On the Western side of the Hunn burial, noteworthy similarities have been uncovered between a Roman-age and a Viking Age grave.

READ MORE: A primer: How and why did the Viking Age begin?

The Roman grave, which is also the oldest, has been named Stubhøj, while the Viking grave has been named Store Vikingegrav, which in English translates to the Large Viking Grave.

Researchers only know of two other graves similar to the ones at Hunn, making it clear that not many Viking graves have copied Roman graves. 

As such, Associate professor Julie Lund from the Department of Archaeology, Conservation, and History at the University of Oslo decided to investigate the similarities between the Roman and the Viking graves at the Hunn burial site.

Viking connections with the past

In her research, professor Lund investigates the ways that Vikings have made connections with the past through their graves and deposits of artifacts. 

As professor Lund says, the Vikings would make a distinction between the near and the distant past. This is evident when considering how in female graves there have been found heirlooms like jewelry, while in the Store Vikingegrav, there were found items that copied Roman objects from 700 years prior.

While the Hunn burial site contains graves stemming from so many periods of time, the Vikings specifically chose to copy the Roman graves in the area. As Professor Lund says, "it indicates that the Roman Age was a particular past they wished to make connections with."

Amongst the several external similarities between the graves is that they are both sat at the best locations of the burial site. The Roman grave is located on a ridge, and the Viking grave is located on a slope on the same ridge. In addition to this, both of the graves are encircled by kerbstones.

As Professor Lund notes, the Vikings likely used these stones to give the grave an old look. The kerbstones originally come from the Neolithic age and have also been used in graves from the Bronze age, where the stones were a part of the burial mounds. 

As the mounds wore down over time, the stones became visible. Thus, the burial mounds with kerbstones around them looked old, which is what the Vikings likely tried to replicate. It seems then that the Vikings meant for the Store Vikingegrav to appear as if it had stood there for a long time, making it a replica.

The Roman-era grave Stubhøj and Store Vikingegrav (Large Viking Grave) at the Hunn burial site in Østfold, marked with kerbstones. Photo: Julie Lund /UiO

Multiple similarities

Yet, the similarities between the graves did not stop at their external appearance. Inside, the Vikings had also replicated the Roman grave, evident by the weapons, shields, rare drinking horns, and riding spurs that were found in both of them. Furthermore, both are also skeleton graves and were given a furnished burial chamber.

Yet, the graves' similarities have also left the researchers puzzled. The Stubhøj grave was actually not opened until the start of the 20th century CE, which is 900 years after the Viking grave was made. Given the similarities between the graves' insides, it raises the question of how they would know what the Roman grave looked like. 

Professor Lund explains that the Vikings had likely heard stories about the Stubhøj grave. Given that Stubhøj is a skeletal grave from a time when cremation was most common, it is safe to assume that it was a significant grave. Therefore, it is not unthinkable that there circulated stories about the grave and the person that was buried inside it.

In relation to the Viking grave, Professor Lund has paid attention to the way material culture impacts people. When copying a Roman grave, it seems that the Vikings were not only trying to make the grave look old, but that it also gave them a narrative about who they were. 

Social relationships, self-awareness, and identity

When using old elements like this, you also make the past exist or be relevant in the present.

So, when the Vikings used the past as they did, it was a matter of social relationships, self-awareness, and identity. For example, heirlooms in graves created close relationships, while in other graves, such as those where the stones around it were arranged in the shape of a ship, it created relationships with both distant times and places.

As Professor Lund concludes, "In the Store Vikingegrav, alliances from a distant Roman era are re-forged in the Viking Age. Their interpretation of the Roman grave reveals what they liked, and it tells us something about who they perceived themselves to be and wanted to be".

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