Sigurd the Dragon-Slayer

Near Ramsund in the area around Eskiltuna in Södermanland, one can find a rather famous Swedish runic carving. This is the site of the Ramsund carving (Sö 101), which also happens to be one of the largest runic monuments. The carving is not a free-standing runestone like most, but carved directly into the exposed flat rock face. The inscription is not too unusual. It was sponsored by a woman who also built a bridge for her husband’s soul:

Transliteration of Runic Swedish:

siriþr : kiarþi : bur : þosi : muþiR : alriks : tutiR : urms : fur · salu : hulmkirs : faþur : sukruþar buata · sis ·

Translation into English:

 Sigríðr, Alríkr’s mother, Ormr’s daughter, made this bridge for the soul of Holmgeirr, father of Sigrøðr, her husbandman.

What is remarkable about the carving is that the central area that the runic serpent encloses, depicts 6 distinct scenes from the story of Sigurd (Old Norse: Sigurðr) the Dragon-Slayer. This is one of the most famous Norse heroic tales, best known from the Saga of the Volsungs (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/V%C3%B6lsunga_saga), which served as an inspiration for Wagner’s Ring opera cycle.

The scenes depicted include Sigurd killing the dragon Fafnir by thrusting a sword up into his body, Sigurd roasting Fafnir’s heart over a fire and gaining understanding of the speech of birds, his horse Grani loaded with treasure, and the decapitated dwarf Regin, surrounded by his blacksmithing tools. Apart from the similarity of the woman’s name who sponsored the carving, there doesn’t appear to be any other connection between the inscription and the images.

The story of Sigurd was very popular in Viking Age and medieval Scandinavia, so it should not be entirely surprising that scenes from it appear on several more runic carvings. The Gök inscription (Sö 327) is similar to the Ramsund carving, and two runestones from Uppland (U 1163 and U 1175) include a figure stabbing the rune-serpent with a sword.

Perhaps a surprising place to find scenes from might be on a runic baptismal font from Bohuslän (Bo NIYR;3), which has a deep relief carving of Gunnarr in the snake pit that would be his doom. Most likely, the idea behind this choice was to remind congregation members and converts of the ill heathen fate from which their baptism was supposed to save them.