Updated: Feb 28, 2020
A recent interpretation of a runestone in Sweden suggests that it described not war but Ragnarök, a battle between light and dark that the Norse believed would occur just prior to the end of the world.
The Rökstenen runestone in Sweden features the longest runic inscription in the world, with over 700 runes. Most of the inscription describes the death of the sixth-century ruler Theodoric the Great, but it was most likely written by the Viking chieftain Varinn or Yarin, in honor of his son Vamoth, three centuries later.
Recently, a number of Swedish researchers, historians, and archaeologists say that the story transcribed on the eight-foot-tall, five-ton stone puts the tale of Theodoric's deeds into a wider, more spiritual context. They suggest that the inscription describes not his honors in battle but instead refers to a symbolic “conflict between light and dark, warmth and cold, life and death.”
For instance, an inscription that describes the “death of the sun” researchers now believe refers to a period when a solar eclipse, a cooling trend, and colorful skies brought back memories of a terrible time centuries earlier when a series of volcanic eruptions caused regional temperatures to plummet. When crops failed after a number of very cold summers, half the local population starved before the climate returned to normal.
Researchers say that the inscription suggests that the runestone's author, after witnessing the eclipse and other atmospheric anomalies, was worried they would once again be a series of cold summers as they had experienced centuries earlier. But this time he was concerned that they were heading into a Fimbulwinter, a "great winter” that, according to Norse legend, would last three years, cause widespread wars, and presaged Ragnarök, the Viking version of the end of the world.
For many years, the Rökstenen was hidden within the walls of a 12-century church. It was rediscovered in 1843 when the church was renovated and was placed on display in 1862 in the churchyard, where it remains to this day.
To see the Rökstenen, visit the Rök church in the town of Rök, located 140 miles from Stockholm, is Östergötland.