Old Norse Mythology—Comparative Perspectives

  Hermann, Pernille, Stephen A. Mitchell, and Jens Peter Schjødt, eds., with Amber J. Rose. 2017. Old Norse Mythology—Comparative Perspectives. Milman Parry Collection of Oral Literature 3. Cambridge, MA: Milman Parry Collection of Oral Literature. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_HermannP_etal_eds.Old_Norse_Mythology.2017.

Volund Was Here: A Myth Archaeologically Anchored in Viking Age Scania

Torun Zachrisson, Stockholm University

Abstract: A recently discovered object from the Viking Age shows a winged human figure. It has been interpreted as a representation of Volund the smith, and, more specifically, the version of the legend found in Þiðreks saga. The context for the object, the center Uppåkra in Sweden, is compared with the context presented in Þiðreks saga. The article concludes that an audience in Viking Age Uppåkra would have felt at home with the winged man and the version in Þiðreks saga, but less familiar with the social setting for Volund presented in Vǫlundarkviða that represents a setting that would have been more easily understood further north in mid-Sweden.


Various archaeological objects have also been interpreted as depicting gods, who have either been identified by their attributes or through a certain scene central to a myth. A gold bracteate from ca. 500 CE discovered at Trollhättan, Västergötland, Sweden shows Týr putting his hand in the wolf Fenrir’s mouth (Öberg 1942; Oxenstierna 1956; Axboe and Källström 2013: 155) and another depicts the scene where Baldr is being killed by the twig of mistletoe (Hauck 1970: 184). Óðinn has been identified on the plates from the helmets in the boat burials at Vendel (Stolpe and Arne 1912: pl. 5, 6) and on the plates used for producing this type of helmet from the late sixth and early seventh centuries at Torslunda on Öland (Arrhenius and Freij 1992). The most renowned helmet with figural plates of this type was discovered in the Sutton Hoo boat burial from East Anglia. That helmet alludes to Óðinn: it was deliberately constructed so that one eyebrow had gold foils behind the red garnets, which made the brow reflect the light and glow, while the other brow, without gold foil, remained dark, giving the impression of a one-eyed god (cf. Price and Mortimer 2014).

The Viking Age pendant from Aska in Östergötland that shows a pregnant female with rich dress and jewelry has been interpreted as Freyja with her necklace Brísingamen (Arrhenius 1969), whereas the ithyphallic bronze statuette from Lunda in Södermanland has been interpreted as the god of fertility, Freyr (Salin 1913). Although these identifications have engendered discussion and critique (e.g., Price 2006), they are accepted by most scholars. As a whole, most of the material representations of divine figures that appear during the late Iron Age (550–1050 CE) can be identified from Old Norse written sources, but this is seldom the case for representations dated earlier than that (Andrén 2014: 187).

In this article, I will discuss a recently discovered object that shows a winged human figure. It has been interpreted as a representation of Volund the smith, and, more specifically, the version of the legend found in Þiðreks saga. I will compare the context—Uppåkra, Sweden, where the object was discovered—with the context presented in Þiðreks saga. My conclusion is that an audience in Viking Age Uppåkra would have felt at home with the winged man and the version in Þiðreks saga, whereas for an audience further north in Scandinavia, such as mid-Sweden, former Svíþjóð, the social setting for Volund presented in Vǫlundarkviða would have been more familiar.

The object

In September 2011, a highly interesting object turned up during the research excavation of an Iron Age settlement in Uppåkra in southernmost Sweden. The find and the object were described and analyzed by Michaela Helmbrecht in an article in the antiquarian journal Fornvännen (2012). The object is 7.5 centimeters long, 4.5 centimeters wide, and weighs 52.6 grams. It is a piece of openwork in high relief made out of a gilded copper alloy. Three iron rivets on the backside show that it was going to be mounted onto something, but since the object shows no signs of wear, we can conclude that this never happened. It is gilded on all sides, including the reverse, which is unusual, and it is thus a costly piece of work. It is slightly bent in the middle, and it has been suggested that it might be a scabbard-chape or -fitting (Helmbrecht 2012: 171). This, however, seems unlikely since it is too heavy for that.

The object is shown in bird’s eye view: we see a human intertwined with a pair of wings—a mix of a human body and a flying device. It portrays a winged man dressed in armor and boots, bearded and possibly wearing a helmet. His arms are connected to the wings and the feathered tail through a shield-like dotted structure in the middle. This type of ring-chain motif is common in the Borre style (Wilson 1995: 88–89); therefore the object likely dates to the mid-Viking Age, 950–1000 CE (Helmbrecht 2012: 175). The ring chain has by some scholars been associated with symbolical binding and border-crossing (Domeij Lundborg 2006; Oerhl 2011; Helmbrecht 2011: 134–38).

Figure 1. The mount from Uppåkra, Sweden. Photo by Bengt Almgren, Lund University Historical Museum.

Already during the fieldwork, the male figure on the object was identified as Volund (after an idea by Iohannes Miaris Sundberg and Bengt Söderberg; see Helmbrecht 2012), the legendary master smith who was captured by a king and hamstrung to prevent him from fleeing. Thereafter, Volund had to make jewelry for the king’s family. But he avenged himself by killing the king’s two sons and making drinking bowls with silver fittings out of their skulls. Volund also violated the king’s daughter and left her pregnant. Then he managed to flee from captivity.

Volund’s story is told in the eddic poem Vǫlundarkviða and in Þiðreks saga af Bern, where he is called Velent. In other narrative sources known from Old Norse and Western European texts, Volund is also alluded to, as a master smith (Nedoma 1988: 40–43; see also Nedoma 2006: 608–18; Insley 2006).

Figure 2. The mount from Uppåkra. Detail of the left wing, with the droplets of blood. Photo by Bengt Almgren, Lund University Historical Museum.

The context

The object was found in Uppåkra in Scania, which during the Viking Age was a part of Denmark. Uppåkra is one of the nodal points of southern Scandinavia, being a dense settlement of long tradition, a so-called “central place” complex with roots that date to 100 BCE. The site has been subject to considerable metal detecting, as well as geophysical surveying and archaeological excavation, the results of which indicate that the whole settlement area covered some 40 hectares. The core of the settlement has been identified south of the parish church at Stora Uppåkra, and here an excellently preserved building dating to ca. 200–1000 CE has been excavated. Traces of large roof pillars indicate that it had been a very tall house. A large door ring found at the southwestern entrance suggests that this was the main gate. The house had been rebuilt on the same spot seven times. Inside, gold–foil figures (guldgubbar) were found, as well as two special objects used in ceremonial drinking, a unique beaker with gilded ornamented panels (Hårdh 2004) and a blue glass vessel (Stjernqvist 2004). These objects date to the Migration Period (400–550 CE), but had been deposited in a Viking Age floor-level, thus presumably having been used for several hundred years before being ritually buried. This building has been interpreted as a cult house (Larsson and Lenntorp 2004). That specific ritual houses were constructed must have been the result of interactions with the late Roman world: the Christianization of the Roman and Byzantine empire in the fourth and fifth centuries meant that rituals moved from the open air and altars next to temples into the interior of buildings (Andrén 2004: 12, 2007: 130–31). The cult house in Uppåkra has been perceived as an echo of an early Christian church, where a Roman/early Christian model was reinterpreted and creatively transformed in Scandinavia (Andrén 2007: 131).

Figure 3. Uppåkra in Scania, Sweden. Excavation trenches and the cult house (F) marked south of the present Stora Uppåkra church (E); grave mounds Storehög (A), Lillehög (B), and two destroyed grave mounds (C, D). Map after Larsson and Söderberg 2012: 7.

Outside and around the ceremonial building, there were substantial deposits of animal bones, mostly of meat from cattle cut into portion-sized pieces, interpreted as traces of large feasts for many people (Magnell 2011). Numerous objects located in the surrounding courtyard are believed to have been ritually deposited (Larsson and Söderberg 2013: 239). A significant number of them are weapons: 300 spears and lances, mostly placed north of the house (Helgesson 2004).

Figure 4. Reconstruction of the cult building. Drawing by Loïc Lecareux, Larsson and Söderberg 2012: 9, fig. 5.

Close by, large residence halls were found. These are at least as old as the cult house, thus first built in the third century or somewhat earlier. Northwest of the cult house, a house (A) had burnt down in the 400s with three persons inside. Afterwards, the remains of the burnt hall were evened out. Approximately a hundred years later, two gold bracteates and a gold pendant, half of a collier, were spread out over the area, on top of where the remains of the dead persons lay in the former house. The area continued to be used for the same type of activities as the area around the cult house and was covered with large numbers of animal bones. There were also un-cremated body parts from six humans, amongst them parts of a skull that had been hit by a severe but not fatal blow before the individual finally met his or her death (Larsson and Söderberg 2012: 10, 2013: 240). Southwest of the cult house, there was a residence hall that had stood on the same spot from the fifth through the tenth centuries. It had been repeatedly burnt down during the period 400–800 CE and rebuilt three times (B, C, D). Finds of human bones show that here too there were burnt humans inside. Among the body parts was the shoulder blade of a young person who had been run through from behind by a spear (Larsson and Söderberg 2013: 242). The Volund-object was found in the top layer of fire-cracked stones by the gable of the youngest hall (D), where it had been deliberately deposited. Fire-cracked stones are associated with late Iron Age elite settlements and have been related to preparation of large amounts of meat in cooking pits and the process of brewing ale (Söderberg 2005: 267–79, 465).

Figure 5. Excavated buildings (house A, halls B–D) west of the cult building. Illustration by Henrik Pihl. After Larsson 2015: 146.

Figure 6. The Viking Age hall (D) and the layer of fire-cracked stones at the gable end of the building, where the Volund-object, marked with an X, was found. Illustration by Birgitta Piltz Williams. After Larsson and Söderberg 2012: 11.

Frands Herschend has suggested that the repeated destruction of the hall was a recurrent theme when rivals of the elite struggled for power in the Iron Age (Herschend 1996: 35). It is peculiar, however, that the cult house had no traces of fire whatsoever, although it stood less than 10 meters away from the residence hall and became even closer as the halls were enlarged over time. This shows that special respect must have been paid to this building. The excavators cautiously interpret this as if the hall-burning was more likely the result of internal feuds, rather than caused by an external enemy (Larsson and Söderberg 2013: 246). Considering how closely the buildings were placed, the fires must have been very controlled. Although the cult house never caught fire, it nevertheless was rebuilt on exactly the same spot perhaps as many as seven times: the postholes were reused and the gold-foil figures from the former house were, for instance, pushed down into the post-holes. This suggests that the repeated renewal of the cult house constituted ritual action. The excavated halls in Scandinavia show that halls were erected on exactly the same spot as the one where the earlier hall had stood, the space for the high seat and hearths being reused. This has been interpreted as a way of masking changes and emphasizing continuity (Hållans Stenholm 2012: 184).

At Uppåkra, continuity was indeed emphasized, but why the repeated renewals of the cult house? Old Norse written sources show that rulers played central roles in public cult performances. They had important ritual functions, especially in sacrificial rituals, and they served as guardians of the sacred places (Sundqvist 2002, 2003, 2007). In the research on the biographies of longhouses from the Iron Age, many scholars agree that a new longhouse was constructed when a new household was created (Gerritsen 1999). Considering this, it would seem logical that if the cult house had been rebuilt in accordance with the construction of a new residence hall presumably these re-buildings can be equated with the establishment of new ruling families. This means that a new ruling family used what was structurally the same ritual indoor arena for its “Old Norse temple”, rebuilt on the same spot with the same placement of entrances, hearth, and high seat, but was able to put its own mark on the decoration of the temple.

The winged man-object was placed just south of and outside the gable in the central courtyard of Uppåkra, which as we have seen was a highly ritualized area with martial aspects. Unfinished precious objects that are ritually deposited, such as the one in question, have sometimes been interpreted as part of smiths’ hoards (cf. Kristoffersen 2012). At least by the Merovingian period, bronze casters—and thus smiths—seem to have been permanently present in Uppåkra (Kresten et al. 2001: 163–64; Larsson and Lenntorp 2004: 7, 18, 31; Axboe 2012: 129). Crucibles and slag were found inside the cult house, along with traces of gold from the manufacturing of gold-foil figures, all dating from the Merovingian period. Specialized craft of this type requires tradition and specific knowledge (Callmer 2002). Uppåkra and Helgö, “the holy island” in Lake Mälaren in mid-Sweden, were the only sites in modern Sweden where smiths were present on a permanent basis during the Iron Age. In large permanent workshops, smiths seem to have practiced many crafts: goldsmithing, casting of different metals, working wrought iron, and producing weapons. These workshops were linked to major political and economic centers (Lamm 2012: 143f.).

Uppåkra is rich in finds. From the second century onwards, the objects and buildings show extensive contacts with the world outside: different regions in northern Europe, the Roman Empire, the Rhein region, the Near East, Eastern Europe, the Balkans, northern Italy, the Arab world, and the British Isles (Larsson and Söderberg 2012: 28). Whether Uppåkra was a seat for a warlord or a king, we do not know. What we do know is that the history of Uppåkra can be connected with the old town of Lund, established ca. 980 CE (Hårdh and Larsson 2007; Hårdh 2010).

Volund/Velent in Þiðreks saga

The winged-man object from Uppåkra accords well with the version of the myth recorded in Þiðreks saga (ch. 73–133), as we have already seen. In the saga, Velent, as Volund is called now, is said to be the son of a king from Sioland “Sea-Land” who is also a giant (risi). His mother is said to be one of the sea-maidens (siokononar) (Þiðreks saga ch. 84 [ch. 57]). Velent sets off to the court of the Jutish king, Niðungr, to become his follower. Velent is regarded as a hero, but presented as being dangerous and powerful—a liminal person. He had developed his smithing skills by being first taught by the smith Mímir for three winters in the land of the Huns, then by being a trainee of the dwarfs in the mountains across the sea. Later on, he is captured by king Niðungr, made lame, and forced to work at the royal court. Velent takes revenge by luring the king’s two sons to the forge where he murders them. He hides the corpses in the pit under the bellows. With the help of a drink, he then rapes the king’s daughter impregnating her, before declaring to the king what he had done. Finally, Velent flees with the help of a flying device made of birds’ wings (Þiðreks saga ch. 73–136). The saga adds that Velent´s brother, Egill, helps in the flight (cf. Marold 1996).

Þiðreks saga dates to the middle of the thirteenth century (Nedoma 2006: 615) and is a Norwegian compilation of heroic saga materials that likely have a Continental background (von See et al. 2000: 88; Nedoma 2006: 609; Insley 2006: 621; Marold 2012: 235). Velent mysteriously escapes with the help of a mechanical device called flygil “wing” or fiaðrhamr “feather-guise” (Þiðreks saga ch. 130; Nedoma 2006: 615). This probably shows influences from the antique Dædalus-myth, in which the Greek master smith Dædalus and his son Icarus escape from imprisonment by fashioning wings (Marold 2012: 235). Velent’s numinosity has its roots in the Otherworld. He is the offspring of a giant of royal lineage and a sea-maiden. But he is placed in a royal court in the Danish realm. The legend must have been known in Uppåkra in the late tenth century. People there who saw the object and listened to the myth were familiar with ruling families in a Danish realm and the skills of master-smiths and might have been able to imagine one of them constructing a flying device.

The social and geographical setting in Vǫlundarkviða

In the other main source for the myth—the eddic poem Vǫlundarkviða, possibly dating to the ninth or tenth century (Nedoma 2006: 613)—the master-smith Volund is set in another type of social environment that would not have been at all as familiar to the Uppåkra audience. In the poem, Volund is described with all the ethnic markers of a Sámi person (famous weapon smith, hunter, eating bear meat, skiing, living in the woods, foretelling weather); perhaps some of these traits were also the markers of a high-born Sámi of royal descent. In Vǫlundarkviða, “Hlæiandi Vǫlundr / hófz at lopti” (Vǫlundarkviða st. 29 (cf. st. 38)) (Laughing, Vǫlundr rose into the air) (Vǫlundarkviða pp. 106, 108) but the poem does not describe how he “rises” (Nedoma 1988: 155, 2006: 613; von See et al. 2000: 230–36; Marold 2012: 235). For an audience in the late Iron Age in northern Scandinavian, such a description would not have been necessary. Rising into the air would be logical—Volund was shape-shifting—and we may wonder whether the laughing played a part in his transformation. The setting in Vǫlundarkviða sketches a type of social landscape that would have been relevant and obvious in, for example, the seventh, eighth, and ninth centuries in the halls of the Ynglingar at the court in Old Uppsala, but it would also have been relevant for an audience in Norway, where the same type of close links existed between parts of “Norvegr” and the kingdoms of the Sámi.

In Viking Age Scandinavia, the Sámi were renowned as expert smiths. Early iron technology was characterized by iron production in the forest areas of the Sámi (I. Zachrisson 2006), and would thus be more in line with Volund’s smithy in the wooded areas next to Svíþjóð. In Norse mythology, Lydia Carstens, referring to Vǫluspá st. 7 and Gylfaginning st. 14, states that smithies were located close to the halls and temples of the gods, in close proximity to the power and not in a remote forest (Carstens 2012: 246).

In the sixth century, Jordanes in Getica (Miller 1915: 56) and Procopius in De Bello Gothico book VI, ch. xv call the Sámi skridfenni, scrithiphini (Dewing 1979) a term that alludes to their habit of skiing (skriða á skidum; see I. Zachrisson 1997: 158). Skis were produced by Sámi and predominantly used by them; before the nineteenth century, skis are only found in the north of the Nordic countries (I. Zachrisson 1997: 215–16). It is an open question but quite probable that the gyrfalcons that were found in the cremation graves from the seventh and eighth centuries in Vårberg in Huddinge parish, Södermanland and Söderby in Danmark parish, Uppland, as well as in one of the famous boat graves in Uppland (Vendel III), were tamed—by the Sámi?—as chicks in the mountainous region in Northwestern Sweden and traded down to Svíþjóð (cf. Ericson and Tyrberg 2004: 113; T. Zachrisson 2010).

According to written sources, the kings of Svíþjóð intermarried with Sámi kings’ daughters. In Ynglinga saga, the marriages of Drífa “snowdrift”, daughter of King Snjár “snow”, to King Vanlandi and that of Skjálf, daughter of king Frosti “frost”, to Vísburr, whose sons are called Gísl and Ǫndurr (ski pole and ski) are described by Snorri Sturluson (Ynglinga saga ch. 13–14, 19; see also Lönnroth 1986; I. Zachrisson 1997: 169; on the use of “Finn” and “Finland” for Sámi see Heimskringla [Johansson] 2: 352n100). Elsewhere in Heimskringla, Snorri recounts the tale of the Norwegian king Haraldr hárfagri (Harald Fairhair) and his betrothal to Snæfríðr “snowpeace”, the daughter of yet another Sámi king (Heimskringla ch. 26). These types of legendary marriages may have added to the numinosity of the future kings yet to be born, since their Sámi wives were perceived as possessing unusual powers (Heimskringla [Johansson] 1: 312n14). Volund in Vǫlundarkviða is the product of such a marriage in reverse. He is the son of a Sámi king who marries a girl from the south, Hervǫr (interestingly, the Viking Age man in a boat grave in Tuna in Alsike mentioned above mirrors this heritage).

Generally, we tend to think of the Sámi as living far up in the north. But future research may well alter that picture. In the seventeenth century, the woodland Sámi (skogslappar) living in Gästrikland, just north of Uppland—both regions in former Svíþjóð—had their own names for plants that do not grow north of the limes Norrlandicus, the geographical/biological borderline that divides Svealand and Norrland (Lars-Gunnar Larsson, University of Uppsala, emeritus; pers. comm., March 2015).

Mid-Sweden and Old Uppsala not only show contacts with the regions to the North; during the same period, the seventh to ninth centuries, there were also many other distant contacts. Almost all the imported objects were from Western Europe. Some types of objects stand out, such as elephant ivory objects, golden threads from woven silk garments, and amethyst beads, which probably traveled from the Byzantine Empire via the Anglo-Saxon area or Merovingian France (Ljungkvist 2008, 2009: 44–47, 2010). Helgö in Mälaren was a permanent workshop, and there was also a center of artisanship at the royal manor in Old Uppsala (Ljungkvist et al. 2011: 578–81). At such sites, there must have been close contacts between the ruler and his smiths.

Some other representations of Volund

The Volund myth is presented in other pictorial sources. The earliest of those is a Volund-figure depicted on a gold solidus from Schweindorf in East Frisia (Figure 7). This coin had a solidus for emperor Theodosius II (r. 402–450 CE) as a model, but is dated to 575–650 CE. The runes read volundu in Anglo-Frisian. The figure is shown with a bow and a pair of tongs as well as a stick or perhaps an extra leg, illustrating that he is lame (Oehrl 2012). The limping smith is, as Edith Marold has shown, a concept with deep historical roots, already present in Asia Minor and among the Phoenicians, in the Greek god Hephaistos and many others places (Marold 1966: 480–483). Whether this can be understood to mean that smiths were recruited from among crippled persons, or if it was a result of mutilation to hinder a craftsman from escaping with valuables, or if it perhaps had to do with the dangerous substances and the conditions under which the smiths worked, has been debated. But it could also be interpreted as a visible sign and consequence of an initiation ritual (see overview in Marold 1966: 480–500, cf. Marold 2012: 237).

Figure 7. The solidus from Schweindorf. Photo: Hinrich Dirksen, Ostfriesisches Landesmuseum Emden.

More famous is the so-called Franks casket (also known as the Clermont Runic casket; Becker 1973), a carved casket dated to the eight century CE adorned with Anglo-Saxon runes (Figure 8). It was probably made in a Northumbrian monastic context. The casket speaks of itself in Old English as being made from hronæsban “whalebone” from a stranded whale. It combines pictorial scenes from the classical and Christian worlds: the adoration of the Magi, the destruction of Herod’s temple in Jerusalem by the Roman general Titus, and the suckling of Romulus and Remus by the she-wolf of Roman mythology. Furthermore, there are three scenes from Germanic tradition with accompanying rune-texts showing Volund’s revenge, his brother Egill defending himself with bow and arrows, and at last the suffering of a woman called Hos (Becker 2012). These are among the earliest scenes in Europe to have been articulated in this type of extended visual narrative and accompanied by a long text in the vernacular (Webster 2012).

Figure 8. Front panel of Franks casket, showing Volund in his smithy. After Stephens 1867–1868: 145.

As a whole, the pictorial program of the casket alludes to the perception or creation of a universal history. On the front to the left we see the hamstrung Volund (known in Anglo-Saxon tradition as Wēland) in his smithy receiving the daughter of King Niðungr (or Niðhad as he is called in Old English sources). In one hand he holds a cup of beer, which he offers to her. Once she drinks it, he will be able to violate her (cf. Oehrl 2012: 284). Volund has just killed one of her brothers, whose corpse is lying under the anvil. The boy’s head is still in the pair of tongs that Volund holds in his other hand. Volund, having committed infanticide, can thus be regarded as a Germanic equivalent to Herod, murdering the male children of Bethlehem. This panel is placed to the left, while the panel to the right shows the adoration of the holy child, the gift of the magi motif (cf. Staecker 2004: 45–47). The lid shows the master archer Egill, whose name is written in runes above; he is Volund’s brother, who defends himself against the attacking Niðungr. Leslie Webster suggests that the casket was intended to contain a sacred text, a psalter, and that it was made for a member of an Anglo-Saxon royal house (Webster 2012), whereas Alfred Becker argues that the casket may have been a royal one, from which the king handed out gifts to his companions in the hall (Becker 1973; 2012). Historian Barbara Yorke, however, thinks it can be compared with the late antique wedding caskets. The women in the carved pictures have a special position and this probably reflects the person who ordered the casket (pers. comm.). The Franks casket seems to refer to the same Volund tradition as the Uppåkra object and Þiðreks saga.

Figure 9. Detail of the picture stone from Ardre VIII, Gotland.  Photo courtesy of the Swedish History Museum.

On the Gotlandic picture stone from the church of Ardre (Ardre VIII), dated to the same century as the winged man from Uppåkra, that is, the tenth (Imer 2001: 99, 105), Volund is depicted as a large bird escaping from an opening in a turf-roofed smithy (Figure 9). The large bird above the smithy has no anthropomorphic traits. This can be interpreted as meaning that it illustrates a metamorphosis of Volund himself, because it provides no mechanical explanation as to how Volund rises into the air. The bodies of the princes can be seen in the deep pit under the bellows and thereunder probably also the key to a chest, as argued by Louis Buisson and Sigmund Oehrl (Buisson 1976: 76; Oehrl 2012: 285). It is not shown directly, but the composition indicates that the smith quite likely beheaded the boys by using the chest lid (von See et al. 2000: 213). This has been compared with the lines in Vǫlundarkviða, “Kómo þeir til kisto, krǫfðo lucla, /opin var illúð, er þeir í sá” (Vǫlundarkviða st. 24) (They came to the chest, demanded the keys; the evil intention was patent when they looked inside (Vǫlundarkviða p. 105)). It is possible that this picture stone shows a Volund tradition similar to that found in the eddic poem. In northern Gotland, however, the picture stone from Stora Hammars III in Lärbro, dated to roughly the same period (ninth century; Lindqvist 1941–1942: II 87), shows an anthropomorphic bird in combination with a lady (Oerhl 2012: 298-300). It has been interpreted as Óðinn stealing the mead of poetry (Lindqvist 1941–1942), but comparisons with other pictorial representations of Volund show that it probably belongs to the smith’s story instead (Oerhl 2012: 299). Could it mean that different versions of the Volund-myth were told on Gotland in the early Viking Age? Perhaps this is to go too far; a comparison can be drawn to the stone crosses and hogback-fragments from Yorkshire which show just how complex it can be to interpret the different smith-representations (Oehrl 2012: 294–98). [7]

Works cited

Primary sources


Ágrip af Noregs Konunga Sögur. Ed. V. Dahlerup. Copenhagen: 1880.

Gylfaginning: see Prose Edda

De Bello Gothico


Procopius. History of the wars. Book VI. Transl. Henry B. Dewing. Cambridge, MA: 1979.



The Gothic History of Jordanes. Transl. Charles Chr. Mierow. Princeton: 2006.


Íslenzk fornrit, 26–28. 3 vols. Ed. Bjarni Aðalbjarnarson. Reykjavik: 1941–1951.


Heimskringla: History of the Kings of Norway. Transl. Lee M. Hollander. Austin: 1964.

[Into Swedish]: Nordiska kungasagor. 3 vols. Transl. Karl G. Johansson. Stockholm: 1991.

Halvdanar saga svarta: see Heimskringla

Ynglinga saga: see Heimskringla

Poetic Edda

Edda: Die Lieder des Codex Regius nebst verwandten Denkmälern. Ed. Gustav Neckel and Hans Kuhn. 5th ed. Heidelberg: 1983.


The Poetic Edda. Transl. Carolyne Larrington. Oxford World’s Classics. Oxford: 1996.

Vǫlundarkviða: see Poetic Edda

Prose Edda


Snorri Sturluson. Edda. Ed. and transl. Anthony Faulkes. London, Vermont: 1995.

Samnordisk Runtextdatabas

Online at http://www.runforum.nordiska.uu.se/samnord/

Þiðreks saga af Bern

Þiðreks saga af Bern. Ed. Henrik Bertelsen. Samfund til Udgivelse af Gammel Nordisk Litteratur, 34. Copenhagen: 1905–1911.


The Saga of Thidrek of Bern. Transl. Edward R. Haymes. New York: 1988.

Velents þáttr smiðs see Þiðreks saga

Vǫluspá: see Poetic Edda

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Andrén, Anders. 2004. “Mission Impossible? The Archaeology of Norse Religion.” In Belief in the Past: The Proceedings of the 2002 Manchester Conference on Archaeology and Religion. Ed. Timothy Insoll. BAR International Series, 1212. Oxford. Pp. 7–16.

———. 2007. “Behind Heathendom: Archaeological Studies of Old Norse Religion.” Scottish Archaeological Journal 27: 105–38.

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[ back ] 1. Modern names are used, after Faulkes’ translation of the Prose Edda and Carolyne Larrington’s translation of the Poetic Edda. When referring to Old Icelandic Vǫlundr, Low German Welent, High German Wieland, Old Norwegian Velent the modern English form Volund is used for all of them (the different names are discussed in Nedoma 2006; Insley 2006; Marold 2012: 236).

[ back ] 2. For the identification of the rune stones mentioned above, see Samnordisk runtextdatabas.

[ back ] 3. Translations are my own unless otherwise indicated.

[ back ] 4. Stray find from Lokrume, Gotlands fornsal B 1683, Thunmark-Nylén 2006: 317; see also Sune Lindqvist, who thinks that it was imported from the Continent during the Merovingian period (Lindqvist 1925: 193–94), while Lena Thunmark-Nylén shows that it is clearly from the Viking Age. This type of ornament also occurs on the Norwegian swords of Petersen’s type S, as Thunmark-Nylén notes (2006: 317). It is a sword type that was introduced from the Continent in the tenth century and was imitated in Norway (Martens 2004: 127).

[ back ] 5. Tuna in Alsike is a burial ground comprising twelve boat graves and five other graves that were excavated by Hjalmar Stolpe and T. J. Arne (Arne 1934; see also Arvidsson 1999). These include twelve Viking boat burials, two built over women, the rest over men. Two chambers, dated to 550–600 CE, were graves that preceded the boat graves (Arne 1934; Hjulström 2008: 11). One of the Viking Age men (grave VI) had had a male ancestor who was of Sámi descent, while his mother was of Nordic descent (Götherström 2001: 26). Therefore it is of great interest that the parts of the boat that were found in the sacrificial site the Rickebasta bog, on the grounds of the Tuna farm, were of late Iron Age Sámi type (G. Larsson 2007: 240). On their possible reindeer diets, see also I. Zachrisson 2012.

[ back ] 6. Johan Callmer discusses the Volund myth as a whole, combining details from Vǫlundarkviða and Þiðreks saga when discussing Volund’s revenge (which leads to the downfall of the royal family of Nidud and perhaps the dominion of the Njarar). Callmer stresses the didactic nature of the Volund myth in the treatment of skilled craftsmen (Callmer 2002: 357–58).

[ back ] 7. For a comprehensive account for all the Volund representations, see Oerhl 2012.

[ back ] 8. The saga of Harald Dofrafóstri in Ágrip and in Halvdanar saga svarta (Heimskringla ch. 9) tells of a Sámi, Dovre, who is skilled in magic and steals food from King Halfdan Svarti’s Yule feast, but gets caught and is held as a captive. He is freed by young Haraldr hárfagri, who stays on with the Sámi until his father dies. Haraldr then returns and takes over the kingdom (Marold 2012: 236). This fostering might have had influence on the new ruler Haraldr and his numinosity and contact with the Otherworld.