The Bored Viking General Who “Vandalized” Hagia Sophia

Around 1100 years ago, in the 9th century, probably during a Sunday mass, a bored Viking named Halvdan (Halfdan) carved his name on a marble slab at the upper gallery of Hagia Sophia.

“Halvdan was here”

The text was Old Norse, and it was carved in runic letters. It is quite surprising that this carved text survived through the centuries. For many years, it hadn’t come to anyone’s attention and, up until 1964, people assumed these to be just random cracks caused by the elements. Research done in 1964 proved that this was done by a Norseman.

The runes Mr. Halvdan carved in Old Norse /

Asuumptions About Halvdan’s Identity

Who was Halvdan?

There are two assumptions about Halvdan’s identity.

1-He was a brave warlord and commander from a Viking tribe who lived on the Lotofen Archipelago (modern day Norway). Halvdan supposedly traveled to Constantinapolis (İstanbul) for trade and business purposes. The huge city of Constantinapolis ( or Miklağård, as the Vikings named it) marvelled Halvdan. Like most Vikings who visited Constantinapolis, he decided to join the mercenary unit, Varangians, which solely consisted of Viking warriors who served the Byzantine Empreror. Halvdan fell in love with the beauty of Hagia Sophia and decided to visit it. Hagia Sophia opened only during mass, so Halvdan attended mass to see the church. Since he was not Christian, he got bored during mass and carved his name onto a marble slab in the upper balcony of Hagia Sophia.

2-It is also a supposed theory that either a Scandinavian pilgrim or merchant visited Hagia Sophia in the 9th century and carved his name onto the marble slab. However, this theory is not considered to be very plausible.

The world-renowned wonder of Hagia Sophia

More Runic Carved Texts Were Found In Hagia Sophia in 2016

In 2016, Russian researcher Elena A. Melʹnikova (Institute of World History, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow) discovered more texts carved into different parts of Hagia Sophia. The actual purpose of her visit was to discover Cyrillic inscriptions, however she stumbled upon something completely different.

E. A. Melʹnikova discovered 27 cm long line of runes in Old Norse on a marble windowsill in the northerneast wall of the first floor: “a͡rịṇba͡rþrr͡aṣṭruna͡rþasi (Old Norse: Arinbárðr rеist rúnar), which translates to “Arinbárðr cut these runes”. The runes date back to either the second half of the eleventh or first half of the twelfth century. E. A. Melʹnikova presumed that these runes were most likely carved by a Scandinavian merchant who passed through the city.

The photograph of the inscription (made in 2009 by Alexej Gippius and Ju. Arta- monov) and its drawing / Elena A. Melʹnikova. Futhark 7 (2016)
The window with the inscription / Elena A. Melʹnikova. Futhark 7 (2016)


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