A strange discovery was made by antiquities researcher Richard Dybeck in 1868. He stumbled upon a runestone at a farm in Borresta, Orkesta in Sweden that he never fully managed to decipher. The runes were written in mirrored form and only the name Knutr located outside the loop was written in the usual direction. The fact that there was neither punctuation nor spacing between the words didn’t make deciphering it easier. His notes tell the following story:
“During the search of the Orkesta front yard for another runestone, I found, in the middle of the long side of the foundation wall of a building, a runestone that lay down and that probably had served as a threshold, and now was largely covered by grime and mortar. The inscription, written with turning runes and lacking punctuation, and cross mark, is most unusual – more or less a stone chronicle “.
The secret of the runes has since then been deciphered and the stone has been dated to the first half of the 11th century – a time when Vikings ruled over the north Atlantic Ocean and launched bloody raids into Europe. The runes revealed what can be interpreted as a violent story of Swedish Vikings raiding in England. They read in Old Norse: En UlfR hafiR a Ænglandi þry giald takit. Þet vas fyrsta þet’s Tosti galt. Þa galt Þorkætill. Þa galt Knutr. Which translates to: ”And Ulfr has in England three geld taken. The first, Tosti gelded. Then gelded Thorkell. Then gelded Knutr.” The message is short, but it hides a remarkable story.
The inscription is notable because it tells of the Viking Ulfr of Borresta, who also was a known rune master in Uppland. The runes tell that Ulfr had taken three gelds in England with persons who have all now been identified. The first supposedly with Skagul Tosti in 970, the second most certainly with Thorkell the Tall in 1012 and the last one most certainly with Knutr the Great in 1018. All of them were notable Viking leaders and Ulfr was most likely a part of larger campaigns launched by each leader of them.
The “Geld” in this case was the income gathered through the entire, lengthy expeditions. Considering that there were many years between the gelds, Uflr most likely returned to Sweden after each geld to live the life of a wealthy and successful person. Venturing out on three raids and surviving through them all is remarkable, which would have elevated Ulfr into a legend of his time. So what drove Ulfr from the comfort of his home? Couldn’t he get enough of adventure and danger? Was it greed and the hunt for even greater riches? Was he in financial trouble? Or perhaps there lay something much more complicated behind his decisions. Whatever his reasons Ulfr of Borresta took them with him to Valhalla. The runestone is today located at the church of Orkesta in Uppland, Sweden. When examining the ornamentation and runes, it is likely that it was the famous rune master Åsmund Kåresson who is responsible for the remarkable feat of summarizing Ulfr’s adventurous life in so few, undramatic words. More about the Viking leaders whom Ulfr of Borresta raided with in the next posts.