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Romulus and Remus

Erilaz has made a good choice when he seeks the assistance of the heavenly twins, because the sons of Mars Romulus und Remus are regarded to be helpers at travel and at war. After all, Romulus after his apotheosis replaced the old Sabellian god of war, Quirinus.

We may wonder where the artist could have found such a picture, a question that could be answered with a hint at Benedict Biscop's manuscripts and the monasteries Wearmouth and Jarrow, but that does not explain the iconographic tradition. Normally we find the baby twins seated beneath the lupa, less frequently they are depicted in a grotto near the River Tiber, where they are found by Faustulus, the shepherd. Just he would be there, nobody else.

The site here on the casket is a forest. The heavenly twins, seemingly standing on their heads, are as big as adults. There are two wolves, a trait nowhere else found with that couple, and there are four kneeling men framing the scene. They are no Roman shepherds with crooks, but Germanic warriors, armed with spears, fit for war. May be it is a thane with his retainers. Here in the holy grove, site of pagan worship, they are seeking the help of the heavenly twins. As babies are no promising protection for warriors, they are grown-ups. They are properly accompanied by Woden's famous wolves, Geri and Freki.

But why does the carver refer to the Roman brothers at all? Ibor & Agio with the Langobardes, Ambri & Assi with the Vandals or, more classic, the famous sons of Zeus, Castor & Pollux. Tacitus mentions the Alces, helpers at travel with the Narhavals. Had he wanted twins of Anglo-Saxon stock he could have referred to Hengist and Horsa, who were said to be of divine descent as well. And if he had wanted to be particularly Christian, he could have remembered the old charm that meant to protect the traveller with the help of the Almighty and the Son 'and eac Þæ gebroÞru, Petrus and Paulus' (though these apostles did not care for each other very much). So why did he take to pagan Roman mythology?

He chose them, because Romulus and Remus (as well as Rome) have the initial R, and the rune r-Rune (rad) stands for 'ride'. Thus they have the ideal names for their task. If he had chosen Hengist and Horsa instead, he would have summoned trouble and disaster, as we shall see later.

But why are the twins depicted as if standing on their heads, different from any Roman pattern? Here we can refer to some old Germanic rock-paintings of nameless twins (e.g. Ryland, there as if joined at their heads), who were probably regarded as helpers at travel and war. Frequently such paintings go along with the runes x-Rune and k-Rune. It is a symbol closely connected with battle, protection and victory. And because of that we often find it on weapons, especially spears. It refers to the trees of the holy grove and symbolises the travelling twins as well as the Valkyries.

Since the rune r-Rune has the value 5 (fifth rune of the fuþorc) and the rune x-Rune has the value 15 (fifteenth rune in the row), the 3 alliterating r-Rune have the same value as the rune x-Rune. And this is the rune associated with the battle helping Valkyrie.

If each and every detail bears a meaning we may have to return to the group of trees, the centre of pagan worship. Trees were part of the animated nature and their twigs were used as oracles. It is strange that their roots should be visible. Their arrangement reminds us of so-called tree-runes which were used in runic inscriptions as a form of secret writing.

The system works like this: The runic row of 24 symbols is divided into 3 rows (ætir) of 8 runes each (when more runes were added to the Anglo-Frisian row they simply added a fourth ætt). Up to 3 (later 4) roots or twigs to one side indicate the ætt, up to 8 roots or twigs to the other side refer to the particular rune. In our case, we have one or two on the left (with each tree) and up to four roots to the right. One root to the left and two to the right means: 1st ætt, 2nd rune (1/2), and that is the u-rune u-Rune. Just that is the message of the first tree on the left. The one next to it reads (2/2) which points at the n-rune n-Rune, followed by the two identical trees next to the wolves. With their roots (2/3) they spell thei-rune i-Rune, while the tree (2/1) with the first warrior on the right hints at h-Rune h-Rune, and the one on the right (1/1) at f-rune f-Rune.Nice! But does it all mean?

Apparently four of those trees are assigned to the four warriors, indicating their fates, while the two remaining plants explain the nature of the beasts of battleground, Woden's pets, or rather what they (if not the twins) bring about: The rune i-Rune, is, (ice) is quite appropriate as it spells death. The warrior on the left, to tell by his armour the leader, may expect strength and victory, as the rune u-Rune, ur (aurochs), means power. But his companion must endure need as foretold by n-Rune, nyd. His comrade, facing him from the right side, is not much better off as the runeh-Rune, hagal (hail), promises disaster. The one on the outer right is really lucky. His tree spells f-Rune, feoh, rich booty or feohgift.. Remarkable, anyway, that closeness to the wolves does not seem to do good!

May be, twigs and leaves can be read the same way, but that would be rather uncertain and thus too speculative. Anyway, with these readings we have the closest illustration to the term tree-rune Germ. Zweigrune ever found on a runic monument, paralleled only by the trees on the H-Panel.

 

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