Rökstenens gåtor

The riddles of the Rök Runstone – Gothic kings or celestial bodies? A social semiotic approach to Viking Age meaning-making and spatiality

Per Holmberg, University of Gothenburg


In this presentation I want to show how a social semiotic approach to Viking age runestones has given a radically new analysis of one of the most famous runestones: the Rök runestone, erected in the middle of southern Sweden in the ninth century. When understood through the metafunctional lens of social semiotics, Viking Age runestones seem to perform a triple binding of the reader. The reader is bound to the stone through (1) the labyrinth organization of the inscription, (2) the interpersonal demand to respond to its speech acts, and (3) a construal of agency that typically calls attention to actions performed at the place of the runestone itself. The traditional interpretation of the Rök runestone has been that the inscription refers to the deeds Gothic kings. And this connection to the Goths has contributed to the prominent place the runestone in the early history of Sweden. However, this interpretation presupposes that the Rök runestone departs from each of the three principles for Viking Age runestones. It is, I argue, more defensible to interpret also the Rök runestone inscription as a triple binding of the reader. What has previously been thought of as Gothic kings might instead be references to celestial bodies. In the end of my presentation I want to discuss how the interpretation I have published earlier this year can be further developed.


Holmberg, Per 2016. Svaren på Rökstenens gåtor. En socialsemiotisk analys av meningsskapande och rumslighet. [English Summary: Answers to Rök runstone riddles. A social semiotic study of meaning-making and spatiality] Futhark: International Journal of Runic Studies 6 (2015, publ. 2016): 65–106.