Horse Burial in Scandinavia during the Viking Age

Summary of the Swedish Boat-Graves

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Summary of the Swedish Boat-Graves

Taking a look at the Vendel and Valsgärde burials in light of the Gotland picture stones, they almost could not have fit the ‘picture’ more perfectly. Many of the elements on the picture-stones (and the Vendel helmet for that matter) are found as artifacts in the Uppland ship-graves. This is surely no coincidence. The relatively close proximity of the Uppland to Gotland speaks in favor of a cultural correspondence between the two areas.

The grave furnishings at both Vendel and Valsgärde offer the attractive argument that the dead were being prepared for a journey and a life of combat, recreation and hunting when they got there. The impression we are left with is that it was the ships that were embarking on this journey, rather than the horses. In most cases their prows are actually pointed towards the water, as if just about to set sail.114 The horses, for their part, are either positioned as passengers in the boat or are seemingly left behind, lying to the side of the boat. One would presume that the horses would be placed onboard if they were to be taken along on a voyage. Yet, the fact that the majority of the horses still wore gear, and that saddles and ornate bridles were also interred, hints that the horses still had a role to play in the grave.

The picture stones bolster the argument that what we find at Vendel and Valsgärde were Valhalla burials, suggesting that the ships accomplished the first part of the journey, while the horse was necessary for the final leg in order to make a fitting entrance in to Valhalla. The dwindling number of horses in the ship-graves over time also could be connected with the appearance of just one horse and its rider in the welcoming-scene. It would therefore not be unreasonable to suggest that the horses from these Swedish boat burials were meant to be used in the afterlife, as the manner in which the dead got to Valhalla.

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