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The Piraeus Lion

arsenal lion

The Piraeus Lion is one of four lion statues on display at the Venetian Arsenal, where it was displayed as a symbol of Venice's patron saint, Saint Mark.

 It was originally located in Piraeus, the ancient harbour of Athens. It was looted by Venetian naval commander Francesco Morosini in 1687 as plunder taken in the Great Turkish War against the Ottoman Empire, during which the Venetians besieged Athens and Morosini's cannons caused damage to the Parthenon only matched by his subsequent looting.Copies of the statue can also be seen at the Piraeus Archaeological Museum and the Swedish Museum of National Antiquities in Stockholm.

The lion was a famous landmark in Piraeus, having stood there since the first or second century AD. Its prominence was such that the port was given the name Porto Leone ("Lion Port") by the Italians. It is depicted in a sitting pose, with a hollow throat and the mark of a pipe (now lost) running down its back; this suggests that it was originally used as a fountain.

The statue, which is made of white marble and stands some 3 m (9 ft) high, is particularly noteworthy for having been defaced some time in the second half of the 11th century by Scandinavians who carved two lengthy runic inscriptions into the shoulders and flanks of the lion. The runes are carved in the shape of an elaborate lindworm dragon-headed scroll, in much the same style as on runestones in Scandinavia.  The carvers of the runes were almost certainly Varangians, Scandinavian mercenaries in the service of the Byzantine Emperor who had been sent to Greece to put down a revolt by the local people.

 

Inscriptions and translations

Drawing of the same inscription

The inscriptions were not recognised as runes until the Swedish diplomat Johan David ?kerblad identified them at the end of the 18th century. They are in the shape of a lindworm (a flightless dragon with serpentine body and two or no legs) and were first translated in the mid-19th century by Carl Christian Rafn, the Secretary of the Kongelige Nordiske Oldskrift-Selskab (Royal Society of Nordic Antiquaries). The inscriptions are heavily eroded due to weathering and air pollution, making many of the individual runes barely legible. This has required translators to reconstruct some of the runes, filling in the blanks to determine what words they represented.

There have been several attempts to decipher and translate the text. Below follow Hrafn's early attempt (1854) and lastly Eric Brate's (1914) which is considered to be the most successful one.

 

Hrafn's translation

Rafn's attempt are as follows, with the legible letters shown in bold and the reconstructed ones unbolded:

Right side of the lion:

ASMUDR : HJU : RUNAR : ?ISAR : ?AIR : ISKIR : AUK: ?URLIFR : ?UR?R : AUK : IVAR : AT : BON : HARADS : HAFA : ?UAT : GRIKIAR : UF : HUGSA?U : AUK : BANA?U :

Asmund cut these runes with Asgeir and Thorleif, Thord and Ivar, at the request of Harold the Tall, though the Greeks considered about and forbade it.

Left side of the lion:

HAKUN : VAN: ?IR : ULFR : AUK : ASMUDR : AUK : AURN : HAFN : ?ESA : ?IR : MEN : LAG?U : A : UK : HARADR : HAFI : UF IABUTA : UPRARSTAR : VEGNA : GRIKIA?I?S : VAR? : DALKR : NAU?UGR : I : FIARI : LA?UM : EGIL : VAR : I : FARU : MI? : RAGNARR : TIL : RUMANIU . . . . AUK : ARMENIU :

Hakon with Ulf and Asmund conquered this port. These men and Harold Hafi imposed a heavy fine on account of the revolt of the Greek people. Dalk is detained captive in far lands. Egil is gone on an expedition with Ragnar into Romania and Armenia.

Some have tried to trace Harald Hardrade's name on the inscription, but the time it was carved does not coincide with his time in the service of the Emperor.

Erik Brate's translationErik Brate's interpetation from 1914 is considered to be the most successful one.

hiuku ?ir hilfninks milum

hna en i hafn ?esi ?ir min

eoku runar at haursa bunta

ku?an a uah

ri?u suiar ?ita linu

fur ra?um kul uan farin

-

tri(n)kiar ristu runar

[a rikan strin]k hiuku

?air isk[il-] [?u]rlifr

-

litu auka ui[i ?ir a]

ro?rslanti b[yku] -

a sun iuk runar ?isar.

ufr uk - li st[intu]

a[t haursa]

kul] uan farn  They cut him down in the midst of his

forces. But in the harbor the men cut

runes by the sea in memory of Horsi, a

good warrior.

The Swedes set this on the lion.

He went his way with good counsel,

gold he won in his travels.

The warriors cut runes,

hewed them in an ornamental scroll.

?skell (?skell) [and others] and

?orl?ifR (?orleifr)

had them well cut, they who lived

in Roslagen. [N. N.] son of [N. N.]

cut these runes.

UlfR (?lfr) and [N. N.] colored them

in memory of Horsi.

He won gold in his travels.

Source: encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com


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