Tag: Sweden

The Battle of Brávellir

Viking and Slav reenactors engage in combat.

The Battle of Brávellir or the Battle of Bråvalla was a legendary battle that is described in the sagas as taking place on the Brávellir between Sigurd Hring, king of Sweden and the Geats of Västergötland, and his uncle Harald Wartooth, king of Denmark and the Geats of Östergötland.

This battle is said to have taken place in the mid 8th century and it is retold in several sources such as the Norse sagas Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks, Bósa saga ok Herrauðs and Sögubrot af nokkrum fornkonungum, but it is most extensively described in the nationalistic Danish history Gesta Danorum of Saxo Grammaticus.

Harald had inherited Sweden from his maternal grandfather Ivar Vidfamne, but ruled Denmark and East Götaland, whereas his subordinate king, Sigurd Hring, was the ruler of Sweden and West Götaland.

According to legend, Harald Wartooth realised that he was growing old and might die of old age and therefore not go to Valhalla. He consequently asked Sigurd if he would let him leave this life gloriously in great battle.

Romanticised image of Sigurd Hring.

According to Saxo Grammaticus, both hosts prepared for seven years, and mustered armies of 200 000 men. Harald was joined by the legendary heroes Ubbe of Friesland, Uvle Brede, Are the One-eyed, Dag the Fat, Duk the Slav, Hroi Whitebeard and Hothbrodd the Indomitable as well as 300 shieldmaidens led by Hed, Visna of the Slavs and Hedborg.

Sigurd recruited the legendary heroes Starkad, Egil the Bald, Grette the Evil (a Norwegian), Blig Bignose, Einar the Fatbellied and Erling Snake.

Starkad in battle, from Olaus Magnus’ Historia de gentibus septentrionalibus (1555).

Famous Swedes were Arwakki, Keklu-Karl, Krok the peasant, Gummi and Gudfast from Gislamark. They were joined by scores of Norwegians, Slavs, Finns, Estonians, Curonians, Bjarmians, Livonians, Saxons, Angles, Frisians, Irish, Rus’ etc… All picking their sides.

Whole forests were chopped down in order to build 3000 longships to transport the Swedes. Harald’s Danes had built so many ships that they could walk across The Sound.

The numbers are obviously exaggerated, certainly tenfold or more. For comparison with the 3000 Swedish ships, the leidang fleets of the Scandinavian kingdoms numbered around 300 ships each during the Viking Age.

The Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks speaks of “Brávelli í eystra Gautlandi” (Bråvalla in East Götaland) and in Sǫgubrot af nokkrum fornkonungum the battle is said to have taken place south of Kolmården, which separated Svealand (Sweden proper) from East Götaland and is where Bråviken is located: “Kolmerkr, er skilr Svíþjóð ok Eystra-Gautland … sem heitir Brávík”.

Saxo ends his account by saying “thus ended the battle of Bråvik”. Most historians have held the battle to have taken place near Bråviken. but in the 17th century a minority view appears to have located it in Småland at Lake Åsnen.

Map of Sweden’s old border forests between Swedes and Geats. Kolmården is red, Tylöskog is green, and Tiveden is blue.

The accounts found in Gesta Danorum and the Sǫgubrot saga are essentially the same.

At first the two armies fought collectively, but after a while Ubbi was in the centre of attention. He slew first Ragnvald the Wise Councilor, then the champion Tryggvi and three Swedish princes of the royal dynasty.

Humbled, King Sigurd Hring sent forth the champion Starkad, who managed to wound Ubbi but was himself even more seriously wounded. Then Ubbi killed Agnar, and took the sword in both hands and slashed a path through the Swedish host, until he fell riddled with arrows from the archers of Telemark.

Then the shieldmaiden Veborg killed the champion Soti and managed to give additional wounds to Starkad, who was greatly angered. She was killed by the champion Thorkell.

The Shieldmaiden ‘Lagertha’ from the History Channel TV series VIKINGS.

Furious, Starkad went forth in the Danish army, killing warriors all around him, and cut off the shieldmaiden Visna’s arm, which held the Danish banner. Starkad then proceeded to slay the champions Brai, Grepi, Gamli and Haki.

When Harald had observed these heroic feats, he stood on his knees in his chariot with one sword in each hand and killed a great many warriors both to his left and to his right. After a while, Harald’s steward Bruni deemed that his liege had amassed enough glory and crushed the king’s skull with a club.

Battle of Brávellir, painting by August Malmström.

Sigurd won the battle and became the sovereign ruler of all of Sweden and Denmark (40,000 warriors had died).

The general agreement on the historicity of the battle has turned back and forth during the last two centuries depending on what was the prevalent ideology among Scandinavian historians. In 1925, the Swedish archaeologist Birger Nerman summarized the ebbs and tides of its historicity.

He stated that older scholarship had treated the accounts of the battle uncritically and perceived the accounts as largely historical.

During the last decades of the 19th century, however, the hypercritical school considered the battle as entirely fictional and considered even the area where it took place as mythical.

The pendulum turned and during the first decades of the 20th century, the opinion was once again in favour of its historicity, although the contemporary scholarship regarded it as a fictionalized historic event.

In 1990, the Swedish encyclopedia Nationalencyklopedin summed up the debate by claiming that the historicity of the battle is impossible to verify. There is also a hypothesis relating the battle to the events of 827 when Harald Klak was expelled from Denmark.

References

12 Historical Inaccuracies in The History Channel’s VIKINGS Series

VIKINGS is an Irish-Canadian television series written and created by Michael Hirst, for the History Channel, and is tremendously successful.

I love the show, but if you have an understanding of Viking, Anglo Saxon and Frankish history, then I would advise that in order to enjoy the series you should suspend disbelief, or at the very least take it with a LARGE pinch of salt. But hey, it’s TV, it’s entertainment, and it’s for fun, right?

The life and times of Viking Ragnar Lodbrok, “a farmer who rose to fame by successful raids into England and eventually became king of Denmark,” has gripped popular imagination and renewed interest in the Vikings.

Indeed, most of the enthusiastic fans of the VIKINGS series were probably not even aware of much of the history of the Vikings before this series were launched March 2013. VIKINGS is now in a fifth season, and with any luck, they will go on to do a sixth. One understands that some artistic licence needs to be made for films, but the series does consist of some minor and some quite major historical inaccuracies. 

1. Where are their helmets?

Inexplicably, none of the Vikings seem to wear any helmets in combat. Considering that most combat fatalities come from head wounds, the helmet was the single most important piece of armour for any veteran warrior. Viking helmets were advanced and effective, presenting a terrifying visage to their enemies. Viking helmets were effective at intimidating their enemies.

Most, when faced with these Viking warriors emerging from the sea, with helmet, shield, chain-mail armour and sword, or axe, and spear, fled without even attempting to oppose them. Presumably, the filmmakers wanted their stars to be easily identified and so have dispensed with helmets entirely. Many of their key actors, such as Rollo, survives despite wearing no armour at all and are presented as fighting wearing only trousers!

2. Looks are everything?

Many of the Vikings are depicted as having shaved their heads, including Ragnar, who apparently has his head covered in tattoos. There is no historical evidence that the Vikings did that. Anyone who has lived in Scandinavia would be aware that it gets incredibly cold in the winter. To deliberately remove the hair from ones’ head when living in often icy conditions and sailing the open seas, would be uncomfortable to say the least.

Ragnar Lodbrok in Vikings series 4, played by Travis Fimmel.

3. Absence of security for settlements.

There are some graphic scenes of massacres of civilians – women and children, depicted in VIKINGS. However, these are not of Saxon civilians killed by Viking invaders, but Viking settlers killed by Saxons. In a bizarre twist, the History Channel portrays the Vikings as settling without any semblance of security, with indefensible villages spread out in the open, without any form of stockade, fortification or protective measures.

Not even towers are erected. That just never happened. Considering that the Vikings were invaders, they took extraordinary measures to erect comprehensive fortified structures, normally in circles, surrounded by a moat and sharpened stakes, with all their dwellings neatly organised around a great hall within the fortification. Archaeologists are still digging up these Viking settlements within the British Isles.

Large Viking settlements were often surrounded by pallisades and the entrances protected by towers. None of this is in evidence in the TV series.

4. Inexplicably, Hirst’s VIKINGS television series depicts the temple to Odin at Uppsala as a wooden stave church in the mountains. The historic temple was actually situated on flat land and the stave churches were a hallmark of Christian architecture from the 11th Century onward.

5. Crucifixion by Christians

Hirst’s VIKINGS program portrays a crucifixion of a prominent character, the Christian monk, Athelstan, who had been abducted from Lindisfarne monastery, as being crucified by the orders of a Christian bishop in Wessex.

There is absolutely no case recorded where Christians used this form of execution to punish apostates. The Emperor Constantine officially outlawed crucifixion in the 4th Century.

Not only would such a mode of execution be abhorrent and blasphemous to any Christian, but there is no example of any Christians anywhere, let alone in Wessex, in the 9th Century, practising it.

6. Anachronistic clothing and fashions.

The wardrobe department has evidently had a lot of fun clothing the actors. However, many of the fashions seem more 20th and 21st Century, particularly the leather trouser designs. Some of the outfits seem to have come from a futuristic Mad Max episode. As for the bizarre and impractical hairstyles, shaven heads and abundance of tattoos, it would appear that great liberties have been taken with actual Viking culture and history.

7. The dates don’t add up.

Appropriately, the VIKING series begins with 793 A.D., with the launch of the Viking age and the notorious raid on the Lindisfarne monastery. However, the same man, Ragnar Lodbrok, who is meant to have been involved in the raid of Lindisfarne, is historically the one who led the siege of Paris in 846 B.C. That would have made him extremely old indeed by that time if he had also been at Lindisfarne in 793.

8. Rollo was not Ragnar’s brother.

The famous Viking Rollo (846 – 932 A.D.) seized Rouen in 876 A.D. and led the Viking fleet that besieged Paris 885-886 A.D. He was baptized as a Christian, married a French princess and it was his great, great, great grandson, William, Duke of Normandy, who invaded England in 1066 and became William I of England. Therefore, Rollo is one of the ancestors of the present-day British Royal family. Chronologically, there is no way he could have been contemporary with Ragnar Lodbrok, let alone his brother.

Rollo, (Clive Standen) as depicted in the History Channels hit TV series ‘Vikings’.

9. What do we know of Ragnar Lodbrok?

The Norse Sagas identify Ragnar Lodbrok as the father of Ivar the Boneless, Björn Ironside, Halfdan Ragnarsson, Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye and Ubba.

He was married three times:  to the shield maiden Lagertha, to the noble woman Dôra, and to Aslaug (all Scandinavian women).

Ragnar was the son of the Swedish king Sigurd Hring and a cousin of the Danish king, Gudfred. He distinguished himself with many raids and conquests, including the first siege of Paris, 846 A.D. He was seized by King Aella of Northumbria and killed by being thrown into a pit of snakes. His sons avenged him by invading England with the Great Heathen Army in 865 A.D.

10. In VIKINGS, the Christian’s are made out to be more treacherous than the heathen. Hirst’s History Channel saga depicts the Christians as more (or on a par with) treacherous, vile and perverted than the heathen. Whilst Christian’s of the period did engage in acts of terror, they were no more or less ‘barbarous’ than their Viking neigbours.

11. The Missionary Ansgar

The Apostle Ansgar was not the failure that Hirst depicts being executed by queen Aslaug when he failed a test. In fact Ansgar (801-865) known as The Apostle to the North, not only lived a long life, but succeeded in winning Vikings to Christ.

Numerous miracles accompanied his ministry and so impressed the Vikings, that they concluded that Christ is greater than Thor. Not that you would know any of this from watching Hirst’s History Channel fiction.

12. Alfred was the illegitimate son of the monk Athelstan. 

Possibly the biggest stretch of the truth in the series, was to suggest that the Princess Osburh had an affair with Athelstan and bore him a child, the future King Alfred the Great.

In the series, the King of Wessex, King Egbert, encouraged this infidelity and then blackmailed Osburh (his son’s wife) into becoming his mistress. The King’s son, Æthelwulf, is then persuaded that this was all the work of Christ and that he should accept it. None of this is in any way true.

Æthelwulf and Osburh were said to be extremely pious Christians, and there is no evidence of infidelity or impropriety on the part of the future Queen, and Alfred of Wessex was very much Æthelwulf’s son.

Æthelwulf and Osburh

Original post by Dr. Peter Hammond

Editor’s Note:  Dr. Peter Hammond is a Missionary in Africa with Frontline Fellowship P.O. Box 74 Newlands 7725 Cape Town South Africa, Tel: 021-689-4480 Email:  mission@frontline.org.za Website:  www.frontline.org.za.

For an account of how the Vikings were won to Christ, see “Winning the Vikings for Christ on www.ReformationSA.org. This can also be viewed as a PowerPoint with pictures though our Slideshare link. You can also listen to an audio lecture, “How the Vikings Were Won to Christ, on our SermonAudio.com link.

 

Ivar the Boneless

Ivar the Boneless – played by Alex Høgh Andersen. in the hit TV series Vikings.

Ivar the Boneless (Old Norse: Ívarr hinn Beinlausi; Old English: Hyngwar) was a Viking leader and a commander who invaded what is now England.

According to the Tale of Ragnar Lodbrok, he was the son of Ragnar Lodbrok and Aslaug. His brothers included Björn Ironside, Halfdan Ragnarsson, Hvitserk, Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye and Ubba.

The origin of the nickname is not certain. The sagas describe him as lacking bones. A genetic condition, osteogenesis imperfecta, is known to cause the body to appear to have “an imperfect bone formation”, because the body and limbs can bend off beyond the usual joints limitations, and produce other ill effects and degrading functions. It was known by the Ancient Greeks and Romans.

It could also be that he had what we now call Ehlers Danlos, which causes recurrent joint dislocations and joint hypermobility, and is a genetic collagen deficiency. They reported that it was common in the British Isles, but little was understood until the early 20th century.

According to the Tale of Ragnar Lodbrok, Ivar’s bonelessness was the result of a curse. His mother Aslaug was Ragnar’s third wife, She was a völva. She said that she and her husband must wait three nights before consummating their marriage after his return following a long separation (while he was in England raiding).

However, Ragnar was overcome with lust after such a long separation and did not heed her words. As a result, Ivar was born with weak bones.

Another theory is that he was actually known as “the Hated”, which in Latin would be Exosus. A medieval scribe with a basic knowledge of Latin could easily have interpreted it as ex (without) os (bones), thus “the Boneless”, although it is hard to align this theory with the direct translation of his name given in Norse sources.

While the sagas describe Ivar’s physical disability, they also emphasise his wisdom, cunning, and mastery of strategy and tactics in battle.

He is often considered identical to Ímar, the founder of the Uí Ímair dynasty which at various times, from the mid-ninth to the tenth century, ruled Northumbria from the city of York, and dominated the Irish Sea region as the Kingdom of Dublin.

Chronology

  • 865: the Great Heathen Army, led by Ivar, invades the Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy. The Heptarchy was the collective name for the seven kingdoms East Anglia, Essex, Kent, Mercia, Northumbria, Sussex and Wessex. The invasion was organised by the sons of Ragnar Lodbrok, to wreak revenge against Ælla of Northumbria who had supposedly executed Ragnar in 865 by throwing him in a snake pit, but the historicity of this explanation is unknown. According to the saga, Ivar did not overcome Ælla and sought reconciliation. He only asked for as much land as he could cover with an ox’s hide and swore never to wage war against Ælla. Then Ivar cut the ox’s hide into such fine strands that he could envelop a large fortress (in an older saga it was York and according to a younger saga it was London) which he could take as his own. (Compare the similar legendary ploy of Dido.)
  • Late the next year the army turned north and invaded Northumbria, eventually capturing Ælla at York in 867. According to legend, Ælla was executed by Ivar and his brothers using the blood eagle, a ritual method of execution of debated historicity whereby the ribcage is opened from behind and the lungs are pulled out, forming a wing-like shape. Later in the year the Army moved south and invaded the kingdom of Mercia, capturing the town of Nottingham, where they spent the winter. King Burgred of Mercia responded by allying with the West Saxon king Æthelred of Wessex, and with a combined force they laid siege to the town. The Anglo-Saxons were unable to recapture the city, but a truce was agreed whereby the Danes would withdraw to York. The Great Heathen Army remained in York for over a year, gathering its strength for further assaults.
  • Ivar and Ubba are identified as the commanders of the Danes when they returned to East Anglia in 869, and as the executioners of the East Anglian king, Edmund the Martyr, for refusing their demand that he renounce Christ. How true the accounts are of Edmund’s death is unknown, but it has been suggested that his capture and execution is not an unlikely thing to have happened.
  • Ivar disappears from the historical record sometime after 870. His ultimate fate is uncertain.
“Hyngwar”, Ivar’s name as it appears in Harley MS 2278, a fifteenth-century Middle English manuscript.

Death

The Anglo-Saxon chronicler Æthelweard records his death as 870. The Annals of Ulster describe the death of Ímar in 873. The death of Ímar is also recorded in the Fragmentary Annals of Ireland under the year 873.

The identification of the king of Laithlind as Gothfraid (i.e. Ímar’s father) was added by a copyist in the seventeenth century. In the original eleventh-century manuscript the subject of the entry was simply called righ Lochlann (“the king of Lochlainn”), which more than likely referred to Ímar, whose death is not otherwise noted in the Fragmentary Annals. The cause of death – a sudden and horrible disease – is not mentioned in any other source, but it raises the possibility that the true provenance of Ivar’s Old Norse sobriquet lay in the crippling effects of an unidentified disease that struck him down at the end of his life.

In 1686, a farm labourer called Thomas Walker discovered a Scandinavian burial mound at Repton in Derbyshire close to a battle site where the Great Heathen Army overthrew the Mercian king Burgred of his kingdom. The number of partial skeletons surrounding the body -two hundred warriors and fifty women- signified that the man buried there was of very high status. It has been suggested that such a burial mound is possibly the last resting-place of the renowned Ivar .

The Great Heathen Army

According to the saga, Ivar ordered that he be buried in a place which was exposed to attack, and prophesied that, if that was done, foes coming to the land would be met with ill-success. This prophecy held true, says the saga, until “when Vilhjalm bastard (William I of England) came ashore, he went [to the burial site] and broke Ivar’s mound and saw that [Ivar’s] body had not decayed. Then Vilhjalm had a large pyre made upon which Ivar’s body was] burned… Thereupon, [Vilhjalm proceeded with the landing invasion and achieved] the victory.”

Fictional portrayals

  • Ivar the Boneless is a minor character in the film Alfred the Great, portrayed as an acrobatic and agile warrior.
  • In Hammer of the Gods, Ivar the Boneless appears, played by Ivan Kaye, who would later portray King Aelle in the History Channel Vikings (TV series).
  • In the History Channel Vikings TV series, Ivar is portrayed as the son of Ragnar and Aslaug and a younger half-brother to Björn Ironside. He first appeared in season two as baby, later played by James Quinn Markey and Alex Høgh Andersen.
  • Ivar is a minor character in The Last Kingdom, the first of Bernard Cornwell‘s Saxon Stories. He is portrayed as an expert strategist and shrewd leader of the Danish Grand Army
  • Ivar appears in Nancy Farmer’s Sea of Trolls trilogy as a weak king married to a half-troll.

References

 

Harald Fairhair’s campaign in Götaland

Harald Fairhair statue, in Haugesund, Norway.

Harald Fairhair’s campaign in Götaland was an attack that took place in the 870s.

Snorri Sturluson writes in Harald Fairhair’s saga that Harald Fairhair disputed the Swedish king Eric Eymundsson‘s hegemony in what is today southern Norway.

Götaland (Swedish: ˈjøːtaland, also Gothia, Gothland, Gothenland or Gautland) is one of three lands of Sweden and comprises ten provinces. Geographically it is located in the south of Sweden, bounded to the north by Svealand, with the deep woods of Tiveden, Tylöskog and Kolmården marking the border.

He attacked and forced Viken to accept his rule and then plundered and burnt in Rånrike. Because of this the Norwegian skald Þorbjörn hornklofi boasted that the Swedes stayed indoors whereas the Norwegians were out on the sea.

Úti vill jól drekka,
ef skal einn ráða,
fylkir framlyndi,
ok Freys leik heyja,
Ungr leiddisk eldvelli
ok inni at sitja,
varma dyngju
eða vöttu dúnsfulla.
The Norseman’s king is on the sea,
Tho’ bitter wintry cold it be.
On the wild waves his Yule keeps he.
When our brisk king can get his way,
He’ll no more by the fireside stay
Than the young sun; he makes us play
The game of the bright sun-god Frey.
But the soft Swede loves well the fire
The well-stuffed couch, the doway glove,
And from the hearth-seat will not move.

The Gauts (Geats) did not accept this and assembled their forces. In the spring, they put stakes in Göta älv to stop Harald’s ships. Harald Fairhair put his ships alongside the stakes and plundered and burnt everything he could reach. The Norwegian skald said of this:

Grennir þröng at gunni
gunnmás fyrir haf sunnan,
sá var gramr, ok gumnum,
geðvörðr, und sik jörðu.
Ok hjálmtamiðr hilmir
hólmreyðar lét ólman
lindihjört fyrir landi
lundprúðr við stik bundinn.
The king who finds a dainty feast,
For battle-bird and prowling beast,
Has won in war the southern land
That lies along the ocean’s strand.
The leader of the helmets, he
Who leads his ships o’er the dark sea,
Harald, whose high-rigged masts appear
Like antlered fronts of the wild deer,
Has laid his ships close alongside
Of the foe’s piles with daring pride.
Longships or dragonships (drakushiffen), Drakkar.

The Geats arrived to the ships with a great army to fight king Harald, but they lost after great losses.

Ríks, þreifsk reiddra öxa
rymr, knáttu spjör glymja,
svartskygð bitu seggi
sverð, þjóðkonungs ferðar,
Þá er, hugfyldra hölda,
hlaut andskoti Gauta,
hár var söngr um svírum,
sigr, flugbeiddra vigra.
Whistles the battle-axe in its swing
O’er head the whizzing javelins sing,
Helmet and shield and hauberk ring;
The air-song of the lance is loud,
The arrows pipe in darkening cloud;
Through helm and mail the foemen feel
The blue edge of our king’s good steel
Who can withstand our gallant king?
The Gautland men their flight must wing.
Viking Short Bearded Battle Axe.

Then the Norwegians travelled far and wide in Götaland, winning most of the battles. In one of the battles, the Geatish commander Hrani the Geat fell. Harald then proclaimed himself the ruler of all land north of Göta älv and north and west of lake Vänern and placed Guttorm Haraldsson to defend the region with a large force.

Viking Warriors shore assault.

References

Runestone’s

The Lingsberg Runestone, Sweden, known as U 240

A runestone is typically a raised stone with a runic inscription, but the term can also be applied to inscriptions on boulders and on bedrock. The tradition began in the 4th century and lasted into the 12th century, but most of the runestones date from the late Viking Age.

Most runestones are located in Scandinavia, but there are also scattered runestones in locations that were visited by Norsemen during the Viking Age. Runestones are often memorials to dead men. Runestones were usually brightly coloured when erected, though this is no longer evident as the colour has worn off.

An early runestone: the Möjbro Runestone from Hagby (first placed near Möjebro), Uppland, Sweden. As with other early runic inscriptions, (e.g. Kylver Stone from about 300–400 CE) this is written from right to left, while later Runestones were written from left to right.[citation needed] The text is “Frawaradaz anahaha is laginaz”.

History

The tradition of raising stones that had runic inscriptions first appeared in the 4th and 5th century, in Norway and Sweden, and these early runestones were usually placed next to graves. The earliest Danish runestones appeared in the 8th and 9th centuries, and there are about 50 runestones from the Migration Period in Scandinavia. Most runestones were erected during the period 950-1100 CE, and then they were mostly raised in Sweden, and to a lesser degree in Denmark and Norway.

The tradition is mentioned in both Ynglinga saga and Hávamál:

For men of consequence a mound should be raised to their memory, and for all other warriors who had been distinguished for manhood a standing stone, a custom that remained long after Odin’s time.

—The Ynglinga saga
A son is better,u
though late he be born,
And his father to death have fared;
Memory-stones
seldom stand by the road
Save when kinsman honors his kin.

Hávamál

What may have increased the spread of runestones was an event in Denmark in the 960s. King Harald Bluetooth had just been baptised and in order to mark the arrival of a new order and a new age, he commanded the construction of a runestone. The inscription reads

King Haraldr ordered this monument made in memory of Gormr, his father, and in memory of Þyrvé, his mother; that Haraldr who won for himself all of Denmark and Norway and made the Danes Christian.

The runestone has three sides of which two are decorated with images. On one side, there is an animal that is the prototype of the runic animals that would be commonly engraved on runestones, and on another side there is Denmark’s oldest depiction of Jesus. Shortly after this stone had been made, something happened in Scandinavia’s runic tradition. Scores of chieftains and powerful Norse clans consciously tried to imitate King Harald, and from Denmark a runestone wave spread northwards through Sweden. In most districts, the fad died out after a generation, but, in the central Swedish provinces of Uppland and Södermanland, the fashion lasted into the 12th century.

The Snoldelev stone, one of the oldest runestones in Denmark.

Distribution

There are about 3,000 runestones among the about 6,000 runic inscriptions in Scandinavia. There are also runestones in other parts of the world as the tradition of raising runestones followed the Norsemen wherever they went, from the Isle of Man (Manx Runestones) in the west to the Black Sea in the east (Berezan’ Runestone), and from Jämtland in the north to Schleswig in the south.

The runestones are unevenly distributed in Scandinavia: Denmark has 250 runestones, Norway has 50 while Iceland has none. Sweden has as many as between 1,700 and 2,500 depending on definition. The Swedish district of Uppland has the highest concentration with as many as 1,196 inscriptions in stone, whereas Södermanland is second with 391.

Distribution of runestones in Sweden, the country with the highest density. Colour Key: Runestones / km2.

Effect of religion

In many districts, 50% of the stone inscriptions have traces of Christianity, but, in Uppland, which has the highest concentration of runic inscriptions in the world, about 70% of the 1,196 stone inscriptions are explicitly Christian, which is shown by engraved crosses or added Christian prayers, and only a few runestones are not Christian.

Scholars have suggested that the reason why so many Christian runestones were raised in Uppland is that the district was the focal point in the conflict between Norse paganism and the newly Christianized King of Sweden. It is possible that the chieftains tried to demonstrate their allegiance to the king and to display their Christian faith to the world and to God by adding Christian crosses and prayers on their runestones. What speaks against this theory is the fact that Norway, Denmark, and Götaland did not have any corresponding development in the runestone tradition. Moreover, not a single runestone declares that there was any relationship towards the king. Additionally, the runestones appear to show that the conversion was a rather peaceful process.

According to another theory, it was a social fashion that was popular among certain clans, but not among all of them. Once some clans in southern Uppland had begun to raise runestones, neighbouring clans emulated them. However, in parts where these clans were less influential, the runestone raising did not reach the same popularity. Several scholars have pointed out the long Viking expeditions and the considerable amassment of wealth in the district. At this time, Swedish chieftains near Stockholm had created considerable fortunes through trade and pillaging both in the East and in the West. They had seen the Danish Jelling stones or they had been inspired by Irish high crosses and other monuments.

The runestones show the different ways in which Christianity changed Norse society, and one of the greatest changes involved no longer burying the deceased on the clan’s grave field among his ancestors. Instead, he was buried in the cemetery of the church, while the runestone would serve as a memorial at the homestead, but for certain families, there was less change as they had churches built adjoining the family grave field.

The Stenkvista runestone in Södermanland, Sweden, shows Thor’s lightning hammer instead of a cross. Only two such runestones are known.

Inscriptions

The main purpose of a runestone was to mark territory, to explain inheritance, to boast about constructions, to bring glory to dead kinsmen and to tell of important events. In some parts of Uppland, the runestones also appear to have functioned as social and economical markers.

Virtually all the runestones from the late Viking Age make use of the same formula. The text tells in memory of whom the runestone is raised, who raised it, and often how the deceased and the one who raised the runestone are related to each other. Also, the inscription can tell the social status of the dead person, possible foreign voyage, place of death, and also a prayer, as in the following example, the Lingsberg Runestone U 241:

And Danr and Húskarl and Sveinn had the stone erected in memory of Ulfríkr, their father’s father. He had taken two payments in England. May God and God’s mother help the souls of the father and son.

Stone raisers

Most runestones were raised by men and only one runestone in eight is raised by a single woman, while at least 10% are raised by a woman together with several men. It is common that the runestones were raised by sons and widows of the deceased, but they could also be raised by sisters and brothers. It is almost only in Uppland, Södermanland, and Öland that women raised runestones together with male relatives. It is not known why many people such as sisters, brothers, uncles, parents, housecarls, and business partners can be enumerated on runestones, but it is possible that it is because they are part of the inheritors.

The Mask Stone (DR 66) found in Aarhus, Denmark commemorates a battle between two kings and features a stylized depiction of a mask.

Those commemorated

A vast majority, 94%, are raised in memory of men, but, contrary to common perception, the vast majority of the runestones are raised in memory of people who died at home. The most famous runestones and those that people tend to think of are those that tell of foreign voyages, but they comprise only c. 10% of all runestones, and they were raised in usually memory of those not having returned from Viking expeditions and not as tributes to those having returned. These runestones contain roughly the same message as the majority of the runestones, which is that people wanted to commemorate one or several dead kinsmen.

Expeditions in the East

The first man who scholars know fell on the eastern route was the East Geat Eyvindr whose fate is mentioned on the 9th century Kälvesten Runestone. The epitath reads:

Styggr/Stigr made this monument in memory of Eyvindr, his son. He fell in the east with Eivísl. Víkingr coloured and Grímulfr.

It is unfortunate for historians that the stones rarely reveal where the men died. On the Smula Runestone in Västergötland, we are informed only that they died during a war campaign in the East: “Gulli/Kolli raised this stone in memory of his wife’s brothers Ásbjôrn and Juli, very good valiant men. And they died in the east in the retinue”. Another runemaster in the same province laconically states on the Dalum Runestone: “Tóki and his brothers raised this stone in memory of their brothers. One died in the west, another in the east”.

The single country that is mentioned on most runestone is the Byzantine Empire, which at the time comprised most of Asia Minor and the Balkans, as well as a part of Southern Italy. If a man died in the Byzantine Empire, no matter how he had died or in which province, the event was mentioned laconically as “he died in Greece”. Sometimes an exception could be made for Southern Italy, which was known as the land of the Lombards, such as Inga’s Óleifr who, it is presumed, was a member of the Varangian Guard, and about whom the Djulafors Runestone in Södermanland says: “Inga raised this stone in memory of Óleifr, her … He ploughed his stern to the east, and met his end in the land of the Lombards.”

Other Norsemen died in Gardariki (Russia and Ukraine) such as Sigviðr on the Esta Runestone who his son Ingifastr reported had fled in Novgorod (Holmgarðr): “He fell in Holmgarðr, the ship’s leader with the seamen.” There were others who died not as far from home and it appears that there were close contacts with Estonia due to many personal names such as Æistfari (“traveller to Estonia”), Æistulfr (“Wolf of Estonians”) and Æistr (“Estonian”). One of the runestones that report of deaths in Estonia is the Ängby Runestone which tells that a Björn had died in Vironia (Virland).

There were many ways to die as reported by the runestones. The Åda Runestone reports that Bergviðr drowned during a voyage to Livonia, and the Sjonhem Runestone tells that the Gotlander Hróðfúss was killed in a treacherous way by what was probably a people in the Balkans. The most famous runestones that tell of eastern voyages are the Ingvar Runestones which tell of Ingvar the Far-Travelled’s expedition to Serkland, i.e., the Muslim world. It ended in tragedy as none of the more than 25 runestones that were raised in its memory tells of any survivor.

The Kälvesten Runestone, Sweden.

Expeditions in the West

Other Vikings travelled westwards. The Anglo-Saxon rulers paid large sums, Danegelds, to Vikings, who mostly came from Denmark and who arrived to the English shores during the 990s and the first decades of the 11th century. What may be part of a Danegeld has been found submerged in a creek in Södra Betby in Södermanland, Sweden. At the location, there is also a runestone with the text: “[…] raise the stone in memory of Jôrundr, his son, who was in the west with Ulfr, Hákon’s son.” It is not unlikely that the voyage westwards is connected with the English silver treasure. Other runestones are more explicit with the Danegelds. Ulf of Borresta who lived in Vallentuna travelled westwards several times, as reported on the Yttergärde Runestone:

And Ulfr has taken three payments in England. That was the last that Tosti paid. Then Þorketill paid. Then Knútr paid.

Tosti may have been the Swedish chieftain Skoglar Tosti who is otherwise only mentioned by Snorri Sturluson in Heimskringla and who Snorri reports to have been a “great warrior” who “was out for long periods of time on war expeditions”. Þorketill was Thorkell the Tall, one of the most famous Viking chieftains, and who often stayed in England. Knútr is no one else but Canute the Great, who became king of England in 1016.

Canute sent home most of the Vikings who had helped him conquer England, but he kept a strong bodyguard, the Þingalið. It was considered to be a great honour to be part of this force, and, on the Häggeby Runestone in Uppland, it is reported that Geiri “sat in the Assembly’s retinue in the west”, and the Landeryd Runestone mentions Þjalfi “who was with Knútr”. Some Swedish Vikings wanted nothing else but to travel with Danes such as Thorkell and Canute the Great, but they did not make it to their destinations. Sveinn, who came from Husby-Sjuhundra in Uppland, died when he was half-way to England, as explained on the runestone that was raised in his memory: “He died in Jútland. He meant to travel to England”. Other Vikings, such as Guðvér did not only attack England, but also Saxony, as reported by the Grinda Runestone in Södermanland:

Grjótgarðr (and) Einriði, the sons
made (the stone) in memory of (their) able father.
Guðvér was in the west;
divided (up) payment in England;
manfully attacked
townships in Saxony.

There are in total about 30 runestones that tell of people who went to England, see the England Runestones. Some of them are very laconic and only tell that the Viking was buried in London, or in Bath, Somerset.

The Djulafors Runestone, Sweden.

Conversion

Swedish men who travelled to Denmark, England, or Saxony and the Byzantine Empire played an important part in the introduction of Christianity in Sweden, and two runestones tell of men baptized in Denmark, such as the runestone in Amnö, which says “He died in christening robes in Denmark.” A similar message is given on another runestone in Vallentuna near Stockholm that tells that two sons waited until they were on their death beds before they converted: “They died in (their) christening robes.” Christening robes or baptismal clothes, hvitavaðir, were given to pagan Scandinavians when they were baptized, and in Uppland there are at least seven stones that tell of convertees having died in such robes.

The language used by the missionaries appears on several runestones, and they suggest that the missionaries used a rather uniform language when they preached. The expression “light and paradise” is presented on three runestones, of which two are located in Uppland and a third on the Danish island Bornholm. The runestone U 160 in Risbyle says “May God and God’s mother help his spirit and soul; grant him light and paradise.” and the Bornholm runestone also appeals to Saint Michael: “May Christ and Saint Michael help the souls of Auðbjôrn and Gunnhildr into light and paradise.”

Christian terminology was superimposed on the earlier pagan, and so Paradise substituted Valhalla, invocations to Thor and magic charms were replaced with Saint Michael, Christ, God, and the Mother of God. Saint Michael, who was the leader of the army of Heaven, subsumed Odin’s role as the psychopomp, and led the dead Christians to “light and paradise”. There are invocations to Saint Michael on one runestone in Uppland, one on Gotland, on three on Bornholm and on one on Lolland.

There is also the Bogesund runestone that testifies to the change that people were no longer buried at the family’s grave field: “He died in Eikrey(?). He is buried in the churchyard.”

The Valleberga Runestone, Sweden, reports that two Vikings had died in London.

Other types of runestones

Another interesting class of runestone is rune-stone-as-self promotion. Bragging was a virtue in Norse society, a habit in which the heroes of sagas often indulged, and is exemplified in runestones of the time. Hundreds of people had stones carved with the purpose of advertising their own achievements or positive traits. A few examples will suffice:

  • U 1011: “Vigmund had this stone carved in memory of himself, the cleverest of men. May God help the soul of Vigmund, the ship captain. Vigmund and Åfrid carved this memorial while he lived.”
    Frösö Runestone: “Östman Gudfast’s son made the bridge, and he Christianized Jämtland”
  • Dr 212: “Eskill Skulkason had this stone raised to himself. Ever will stand this memorial that Eskill made;”
  • U 164: “Jarlabanki had this stone put up in his own lifetime. And he made this causeway for his soul’s sake. And he owned the whole of Täby by himself. May God help his soul.”
    Other runestones, as evidenced in two of the previous three inscriptions, memorialize the pious acts of relatively new Christians. In these, we can see the kinds of good works people who could afford to commission runestones undertook. Other inscriptions hint at religious beliefs. For example, one reads:
  • U 160: “Ulvshattil and Gye and Une ordered this stone erected in memory of Ulv, their good father. He lived in Skolhamra. God and God’s Mother save his spirit and soul, endow him with light and paradise.”
    Although most runestones were set up to perpetuate the memories of men, many speak of women, often represented as conscientious landowners and pious Christians:
  • Sö 101: “Sigrid, Alrik’s mother, Orm’s daughter made this bridge for her husband Holmgers, father of Sigoerd, for his soul”
    as important members of extended families:
  • Br Olsen;215: “Mael-Lomchon and the daughter of Dubh-Gael, whom Adils had to wife, raised this cross in memory of Mael-Muire, his fostermother. It is better to leave a good fosterson than a bad son”
    and as much-missed loved ones:
  • N 68: “Gunnor, Thythrik’s daughter, made a bridge in memory of her daughter Astrid. She was the most skilful girl in Hadeland.”
The Kingittorsuaq Runestone from Greenland.

Imagery

Norse Legends

It appears from the imagery of the Swedish runestones that the most popular Norse legend in the area was that of Sigurd the dragon slayer. He is depicted on several runestones, but the most famous of them is the Ramsund inscription. The inscription itself is of a common kind that tells of the building of a bridge, but the ornamentation shows Sigurd sitting in a pit thrusting his sword, forged by Regin, through the body of the dragon, which also forms the runic band in which the runes are engraved. In the left part of the inscription lies Regin, who is beheaded with all his smithying tools around him. To the right of Regin, Sigurd is sitting and he has just burnt his thumb on the dragon’s heart that he is roasting. He is putting the thumb in his mouth and begins to understand the language of the marsh-tits that are sitting in the tree. They warn him of Regin’s schemes. Sigurd’s horse Grani is also shown tethered to the tree.

Another important personage from the legend of the Nibelungs is Gunnarr. On the Västerljung Runestone, there are three sides and one of them shows a man whose arms and legs are encircled by snakes. He is holding his arms stretched out gripping an object that may be a harp, but that part is damaged due to flaking. The image appears to be depicting an older version of the Gunnarr legend in which he played the harp with his fingers, which appears in the archaic eddic poem Atlakviða.

Norse myths

The Norse god who was most popular was Thor, and the Altuna Runestone in Uppland shows Thor’s fishing expedition when he tried to capture the Midgard Serpent. Two centuries later, the Icelander Snorri Sturluson would write: “The Midgarth Serpent bit at the ox-head and the hook caught in the roof of its mouth. When it felt that, it started so violently that both Thor’s fists went smack against the gunwale. Then Thor got angry, assumed all his godly strength, and dug his heels so sturdily that his feet went right through the bottom of the boat and he braced them on the sea bed.” (Jansson’s translation). The Altuna Runestone has also included the foot that went through the planks.

It appears that Ragnarök is depicted on the Ledberg stone in Östergötland. On one of its sides it shows a large warrior with a helmet, and who is bitten at his feet by a beast. This beast is, it is presumed, Fenrir, the brother of the Midgard Serpent, and who is attacking Odin. On the bottom of the illustration, there is a prostrate man who is holding out his hands and who has no legs. There is a close parallel from an illustration at Kirk Douglas on the Isle of Man. The Manx illustration shows Odin with a spear and with one of his ravens on his shoulders, and Odin is attacked in the same way as he is on the Ledberg stone. Adding to the stone’s spiritual content is a magic formula that was known all across the world of the pagan Norsemen.

On one of the stones from the Hunnestad Monument in Scania, there is an image of a woman riding a wolf using snakes as reins. The stone may be an illustration of the giantess Hyrrokin (“fire-wrinkled”), who was summoned by the gods to help launch Baldr’s funeral ship Hringhorni, which was too heavy for them. It was the same kind of wolf that is referred to as the “Valkyrie horse” on the Rök Runestone.

Odin attacked by Fenrir on the Ledberg stone, Sweden.

Colour

Today, most runestones are painted with falu red, since the colour red makes it easy to discern the ornamentation, and it is appropriate since red paint was also used on runes during the Viking Age. In fact, one of the Old Norse words for “writing in runes” was and it originally meant “to paint” in Proto-Norse (faihian). Moreoever, in Hávamál, Odin says: “So do I write / and colour the runes” and in Guðrúnarkviða II, Gudrun says “In the cup were runes of every kind / Written and reddened, I could not read them”.

There are several runestones where it is declared that they were originally painted. A runestone in Södermanland says “Here shall these stones stand, reddened with runes”, a second runestone in the same province says “Ásbjörn carved and Ulfr painted” and a third runestone in Södermanland says “Ásbjôrn cut the stone, painted as a marker, bound with runes”. Sometimes, the original colours have been preserved unusually well, and especially if the runestones were used as construction material in churches not very long after they had been made. One runestone in the church of Köping on Öland was discovered to be painted all over, and the colour of the words was alternating between black and red.

The most common paints were red ochre, red lead, soot, calcium carbonate, and other earth colours, which were bound with fat and water. It also appears that the Vikings imported white lead, green malachite and blue azurite from Continental Europe. By using an electron microscope, chemists have been able to analyse traces of colours on runestones, and in one case, they discovered bright red vermilion, which was an imported luxury colour. However, the dominating colours were white and red lead. There are even accounts where runes were reddened with blood as in Grettis saga, where the Völva Þuríðr cut runes on a tree root and coloured them with her own blood to kill Grettir, and in Egils saga where Egill Skallagrímsson cut ale runes on a drinking horn and painted them with his own blood to see if the drink was poisoned.

Preservation and care

The exposed runestones face several threats to the inscribed rock surface.

In Sweden, lichen grows at approximately 2 mm (116 in) per year. In more ideal conditions it can grow considerably faster. Many runestones are placed alongside roads and road dust causes lichen to grow faster, making lichen a major problem. The lichen’s small root strands break through the rock, and blast off tiny pieces, making the rock porous, and over time degrade the inscriptions. Algae and moss also cause the rock to become porous and crumble.

Water entering the cracks and crevices of the stone can cause whole sections to fall off either by freezing or by a combination of dirt, organic matter, and moisture, which can cause a hollowing effect under the stone surface.

Proper preservation techniques slow down the rate of degradation. One method to combat the lichen, algae and moss problem is to smear in fine grained moist clay over the entire stone. This is then left to sit for a few weeks, which suffocates the organic matter and kills it.

Sources

The Finnish Navy to participate in the Northern Coasts exercise in Sweden

Rauma-class Fast Attack Missile Boat

PRESS RELEASE:

The exercise Northern Coasts (NOCO-17) will be arranged between 8 September and 21 September 2017 in Sweden. The exercise is the German navy´s international invitation exercise for NATO and EU countries, as well as for NATO partner nations. The exercise is led by Sweden and there will be 16 participating countries.

The aim of NOCO-17 is to exercise the multinational command and control and how to act in crisis management operations. Activities related to international co-operation and command and control will be enhanced during the exercise. Finland´s participation in the exercise will support the goals and objectives of the Finnish-Swedish co-operation (FISE), with a view to obtaining common defense capabilities and co-operation in naval operations.

The exercise is divided into two phases, an initial phase and a tactical phase. During the first phase of the exercise, the units will be training in different fields of naval operations, such as maritime surveillance, surface warfare, anti-aircraft warfare, anti-submarine warfare and mine hunting and clearing. During the tactical phase, the units will practice how to act in a fictitious, but realistic scenario in a multinational crises situation at sea. The exercise will be conducted in the waters around Gotland and in the southern Baltic Sea.

This year Finnish staff officers, conscripts and employed staff will participate in the exercise. Participating ships from Finland will be a Hämeenmaa class minelayer, a Rauma class fast attack missile craft and two Katanpää class minehunters. Staff officers from the Swedish-Finnish Task Group will continue the exercise within the framework of the exercise AURORA, which is the main war exercise of the Swedish Armed Forces this year. AURORA 17 will be conducted by the Finnish and Swedish navies and it will partly overlap with the NOCO-exercise.

The Finnish Navy participates in the Northern Coasts exercise according to its annual exercise plan. The NOCO exercises have been conducted since 2007 and Finland has participated every year.

Sweden hosting this year’s Baltic Sea exercise Northern Coasts

Northern Coasts 2016 participants sail in formation

Sweden will be hosting a total of 16 countries for the 2017 edition of the German Navy-sponsored exercise Northern Coasts 2017.

The international exercise is taking place between September 8 and 21 off Gotland and in the Southern Baltic Sea.

A general goal of the drill is to develop skills in maritime surveillance, anti-surface, anti-air, anti-submarine and mine counter-measures. At a tactical stage, a fictitious but realistic scenario will see participants respond to a multinational crisis in maritime areas.

Northern Coasts is a recurring exercise which has been taking place in the Baltic Sea since 2007. European naval ships will be operating in multiple task groups composed of up to seven ships from different nations.

The previous two editions of the exercise were hosted by Germany in 2015 and Denmark in 2016.

 

Sweden to Boost Defense Spending

Swedish army Srtidsvagn 122

The government and two parties in the center-right opposition have agreed to increase the defence spending with SEK 8,1 billion until 2020.

In 2015, five parties reached an agreement over defence and defence spending until 2020. But in the beginning of this year, those parties reopened talks to increase that budget, as a result of what was referred to as “the worsening security situation”.

The talks were supposed to have been finalized before the summer, but have been dragging on. After the parties met in the beginning of this week, the Christian Democrats announced that they were not happy with where the negotiations were going, and so would leave the talks.

Now, the government, made up of the Social Democrats and the Green Party, has reached an agreement with the biggest opposition party in parliament, the conservative Moderate Party, and the Centre Party to increase the defence spending by SEK 2,7 billion per year between 2018 and 2020.

Earlier this year, the Supreme Commander of the Swedish Armed Forces, Micael Bydén told the government that another SEK 9 billion would be needed until 2020, in order to fulfill the task set by the defence agreement from 2015.

At a press conference on Wendesday, Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist thanked the Moderates, the Greens and the Centre Party for good co-operation during the negotiations.

“Continuity in Swedish defence and security policy is crucial,” said Hultqvist at the press conference.
The defence spokesperson of the Moderate Party, Hans Wallmark (M), said that this agreement is in line with what the Supreme Commander had demanded earlier this year. Wallmark said that it was thanks to his party that the increased spending was as high as it was.

“The alternative would have been zero or significantly lower sums,” Wallmark said.

In a comment on twitter on Wednesday, the leader of the Liberal Party, Jan Björklund, said: “The defence decision of 2015 was a) under-financed b) insufficient. Now the decision is fully financed, but Sweden’s defence is still insufficient.”

The Liberal Party left the talks already in 2015, in protest against the direction the talks were taking.

 

 

 

Sweden plans large joint military exercise with NATO

Swedish Sridsvagn 103 Amphibious Main Battle Tank.

The Swedish military has released a statement announcing plans to hold its largest joint military exercise in years with NATO members this September.

The exercise will be labeled Aurora 17 and will involve land, air, and sea elements of the Swedish military and participating NATO members.

It will count over 19,000 Swedish personnel and 40 government agencies, 1,435 troops from the U.S. and smaller contingents from France, Finland, Denmark, Norway, Lithuania and Estonia.

A Finnish army Leopard 2A4 Tank Platoon.

“Through frequent and extensive training and exercise, especially with other defense forces, Sweden is strengthening its deterrence effect and makes it more credible,” the statement said.

There has been internal debate in Sweden and Finland concerning the possibility of joining NATO, and both have played higher profile roles in NATO summits. Russia’s increasing military assertiveness since its annexation of Crimea and backing of separatist rebels in Ukraine has raised concerns in neighboring countries and NATO.

Swedish army Stridsvagn 122, based on the German Leopard 2 Main Battle Tank.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that Russia would see Sweden joining NATO as a serious encroachment and would demand a military response.

Aurora 17 will mark another in a string of increasingly large and elaborate military exercises taking place in the Baltics and eastern Europe.

Source: UPI.

 

Sweden, Finland, and NATO

The German Marshall Fund of the United States, By Christopher S. Chivvis, 30 June 2017

Burden-sharing and NATO’s role in counterterrorism have been at the forefront of discussions about the Alliance in recent months, but as NATO’s relations with Russia continue to trend downward, the issue of Sweden and Finland’s potential membership in the Alliance is likely to gain renewed salience. There are good reasons why both countries may eventually join the Alliance, but under current circumstances the best way forward is still for both countries to continue to draw closer to NATO. Linking their potential accession to the Alliance to Russia’s behavior offers NATO some leverage over Moscow. Additionally, NATO membership is not something that can be achieved overnight and the Alliance needs to be sure that if the pair joins the Alliance, the military requirements for their defense are fully understood and met beforehand.

The Baltic Sea region has received renewed attention in U.S. policy circles due to the deterioration in relations with Russia and broader concerns about the vulnerability of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania to Russian aggression. The proximity of these countries to Russian forces in the Western Military District, combined with Russian deployments of advanced weapons systems to Kaliningrad oblast would make it difficult for the United States and NATO to defeat a committed Russian attack on the Baltic Allies without a sustained counteroffensive that could take months or even years.[1]

Kaliningrad Naval Base. Due to its location, Kaliningrad is an important geopolitical region for Russia.

Luckily, changes in U.S. and NATO posture in the region, especially the deployments coming as part of NATO’s enhanced forward presence (EFP) and U.S. rotational forces,  are significantly strengthening regional collective defense by creating tripwires and raising the risks to Russia of any potential adventurism.[2] As the situation evolves, however, there are additional measures that the United States may wish to contemplate when it comes to the region, including further training and exercises, measures to improve situational awareness in the North Sea and along the Greenland, Iceland, and U.K. (GIUK) gap, the development of new weapons systems in areas where U.S. and NATO forces are currently outmatched by Russia, new foreign military sales that would strengthen deterrence, and further changes in posture.

In this context, the issue of potential Swedish and Finnish membership in the Alliance looms large. Sweden and Finland are already very important NATO partners; both countries are already enhanced opportunity partners (EOP), participate in the NATO response force (NRF), and exercise with the Alliance on a regular basis. From a U.S. perspective, they have  much to offer as strategic partners and military allies in general; as free-market democracies, both countries share the core political values on which NATO has been founded for 70 years. They also have advanced industrial economies with high-tech expertise and capabilities that have military significance in areas such as airpower, cyber, and civilian space. They are well-integrated members of the European Union, an important fact in an era when the EU and NATO need to draw closer together to strengthen cooperation against terrorism and other threats. Furthermore, other Nordic countries — specifically Norway, Denmark, and Iceland — are already NATO members. Finally, and perhaps most importantly from the perspective of the U.S. military, Sweden might serve an important role for basing aircraft in the event of a military crisis in the Baltic Sea region when the United States would need basing outside Russia’s Anti-AccessArea Denial (A2AD) bubble that extends from Kaliningrad and Western Russia over the Eastern Baltic Sea. Sea lanes of communication via the Danish straits might also be important for certain types of operations deeper into the Baltic Sea.

In light of these facts, some commentators have pushed hard for Sweden and Finland to join NATO. It is a consensus view among most experts that membership of one country implies membership of the other, or more specifically, that it would be difficult for Sweden to join the alliance if Finland were not to do the same.[3] The most compelling argument for pursuing NATO membership for the pair now is that waiting to do so could create a situation in which joining NATO creates a major crisis with Russia further down the line. (As one expert put it, join NATO “now while you don’t need to, because the circumstances that will make it necessary will also make it harder.”[4]

From a U.S. perspective, however, there are at least four other issues to consider before pushing hard for Swedish and Finnish membership in the Alliance:

First, membership in NATO is not something that can be achieved overnight. Finland and Sweden would have to undergo a potentially lengthy process of accession, during which the incentives for Russia to attack them would intensify. It would be preferable to ensure that they were well defended against any such attack prior to bringing them into the Alliance.

Second, and relatedly, from a strictly military perspective, bringing Finland into NATO is very different proposition militarily than bringing in a country such as Montenegro, which has no borders with Russia. The challenges involved in defending Finland’s 1,340 km eastern border should not be taken lightly. A credible defense of the Finnish border would likely require significant changes in posture beyond those already contemplated by the Alliance to strengthen deterrence in the Baltic states. Even if such changes were forthcoming, they would take time to implement, further exacerbating the risks from the time lag between proposed accession and Article 5 membership.

Third, adding any additional member comes at the cost of increasing complexity in an organization that is already struggling to achieve consensus on several important issues.  Although this may be a lesser order problem and should not in itself prevent new members from joining the Alliance, it is nevertheless a reality that ought to be weighed in the balance. Russia clearly benefits from lack of unity within NATO and anything that could further decrease unity should be given close examination.

Fourth, when it comes to deterring Russia from further aggression in the region, there may also be some benefit to leaving Swedish and Finnish NATO accession on the table, especially if it can be made clear to Moscow that further aggression will ultimately push the pair into the Alliance. In other words, linking Sweden and Finland’s disposition toward membership in the Alliance to the Kremlin’s future policies may offer the opportunity for some leverage over the Kremlin.

In light of this, the best policy for the time being is to continue to strengthen the political and especially military ties between these countries and NATO. There are several ways to do this: enhanced training and exercises; intensified staff exchanges; deeper cooperation on hybrid war and competition short of conflict, building on the Finnish Center for Excellence; encouraging continued deepening of sub-regional defense cooperation, for example through NORDEFCO (Nordic Defence Cooperation); pressing them for greater contributions to training, policing, and civilian reconstruction in countries where NATO has needs such as Libya and Iraq; involving them deeply in future NATO pooling and sharing programs, for example on tankers; considering missile defense cooperation; examining mechanisms for rapid membership in the event of a crisis.[5]

It is important to recognize that even if Sweden and Finland are outside of NATO, the United States and other NATO members might still come to their assistance in the event they were attacked. The pressure to do so would be less, of course, than if they were Article 5 members of the Alliance, but for strategic reasons pressure would exist none the less. By demonstrating their importance to the United States and their European partners, Sweden and Finland can further increase this dynamic, increasing the chances that NATO Allies would come to their aid in the event of a Baltic crisis. In this case, neither country would go so far as to have Article 5 membership in NATO, but the guarantee could become implicit in the reality of the deepening cooperation. This, in turn, would enhance deterrence.

Circumstances can of course change and eventually both countries may well become members of the Alliance. The current situation, however, in which they are gradually deepening ties in response to the threat they feel from the trajectory on which President Putin has put Russian foreign policy, is optimal. History has shown that it is crucial to bear both political and military factors in mind in considering accession to the Alliance. In the case of this pair, military ties should run ahead of formal political ties. This will avoid a situation in which NATO’s political commitments create military vulnerabilities.


[1] David A. Shlapak and Michael Johnson, Reinforcing Deterrence on NATO’s Eastern Flank: Wargaming the Defense of the Baltics, Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2016.

[2] For details see U.S. Army Europe, “U.S. Army Europe to Increase Presence Across Eastern Europe,” November 4, 2016.

[3] For example see Anna Weislander, “Can They Get Any Closer? The Case for Deepening the Partnerships between Sweden and Finland,” The Atlantic Council, October 12, 2016.

[4] Edward Lucas, “Why NATO Needs Sweden and Finland,” Europe’s Edge May 3, 2016.

[5] For more details, see Christopher S. Chivvis, et al., NATO’s Eastern Flank: Emerging Opportunities for Engagement, Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corp., 2017.

 

Special Forces in Focus: Sweden’s Särskilda operationsgruppen

Swedish Special Forces Särskilda Operationsgruppen.

The Baltic Post, 19 June 2017

Särskilda Operationsgruppen (English: Special Operations Task Group, abbreviated (SOG) is a special forces unit within the Swedish Armed Forces which has been active since 2011. The unit is headquartered at Karlsborg Fortress in Karlsborg, Västra Götaland County.

Särskilda operationsgruppen was formed in 2011 by merging the Special Protection Group (SSG) and the Special Reconnaissance Group (SIG).

The Special Operations Task Group (SOG) answers directly to the Supreme Commander and the Director Special Forces. The unit, combined with the Special Forces Command, comprises the Swedish Armed Forces Special Forces (FM SF). In addition to this, there are several special forces support units (FM SOF). The personnel are specially selected, trained and equipped units for air, sea and land transportation, technical, logistical and medical support. For example: Special Maritime Transportation unit (STE), Special Signals Group (SSE) and the Section for Special Operative Technology (SOT).

SOG consists of two so-called response units (IE). IE1 focuses on combat tasks (Direct Action) and IE2 focuses on intelligence gathering (Special Reconnaissance). The requirements to IE2 are slightly lower than for IE1. In IE2 there are also female intelligence operators.

What most people see of the operators is when they are employed as personal protection for the Supreme Commander or other high-ranking officers of the Swedish Armed Forces when they visit Swedish areas of operation. However, their most frequent usage is during multi-national special operations such as Direct Action, Special Reconnaissance and Military Assistance.

SOG combat operations are of great strategic importance that cannot be accomplished by conventional forces or weapon systems. Combat missions can be to eliminate high-value targets or objects of great importance to the enemy, to conduct complex rescue operations of Swedish personnel held captive or hostage, or to gather time-critical intelligence through action.

Special reconnaissance and intelligence gathering is intended to gather information of great tactical importance about the enemy´s activities, enemy personnel or other bits of information of operational significance.

Special Forces can also be tasked with advising and training foreign military units as part of an international peace-keeping military operation.

The unit maintains a high degree of readiness and can be deployed on short notice within a 6000 km radius of Stockholm and can operate in any environment, for example jungle, desert, mountain/alpine, sub-arctic and urban. The unit is deployed on request by the UN, EU or NATO but must then be sanctioned on a political level.

The unit is lightly equipped for greater mobility, both tactically and strategically. SOG strive for simplicity in planning and execution, and unpredictability through unconventional and flexible methods.

Due to operational security, the unit’s capabilities, equipment, operational methods, previous or on-going operations and the identities of their personnel are classified.

The SOG’s predecessors, the SSG and SIG, participated in operations in the Balkans, Congo, Tchad and the Central African Republic. Swedish special forces has also been continuously deployed in Afghanistan from the beginning of the conflict up until the withdrawal of ISAF forces in 2014. From 2015 a contingent of around 30 operators from the SOG along with its support units has been participating in Operation Inherent Resolve, acting as trainers for Kurdish Peshmerga forces.

Särskilda operationsgruppen on patrol.

Each operator has a broader skill base than regular soldiers and one or two patrol skills at which he or she is exceptionally skilled. A typical SOG team consists of four operators: A team leader, a demolitions expert, a radio operator and a combat medic. Each patrol can be augmented with, EOD technicians, JTAC-specialists or snipers.

Selection is open for Armed Forces members of both sexes who are at least eligible for specialist officer’s training and can only be attempted once unless mitigating circumstances caused the candidate to fail on the first attempt.

The candidates are advised to prepare themselves at least six months prior to the selection course and are invited to attend a pre-selection weekend where they will be tested and advised on their likelihood of success or failure and also where they need to improve.

The selection process takes two weeks and is held once a year. Historically, candidates for SOG´s predecessor, the SSG were sought out by the unit and invited to attempt selection. Selection for SOG however, is advertised on the Armed Forces website and is open for anyone who meets the basic requirements. The part of selection consists of an extremely grueling field exercise, stretching over more than a week, where the candidates are tested on their fitness, field craft and land navigation and the tests are conducted during great stress. The second week consists of psychological tests, similar to those undertaken by fighter pilots. They are also tested for their predisposition for phobias, such as heights and confined spaces. If the candidate is successful, he will begin the basic operator course which lasts for 12 months and is divided into three blocks:

  • Basic combat skills
  • Patrol skills
  • Special skills course

Once completed, the operator will be put in an operational team and can be deployed with the unit.

Personnel applying to join the unit as EOD or JTAC operators undergo the same selection process as the normal operators, but do a shorter 8 month basic operator course, after which they continue with specialist training in the EOD or JTAC function.

Operators train at their own compound at a secret location near Karlsborg, which, among shooting ranges, also features a large multi-story CQB-building, with bullet-absorbing lining in its walls. The building also facilitates helicopter insertions on its roof.

Särskilda Operationsgruppen, Special RECON Unit.

The SOG coat of arms is blazoned thusly: Upon a black shield is a six-pointed star in silver in the upper left corner. It was developed by the Armed Forces Board of Traditions and symbolizes the unit´s ability of un-conventional problem solving, effectiveness of duty and clandestine operations, and the asymmetrically positioned star symbolises asymmetric warfare.

The unit insignia, worn by each operator on the combat uniform consists of a winged Norse dagger (Seax) with an asymmetrically positioned six-pointed star.

Personnel within the Swedish Special Operations Forces, SOG and its support units also wear an olive green beret with a black, embroidered cap badge, the only non-metal cap badge within the Swedish Armed Forces.