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‘Nation’ and ‘race’ in the twentieth century scientific discourse on Viking Age runestones

Conference contribution
Authors Per Holmberg
Published in La quatorzième Conférence Internationale d'Histoire des Sciences du Langage (ICHoLS XIV). August 28 - September 1, 2017, Paris
Publication year 2017
Published at Department of Swedish
Language en
Subject categories History of science, Scandinavian languages, Germanic languages


‘Nation’ and ‘race’ in the twentieth century scientific discourse on Viking Age runestones The boom for researching runestone inscriptions in the early twentieth century coincided with a renewed romantic and often nationalist interest in the Viking Age, i.e. late Scandinavian Iron Age. This study focuses the interpretations of the most famous runestone inscription: the Rök runestone. This runestone holds a prominent position in Swedish cultural heritage due to a passage of the inscription that has been read and interpreted as a reference to Theodoric the Great, the Ostrogoth emperor who reigned in Ravenna 475-526 AD (cf. Wessén 1958). The aim of this study is to deconstruct the Rök – Ravenna connection in order to better understand how this idea has been legitimatized. Special attention is paid to one of the central participants of the debate, the Austrian Germanic philologist Otto Höfler (1901-1987) who started his academic career as associate professor in Uppsala 1927-1933, became professor in Munich 1938-1945 as an outspoken Nazi supporter, and later held a chair in Vienna 1957-1971. The construction of the Germanic, Gothic race, culture and religion in Höfler’s publications on the Rök runestone, five papers and one book (1952), is analysed in detail and related to other parts of his work. Previous research (Gajek 2005, Zernack 2005) has given a good picture of the ideology of Höfler, and its ties to the Nazi regime. However, research has not focused on Höfler’s quest for the meaning of Theodoric in the inscription of Rök. Differences and similarities between Höfler’s position and approximately 40 other Rök runestone scholars are analysed. The key passages of their works are analysed in regard of the functions and qualities attributed to Theodoric, and their appraisal or refutation of other scholars. The analysis unfolds a discursive tension between ‘race’ and ‘nation’ in the legitimization of a Gothic connection. References GAJEK, Ester. 2005. „Germanenkunde und Nationalsozialismus. Zur Verflechtung von Wissenschaft und Politik am Beispiel Otto Höflers“. In: Schmitz & Vollnhals (Hrsg.), Völkische Bewegung – konservative Revolution – Nationalsozialismus. Aspekte einer politisierten Kultur. Dresden. HÖFLER, Otto. 1952. Der Runenstein von Rök und die germanische Individualweihe. Tübingen. WESSÉN, Elias. 1958. Runstenen vid Röks kyrka. Stockholm. ZERNACK, Julia. 2005. „Kontinuität als Problem der Wissenschaftsgeschichte. Otto Höfler und das Münchner Institut für Nordische Philologie und Germanische Altertumskunde“. In: Böldl & Kauko (Hrsg.), Kontinuität in der Kritik. Zum 50jährigen Bestehen des Münchener Nordistikinstituts. Historische und aktuelle Perspektiven der Skandinavistik. Freiburg im Breisgau.

Page Manager: Webmaster|Last update: 9/11/2012

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