Many a king has built a castle to showcase their might, only to see it destroyed or ransacked.
Beyond the northern suburbs of Stockholm, near the picturesque waterside community of Täby that he once owned, the medieval Lord Jarlabanke constructed something even more enduring for which he would be remembered: Jarlabanke's Bridge.
The site is a highlight of any Viking history tour offered by STOEX (you can book a tour with them here). Your driver will pick you up from your hotel and bring you back after a captivating journey through the Swedish countryside.
Stretching 150 meters across what was once a marshland, Jarlabanke's bridge served as an important connection between the lands north and south of the Eastern shores of Lake Vallentuna. Photo: Berig / Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Signs of the times
Jarlabanke's Bridge had two runestones positioned beside it.
They declare he built the crossing "for his soul" but also boast of his surrounding domains.
This was unusual for the era, as most runestones were primarily carved to honor deceased relatives of the affluent patrons who could afford such artistic endeavors.
Skilled artisans specialized in the carving and painting of these runestones. They traversed the landscape looking for wealthy Vikings, reminiscent of painters who crafted portraits of noble families in later centuries.
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Reflecting a harmonious blend of Viking and Christian traditions, the runestones mark a pivotal era of religious transformation. Photo: Berig / Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Master of all the surveys
The bridge, however, is the real testament to the power and Christian beliefs of this Viking lord.
With the Viking Age waning in the 11th century, Jarlabanke belonged to a powerful local family in Täby, Christian for at least two generations.
After the death of his father, Ingefast, Jarlabanke assumed his prominent status. It is commonly believed that being fairly young, he needed to assert himself in the area.
His crossing, spanning 150 meters, connects the north and south of the Eastern shores of Lake Vallentuna.
Back then, it would have been marshland, with water levels approximately five meters higher.
As Jarlabanke himself proclaimed, or as his runestone master carved on his behalf, he established a meeting place for the assembly governing the adjacent political district or hundare.
Excavated in 2005, the bridge is constructed of layers of tree branches, sand, and gravel.
In its time, it would have been not only practical but also quite impressive, significant enough for the young lord to commission a master rune carver to inscribe, in letters that only experts comprehend today:
"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."
These experts can approximate the date of the bridge runestones solely by examining the writing style, in this instance, pr2, which dates the artifact to between 1020 and 1050.
Another runestone bears the somber news of Jarlabanke's death, with its pr4 style suggesting the later 11th century.
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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