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.


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