Viking bling reveals ancient Islamic ties

Viking bling reveals ancient Islamic ties
Modern-day Swedes reinacting a Viking battle. Photo: Ludvig Thunman/TT
An ancient Viking ring carrying the inscription "for Allah" has revealed evidence of close contacts between the Nordic warriors and the Islamic world – more than a century after its discovery on a Swedish island.

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Sweden's relationship with the Arab world has been under strain in recent weeks, after the Scandinavian country got embroiled in a conflict with Saudi Arabia over human rights.

But an engraved ring excavated from a ninth-century grave in the Viking trading centre of Birka, Sweden, suggests that friendlier ties existed between modern Sweden's forefathers and the Islamic civilizations.

Made of silver alloy, the ring is adorned with coloured glass, an exotic material at the time, engraved with an ancient Arabic script spelling the words “for Allah” or “to Allah”, a team of researchers led by biophysicist Sebastian Wärmländer of Stockholm University reported in scientific journal Scanning.

The team wrote: “The ring may… constitute material evidence for direct interactions between Viking Age Scandinavia and the Islamic world.”

“Being the only ring with an Arabic inscription found at a Scandinavian archaeological site, it is a unique object among Swedish Viking Age material.”

The ninth-century Viking ring found in Sweden. Photo: Christer Åhlin/The Swedish History Museum

The ring was found in a grave near Birka on Björkö Island in the Stockholm archipelago in the late 1800s. Other objects found in the grave indicated a woman had been buried there at around 850 AD, although the skeleton was completely decomposed.

The stone on the ring had previously been thought to be an amethyst. But on closer inspection Wärmländer and his colleagues revealed it was decorated with coloured glass – an expensive material at the time – and noted it was in perfect condition, indicating it had not had many owners and had not ended up in Birka by accident.

“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,” Wärmländer told Discovery News.

“Perhaps the woman herself was from the Islamic world, or perhaps a Swedish Viking got the ring, by trade or robbery, while visiting the Islamic Caliphate,” he added.

“The mint condition of the ring corroborates ancient tales about direct contacts between Viking Age Scandinavia and the Islamic world.”