“For Allah” inscribed on a 9th century Viking ring

A new paper in Scanning reports on SEM studies of a 9th century Viking ring found in Birka. The contact between the Vikings and the Islamic world (mainly the Abbasid Caliphate) were rather more extensive than is generally admitted. It was not just the occasional tales of Arab historians (Ahmad Ibn Fadlan – “handsome but filthy Vikings”) but quite extensive trade links with traders from both communities often visiting the others. The ring is of high grade silver (94.5/5.5 Ag/Cu) and is inscribed with Arabic Kufic writing, here interpreted as reading “il-la-lah”, i.e. “For/to Allah”The “violet stone” is now found to be glass rather than an amethyst as was once thought. Glass from Egypt and Mesopotamia was prized in ancient Scandinavia as long as 3,500 years ago . The Vikings too prized glass and silver (rather than gold). However the inside of the ring is not much worn which suggests that the woman with whom the ring was buried (who wore Scandinavian dress and was presumably Swedish) had obtained it fairly new and not long before her death.

KTS Sebastian et al, Analysis and interpretation of a unique Arabic finger ring from the Viking Age town of Birka, Sweden, ScanningDOI: 10.1002/sca.21189

Birka viking ring (Statens historiska museum / Christer Åhlin)

Birka viking ring (Statens historiska museum / Christer Åhlin)

 

Abstract: In this work we used non-destructive SEM imaging and EDS analysis to characterize the material composition of an Arabic finger ring, which was found in a 9th c. woman’s grave at the Viking Age (A.D. 793–1066) trading center of Birka, Sweden. The ring is set with a violet stone inscribed with Arabic Kufic writing, here interpreted as reading “il-la-lah”, i.e. “For/to Allah”. The stone was previously thought to be an amethyst, but the current results show it to be coloured glass. The ring has been cast in a high-grade silver alloy (94.5/5.5 Ag/Cu) and retains the post-casting marks from the filing done to remove flash and mold lines. Thus, the ring has rarely been worn, and likely passed from the silversmith to the woman buried at Birka with few owners in between. The ring may therefore 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 technical analysis presented here provides a better understanding of the properties and background of this intriguing piece of jewelry.

I have only just started reading Farhat Hussain’s 3 volume The Vikings and the Islamic World which looks at this little addressed area of Viking history across 2 centuries:

The substantive links between the Vikings and the Islamic world resulted in very insightful writings by a number of Muslim travellers, scholars and many others, of the Vikings and many aspects of the Viking Age ranging from physical descriptions of Vikings and their places of habitation in Scandinavia and elsewhere to Viking customs, commercial activity and much else as addressed in this work. Moreover this work provides a vast range of archaeological in addition to historical evidence of the vast links between the Vikings and the Islamic world – a relationship that served to contribute to the Viking Age and served to enrich the Islamic world and the many lands and peoples that were also a part of this unique story. Islamic artifacts unearthed in Iceland, Faeroe Islands, Ireland, Britain, Scandinavia, Russia and the Ukraine all feature in this rich study of the Vikings as masters in trade between the Islamic world and much of northern and western Europe in the 9th and 10th centuries in addition to serving as intermediaries in trade between Byzantium and the Islamic world. ….

Volume 2 provides substantive and rich insight into the significance of Viking links with the Islamic world for Scandinavia itself in a variety of areas from economy to textiles, glass, language and much else. This unique volume also deals with the influence of Islamic civilization upon other parts of northern Europe via the Vikings including Britain, Ireland, Iceland, Greenland and beyond. Indeed volume 2 makes clear that quite aside from the influence of Muslim Spain upon Europe the Vikings served as intermediaries of Islamic civilization via northern Europe. …..

Volume 3 addresses a rich array of subject and issues pertaining to Vikings links with the Islamic world including trade in various goods such as falcons, flow and decline of Muslim silver coins into Russia and Scandinavia and the impact of this decline upon the fortunes of Viking trade centres such as Birka in Sweden and Danish settlement in England, medicine, geography and much else.

 

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