The three burial mounds in Old Uppsala (Gamla Uppsala) are the only tangible evidence that this tranquil parish of today was once the epicenter of Norse paganism and the seat of Sweden's kings long before Christianity.
It is a short distance from its modern counterpart and offers a pleasant excursion from Stockholm.
For a comprehensive understanding of this site's history and significance, STOEX has curated tours that offer an immersive experience. Book your expedition here.
The heart of pagan Sweden
But thanks to the writings of Adam of Bremen, a German chronicler from the later 11th century, we've long known about the importance of Old Uppsala, as detailed in his magnum opus, Gesta Hammaburgensis ecclesiae Pontificum.
This work is one of the most important sources of medieval history in Northern Europe, rich in detail.
It delves deep into the Norse practices and religious beliefs of the period before the Christianization of Scandinavia.
Later, it was believed that these mounds contained the remains of three kings from the House of Ynglings: Aun, Eadgils, and Egil, who were thought to have descended directly from the gods.
This is why they are referred to as the Royal Mounds or Kungshögarna in Swedish.
Today, they are more prosaically defined by their geographical locations as the Eastern Mound, Middle Mound, and Western Mound.
Dating back to the fifth and sixth centuries, these mounds stand as Sweden's oldest national symbols.
This is why King Karl XV ordered their excavation in the 1830s, commissioning one of the country's most eminent archaeologists of the time, Bror Emil Hildebrand, for the job.
- Planning a trip to Stockholm? Book your Viking history tour here!
The Western Mound of Old Uppsala, excavated in 1874, unveiled a rich burial with artifacts that trace connections between ancient Scandinavia and the Middle East. Photo: Henri Osti (1826–1914) / Public domain
Digging into the past
First, he dug a tunnel under the Eastern Mound and found a clay pot of burnt bones surrounded by charred offerings.
These offerings, although hard to interpret, included pieces of gold, a comb, decorated panels bearing the image of a spear-carrying warrior and evidence of the Norse board game tafl.
It is commonly accepted that those who were buried, likely a woman and a young man or boy, were of royal descent.
The Western Mound provided more concrete evidence of the occupant's status with its gold-inlaid sword and a board game boasting ivory pieces.
Intriguingly, the remains were of a man dressed in a suit of golden thread.
His casket featured four carved gems typical of the Middle East, suggesting contact between the people of Uppland (just north of modern-day Stockholm in southeast Sweden) and the Levant as early as the 500s.
Hildebrand meticulously recorded and replaced the items for future archaeologists to study – leaving today's visitors in awe and wonder as they admire the mounds strategically placed atop a ridge for a dramatic effect.
The highlight of any tour in this region north of Stockholm, which is steeped in Viking history, the Royal Mounds are an essential part of the full-day excursion provided by STOEX.
The company's English-speaking guides are eager to share their expertise. Their driver will collect you from your hotel and ensure a safe return after a day rich in Swedish history and countryside beauty. Book your Viking history excursion here!
This branded article was produced in collaboration with STOEX, a partner of The Viking Herald. You can find out more about their Viking and history tours - and book one - here.
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