Commissioned by Lord Jarlabanke, a powerful aristocrat who raised runestones to showcase his influence in the local community, the causeway is today known as Jarlabanke's Bridge.

These runic inscriptions, along with the bridge itself, provide insight into the social culture and building traditions of the Vikings.

It stands as one of the best-preserved Viking sites in the Stockholm region and is one of the attractions of the Rune Kingdom.

The time of bridges and runestones

We are in the 11th century, the Viking Age is about to end, and what we today call Sweden is going through what could be argued to be the final phase of Christianization

This was a time when many runestones were built and bridges constructed by their side

Lord Jarlabanke belongs to a powerful local family in Täby. His family, the Jarlabanke Clan, has been Christian for at least two generations and has erected runestones with crosses to signify their faith.

Jarlabanke took over as the head of the family after his father, Ingefast, passed away, and he then sought to establish himself in the region. 

He built the bridge to connect the lands north and south of the Eastern shores of Lake Vallentuna. It measures 150 meters and traverses a former marshland. 

The water levels were higher back in the Viking Age (about five meters on average), and the marsh formed due to the proximity to Lake Vallentuna.

Jarlabanke wanted to be remembered, one of the reasons why he built the bridge and commissioned the runestones. But he also wanted to reach heavenly eternity as a Christian.

Stretching 150 meters across what was once a marshland, Jarlabanke's bridge served as a vital connection between the lands north and south of the Eastern shores of Lake Vallentuna. Photo: Agnus Carlsson / The Viking Herald

The two runestones at the bridge state that he built it for his soul. 

Jarlabanke's Bridge stands out due to its preservation, but there are plenty of runestones around Scandinavia that state that bridges were built to help people's souls. 

This is sometimes directly stated but also implicitly in some cases.

Runestones often state messages such as, "God help his soul," before or after saying that the runestone commissioner built a bridge.

These bridges were generally causeways (think of it like upbuilt roads or banks going over wetlands and marshes) that helped to tie local communities together.

This was necessary for Jarlabanke since he had strong political power around Lake Vallentuna.

Jarlabanke explicitly states on a runestone just north of the bridge that he built an assembly site (thing site) and that he alone owned the "hundare," a political district that the assembly controlled.

The bridge would have made travel across the area easier and helped Jarlabanke strengthen the authority over his domains.

The runestones speak of a time when bridges were built not only to span physical gaps but also to bridge the realms of the living and the divine. Photo: Agnus Carlsson / The Viking Herald

The young jarl

The Vikings are better known for their longships than for their bridge-building. 

Many contemporary cultures, as well as earlier ones, might not be impressed by the layers of tree branches, sand, and gravel that comprised Jarlabanke's Bridge, excavated in 2005.

All the same, it was a great achievement in its own geographical and historical context. 

Jarlabanke's project played an essential role in consolidating the changes in his society. He had enough power to command many people to build the causeway and to hire a professional rune carver.

The carver immortalized Jarlabanke's might with the words: "Jarlabanke had this stone raised in his own memory while he was still alive, and all alone, he owned the whole of Täby. He built this bridge for his soul."

How did Jarlabanke view himself? What can we think about his personality? Was he a selfish diva? 

After all, he erected a runestone in his own memory while he was still alive - perhaps even in his twenties.

To be fair, he is not the only Viking to have done this. For example, there is one runestone in nearby Sigtuna raised by Anund. You can read about the runestones of Sigtuna here

However, it is very unusual for runestones to be raised in one's own memory; most are erected by the deceased's husbands, sons, and daughters to commemorate dead relatives.

Could Jarlabanke have been insecure in his new position? Could it be that he was a young man who gained power in his early twenties and raised his runestones at that time to assert his worthiness as a local jarl?

Reflecting a harmonious blend of Viking and Christian traditions, the runestones mark a pivotal era of religious transformation. Photo: Agnus Carlsson / The Viking Herald

Modern interpretation

The theory that he might have been quite young is supported by Anne-Sofie Gräslund's works that date the runestones from the late Viking Age based on their stylistic elements. 

This system was created in the 1990s by Professor Gräslund at Uppsala University. 

The system dates the runestone inscriptions based on the artistic styles of the serpent figures carved within the inscriptions – of course, you can also date a runestone linguistically – and how it compares with other objects from the Viking Age. For an understanding of how this system works, see here.

Simplified, the system places the inscriptions of the Jarlabanke Bridge runestones in the pr2 style between the years 1020-1050. 

By contrast, another nearby runestone states the death of Jarlabanke and is dated to 1060-1100 (pr4 style), which makes it likely that Jarlabanke was young, or at least far from his deathbed when he raised his runestones.

Considering that the average lifespan was, at best, 40 years, we can infer that Jarlabanke must have been very young when his first set of runestones were raised. 

This whole line of thought is, of course, dependent on the accuracy of the dating system proposed by Anne-Sofie Gräslund and is approximate.

In summary, Jarlabanke's Bridge is one of Sweden's best preserved and most meticulously renovated Viking sites, located near Stockholm.

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