Finds Of The Iron Age

THE iron age includes the pre-historic period, during which the inhabitants of Sweden and Norway first became acquainted with iron, silver, lead, glass, ivory, stamped foreign coins; the art of soldering and gilding metals, etc. ; and, most important of all, the art of writing in the characters or letters known as the runas.

By the aid of a great number of foreign coins found among the Scandinavian antiquities of the iron age, and by comparison of the graves and other remains of this period, it is possible to distinguish, at least, what belongs to the beginning, the middle, and the end of the same, viz: (1) The beginning of the iron age, or the so-called earlier iron age, which em-braces the time from about the beginning of the Christian era to about the year 450 in Scandinavia. (2) The middle of the iron age, from A.D. 450 to about 700. (3) The end of the iron age, or the so-called later iron age, from about 700 to the latter half of the twelfth century.

A large number of coins, bronze and glass vessels, arms, etc., and even works of art of Roman origin, show that during the later iron age the Swedes had a pretty extensive commercial intercourse, either directly with the Romans or with some people trading with them. One of the most remarkable finds of Roman works was in 1818, at Fycklinge, near Vesteraa, here was found, in a grave-mound, a large bronze vase containing burned bones and a few pieces of melted glass. On the vase was an inscription, saying that it was consecrated to Apollo Grannus by Ammilius Constans, superintendent of the temple of the god. This magnificent vessel is about eighteen inches high, the ornaments around the upper border being inlaid in silver. Roman bronze vessels, without inscriptions, have often been discovered in Gotland.

In Norway a great many old graves (mounds) belonging to the iron age have been found. In these mounds quite a large nnmbeiu of interesting objects have been discovered ; among others a piece of gold jewellery, worked in filigree, of such tasteful and finely executed design, that it is without doubt the finest piece of workmanship yet found in any mound in Scandinavia. The gold is, besides, nearly pure (23 karats).

in Hovin annex (parish), near Trogstad Railway Station, Sinai lenenes Amt, is situated the so-called Raknehang (Rakne nound), probably the largest one of any in the Scandinavian tingdoms; it measures 60 feet in height, and 300 feet in diameter at its base.

With the aid of the numerous finds from the older iron age in the North, we can gain a pretty accurate insight into life and civilization in Scandinavia during the centuries when Pagaism and Christianity fought for the ascendency in the Roman world, and when the attacks on the borders of the empire by the Germanic nations became more frequent and violent, until it ended in the victors of the ” barbarian,,” the ruin of Rome, and the apparent destruction of the ancient civilization.

From the engraving on page 364 an idea can be had of the manner in which a northern chief appeared about 1500 years, ago. The representation is not an imaginary one, but can with good reason be considered historically true. The clothing, arms, and ornaments are exact drawings of those found in Danish peat bogs at Thorsberg and Nydam, in South Jutland.

The peat has preserved in a most astonishing manner the most delicate and generally most perishable things, so that we are here enabled to find the clothing, wood-work, and the like, from the earlier iron age, in a very perfect state. The clothes are of wool, the texture finer than those of the bronze age, and the pattern is often checkered. The principal parts of the suit are a long jacket with sleeves reaching to the wrists, and trousers, which are kept together with a leather strap around the waist, and below sewn on to long socks. The outer covering for the feet is a pair of sandals of leather, with finely worked ornaments. Over the shoulders is thrown a cloak, with lengthy fringe at the lower end. One found in-these bogs has pre-served its color, which is green, with yellow and dark-green borders.

In the beginning of the iron age appears another novelty, the shears, which are very similar to those now in use. The clothes during this age were generally kept together by pins or buckles, which are found in great numbers in graves of this period. Buttons or hooks are seldom seen. From the grave finds—the only source of knowledge about the use of these buckles and other ornaments-it has been ascertained that several buckles were worn at the same time. Thus, in a grave containing a skeleton, there were exhumed no less than four.

One had been used below the neck, one on each shoulder, and one on the middle of the chest. The arms were principally the same as during the bronze age, although of somewhat different shapes. Two-edged swords were common.

Horns were used during this period as drinking cups, and also Roman and domestic vessels of glass, bronze, silver, with, of course, wood and burned clay. The latter, which probably were almost entirely of domestic manufacture, are much finer, thinner, and better burned than those from the bronze age. The shape, also, is generally very tasteful. The clay vessels from the earlier iron age, as well as those from the two preceding ages, are not glazed.

Glass was highly valued during this period, which may be inferred from the fact that in several graves have been found clay vessels in which pieces of broken glass were inserted as ornaments. Besides the drinking vessels, dice and checkers are occasionally unearthed. On a stone found in Upland, but now kept in the National Museum at Stockholm, is shown a boat from the iron age, very similar to those still in use on the coast of Norway, especially in Nordland.

Generally the graves from the iron age are covered by a round or oblong mound of earth or stone. Often they are ornamented by bautastenar (grave-stones), large and upright, sometimes of considerable height. One of the most extensive grave-fields of Scandinavia is situated at Greby, near Grebbestad, on the coast of Bohnslan. There are still seen more than 150 partly round, partly oblong mounds, close together, and on the top of each, or between them, rise massive bantaste-liar, the highest measuring not less than 14 feet above ground. The bautastenar of that period are now nearly all illegible, while the memory of those in whose honor they were erected died out centuries ago. Occasionally one of them has a short inscription, and this generally gives only the name of the dead person. At Bjorketorp, in Blekinge, not far from Ronneby, three magnificent stones are seen, one of which bears an inscription containing a curse upon any one destroying the monument. There are earlier runas, which are unlike those on stones from a later period. Of these earlier runa stones five are found in Blekinge, two in Bohuslan, one in Vermland, one in Vestergotland, one in Ostergotland, two in Sodermanland, and two in Upland.


As late as the beginning of the sixteenth century the use of Runic characters was still prevalent among the Scandinavians in out-of-the-way places. Some writings from the earlier periods of Christianity in Norway and Sweden have been found both in Runic and Latin letters, thus making it a comparatively easy matter to read the Runic writings. These runas, as well as the majority of the inscriptions found in Scandinavia, are, however, quite different from older ones found in the country—the latter belonging to a much more remote period. For a long time the earlier runas defied all attempts at deciphering, but during the last few decades a solution of this intricate problem has been found, and what is more, the age of the oldest Runic inscriptions has been proved almost fo a certainty. So far, none earlier than from about the year 300 after Christ have been discovered—their date corresponding with the time of the earlier iron age of the peninsula.

Formerly it was believed that the runas were invented by the Germanic nation, without any reference to the alphabets of other South European people. Further researches have, how-ever, proved conclusively that such is not the case. The earlier rums consisted of 24 characters, with signification as shown above. The Runic signs for th and w probably have expressed the same sounds as these letters in the English alphabet. The sign for r occurs at this time only at the ends of words, and it at first represented s, but afterwards, as the language changed, its signification became z.

By observing the oldest symbols and their meaning, it will immediately be noted that great similarity to the alphabets of the old South European people exists. No one would, for instance, suppose it to be a mere accident that the Runic signs for r, k, h, i, s and b very closely resemble those of the Latin alphabet, and partly, also, those Greek characters having the same signification. In the adaptation of the foreign alphabets, how-ever, the Germanic people exhibited a remarkable independence in giving the letters new names differing from those of the originals, and also in the arrangement of the same. All South European alphabets begin with a, b, and so on ; but the arrangement of runas begins with f, u, th. Another innovation was the division of the alphabet into three groups, each containing eight characters. The earlier Runic writings also differed from most other languages in their being written from the right to the left. On the later inscriptions the writing is, however, done in the manner at present in use, or from left to right.

The later runas differ quite considerably from the earlier ones used during the older iron age, but a careful analysis has shown that this difference arises only from gradual changes in form, and sometimes also in signification. Besides this, also, some have fallen out of use, making the number used during the last centuries of the heathen times in Norway and Sweden, generally called the later runas,. only sixteen.

A Runic stone at Skaang, in Sodermanland, is remarkable, because, several hundred years after the cutting of the original inscription, the slab had again been used and provided with a new inscription. The earlier of these (in a line ‘along the middle of the stone) reads ” Haringa Hleugar,” while the later one (in the sling around the edge of the stone) says, ” Skanmals auk Olauf than letu kiara merki thausi eftir Suain fathur sin Kuth hialbi sala hans;”- or, “Skanmals aud Olauf (women’s names) they let make these memorials after Sven, their father. God help his soul !”

In the implemeuts of the first period of the iron age one sees no trace of Roman civilization, which at that time had not advanced so far North ; in the second period this influence is seen, as the objects found bear a close resemblance to theirs; in Norway it was less felt, the finds of money being less numerous. In -that country antiquities from the earlier iron age are scarce, and, like those of the stone and bronze ages,’ are less common than in the two other Scandinavian kingdoms; they have been met with in Norway as far as 69° N.

Burning the dead no doubt was prevalent in. the first period of the earlier iron age ; and in most of the graves charred bones occur scattered on a bed of charcoal, or buried in a hole, or gathered together under a tumulus: in the last case they had been no doubt pat in a wooden vessel ; often they are found in earthen or bronze urns, which are frequently sur rounded by stones arranged in a square.


During the middle of the iron age there must have been an abundance of gold in Sweden, as shown by the great number of ornaments found in different places, and now preserved in the National Museums of Stockholm and Christiania. Byzantine gold coins of this age have been found in Oland. The largest and most valuable treasure ever heard of in Sweden, and perhaps in Europe, is one found in 1774 near Trosa; its weight was twenty-eight pounds, and it consisted of several gold rings, larger and smaller, of a large necklace, in its thickest part the size of a finger, besides several ornaments—probably for swords—the metal of which was remarkably pure, containing 98 per cent. of gold. Of this magnificent find only a small part was saved for the State, thé remainder having been melted down before the authorities obtained any knowledge of the discovery. Spiral rings have been quite often found in other places, and it is believed that they served as tokens of value, or money.

The most beautiful of all the gold-finds from the heathen era are three large, wide necklaces—at present preserved in the Historical Museum of Stockholm—weighing 1 to 2 pounds each. They consist of several (three, five, or seven) tubes, lying one above the other, covered with most exquisite filigree and other ornaments; at the back is a joint, and in front the necklace is kept together by the ends of the tubes being entered into each other. One of them was found on the slope of Alleberg mountain, near Falk ping ; another, near Mone church, about 17 miles from the former place ; the third (shown in the engraving) was found in 1860 at Torslunda, near Farjestaden, on Oland.