Back in 2004, Ingmar Jansson, a professor of archaeology at Stockholm University had this to say about the Vikings – “The Norsemen were not just warriors, they were farmers, artists, shipbuilders, and innovators. More than anything, they were excellent traders who connected peoples from Baghdad to Scandinavia to the mainland of North America.” Pertaining to the last part, it seems the reach of the extensive Viking trade connection did include the then-burgeoning Islamic world, as is evident from a recently assessed ring. Found from a 9th century Swedish grave at the ‘Viking age’ trading center of Birka (just west of present-day Stockholm), the ring flaunts its pinkish-violet hued stone that is inscribed with the phrase “for Allah” or “to Allah”.
The discovery of the grave site and its subsequent analysis was originally made in late 19th century – with the ring in question being found in a wooden coffin dating from approximately 850 AD. To that end, the human remains (already decomposed) were found to be accompanied by jewelry (including the ring), brooches and dilapidated clothes – thus suggesting a female occupant. However, back then, the cataloging by the Swedish History Museum related to a few mistakes, especially with their categorization of the inscribed stone as amethyst, and the ring comprising of gilded silver material. Recent ‘re-analysis’ of the artifact, done with the aid of a scanning electron microscope, has revealed that the stone in question consists of a colored soda-lime glass (which is also precious), while the ring is composed of high-quality (94.5 percent) but un-gilded silver.
As for the inscription, it emulates a Kufic script – which is the oldest calligraphic form of Arabic, developed in 7th century AD by Kufa-based artisans in Iraq. In fact, the earliest Qurans (from 8th to 10th century) were actually written on parchments with the Kufic script. In that regard, historians are pretty much sure that the ring signet was crafted in an area which was markedly influenced by the rule of Caliphates; probably within the culturally advanced Islamic realm of that epoch. As for the ‘content’ within this engraving, it reads “il-la-lah,” which might mean “For/To Allah.” Furthermore, it could also pertain to “INs…LLH” meaning Inshallah (or ‘God-willing’).
Interestingly, the historians have also noted the good condition of the ring, which does suggest that the precious object didn’t change many hands in its extensive ‘journey’ from the Islamic lands to Scandinavia. As biophysicist Sebastian Wärmländer, who headed the recent research, said (to Discovery News) –
On this ring the filing marks are still present on the metal surface. This shows the jewel has never been much used, and indicates that it did not have many owners. Instead, it must have passed from the Islamic silversmith who made it to the woman buried at Birka with few, if any, owners in between.
This might suggest that the woman herself hailed from the vibrant Islamic world, but was buried in the cold Viking-ruled lands. On the other hand, it could also mean that the Swedish Vikings got hold of the ring by either trading or long range raiding – both of which prove that the Norsemen had interactions with the Islamic Caliphate.
Source: Discovery News
Image Credits: Christer Åhlin / Swedish History Museum