Jonas Lau Markussen

Mammen style

The Anatomy of Viking Art




The Anatomy of the Mammen Style


c. 950 – 1025






1. Long and wavy S-shaped tendrils.
2. Loosely scrolled tendril terminals.
3. Spirals as tendril terminals.
4. Pellets intersecting ribbons.
5. Concave dents.
6. Head in profile.
7. Round or almond-shaped eye.
8. Spiral hip joints.





Curvy outlines with kinks and frequent dents.





Flowing loose and wavy curves.


A. Multi-loops.
B. Pretzel-knots.
C. S-shapes.





  • Semi-open interlace with some visible background.
  • Double contour.
  • Single-stranded ribbons.
  • Double-stranded ribbons.






  • Single motifs (A, B, C).
  • Loosely flowing compositions with a lack of axiality and symmetry (B, C, D).
  • Additive principles.
  • Different elements often have the same value – i.e. stems vs tendrils.






  • Great Beasts, which is a combination of a carnivore mammal and one or more serpents intertwined in battle (C).
  • Mammals, typically carnivores (C).
  • Serpents (C).
  • Birds (B).
  • Masks (A).
  • Vegetal ornaments (D).








Christianisation of the Norse



The Conversion of Denmark


When Gorm the Old died his son, Harald Bluetooth became king of Denmark and gained the power of Norway a few years later.


The joint ruler of the Empire just south of the Dannevirke Otto II was keen on Christening the Norse regions, and by a violent military crusade if necessary. This thread forced Harald to convert and making Christianity the state religion of Denmark. To get the point across he erected the Great Jelling Stone with a runic inscription stating that Harald united all of Denmark and converted the Danes.


To secure his status and control of power further, he built a number of Ring fortresses throughout the territory of Denmark and fortified the Jelling monument site, the royal centre of power.


Harald’s display of power may have prevented Otto II in conquering Denmark, but after his father, Otto the Great died and in turn making him the sole ruler, he captured Hedeby which was a tremendous blow to Harald.
Otto II then suddenly died, and with his three-year-old son as the only legitimate heir, in turn, left the empire in a complete political crisis. Which lead to Harald regaining the power of Hedeby the same year.


The victory though was short lived for Harald as he was then killed by his son Sweyn Forkbeard, who took control of the Kingdom.




The Conversion of the Rus’


After a period of exile in Sweden Vladimir, the Great of the Rurik dynasty returned to Novgorod with a Varangian army and took back power from his brother and soon after consolidated his rule of a sizeable Kievan territory. He was baptised and Christianised all of the Kievan Rus’.




The Conversion of Norway


The heir to the Norwegian throne, Olaf Tryggvason, who was chief of Vladimir’s men-at-arms while exiled from Norway, now teamed up with Sweyn Forkbeard leading an attack on England with a fleet of 90 ships and collecting the first Danegeld. They later returned to collect the second Danegeld, and in return, Olaf was baptised.


After his success in England, Olaf returned to Scandinavia and successfully claimed the throne of Norway and converted the Norwegians to the Christian faith.


Iceland followed suit a few years later, by a somewhat democratic decision at the All-thing, mainly due to its dependency on trade-connections with Norway.


Olaf Tryggvason later fell foul with Sweyn Forkbeard by marrying Sweyn’s already wed sister Sigrid the Haughty. Sweyn then defeated Olaf in the Battle of Svolder with the support of Erik Jarl who then became king of Norway and Olof Skötkonung who was the first Christian king of a united Sweden.




Greenland and Vinland


After all inhabitable land had been settled in Iceland, Erik the Red established the first Norse colony on Greenland. His son Leif Eriksson (also known as Leif the Lucky) later discovered North America by accident and attempted to colonise the land which he named Vinland, but the settlement was ultimately a short and futile endeavour.




The Great Beast is Born





The animals of the Mammen style are stylistically a continuation of the Jelling style ribbon animal, though now in a more elaborate and often more naturalistic execution.


The style is further inspired by Continental European influences which can be seen by more vegetal elements being introduced, such as vines, lobes and spirals. The interlace patterns are even developed in a less geometric and more wavy and flowing manner reminiscent of vegetal vines.





The Christianisation of Scandinavia changed the Norse burial customs. After the conversion, the dead was buried with very few artefacts due to the new religious beliefs disregarding the importance of material goods in the afterlife. The archaeological evidence is therefore mostly from the few hoards possibly buried for safekeeping in times of conflict. Too few objects are therefore found in datable contexts to permit other than an approximation of date.




The Greater Jelling Stone


The best-known example of the style is the Greater Jelling stone raised by Harald Bluetooth. On one of the three sides of the stone, we see for the first time the motif of the Great Beast which came to be the most influential and used motif throughout the rest of the Viking Age. The motif consists of a large four-legged animal, reminiscent of a lion or wolf, and a serpent intertwined in battle.


The motif builds heavily on Scandinavian artistic traditions while incorporating European influences. It is therefore difficult to decipher the exact meaning of this motif, but it may have been a symbol of royal power and rule and might very well be inspired by similar motifs used in aristocratic environments in Continental and Insular Europe.


On one of the other three sides of the stone, we see a clear depiction of Christ which is a highly untraditional motif in Scandinavia up until now, though executed in an entirely traditional Norse style.


The Greater Jelling stone inspired imitations throughout the Norse regions. However, imitations did typically only include the great beast and left out the depiction of Christ.




The Mammen Axe


The Mammen style got its name from the decorated axe head found in a rich grave of an aristocrat connected to the Jelling dynasty buried just after the time of conversion of Denmark.


One side is filled with a composition of waving foliate tendrils, and a bird occupies the other side in the same style.




The Bamberg and Cammin Caskets


Two of the most elaborate works are the casket from the cathedral of Kamień Pomorski, Poland, which unfortunately was destroyed during World War II (though exact copies still exist), and the casket from the Bamberg Cathedral, Germany.


The Cammin casket is an excellent example of the integration of Norse artistic traditions with Christian iconography.


Symbolic representations of the four evangelists are displayed on the lid and sides of the casket. John is represented by eagles, Luke by bulls depicted as four-legged animals with hooves, Matthew by a human mask and Mark by lions with clawed paws.


The shrine may originally have contained a gospel or liturgical manuscript. Religious gifts of this kind were an essential part in the establishment of contacts between European and Norse rulers and as generous donations to the Church.






The Mammen style was widely popular throughout Scandinavia and the settled areas in Europe, especially the British Isles.
















c. 958 – 959

Wood carvings
— the Jelling north mount grave

Jelling, Jutland, Denmark.
Nationalmuseet, Copenhagen CCCLXXVI


c. 965 – 975

The greater Jelling stone

Jelling, Jutland, Denmark.


c. 970 – 971

Axe head
— the Mammen grave

Mammen, Jutland, Denmark.
Nationalmuseet, Copenhagen C133







Antler handle

Køge, Zealand, Denmark.
Nationalmuseet, Copenhagen C18000


The Aarhus 3 runestone

Aarhus, Jutland, Denmark.
Nationalmuseet, Copenhagen


The Bamberg casket

Bamberg Cathedral, Bayern, Germany.
Bayerisches Nationalmuseum, Munich.


Bone cylinder

Årnes, Møre og Romsdal, Norway.
Trondheim Kgl. Norske Videnskabers Selskab Museet.


Bone disc

London, England.
The British Museum, London.


The Cammin casket

Kamień, Pomorski, Poland.
(destroyed during WWII)


Gilt bronze plate

Aarhus, Jutland, Denmark.
Aarhus Museum, Aarhus.


The Léon antler box

León, Spain.
León SP 27-1-11A4


Lower guard of an antler sword hilt

Sigtuna, Uppland, Sweden.


Odd’s cross

Kirk Braddan, Isle of Man.


The Skårby 1 runestone

Skårby, Scania, Sweden.


St Stephen’s sword

Prague, the Czech Republic.


Thorleif’s cross

Kirk Braddan, Isle of Man.






Graham-Campbell, James, 2013. Viking Art.


Fuglesang, Signe Horn, 1980. Some Aspects of the Ringerike Style.


Fuglesang, Signe Horn, 1981. ‘Stylistic Groups in Late Viking and Early Romanesque Art.’ Acta ad Archaeologiam et Artium Historiam Pertinentia (Series altera in 8°) 79–125.










The Anatomy of Viking Art

The Anatomy of Viking Art

This article is part of a series on Viking Age art, which has been turned into a handy e-book (PDF).

You'll get a free copy when you sign up for the newsletter.

Get the e-book for free