The ring found in the old Birka trading center on the Bjørkø Island west of today’s Stockholm, is engraved with the inscription “to Allah,” or “for Allah” (Photo: Christer Åhlin / Swedish History Museum)
A ring found in a 9th century woman’s grave documents early contact between the Vikings and the Islamic world. It turns out to be almost unused indicating that it belonged to the owner from it was bought, or given as a gift.
The excavation and finding took place in the late 1800s. Until recently it was believed that the ring made of silver alloy contained a purple amethyst engraved with Arabic-style letters.
The woman in the grave who died in the 9th century was discovered by the Swedish archaeologist and ethnographer Hjalmar Stolpe who conducted a systematic excavation of Björkö during the 1870s and 1880s.
Kufic Arabic Script
Analysis conducted by scanning electron microscope by biophysicist Sebastian Wärmländer of Stockholm University and his colleagues, have revealed some of the secrets of the ring. The stone is not of amethyst but colored glass, a material that was very exotic in Scandinavia. The inscription is written in the Kufic Arabic script widely used between the 8th and 10th centuries.
The inscription says “il-la-lah”, i.e. “to/ for Allah”.
The findings, which were presented in the scientific journal “Scanning”, is according to scientists “the only ring with Arabic inscription found on a Scandinavian excavation site” and therefore proves “evidence of direct interaction between Scandinavian Vikings and the Islamic world.”
The trading center of Birka was established in the mid-700s and located on the Björkö Island in Uppland, Sweden. The town, an important trade hub connecting Scandinavia and Russia, was the gateway to the river systems leading to the Black Sea, Constantinople (today’s Istanbul) and the Middle East.
New methods of analysis show that the ring could be evidence of a direct contact between Viking Age Scandinavia and Islam. (Photo: Christer Åhlin/ Swedish History Museum)
Meetings between the Vikings and Muslims along the river Volga is well documented in historical Arab writings, including writings by Arab chronicler Ahmad ibn Fadlan in the 900’s.
The investigations also revealed that the ring displayed a remarkable lack of wear, which has led to much speculation about direct contact between the Vikings and the Abbasid Caliphate which dominated much of the Middle East and North Africa.
The authors write: “It is not impossible that the woman herself, or someone close to her, might have visited — or even originate from — the Caliphate or its surrounding regions.”
However, if the ring was a gift, bought or looted, is uncertain. The only thing certain is that there are still many Viking discoveries to be made before we get true insight into their world.
Text by: Thor Lanesskog, ThorNews