Viking axe from Mammen

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In 1868 a farmer began to dig into the mound Bjerringhøj at Mammen near Viborg. During this work he chanced upon an unusually richly-furnished grave, which has become known as the grave from Mammen. A magnate was buried in the grave during the winter of 970-71 AD. He was given an expensive costume, a ceremonial axe with inlaid silver decoration and a large wax candle.

The buried man lay upon a bed of down cushions in a coffin placed in a wooden chamber – a so-called chamber-grave. At his feet lay two axes. On the coffin lid a bronze bucket, two wooden buckets and a large wax candle had been placed. The man wore costly clothing decorated with purple and red silk, as well as embroideries in red and blue. It is not known whether the deceased was Christian or pagan. The motifs on the one axe can be interpreted as both of these, but the large candle is probably a Christian symbol. The fine quality of the furnishings shows that the deceased presumably belonged to the circle around King Harald Bluetooth.

 One of the most magnificent finds from the Viking Age is one of the axes from the grave at Mammen. It is made of iron with silver inlay. The axe is decorated in the so-called Mammen style, which is named after this particular find. The style arose in the 900s and it survived until around 1000. The motifs on the axe can be interpreted as both Christian and pagan.


On one side a tree motif can be seen. It may symbolise the Christian Tree of Life or the pagan tree Yggdrasil. On the other side is an animal figure – perhaps the rooster Gullinkambi (Old Norse “golden comb”) or the Phoenix. According to Norse mythology Gullinkambi sits on top of the tree Yggdrasil. Here it wakes the Viking warriors every morning and it will crow at the beginning of Ragnarok (the end of the world). The Phoenix is a Christian mythological animal and a symbol of re-birth.

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