Oldest Reference to Norse god Odin Found in Danish Treasure

Scandinavian experts announced Wednesday that they have discovered the oldest known inscription referring to the Norse god Odin on a gold disc discovered in western Denmark in 2020.

The inscription, according to Lisbeth Imer, a runologist at the National Museum in Copenhagen, represents the first solid evidence of Odin being worshiped as early as the 5th century — at least 150 years earlier than the previous oldest known reference, which was on a brooch found in southern Germany and dated to the second half of the 6th century.

The disc was discovered in Denmark as part of a hoard containing around a kilogram (2.2 pounds) of gold, which also included enormous medallions the size of saucers and Roman coins fashioned into jewelry. The Vindelev Hoard was discovered in the village of Vindelev in central Jutland.

Scientists believe the treasure was buried 1,500 years ago, perhaps to protect it from enemies or to placate the gods. A golden bracteate — a small, ornamental pendant — was engraved with the words “He is Odin’s man,” most likely referring to an unnamed monarch or overlord.

“It’s one of the best executed runic inscriptions that I have ever seen,” Imer said. Runes are symbols that early tribes in northern Europe used to communicate in writing.

Odin was a major god in Norse mythology, and he was commonly connected with both war and poetry.

According to the National Museum in Copenhagen, where the loot discovered in 2020 is on exhibit, more than 1,000 bracteates have been discovered in Northern Europe.

According to Krister Vasshus, an ancient language researcher, “every runic inscription (is) crucial to how we comprehend the past” because they are rare.

“When an inscription of this length appears, that in itself is amazing,” Vasshus said. “It gives us some quite interesting information about religion in the past, which also tells us something about society in the past.”

During the Viking Era, which lasted from 793 to 1066, Norsemen known as Vikings engaged in large-scale raiding, colonization, conquering, and trading across Europe. They also made it to North America.

The Norsemen worshiped several gods, each with their own set of features, flaws, and attributes. Details have surfaced through sagas and rune stones suggesting the gods possessed many human features and could behave like humans.

“That kind of mythology can take us further and have us reinvestigate all the other 200 bracteate inscriptions that we know,” Imer said.

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