An engraved ring found at a Swedish Viking excavation site may provide evidence that a connection existed between the Vikings and the Islamic world. Over a century after its initial discovery in the late 1800s, an inscription on the woman’s ring has been found to read “Praise Allah.”
The Vikings played an important role in the civilization of Ireland, building fortified settlements in certain areas of the country. Initial Viking raids devastated monasteries and churches built along Irish rivers. The Vikings plundered the wealth and treasures accumulated in Ireland before they began to build their first Irish settlements. Ireland’s capital Dublin is an example of a town that began as a Viking settlement. The Vikings reigned in Ireland for over a hundred years until their defeat in the Battle of Clontarf in 1014.
The small silver ring contains a violet-colored piece of glass, originally believed to be an amethyst stone, and is engraved in an ancient Arabic script. Colored glass was considered an exotic item at the time of the Vikings and it is thought they may have wished to bring it north themselves rather than wait for traders to make the journey. Many excavations, like the one in Sweden, have also taken place in Ireland with a prehistoric discovery halting the Luas tram works outside of Trinity College Dublin just a few months ago.
The ring was originally discovered in the late 19th century, at an excavation of a Viking trading center in Sweden called Birka. Discovered in a grave north of Borg on Björkö Island, the ring was found among other jewelry and clothes surrounding the decomposed skeleton of a woman from approximately 850 AD.
It has long been believed that there was some interaction between the Vikings and the Islamic world, as they both traded with similar parts of the world, but until now there was no conclusive evidence to confirm this. Other finds at Swedish sites indicate that 3.400 years ago there were trade routes that connected Scandinavia with ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia and it is likely that this ring was transported to Scandinavia along those same routes.
Researchers from Stockholm University wrote about the discovery in scientific journal Scanning in March 2015. They said, "The ring may...constitute material evidence for direct interactions between Viking Age Scandinavia and the Islamic world.
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"Being the only ring with an Arabic inscription found at a Scandinavian archaeological site, it is a unique object among Swedish Viking Age material."
This ring is thought to be quite spectacular as scanning electron microscopes have shown little signs of wear on the inner band. There are also filing marks on the ring, most likely made during in its production, that suggest the female skeleton may possibly have been either the sole owner of the ring or that it had few owners before it reached this woman.
*Originally published in March 2015. Updated in September 2023.