Oldest Inscription of ‘Odin’ Resets Beliefs About Norse Mythology
Archaeologists in Denmark are celebrating the discovery of the oldest inscription mentioning the god Odin.
This story begins with the 2021 discovery of a 5th century collection of Norse treasures at Jelling, Denmark, known as the Vindelev hoard. Housed at the National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen, and containing 22 gold objects weighing around 800 grams (31.32 oz), the Vindelev hoard includes “bracteates” (decorated gold discs) from the Migration Period of northern Europe (400 AD -550 AD), pendants made from Roman coins from the reign of Constantine (306 AD - 337 AD), and rare gold jewellery with ornate granulation design.
Until now, the oldest inscription mentioning the Norse God Odin was identified on a brooch found in Nordendorf, southern Germany, dated to the late 500s. But according to a report in The Washington Post, the latest find on one of the gold discs, demonstrates that the Danes worshipped the god Odin “150 years before previous assumptions”.
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‘He Is Odin's Man’
Lisbeth Imer said:
“The runic inscription was the most difficult I have ever had to interpret in all my years as a runologist at the National Museum of Denmark",
Imer's colleague, Krister Vasshus, a scholar of ancient Scandinavian languages, said this particular type of inscription is “extremely rare, and only found every 50 years” reports Videnskab.
The bracteate or medal bearing the runes ‘He Is Odin’s Man’ (Vejle Museum)
The inscription refers to the portrait of a man on the small gold disc, which was made in the early 400s. Before this, the earliest previous evidence of Norse mythology, and the god Odin, was from the mid-500s. This finding proves Danes not only worshipped the god Odin at an earlier time, but they had also developed the outlines of Norse mythology at least 150 years earlier than previously believed.
Visit Ancient Origins Norse Mythology Page for all the mythology of Norse religion.
“It's A Huge Discovery”
In Norse mythology the god Odin was the chief of all other deities who presided over Valhalla, the warrior's paradise. In Norse myths Odin sacrificed his eye in Mimir's well, he threw himself on his own spear Gungnir in a symbolic ritual suicide, and then he hung himself in Yggdrasil, the Norse tree of life for nine days and nine nights, in order to gain knowledge of other worlds and to be able to understand the meaning of runes.
Now, Lisbeth Imer describes the discovery of an early 5th century depiction of Odin as “absolutely amazing, because it’s the first time that the god Odin's name was written.”
It was always suspected that Norse mythology, with all its giants, deities and monsters, was operational at least as early as the early fifth century AD. But the researchers said this new discovery is so important because “now we have black-and-white evidence” and they added that “It's a huge discovery”.
The Vindelev Hoard Just Got Even More Spectacular
Bracteates are single-sided, thin gold medallions that were worn as jewellery during the Migration Period across Northern Europe of the Germanic Iron Age. In excess of 1,000 bracteates have been discovered in Jelling bearing more than 200 with inscriptions. But before now, because the runes found on bracteates are generally tiny (2-3mm high) and placed very closely together, with no spacing between words, they have never been interpreted accurately.
The many items make up almost 1kg of gold in the Vindelev hoard. (Vejle Museum)
Krister Vasshus said this discovery “is the most significant Norse discovery since The Golden Horns of Gallehus,” which were found near the town of Møgeltønder in Southern Jutland. Dating back to the early 5th century AD, the horns are notable for their intricate Nordic and Germanic designs depicting Pre-Christian rituals and scenes from Norse mythology. This fact, according to Vasshus, “just makes the Vindelev hoard even more spectacular”.
A Major Breakthrough For Denmark
Emphasizing the importance of the discovery, speaking with The Washington Post, Rane Willerslev, the Director of the National Museum of Denmark described the find as “a major breakthrough that has given us crucial new information about the history of Denmark.” Moreover, the museologist says the remarkable discovery “offers fresh insights into the past and has the potential to reshape our understanding of Denmark's history, and even that of the entire world.”
Not only has the structure of the ancient Norse language developed since the 5th century, but many words have also fallen out of use," said Vasshus. And this is why the team of researchers think their discovery “may help in the decipherment of other prehistoric runic inscriptions,” which so far have not been interpreted. So what we have here is not only the earliest written mention of the god Odin, but also a golden key to an ancient cryptogram that might help researchers crack the meaning of runes found o many more Norse artifacts that are currently unintelligible.
Top image: The medallion bearing the earliest known mention of the Norse god Odin. Source: Arnold Mikkelsen/ Denmark National Museum
By Ashley Cowie