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New findings about runestones shed light on Queen Thyra's considerable power in the Viking era

Queen Thyra had been widely considered an influential figure in the politics of her time. Recent findings have solidified this assertion.

New findings about runestones shed light on Queen Thyra's considerable power in the Viking era
Cover Image Source: National Museum of Denmark

Women in Viking Age Scandinavia enjoyed unusual freedom, as per the report published by the History. Scandinavian women enjoyed more liberty in comparison to other societies of that time. They could own property, request a divorce and reclaim their dowries after the end of their marriages. Also, women were given charge of running their family business if their husbands died. The role did not pass to the next of kin. Some women rose to high status in society with their exceptional capabilities. One such person is Queen Thyra, King Gorm's wife and King Harald Bluetooth's mother. She had been widely considered an influential figure in the politics of her time. Recent findings have solidified this assertion, as reported by the scientists in the journal Antiquity.


 
 
 
 
 
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Queen Thyra was part of the family that unified Denmark. Her husband and son were the kings under whom Denmark became a true country. Prior to them, it was divided into several small kingdoms. "We have no idea of how many and who may have governed them, because of the lack of written sources," says Lisbeth Imer at the National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen. Though it was suspected for a long time, the recent discovery of certain runestones has put a stamp of authority on this assertion that Queen Thyra had a crucial role in this unification.



 

In the Viking society, runestones were erected to commemorate influential figures. The name "Thyra" was discovered on four runestones made in the mid-900s. Two have been found in Jelling, where royals lived and built by Harald and Gorm. In the runestone built by Gorm, a writing states, "King Gorm made this monument in memory of Thyra, his wife, Denmark's strength/salvation," as per History. Archaeologists in the Danish towns of Læborg and Bække identified two more runestones. One runestone found at Læborg was carved by Ravnunge-Tue, who described Queen Thyra as "his lady" or "his queen." He was identified as the creator of the two runestones with the help of 3-D scanning as per a study published in the National Museum of Denmark. 


 
 
 
 
 
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For a long time, there were doubts about whether the "Thyra" mentioned in the Jelling Runestones and those built by Ravnunge-Tue were the same. Hence, Imer and her colleagues decided to analyze the runestones. The objective of the analysis was to find whether the same craftsman worked on the runestones and if they belonged to one time period. The answer to these would prove whether they have been addressed to one person. In the analysis, they took into consideration the method employed during engraving as well as the size and shape of the runes.


 
 
 
 
 
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Unfortunately, one of the Jelling runestones was in too bad of a condition to be used for the project. All the details had to be taken by monitoring the one that remained preserved. The conclusion drawn was that the patterns in the preserved runestone matched the Læborg runestone. It implies that they were about the same subject, Queen Thyra. The fact that royalty and other folks attached so much respect to her gives an idea of her elevated social position. Imer believes that the conclusion aligns with the beliefs about Viking women.



 

The results prove that Thyra was mentioned in more runestones than her legendary son. It might mean that her role was even bigger in the creation of Denmark, which might not have been explored because of her gender. "Political and administrative life in Viking-Age Denmark was dominated by men, but it seems that some women also had power," Imer shared with HISTORY in an email. "So instead of talking about the Viking Age as a completely male-dominated society, we should include elite women, or women from royal families, in the powerful circles."

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