by Sindbæk, the dynamics of the urban networks in the Carolingian Iron Age were an instigating force also in Scandinavian economy. In order at least in part to explain the difference between the Roman and the Carolingian Iron Age we may in other words point the difference between two kinds of urbanism, the Colonial and stagnating Roman, and the Indigenous and dynamic Northwest European. The Vikings were but a symptom and a revival of an Early Iron Age Scandinavian phenomenon.

[1] Recently Inger Zachrisson has discussed and catalogued the Roman coins in Central Sweden with a view to Early Iron Age trade. Zachrisson, Inger. 2010 Vittnesbörd om pälshandel? Ett arkeologiskt perspektiv på romerska bronsmynt funna i norra Sverige. Fornvännen. Årg 105:187-202. (Summary in English).

This week On the Reading Rest I have two articles discussing the runestone from Hogganvik in Mandal Vest Agder, Norway

Glørstad et al. 2011. Zanette Tsigaridas Glørstad, Jakob Johansson & Frans-Arne Stylegar. Minnelund og monument. Runesteinen på Hogganvik, Mandal, Vest-Agder. Viking 2011. Pp 9-24.

Knirk, James. 2011. Hogganvik-innskriften: en hard runologisk nøtt. Viking 2011. Pp 25-39.

In Berlin the Zeitgeist wants to commemorate the polar bear Knut, and Der Spiegel cannot resist ridicule (,1518,805529,00.html ). The article, Berlin Struggles to Memorialize Star Bear, is painstakingly witty struggling to make fun of as much as possible except itself. It brings together the untimely death of Knut (2011, five years old, encephalitis), his keeper Thomas Dörflein (2008, 44 years old, heart attack) and Kurt Cobain (1994, 27 years old, shot in the head) and manages, in conclusion, to call the bear Knut Cobain (on rumduncan said it 9 month ago. Not surprisingly, it didn’t catch on ). Itself a charming example of Zeitgeist and Schadenfreude blinking at dyslexia from its moral high ground, the most interesting aspect of the article is its way with names and the associations they bring about and express.

One of perhaps several memorial Knut Stones

Naming, commemoration and memorial are at the centre also of the new rune stone from Hogganvik and its text, but most of the innuendo or stupidity that may well have surrounded it has been lost. Nevertheless, given that an open mind is to be recommended when trying to understand 1600 year old texts, memorials and commemorations one might as well keep the Zeitgeist and any Der-Spiegel attitude in mind.

The two articles sum up an intensive 18 months of impressive research into the new rune stone from Hogganvik giving us a discussion of the archaeological context: pointing out the memorial and its place in the Iron Age landscape. And a summing up of the runology: presenting a solution to most of the linguistic problems together with a comprehensive overview of what cannot so easily be understood. Thanks to these and earlier articles we now know a lot about the Hogganvik stone, which seems to have been cut some time between 350 and 500 AD. My discussion of the stone and the inscription is heavily indebted to these two articles in Viking.

Today, we know so much that we can approach the stone as it would quite likely have been approached around 400 AD. It stood as a poster and if we were not locals we would probably have approached it from the South following a road going North through or along a small cemetery. We would have passed by the most prominent grave and then just before the road turned left and down in a slope or between two hills we would have stood in front of the stone.

Typical of a poster, standing face to face with it is enough to take in the whole message. Other stones may need a closer inspection.

The Hogganvik stone is so old that those who stood in front of it may either have recalled or actually been the first to formulate the well-known strophe from Hávamál: Sjaldan bautasteinar standa brautu nær, nema reisi niður að nið which means that seldom does a memorial store stand next to the road if it wasn’t erected for someone by his lineal descendant.

Reading the stone makes it apparent that we are not standing in front something as commonplace as that. On the contrary, we are standing in front of something we would seldom see next to a road that runs through a cemetery. Not surprisingly, excavations have revealed that the stone itself is not connected to any grave, but standing on an angular shelf at the very end of the cemetery. From this position we overlook the settlement below the cemetery and perhaps a road or path leading down to the Hogganvik farm.

Maps showing the situation of the Hogganvik stone

There is something most odd about the layout of the inscription.

The lines of the Hogganvik stone

All the four lines of runes are read from the right to the left. The crimson line and the purple one, nevertheless, should be read as one beginning with the crimson. This means that these two halves crash into each other in an acute angle, and that is odd. The green and the yellow lines are freestanding and not necessarily linked to any of the others. In practice, we nevertheless believe that they are. The stone has not yet been 3D-scanned, which means that an analysis of the carving technique cannot help us analysing the runes in detail. We would not know therefore whether one or more of the rows could have been added to the stone at a different point in time. Probably they were not, but still a 3D-scan would have been essential[1].

It meets the eye that the shape of the crimsonpurple line looks very much the same as the outline of kerbstones around the runestone, i.e. the angle in which the stone and thus also the yellow and green lines are standing.

The outline of the crimson-purple line of runes can be seen also in the kerbstones that frame the stone.

The long crimson-purple line has been read by James Knirk (and others) and there is quite an agreement about how to read it:


This line consists of four parts separated by vertical dots. The first part is kelbaþewas, which is a name in the genitive. Then comes the word stone, stainar, followed by a series of runes with no apparent and no subtly coded meaning. The line nevertheless ends quite reasonably with inananaboz, which is an adjective or an adverb, innananaboz, composed of the preposition innana, which governs the genitive, and the noun nabu (gen. naboz). Still today, not least in Danish, this kind of construction refers to a situation in which someone or something is present in a place which may be closed or partly open ( (B ( bet.5.)). The place in question is nabu, ‘the nave’, i.e. a central area from which the spokes radiate and thus also the place that locks them together. Parallel to a number of old-fashioned Danish words we could in fact construct an archaic neologism, the adverb or adjective ‘indennavs’ meaning ‘within the nave’. innananaboz means just that.

Given the fact that one could easily have written the crimson-purple line as one or two lines, one above the other, the chosen layout suggests itself as a representation of the expression ‘within the nave’. Since the outline of the kerbstones match the layout of the crimson-purple line, it stands to reason that what has been excavated is indeed a nave, and within this nave there is a runstone, stainar. Given the fact that archaeologists have not known that there were naves to be excavated we must not a priori expect naves to be rare. On many Early Iron Age graves the kerbstone patterns allude to naves and the entrance room in the South Scandinavian house is in itself a nave.

The Hogganvik stone stands in a nave. If there is as grave at this site, then it may well be situated be outside the excavation area in the centre of the nave.

Similar to someone writing something in the form of a cross, someone has written something in the form of a nave and this brings us to the series of non-lexical runes.

If they are code they probably represent a verb such as stands, is, speaks, sings, invokes, beseeches or … whatever. If they represent the actual action: the singing, beseeching or ringing nonsense, then in addition to their phonetic value, that is the kind of verb they represent. This part of the crimson-purple line : stainar : aaasrpkfaarpaa : innananaboz therefore means something like: ‘The stone invokes … within the nave’. This sentence, text/context is constructed by means of place, installation, layout, text and possibly sound. The vertical dots are there to mark out the non-lexical part of the inscription and the part that begins with stainar. This means that kelbaþewas, if possible, should be understood together with some other word or words, i.e. the green and/or the yellow line(s).

If the rune stone stands within the nave then the green and yellow lines stand there too. These lines can be understood without great problems. The green says eknaudigastiz the yellow one ekerafaz the first means ‘I (am) The-guest-in-need’ the second ‘I (am) the Wolverine’. As it happens a man introduces himself to the reader with two different names.

Of these two names the one that can go together with kelbaþewas, is naudigastiz because being someone’s, i.e. Kelbaþewa’s, wolverine sounds odd when you can be Kelbaþewa’s guest-in-need

Reading the stones as a material and linguistic, lexical and non-lexical context, one may in other words suggest the following:

Ek Erafaz ek Naudigastiz Kelbaþewas : Stainar : aaasrpkfaarpaa : innana naboz—I Wolverine, I am Kelbaþewa’s Needguest (Guest-in/from/of-Need). The stone aaasrpkfaarpaa (invokes/singing …) within the nave.

And the names! Wolverine is not a bad one since a wolverine it is a predator. Today the name Needguest may seem odd, but 1600 years ago calling someone a guest was not uncommon. If moreover one needed someone’s protection (being a mercenary or plundering predator on the run) calling oneself Needguest is thus almost a compliment to your host. A needguest could also be someone the host needed to solve his problems, similar to the nōtstallon occurring in Ludwigslied [2]. In any case there is a positive ring to the name.

The host in case is the servant of the kelb, which means ‘ewe lamb’, at least in Old High German. Sixteen hundred years ago, judging from preserved names, not even þewaz—’servant’ was derogatory. If you are Ewe Lamb’s Servant then you are protecting sheep and that is obviously a very good thing to do, especially against wolverines, since by protecting and serving your ewes you will eventually add to your fortune. Your household in its turn will benefit from this and your actions therefore characterize you as a care-taking master, a frō in Old High German.

Now we can read the text as it stands

I Wolverine, I am Ewe Lamb Servant’s Needguest. The stone aaasrpkfaarpaa within the nave

The context, therefore, is the following: Wolverine has made a nave and put up a stone in it as a memorial. Had he been a lineal descendant, the memorial would have been a simple standing stone in the nave and there would have been no reason for writing anything on it — since only seldom does a memorial store stand next to the road if it wasn’t erected for someone by his lineal descendant. Doing the unconventional, Wolverine goes on to describe his relation to the deceased. He does so politely with appellatives. First he defines his own somewhat dependant, albeit positive guest status, then he points to the empathy and foresight of his host, whose proper name is well-known in Hogganvik and nothing to mention.

Apart from being a memorial, the stone in the nave has a clandestine function represented by a series of non-lexical runes. If their fonetic value is essential they may be compared to the sound series forming innananaboz, which, in that case, takes a series of sounds such as, aaas repek faar-paa, back to the fonetics of a language — aaas-repek-faar-paa in-nana-naboz.

Wolverine is a proper name, Naudigastiz an appellative, a descriptive name given to someone with reference to a certain context. They make up a pair similar to Knut and Cobain. The Iron Age appellative of course is very much better than the modern one, since in those days naming was not taken lightly and thus nothing one would hand over to the Iron Age Der Spiegel, or Daily Mirror for that matter.

Calling one’s cat Wolfy Naudigast Aasrepek may just be possible.


[1] In a series of studies Laila Kitzler Åhfeldt has studied rune carvings and worked with 3D scanning. A number of scanning examples can be seen and downloaded  in the database at

[2] In a book called Journey of Civilisation there is translation in to English and a discussion of Ludwigslied see the term nōtstallo and its relation to the term frō is discussed on page 110 ff.