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Golden Horns of Gallehus

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Subject: Iron Age Scandinavia, Gjallarhorn, National Museum of Denmark, Proto-Germanic language, Proto-Norse language
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Golden Horns of Gallehus

The copies of the Golden Horns of Gallehus exhibited at the National Museum of Denmark

The Golden Horns of Gallehus were two horns made of sheet gold, discovered in Gallehus, north of Møgeltønder in Southern Jutland, Denmark.[1] The horns date to the early 5th century, i.e. the beginning of the Germanic Iron Age.

The horns were found in 1639 and in 1734, respectively, at locations only some 15–20 metres apart.[1] They were composed of segments of double sheet gold. The two horns were found incomplete; the longer one found in 1639 had seven segments with ornaments, to which six plain segments and a plain rim were added, possibly by the 17th-century restorer. The shorter horn found in 1734 had six segments, a narrow one bearing a Proto-Norse Elder Futhark inscription at the rim and five ornamented with images. It is uncertain whether the horns were intended as drinking horns, or as blowing horns, although drinking horns have more pronounced history as luxury items made from precious metal.

The original horns were stolen and melted down in 1802. Casts made of the horns in the late 18th century were also lost. Replicas of the horns must thus rely on 17th and 18th-century drawings exclusively and are accordingly fraught with uncertainty. Nevertheless, replicas of the original horns were produced and are exhibited at the National Museum of Denmark, Copenhagen, and the Moesgaard Museum, near Aarhus, Denmark. These replicas also have a history of having been stolen and retrieved twice, in 1993 and in 2007.


  • Description 1
    • Runic inscription 1.1
    • Possible cipher runes 1.2
    • Iconography 1.3
  • Discovery 2
    • First horn 2.1
    • Second horn 2.2
  • Burglary and destruction 3
    • Original horns 3.1
    • Copies 3.2
  • References 4
  • Literature 5
  • External links 6


Both horns consisted of two layers of gold sheet, the inner sheet of lesser quality, amalgamated with silver, the outer sheet of pure gold. The outer sheet was constructed from a number of rings, each covered with cast figures soldered onto the rings, with yet more figures chased into the rings between the larger figures. The second horn bore an Elder Futhark inscription in Proto-Norse which is of great value for Germanic linguistics.

Both horns were once the same length, but a segment of the narrow end of the second (shorter) horn, which was missing when it was found (1734), had already been plowed up and recovered prior to 1639. It also was subsequently melted down and lost. The longer horn in its restored state was 75.8 cm in length, as measured along the outer perimeter; the opening diameter was 10.4 cm., and the horn weighed 3.2 kg.

Because the casts made of the horns were lost, it is uncertain whether the horns were simply curved or whether they had a winding, helix-like curvature like a natural ox-horn.

Detail of the runic inscriptions found on one of the copies housed at the Moesgaard Museum.

Runic inscription

The second horn bore the following Elder Futhark inscription (DR 12 †U):

(1734 drawing after the original)
ᛖᚲᚺᛚᛖᚹᚨᚷᚨᛊᛏᛁᛉ᛬ᚺᛟᛚᛏᛁᛃᚨᛉ᛬ᚺᛟᚱᚾᚨ᛬ᛏᚨᚹᛁᛞᛟ᛬ (Runic Unicode)
ekhlewagastiz:holtijaz:horna:tawido: (transliteration)

This is read as a sentence in Proto-Norse, ek Hlewagastiz Holtijaz horna tawidō, translating to "I Hlewagastiz Holtijaz made the horn". This inscription is among the earliest inscriptions in the Elder Futhark that record a full sentence, and the earliest preserving a line of alliterative verse.

The meaning of the given name Hlewagastiz is debated: it may mean either "lee guest" or "fame guest". Holtijaz may either be a patronymic, "son (or descendant) of Holt", or express a characteristic such as "of the wood".[2]

Possible cipher runes

reading of the supposed cipher in the top segment according to Hartner (1969).

The two rows of images in the top segment of the longer horn have been taken as a cipher encoding a runic text of 22 letters, although there is no universally accepted decipherment. Hartner (1969) read luba horns ens helpa hjoho, an "apotropaic sentence" translated by Hartner as "may I, the potion of this horn, bring help to the clan".[3]


The figures embossed on the horns combine depictions of numerous anthropomorphic, zoomorphic and hybrid motifs. In addition to the main figures which are soldered to the horn, protruding from the horn surface, there are a number of additional figures and ornaments realized by chasing.

There are numerous attempts at their interpretation, all of them speculative. Interpretation is especially difficult since it has to rely on the imprecise drawings made before the loss of the original horns. Interpretations usually try to align the iconography with Germanic mythology, although Mediterranean (Byzantine) elements are also cited.

Obvious parallels with Germanic Migration Period art are rather limited. There are large considerable number of serpents, some of them intertwining in the fashion of the wider animal style of Dark Age Europe. A figure holding a horn may be compared to the "valkyrie" shown on the Tjängvide image stone. Two masked figures armed with sword and shield on the smaller horn are reminiscent of other Germanic depictions of sword-dances, e.g. on the Sutton Hoo helmet. Two other armed figures with large horns or antlers may be compared to horned helmet iconography, or to the "Cernunnos" figure on the Gundestrup cauldron. The peculiar image of a tricephalous figure has been taken as a pagan predecessor of depictions of a tricephalous Christ symbolizing the Trinity in Christian iconography but is difficult to place in a contemporary context. Olrik (1918) nevertheless recognized a number of Norse gods among the figures, including Tyr, Odin, Thor and Freyr.[4]

Frankfurt historian of science Willy Hartner in 1969 published an interpretation involving gematria and archaeoastronomy, taking many of the figures as representing constellations, claiming that the iconography refers to a lunar eclipse of 4 November 412 and a solar eclipse of 16 April 413.

The first horn (A) had figures arranged in seven segments, The second horn (B) had six segments including the narrow one containing the runic inscription around the rim.

horn segment in relief in chasing
A 1 two rows of anthropomorphic and theriomorphic figures, including snakes and fish (Hartner's cipher runes) Two intertwining snakes and five four-pointed stars
A 2 Five figures, four anthropomorphic, including one on horseback, one armed with a bow, one holding a drinking horn, besides a horse without a rider. five mythological hybrid figures,
A 3 an armed figure standing behind a prostrate body (similar to the arrangement on the 4th segment of the second horn), a centaur, and two figures with dogs' heads. intertwining snake figures, one with a human torso
A 4 another armed figure and three animals. five snakes, one four-pointed star
A 5 two figures playing a board game, with a creature sitting beneath the board, two snakes, and a fish. four snakes and a number of small stars
A 6 five images in a row, two of them dogs (of which one is facing a sun or star), the others possibly plants.
A 7 three symbols of unclear significance, two plant-like and one like two boards or flags with triple dots or holes a vertical dotted line, and an arrangement of vertical wavy and zig-zag lines
B 1 the Elder Futhark inscription
B 2 four anthropomorphic figures, all of them armed, two of them with large horns or antlers. Between and below these are a number of theriomorphic figures, one of them with antlers. the two "sword-dancers" had an opening probably intended for a chain for carrying the horn Scattered among the figures are star symbols with three to eight points and a number of animals, including a fish
B 3 two anthropomorphic figures, one armed with a bow aiming at an animal figure, and one with three heads holding an axe in one hand, and a rope attached to an antlered or horned animal, perhaps a goat. Three snakes, a large one holding a ball in its mouth and two smaller ones biting the belly of the larger one. Lincoln (1976) takes the tricephalous figure, the tethered horned animal, and the three snakes "lying dead" as a Germanic reflex of the Indo-European dragon-slaying and cattle-raiding myth.[5] other theriomorphic figures and star symbols.
B 4 a rider on horseback, another figure holding a sword standing in front of a prostrate body, and a centaur. A horse-like animal with a head on each end and no tail. A curling snake facing or devouring a plant-like item which may represent the wyrm (dragon) Níðhöggr devouring the roots of Yggdrasill fish shapes and star symbols.
B 5 a figure holding a large sickle or sword in the left hand, and holding a horse on a tether in the right hand. Two dogs. boar, bird and fish figures
B 6 four anthropomorphic figures, one armed with a bow, one with two daggers, one holding its right foot in its right hand, and one apparently decapitated, four fish figures and eight four-pointed stars.


The Girl Who Finds The Gold Horn (1906) by Harald Slott-Møller.
A description of the first horn was published in the Journal des Savants in 1678.
Title page illustration of the 1734 treatise on the second horn by Richard Joachim Paulli
Depiction of the horn found AD 1734 on 21 April near the village of Gallehus, in Schackenborg county, not far from the town of Tønder as a peasant was digging, at nearly the same place as a similar one was found AD 1639. It is made from a double gold sheet, the outer one of very fine, the inner of inferior gold. It holds one Maß or ... and weighs 7 pounds 14 ounces

First horn

The longer horn was discovered on July 20, 1639 by a peasant girl named Kirsten Svendsdatter in the village of Gallehus, near Møgeltønder, Denmark when she saw it protrude above the ground. She wrote a letter to King Christian IV of Denmark who retrieved it and in turn gave it to the Danish prince Christian, who refurbished it into a drinking-horn, adding a golden pommel to be screwed on at the narrow end to close it up.

The Danish antiquarian Olaus Wormius wrote a treatise named De aureo cornu on the first Golden Horn in 1641. The first preserved sketch of the horn comes from this treatise. Wormius notes that he had not seen the horn in the state in which it was found, and it cannot now be determined whether the rim and the narrow segments devoid of ornamentation were modern additions like the pommel.

In 1678, the horn was described in the Journal des Savants.

Second horn

About 100 years later on April 21, 1734 the other (shorter, damaged) horn was found by Erich Lassen not far from the first horn. He gave it to the count of Schackenborg who in turn delivered it to King Rigsarkivet (national archive). The shorter horn was described in a treatise by archivist Richard Joachim Paulli in the same year.[6]

Burglary and destruction

Original horns

On May 4, 1802, the horns were stolen by a goldsmith and watchmaker named Niels Heidenreich from Foulum, who entered a storage area containing the horns using forged keys. Heidenreich took the horns home and melted them down to recycle the gold. The theft was discovered the next day and a bounty of 1,000 rigsdaler was advertised in the papers.

The pagodas” (Indian coins with god motifs), made from bad gold mixed with brass. Holm and his colleagues had kept watch on Heidenreich and saw him dump coin stamps in the town moat. He was arrested on April 27, 1803, and confessed on April 30. On June 10, Heidenreich was sentenced to prison, and not released until 1840. He died four years later. His buyers returned the recycled gold, which ended up in coins, not copies of the horns.

However, a set of plaster casts of the horns had been made for a cardinal in Rome, but they had already been lost in a shipwreck off the Corsican coast. Approximate copies were instead created from sketches. The horns pictured above are newer copies, made in 1980.


In 1993, copies of the horns were stolen from Moesgaard Museum, which were shortly after recovered ditched in a forest near Hasselager. These copies are made of gilded brass.[7]

On September 17, 2007, a set of modern gilded silver copies were stolen from Kongernes Jelling museum at 4:30 in the morning,[8] but were recovered shortly after on September 19, 2007.[9]


  1. ^ a b Official Danish news (DR) page with fact box regarding the subject (Danish); The horns are also identified as Tunderense in older literature, a learned Latin adjective formation of Tundern, the old name of Tønder.
  2. ^ Kiel University has a compilation of literature. Interpretation as a patronymic is more common. The alternative interpretation "of the sacred grove" is found in Klingenberg, Heinz ,Runenschrift - Schriftdenken - Runeninschriften. Heidelberg (1973) and in Grønvik, Ottar, 'Runeinnskriften på gullhornet fra Gallehus' in Maal og Minne (1999), 1-18. The translation "wood-dweller" is found in Karker, Allan, Dansk i tusind år: Et omrids af sprogets historie, Copenhagen (1993). An interpretation of Holt as a toponym, translating "from Holt", is found in Gutenbrunner, Siegfried, Schleswig-Holsteins älteste Literatur. Von der Kimbernzeit bis zur Gudrundichtung, Kiel (1949).
  3. ^ review of Hartner (1969) by A. T. Reiche in Isis, The History of Science Society (1973), p. 236; c.f. Beer (1970), p. 140.
  4. ^ Axel Olrik, Gudefremstillinger paa guldhornene og andre ældre mindesmærker, Danske Studier (1918), 1-35.
  5. ^ Bruce Lincoln, The Indo-European Cattle-Raiding Myth, History of Religions (1976) , p. 58.
  6. ^ Published in German as Zuverlässiger Abriss des Anno 1734 bey Tundern gefundenen Güldenen Horns (1734), in Danish translation as Tilforladelig Tegning paa det Anno 1734 udi Jydland fundene Guld-Horn (1735), with 7 woodcuts, comprising half-page cut on title page and 6 figures depicting the runic inscription and decorations on the golden horn. For reproductions, cf. Oxenstierna, E. C. G. Die Goldhörner von Gallehus, Lidingö, 1956.
  7. ^ Moesgaard udstiller guldhorn
  8. ^ Professionelle bag tyveri af guldhorn
  9. ^ Trafficking Culture,


  • Arthur Beer: Hartner and the Riddle of the Golden Horns, Journal for the History of Astronomy, Vol. 1, p. 139 (1970).
  • Ottar Grønvik: Runinskriften på gullhornet fra Gallehus. In: Maal og Minne. Det Norske Samlaget, Oslo 1999,1,1-18.
  • Willy Hartner: Die Goldhörner von Gallehus F. Steiner, Stuttgart (1969), reprint 1998, ISBN 3-515-00078-X.
  • Heinz Klingenberg: Runenschrift – Schriftdenken – Runeninschriften. Carl Winter, Heidelberg 1973. ISBN 3-533-02181-5
  • H. F. Nielsen, W. Heizmann, M. Axboe: Gallehus. In: Reallexikon der germanischen Altertumskunde, ed. Heinrich Beck. Bd 10. Walter de Gruyter, Berlin-New York 1998, p. 330 ff. ISBN 3-11-015102-2

External links

  • Reproductions at the British Museum
  • The Golden Horns (
  • Trafficking Culture

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