If you want to use this site please update your browser!

Altuna Runestone (early 11th century)

Altuna Runestone ( Altunastenen ), listed as U 1161 in the Rundata catalog, is a Viking memorial Runestone with images from Nordic mythology, which is located in Altuna, Uppland, Sweden.

The Altuna Runestone is a 1.95 meter (6 ft 5 in) high granite stone that was discovered in 1918 by a local historian in the wall of a chapel near its present location. Before the historical significance of runic stones was recognized, they were often used as materials in the construction of roads, bridges, walls and buildings. This is one of the few surviving runic stones with exclusively pagan illustrations from Scandinavian mythology. Most of the surviving runestone were created in the 11th century after the Christianization of Sweden and they were created by people who wanted to show that they too were adhering to the new faith, at least outwardly, due to the fact that at least half of the runestone has inscriptions relating to Christianity.

One side of the Altuna Runestone, however, illustrates a legend recorded in Hymiskviða of the Verse Edda, in which the Scandinavian god Thor fishes for ermungand, the snake of Midgard. Thor goes fishing with the yotuna gimir using the head of a bull as bait, and catches the ermungand, which is then either torn off or, as stated in the Gylfaginning in the Edda, the line separates from the gimir. The Edda prose provides an additional detail: when Thor was pulling the line with Jörmungand on the hook, his feet went through the bottom of the boat. The image on the rune stone of Altuna does not show Chimir, which may be due to the narrow shape of the stone, but it does show Thor, his line and tackle, as well as the snake and, in particular, Thor's leg, which was pierced through the hull of the boat. This encounter between Thor and Jormungand seems to have been one of the most popular motifs in Scandinavian art. Three other stone images that have been associated with the myth are the image of the Ardre VIII stone, then the Hørdum stone and the Gosforth cross. A stone slab which may be part of the second cross at Gosforth also shows a fishing scene using a bull's head.

The runic inscription suggests that those to whom the stone is dedicated, father Holmfaster and his son Arnfaster, were burned, possibly in a case of arson known as quick fire, a method commonly used in Scandinavian feuds. Arnfaster and his brother Vefastr share the common name of the element fastr with his father, Holmfastr. At that time in Scandinavia it was common practice to repeat one of the name elements from the parent's name in the children's names to show a family connection.

The inscription is classified as carved from runestone in the Pr3 style, also known as the Urnes style. This style of rune stone is characterized by slender stylized animals that are woven into narrow patterns. The heads of the animals are usually seen in profile with thin almond-shaped eyes and bent upward appendages on the nose and neck. The inscription is signed by rune masters with the normalized names Frösten and Balle and possibly Livsten. Balle was active in southwestern Uppland and northern Södermanland in the second half of the eleventh century.

Altuna Runestone