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This white marble statue of a lion stands at the Arsenale in Venice. It originally stood at the Piraeus harbour near Athens, but in 1687 the two lions were transported to Venice by Francesco Morosini foillowing a successful campaign against the Ottoman Turks.

People were aware of the fact that one of the lions had been defaced with strange marking across its shoulder. This was apparently some kind of writing, but it was not recognised as a runic inscription until it was seen by Johan David Åkerblad (died 1819).

By this time parts of the inscription had eroded away, making interpretation very difficult. It was agreed that at some time in the eleventh century travelling Vikings had carved the inscription, but there was considerable dispute as to its exact meaning.

There are various interpretations of the runic script, but Erik Brate’s interpretation from 1914 is considered to be the most successful one:

Piraeus Lion
Image: Wikipedia Commons
(click on the images to enlarge)

hiuku þir hilfninks milum
hna en i hafn þesi þir min
eoku runar at haursa bunta
kuþan a uah
riþu suiar þita linu
fur raþum kul uan farin

tri(n)kiar ristu runar
[a rikan strin]k hiuku
þair isk[il-] [þu]rlifr

litu auka ui[i þir a]
roþrslanti b[yku] –
a sun iuk runar þisar.
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.
Æskell (Áskell) [and others] and
Þorlæif? (Þorleifr)
had them well cut, they who lived
in Roslagen. [N. N.] son of [N. N.]
cut these runes.
Ulf? (Úlfr) and [N. N.] colored them
in memory of Horsi.
He won gold in his travels.