If we look only at contemporaneous written evidence and disregard kings, Iarlabanki Ingefastson is probably the most copiously documented Scandinavian of the Viking Period. But his name does not occur even once on vellum. His memory lives entirely in the many rune stones he commissioned.

Iarlabanki (Jarlabanke in modern Swedish) was a major landowner in Uppland north of Stockholm, and his lifetime happened to coincide with the great mid-to-late-11th century rune stone craze in that province. Iarlabanki was a Christian, probably only of the third generation, and like other monuments of the time, his testify to this faith. The inscriptions also commemorate projects like the building of roads, causeways and an assembly site, and state that Iarlabanki administered a territory corresponding to several Medieval parishes. This suggests that he was a royal bailiff and/or military officer.

Famed runologist and Custodian of Ancient Monuments Sven B.F. Jansson (Run-Janne, “Johnny Runes”) lived to see the rediscovery of several of Iarlabanki’s rune stones. Regarding the one that reports the man’s death, Jansson quipped, “After studying Iarlabanki’s rune stones for so long, we were all very sad to learn that he has passed away!”


  1. #1 Left Coast Bernard
    November 13, 2011

    Dr. Rundkvist,

    What is written on this stone, please?

    Can you tell us about the significance of the unusual cross shape? It doesn’t look like a typical, or even and abstract, crucifix.

    And why the snake shapes? Why would they have been mixed with Christian symbolism, if that is what the cross is?

  2. #2 Martin R
    November 13, 2011

    It reads “Iarlabanki had these stones erected after himself while he still lived, and he made this causeway for his soul, and he owned all of Täby by himself. God help his soul.”

    I can’t say much about the cross shape, but see Linn Lager’s recent PhD thesis. A crucifix is a cross with a guy on it, though. This is a cross.

    The snakes hark back to a long tradition of animal art starting in the 5th century. There is no consensus as to why they are so important on 11th century rune stones as well.

  3. #3 Birger Johansson
    November 14, 2011

    Isn’t being proud of owning Täby a bit like being proud of New Jersey? Or Milton Keynes ? Not that I am in a position to throw stones…(looks out over construction pit in Umeå)

    The snake was certainly a practical background/frame for a long inscription. Today, we might have chosen a garden hose as a motif.
    — — — — — — — — —
    ‘Vacuum cleaner’ behind Swedish nuke plant fire http://www.thelocal.se/37328/20111113/
    Good old Swedish craftmanship, creating a screw-up worth 250 million USD by just leaving a simple househoö instrument.

  4. #4 Birger Johansson
    November 14, 2011

    It is very helpful when a civilization leaves behind written texts and clearly visible stone structures. Bring out your wide-brimmed hats (and watch out for traps with giant spherical boulders) !: “Castles in the desert – satellites reveal lost cities of Libya” http://www.physorg.com/news/2011-11-castles-satellites-reveal-lost.html
    The vikings never had to worry about using up the groundwater supply, unlike these guys.

  5. #5 Thinker
    November 21, 2011

    A somewhat younger tradition in Sweden than making rune stones is to sing songs before drinking snaps (aquavit/vodka taken as shots at a meal), often with some double-entendre humor. While there are not many people carving rune stones today, new snaps songs are written all the time.

    As a resident of Täby (which is actually quite nice — if you owned it all today, you would be very rich!), I wrote the following one a few years ago for a dinner with visiting non-Swedes. It is sung to se tune of “God Save the Queen”.

    Chief Jarlabanki raised
    stones which make us amazed:
    “Täby he owned”.
    Known since a thousand years.
    What we can learn is clear:
    if you aspire to be his peer
    get yourself well stoned!

  6. #6 Martin R
    November 21, 2011


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