The Oldest Rune Stones in the World | History Hit

The Oldest Rune Stones in the World

Teet Ottin

25 Jan 2023
The Svingerud Stone is the oldest rune stone, created almost two thousand years ago
Image Credit: Alexis Pantos/Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo

There are many things that come into mind when thinking of Vikings – horned helmets, which are historically inaccurate, longships that brought terror to Europe, Norse gods that have been turned into Hollywood super heroes and, the subject of this article, their unique way of writing.

The runic alphabet developed among the early Germanic people of Northern Europe almost 2,000 years ago. How it was created it still not fully understood, though it is widely believed that contact with Mediterranean civilisations – Greeks, Etruscans and Romans – influenced the creation of this writing system.

Some of the best preserved examples of this script can be found on rune stones, including the lions-hare located in Sweden. They had many varied purposes ranging from marking territory to memorialising fallen kinsmen. Rune stones used to be highly colourful, though hundreds of years of being out in the open means very little is left for modern observers.

Here were look at some of the oldest rune stones found by archeologists.

The Svingerud Stone

The oldest entry on this list is also the most recent to have been discovered. Located in a grave near Oslo, Norway, this rune stone has been dated between 1 and 250 AD, making it unquestionably the first example of runic writing that we know of. The short inscription on the stone seems to refer to a woman and could mean For Idibera. 

Detail from the Svingerud Stone

Image Credit: Alexis Pantos/Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo

Einang stone

Found east of the Einang Sound near Fagernes, Oppland, Norway, this rune stone was placed on top of a grave mound during the 4th century AD. To this day, Einang stone is the oldest rune stone to still be standing in its original location. The text found on it translates to (I, Go)dguest painted/wrote this runic inscription. 

The inscription on the Einang stone

Image Credit: Lars Gustavsen, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Tune stone

Discovered in 1627, the Tune stone is believed to be from about 200 to 450 AD. The text is possibly the oldest Norwegian attestation of burial rites and inheritance, translating into English as I, Wiwaz, made the runes after Woduridaz, my lord. For me, Woduridaz, three daughters, the most distinguished of the heirs, prepared the stone.

One side of the Tune rune stone, located in the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo, Norway

Image Credit: Skadinaujo, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons; History Hit

Hogganvik runestone

This well preserved rune stone was discovered face down by a local Hogganvik, Norway resident named Arnfinn Henriksen. The text, consisting of 62 characters, is believed to be from 300 to 500 AD.

The stone re-established at its original location, August 2010

Image Credit: Bjoertvedt, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Kylver Stone

This Swedish stone dates back to the 5th century AD. It was discovered in 1903 near a farm at Kylver, Stånga, Gotland. It is famous for being the earliest rune stone to list all characters of the the Elder Futhark (the oldest form of the runic alphabet).

The Kylver stone, Gotland, Sweden

Image Credit: Gunnar Creutz, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Möjbro Runestone

Created between 400 and 500AD, this well-preserved rune stone has been known to Swedish authorities since the 17th century. Besides the runic inscription it also depicts a rider on a horse with two dogs. Many believe that the image was inspired by depictions of victorious continental Germanic warriors, which itself may have derived from motifs popular on ancient Roman tombstones.

Möjbro Runestone in Uppsala, Sweden

Image Credit: Bengt A Lundberg / Riksantikvarieämbetet, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Stentoften Runestone

Discovered in 1823, this rune stone is believed to have originated between 500 to 700 AD. It contains a curse that translates to (To the) <niuha>dwellers (and) <niuha>guests Haþuwulfar gave ful year, Hariwulfar … … I, master of the runes(?) conceal here, nine bucks, nine stallions, Haþuwulfar gave fruitful year, Hariwulfar … … I, master of the runes(?) conceal here, runes of power. Incessantly (plagued by) maleficence, (doomed to) insidious death (is) he who this breaks.

Stentoften Runestone, exhibited in Sankt Nicolai church, Sölvesborg

Image Credit: Henrik Sendelbach, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Björketorp Runestone

This Swedish stone is notable for being one of the tallest rune stones in the world, measuring 4.2 metres in height. The runes were created between 500 and 700 AD and translate to I, master of the runes(?) conceal here runes of power. Incessantly (plagued by) maleficence, (doomed to) insidious death (is) he who breaks this (monument). I prophesy destruction / prophecy of destruction.

The Björketorp Runestone in Sweden

Image Credit: Joachim Bowin, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Rök runestone

This 9th century example is noteworthy for having the longest runic inscription out of any rune stones, marking the beginning of Swedish literature. It contains elements from lost Nordic mythology and mentions the Ostrogothic king and ruler of Rome Theodoric the Great. Nowadays it can be found beside the church in Rök, Ödeshög Municipality, Östergötland, Sweden.

The back of the Rök stone

Image Credit: Arkland, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Runes give us a unique understanding of the Vikings in their very own words. While the Latin alphabet became widely adopted in northwestern Europe during the medieval period, in some places this happened late and it wasn’t the only language used.
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