Jellingstenene – Denmark’s birth certificate


Jellingstenene (The Jelling stones) are two large rune stones from the tenth century located in the town of Jelling in the middle of the Jutland peninsula. It is difficult to overstate the historical importance of the runestones in Danish history, as both of them contain the earliest written accounts of “Denmark” as an entity. The larger of the two runestones also chronicles Denmark’s conversion from Norse paganism to Christianity in 965; therefore, it is also called Denmark’s birth certificate (Danmarks dåbsattest). The Jelling monuments, including the two runestones, Jelling Church, and the two giant burial mounds between which the church is located, were inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1994.

Runestones

The smallest runestone is the oldest and was erected by King Gorm den Gamle (Gorm the Old) around 950 in memory of his wife. The inscription translates to:

 "King Gormr made this monument in memory of Thyrvé, his wife, Denmark's adornment."

The larger stone was erected by Gorm’s son, Harald Blåtand (Harald Bluetooth), between 960 and 985. The inscription on it translates to:

"King Haraldr ordered this monument made in memory of Gormr, his father, and in memory of Thyrvé, his mother; that Haraldr who won for himself all of Denmark and Norway and made the Danes Christian."

This runestone is unique, as its runic inscriptions are written horizontally like that of a Latin textbook, unlike other runestones of the time that were typically written from top-to-bottom. It consists of three different sides. One side is engraved with runes, the other one depicts a fabled animal, and the third side of the stone shows the crucifixion of Christ.

Surroundings

As a show of power, Harald Blåtand built two mounds with the Jellingstones in between them to commemorate his parents. The two burial mounds are the largest in Denmark. The North Mound is where Harald supposedly buried the remains of his father, Gorm. However, during an archeological excavation, it was discovered that the mound was empty, except for the presence of grave goods; thus, it was concluded that Gorm’s body was probably buried under the church, as the South Mound contained no remains either.

A gigantic ship hull surrounded the two mounds, acting as a grave marker that in turn was surrounded by a 1.4 -kilometer-long palisade. The Jelling stone ship is the longest ship, marking a gravesite, known to have existed. Remains of the ship still lie under the two royal mounds. The church stands now on the site where Harald Blåtand might have had his King’s hall. Only a few houses from Harald’s time can be found around this 130000-square-meter area, three of which were 23 m longhouses that stood next to the palisade (the longhouses are now marked by concrete floor). The stones are nowadays shielded from weather and wind behind protective glass casings, which surprisingly were placed there as recently as 2011.

Fun Fact

If you have an inkling that the name Harald Bluetooth sounds familiar, you are right. The Bluetooth technology used nowadays everywhere was named after this danish King. When in 1996, the leaders of Intel, Ericsson, and Nokia planned to standardize short-range radio technology, they thought about naming the project “Bluetooth” as similar to this danish King, who united Denmark and Norway; they were uniting connectivity between different products. On top of that, the Bluetooth logo is a bind rune merging the runes (Hagall) and (Bjarkan), Harald’s initials.

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