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The Picture Stone from Smiss in Stenkyrka

This text is originally from a now defunct website from Länsmuseet på Gotland

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The Picture Stone from Smiss in Stenkyrka

The stone is one of the large monuments full of imagery from the 8th or 9th century. The lower panel contains a particularly well preserved ornamentation. A very detailed depiction of a ship illustrates almost every feature that we accredit to ‘the Viking ship’.

In the prow the dragon’s head has been erected, the stern is shaped like a coiled serpent’s tail, surrounded by a circular decoration possibly of metal. Along the gunwale a row of shields indicates a good-sized crew. On a raised platform in the stern is sitting a man whose job is to trim the sails. In front of him is the mate who with the aid of some kind of device is taking care of the sizeable steering oar. The other crew members have joined forces to control the sail with the elaborate rigging. They all have pointed beards. Their helmets are conical or slightly convex.

The sail is of standard type, rectangular in shape and made of plaited strips of woven material. On the mast-head there is a vane, probably a distinguishing pennant which was sometimes placed in the stern. A similar adornment was earlier erected on the spire of Källunge Parish Church. This Viking Age vane was ‘rediscovered’ following a strong gale, and is now on display at the Historical Museum in Visby.

Above the depiction of the ship there is a row of pictures which probably portray a meeting. This is quite a common motif on picture stones. It is thought to be an illustration of the Ancient Nordic poem about the abduction of the chieftain daughter Hild. On her rescue she decreed eternal enmity between the abducters and the rescuers. Battles broke out and through Hild’s magic formula these became infinite, the slain warriors rising from the dead every morning and resuming battle.