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ILLUSTRATIONS OF THE RUNIC LITERATURE OF
ILLUSTRATIONS OF THE RUNIC LITERATURE OF
TRANSLATIONS IN DANISH AND ENGLISH OF THE
INSCRIPTIONS IN MESEHOWE,
VISITS OF THE NORTHERN SOVEREIGNS TO ORKNEY,
NOTES, VOCABULARY, ETC.
J. M. MITCHELL, F.RS.A., RRP.S.,
FELLOW OF THS ROTAL SOCISTT OF NORTHBBN AHTIQUARHS OF DENMARK; JOI2VT-8EORETART FOR
FOREIGN CORRESPONDENCE SOCIETY OF ANTIQUARIES OF SCOTLAND, ETC.
R GRANT AND SON, 54 PRINCES STREET.
LONDON: JOHN RUSSELL SMITH, 36 SOHO SQUARE
221. ^- qs>
PREFACE, ......... Vii
ON THE RUNIC LITERATURE OF SCANDINAVIA, . . .13
ON THE MESEHOWE INSCRIPTIONS, 21
DESCRIPnON OF MESEHOWE, . •.»''^ •; • *^'^
EXPEDITIONS OF NORTHERN SOVEREIGNS TO Otti^"Ry,\ ... 38
TRANSLATION OF THE MESEHOWE INSCRIPTIONS, .48
• • •
NOl hjb| • • • • » • • 00
VOCABULARY OF DOUBTFUL AND DIFFICULT WORDS, .67
We owe the discovery of the interesting Runic inscriptions
in the mound called Mesehowe, to the great zeal for archaeo-
logical science evinced by James Farrer, Esq., M.P., who (by
permission of Mr Balfour of Balfour and Trenaby, the pro-
prietor of the estate in which it is situated), personally directed
such excavations as were necessary to obtain access to the
interior ; and in the week beginning on Monday, 8th July
1861, the centre was so far cleared out, in presence of Joseph
Robertson, Esq., one of the vice-presidents, and John Stuart,
Esq., one of the secretaries of the Society of Antiquaries of
Scotland, and other gentlemen, as to give some idea of the
value of the rich and remarkable display of the first Scandi-
navian Runic inscriptions discovered in Orkney.
Mr Farrer was not satisfied with having merely made the
discovery ; at considerable trouble, accurate drawings and
ground-plans of the mound, were made by Mr Gibb of
Aberdeen. The inscriptions were carefully copied by the able
archaeologist, Mr George Petrie of Kirkwall, a gentleman who
deserves great credit for the zeal and perseverance he has
displayed in collecting antiquarian materials in that quarter.
Casts were also taken of the inscriptions, by Mr Henry
• • •
Laing, Elder Street, Edinburgh, who went to Orkney for this
purpose, at the request of Mr Farrer.
The inscriptions and casts were compared on the spot, and
thereafter lithographs of the inscriptions were collated, with
the casts by Mr Stuart, who kindly undertook, and ably
performed this laborious task.
To accoimt for the delay in the publication of my transla-
tions, it is right that I should state that, on the 28th Septem-
ber, Mr Farrer wrote to me : '' The Runes will be compared
with the casts in the course of a few days, and I then intend
to send a few copies to Denmark and Sweden for interpreta-
tion. I shall send one to an English Runic scholar, and
will order one to be forwarded to you as representing Scot-
land ; but I must ask you to adhere to your proposal to com-
municate to me only your translation of the Runes, and
refrain from giving any report of them until you have my
authority to do so. I am most anxious that the Danish and
Norwegian scholars should be placed upon equal terms, and
therefore the copies will be sent to all by the same post.''
In November following, Mr Farrer was so kind as to send
a copy of the inscriptions to me, as the Secretary for Foreign
Correspondence of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland,
attending more particidarly to Northern Archaeology and
Philology, having had opportunities of endeavouring to qualify
myself during a residence, as well as several excursions, in
Scandinavia. The high opinion I then formed of the kindness,
and the social and intellectual superiority, of the inhabitants,
induced me to learn to speak the northern languages, which
enabled me to visit and copy on the spot many of the Runic
monuments and inscriptions, which so far accounts for
venturing to give my versions of the translations of the most
remarkable and interesting collection of Runic inscriptions
My translations of the inscriptions I sent to Mr Farrer,
in the beginning of January following, and in the Gentleman's
Magazine for February, by letter, dated 20th January, he says :
" I have now received from Professor Stephens of Copen-
hagen, a very full and elaborate translation of the Runic
inscriptions in the ancient buildings of Mesehowe. I have,
in addition, a careful translation from Mr Mitchell, the Belgian
Consul at Edinburgh,'' &c.
In the course of a few weeks more, the other translations
having reached him, Mr Farrer's splendid work was prepared,
and published in the summer of last year, containing an
accurate account of Mesehowe by himself, and the trans-
lations of the Runes by the three Scandinavian literati.
Although I had obtained full authority from Mr Farrer,
I considered it my duty as an oflSlce-bearer, not to
publish my translations imtil I had read them before the
Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, which only coidd take
place in the first open night of our Winter Session. I hope
these circumstances will suflSciently accoimt for part of the
delay in their publication.
I am now in a position to lay these translations before the
public, and I have been requested to let the work be ojQTered
for sale, at the lowest possible price, that the attention of the
public may be directed to this branch of Archaeology.
I ought here to state, that I have had much friendly inter-
course with, and have the greatest possible esteem for.
Professor Mimch of the University of Christiania, who stands
high among Norway's most talented literary men. I have
the same esteem and respect for my friend Etatsraad Rain,
the talented secretary of the Royal Northern Society of
Antiquaries of Denmark, who has added so much to the
science in its publications. With Mr Stephens I have not the
pleasure of being acquainted, but I am fully aware of his
high literary acquirements. Had either, or any other,
aflForded the requisite elucidation of the Runes, I would have
been spared considerable labour. If any errors are found in
these, they are entirely my own, as I have had no assistance
in their interpretation.
I have to express my best thanks to Mr Farrer for his kind
permission to make such use of his work as I might deem
expedient ; to Captain Thomas, R.N., for permission to copy
his plan and elevation of Mesehowe ; and to Thomas S. Muir,
Esq.,* for his ground-plans of it.
The remarkable representations of the Dragon, and the
Serpent-knot, were photographed on the spot at Mesehowe,
and then copied on stone. The ancient silver ornaments
found in Orkney, now in the Society's collection, I first got
photographed, and then accurately lithographed, so that
their appearance and relative sizes are carefully preserved
in the frontispiece of this work.
In such Runic inscriptions, we see that the Scandinavians
of the ninth and tenth centuries were men of superior educa-
tion, as compared with some of the neighbouring countries ;
and we become, after studying their Eddas, their Sagas, and
their other interesting works, impressed with the belief that
the Pagan and invading Scandinavian warriors, statesmen,
and poets, in their writings, in their moral character, their
bravery and success in war, may be placed at least on a level
* Author of an ably written work, " Characteristics of Old Church Architecture
in the Mainland and Western Islands of Scotland." Edmonston & Douglas, 1861.
with the Pagan and invading Romans ; and with this know-
ledge, we see no reason why the ancient and modem Northern
languages, so replete with brilliant talent and interesting
historical records, should not receive more attention than they
have hitherto obtained, at least from the inhabitants of the
I have endeavoured to make this publication as attractive
as possible by giving :
1st, Opposite the lithographic copies of the Runic in-
scriptions of Mesehowe
The same, or Runic, words in Roman letters.
The translation in modem northern or
The translation in English.
2d, The description of Mesehowe.
3d, An Account of the Mesehowe Inscriptions.
4th, A short account of the Runic literature of Scan-
5th, As perhaps connected with some of the inscriptions,
particularly the Dragon and Serpent-knot.
The visits to Orkney of the following Kings of
1st, King Harold Harfager ;
2d, King Harold Haardraade ;
3d, King Magnus Barbein ; and
4th, King Haco on his voyage to attack Scotland.
6th, In the Notes:
1st, The Scandinavian mode of warfare at sea in an-
cient times in the account of the sea-fight of King
Olaf Trygvesen of Norway with the Kings of
Denmark and Sweden, and Erik Jari, a cele-
2d, An account of the treasure discovered in
Orkney, which is supposed to be referred to in,
at least, one of the inscriptions.
3d, Elucidations of some of the names, &c., sup-
posed to be referred to.
And 7thly, A Glossary of the difl&cult or doubtful words.
RUNIC LITERATURE OF SCANDINAVIA.
THE RUNIC ALPHABET.
« - »■ »>
F UDTHO RKHNIAS TBLM Y OT R
That we may duly appreciate the importance of the
discovery of the Runic inscriptions in Mesehowe, it may be
worth while to take a cursory view of the Runic Literature of
Scandinavia. The most prominent evidence of the use of the
Runes in ancient times, exists in the inscriptions on the stone
monuments erected in the three kingdoms of Scandinavia. The
greatest nimiber has been found in Sweden — ^namely, about
1400; and there are about 400 in Denmark and Norway: a few
in Greenland, two in England, none in the mainland of Scotland
(unless the Swedish one in the West Princes Street Gardens,
Edinburgh, may be considered such), some in the Isle of Man,
one at Holy Island off Arran, two only of indistinct character
in Shetland, and these in Mesehowe, Orkney.
Not many of the continental ones have either peculiar or
local interest, and they are generally very short, affording
little information. Still, from some of the inscriptions, inter-
esting deductions may be made as to the habits and charac-
teristics, of the inhabitants in ancient times.
14 RUNIC LITERATURE OF SCANDINAVIA,
A number of these monuments state, that the individuals
named had proceeded on predatory expeditions to England.
For instance, one near Stavanger, Norway, says, Bjom fell
in an expedition when Canute reigned in England, namely :
Nl>. -iRKMIK. Willi- WM. inil^. ^HR. 'hi- 'IK- ^• WR. IhWR. IMi.
KMYiR. Mil. m^n
" Koth Arkstin ristin thina iftir Bior sun sin sa var tuthir ilis Knutr soti Iklat."
" Koth Arkstin cut these, in memory of Biom his son, who was killed in battle
when Knut (Canute) reigned in England."
Those who went usually in regular expeditions were called
farar, such as " Iklotes farar,'" and I was shewn a stone in the
ancient church of Old Upsala, with the following inscription :
i|Kh»>R. II. I'll^. MM. IKNIi. M\ ^Mk mw ni>hR iH.
" Sigwithr stain thina Iklats fan aftir Witarf fathur sin."
" Sigwith cut this stone in memory of Witarf his father, a leader to England."
England is spelt in such inscriptions variously; such as
Iglats, Iklauths, Eglans, Auklans, Aklati, Eglati, Egloti, and
Some of the stones also bear that the individuals named
were leaders to [or fought or died in] Greece, Kriki-
fari ; to Asia, Asfari ; to Jerusalem, Jorsolafari ; to Lom-
bardy, Longbartlantfarar, &c. " Westerferd'' and " Westen-
hap '' also occur, and these expressions apply to the voyage,
embracing Orkney, the Hebrides, and Ireland, and therefore
specially to the locality we have before us.
One of the two Scandinavian Runic inscriptions referred to,
as found in England, was discovered in 1855 on the west wall
RUNIC LITERATURE OF SCANDINAVIA. 15
of the southern transept of Carlisle Cathedral, about the time
when the restoration of this Cathedral had commenced. The
words are :
"Tolfinn Hraita at TTlfhnr, a thisi stain."
" Dolfinn inscribed this stone in memory of Ulphnr."
In a very able paper on this discovery, by the Rev Mr
Maughan of Bewcastle (who has exhibited much talent and
research in deciphering the Anglo-Saxon Runes on the
celebrated Bewcastle Monument), he shews the probability
that this inscription on Carlisle Cathedral wall, was made about
the year 1062, by Dolfin, son of Cospatrick, Earl of Northum-
berland, who, when Grovemor of Carlisle, and owner of part of
the adjacent country, was driven out by King William. And
Mr Maughan, in confirmation of this, proves that Dolfin had a
son named Ulphnr, or Ulphius, who was treacherously
murdered by Tosty, the other, or pretended, Earl of Northum-
The other Runic inscription found in England, was dug up
in St Paul's Churchyard, London, in 1852, and has the
following words :
NM. N1. MKH HIK. WMI. W- im-
" Kona let legia stin thensi auk Tuki"
Councillor of State Rafn makes the translation :
" Conal and Tuke laid this stone."
But perhaps the following is the most accurate :
" His wife laid this stone to Tuke."
There have been only two indistinct fragments of Scandi-
navian Runic inscriptions discovered in Shetland, which are
mentioned in Hibbert's Shetland, 531, 547.
16 RUNIC LITERATURE OF SCANDINAVIA.
In noticing the remarkable inscription in the Firth of
Clyde, it may be observed that, when King Haco came to the
Scottish coast to endeavour to retake the Scottish islands,
he is said to have anchored at Melanseyer, Molan's Isle
Bay, or Holy Island Roads, on his return, where he lay some
nights ; and we find in the cave on Holy Island, oflF Lamlash,
Arran, the following inscription :
HKhNi. 1*H+ R+IM
" Niculas thaene raest"
" Nicolas cut these."
We have every reason to suppose that this inscription was
cut by one of King Haco's commanders, named Nicolas of
Giska, who was in the expedition. The Runes are evidently
stung Runes, and of the date of Haco's expedition. There
are other inscriptions in the same cave ; but none of them so
distinct as to be pronounced Scandinavian. We are indebted
to Professor Daniel Wilson, in his interesting and valuable
work on the Prehistoric Annals of Scotland^ for bringing this
before the public — vide page 531.
There are several well-cut Scandinavian Runic inscriptions
on monuments in the form of crosses in one of our Scottish
islands, Man, which are comparatively of little interest, and,
from the characters, may be pronounced to belong to the
twelfth century. Copies of several of the monuments and
inscriptions may be seen in Dr Daniel Wilson's able work,
already referred to, page 537.
One of these monuments, of which there is a perfect copy
in the Museum of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, has
RUNIC LITERATURE OF SCANDINAVIA. 17
the following inscription. We give it as a fair example of
the others, which are generally sepulchral.
pmm hwi RiMi . Y^h^- >m. m- n+K. Ahi^.
"IK. mm:- AhK. \m.t>.
" Thurlior Neaki risti krus thana aft Fiak sun sin bruthnr sun Eaors."
'• Thurlior Neake cut this cross over Fiak his son, brother's son of Eaor."
We shall add the inscription on a Scandinavian Runic
monument which can be seen in Edinburgh, and may be
considered a very good representation of the greater number
of Runic monuments in Sweden. It was brought from
Sweden by Sir Alexander Setoun of Preston in 1787. It is
of granite, five feet in height, by three and a half feet in
breadth, and is situated on the south side of West Princes
^Ri. mi Hi^ik ^niR. *MrY. mi>hR. hik mo. *MrK. 41. hik.
" Ari risti stain aftir Hialm fathur sin Guth hialbi and sin."
" Ary cut (this) stone over Hialm his father, God help his spirit."
It is to be regretted that the hammer has been recently
applied to this very superior specimen of a Scandinavian
Runic monument, and two letters are knocked off, so that it
ought to be removed without delay to a place of safety.
Scandinavian Runic inscriptions also occur on houses, on
churches, on church-bells, on fonts, on drinking-homs, and on
wooden calendars of various ages. Among the most remarkable
inscriptions in Runes, other than on the stone monuments, may
be mentioned the Scandinavian Runic inscription on the
statue of the Lion, which had been taken by the Venetians from
Athens in 1687, and the meaning of which has been so fully
explained by the talented Secretary of the Royal Society of
Antiquaries of Denmark, C. C. Rafh, Esquire. Some of the
18 RUNIC LITERATURE OP SCANDINAVIA.
Runic letters in the inscription on the Lion, are much worn
out, and therefore have to be supplied, and cannot well be
described without suitably formed tjrpes. The English of the
inscriptions can only therefore be given here. On the left
side, on a scroll, are apparently the words :
" Hakon, along with UK, Asmund, and Om, took this port These men, with
Harald the Tall, imposed heavy contributions on the inhabitants of the comitry on
accomit of the resistance of the Greeks. Dalk remained fix)m necessity in distant
lands. Egil was with Eagnar on an expedition to Eu(menia) and Armenia."
And on the right side, on a different-formed scroU :
" Asmund cut these Runes along with Asgeir, Thorleif, Thord, and Ivar, at the
request of Harald the Tall, although the Greeks opposed (or obliterated) . . ."
The monuments m Jutland to King Grorm and Queen Thyra,
are considered in Denmark to be very interesting. King
Gorm died in 941, and therefore these inscriptions must be
among the oldest in that country. The words on Queen
Thyra's monument are translated :
" Grorm the King, erected this monument to his Queen, Thyra, Denmark's Love."
And on King Gorm's monument :
" Harold the King ordered these monuments to be raised to Gorm his father, and
to Thyra his mother. Harald also subdued all Denmark and Norway, and
Christianised the Danish people."
The King Harold mentioned in the preceding, was King
Harald Blaatand, and both monuments are much valued as
The inscriptions explanatory of the carvings on eleven
compartments of the ancient baptismal-font, in the Church of
Okirkeby, in the Island of Bomholm, described in the
RUNIC LITERATURE OF SCANDINAVIA. 19
Antiquariske Annaler, vol. 4, page 140, also possess consider-
We have reason to suppose that before the use of paper in
Scandinavia, Runes would be used in shortly recording the
events in ancient times, as also the laws that were then
enacted, on wood ; such as thin plates of beech (from whence
the word book is supposed to be derived), or plates or blocks
of ash or birch. We have no knowledge from any existing
remains of such, that the Scandinavian Runes were so used ;
but several very interesting and well-cut Rune-staves or
calendars are in existence; the oldest of which is of the
fourteenth century *
The number of works in written Runes discovered on paper
or parchment is inconsiderable, and the subjects not of
unusual or extraordinary kind. One on six sheets of parch-
ment of 12mo size, a fragment without beginning or end,
which was found in Wallentuna Church, Sweden, is now in
the Royal Museum of Antiquaries, Stockholm, the age not
known ; and in the University Library of Copenhagen, there
is a manuscript in Runes on parchment, in 8vo, with a short
accoimt of the Danish kings to the year 1319, and also
a statement as to the boundaries between Denmark and
These, with one or two almanacs of a comparatively late
date, the oldest of which is of the year 1328 (published in the
Fastes Danid of Olaus Wormius), are all the Scandinavian
Runic manuscripts of any value known.
What we have here stated will satisfy our readers that the
inscriptions lately discovered in Mesehowe are of surpassing
* Saxo Grammaticus says, " lignum celebre quondam chartarum genus." — lib.
L, p. 60.
20 RUNIC LITERATURE OF SCANDINAVIA.
interest and importance, and combine in one spot a greater
number of interesting Scandinavian Runic inscriptions than
have yet been discovered in Northern Europe.
There are several modifications of the form of the Scan-
dinavian Runes which do not require to be noticed here, and
which can only be interesting to the advanced scholar in
Runic literature ; but we may here state that the Anglo-
Saxon and Ogham Runes are quite distinct in character and
number from the Scandinavian Runes, and do not come
within the scope of these, necessarily limited, remarks.
ON THE MESEHOWE INSCRIPTIONS.
It is a fortunate circumstance that the Mesehowe has been
so long covered up, because the nature of the rock, of the Old
Red Sandstone, upon which the inscriptions are cut, is such
that if they had been exposed for half a century to the atmo-
sphere, they would have been obliterated. Already one of
the inscriptions has become illegible from the friability of the
stone ; and it will be advisable that the proprietor, who, we
know, is anxious to preserve them, puts on an air-tight roof ;
if of wood, it might be opened to the visitor in dry or favour-
able weather, but it should not be opened in moist, damp, or
The greatest peculiarity of the Mesehowe inscriptions, as
compared with the previously known inscriptions, is the fulness
of the statements, and the amplitude of the facts. One or two
prove that the crews of such predatory ships referred to, had
been either wrecked, or driven on shore by the enemy, and
were waiting until an opportunity Oiccurred to escape ; that
22 MESEHOWE INSCRIPTIONS.
the jarls or heads of local authority at the time, were opposed
to the freebooter's plundering excursions, a nd that the circum-
stance of the vikings concealing themselves in such places
of security as Mesehowe, speaks favourably as to the system
of government there.
In comparing these inscriptions with all those of a similar
age in the three kingdoms of Scandinavia, we find a great
similarity in the type, and not a great difference in the
language ; so that the deduction we are fully entitled to make
is, that ONLY ONE LANGUAGE WAS USED IN SCANDIKAVIA ABOUT
NINE CENTURIES sti^CE, with ouly Small differences between
each country, easily seen and understood in that age.
But while the prominent portions of these inscriptions are
decidedly Norroenic, Icelandic, or what may be truly called Old
Danish, there is running through the larger inscriptions a
strange, and almost amusing, peculiarity, which might induce
us to suppose that the freebooters had a sort of lingua
franca of their own, so sufficiently puzzling to the Scandi-
navian scholars of the present time, as to make Jamieson's
Scottish Dictionary, and an ordinary Swedish dictionary,
nearly as necessary as Rask's Icelandic in endeavouring to
obtain the meaning of such larger inscriptions. A learned and
admirably prepared dictionary, Egillson's Poetic Icelandic,
lately published at Copenhagen,* I found of great value in
leading me to the meaning of several words.
In the admirably written work of one of our former secre-
taries, Dr Daniel Wilson, the Archceology and Prehistoric
Annals of Scotland, before referred to, and which will ever
remain a valuable standard work in Scotland, Dr Wilson
says with prophetic acuteness, " in Orkney no Runic monu-
♦ S. Egillson Lexicon Poeticum Antique Linguae Septentrionalis.
MESEHOWE INSCRIPTIONS. 23
ment is known to exist, though it cannot be doubted that
many such must have been erected during the earlier years
of the independent occupation of the northern islands by the
Norwegian jarls. Some of these, it is not impossible, may
yet be brought to light/' But I here refer to Dr Wilson's
work principally to shew the amusing errors that were com-
mitted as to the translation of the Anglo-Saxon Rimic
inscriptions on the celebrated monument in the parish of
Ruthwell, Scotland. It will be seen that the talented
Icelandic scholar, Mr Repp, one who, in his time, stood above
all his northern coimtiymen as a Runic scholar, and Mr Finn
Magnussen, also a Runic scholar, made serious blunders in
translating the Runes on the Scottish monument, the true
translation of which was discovered by Mr J. M. Kemble, the
eminent Anglo-Saxon scholar. Dr Wilson says :
" But one other remarkable Runic monument remains to be
considered, surpassing in extent and importance any of those
yet described, and rendered not the less interesting from the
very curious literary controversy to which it has given rise.
This is the celebrated cross of Ruthwell, in Dumfriesshire,
inscribed not in Northern but Anglo-Saxon Runes. Like the
few English examples yet discovered, it is in the Northumbrian
dialect of Anglo-Saxon, and therefore is traceable, not to
that northern intrusion of the Scandinavian branch of the
Teutonic races which we have hitherto considered, and by
which the old Celtic race of Scotland has been so greatly
modified, but to the influx of a Teutonic race from the south,
by which the Celtic occupants of the Scottish Lowlands and
the whole Northumbrian kingdom, were ultimately superseded.
Nevertheless the cross of Ruthwell may be referred to here
without any great risk of confusion, along with those inscribed
24 MESEHOWE INSCRIPTIONS.
in the old Norse dialect; notwithstanding the justice of
Mr J. M. Kemble's remarks, that 'the characters of the
Norwegians, Swedes, Danes, and Icelanders, are not less
distinct from those of the Goths, High and Low Germans, and
Anglo-Saxons, than the languages of the several nations which
they represented/* The Ruthwell cross is unquestionably by
far the most important Runic monument in Britain, and has
excited an attention fully equal to the great interest justly
pertaining to it. A beautiful engraving of this ancient
monument in the fourth volume of the Archaeologia Scotica,
accompanied with careful fac-similes of its inscriptions, renders
any minute description of it superfluous.
"Setting aside certain old and sufficiently vague local
traditions recorded in the first Statistical Account of the
Parish of Ruthwell, we obtain the earliest authentic notice of
it only in the seventeenth century, at which time it appears
to have still remained in the parish church, uninjured by any
of those earlier ebullitions of misdirected popular zeal to which
so many Scottish relics of Christian art fell a prey. When,
however, the struggle between Charles I. and his people was
rapidly hastening to a crisis, and religious differences were
forced by many concurrent influences into violent collision,
the General Assembly of the Presbjrterian Church of Scotland,
which met at St Andrews in the month of July 1642, passed
an order decreeing the demolition of the Ruthwell cross as a
monument of idolatry. The order met with a less hearty and
thorough-going execution than might have been anticipated
from the spirit prevailing at a period when the whole course
of public events had tended to inflame men's minds to the
* Archseologia, voL xxviii p. 327.
MESEHOWE INSCRIPTIONS. 25
uttermost. The column, however, was thrown down and
broken in several pieces ; but it still lay in the church, and
was examined there by Pennant so recently as 1772. Soon
after this, however, it was cast out into the churchyard, where
its exposure to weather, and its liability to careless and
wanton mutilation, threatened at length most eflfectually to
accomplish the object of the St Andrews Assembly's Order of
1642, when fortunately the Rev. Dr Duncan was presented to
the parish. Soon afterwards he had the fragments of the
venerable memorial pieced together, and re-erected within
the friendly shelter of the manse garden-a monument to his
own good taste, with which his name will be associated by
thousands who know not the large-hearted benevolence and
piety with which he adorned the sacred office which he filled.
'' Not content, however, with merely restoring the venerable
memorial, Dr Duncan executed careful drawings of it, from
which the engravings in the fourth volume of the Archeeologia
Scotica were made. These are accompanied with a history
from his pen, and an accurate translation of the Latin inscrip-
tion, which is cut in Roman characters on the back and front
of the cross. With the Runic inscription, which occupies the
remaining sides of the monument, Dr Duncan attempted no
more than to furnish the Scottish antiquaries with an accurate
copy, leaving those who deemed themselves able for the task
to encounter its difficulties, and render an intelligible version
of its meaning. This was accordingly undertaken by Mr
Thorleif G. Repp, a learned northern scholar, a native of
Iceland, then resident in Edinburgh, who, reading the letters
correctly enough, proceeded to weave them into imaginary
words and sentences, by means of which he makes out the
inscription to record ' a gift for the expiation of an injury, of
26 MESEHOWE INSCRIPTIONS.
a cristpason or baptismal-fount, of eleven pounds' weight, made
by the authority of the Theriusian fathers, for the devastation
of the fields/ Other portions of the inscription were made to
supply the name of the devastated locality, 'The dale of
Ashlafr,' a place as little heard of before as were its holy
conservators, the Monks of Therfiise ! Dr Duncan remarks,
in furnishing an abstract of Mr Repp's rendering of the
Ruthwell Runes : ' It is obvious that, in future inquiries on
this subject, it wiU be of considerable importance to fix the
locality oi Ashlafardhal and Therfuse !' The accurate drawings
of Dr Duncan, however, published as they were to the learned
world by the Scottish Antiquaries, had at length supplied the
most important desiderata towards the elucidation of the old
Anglo-Saxon memorial. Professor Finn Magnussen was the
first to avail himself of the new elements for the satisfactory
investigation of this venerable Teutonic relic, and published,
in Danish, in the 'Annaler for Nordisk Oldkyndighed og
Historic, 1836-37,' and nearly at the same time in English,
in the ' Report addressed by the Royal Society of Northern
Antiquaries to its British and American Members,' a revised
version of the Ruthwell inscription, in which, while confirming
the somewhat startling opinion of Mr Repp, that it was in a
language consisting both of Anglo-Saxon and old Northern
words, he arrives at very different, but still more precise con-
clusions. The learned Dane, however, had obtained, as he
conceived, a source of information which not even the zealous
incumbent of Ruthwell parish had access to :
'Fortunately,' says he, 'we are in possession of what must be admitted to be an
important document in the case before us, a document the existence of which was
imknown as well to Mr Eepp as, to the best of our belief, to all others now living,
that have devoted attention to the monument in question Dr Duncan observes that
MESEHOWB INSCRIPTIONS. 27
the capital of the column, which in the delineations he gives of it shews no characters
or traces of such, had, however, formerly inscriptions, now quite illegible The
greater part of them, meanwhile, are found on a delineation of the two broader sides
of the said capital, which together with the two Runic sides of the whole column
(consequently more of it than has been given by Hickes or Gordon), is to be seen on
a large folio copperplate engraving, now the property of me, Finn Magnussea It was
given to me some years ago by my much-lamented friend and predecessor. Professor
Thorkelin, who, however, his memory being impaired by age, could not remember
nything more about it than that it represented a column in Scotland, and that he
had obtained it, he knew not how or of whom, during his travels in Britain.* *
"This rare, and indeed seemingly unique print. Professor
Magnussen accordingly designates the 'Thorkelin Engraving/
Its age he conceives must be about 150 years, or perhaps still
older. ' Be this as it may,' he adds, ' it serves to throw a
new and most important light — ^in fact, the most important
yet obtained — on the design and purpose of the column, inas-
much as it has preserved the initial words of its inscription,
setting forth that one Of a, a descendant of Voda, had caused
it to be cut,' &c. Accordingly, setting aside the humbler
attempts of Mr Repp, the Danish professor substitutes a
marriage for the devastation of his predecessor, discovers four
important historical personages in the record, nearly fixes the
precise year a.d. 650 for the handfasting, and altogether
famishes an entirely new chapter of Anglo-Saxon history,
based almost entirely on this Thorkelin print ! Some able
northern scholars, more familiar with Anglo-Saxon literature
than Professor Magnussen, adopted the very summary process
of dealing with the new element thus unexpectedly brought
to bear on the inquiry, by doubting the authenticity, if not
even the existence, of this unique print. Of its existence,
• Eeport of R S. of Northern Antiquaries to Brit and Amer. Mems., 1836, pp. 88, 89.
28 MESEHOWE INSCRIPTIONS.
however, there can be no doubt, since, instead of being the
rarity which Professor Magnussen imagined, it is to be found in
every archaeological library in the kingdom, being none other
(as I think will no longer be doubted) than one of two etchings,
executed by the well-kown Scottish antiquary, Mr Adam de
Cardonnel, and forming Plates LIV. and LV. of the Vetusta
Monumenta, vol. ii., published in 1789. These are accompanied
by a description furnished by R. G. (Roger Gale), and to it
the following postscript has subsequently been added, which it
will be seen supplies the account Professor Magnussen failed
to obtain from his aged friend : ' Since this account was read
before the Society [of Antiquaries of London], the drawing
has been shewn to Mr Professor Thorkelin, who has been
investigating all such monuments of his countiymen in this
kingdom, but he has not returned any opinion." These
engravings of the Ruthwell inscription appear to have excited
little interest, probably on account of their being accompanied
by no critical analysis or attempt at translation. They would
seem to have escaped the notice of Mr J. M. Kemble, otherwise
he would have found there all that the drawings of Dr Duncan
supply, with, indeed, some slight additions; for it chances
oddly enough that the old Scottish Antiquary has copied the
Anglo-Saxon Runes — about which it may reasonably be
doubted if he knew anything — a great deal more correctly
than the Latin inscription in familiar Roman characters, some
of which he has contrived to render totally unintelligible.
It was probably a result of this carelessness, that in arranging
a broken fragment of the top of the cross, along with the
lower stem, he misplaced the parts, wedding the imperfect
upper fragments of the Latin, to the remainder of the Anglo-
Saxon inscription. The offspring of this misalliance was the
MESEHOWE INSCRIPTIONS. 29
Of a, Voden's Jdnsman, of Professor Magnussen, whose double
genealogy is given with amusing precision, ' according to the
Younger Edda !' The slightest glance at Cardonners etchings
will shew that the learned Dane, in attempting to decipher
this supposed invaluable addition, was only torturing ill-copied
Roman characters into convenient Northern or Anglo-Saxon
" In 1838, Mr John M. Kemble, an English Anglo-Saxon
scholar, undertook to unwind this ravelled skein, and in an
able paper 'On Anglo-Saxon Runes,'* pointed out the
valuelessness of any amount of knowledge of the Scandinavian
languages as a means for deciphering Anglo-Saxon inscrip-
tions. Following out his own views he accordingly produced
a translation differing, toto ccelo, from either of those already
referred to, but which commends itself in some degree even
to the mere English student, who detects in the old Anglo-
Saxon the radicals of his native tongue ; as in the original of
Mr Repp's Cristpason : — Krist waes on rodi — Christ was on
the Rood or Cross. Combating with the difficulties arising
solely from the mutilated and fragmentary state of what Mr
Kemble so justly styles 'this noble monument of Anlo-Saxon
antiquity,' he demonstrates the rhythmic character of the
construction, deducing from this the strongest proof of the
accuracy of his reading. Still should the reader, who is thus
compelled to consider two learned versions of this inscription
as no better than the Antiquary's Agricola dicamt lihens luhens,
hesitate about accepting the third as less open to challenge,
his scepticism could not perhaps be greatly blamed. A
remarkable chance, however, threw in the way of the
* Arch»ologia, voL xxviiL, p. 327.
30 MESEHOWE INSCRIPTIONS.
intelligent Anglo-Saxon scholar an altogether indisputable
confirmation of the general accuracy of the conclusions he had
arrived at. A comparison of the various steps in this process
of elucidation furnishes one of the most singular modem
contributions to the curiosities of literature. A few years
ago, a MS. volume, consisting chiefly of Anglo-Saxon homilies,
was discovered at Vercelli, in the Milanese, but which also
contained, intermingled with the prose, some Anglo-Saxon
religious poems. One of these, entitled a 'Dream of the
Holy Rood,' extends to 310 lines, and in this are found the
whole of the fragmentary lines previously translated by Mr
Kemble, along with the context which fills up the numerous
lacunae of the time-worn inscription on the Ruthwell cross.
No confirmation of the accuracy of conclusions previously
published could well be more gratifying or satisfactory than
this ; independently of which the beauty of the Anglo-Saxon
poem suffices to convey a singularly vivid idea of the civilis-
ation existing at the period — probably not later than the
ninth century — ^when it was engraved pn the venerable
Scottish monument which has anew excited the veneration of
the modem descendants of its old Anglo Saxon builders, and,
with some portion of its former beauty renewed by the piety
of modem hands, is restored to the occupation of its ancient
site. Of the high civilisation of this period, however, the
student of Anglo-Saxon history can need no new proof when
he bears in mind, as Mr Kemble has remarked, ' that before
the close of the eighth century Northumberland was more
advanced in civilisation than any other portion of Teutonic
"'It always seemed probable,' says Mr Kemble in concluding
his observations on the old Scottish monument, 'that much
MESEHOWE INSCRIPTIONS. 31
of the inscription was missing, and the comparison instituted
above renders this certain. The passages which remain are
too fragmentary ever to have constituted a substantive whole,
without very considerable additions, which there is no longer
room for upon the cross in its present form. Buried perhaps
beneath the soil of the churchyard, or worked into the walls
of neighbouring habitations, the supplementary fragments
may yet be reserved for a late resurrection. Should they ever
again meet the eyes of men, they will add little to our know-
ledge ; still we should rejoice to find them once again resuming
their old place in the pillar, and helping to reconstruct in its
original form the most beautiful as well as the most interesting
relic of Teutonic antiquity.' '' *
In these inscriptions we find the following array of names :
— Thatir, Tholfr Kolbinsson Wimunt, Orkason Thaimr, Skilts
Irmsir, Ingebjirg, Thor, Helkes, Thorer, Arthur, Totar Finla,
Erekes, Torfinn, Harmunt, Minton, Amfithr, Nilssen Sar-
mans, Simon Sigberg, Sigfreth, Lothbrog, Arsynar, Thrunk
Wit, Dalk — 27 individuals who have been commemorated or
The greatest number of these names are Scandinavian,
others are evidently Teutonic, and some are probably Scottish
The Lithographs of these inscriptions are, as far as possible,
fac-similes of '' the writings on the wall f and therefore these
may afford an interesting study of the accomplishments of
the educated class among the northern people in ancient
times. What a marked difference we see in the style of the
two inscriptions, No. 5 and No. 9 ! Wimunt is written with a
* Archseologia, vol. xxx., p. 38.
32 MESEHOWE INSCRIPTIONS.
bold, firm hand, and The Old Wizard's, in a tremulous, uncer-
tain manner ; and how well cut are the inscriptions. No. 21
and No. 22, and the Dragon, and Serpent-knot.
The mode of writing and spelling — such as not using, but in
a single instance, the angular S, and the spelling the equival-
ent to cut, generally with R A E I S T — satisfy us that these
inscriptions were made principally by the Norwegian visitors.
When we find that the inscriptions mention the localities
where the treasures were lost or concealed, we might be
induced to question the propriety of giving such publicity
to their positions ; but it must be remembered, that it is
probable that only one or two of the best educated in each
ship could write or read the Runic, and that there was a
union of purpose in all such matters among the educated
class of the vikings.
It is evident from some of the inscriptions, that when the
most of these were written, the vikings were still in a state
of darkness as to religion ; and it is more than likely, nay, it
is self-evident, that the wHd habits of robbery and rapine
which they pursued, could only be followed by those who
were still in a state of heathenism.
DESCRIPTION OF MESEHOWE.
It is evident that the hall of Mesehowe, whatever it may have
been applied to at a previous period, was specially taken
possession of by the freebooters, and prepared as a place of
security in their progress to and from the islands, the coast
of Scotland, and Ireland.
Several attempts have been made to give the true interpre-
tation of this word Meshow or Mesehowe ; '^ Meshow, or
Mesehowe,'' is so spelt by the minister of the parish of Frith
and Stenness, as the name of this now celebrated elevation, in
his account of the parish in the New Statistical Account of
Scotland. It has been said that it is probably derived from
the Icelandic word, '' Mey,'' Virgin ; and it may have been in
the heathen age a place dedicated to the three '' Meyer," or
prophetesses, mentioned in the Edda, who predicted the fate
of man, and afterwards have been used in later times for the
performance of the mass, ''mess'' or "maes" being the ancient
term ; but perhaps we do not require to search among foreign
languages for the interpretation. We find that in the Gaelic
34 DESCRIPTION OF MESEHOWE.
language, the \5r0rd " measa" means to judge, and '' achd '' is
the Gaelic letters expressive of mound or bank, or hillside —
together, " Judgment mound f but the word perhaps merely
means the ''Mesthow" or largest of the two elevations. They
are situated about 1^ miles from the Stennis Circle, and do
not seem to have any connection with it.
Comparing Mesehowe and its interior with the interior of
the howe of Quantemess, of which an engraving and an accu-
rate description has been given by Dr Barry in his History of
the Orkney Islands, and the account given by Dr Daniel Wilson
in his interesting work, already referred to, of the Prehistoric
An7ials of Scotland^ of the howe opened by Mr Petrie on
Wideford Hill, and also the howe at Saroock, opened by
Captain Thomas, R.N., and described in his able work illus-
trating his interesting discoveries in Orkney, we find a great
similarity in each ; there seems to have been no appearance of
cremation or sepulture, no urns were found as were found in
the cairns in Orkney, and only a skeleton, as if accidental, in
the one at Quantemess. And considering that in all of those
where the bottoms of the interiors were examined, the bones
of animals, such as the horse, cow, sheep, boar, &c., were found
in abundance, but generally '' not a vestige of human bones,''
we agree with Dr Daniel Wilson, Dr Barry, and Captain
Thomas that these buildings, which, from their massive struc-
ture may be styled Cyclopean, were used for the purpose of
defence and security, and this opinion will be strengthened
if we examine minutely the construction of Mesehowe.
The height of the mound is 36 feet ; the height of the inner
building, formed of the large or Cyclopean stones, about 16 feet,
and this was covered with flat or large ashlar stones, appar-
ently to the height of about 8 feet more, immediately above the
DESCRIPTION OF MESEHOWE. 35
top. This covering of smaller or ashlar stones, increased in
thickness down to the base of the building, where the thick-
ness appears to be about 20 feet, forming a strong protection
against any attack from without ; but the strongest proof that
the interior was used for the security of its inhabitants, is the
ingenious construction of the entrance ; in Mr Farrer's elegant
illustrated work on the excavations in Orkney, which has been
already referred to,* we are informed that the entrance for the
distance of 22^ feet, was only 2 feet 4 inches square, admitting
only one person at a time in a crouching maimer, the passage
then enlarges to 3^ feet in width, and 4 feet 4 inches in height.
At the commencement of this enlarged passage there is a
triangular recess in the wall about 2 feet deep and 3^ feet in
height and width, and opposite to it is a stone of equal size to
the entrance of the enlarged passage which could have been
pushed into the opening to prevent access ; but this is not all,
the enlarged passage of 26 feet in length had been formed by
four entire blocks on the roof, sides, and floor; and further
on, becomes narrowed by two upright slabs of stone to 2 feet
5 inches, which slabs are 2 feet 4 inches in breadth. Between
these slabs, from their form and position, we may suppose
that there was another stone door or defence, the distance
thence being 2 feet 10 inches to the main chamber. All these
seem to prove that the object of the construction was to give
the inmates the powier to keep out intruders by force, because
a few within could have, from the smallness or narrowness of
the entrance, kept out any number attempting to force their
way from without.
* Notice of Eunic Inscriptions discovered during the excavations in the Orkneys,
made by James FaiTer, M.P. Printed for private circulation, 1862.
36 DESCRIPTION OF MESEHOWE.
We find that this passage was from the
entrance to the doorway at recess, 31 feet in length.
Do. from recess doorway, to
inner doorway, . .26 „
Inner doorway, to central chamber, . 5 „
Making the entire length of passage, 62 feet.
But great additional protection was obtained by the formid-
able fosse or ditch which surrounded the mound at the dis-
tance of about 112 feet from the outer cells, the width of
which ditch is 40 feet, and it must have been of considerable
depth, and therefore difficult to pass over, at the time it was
formed, even at the present time the depth is from 4 to 8
In confirmation of the idea that these buildings were in-
tended for defence or protection, Barry in his History of
Orkney y says in reference to the analogous building at Quan-
temess, &c., " They stand in full view of the harbours and of
the ocean, and are evidently so arranged as to commimicate
with one another ;'' and the probability is that they were con-
structed by the original inhabitants about the eighth or ninth
century to protect themselves from the sudden predatory
excursions of the northern vikings or freebooters, and that
Mesehowe had been seized and altered by the latter for the
purpose of sheltering their crews in difficulties.
It is probable that the Orkney and Shetland Islands were
in peaceable possession of the original inhabitants, supposed
to be Britons or Picts, until about the end of the eighth or
beginning of the ninth centuries. The annals of Ulster state
the Northmen came first to Ireland in 806, which is said
to be about the time when the Hebrides and Ireland were
DESCRIPTION OF MESEHOWE. 37
first attacked by the Northmen, styled vikings, baysmen, or
pirates, who landed suddenly on the coasts, attacked and
plundered the inhabitants, carried off treasures and articles
of value, and taking as many prisoners as they found it con-
venient to carry in their ships, returned homeward only to
come back with perhaps greater strength at a future period.
Such attacks must have tended to make the inhabitants
unite to endeavour to protect their homes and their country,
and inspired them with that bravery and determination
which were necessary to prevent more disastrous inroads.
EXPEDITIONS OF NORTHERN SOVEREIGNS TO ORKNEY.
The inscriptions we find in Mesehowe appear to be princi-
pally records by the crews of some of the predatory expedi-
tions, some of whom had been shipwrecked ; others engaged
in repairing their ships, and some detained with contrary
winds ; and while to us the expressions Wester ferd. Western
expeditions, and West Sea, sound strangely, we must remember
that Orkney is to the west of Norway, and the most suitable
station for ships from Norway, or northern Scandinavia, to
refit or procure provisions, before proceeding to the Hebrides
or Ireland, then usual places of destination in the viking
But we consider that the beautifully drawn Dragon, and
the Serpent-knot, which we find in Mesehowe, are strong proofs
of visits having been made to the interior by some of the
officers of the royal squadrons that came from Norway, and
we therefore give the following curtailed notices of the visits
of four Norwegian kings who came to Orkney, namely, Magnus
Barfod, Harold Haarfager, Harold Haardraade, and Haco,
which we translate from the old Saga or records.
EXPEDITIONS OP NORTHERN SOVEREIGNS TO ORKNEY. 39
It is but justice to the memory of the ancient sovereigns of
the Scandinavian kingdoms, that such pirates were not so
engaged by their authority, but often against their express
orders, and we have much pleasure in stating this; such
predatory excursions having been different from those expe-
ditions of conquest which, although not successful in Scot-
land, in England, placed Knut the Great on the English
throne, raised RoUo to a French dukedom, and William the
Norman to a kingdom.
As a proof of what we say of the conduct of some of these
Norwegian sovereigns, we give the following from Snorro
Sturleson's Heimskiingla, to shew that King Harold Haarfager
(of the beautiful hair) came, in the year 888, expressly to
Shetland, Orkney, and the Hebrides, for the purpose of
ridding these islands of the pirates.
EXPEDITION TO THE WEST BY KING HAROLD HAARFAGER.
" King Harold having learned that the Vikings (br pirates)
who knew the islands and places in the west sea, and plun-
dered there in summer, had been also plundering in the
interior of Norway during winter, he pursued them and drove
them all out of the country ; and they took to the open seas.
The king having determined to get rid of them, in summer
sailed with his fleet to the west sea. He first came to Shet-
land, and killed there all those vikings who could not get
away. He then sailed south to the Orkneys, and cleared all
these islands of the Vikings, and then proceeded to the
Hebrides and attacked and slew many of them there.*
* Harold Konnings spordi at vida urn mittlandet heriada Vikingar; their er a vetmm
voro fyrir vestan haf ; hann hafdi thii leidangr uti hverr sumar ; oc kannedi eyar oc
utseer. Enn hvar sem Vickingar vrdv varir vid her bans, tha flydo allir oc flestir a
40 EXPEDITIONS OP NORTHERN SOVEREIGNS TO ORKNEY.
The same author tells us that the Orkney Islands suffered
much from the Danish and Norwegian vikings during the time
of the jarls of Orkney, Brusius and Thorfinn. The words used
by Snorre are, "The Norwegians and Danes in their piratical
expeditions plundered much on the west sea, and came often
to Orkney in proceeding west and returning east, doing much
EXPEDITION OF KING HAROLD THE BOLD.
On another memorable occasion. King Harold Haardraade
(the stem or bold) of Norway, in the year 1066, proceeded
with a large fleet and army on an expedition to England, for
the purpose of attacking King Harold Godwinsen of England.
On this voyage, he arrived in Orkney, and having refitted,
leaving there his queen Elisif, or Elizabeth, and his two
daughters, Maria and Ingegerda, he took the two earls of
Orkney, Paul and Erland, and their ships and troops with
him, in addition to his Norwegian forces — ^with these additions
the ships of war then amounted to two hundred, besides
smaller ships and transports, the number being in all upwards
of five hundred — and sailed for the coast of England, landed
at Cleveland, and defeated a large army sent against him ;
but he was afterwards defeated and slain at Stamford Bridge,
on the 25th September 1066.
haf ut. Enn er Konning leiddiz thetta starf, tha var that a eiiin sumar, at Haroldr
Konungs sigldi med her sinn Vestr um haf ; kom harm fyrst vid Hjaltland oc drap
thar alia Vikingr tha er eigi flyda undan. Sidan siglir Haroldr Konungr sudr til
Orkneya, oc reinsadi thar allt af Vikingom. Eptir that for hann allt i Sudreyiar, oc
herriar thar : hann drap thar marga Vikinga." — ^From Snorre Sturleson's Heimskingla,
EXPEDITIONS OF NORTHERN SOVEREIGNS TO ORKNEY. 41
EXPEDITION OF MAGNUS BARFOD.
Another remarkable royal visit to Orkney was performed by
King Magnus Barfod, or Barbein, who proclaimed in Norway
his intention of undertaking a " westerferd/' or western expedi-
tion; and being joined by his principal warriors, he set sail in
sixty large ships. Having arrived at Orkney, he appointed his
son, then only eight years of age. Viceroy, who, on account of his
youth, was assisted by councillors and administrators. He
took the two Earls of Orkney prisoners, and sent them to
Norway, and made their sons, Hacon, Erland, and Magnus,
join his army ; and after proceeding to the Islands of the
Hebrides, Man, and Anglesey, and putting them under sub-
jection, he returned in the following spring to Norway. He
afterwards proceeded on a second expedition from Norway
to Orkney, then to Ireland, where he was slain in an ambush
in 1103. Snorro Sturleson thus describes the dress and
accoutrements which King Magnus wore when he was slain :
" King Magnus had a helmet on his head, and carried a red
shield upon which was inlaid a golden lion, and he had girt
by his side his sword ' Leggebidor,' which was very sharp,
and the hilt was of ivory, ornamented with gold. In his
hand he carried a short spear, and he wore a red silk jacket
over his under-dress, which, before and behind, had a Lion
sewed on it in yellow silk, and every one said that there never
was a bolder or finer-looking man.'' He had reigned ten years
over Norway, and was not thirty when he was slain. We are
told by Torfoeus, vol. 3, book 7, cap. 8, and by Munch in his
History of Norway ^ that the origin of the cognomen Barfod, pro-
perly Barbein (barelegs), arose from the circumstance that King
42 EXPEDITIONS OP NORTHERN SOVEREIGNS TO ORKNEY.
Magnus and his courtiers adopted the dress then worn by
the Scottish highlanders — a short petticoat or kilt without
EXPEDITION OF KING HACO.
The last and most remarkable visit made to Orkney by a
Norwegian king, was that by King Haco, in 1263, which we
translate, and give, much curtailed, from the Flateyan and
Frisian MS., in the old northern language. He had previously
been applied to by King Alexander II. of Scotland, to make
an arrangement to yield up the islands on the Scottish
coasts, which King Alexander claimed as belonging to Scot-
land ; and who while insisting on his claim against Angus
of Argyle, died in the island of Kerrara, near Mull, 8th July
Haco resolved to resist any attempt to deprive him of these
parts of his dominions, and endeavoured to strengthen his
influence in the Scottish islands by giving his daughter to
Harold, King of Man, and inviting John, King of the Hebrides,
Magnus, Earl of Orkney, and the Abbot of lona and other
individuals of influence in these islands, to visit him in Norway.
But King Haco found that the Scottish power was more con-
centrated and enlarged since the reign of Alexander the First,
and that without some great effort he would have to jdeld up
the superiority to the Scottish monarch. Before trying to
retake the islands by force, King Alexander the Third sent, in
the summer of 1261, two ambassadors to King Haco, whose
embassy is thus quaintly mentioned — " In the summer of 1261
there came to Norway two ambassadors from Alexander the
EXPEDITIONS OF NORTHERN SOVEREIGNS TO ORKNEY. 43
Scottish king, the one an archdeacon, and the other a knight
named Missel. They used " more fair words than true,"" as the
king Haco said ; and they went so suddenly away that no
one knew of it until they were under sail. On this the king
sent Biiniolf Jonssun after them, who brought them back.
The king said that they must stay the winter in Norway for
trjdng to go away without asking leave, which was not like
what other ambassadors did/'* These ambassadors had no
doubt been unsuccessful in their embassy, and were anxious
to escape the too kind hospitality of the Norwegian court.
They having returned in the spring of 1262, reported the
result. King Alexander III. then endeavoured to take the
Islands by force, and sent the Earl of Ross, Kvamac, the son
of MacCamhal, who commenced hostilities in Sky.
King Haco having received intelligence of this, was much
annoyed, and laid the subject before his council, and orders
were issued to get all the troops and provisions which Norway
could produce to be ready for shipment in the beginning of the
following year. In spring a numerous army and well-appointed
fleet (the ship conveying King Haco being built entirely of
oak, and having splendid ornaments of gold dragons at the
bow and stem, and having twenty-seven banks of oars), sailed
from Norway for Orkney, several small squadrons having
preceded the main fleet.
With a favouring breeze King Haco arrived at Shetland,
* " Um smnarit koino vestann af Skotlandi, sendimenn Alexanders Skota Konongs,
Erkidiakn einn, ok riddari er Missel het. Their foro meirr med fagor yrdom enn tninadi
at thvier konongi virdtiz. Their foro sva i brott, at engi vissi fyrr en their hofdi undir
segill sitt Tha sendi konongr Briniolf Jonssun aftir theim, ok hafdi hann tha aftr
med ser. Sagdi konongr at theirr skylldo vera i Noregi nm vetrinn, fyrer that er
their villdo fara orlofelaust, framar, enn, adrir sendimena"
44 EXPEDITIONS OF NORTHERN SOVEREIGNS TO ORKNEY.
having been only two nights at sea, and, remaining there a
fortnight, sailed to Orkney and arrived at Eladerwig, near
Kirkwall. Stajdng there a few days, he sailed to Ronaldsve,
where he was joined by Earl Ronald and the Orkney fleet,
and after laying contributions on Caithness, proceeded on the
voyage, and passing the Lewis, arrived in Sky Sound, where
he was joined by the fleet of Magnus of Man and others,
and at Karrara by the fleet of King Dougal, and all their
troops from the Hebrides. King Haco having by this time
under him one hundred well-appointed war-vessels and their
crews, sent fifty of his ships to plunder at the Mull of Kintyre,
and five to Bute. At Karrara, John, King of the Hebrides,
came to Haco and told him that he had sworn fealty for his
lands to the Scottish king, and offered to resign the lands he
held under King Haco.
King John was detained for some time by King Haco, but was
afterwards dismissed with presents, he promising to King
Haco to endeavour to obtain a peace between him and the
king of Scotland. This not having been effected, King Haco
sent as envoys to the Scottish king, to treat as to peace,
Gillibert, bishop of Hamar, Henry, bishop of Orkney, Andreas
Nicholson, Andreas Plytt, and Paul Sur; but after much
delay no arrangement could be effected, and after several
other attempts, during a truce which had been agreed on, King
Haco gave notice of its being at an end, and sent sixty ships to
plunder on the north side of the Clyde, and detachments to pro-
ceed into the interior of the Highlands, to slay the inhabitants
and obtain cattle. Much time had been lost, caused by pro-
tracted attempts at peace, probably not unwillingly on the
part of the Scottish monarch, and stormy weather came on, as
the original narrative says :
EXPEDITIONS OF NORTHERN SOVEREIGNS TO ORKNEY. 45
" Michaelmas, the 29th September, fell on a Saturday, and
on Monday following, there came on a heavy storm, with
rain and hail, and the watch at the bows called out that a
galley was driving down upon the cable of the king's ship.
The men sprang up and found that the rigging of the galley
had caught the bows of the king's ship, and carried away
the figure-head. The galley then drove aft and on board of
the king's ship in such a way, that the cable of this vessel
caught the anchors of the king's ship, and forced them to
'' The king then commanded that the cable of the galley
should be cut away, which was done, and the galley drove off,
and the king's ship then held, but remained without the
tent (or upper covering) until day. In the morning the galley
and a ship of war drove ashore on Scotland. The wind in-
creased in violence and the men of the king's ship got out
a fifth anchor. The king then went in a boat, and was rowed
out to the islands and let mass be sung. The ships drove
into the Sound, and by daylight the storm was so strong that
some ships cut away the masts and some drove ashore. The
king's ship drove also into the Sound, although there were
seven anchors out besides the one left by the galley. They
then let go the eighth, a heavy anchor, the ship drove still,
but afterwards the anchors held fast. Five ships were driven
* '* Michials messa var a laugairdag. enn manadags nottina eftir kom a stormr
mikill med elum og hreggL Kaulluda their tha er streingvaurd helldo a Konungs
Skipi og sogdo at Kugg einn rak framan at festum. Lupo tha menn op enn stauginn
a KuGGiNOM festi a hofdi Konougskipains oh tog af nasaniar. Sidan rak Kuggin
aftr-med bordi, til thes er ackerit tok vid ok festi i Streinginom toko tha ackcrin
at kraka. Konongrinn bad tha hoggve ackerin strengin a Kugginom ok sva gerdo
46 EXPEDITIONS OF NORTHERN SOVEREIGNS TO ORKNEY.
In the morning after, King Haco came ashore with many
people, who lightened the galley and brought it out to the
fleet. The Scottish army appeared soon after. . . . '' The
van of the Scottish army consisted of about five hundred
cavalry, all the horses wore breastplates, and many there
had Spanish horses all covered with armour ; the Scotch had
also many foot-soldiers in armour. They carried mostly bows
and spears.''* It is not intended, nor have we space, to give
the details of the battle at Largs. But the Norwegian
account, which we are quoting from, has detailed statements
of various encounters, some successful and others the reverse,
but ultimately the Norwegians drew off as the Northern
MS. states. Mr Worsaae, in his talented work. The Danes in
England, Scotland, and Ireland, says, " The Scottish king had
in the meantime arrived on the spot with a large army. A
fierce battle took place on the plain near Largs, 3d October
1263, in which the Norwegians, who were exhausted by their
endeavours to save their ships, and who, on account of the
storm, could not avail themselves of their whole force, were
overpowered.'' — Page 290. This battle, and the approach of
their, rak hann tha ut a eyina, ok Konongs Skipit heltz, og lago tialldlausir til
dags. Enn uin morgynin er flseddi flaur Kuggrinn ok rak nm a Skottland og lang-
scip einn. Vindrin tok at vaxa ar eins neytto menn tha gruunfaera theira er hofdo,
tha var fellt it simr femta ackeri a KonongskipL Enn Konongriun for i bat og reyri
ur til eyiarinnar og let Syngia ser Messo. Enn Skipinn rak inn a sund ok um dagin
assti stormin, sva at sumir hioggo trein ok suma rak. Konongskipit rak og enn a
sundit, ok voro fyrer tha siau ackeri med hvi er their hofdo a Kugginom. Ok hit atta
athal ackeri, ok rak egi hvi sidr; lido sidarr festo ackerin. Nocker fim skip rak
in at landi."
So much of the original is given to introduce the word Kugg in proof of the mean-
ing of this word as given in several of the translations of the inscriptions.
* " Flateyan and Ens'*- " MSS.
EXPEDITIONS OF NORTHERN SOVEREIGNS TO ORKNEY. 47
winter compelled King Haco to return, and after bringing a
great part of his fleet, in the stormiest time of the year, a long
voyage on the most dangerous coast in Europe, where in many
places there was no shelter, he arrived at Orkney. The very
circumstance of a king of so much caution and prudence,
venturing to return with his ships at such a season, gives the
strongest evidence of the superior character of the ships-of-
war and their crews. King Haco, on his arrival in Orkney,
resided in the bishop's palace, but, worn out with the fatigues
and anxiety of such a long voyage, he died there on the 15th
December 1263 of the Norwegian year, which commenced at
that time on the 25th March.
Magnus Hakonson, the son of Haco, was proclaimed king
of Norway, and saw it to be his interest to yield up to the
Scottish sovereign, the Hebrides, Man, and all the other
Scottish islands, excepting Orkney and Shetland, for the sum
of 4000 marks (to be paid in four years), and 100 marks of
annual quit-rent : and in the year 1468, the sovereignty of
Orkney and Shetland was transferred to Scotland by King
Christian, then sovereign of the three Scandinavian kingdoms,
in lieu of, or in pledge for, the dowry of the Princess of Den-
mark engaged by marriage treaty to King James IV. ; and
these islands may be truly said, in the language of Dr Barry
to form " valuable gems in the Scottish crown/' For there
are no islands in the British Dominions of the same extent
more prosperous, more rapid in the progress of improvement,
or having inhabitants more industrious, useful, and intelligent.
TRANSLATION OF THE MESEHOWE INSCRIPTIONS.
0r The Ist is the original Runic inscriptions in our alphabet.
The 2d the translation of it in modem Northern or Danish.
The 3d the English translation.
THATIE VIKINGE A KOM VTIR HIRTIL.
C^r 9ihui9 er kotmntn ^ertU for at »e Big am,
Thatir (the) Viking has come to look out hither.*
THOLFR KOLBiEINSSONR R^EST RUNAR THESAR HAUA.
C^olfr yitsUsmoBBon xj^Btbt Mssi %nntt (paa) hmm Poi.
Tholfr Kolbainsson cut these Runes (on) this cava
BRAH OH THANA.
Wrecked, and near thia
FUTHORKH NX AST BYNU.
(fdlfork htBttnd til $0rb-(98t.
Futhorkh bound to the North-East.*
ORKASONR SAH THIA RUN CM THAIMIR HAN RISTU.
tDrkasmt safrtbt hisst ^tnur om S^^aimtr ^an nbstbt.
Orkason sawed these Eunes ; for Thaimer he cut (them).^
* See Notes.
PLATE 1 1,
TRANSLATION OF THE MESEHOWE INSCRIPTIONS. 49
INGEBIORG niN F^EGRA AIIGIA.
MOERHK KOGA ILEFER FARET LURIN HIR MIHKIL OFLATE.
Ingjeborg hn sxmkkt i ^nx,
Ifxirru ^fr i stort ^aab.
Ingebiorg the fair in distress.
(After) sailing on the dark raging waves,
(We are) lurking here hi gi'eat hope.
The six tree Runes fomi the word Arrier, or the time-roll, and represent the year
NIASR SKILTS IRMSIRS SKURIR FALUN KIABI KSUIL S.VH I ANIR SOMAIR.
^bsptibtr S kilts Irmstr ^ar grabrt rnnbt btmu |iot 09 sai ben t ngtig Silstanb.
The explorer, Skilts Innsir, has cut round this vaulted cave,
and put it in proper order. *
Thorer the Magician.
THOR NYS.VRTH II^LKES RiEISTU T.
S^or snnljer ^alkes ribsfbt S.
Thor favouring * Halkis cut (these) T.
* See Notes.
TRANSLATION OF THE MESEHOWE INSCRIPTIONS.
KNUT RiEIST RUNAR TILESAR OFR
ALFREH URTHR SONR.
^nab nbubt irxsse |bmcr obtx ^Ifrrb (en)
Knut cut these Eunes over Alfred, (a)
worthy son. *
TOTAR FINLA RiEIST RUNAR THISAR.
Sotar ^Mn vlbBtbt btsst |Umer.
Totar Finla cut these Runes. *
O T N MI RHTTORB TIS TNIRA NOFROT UNAEF TA EH A SEKERE TAS NAM TAHT
.RliEHTN^ RTLiEH TROF LOUB IF RAV SM
fit failUgt ^tims at ^rthes pobtht at fhtbt 3^orfin j^ans ^robtrs Pans (elltr SitVj man
mttxdt at $. (9. til ®. Krtr bar $kjnlt Skat af siax 9ttiit btb Inbgangtn.
A vrilling record that Erekes tried to discover Torfon his brother's houise (or place).
It was thought that N.E. by E. there was hidden treasure of great value at
the entrance-door. *
» 'IIA3 ui 'Ao£ ui 'iC|uaAB9ji !^oy
siHsmv ovi Ni ssviKmi ihv
NIASER SARMANR LATH GUNHUL RUBA A
MINT NS RO.
tti^pttbtr Sarman l^ar lai^tt J^ribgs^ote gtnbt lot
The explorer Sarmanr, let the war-cave be
cut for the repose of Mintn.
Or read from right to left —
JORSALA MN A BURTU HAVC THENU.
Itntsalem mmb ^afrt bntbt tnbtH itmtt ^oi.
Jerusalem men broke into this hilL *
• See Notes.
TRANSLATION OF THE MESEHOWE INSCRIPTIONS. 51
AKNFITHR MATR RiEISTRUNAR THiEISAR.
Amfithr the Strong cut these Runes.
(The ten Tree Runes give the words
LIS AYR BNAY.
The Shield of the art of Time,
And represent the year A.D. 1113).
RIST SAL FATHR ER RUNS TRER FYRIR WiESTAN HAF.
Ilibstbt til fror salig ^abtr btsst '^xtu
Snetr (^an frar) ^ortr paa VHtsi-^vditt
Cut to our late Father these Rune Trees,
(He was a) leader on the West Sea.*
HiERBfUNTR HAR THAKSIR A THINS RUN.
^armmtt gxbtr S^aksigtlat meb bust ^mxwc.
Hannunt gives thanks by these Runes.*
ILETH THiEIRI OH SEER AT IGOAR UKR TR^ NILSONR FYRER SUNANLANT.
Jtr tnet 09 btebvttti meb at jjort Stibti i Stanb ^ithtn ^axtx til SsManbtnt.
Here Tired and troubled, in repairing with difl&cidty the Ship, Nilson leader to
Southern Landa *
* See Notee.
52 TRANSLATION OF THE MESEHOWE INSCRIPTIONS.
No. XIX. PLATE VL
SIA HOUHR VAR FYRLATHIN HiELAR Stt Sklhtt te forlabt,
TH.*:iR VORO iiVATER SLIT VORO og Skxtjgtt Iigg« btr i $ranbnrgtmt
UT NORTHR ER FIFOL HIT MIKEL THALUR mob |[orb tt jjtml Sfesl og itiangc galtr.
SIMON siHBRC, SuHon Sigbtrg
SIHRITH. INROINSO. Stgifb. | 3M«8iJ-
Behold the Ship was abandoned, and
the Hull lies there among the breakers.
To the North is hidden treasure, and many Dollars.
Sigrcd. In Roinso.*
LOTHBROC ARSYNAR U^NAR
MvEN S.^M-TH^EIR VORO FYRASIR
lORSALA FARAR BRUTU ORKOU HLIF MIT SAIUAIARIS
LOFOIR HIR VAR FIFOL HKET MIKIL R/EIST
S^LER SAIR FINA MATHA A THOGUSTH HIN MIKLA
OKONAKN BAR FIYRAR HITH IS W. L N.
3folfebrog ^xs^innx omj^nggttige
glaenb Bom bvixz xtbnvtbvdt til boxt Jorcrt.
Icnrsalcms Jarm torn stranbebe paa firkofa J^Iipper i Kaage
bcb J^orsomnulst. |)tr frar shjnll Skatttr, mange ^^jebtr, ribael
S'dltj, finr (Drnamtnttr, og megel jproWant.
(gjemmJC-Slcbct Uggcr ^trfra mob 85. til |[.
Lothborg Arsjoiar (they are) careful
Men who were appointed our commanders.
Jerusalem leaders wTecked on the Orkney cliffs
In a mist slothfuUy.
Here was hidden treasure ; many chains,
Cut silver, fine ornaments, and much fine stores.
The hidden place lies out from this W. by N.*
T ARXFITHR RAIST RL^^AR THISAR SONR STAINS.
£ ^irnfit^r ribsebe (bissc) |limfr (cftcr) ^nns Son Stem.
T Arnfithr cut (these) Eunes (to his) son Stains.
THALK RAEIST THANE RUN;eR AND INGES SE. L.
K^alh ritiscbt Vxsst runrr gianb |ngcs Sj«l
Dalk cut these Eunes (for the repose of the) Spirit and Soul of Inge. *
* See Notes.
.'•'■ 'i .
* ••* •_r.>
TRANSLATION OF THE MESEHOWE INSCRIPTIONS. 53
IKIK ARTHIR KYNANA INViENSTA.
. ^^r $igtx iox btn smukhesit af ^mmttmnur.
Arthur looking out for the fairest of Womea*
BAKITI UKR EIGRT A IIII.
Pork taaget ffttx. Skibtt vahntn \jwxtU. - .
13ark misty Weather. Ship labouring hard.
(The neatly cut Dragon probably was engraved as a private signal to the
Northmen in some of the ships-of-war of the royal squadrons.)*
(The Serpent-knot probably also refers to the arrival or departure of some of the
Eoyal Squadrons — the largest ships being named Serpents.) — (See Descriptian
* See Notes.
TRANSLATION OF THE MESEHOWE INSCRIPTIONS.
(Might be made into) Lothbrog A.
TH m D.
D K II NK AKN.
The ii n k a k n.*
The first Runic letter represents the D of the
Waldemar alphabet, said to be invented
by King Waldemar, who died in 1188.
An inscription not described among those in Mr Farrer's book, but found in
* See Notes.
No, I. — ^Thatib Viking.
AVe may judge of the nature of the ships employed in the plundering expeditions of the
Vikings, and the weapons and mode of fighting, from the descriptions, somewhat shortened,
which we here give of the sea-fight that took place at Swolder, near Rugen, in the
Baltic Sea, between the Norwegian king, Olaf Trygvesen, on the one side, and King Swend
of Denmark, King Olaf of Sweden, and Erik Jarl, a Viking leader, on the other, at the end of
the tenth century, translated from Snorre Sturleson's Heimskri^igla Saga.
Sea-fight between King Olaf Tbygvesen and the Danish King Swend, the Swedish
King Olaf, and Jabl £bik, on the 9th Septembeb 1000 a.d.
King Olaf of Norway ordered, by sound of trumpet, all his ships to assemble, seventy-one
sail (but eleven of these were with Earl Sigwald, who deserted from his sovereign). The
Lotig Serpent was one of the largest, and was said to have been 74 Norwegian ells, or 111
feet in length of keeL The king was in his own ship, the Ziong Serpent^ in the middle
of the fleet, and on one side of her was the S?iort Serpent, and on the other, the Crane,
and the cfews made the stems of the Long Serpent and the Short Serpent fast together.
When the king saw this, he called out, and commanded that they should lay the Long
Serpent further forward, that the stem might not be too far back in the fleet Then Wolf
the Red, King Olaf 's standard-bearer, said, " Is the Long Serpent to be placed so much
further forward than the other ships 1 K so, there will be some hard work in the fleet
to-day." The king answered, **I did not know that I had a stemsman so red and so
ready;" an expression implying "so bold and so forward." Ulf answered, "Protect thou the
stem, and I shall the bows." The king having a bow in his hand, laid an arrow on the
string, and pointed it at Wolf. WoK cried, " Shoot it in another direction, king, where
it can serve you better ; my work is your success."
King Olaf stood on the poop, high above the others ; he bore a shield inlaid with gold,
and had on a helmet of beaten gold ; over his chain-armour he wore a red jacket, and was
easily known from the others. Erik Jarl had a large ship called Iron Beard (Jem Barder),
which he was accustomed to employ in his Viking expeditions ; and there was an iron
railing on both sides of the stem, and farther on there was a thick iron plate, as broad as
the railing, which went all the way along to the midships.
Then the kings laid aside their oars, and began the attack. King Swend brought his
ship against the Long Serpent, and on the other side lay the Swedish king Olafs ship,
which was placed alongside of the most distant of King Olaf Trygvesen's ships, and on
another side, Erik Jarl placed his. Here there was a sharp fight, which cost many lives ;
the stem-fighters in the Long Serpent^ the Short Serpent, and Crane, threw their hooks and
tackles into King Swend*s ship, and made good use of their weapons against those opposed
to them, and in this way cleared all the ships that they could get feist to ; but King Swend
and the crews that were beaten flew out of their own to other ships, and thus placed them-
selves safe beyond the reach of their opponents* weapons. King Olaf, the Swedish king,
was in the same plight : he lost many of his people, and drew out of the battle ; but Erik
Jarl laid his ship, the Iron Beard, side by side with the farthest of King Olafs ships, slew
the crew, and cut the cable, and let it drive away ; then he went to the next ship, and
fought until the crew was subdued, and so with others, the crews of the Danish and
Swedish ships filling up the blanks in his crew.
At last, all King Olaf Trygvesen's ships were defeated excepting the Long Serpent, to
which ship all the armed men who were left had come from his other ships. Then the
Iron Beard was laid alongside of the Long Serpent, and the battle was continued with
swords. Erik Jarl was in the forepart of the ship, where there was put up a defence-shield
or covering. In the fight there were used weapons for hewing and spears for sticking, and
also every kind of arms that could be thrown ; some shot with bows, and others threw dart&
There were so many weapons thrown into the Serpent, there flew so many darts and arrows,
that the shields could with difficulty keep them of^ for on every side the Serpent was
surrounded with the enemies* ships-of-war ; and EJng Olafs people became so furious that
they rushed towards the enemies* ships to attack and kill the crews with their swords and
spears. In this attempt, many of Olafs men went overboard, and sunk in the sea with their
weapons in their hands. The king had stood on the quarter-deck of the Long Serpent the
greater part of the day, engaged sometimes in shooting with the bow, sometimes in throwing
darts — always throwing two of these at a tima In looking forward over his ship he saw his
men bravely striking with their swords, but at the same time with little effect. He then called
out loudly, "Why do you strike so gently with your swords ; they do not seem to cut?** One
of them answered, that " they were blunt and full of notches." On this the king went down
to the forehold, unlocked the chest under the high seat, and took out many well-sharpened
swords, which he gave to his men ; but when he was reaching down his right hand, some of
his people saw that the blood was running down from the steel gauntlet, but they did not
know where the wound was.
The contest went on furiously in the Serpent^ and the greatest loss of men was caused
by the warriors at the bows and in the forecastle ; because at both places chosen men
had been placed, and there the ship's sides were highest; but at midships the people
fell fast. As few men were left near the ship's mast, Erik Jarl resolved there to enter
the ship with fourteen of his men. Hyrning, the king's brother-in-law, and some
others, rushed to meet them, and fought so fiercely that the contest ended by the Jarl
being driven back to the Iron Beard^ after some of his men had been slain, and others of
them wounded. The contest continued extremely hot, and many more men were slain in
the Serpent, When Jarl saw that the crew of the Serpent were falling fast, and the defence
much weakened, he resolved to board the Serpent a second time, but still he met with a
bold reception. The men at the bows of the Serpent^ seeing this attack, ran aft, and
attacked Jarl, and there made a determined resistance. But as there had already fallen so
many of the Serpent^ 8 crew, that some parts of the ship's sides were without defenders, Jarl's
men stepped on board from different quarters ; then all the men remaining of the crew to
defend the Serpent^ endeavoured to get aft to where the king stood, so as to form a guard
around him. Kolbjom Staller, or the king's marshal, who was clothed and armed like the
king, and was an exceedingly big and handsome man, went up to the quarter-deck beside
the king, and the battle was now fiercest at this place. But as so many of Jarl's men had
come on board the Serpent as could find room, and as his ships surrounded the Serpent on
every side, and as there were so few people left of the Serpenfs crew to fight against such
fearful odds, the greater part of the rest were soon slain, although they were both strong
and brave. Olaf the king, and Kolbjom Staller, both sprung overboard, each on his side
of the ship, but Erik Jarl's men had placed small boats round the Serpent to kill or seize
all those who jumped overboard. When the king sprang out they tried to lay hands on
him, so as to carry him to Jarl ; but King Olaf lifted his shield over his head, and sank
under the water. Kolbjom placed his shield beneath to protect himself horn the darts that
were thrown from the ships which lay under the Serpenty and so fell into the sea that his
shield came imder him, and he did not so quickly sink.
He was thus taken and carried intp the ship by the enemy's men, who thought he was
the king, and brought him to Erik Jarl ; but when he found it was Kolbjom and not King
Olaf, he gave him his life.
At the same time all the rest of the crew of the Serpent who remained alive sprung over-
board, and the king's brother, Thirkel Nefia, was the last man who left the ship.
The victory was so complete that Norway became subjected to the Danish and Swedish
kings and Erik Jarl, who divided the country into three governments, each obtaining a part.
Erik Jarl also obtained the Long Serpent with a large booty.
This inscription is evidently meant to infona some companions in another ship, or other
8hii>8, of the fact that the inscriber was bound homeward. The position of the letters
of the Runic alphabet is always :
hut in the inscription f^, ur, U is given twice,
1 , or, Y, is misplaced,
and K — o -, -. ,
^ ' the principal letters, are omitted in the inscrip-
^j madr, M, j
tiou, and we may therefore suppose that the ship or person represented in these letters,
KUTHOBKH, was bouud to the north-east ; namely, returning home.
We do not remember to have seen this name of Wimund in any of the Scandinavian Sagas ;
but between the years 1141 and 1151, an individual of the name of Wimund is mentioned
as being of a superior education, and that he was at first a monk in the Isle of Man, after-
wards pretended to be the son of Angus, Earl of Moray, and married a daughter of Somerled,
Thane of Argyle, and collecting bands of adventurers, made predatory excursions with ships
into the neighbouring islands, and also on the Scottish coasts ; and although King David
sent an army against him, he eluded any attempts to capture him, and David had to make
peace with him ; but his followers, ultimately tired of his oppressive conduct, gave him up
to King David, and he was imprisoned at EoxburgL As Wimund was a man of education,
it is almost probable that this inscription is by his own hand, seeing that the Orkneys at
tliat time were the headquarters for such predatory bands; and if so, the date of the
inscriptions must, according to Fordun, be between 1140 and 1151. — See Fordun^ viiL 2,
and Dalrt/mple^s Annals, 86.
" Cm Thaimer " may also be translated " In the dark," from Thamadr, obacurus, darkness,
Icelandic. Some of the letters, such as the last K in the inscription, have the appearance
of want of light when the letters were inscribed.
The nigeborg mentioned in the inscription was probably the Danish or Norwegian
princess, the wife of Thorfin, whom Earl EoiOdd had driven out of the Orkneys, and who
had taken refuge in Caithness. She may have come to Orkney, and taken refuge in the
cave before Thorfin had acquired strength.
When Thorfin, the husband of Ingeborg, was earl, Eonald was created earl by Magnus,
king of Norway, and came over to Orkney to claim from Thorfin his third share of the
government, as the son of Bruscius. At first the two were reconciled, and engaged together in
several expeditions ; but having afterwards quarrelled, Ronald was defeated in a searfight,
and retired to Caithness, but returned and succeeded in driving Earl Thorfin from the
government of Orkney. However, soon afterwards, when Ronald came to Papey Westray,
where he had gone to buy malt to prepare ale for his Yule feast, he was suddenly waylaid,
attacked by Thorfin, and he and all his people slain.
Thorfin having afterwards gone to Rome on a pilgrimage, was received with much distinc-
tion by the Pope, and having returned to Orkney, lived a quiet life at Birsa, and there died
at the age of 75, and was succeeded by Paul and Erland, sons of his Princess Ingeborg,
This princess, it has been stated, was afterwards married to King Malcolm the Third of
Scotland ; but this appears erroneous. Ingeboig must have been, when her husband died,
at the age of 75 in 1064, a very unlikely person, either as to age or rank, to be chosen the
queen of such a young sovereign as Malcolm the Third then was. Now Malcolm the Third,
called Caenmore, was only crowned at Scoon on the 25th April lj057,* was solemnly betrothed
to the Princess Margaret of England, sister of King Edgar, in 1067,+ and the nuptials took
place with this Princess, at Dunfermline in 1070; J so that the statement, made by Dr Barry
in his Hisfory of Orkney^ must have arisen from some mistake.
It is worth noting, that a princess of the same name, Ingeborg, was interred at ThSrug,
near Hoby, having the following Latin inscription in Runic letters upon her monument : —
*■ Ingeborg filia Annunti jaoet hie,'
which appears to be the only old sepulchral inscription in Runes, as far as we have had an
opportunity of knowing, in the Latin language.
This has the appearance, from its indistinctness, of being one of the oldest of the inscrip-
tions, and records the circumstance of the building having been strengthened, and the
surrounding fosse or ditch cut round the building by the person named.
■* Pordun, b. v., c. 9. + Hoveden, p. 226. X Pordan, b. t., c. 17.
Although this is a short inscription, it is a lemarkable one, whether the Troldmand was
an official in some of the Yiking expeditions, accompanied some ships of the royal
squadrons, or became an inmate of the howe for the purpose of exercising the black art, is
doubtful The small figure, as of a horse, appears hardly worth noticing ; but when it is
considered that this figure has eight feet or legs, one may readily suppose that it is meant
to be an emblem of the magic art of Thorer, because one of the most prominent animals
mentioned in the northern mythology, is Sleipne, Odin's wonderful horse, which was repre-
sented to be the quickest horse in the world, and to have eight feet or legs. The cross
under the inscription has the appearance of having been cut long after the inscription, and
probably for the purpose of undoing the influence of the wizard and his horse.
There are two inscriptions on this stona The first is also a strong proof that the voyagers
at the time were pagans. It plainly tells us that the Vikings had a successful expedition,
and that Thor had favoured them ; and probably the second inscription is written by the
same hand as may be supposed from the similarity of the E's in both.
This is the only inscription discovered in Mesehowe implying sepulture, and almost
confirmatory of this is the circumstance that it is engraved on one of the upright pillars,
the most suitable for a sepulchral monument, and perhaps the remains may be foimd imme-
diately under the inscription : the first word, " Knut," is doubtful, as that part of the inscrip-
tion is defaced.
The Totar Finla, in the inscription No. 12, is probably the Finla mentioned by Fordun,
who states that the usurper of the Scottish throne, Macbeth, who was slain at Lumphanan,
5th December 1056, was the son of Fenele or Finlay, Lib. v., cap. 49 ; so that this was
probably a relation of Macbeth, and had joined the Northmen in their predatory excursions.
Is a very remarkable inscription, cut on one of the upright pillars in the cave, in its
reading from right to left^ and in its recording the unsuccessM attempt to discover a treasure
which had been concealed. It might be considered imprudent to divulge by such an inscrip-
tion the concealment ; but the search had been unsuccessful, and some of the companion-
freebooters might be afterwards successful, and restore the treasure; and no doubt the
number of those who wrote and could read the inscriptions would be small, and confined
to the superior officers of each ship.
Is on another upright pillar, and appears to be, or to have been, in the first place, two
inscriptions ; the one from left to right, much defaced : and the other one more recent,
reading from right to left, with the letters different from the inscription 13, in so far that
they have the position as if proceeding from left to right ; while the letters in 13 face the
left, these face the right, with the exception of the second letter. The oldest or first inscrip-
tion appears to have been altered or written upon by the inscriber from the right side.
The other, or third inscription, written upside down on the same pillar, deserves particular
attention. It not only exhibits a peculiar style of writing, but inculcates a moral precept,
which none of the other inscriptions does.
Is a pious record of the sons to their late father, who had probably died on an expedition.
The tree Eunes are very remarkable in their form, and record, doubtless, the year of the
death of the father. — See Vocabulary.
This inscription records the gratitude of one of the voyagers named Harmunt, who had
been successful in his expedition, or escaped danger. It is remarkable in being the only
one where the long double-angled S is used ; and we may suppose that Harmunt was either
a Swede or Dane, this S being more generally used in their Eunic inscriptions.
Describes the trouble of one of the voyagers in getting his ship repaired, which was the
more necessary as he seemed to have come from, or was bound on, a long voyage. The
word Sunanlant, meaning either Africa or Sicily.
Nos. XIX and XX
Are the most ample inscriptions, and are placed together in the building. They are in
juxtaposition, but they allude to different shipwrecks and different circumstances. The one
ship or fleet was wrecked on the clifls in a mist, in the Bay of Skaill probably, and
w^i3K Ul^'l>^ th^ ^ip or ahips from which the silver treasure had been saved and hid,
xvh^'U An' u\^w^ in the Museum. The other ship was lost and left among the breakers, " in
Kr\vk\n( wiitor ** ** to the north " of Mesehowe, probably on " Eowsay," as one of the words
»u«*^Y imply ; tho other, " west by north" of Mesehowe. The one had much treasure, consisting
v4* miUU\Y : t)u> other had saved the treasure, and hid it, consisting of ^ chains, cut silver,
tiuo v»rutuuoiit8, &C.," and the situation of the place where the treasure is hid is mentioned.
TUv* oui> imys» that the ship was lost, through carelessness, in a mist, by the commanders,
Lv^librog tuid Arsyner ; the other does not appear to have been lost from any fault of the
iHkUuimuJors, whose names appear to have been Simon Sigberg and Sigred« As to the
tix^uuiH), there can be no doubt that when the Vikings were returning from their predatory
i^xptHlitions they were subject to considerable dangers — such as being wrecked, being
rttUujkod by their own or other sovereigns, by other pirates, or by a superior force of the
iiutiveH. Under such circumstances, the pirates who might escape would doubtless
(Uidoavour to get the plunder put into a place of safety or security, hidden in such places
iiH only could be known to themselves, whither they could return with other ships or fleets,
when fortune was more favourable, to recover the hidden treasure.
SILVER OENAMENTS AND COINS FOUND NEAE THE BAY OF SKAILL.
We have in the Mesehowe three separate inscriptions referring to the loss or concealment
of treasure. One says, north-east by east from the howe it was thought that there was hidden
treasure, "near the entrance-door;" another says, "to the north," or towards north, is " much
treasure and dollars ;" and a third says, "the hidden place lies out from this west by noitL"
Martin, in his Description of the Islands of Scotland^ says that fibula of silver have been
found in Orkney, near this place ; and Brand, in his Description^ says that nine fibulae of
silver were found near this. But the largest and most valuable discovery of this kind was
made on the 11th March 1858, a hook and a few &agments having been picked up by a
boy the previous week at the mouth of a rabbit-hole, which led to the finding of the rest of
the treasure. The treasure had been buried between the parish church and the Bum of Bin,
and a short distance from the shore or the Bay of Skaill, in the parish of Sandwick, in the
mainland of Orkney, which place may be said to agree with the second-quoted points of the
compass as bearing from Mesehowe j and these having been carefully collected from the
peasantry and others, who had obtained possession of them, the whole was delivered to our
National Museum through the Honourable the Sheriff of Orkney, J. Edmondstone Aytoun,
Esq. This valuable illustration of the habits of the people of a former age, consists of
nine largo silver ring brooches, mostly with bulbous ends, and tongues with bulbous heads,
all of these ends and heads tastefully cut and ornamented ; eight funicular tores of silver,
seven silver armillse, twenty-five penannular rings or bracelets of various forms, several
fragments and ingots of silver ; and also, what was of great importance in fixing the age of
the articles, here were found the following coins :
Ethelstan 925, obverse, Edelstan Rex. T. Br : reverse, cnad. mo. leigof (Leicester).
St Peter's Penny, 10th century, obverse, slipb trims reverse, civ. eboraoe with
cross in the centre.
Samanian Ismael Ben Achmed, A.D. 887
Do. do. . A.D. 897
Nasr Ben Achmed, . A.D. 913
Do., struck at Samarcand,
No date (between) A.D. 913 & 943
ABBAcroB Al Radhi Billali, . A.I). 936
Al Mostakfi BiUah, struck at
Bagdad, A.D. 945
^\jid some other coins and fragments of coins, these named being the most remarkable, and
the newest being of 945, proves that it could not have been deposited earlier than
that year, although, of course, it is possible that part may have been deposited at an earlier
period. This collection deserves, and we may probably give, a more elaborate description
at s(imo future time ; but in the meantime we refer to the engraving of all the articles found,
in the Museum, carefully copied from a photograph.
In the ancient account of the expedition of King Haco to the Scottish coast in 1263, from
which we gave an extract in a previous part of this work, we find the tribute or contribution
which he exacted from the inhabitants of Caithness partly consisted of "Bauggerdar," which
implies any ornament of a round form, such as brooches, armilhe, or bracelets : the words
are, " Enn Katnesingar gengo undar gjalldit, ok gerde Hakon Konongr menn til at taka
saman foit, sem her er quedit."
" Fyrst tok fiorloystom
Frodr af Nscsthionom
Giolld hinu gritli-milldi
Gairir nord sa'tra
Oil var ogn - fallin
Olid af s't(.r ^ volldom
HiTv'dd vid Iht kltLuldan
llcrdi r.Ai (I (jei'.dar"
"And the Caithness men agreed to p;iy tlw ixu'liuii, and King Haco sent men to collect it,
according to the poem."
'*The wise and peaceful leader and jv ^^ /m r oi' the northern powers took tribute from the
dwelleis in Caithness as payment for their safety ; the inhabitants of the surrounding lands
were a&aid of the armour-clad heroes, the seizers of rings."
A similar discovery of hidden treasure was made at Yaalse, Falster, Denmark, in the
spring of 1835, by a ploughman, whose plough struck a metal box, under the surface, about
twenty yards from the sea-shore. It consisted of several bars or ingots of silver, broken rings,
armilla3, tores, miscellaneous fragments, and 493 coins, a great many of which were Eastern
or Cufic, many European, several of which are English of Edmund and Edgar, the latest
being of Ethelred, 979 and 1017; and the latest of the Cufic coins is dated 361 after
the Hegira or 971-2 of the Christian era, so that the probability is that the treasure had
been concealed about the end of the 10th century.
It is remarkable that m this large collection of ornaments and coins, there are no brooches
similar to the brooches found in Orkney, and among the great nimiber of coins, no Danish,
Swedish, or Norwegian coins.
This treasure had been also in all probability concealed by some of the Yikings, who may
have been shipwrecked on the coast, or driven on shore by an enemy.
The frontispiece of the present work, as already stated, represents the treasure found
*<west by north" of Mesehowe; the whole of the ti-easure was photographed by
Cumming, and afterwards carefully lithographed by Messrs Johnston, so that each article is
represented in its relative size according to the scale, and the treasure may be now seen in
the Collection of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.
Is the most beautiful, and, at the same time, the most difficult of all the inscriptions.
Has a curious figure resembling the upper part of a seal or otter holding a fish in its mouth :
the inscription denotes a love engagement.
Kefers to the dangerous situation of one of the ships, and is left unfinished.
Verelius, in his EunographiOy gives the representation of two dragons on two stone monu-
ments in Sweden, with the words on one of the monimients :
Ih/I KM 1WN> ^' '^^ ^^^ Dragons,
probably implying that the individuals commemorated had been commanders of two of the
large ships-of-war named Dragons. These two in Verelius have a close resemblance to this
one in Mesehowe. — Vide Runographia^ cap. viiL, page 60.
The Serpent-knot, as well as the Dragon, probably implied the arrival, and the departure
in the direction to which they pointed, of some of the large ships-of-war of some of the
northern sovereigns; and we therefore the more willingly gave a short account of the
expeditions of the northern sovereigns : and (in illustration of the mode of warfare and the
form of the ships) the account of the remarkable sea-battle between King Olaf Trygvesen
and the Danish and Swedish sovereigns, joined with Erik JarL
Is the inscription not described in Mr Farrer*s publication, and has the word "Ikik,"
'* Looking out," or " On the watch," the same which begins the inscription of No. 24.
This is evidently an unfinished inscription.
VOCABULARY OF DOUBTFUL AND DIFFICULT
UTIR at vitia, uwiserey visitarey to see or visit, Norrcenic.
BRAH, at braka, frangere^ brake or wrecked, Nor.
THAN A, Thannug, Thangar, Uluc^ there, or near this, Nor.
N, Nord, north ; \
I, preposition to ; > namely, together " to the north-exist^^ Nor.
AST, Austr, orientum versusy towards east ; J
BYNU, at buna, scatercy bound, or hastening. Nor.
SAH, at saga, secure, cut or sawed, Nor.
THAIMER may mean also THAMADR, obscurusy in the dark. Nor.
AHGIA, Ahyggia, solicitudoy cura, in distress, or in fear. Nor.
KOCKA, coquerCy boiling. Nor.
OFLATE, hoimodig, hopeful, Nor.
The Tree Eunes, while representing letters of the Alphabet, are here used to give also
the date or year. For instance, the first, with the transverse line, represents 1000 ;
and the others (their value added together) make up the year 1063. — See Olaus
Wormius* Fastes Daniciy &c.
68 VOCABULARY OF DOUBTFUL AND DIFFICULT WORDS.
The Tree Runes in Plate IIL, ttierefoTe, in the order in whicJi they stand, give these
letters and numbers :
1000 M 5 9 17 16
A R R I AT R
NIASR, hnias, explorare^ niosnari, exploratory an explorer, Nor.
SKURIR, at skora, incidere^ cut in or round, Nor.
FALHN, fallinn, dispomtuSf properly, Nor.
KIABI, gopi, cavitaSf cave, Nor.
KSVIL, skyla, umbra^ dark or hidden. Nor.
SOMAIR, at soma, «e bene genere, to do well, or put in order, Nor.
VOMIR, Vomr v. Vomadr Troldmand, MaguSy wizard. Nor.
NYSiERTH, at hnyssa, favercy to favour or smile. Nor.
URTHR, Verdugr, Vcerder, dignusy worthy. Nor.
THAT, Thogd, gratiuy favour. Nor.
MAN, at mana, mannirey record or report. Nor.
AHE, at aga, encerceoy to try or endeavour, Nor.
FEANU, at finna, invenircy to find. Nor.
ARINT, arin, focus domesticusy house or place, Nor.
iENTILEIR, Anddyr, vesHbuluniy entrance-door, Nor.
GUNHUL, war-cave, Nor.
IMINIASS, himneskr, ccelestisy heavenly. Nor.
FiEG, fagnadr, Icetitiay joy.
AMISRIS, missir, amissio, evil or grief, Nor.
MATR, mattr, vis, jpotentioy strong. Nor.
VOCABULARY OF DOUBTFUL AND DIFFICULT WORDS. 69
SAL, saladr, vita defunctwi^ late or dead, Nor.
The Trees represent certain letters and figures, as before stated, the following make up
the year to a.d. 1113 :
1004 9 11 10 16 16 13 8 10 16=1113
THAKSIR, tak-siger, thanks, Danish or Norsk.
Mx^TH, at maeda, defetlscere, tired, Nor.
SEER, at syrgia, lugere, troubled, Nor.
IGOAE, Utgiore, conduderc^ finish or repair. Nor.
STTNANLiVNT, southlands, Africa, Sicily, &c.— Egilson's Poetical Dictionary,
SLIT, ruptura^ broken. Nor.
EI, fe, pecunia^ money or treasure, Nor.
EOL, folga, hidden, Nor.
IIOUHR, hufr, navis^ Nor.
HOUK, a ship, Jamieson^s Scottish Dictionary.
"The meikle houk hym bare was Triton callit." — Dauglotf's VirgUy 321, 55.
COGUES : Roger of Wendover says, " Swejm, king of the Danes, and Anluf of Norway,
arrived at London with 94 Cogues, and made a fearful assault on it."
KUGG : " Sogdo at Kugo einn rak framan at festom ;" said that a ship was driving against
the cable. — King Haco's Voyage, Flateyan and Frisian MSS.
SAILIARIS, siolo^ia, nebula pelayicay mist at sea, Nor.
LOFOIR, Ibfja, sloth, Sw.
HKET, ket, chain, Sw.
S^^ELER, silfr, silver. Nor.
SAIR, sira, ornaments, Nor.
OKONAKN, okunnugr, unknown or hidden place, Nor.
IKIK, to keek, on the outlook, to look out, Scottish.
ViENSTA, ViEN, formosm, fair, Nor.