The stories of Odin, Thor and the other Norse gods have reached our ears thanks to documents such as the poetic manual known as Snorri’s Edda or the Icelandic sagas, written in the Middle Ages. In these sources, Icelandic monks and minstrels told stories about the religion of the Vikings before the arrival of Christianity.
For a long time, historians have discussed to what extent these texts that spoke of events and rituals that occurred hundreds of years before could be credible. Today, most scholars agree that these writings must be dated around the year 1000, but that the core of the myths goes back to the fifth century or even beyond.
The Bracteates, usually gold medals that were used as ornaments in Northern Europe in the Germanic Iron Age (between 400 and 800 AD), used to offer a lot of information about some of the key scenes of Scandinavian mythology. .
In one of those medallions, as reported this Wednesday by specialists from the National Museum of Copenhagen, the oldest known inscription that mentions Odin, the main god of the Norse saga, has just been identified. The Bracteate was found in Denmark in the year 2020.
As runologist Lisbeth Imer explained at a press conference, this reference represents the first solid evidence that the god of wisdom, war and death was already worshiped in the fifth century, at least 150 years before the previous reference more known, which was on a brooch found in southern Germany and dates from the second half of the 6th century.
The disc was part of a hoard that was unearthed in the village of Vindelev, in the center of the Jutland Peninsula, and contained around a kilogram of gold, including large, saucer-sized medals and Roman coins turned into jewels.
Experts believe that these riches were buried 1,500 years ago either to hide them from enemies or as tribute to appease the gods. One of the gold bracteates had an inscription reading: “He is Odin’s man”, probably referring to an unknown king or overlord.
“It’s one of the best-executed runic inscriptions I’ve ever seen,” Imer said. The runes are symbols that the first tribes of northern Europe used to write the Germanic languages, especially in Scandinavia and the British Isles, although they also came to be used in Central and Eastern Europe.
According to mythology, Odin resides in Asgard, where he rules sitting on his throne, the hlioskjalflocated in the palace of Valaskjalf. During battles, the god brandished his spear called Gungnir while riding on the back of his eight-legged steed known as sleipnir.
Archaeologists have found more than 1,000 bracteates in northern Europe, researchers at the National Museum explained. Because runic texts are rare, “each runic inscription is vital to how we understand the past,” says ancient language expert Krister Vasshus.
“When an inscription of this length appears, that in itself is amazing,” he adds. “It gives us some pretty interesting information about religion in the past, which also tells us something about those ancient societies.” During the Viking Age, from 793 to 1066, the Vikings conducted large-scale raiding, colonization, conquest, and trade throughout Europe.
These Scandinavian peoples worshiped many gods and each of them had various characteristics, weaknesses and attributes. Saga texts and details discovered on some runestones have provided details indicating that the gods possessed many human traits and could behave as such.
One of the Bracteates from Trollhättan, in western Sweden, represents the moment when the gigantic wolf Fenrir, son of Loki, bites the hand of the god Tyr and tears it off. Other medallions show Baldur being fatally struck in the chest by a mistletoe arrow made by Loki as the god of deceit and Odin himself look on from afar.
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