Runic Antiquities in Sweden After Bureus - From the Renaissance to the Baroque

Revival of the Runes: The Modern Rediscovery and Reinvention of the Germanic Runes - Stephen E. Flowers Ph.D. 2021

Runic Antiquities in Sweden After Bureus
From the Renaissance to the Baroque

Johannes Bureus was succeeded as the head of Riksantikvariet by Georg Stiernhielm (1648—1651), Johan Axehielm (1652—1657), and even by his own kinsman Laurentius Bureus (1657—1665). An important figure who emerged at this time in Uppsala was the antiquarian Olaus Verelius (1618—1682). Verelius served as National Antiquary between 1666 and 1675 and was also the founder of what became known as the Hyperborean School of Swedish antiquities and history. This held that the Swedes were the people referred to in Greek literature as the “Hyperboreans.” This school is the successor to Gothicism and enjoys some adherents in esoteric circles to this day. Verelius was in fact the teacher of Olof Rudbeck. In 1675 he wrote a handbook of runic studies called the Manuductio compendiosa ad runographiam Scandicam antiqvam recte intelligendam (A Short Guide to Correctly Understanding Old Swedo-Gothic Rune-Writing), compiled the first Old Norse dictionary by a non-Icelander, and showed that the pagan temple of Uppsala was actually located where the present-day church is at Gamla Uppsala.

Johan Hadorph (1630—1693) became the National Antiquary in 1679 and served in that office until 1693. Hadorph began the work of collecting runic inscriptions for publication, as most of the work of Bureus remained in manuscript form. The work was to be called Monumenta Runica Sueo-Gotica (Swedo-Gothic Runic Monuments). Hadorph actually enlisted the aid of the entire Swedish population in the quest to hunt down runic monuments in the countryside. This mainly consisted of writing to church and governmental officials in all of the parishes to be on the lookout for runic artifacts. In 1666 he formalized the office of antiquities, for which the noble and influential university chancellor Magnus Gabriel de la Gardie was officially responsible. De la Gardie is also well known for his contribution of buying the Codex Argenteus, the sixth-century manuscript of Ulfila’s Gothic Bible, which had been taken as booty from Prague by the Swedish army during the Thirty Years’ War.

A persistent puzzle in the early study of the runes was the meaning of certain inscriptions found in the Hälsingaland region of Sweden. To most people they appeared to be nonsensical scribbles. A prize was offered to anyone who could read them. In 1675 the mathematician Magnus Celsius (1621—1679) gave a speech at Uppsala in which he demonstrated his decipherment of these runes. However, because Celsius died shortly after the speech, his solution was not published until 1707. As it turned out, the Hälsinga runes were actually those of the Younger Futhark with the “head-staves” (the vertical line) removed. This left only the branches.

In 1699, Johan Perinskiöld came out with an annotated edition of the Vita Theodorici regis Ostrogothorum et Italiae (Life of Theodoric, King of the Ostrogoths and of Italy), by the sixteenth-century German humanist Johann Cochlaeus. In this volume, Perinskiöld claimed that the runes had been brought to the North out of Asia by Magog, son of Japheth. To support the idea further, he claimed to be able to read the name “Magog” on the runestone of Bällsta in Uppland, which was a misreading of the runes.

During the Renaissance period in England, in which the English Reformation also took place, runes appear to have been studied by only a few antiquaries. In the earliest period these men were clerics, but by the seventeenth century, secular scholars also explored some runic knowledge as well.