Danish carvers etched runestones more than 1,000 years ago. A mysterious Viking Queen, Thyra, has her name inscribed on two runestones. Who was this Viking queen of considerable power? Now, runestones interpretations reveal the importance of a mysterious Danish Viking Queen.
History generally remembers the Viking queen Thyra as the wife and mother of prominent Viking leaders. But new research suggests she had far more power and influence in 10th-century Denmark than previously thought. Thyra may have been a key political player.
The journal Antiquity reports that researchers from Denmark and Sweden used 3D scans to analyze carvings on the runestones, finding telltale clues that marked the individual style of the person who carved them. One runestone in particular refers to Thyra as Denmark’s “strength” or “salvation.
The Jelling Stones, located in the eastern Jutland town of Jelling, contain the earliest mentions of Denmark as a political entity. The smaller and older runestone, with an inscription written in the runic alphabet, was erected by Gorm around A.D. 950; the inscription on the larger Jelling Stone, commissioned by son Harald Bluetooth, also records Denmark’s conversion from Norse paganism to Christianity in 965 and is considered by many to be Denmark’s “birth certificate.”
The carver of the Laeborg Runestone named himself on the runestone as Ravnunge-Tue – and with Ravnunge-Tue’s new connection to the iconic Jelling Stone, Danes now know the name of the craftsperson who created their “birth certificate,” says archaeologist and runologist Lisbeth Imer of the National Museum of Denmark, the lead author of the Antiquity study.
“To learn more about the rune-carver and those named on the stone is fascinating,” said Dr. Katherine Cross, a lecturer at York St. John University in the UK who researches and teaches the history of early medieval northern Europe. She has not been involved in the study.
“The combination of the present analyses and the geographical distribution of the runestones indicates that Thyra was one of the key figures – or even the key figure – for the assembling of the Danish realm, in which she herself may have played an active part,” write the researchers.
It’s unusual for Viking women to be mentioned on runestones at all, but the name Thyra appears on four runestones from the period, at least three of which are now known to refer to the same woman. The inscription carved by Ravnunge-also states Thyra was his dróttning – a Norse word meaning “mistress” or “lady” and later translated as “queen.”
Queen Thyra was mother of then-reigning King Harald Bluetooth. The smaller stone was raised in her honor by her husband (and Harald’s father) King Gorm, calling her “Denmark’s strength/salvation” (or “Denmark’s adornment,” depending on the translation, the researchers noted in the study). Harald commissioned the larger stone, to honor both of his royal parents.
“You can follow the cutting rhythm of Ravnunge-Tue as one deep stroke of the chisel followed by two not so deep ones: DAK, dak-dak, DAK, dak-dak,” said Lisbeth Imer to CNN’s Mindy Weisberger. “It is almost like hearing the heartbeat of a person that lived so long ago.”
During the Viking era, runestones were used to memorialize powerful leaders who had passed away. Crafters would carve commemorative words, paint the stones bright colors and display them in public spaces.
Runestones Reveal the Importance of a Mysterious Danish Viking Queen, written by Tor Kjolberg