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Typology of Thor’s Hammers

In this overview, we present the typology of the Thor’s hammer amulets, as presented by Jörn Staecker in 1999. As stated in the articles “Friendship with the god” and “I carve healing runes“, a brief mention or depiction of the Þórr and his atributes had an apotropaic function in the Viking Age: the image of a hammer engraved on a rune stone has the same function as the rune phrases “Þórr hallow this monument” (Þórr vígi þessi kuml) or “Þórr hallow these runes” (Þórr vígi þessar rúnar). What made Þórr a functional god is the fact that every mention of it hallows (vígja) and protects (gæta). The phrase “may Þórr hallow you, lord of giants” (Þórr vígi þik, þursa dróttinn), which we know from contemporary written sources, shows that the hammer is particularly effective against giants. In other words, the myths associated with Þórr were presented as models of battles fought in everyday life, for example in disease. In Norwegian rune poem, a giant is identified as the cause of women’s diseases. Hammer amulets, thunderstones and some other amulets, as well as hammer engravings and the name Þórr, should be therefore understood as a source of universal hallowing, which was to protect, bring happiness, heal, ensure fertility in bed and prosperous offspring (Boudová 2012: 34–37; Elgqvist 1934). Corresponding to this could be the fact that the number of hammer amulets in graves is 28% : 72% in favor of women’s graves (Jensen 2010: 107).

Hammer amulets are usually divided into two basic categories – loose hammers and Thor’s hammer-rings. In this work we will deal with loose hammers. Jensen (2010) collected a total of 237 finds in his catalog. Over 100 of them were found in the settlement context, over 60 came from graves, about 40 were stored in hoards and about 35 of them are stray finds. Staecker divided loose hammers into three main types based on simple criteria:


1. Simple hammers

Simple, undecorated hammers made of iron, amber, bronze, lead or silver.

1.1 Iron hammers
As evidenced by the frequency of these hammers (Jensen records about 130 pieces), it was a very popular model, which can be dated to the 9th and 10th centuries. Some pieces are equipped with a ring for hanging.

kladiva-typ1.1

Distribution of subtype 1.1 hammers. Staecker 1999: Karte 41.

Hammers from Aggersborg (left) and Hästa (right).
Staecker 1999: Abb. 111; catalog SHM in Stockholm.

1.2 Amber hammers
This type of hammer, which seems to be widespread around the Baltic Sea, is found in about fifteen copies. It can be dated to the 10th century.

kladiva-typ1.2

Distribution of subtype 1.2 hammers. Staecker 1999: Karte 42.

Hammers from Wolin (left) and Nordby (right).
Stanisławski 2013: Rys. 43f; Staecker 1999: Abb. 112.

1.3 Cast copper alloy hammers
Copper alloy specimens are spread over a large geographical and temporal space. A total of about 15 representatives come from the period 8th-10th century. Casting molds are also known.

kladiva-typ1.3

Distribution of subtype 1.3 hammers. Staecker 1999: Karte 43.

Hammers from Birka (left) and Haithabu (right).
Arbman 1940: Taf. 104:6; Staecker 1999: Abb. 113.

1.4 Cast lead hammers
As far as we know, there are about ten pieces that fit into this subtype. They are not younger than 11th century.

kladiva-typ1.4

Distribution of subtype 1.4 hammers. Staecker 1999: Karte 44.

1.5 Cast silver hammers
Silver castings were, as we shall see, very popular. Jörn Staecker records 18 finds, while Bo Jensen mentions about 30 in his catalog. Undecorated hammers have the largest share in hoards, they are rarely found in graves. They are dated to 9th-11th century.

kladiva-typ1.5

Distribution of subtype 1.5 hammers. Staecker 1999: Karte 45.

Hammers from Låby (left) and Stens prestgård (right).
Montelius 1874: kat č. 624; Staecker 1999: Abb. 114.


2. Decorated hammers

Usually silver hammers, cast or made of sheet metal, which are decorated. Decoration is achieved by casting, punching, granulation or filigree.

2.1 Silver punched hammers

  • 2.1.1 Hammers with random punching
    Punched amulets seem to be another popular category. Staecker collected 15 finds, while Jensen’s catalog counts 19 items. Almost all hammers come from hoards or random finds. The dating seems to date back to the 10th and 11th centuries.
kladiva-typ2.1.1

Distribution of subtype 2.1.1 hammers. Staecker 1999: Karte 46.

Hammers from Slottsmöllan (left) and Tågemosen (right).
Montelius 1874: kat č. 626; Staecker 1999: Abb. 115.

  • 2.1.2 Hammers with cross-shaped punching
    With at least six hammers the classic random punching is supplemented by the motif of a cross, in one case also three crosses. As far as we know, they all come from hoards dating back to the end of the 10th and 11th centuries.
kladiva-typ2.1.2

Distribution of subtype 2.1.2 hammers. Staecker 1999: Karte 47.

The hammer from Haithabu. Staecker 1999: Abb. 116.

2.2 Hammers with plant ornaments
A special category are hammers with floral ornaments, of which we register 5 pieces. The decoration seems to be achieved by casting. We know four pieces from hoards, while only one comes from the grave. The dating points to the 10th and 11th centuries.

kladiva-typ2.2

Distribution of subtype 2.2 hammers. Staecker 1999: Karte 48.

Hammers from Pålstorp (left) and Mickels (right).
Montelius 1874: kat č. 627; Staecker 1999: Abb. 117.

2.3 Hammers made of thin metal sheet
Silver hammers, which are made of thin sheet metal, are among the most decorated and therefore today the most popular and most often imitated. The four pieces we know are gilded or decorated with filigree and granulation. Some pieces have striking similarities to Hiddensee pendants. The dating points to the 10th century.

kladiva-typ2.3

Distribution of subtype 2.3 hammers. Staecker 1999: Karte 49.

Hammers from Skåne (left) and Bredsätra (right).
Catalog SHM in Stockholm; Staecker 1999: Abb. 118.


3. Larger number of hammers hanging on one ring

This type includes all hammers that are hung on the ring in more than one piece. Staecker records 9 pieces, while Jensen collected about fifteen specimens. They are known mainly from graves, where they had to perform a special function, similar to hammers on iron necklaces (Thor’s hammer-rings). The dating points to the 10th century.

kladiva-typ3

Distribution of type 3 hammers. Staecker 1999: Karte 50.

Hammers from Hilda. Catalog Unimus.

Hammers from Thumby-Bienebek. Staecker 1999: Abb. 119.


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Bibliography

Boudová, Eliška (2012). Tórovo kladivo: Význam Tórova kladiva v mýtu a kultu. Masarykova univerzita [bakalářská práce]. Available at: http://is.muni.cz/th/362009/ff_b/.

Elgqvist, Eric (1934). Brudhammare och hammarsäng. In: Folkminnen och Folktankar, XXI: 1–19.

Jensen, Bo (2010). Viking Age Amulets in Scandinavia and Western Europe, Oxford.

Montelius, Oskar (1874). Sveriges forntid. Försök till framställning af den svenska fornforskningens resultat, Text: 1. Stenäldern. 2. Jernäldern, Stockholm.

Staecker, Jörn (1999). Rex regum et dominus dominorum. Die wikingerzeitlichen Kreuz- und Kruzifixanhänger als Ausdruck der Mission in Altdänemark und Schweden, Stockholm.

Stanisławski, Błażej M. (2013). Jómswikingowie z Wolina-Jómsborga. Studium archeologiczne przenikania kultury skandynawskiej na ziemie polskie, Wrocław.

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