Recently, at The Viking Herald, we were lucky to receive an email from one of our readers. 

Now, there is nothing we love more than interacting with you (yes, I mean you reading this article right now), as you are the reason we can do what we love best – providing as much information, news, and analysis about all things related to everyone's favorite early medieval raiders, traders, and so much more. 

Our reader (big shoutout to Dave K) was kind enough to email in and ask for information on a specific topic:

"All manner of quotes can be found almost everywhere. Are there any known from Northman / Scandinavian / Germanic / Dane societies, particularly in runes? Have fun with that."

Well, Dave K, fun is exactly what we had with that. 

We all know that the Vikings loved a pithy quote or saying; in fact, we even dedicated a whole article to discussing the best of them

However, most of these witty sayings and quotes have come down to us via the rich tapestry of Norse sagas and not carved in rock. 

That is not to say, however, that runestones cannot teach us life lessons. Let's look at what runestones can teach us broadly before we look at a few examples of life quotes etched in rock. 

The Ramsund carving in Sweden, distinct for being inscribed on a flat rock, carries the inscription: "Sigríðr, Alríkr's mother, Ormr's daughter, constructed this bridge for the soul of her husbandman Sigrøðr's father, Holmgeirr." Photo: Pbuergler (CC BY-SA 4.0)

The value of memory and legacy in Viking societies 

At first glance, people from Viking societies, who lived over a millennium ago, may not seem to offer much helpful advice to us moderns, smug in the safe comfort of the 21st century. 

However, this would be a very myopic and, frankly, stupid opinion to have. People from Viking societies possessed a great wealth of knowledge that we are simply grappling to understand. 

From their skill in navigating the oceans and seas without the aid of modern technology to their great literary imagination and flair, as evident in the rich tapestry of the Norse sagas, these people have left us valuable lessons to learn. 

One of the less studied but important lessons is how a high value should be put on memory and legacy. 

Runestones, large pieces of stone with elaborately carved runes and pictures, are some of the most impressive physical objects to emerge from the Viking Age (c. 750 – 1100). 

Many were erected to commemorate individuals, events, or significant achievements, often victory in a battle. 

They remind us of the importance people in Viking societies placed on preserving the memory of their ancestors and ensuring their deeds were remembered for generations to come. 

They can help teach us the value of honoring our own heritage and the legacies left behind by those who came before us, whether that was someone in power or a deeply beloved family member. 

The Jelling runestones, often referred to as "Denmark's birth certificate," are ancient inscribed stones located in the town of Jelling, Denmark. Photo: Kenneth Bagge Jorgensen / Shutterstock

Communication, literacy, and propaganda 

Whilst people in Viking societies often get lumped together as mere brainless brawlers and barbarians, the fact remains that aside from their Viking warriors, they produced some of the best literary works in history.

Although not as widespread as in modern societies, literacy was still an essential and integral part of Viking societies. 

The existence of runestones is a testament to these peoples' literacy and communication skills. 

Runestones were often erected in public spaces, serving as messages to the immediate community and future generations. They were used to mark territory, give public edicts, or honor the dead. 

The most remarkable combination of all three is the Jelling stones

These were runestones erected by two kings of Denmark, King Gorm the Old and his son, Harald Bluetooth

The older one, erected by Gorm, was in memory of his wife, Thyra. New research shows that she may have been as powerful as her husband, the traditional founder of the Danish monarchy. 

The more recent runestone was erected by Bluetooth in honor of his parents and also for the fact that he was said to have brought Christianity to all of Denmark.

The Jelling runestones, indicative of all runestones, highlight the importance of effective communication in the written word in preserving history – even family history – sharing knowledge (or propaganda) and fostering cultural continuity. 

They remain a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of Denmark's most popular tourist attractions. 

In Sweden, runestone U 201 reads: "Þegn and Gautdjarfr(?) and Sunnhvatr(?) and Þórulfr raised this stone in memory of Tóki, their father, who perished abroad in Greece. May God help his spirit, spirit and soul." Photo: Berig / (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Adaptation and adventure abroad, family ties at home 

The Greece runestones are a series of runestones found in Sweden that deal with the exploits and adventures of people who traveled from Viking societies to the Byzantine Empire and beyond. 

These runestones relate to the Viking sense of adventure, exploration, and trade. They reflect the spirit of adventure, curiosity, and the willingness to explore new horizons in Viking societies. 

Countless people from Viking societies utilized the river routes of Eastern Europe to find their way down to the Byzantine Empire and the untold material and cultural riches that this Second Rome had to offer during the early medieval period. 

Despite providing a brilliant snapshot of some adventurers, explorers, and early entrepreneurs from Viking societies, many of these runestones carry the heavy weight of lament. 

Numerous runestones mourn a loved one who traveled to "Grekland" (what people in Viking societies called the vast Byzantine Empire) and never returned. 

These runestones, in particular, highlight the importance that people in Viking societies placed upon kinship ties, social bonds, and collective identity. 

Community support, collaboration, and solidarity with family and friends were just as significant for these people a millennium ago as they are to us now. 

The Greece runestones are reminders of how the early medieval world was surprisingly interconnected despite the lack of modern transport. They speak of the importance of adaptability, adventure, and embracing change as we navigate our own lives. 

Valuable lessons 

Whilst runestones may not feature the pithy Viking quotes and sayings found in the sagas, they offer something more significant.

They provide valuable lessons on adaptation, adventure, community, communication, family, and memory.

Studying these ancient artifacts, some over a millennium old, offers deeper insights into the lives, beliefs, and values of the Vikings. This knowledge can inspire us as we navigate our life journeys.

For more information on the latest research about the Jelling Stones, visit the Smithsonian Museum website here

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