Runic Inscriptions II – Love

posted in: archaeology, runes 0

(Original article 1/2018)

Valentine's day is soon so I thought that I should share some love related runic inscriptions here. Some of them I have already mentioned before here on my blog.

The oldest love related runic inscriptions not necessarily deal with romantic love as we understand it today. The idea of romantic love is thought to have developed later in the Middle Ages, in the 12th century, with the troubadour culture.

The purpose of the oldest, short inscriptions was magical and they were expected to generate love, fidelity, lust and so on, for the owner of the object or for the person mentioned in the text. Later, the inscriptions got longer and were more like messages. About the runic inscriptions, in general, I have written here.

Leub and its variations - Love

The word leub often appears in the old inscriptions found in the area what is now called Germany. The word occurs in the inscriptions in different forms: leub, leubo, leuba, leubi, leubwini, lbi, leob, liub. The word leub means love in its basic form. Leubo and leuba are probably adjectives, masculine and feminine: dear, beloved, darling.

The texts including the word leub are dated to the 6th and 7th centuries and they like the other oldest runic inscriptions are written on objects. One of the leub words was written on a brooch found in the grave of a woman in Germany, near Engers. On the brooch, only one word, "leub", was inscribed. However, the brooch was stolen and melted afterwards.

For the beloved wayfarer

Another inscriptions in the form of leubo also on a brooch was found in Germany, Schretzheim. The text says: "Sithwagadin, leubo",

For the wayfarer, love.

Here the word leubo is masculine and likely refers to the wayfarer because the brooch was found in the grave of a woman. Maybe the purpose of the text was to generate love for the absent lover. Or the wayfarer may refer to a life companion, the fellow traveller.

Written by women?

It's been stated that the oldest inscriptions found in Germany were written by women: men preferred the Latin alphabet and women the runes. At least, often these texts have been found in the graves of women.

Also, on another object, an amulet box, found in Schretzheim there was an inscription with two female names, the word leuba connected with the names and a text: they did. The text may mean that these women wrote the text on the box.

Late love inscriptions from Norway

In the 1950s hundreds of runic inscriptions written on pieces of wood and bone were found in a harbour of Bergen, Norway. They are dated to the 12th - 14th centuries. The texts are everyday messages, names of the owners, bookkeeping related and also love-related texts.

Ingebor slept with me when I was in Stavanger

Runic inscription from the 12th century
Runic inscription from the 12th century. "Ingeborg slept with me when I was in Stavanger" Bengt A Lundberg / Riksantikvarieämbetet [CC BY 2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Later Norse literature tells about the habit of men throwing message sticks into the laps of women to express their interest. Maybe, the next inscriptions originate from that kind of sticks.

The stick from Bergen with the message:

My love, kiss me

The text is dated to the 12th century. Also, from Oslo, the inscription with the same "Kiss me" message has been found.

A text carved on the rib of a cow was also discovered in Oslo:

The man who carved these runes loves you, Þordís. Þóra, I know how to make love.

A stick dated to the 13th century with a proposal was found in the Lom church, Norway:

Hávarðr sends to Guðný God’s greetings and his own friendship. And now it is my full will to ask for your hand, if you do not want to be with Kolbeinn. Consider your marriage plans and let me know your will.

The stick was found under the floorboards of a church and someone had tried to erase the names on the stick. The gravel stuck on the other end of the stick made researchers think that maybe the stick was originally a part of a walking stick that Hávarðr used to write a letter on the way to the church.

At the church, he would have given the stick to Guðný who wanted to get rid of it by hiding it under the floor and tried to erase the names. Maybe she was even with Kolbeinn. So it seems that the proposal of Hávarðr was denied.

In Bergen, they also spoke Latin:

Omnia vincit amor, et nos cedamus amori

"Love conquers all; let us too yield to love." This quote was originally written by a Latin poet, Virgil. It was inscribed on a wooden stick in the 13th century. It concluded a Norse love poem that was written for a "beautiful, dangerous woman" by someone.

More love-related inscriptions:

From Bergen:
From Oslo:
Runic Amulets and Magic Objects, Mindy MacLeod and Bernard Mees, 2006

Bracelets with runic inscriptions
Runic love quotes in bracelets
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