Viking in Helmet Statue, We call it God Thor Statue because it came really positive, Hand Carved in Wood
INE VIKING ART FROM EUROPE / READY FOR SHIPPING!
Original Viking Age Artifact can be seen on 2-4th Photos to this Lot.
Viking in Helmet is a unique artwork from Viking age also known as "Sigtuna Viking". The helmet has huge Solar symbols on it.
I am just completed the project to create Wooden Statue with same motive.
Its height is about 30 cm. Patinated to have antique look.
For people who is interested, please make purchase on special price.
Thank you for your support of European Pagan Artisans.
Complete Information I could find about this very Special Artifact:
Årsskrift för Sigtunaforskning och historisk arkeologi
Utgiven av Sigtuna Museum
SITUNE DEI 2018
Unfinished and unused.
A new look at two iconic antler finds from Sigtuna, the ‘Mammen’ sword-guard and the ‘Sigtuna Viking’
Two of Sigtuna’s most iconic finds are the ‘Mammen’-style sword-guard and the
‘Sigtuna Viking’ finial mount, both carved in antler, the ivory of the North. Both
finds were widely published on discovery in the late 1930s, and have featured
prominently ever since in most studies on Viking art, and also in major international
travelling exhibitions of Viking society and material culture. What has not been
previously noted, in print at least, is that both exhibit signs of being unfinished and
unused and are best understood as discarded workshop failures, flawed during the
final stages of manufacture.
Not only does this indicate that both were made in Sigtuna, it also means that,
considering the carving time invested in their near-perfect creation, the fact that
neither object was recycled, is further indication of an over-abundance of the raw
material of elk antler (already in evidence from the vast amount of antler waste found
throughout the town), but perhaps more astonishingly to an abundance of skilled
artisan time and effort.
This article presents a detailed description of the surface condition of these two
iconic objects, their manufacture and evidence of their being unfinished and unused.
It also explains the high quality of the workmanship, showing them to be masterpieces of antler carving. Some examination of style, date, associations and intended
function as well as social context is presented, but a closer examination of these aspects as also relationship to other evidence of craftworking in Sigtuna, has to be left
to a later study.
Part 1. The sword-guard
Sigtuna Museum reg. no. SF 1965. Chance find by a passer-by in 1939 in dumped soil
from building excavations in Handelsmannen or Trädgårdsmästaren (Tesch 2015: n.2). Lit:
Floderus 1938; 1941:73f; 1946:27–45, fig. 1; Arbman 1944:8f, figs 1–2; Wilson 1966:
127, 132, pl. 47c–d; Fuglesang 1980:66, 193, no. 97, pl. 58A-B; Graham-Campbell 1980:
71f, no. 254; Graham-Campbell & Kidd 1980:168, ill. 98; Muhl 1990:279; Jansson 1991:
280–81, fig. 13; O’Meadhra 2010:92f; Androshchuk 2014:166, 243, 259, no. Up163;
Tesch 2007:268, fig 14b; 2015.
Lower guard to a sword hilt, Petersen’s Type Z, late 10th – 11th century (Fuglesang
1980:141ff; Androshchuk 2014:172). The guard, W: 101 mm, has a gently rounded
profile and a polished surface, and the patterns are carefully laid out in balanced
compositions within a narrow plain border. One side (A) is tightly packed with a
sinuous creature surrounded by foliage and takes full advantage of the fluctuating
surface dynamics of carved antler. The other side (B) has a flat surface with an incised
pattern, depicting a human face-mask with trailing moustache and hair, dramatically
set-off against an empty plain background, reminiscent of incised metalwork. (fig.
The head of the creature on side A (fig 2a) lies just off-centre – easily identified
by its large round eye with opposed cross-bands, and looped upper lip ending in a
simple curl above the straight lower lip (figs. 2b & c, next page). The body, which is
double contoured and filled with pelleting, forms an inverted S-shape narrowing
Figure 2a. Reading of side A.
Figure 1a and b. The 'Sigtuna Viking' (left), SHM 22044, length of head with helmet 3
cm, and the 'Mammen' sword-guard, SF 1965, width 10,1 cm. Photo Gabriel Hildebrand.
Figure 2b (above). Detail of
head-crest entwining the neck.
Figure 3. Comparative foliage. Left: tendril extension
as a sharply bent curl as found in south Scandinavian
artwork (a) Sigtuna sword mount (b) DR 284 Hunnestad
monument, (c) Bamberg casket. Right: the triangular fields
of foliage on (d) the sword-guard compared to (e) antler pins
now dated 12th century from Trädgårdsmästaren 9–10. Cf.
fig. 13. Drawing author.
Figure 2c (above right). Detail of head, curving neck and fore-hip spiral. Note carving
technique and damage at tang socket. Photo author.
down into a short hind-leg enclosed in the loop of a ribbon-shaped tail. The fore-hip
spiral-joint, containing cross-bands, lies at top centre and from it, a narrow fore-leg
extends parallel to the body, ending in an oversized two-toed foot. The visual effect is
of a trifurcated, feathered wing, on account of the large area allotted to this feature.
The stubby triangular hind-hip, its full extent visible on either side of the overlying
strand of the creature’s body which partly conceals it, ends in a tiny two-toed foot,
abutting both upper and lower lip. The tail continues the line of the body as a medial
incised ribbon and loops around the hind-leg to end in a soft curl against a similarly
softly curled ending of the head-crest.
This crest fills the left side of the guard and takes the form of elaborate, interlooping foliage with bulbous lobes tied with cross-bands and enclosing a freestanding
angular foliate motif (fig. 3d). The crest extends into medial-incised ribbon offshoots
that end in a soft curl above the head. Matching bulbous foliage fills the right side of
the guard as an independent element flanking a separate triangular palmette motif
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Figure 4. Detail of
foreleg, tail and foliage
(arrowed). Photo author.
(fig. 3d). The body-pelleting follows a distinctive pattern whereby it changes form
after each interlace intersection from a single row of beading at the neck, to three
sections of triple rows at the fore-hip, to diagonal hatching, to two sections each of
single rows towards the tail and down the hind-hip.
The design adapts well to the unusual shape of the guard in many clever ways,
such as the over-proportioned fore-leg which seems caused by the desire to fill the extra large area available at this point. Arbman (1944) and Graham-Campbell (1980)
offer the alternative reading that it continued into the foliage feature beside it. But
if one compares the medial incisions and the fact that there is a matching looping
element on the left of the guard, then it is clear that a returning loop is also intended
here (fig 4). Thus confirming the importance of symmetry in the design.
All pattern strands lie tightly against one another. The few empty background
spaces are modelled into pellets of similar size to the body pellets. This can lead to
difficulty in motif reading for example above the lip curl and hind-foot and around
the tail. But this dense carving was clearly meant to be read: the double contours on
the body as well as the medial incisions down the ribbon-shaped tendrils intentionally guide the eye through intersections in the interlace, following along the major and
minor figures of the design and separating them from the solid background pellets
which otherwise claim equal attention. Medial incisions greatly assist motif reading
in tightly-knit interlace, and at crossing points, the medial incision runs right up to
the crossing and picks up right after it, while abutting tendril endings are marked as
The composition has a balanced symmetry that is based on asymmetrically placed
units, created by the complementary deeply cut curves of the main elements of the
design, matched by the diagonally opposed interlocking lappet-endings at centre
field, and cunningly similar foliage on either side of the guard. Two matching cuspshaped background pellets frame the base of design, and it is one of these that has
been mistakenly removed on side B.
The pattern on side B is easier to read as a human face mask with horns, outstretched
hair, whiskers, moustache and beard that interloop with one another and the border
in long tendrils. The moustache is shaped as wider notched tendrils with cross-bands
and end in a specifically sharply bent curl. The beard extends through the border to
the semi-independent pair of tendrils carved in relief over the blade socket.
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The paired stubby single-lobed tendrils hanging in relief over the centre of the
blade socket, differ slightly on each side of the guard – forming a free-standing
self-looping unit on side A, and an extension of the beard of the human mask on
side B. Both are correctly interlaced at their crossing point and distinction in carving
style is made between the larger flatter bands of the tendrils and the smaller rounded
background pellets. The sharply bent curl found on the moustache endings is repeated on the tips of the tendril pair on side A. (figs. 3a, 8a)
Unfinished features and mistakes
Side A seems to be without any major corrections other than the occasional scraping of the surface especially clear on the blade-socket tendrils (fig 5). One strikingly
irregular feature in the designing of side A is that the pattern spills over into side B
only on one corner (fig. 6).
On side B, changes in the design are more obvious. Here, oblique lighting in
the ‘blank’ areas shows very faint erased curvilinear lines, corrections that are not
visible under normal lighting conditions (fig. 7) (fig. 8 & 9, next page). These correspond in width to the finished tendrils and seem to be early sketches of tendrils in a
more curvilinear style. The design is totally symmetrical but some tendrils are longer
than others, partly to accommodate the uneven shape of the guard
caused by the antler medium, but
also due to irregular cutting, e.g. at
the forehead tendrils. When compared to the quality and finish of
the carving on side A, side B seems
to be unfinished work. Not because
it is incised rather than carved (a
juxtaposition commonly found in
Viking-age artwork) but because of
the erratic execution.
Furthermore, there is one serious mistake on side B. The cuspshaped background space at the
Figure 5 (left).
on the surface of the
tendrils on side A.
Figure 7. Analytical drawing of sketch-lines, erasing
and tool-slips on side B and upper sloping sides.
Cf. figs. 8–10. Drawing author.
Figure 6 (above right). Corner showing decoration from side A spilling over onto side B.
A mistake or planned? This feature is not repeated on the other corner. Photo author.
Figure 8a. Faint traces of
lightly incised curvilinear
tendrils on the blank
surface between the mask
tendrils and border.
Cf. fig. 7. Photo author.
Figure 8b. The mistakenly
Figure 9 (left). As fig. 8 left side. Photo author.
cross-band on the lobed feature on the right moustache has been removed and this
must be a carving fault, rather than damage, as it lies in a protected area and could
only be removed by carving with a tool (fig. 8b). It is as if, having lowered the area
within the mouth, the carver continued without thinking to do the same job on
the similar shape on the tendril, forgetting that it was to remain raised. What we
do know is that the corresponding space on the left moustache was not removed to
The most striking unfinished aspect in the decoration of the sword-guard occurs
on the upper sloping faces. Striking because there is so much of the spongeous,
cancellous, structure of the antler exposed on what is presumed to be a prestigious
object, and also because of traces of an unfinished pattern left on view within the
lightly incised beginnings of a fine border (fig. 7 & 10b). The pattern is so finely cut
that it is marred by the brushstrokes of lacquer applied when a cast of the guard was
made in 1939. These sloped surfaces have been previously described as undecorated (Graham-Campbell 1980:72). Another unfinished feature might be the uneven
shape of the tang socket, where the drill hole has not been smoothened down. A
number of tool slips and cuts also cover these sloping surfaces, though some may be
later damage (fig. 10a & b).
Figure 10a & b (above). Lightly incised incomplete border enclosing unfinished sketched
pattern lines, left visible on the upper sloping sides of the sword-guard. Cf. fig. 7. Photo author.
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Figure 11. Absence of staining and wear in the
socket. Photo author.
An object that seems unfinished
to the modern eye might have
been acceptably finished to its
contemporary user. However, the
strongest evidence that the guard
was never used is the fact that the
socket is completely clean on the
inside. There are no traces of rust
nor other staining, or scrape marks
from the inserting of a sword blade
(fig. 11). This lack of staining
means that the guard had either become separated from its blade and grip before
being discarded, or that it was never mounted in the first place. However, the use of
a packing material around the tang might have protected the socket from coming
into contact with metal: in later historical times sword-blade tangs were often bound
in cloth or leather to ensure a snug fit inside the hilt (pers. com. Lisen Tamm, conservator, Sigtuna Museum). For this reason, a comparative study of surviving antler
guards and pommels of the Viking period is being undertaken. The Swedish Historical Museum conservation department made a cast of the guard soon after it was
discovered and for this, a protective separating layer of lacquer was applied, which
still remains, on the porous cancellous surface of the sloping faces of the guard, but
the socket was left untouched. Even if any cleaning was carried out in connection
with this casting, it would not have removed iron staining. My conclusion is therefore that because of its fresh appearance, and lack of iron staining, this lower guard
was probably never mounted on a sword blade. But what caused the split, visible on
finding in 1939, at one corner of the blade socket – is this a constructional fault?
The guard was widely published on discovery on account of its exceptional workmanship (e.g. Floderus 1938; 1941:73f with lit.), but was first discussed in detail by
Arbman (1944), in his seminal presentation of the bone and antlerwork of Sigtuna.
He considered it to be of higher standard that anything produced in Sigtuna and thus
not made there. He placed it alongside classic examples of Mammen-style artwork
of the late Viking period, suggesting that it was probably made in a royal Danish
workshop for a person of high rank in Sigtuna. The next major reference occurred
in Wilson’s important survey of Viking art where it was discussed in terms of the
widespread distribution of quality items in the Mammen style (1966:127, 132).
None of these authors mention the condition of the find.
A first hint that the sword guard looked unused was offered in 1974, in an unpublished dissertation on the Ringerike style to which it was then ascribed, where
it was stated that the tang hole ‘showed no signs of rust’ (Fuglesang 1980:193, no.
96); this was not however followed by any further comments. I could confirm this
observation when I first examined the guard in 1975, for my own dissertation studies
on Viking-period bonework, including that from Sigtuna. In a lecture to the Viking
Figure 12. The static Ringerike foliage on
the Sigtuna sword-guard compared to the
fluid tendrils on the Cammin casket.
Photo author, Goldschmidt.
Congress held in Sigtuna in 1993, I suggested that the sword-guard might have been
made in a court workshop in Sigtuna because of apparently related foliage decoration of Ringerike style on antler pins from the recently concluded excavations at the
Trädgårdmästaren 9-10 site, e.g. F8350 (figs. 3:e & 13), and also because it was made
from local elk antler, the material of choice in Birka and Sigtuna, but not the type
of antler used in southern Scandinavia nor the British Isles, where red and roe deer
predominated (unpublished, but see O’Meadhra 2010:92).
In an important lecture in 2012 (published in revised form in Situne Dei 2015),
Tesch extensively discussed previous theories on this sword-guard’s stylistic context
and iconography. He considered the use of elk rather than deer antler to show that
the guard must be a product of a Sigtuna court workshop, but working under Danish
influence in the court style of that region, the Mammen style. He even contemplates
that one of the most prestigious objects in that style, the Cammin casket, if correctly
identified as made of elk antler, might have been produced in Sigtuna (see my comments below). Tesch argues that the guard must have belonged to a display sword
of an important personage, probably the king. He also expands on recent theories
(e.g. Roesdahl 2010) that the major works in the Mammen style – he includes the
Sigtuna sword guard – were diplomatic gifts from the Danish court, for the purpose
of cementing political goodwill.
Details in the decoration of the sword-guard (fig. 12) suggest certain connection
with the major works in Mammen style, especially the Bamberg casket of late-10th
century, and the the more complex Cammin casket of c. 1000 (Muhl 1990:323;
Fuglesang 1991: nos 14,15; Roesdahl & Wilson eds 1992: nos 266, 267). The Sigtuna
guard differs in style of cutting from these two and can hardly be the work of the
same workshop, rather that it shares similar style adherences with these. The Sigtuna
guard shows more features of Jellinge (nose curl, body, toe – cf. Wislon 2001:152f),
Mammen (pelleting, technique and choice of motif- cf. Jansson 1991) and Ringerike
(symmetrical layout and foliage – cf. Fuglesang 1980, Muhl 1990). This places it
at the transition from Mammen to Ringerike, c. 1000–1025 , and corresponds
well with the typological and association dating for the most similar of the swordhilts of the same class (type Z), which also have a south Scandinavian context (for
detailed discussion see Fuglesang 1980:141ff, 193; Muhl 1990:27; Androshchuk
2014:172f). This also places it contemporary with the unique metal bird-headed
knives possibly made in Sigtuna, which
also have a related, not identical, southScandinavian tradition underlying their
decoration (O’Meadhra & Söderberg
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Part 2. The ‘Sigtuna Viking’
SHM 22044. Found in 1937 without recorded stratification but together with antlerworking
waste during building work in Trädgårdsmästaren 4 (Lit: Floderus 1938:fig. 59; 1941:29,
103; Cinthio 1948:108f; Holmqvist 1955:78 pl lxi, 135; Graham-Campbell 1980:no. 482;
Graham-Campbell & Kidd 1980:fig. 64; Jansson 1992:no.80; O’Meadhra 2010:92; Tesch
2007; 2015:25, fig. 13).
Figure 13. Bone and antler pins with Ringerike foliage found in 12th century contexts at
Professorn 1 (F8460), Urmakaren 1 (F4890) and Trädgårdsmästaren 9–10 (F8350).
Cf. fig. 3. Photo author.
It has been argued that a Danish-inspired goldsmith’s workshop was active in
Sigtuna during the town’s formative years (Jansson 1991:280f; Duczko 1995:650f;
Tesch 2007; 2015:23). This Danish aspect is based mainly on four items of which the
sword-guard is one (only if one disregards its Ringerike traits); the other items being
a copper-alloy patrix for intricate gold filigree brooches the manufacture of which required a Danish court goldsmith, bronze Köttlach brooches and a magnificent gold
filigree pendant in Hiddensee style. The filigree pendant is in mint condition, was it
also made in Sigtuna? A number of contemporary goldsmiths’ workshops have been
identified in the town’s early phases on the Tryckaren, Humlegården and Urmakaren sites, the latter including antler-working (Tesch 2015:23; Söderberg 2011:17:
2013:65f), but further study is needed to assess the interrelationships of these and
the work of the decorative antler carver.
The evidence presented here that the sword-guard is unfinished and unused,
suggests that the few but serious manufacturing mistakes caused the artisan to discard
an almost completed work. Alternatively it was accepted with its flaws, mounted
with a protective material that kept its socket in prime condition, but was later
removed from its blade and separated from the rest of the hilt before it found its way
into the ground, perhaps revered for its royal associations or craftsmanship.
Either way, the unfinished nature of the guard confirms that it was made in
Sigtuna and signifies that Sigtuna aspired to be of equal status to the southern towns,
able to maintain its own high quality workshop and a skilled Danish?-trained artisan.
But if this artisan worked in the town on a regular basis, why are there no other finds
from the town in the same style as the sword-guard?
Figures 14 a & b. Two views of the ridge mount SHM 22044,
showing the natural shape of the antler tine. L: 22.5cm.
Figure 15. The position
of the ‘axe’ on the mount.
The ‘Sigtuna Viking’ forms the upper end of an almost
complete, long, narrow finial or ridge mount with a full
length of 22.5 cm, cut in one piece from the edge of a large
dark antler tine of uniform compact texture (fig. 14). The
antler material is of a different colour and quality from that
of the sword guard.
The lower end is neatly shaped into a square-sectioned
tenon, now broken through a central perforation. The upper
end terminates in the 3-cm long sculptured head of a man
wearing a pointed helmet with flared nose-guard. A wellgroomed look is achieved by the uplifted posture, carefully
modelled oval eyes, high cheek bones, slightly squared chin,
upswept plaited moustache and hair combed tightly into
a narrow roll above the nape of the neck. The helmet and
ridge of the mount are highly polished.
The helmet and the narrow facetted ridge of the mount
are decorated with neat rows of ring-and-dot, widely spaced
on the helmet, tightly packed on the encircling edging strip.
Four vertical rows of incised ring-and-dot divide the helmet
radially into four equal parts. These mark four axial divisions, one of which extends down the nose-guard (figs. 1
& 14). This is a clear representation of a pointed composite
helmet made from four riveted sub-triangular plates encased
by a beaded brow band, with nose-guard. On the narrow
ridge there are three rows of ring-and-dots, one for each of
its three facets, with the outer two rows starting slightly lower down, with the addition of two extra rings at the base as
an enclosing border. This gives the impression of a stylized
coat of chainmail.
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The break through the perforation on the
tenon is clean, but slightly chipped, possibly from lying around the workshop when
discarded (fig. 16b). The earliest photos
taken on discovery show the break exactly
as it is now. It is not surprising that the
mount snapped here, as such a delicate
tenon, especially when perforated, would
hardly have held for the whole mount.
If this happened during manufacture it
would explain why the mount was left unfinished.
Figure 16a (above). Broken end showing
perforation and file marks from shaping the
tenon. Figure16b (below), unfinished inner
face showing whittled edges. Photo author.
Figure 17. Serrated file marks from unfinished shaping of the mount. Photo author.
The irregular inner face of the mount is unfinished and shows interesting technical
features (fig 16a). The mount has been sawn to its initial shape and the edges on the
lower section show signs of being partly trimmed by whittling with a knife. This
trimming seems incomplete. A cluster of parallel marks along the edge of the widest
section suggests attempts to loosen-up the hard antler material with a serrated file
prior to further shaping (fig 17). On the left shoulder and neck, the carving has been
left unsmoothed, in contrast to the facial and ridge areas (fig. 18).
An unfinished detail on the right shoulder is of special interest (fig. 1 &, fig. 19).
To the best of my knowledge, these markings have only been referred to twice in the
research literature, as ‘some suggestion of what might be clothing’ (Jansson 1992:247,
no. 80), or as marks from an overlying feature: ‘Note that the left side of the antler,
viewed from the front, is less worked below the head and slightly concavely lowered
suggesting that this side lay against a transverse object of some sort’ (C.R. af Ugglas,
SHM inventory, July 1938; my translation). To me these cuts have always suggested
something else – the roughing out of a splayed axe as if held at shoulder height).
I will return to this interpretation at the end of the paper. First, a discussion of the
mount itself to appreciate the high quality of carving, remembering its minute size.
Workmanship and manufacture
While the carver seems to have lacked the
foresight to see that a tiny perforated tang
might not hold for the hinged construction, even in such a strong material as antler
(MacGregor 1985:25-29); there is no question as to his superior artistic skill in his work,
as is shown in his avoidance of the spongy
cancellous structure in favour of the compact
outer material needed for carving fine detail.
The craftsmanship is very skilled. Facial
features are sensitively rendered and acute
attention is paid to minute details of hair
strands and moustache braiding, using finely
drawn incisions (fig. 20). A similar delicate
hand can possibly be seen in the workmanship on other finds from Sigtuna (fig. 22,
next page), and future research in separating
the material both chronologically and stylistically might establish workshop hands. The
overall composition is well balanced, with an
almost equal subdivision of design elements
into head, upper torso and subsections of
the ridge-decoration. The flared shape of the
Figure 20. Shaping of facial features
showing fine undercutting tool-grooves.
Figure 18 (left). Schematic illustration of cut-marks and unfinished shaping. Drawing author.
Figure 19 (right). The unfinished carving in differently angled lighting, showing the
preliminary blocking out of a possible ‘axe’. Photo author.
nose-guard, accentuated by an incised contour line, is echoed in a similar flaring of
the lower end of the ridge, accentuated by its lower horizontal row of ring-and-dots
and incised border (fig 21).
The naturally pointed tip of the antler would seem to have leant itself to being
subtly transformed into this helmeted figure. The head and torso have naturalistic
proportions and the tiny semi-circular ears mimic the ring-and dot decoration,
while the realistically lentoidal eyes have a double contour only on the lower lid
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Figure 21. Matching flaring on the nose-guard and ridge-back ending; detail of the ringand-dot tooling on nose-guard. Photo author.
to allow for the protruding helmet. The narrow, slightly squared, chin with neatly
groomed close-cut beard and upturned moustache with its neat plaiting, create an
effect of elegance.
Deeper tool-grooves surround the contours of the raised features such as the
nose-guard (fig. 20, page 17), indicating the use of a fine knife blade at various angles.
Flatter areas perhaps indicate a specialized draw-knife. A pronged scribing point
or centre-bit seems to have been used for incising the ring-and-dots. These are of
roughly uniform size and shape; apparent variations being the result of changes in
tool angle. Some rings have a ridge as if the tool has been lifted up before turning a
full circle (fig. 21). The ring-and-dots on the upper part of the helmet have been cut
into sunken fields, giving the impression of being stamped. Possible “chattermarks”
are in evidence along the line of decoration on the helmet and down the noseguard
Figure 22 a,b,c; Comparable skilled antlerworking from Sigtuna: (a,) openwork snake-head
comb endplate SF 1652r7, Draken, unstratified;
(b) delicate blade-cut Urnes-style interlace on
pinhead SF 1345:1, St Gertrud, unstratified;
(c) openwork relief tendrils on harp tuning key
F10153, Trädgårdmästaren 9–10, c.1050-70.
(fig. 21). These are produced when the surface
is scraped by a knife blade – common in cases
of erasing and shaping. (On technique and
tool identity see MacGregor 1985:55ff).
The helmet and the full length of the ridge
are highly polished as a finishing-off feature.
Yet other parts are barely begun. This suggests
that the work stopped while working on the
tenon, at a stage between finishing the ridge and commencing the torso. An alternative explanation is that the polished areas belonged to an existing mount that was
undergoing refurbishment when the work was abandoned.
It is difficult to see how this mount functioned. It would have edged some form of
composite object, with the warrior’s head extending as a rigid upright beyond that
object’s contour. The perforation in the tenon on the broken end suggests some form
of hinge-like arrangement, and above this the polished ridge of the mount is neatly
finished off at an oblique angle. The file marks are still fresh (fig. 16 b, page 16). The
perforation in the tenon runs sideways, which would have allowed for a forward/
backward movement. Alternatively this could have been a rigid fixture using the
standard hinged mechanism merely as a means of joining two parts together.
Owing to the tiny size of the sculpture, what immediately comes to mind is a finial fitting for a chest or casket, as suggested by Cinthio (1948:108). Gable decoration
of projecting heads was commonplace throughout the Viking period on household
items and furniture, continuing in church art on reliquary shrines, and in traditional
folk art on furniture and domestic items (Wilson 1966:pl.37; Roesdahl & Wilson
eds 1992; Shetelig ed. 1931). Usually these take the form of stylized bird or animal
heads, nothing as realistic as the Sigtuna carving. Also, the mount needs to stand
upright to achieve the full effect of the portrait, which would mean that the head
would protrude inwards over the object it edges, which is unusual. It was customary
in Viking and early medieval material for finial decoration to protrude outwards.
Site context, manufacturing waste
The Sigtuna Viking was found in 1937 when sieving soil that had been saved from a
watching-brief on the site of Trädgårdsmästaren 4. No details of stratification could
be recorded, and the finds retrieved along with the mount suggest a broad 11–12th
century date range. The context seems to be antlerworking waste. The finds consisted of antler offcuts, finished and unfinished single and double combs, undecorated
bone pins and pottery of 11th-12th centuries as well as later (finds nos SF1661a–ö;
1662a–u; undergoing assessment).
Initial examination of museum finds and archival records indicates that in the
1930s this section of the Trädgårdsmästaren block produced much antler waste of
different types of antler, for gaming pieces, combs, knife handles, spindle whorls, and
other small objects. The offcuts include pieces of similar colour and cross-section to
the mount, which might provide a context for its manufacture. In the 12th to 13th
century an industrial production of antler including the use of reindeer and bone
developed in workshops along the main street, documented in the major excavations on the site of Trädgårmästaren 9-10 (Karlsson 2016a & b). A horn patrix for
gold foils used in decorating filigree brooches was found in a 12th century layer of
antlerworking waste on the Professorn 4 site across the street from where the mount
had been discarded. This was used to form the gold foils for elaborate Danish-style
disc brooches, and one such foil was found in Trädgårdsmästaren, from a late 11th
century context (Jansson 2010; O’Meadhra 2010). It is important to note that these
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Figure 23. Ring-and-dot ridge decoration in rows
down the back of walrus-ivory gaming piece from
Lund, H: 4.6 cm, and broken wooden knife-handle
from Skara, H: 9.5 cm. Both 11th century.
Sketch author, after Wahlöö 1992, Widéen 1943.
objects indicate an association between the goldsmith and the antlerworker, as that the high quality
of carving on the ridge mount might have required
the competence of a goldsmith.
While the mount is an outstanding piece of work, the standard of carving on other more domestic bone and antler objects at Sigtuna is also high as can be seen from
elaborate combs which often use a similar ring-and-dot motif, spoons with moulded
palmette decoration, elaborately decorated pins, etc. (e.g. Arbman 1944; Tesch ed.
1990; Wikström 2008:figs 58,60, 65; O’Meadhra 2010) (figs. 13 page 14, 21 a–c
page 17). The ring-and-dot motif is extremely common in bone and antlerwork as
well as metalwork throughout the Migration, Viking and early medieval periods (cf.
inter alia Wilson 1966; Graham-Campbell 1980; Roesdahl & Wilson eds 1992).
Two examples where the motif runs in rows down the back of the object in a manner
similar to the Sigtuna mount’s ridge decoration, are a 4.6cm high walrus ivory gaming-piece from Lund where the chair back is decorated with ring-and-dots (Wahlöö
1992:no. 602) and a 9.5 cm long end-fragment of wooden knife handle from Skara
(Widéen 1943:fig.4), both unstratified finds, presumed 11th century (fig. 23).
Folk art or royal portrait?
The Sigtuna Viking created quite a stir when found, being unusually early for a realistic sculptural portrait, even though handles terminating in tiny human heads were
known (e.g. Cinthio 1948: figs 2-3, 6-8). The proud attitude evoked suggestions
that it might be a portrait of a ‘determined warrior leader’ (Cinthio 1948:108, my
paraphrase) or even one of Sigtuna’s kings (Tesch 2007; 2015:24f). The regal effect
however loses some of its impact when the sculpture is viewed frontally (fig. 24 a
& b), gaining a squashed appearance owing to the narrow dimensions of the antler
tine at this point. This reinforces the impression one gets when viewing a collection
of workshop waste of unused tines, that the natural outer concave curvature and
pointed tip of the unworked antler tine may have lent itself to the idea for sculpting
the head in the first place.
Perhaps this is a personal work, a piece of folk art, albeit by a master craftsman.
Had it been a commissioned work of a ruler, a larger piece of antler would perhaps
have been chosen to allow for a truly realistic rendering. Already in the early 12th
century fully naturalistic three-dimensional sculptures of kings were being produced
in Scandinavia, such as the marble head of the Norwegian king Eystein Haraldsson,
1103-22 (Roesdahl & Wilson eds 1992:40, fig. 9, no. 533). The Sigtuna Viking
should be understood against this background of portraiture.
A related category of popular, or folk, art concerns the graffiti of human figures
sketched in the margins of manuscripts or on waste material in settlement sites.
24 a & b. The ‘Sigtuna Viking’ viewed from the front.
Figure 25. Cast mount
F3602:28, late 11th century,
Götes Mack; note bulbous eyes
and entangled threadlike Urnes
tendrils of hair and moustache.
L: 2 cm. Photo author.
Figure 26 above. Stone altar base SHM 8872. Late 11th century, carved in Sigtuna.
After Holmqvist 1948.
One example with as much realism as the Sigtuna Viking
is the roughly contemporary sketch of two men’s heads
(likenesses?) on a slate from the 10/11th century Pictish/
Norse settlement at Jarlshof, Shetland (O’Meadhra 1993:
fig 27:a-b; Graham-Campbell 1980:no. 483). Realistic
portraits on coins first appeared with Henry II as king of
the German empire 1002-1014, and first appears in the
Anglo-Scandinavian world with the late 11th century
bearded images on Edward the Confessor’s pointed helmet series discussed below (Archibald 1992:184). These
were copied by Olav Kyrre, 1080-90, whose coins depicting his father Olav Haraldsson as rex iustus seem to attempt a personalized rendering, if highly stylized (Sjöberg
1989:fig.4) (fig. 27:f next page). The late 11th century Bayeux Tapestry shows a clear attempt at characterization of
the human figures for identification purposes, which is to
be expected since it is a narrative: Edward the Confessor
is shown bearded, Harald Godwinsson has a dark pointed
moustache and Guy du Ponthieu and Duke William are
clean-shaven with cropped hair (cf. Wilson 1985; Musset
The Sigtuna Viking lacks the stylization of facial features using art-style traits, found in most human figures of
the mid-late Viking period. The hair has not been forced
into foliate trails, nor moustaches represented as lobed tendrils, nor bulbous eyes as for example on the copper-alloy
mount from a late 11th century metalworking context on
the Götes Mack site in Sigtuna (Hed Jacobsson & Runer 2016:81, fig. 2) (fig. 25). We do find however on the
Sigtuna mount an echo of the characteristic profile of
the proud Viking male with upturned head, outstretched
pointed chin and pointed nose (compare discussion and
examples in Nylén and Lamm 1978, O’Meadhra 1991:40-
44, figs 1-3 with lit. and Roesdahl & Wilson eds 1992). At
the same time, the realism achieved by the braided moustache, short beard and backswept hair characterizes the
Romanesque period as observed by Cinthio (1948:110).
Possible similarities elsewhere in Sigtuna have been noted
on the base column from a stone altar-table found in 1887
in Lehman’s Garden and moved to the ruins of St Peter’s
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Church (SHM 8872; Holmqvist 1948:10f, n5) (fig. 26). Aside from differences in
material and size (3 cm antler v. 58 cm stone), we find a similar backswept hair,
pointed moustache and a regal look. These stone carvings have been identified as
the work of a Sigtuna carver schooled in England or Denmark, and responsible for
a group of sculptured heads in the Mälar Valley area (Holmqvist 1948: 99, 103, fig
21, 22, 24, 36). The altar table is dated stylistically to the late 11th century by the
transitional Urnes / early Romanesque details in the animal figures with splayed
limbs and lobed tendrils that join the two male heads. Church art of such high calibre in Sigtuna can hardly date later than the mid-12th century, when the bishop’s
seat moved to Uppsala and the royal town began declining in importance (Holmqvist 1948, 52; cf. Tesch 2017:37, n124). Furthermore, the tendrils on the altar base
belong to the same artistic context as mid-late 11th century finds from the town in
other media, such as the relief trails on the harp tuning-key from Trädgårdsmästaren
9–10 (Söderberg 2016:129; 2017:68, 71) (fig. 21c, page 17), and mount from Götes
Mack (fig. 25, page 21).
A composite pointed helmet with nose-guard
The helmet worn by the Sigtuna warrior is characterised by its splayed nose-guard,
pointed conical shape with axial divisions and encircling band, clearly indicating its
composite character of vertically riveted triangular plates fastened by vertical strips
and an enclosing brow-band; there are no chainmail fittings, eye-, nape- or chinguards.
Three types of Scandinavian helmet have been identified for the Viking period
(Tweddle 1992; Holmqvist L & Petrovski, S. 2007; Frisk 2012): first, the crested
helmet of the Early Viking Period (based on the Vendel type); second, the spectacled,
rounded helmet of the Middle Viking Period (includes the Norwegian Gjermundbu
find and isolated eyepieces); third, the pointed/conical helmet of the Late Viking
and Norman periods which is our concern here. No physical examples of the pointed conical helmet survive in Scandinavia. Its origin is often sought in Kievan areas
where physical finds have been made. These however do not provide a good parallel
for the Sigtuna helmet, being more rounded, often with separate eye-pieces and separate nose-guards (Tweddle 1992:fig 566).
It is generally accepted that by the 11th century, if not earlier, the pointed helmet
had become the norm in Scandinavia, based on the evidence of figurines, picture
stones and rune stones (Nylén & Lamm 1978; Graham-Campbell 1980:nos 479-
80, 449, 513, 515, 537-8; Tweddle 1992:296; Frisk 2012). Of all of these examples,
I consider only the Ledberg stone Ög 181 (fig. 27 o–r) alone among the Swedish
material, to possibly show a nose-guard, and here the image is highly stylized and
suggests a total covering of the whole head. There is a lot of confusion about the
correct interpretation of the pointed headgear in Viking-Age pictorial art. Most are
perhaps better interpreted as pointed caps of leather or textile (Graham-Campbell
1980: 271; Tweddle 1992:292; Musset 2005:59).
It has been suggested that the Sigtuna Viking might be in the image of Sigtuna
king, Anund Jakob, 1022–1050, with reference to his coins copying Cnut’s pointed
helmet series (Tesch 2015:25). Cnut the Great was the first to place an image of a
contemporary helmet on a coin, in his pointed helmet series (BMC type XIV)
of c. 1024-30 (Archibald 1984:214) (fig. 27a). The type was quickly copied by
Scandinavian rulers and adopted c.1030 on Sigtuna coins by Anund Jakob (Malmer
1969; Jonsson 2007; Jonsson 1992:no. 552) (fig. 27 b–e). But the helmets of this
series are rather low and cover the nape of the neck as did their coin predecessors,
unlike the Sigtuna helmet. Also, as on Cnut’s helmet-coin images, there is no
nose-guard; the helmet line stops at the eyebrow. With one possible exception: a
projection of the helmet line occurs one of Anund’s coin images, signature Thormoth
(Malmer 1989:fig. 1:III; Jonsson 2007:fig.3) (fig. 27b), which might indicate a noseguard or more likely is merely a blundered extension of the helmet edge on Cnut’s
coins. The legends on Anund’s coins are slavish copies of dies and often blundered
(Jonsson 2007:273; 2010). The helmeted images seem to be less slavishly copied;
even individually altered, but still based on Cnut’s original, which re-enforces the
interpretation that this is not a nose-guard (fig. 27a). Coins are intended to contain
symbolic political information. They may be updated to be current and recognisable
as the latest issue, but their reliability as representations of contemporary dress or
portraiture cannot be taken for granted. For example, early 11th century skaldic verse
contains contemporary information, if transmitted though the written literature of
the 13th century. There the helmets (hjalmr) of Cnut’s men are described as having
a nose-guard (nefbjörg) (Jesch 2013:353). Jesch has here attempted to match the
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references in skaldic verse with the archaeological finds, examining the work of the
major poet Sigvatr who composed mainly for Olaf Haraldsson of Norway but also
for his son Magnus the Good and his rival Cnut. His accounts are considered fairly
reliable. Perhaps this means that the pointed helmet coins are in fact showing a
helmet as a crown, whereas a nose-guard would block the face. A number of 11th
century Anglo-Saxon manuscripts show such a crown identical to the composite
pointed helmet with beaded brow-band and no nose-guard (Tweddle 1992:fig 536)
(comparable to fig.27h).
The helmet is described as a symbol of high status in the laws and literature, often
exchanged in gift-giving or to be returned on death, but was also an insignia of the
warrior king. However, the idea that the late Viking kings distinguished themselves
from their men by their gilded helmets, is dismissed as a misreading of the literature
which merely refers to the king wearing a helmet in his role as a warrior (Hoffman
1981; 1990; Vestergaard 1990; Tweddle 1992:337; Frisk 2012). In the Bayeux Tapestry no differentiation is made between the helmets worn by foot soldiers and leaders (Musset 2005:46). The pointed helmet, without nose-guard, appears in a small
number of 11th cent Anglo-Saxon manuscripts, usually in psalter images of Goliath
fighting David, where the giant is depicted as a threatening Anglo Scandinavian
warrior (Tweddle 1992:fig. 536e-f; Schichler 2008) (fig 27 g–h).
Cnut’s pointed helmet series was revived by Edward the Confessor in 1053-69,
showing an up-dated more sharply pointed helmet and an attempt at portraiture by
showing the king bearded (Archibald 1984:184, nos. 229-30) (fig 27 i–j). This was
adopted in the extremely pointed helmet on the coin of the Norwegian king Olav
Kyre,1080-90, believed to show his father Olaf Haraldsson (Sjöberg 1989:fig.4) (fig
27f) This is the best match in a coin image for the Sigtuna helmet’s basic shape in
being so sharply pointed, but it is a highly stylized rendering. Both series lack noseguards.
The best parallel in helmet type is to be found in the Bayeux Tapestry, with its
cone-shape and flared nose-guard, and vertical band defining the composite construction (fig. 27 k–l). This is very clear where the helmets are being carried by their
nose-guards (Wilson 1985:192, scene 37; Musset 2005:46). The date and commissioner of this work is hotly debated, but it is generally accepted as English in its
design and manufacture and lately provenanced to Canterbury in the 1070s (Pastan
& White et al. 2014). This would give a secure Anglo Saxon context for the Sigtuna
helmet type, which became the archetypical Norman helmet throughout the 12th
century (http: www.ManuscriptMiniatures.com).
I do not find good parallels to the Sigtuna helmet in the other often-cited parallels belonging to the immediate post-Viking period. These include the figures from
a Norman ivory chess-set (fig 27m), made in Salerno, S Italy and dated on historical
evidence to 1080-85, placing this late type of helmet oddly contemporary with the
Bayeux Tapestry (Pastoureau 1990:33-4; fig 1), some mid French chess-pieces in elephant ivory dated c.1140-50 (Pastoureau 1990: fig 31) and the late 12th early 13th
century chess-pieces from the Isle of Lewis, Hebrides (fig 27n) (Robinson 2004).
These have a lower helmet and occasional nose-guards but only in combination with
nape-guards. Of similar poor comparative value is the oft-cited Norwegian stave
Figure 28. The Sigtuna
‘axe’ reversed (a), compared
to images on (b) DR 282
and (c) Magnus the Good’s
Hedeby coins of 1043,
photos in Gullbekk 2016.
a b c Drawing author.
church carving at Hylestad, c.1200, depicting the Sigurd myth (Roesdahl & Wilson
eds 1992:no.442), which shows a different type of lower helmet with cusp-shaped
markings more similar to eastern examples and has a specific curl to the end of the
nose- and nape-guards.
Is it too imaginative to interpret the markings at the shoulder as the first blocking
out of a simple flared axe blade and upper part of the handle, as if held at shoulder
height? (figs 18 & 19 page 17 & 28a)
The transverse cuts at the base of the handle could then mark out a hand, shortening the image so that it might fit within the limited space available. The carving
at the shoulder was never completed. However, one serious problem with reading
an axe into this carving is the absence of a sharply angled outline representing the
junction of the blade and handle. It should be understood as the initial blocking out
of the motif, and not the finished product. If this is an axe, then it raises interesting
questions as to what sort of person the carving might represent.
In an inspired study on the Viking-Age axe, Näsman (1991:179f, fig. 1- 4; cf.
now also Pedersen 2014) has shown how the axe was a male status symbol in the
late Viking and Norman periods. The axe was the sole weapon in male graves of the
10th-century period of Christianisation in Denmark and Scania, as well as Gotland
(Trotzig 1985). Näsman emphasises that the major but few decorated examples that
have survived signified members of the king’s retinue, while the more commonly
found plain axes signified the regular warrior. He notes (1991:180) that in the Bayeux Tapestry the long-handled axe figures as a symbol of power, marking out the
men who are close to the king but not (yet) kings themselves – Harald holds such
an axe before his coronation – relinquishing it’s role now that he is no longer a jarl
(but an alternative reading is that he is accepting it with the crown as a symbol of
his new role as warrior king), and Guy de Ponthiue holds one when addressing his
superior Duke William (cf. Wilson 1985 pl.37; Rud 1994:58; Musset 2005:n.69).
One of the few contemporary Nordic illustrations of a warrior with an axe, shows the
long-handled axe carried over the right shoulder (Hunnestad DR 282; the long dress
and curled helmet type suggests this is a Varangian warrior – Rosborn 2004:142)
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(fig 28b). Also, in the Gotlantic axe-graves the axehead is mainly placed on the right
shoulder (Trotzig 1985:86, figs 1, 5–6). These match the position (as also shape and
size) of the 'axe' on the Sigtuna mount, as if held to the shoulder. The demands of
the antler medium required that it fit within the contours of the piece. An over-theshoulder position would have required an extensive projection, unsuitable for the
shape of the antler tine being used, and to add-on a loose axe would be anachronistic
for late Viking art. The Lewis chessmen show a parallel solution (Robinson 2004).
The Scandinavian members of Cnut’s ‘housecarls’ in England and of the Varangian
Guard in Constantinople were both known as ‘axe-bearers’ (Rosborn 2004:142). A
possible link between the axe and the returning members of either of these units is
interesting as their presence in the Mälar area is recorded on runestones and in saga
references (Duczko 1995; 2004; Tesch 2015:19f; but see Bolton 2009:247f). The
importance of seeing an axe in the unfinished carvings on the shoulder gains further
in significance when one remembers that the pointed helmet appears in Scandinavia
as a combination of influences from Kievan and Anglo-Scandinavian areas.
Tesch (2015:24f) has proposed that the regal bearing of the antler figure might
indicate one of Sigtuna’s rulers and while the helmet images on Anund Jakob’s coins
are not so close, they do not rule this out. However, the presence of an axe might.
The king’s emblem during this period was the sword, not the axe, as can be gleaned
from contemporary skaldic verse, manuscript art, and 13th century saga literature
(Jesch 2013; Jørgensen 2016). The Lewis chessmen of 12th/13th century (Robinson
2004) confirm this. It is also interesting to note that axes are rarely mentioned with
regard to prestigious events in contemporary writings (Jesch 2013:343n11).
There is, however, one king traditionally associated with an axe: Olaf Haraldsson
of Norway, later St Olaf. But how old is this tradition? Not as old as the sagas would
have us believe. The first mention of an axe causing Olaf’s death is by Snorri Sturluson in his 13th century Heimskringla, and it is also there that we first hear of Olaf
having during his lifetime an axe named ‘Hel’. It is also snorri who first mentions
that Olaf’s son Magnus the Good used Olaf’s axe to gain victory at Lyrskog in 1043,
and that Magnus then deposited the axe as a relic in Olaf’s shrine in Trondheim.
This part of snorris account seems to be corroborated by the archaeological finds.
Magnus depicts an axe together with a sceptre on his Hedeby coins of 1043, commemorating his victory at Lyrskog, presumably as propaganda to promote his ancestral right to the Norwegian throne (Lidén 1999:50f; Gullbekk 2016:116, figs. 2-7).
Neither Lidén (1999:50) nor Ekroll (2016: n14) accept this identification as an axe,
and consider it could be Magnus and not Olaf who is depicted in the Byzantine-style
bust figure holding it. To my mind the image on each of these coins is without doubt
an axe (fig. 28, page 25).
Lidén (1997; 1999:33, 216f) has in a seminal work examined the evidence for
St Olaf’s iconography and attributes. When examining the first association of an
axe with the saint, she considers that coins, church sculptures and seals, divulge
only their iconographic legacy, not contemporary dress, accoutrements, or portrait
likeness. Lidén therefore dismisses the candidates presented in previous research
where claimed on the presence of popularized attributes such as beard, red hair or
axe, concluding that the earliest non-controversial image of St Olaf with the axe as
Figure 29. Cast figure of St Olaf? in early Romanesque style, from
St Manchan’s reliquary shrine, Ireland. 1120s. H: c.15 cm.
Drawing Eva Wilson, after Wilson 1969.
his attribute, dates to the mid-13th century, in church sculpture, and
that the oldest representation of the saint in art occurs on a pillar in
the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem dated to c.1150-60, where
he is shown in regal dress, crowned, and holding a sceptre and kiteshaped shield; but no axe (Lidén 1999:18-21, 50-53, pl 1, fig 4; Ekroll
2016:11, fig 3). The axe is equally absent from his earliest images on
seals, of similar date (Ekroll 2016:182). The lack of early images of Olaf
as a saint is explained in that before the 12th cent, sainthood involved
relics more than images (Stang 2016:28, n.4).
There is however one possible early 12th century representation of
St Olaf holding an axe (rather than St Mathew who shared the same attribute). This
belongs to a set of copper-alloy figurines of saints and apostles attached to the shrine
of St Manchan, a product of a prestigious Scandinavian-influenced Irish monastic
workshop (Wilson 1966:121, pl.78a; 1969; Graham-Campbell 1980:no.507;
Murray 2015) (fig 29). Wearing a scull cap not a helmet, the figure holds a diminutive
long-handled axe in his right hand with the blade shielded by the palm of his left.
This is exactly as described for the Varangian Guards on ceremonial duty (cited in
Kotowicz 2013:50), a clear reference to Olaf as warrior, while the Romanesque rex
iustus formula followed in his clothing and expression are a reference to Olaf as king
defending the Christian cause.
It thus seems from this coin evidence, that an association between St Olaf and an
axe did exist by the 1040s, promoted as a political tool by those aspiring to royal and
ecclesiastic power in Norway. But there is no evidence for it being associated with an
image of Olaf in contemporary art. When Olav Kyrre in 1080-90 places an image of
Olaf, the warrior king, on his coins as rex iustus (Sjöberg 1989:fig.4) there is no axe.
So if Olaf was intended to be represented on the Sigtuna carving, we are faced with
a new and unparalleled imagery. That it could appear in Sigtuna is not a problem.
Within years of Olaf’s death, his cult as saint and martyr had spread throughout
the Scandinavian diaspora with various political motivation from aspiring kings and
churchmen (Lidén 1999; Sjöberg 1989; Sundqvist 2017). Olaf had connections
with Sigtuna in his lifetime through marriage and political ambitions. The 13th
century sagas felt it correct to tell us that it was from this region that he mustered a
following of men to assist his effort to reclaim Norwegian rule. The cult of St Olaf
would have been as popular at as early a date in Sigtuna and the Mälar Valley area as
elsewhere (for Sigtuna see Holmqvist 1948:88, 103, n.83 and Renström 2013 with
literature; for early dates in Ireland and England see Wilson 1969:n.7; for early dates
on Gotland and in Novgorod see Melnikova 2009).
An often claimed association between the cult of St Olaf and the miniature axes
such as found in Sigtuna and mainly in eastern Europe (fully discussed in Kucypera
& Wadyl 2012; Edberg & Söderberg this volume), is not relevant to our argument,
being possibly a later construct and concerning a different shape of axe.
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So who was the ‘Sigtuna Viking’?
The close similarities of helmet type with the figures in the Bayeux Tapestry and
lack of Viking art-stylization would seem to confirm the judgement made on discovery that it is most likely from late in the 11th century (Floderus 1938:fig. 59;
1941:29, 103; Cinthio 1948:n3 with refs; Holmqvist 1955:78; Jansson 1992:no.80;
O’Meadhra 2010:92), rather than earlier (Graham-Campbell 1980:no. 482; Tesch
2007; 2015:25). The helmets on Anund Jakob’s coins even allowing for stylization,
provides a poor parallel, suggesting that on the basis of helmet type, an association
with that king seems unlikely.
Perhaps it is more likely that the Sigtuna Viking should be seen as a representation
of a proud 11th century warrior who had served in the Viking campaigns in England
or from service as a member of the Anglo-Scandinavian guard, having assisted in
Cnut’s attempts at a unified Scandinavian power in England and Northern Europe,
or perhaps one of those who only left England after the Conquest (for discussion see
Duczko 1995; Bolton 2009:153ff; 2017:158f, 185).
The Manchan figurine of the 1120s is of rather similar size to the Sigtuna carving,
and the striking contrast between the two emphasizes how the latter if it could represent St Olaf, does not belong among church art, but would be a secular rendering
in a personal late-Viking manner of the saint as Olaf Haraldsson the warrior king. As
such, it would be unique. It would also be the earliest image of the saint known so
far. Given the stringent control aorund the cult of St Olaf suggested by the historical
sources, such an image would surely also be strictly controlled by the king in Sigtuna.
In any event, it must be kept in mind that my reading of an axe is very tentative,
and if it fails scrutiny, then there is no reason to link the carving with the Norwegian
king as warrior or saint.
Some final thoughts
These two iconic finds form Sigtuna, were found in different locations along the
main street in the town, made of different types of antler material and in different
styles and are the results of events in Sigtuna at either end of the 11th century. Both
share a connection with the elitist warrior stratum in society, come from different
locations within the town, both abutting onto the main street. They seem to come
from different periods in the history of Sigtuna: one at the beginning and one at end
of the 11th centuryand both are masterpieces of the antler-worker’s craft.
The fact that both are unfinished confirms that both were made in Sigtuna. The
fact that neither was reworked into another object confirms the evidence well-known
from the vast amounts of antler waste found throughout the town that there was an
abundance of the raw material of elk antler (Pettersson 2007; Karlsson 2016a,b). But
perhaps more astonishingly, suggests an abundance of skilled artisan time and effort.
This means Sigtuna had the means to adequately maintain artisans of the highest
There is much work yet to be done in understanding the role of the antler-worker
We need to know if there was a division into specialist carvers on the one hand
and comb-makers on the other (cf Arbman 1945; Ros 1990:85; Pettersson 2007,
Andersson, A. 1966. Medieval Wooden Sculpture in Sweden. Stockholm.
Androshchuk, F. 2014. Viking Swords: swords and social aspects of weaponry in Viking Age
Arbman, H. 1944. Hornsnidare som konstnärer. Situne Dei. p 7–20.
Archibald M. 1984. Anglo-Saxon coinage, Alfred to the Conquest. In Backhouse et al.
(eds.) 1984. p 170–191.
Backhouse, J. Turner, D.H. & Webster, L. (eds.) 1984. The Golden Age of Anglo-Saxon Art,
966-1066. British Museum Exhibition catalogue. London.
Bayeux Tapestry: see Wilson 1985; Rud 1994; Musset 2005; Pastan & White 2014.
Bolton. T. 2009. The Empire of Cnut the Great. The Northern World 40. Leiden.
Cinthio, E. 1948. Två medeltida människotyper. Situne Dei. p 108–117.
Duczko, W. 1995. Kungar, thengnar, tegnebyar, juveler och silverskatter. Om danskt
inflytande under sen vikingatid. Tor 27. Uppsala. p 625–662,
Duczko, W. 2004. Viking Rus: studies on the presence of Scandinavians in Eastern Europe.
The Northern World 12. Leiden.
Wikstrand 2008). Also within metalworking, between the bronze-worker and
goldsmith (Söderberg 2011; O’Meadhra & Söderberg 2017). But what about the
goldsmith and the decorative antler carver, which written medieval sources such
as Theophilus’ handbook tell us could be the same person. The Sigtuna goldsmiths
certainly used antler in tools for their work as shown by antler finds of trial-pieces,
patrixes, mini anvils, etc., but further study is needed here. We also need to examine
the possibility of the existence of petty workshops serving the needs beyond those of
the court. And of course we need to compare the situation in Sigtuna with that in its
hinterland and other early towns, especially Lund and Trondheim.
I wish to thank Anders Söderberg and Sten Tesch for help and discussions concerning the finds
in Sigtuna Museum, and the former for invaluable assistance in seeing this through to print,
as also my reader for comments on an earlier draft. I am most grateful to the Berit Wallenberg
Foundation for support.
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