Solvogn og solkult


  • Knud A. Larsen


Solar Chariot, Solvognen, Trundholm, Sol tilbedere, Sun worshippers, Bronze alder, Bronze age


Solar Chariot and Solar Cult

In any discussion of the cult of the sun in the Bronze Age the solar chariot from Trundholm must take a central position. It is in itself sufficient evidence that the people of the Bronze Age were sun-worshippers. It is therefore all the more remarkable that it has not been the object of closer study since Sophus Müller's publication of the discovery 2). The solar chariot is, in fact, the key to the understanding of the content of the solar cult in the Early Bronze Age. It is, for example, not due to chance that only one side of the solar disc is gilded. Moreover the gilded side is edged by a grooved border, whereas the other side of the disc, the one without gilding, has no trace of such a border. This border represents the rays of the sun and thereby emphasizes that the golden side of the disc shows the shining sun of the daylight hours. The other side of the disc has neither gilding nor ray-border, because it represents the dead sun of the night hours. This theory is clearly confirmed if we look at the solar chariot in relation to the cardinal points and to the path of the sun across the heavens. If we think of the chariot as positioned in such a way that the horse is pulling the chariot towards the west we find that the golden side of the disc is turned towards us from the south (Fig. 1), and the horse is drawing the golden, rayed sun across the heavens from east to west, corresponding to the day-path of the sun. If we turn the chariot, so that the ungilded disc without the crown of rays is turned towards us from the south, then the horse is drawing the dead sun from west to east, corresponding to the night-path of the sun. With its form as a double disc, with gilding and crown of rays on one side only, and with the placing of the horse in relation to the disc, the solar chariot gives us the primitive solution current at the period to the problem of how the sun was able to rise every day at the same place in the east. At the same time the probability is emphasized that there was an actual belief that the horse was the beast which drew the chariot of the sun, carrying the blazing sun across the heavens during the day from east to west, and the dead sun back during the night to the east again. This simple solution of the problem of the sun's motion is also met with in the lndian Rigveda 2) 3). At a far later stage in the development of sun worship we have consistent legends from Greece, Persia and India concerning the personified sun-god, who each morning mounts his golden, horse-drawn chariot 4) 5) 6). The same orientation of sun and horse in relation to the cardinal points and the day-path of the sun is found in the pictures on razors from Period IV of the Late Bronze Age (Figs. 2 and 3). It shows, therefore, that this concept had persisted into the Late Bronze Age. The concept that it was the business of the horse to carry the sun back again to the east in the course of the night is, on the other hand, only known from the solar chariot. Several rock carvings show us the sun and the horse being transported by ship, and here there are several cases where the ship is oriented in such a way that it is sailing from west to east. We may guess that the ships are represented in this way to illustrate and emphasize the belief that the sun and the horse sailed back to the east during the night. While the solar chariot is thus evidence for a belief during the Early Bronze Age that it was the horse which carried the dead sun back during the night from west to east, the rock carvings show that during the Later Bronze Age there had been a change to the belief that both the sun and the horse were carried by ship during the night (Fig. 4). It is possible that this change of tenet was the result of the influence of Greek sun-worship. Here we find the belief recorded that the sun-god, Helios, returned during the night to his starting point in the east, sleeping in a golden ship 7).

In Period V of the Bronze Age a further change of tenet occurs. The pictures on the razors now show us the ship, the horse and the sun as purely ornamental decorations, a development which is doubtless connected with the fact that there is no longer any interest shown in orientation of these pictures in relation to the cardinal points and to the sun's path across the heavens. Ships are uniformly oriented with their prow towards the handle of the razor (Fig. 5). As the razor from Bremen appears to suggest, the reason is the change to the worship of a personified sun-god (Fig. 6).

There are further rock-carvings which allow us to form a picture of this sun-god's appearance. The carving at Flyhof is the most illustrative (Fig. 7). It can be clearly seen that it was the function of the god to give fertility to the world. The symbols of the god are the wheel-cross, the cult-axe - which shows that the sun-god is also the god of thunder - and the extended hand. The extended right hand is probably meant to represent that the god gives notice of his coming in the east by stretching out his band above the horizon. The hand would, in other words, symbolize the first rays of the sun, the dawn.

By giving this probable interpretation of the lifted hand with the outstretched fingers as the band of the sun-god, as symbolizing sunrise and dawn, we obtain at the same time a natural explanation of the remarkable rock carvings showing the arm motif (Fig. 9) 9). They are naive pictures, meant to represent the dawn as it is seen by anyone standing on the shore and looking out over the sea. The horizontal line is thus the horizon, the fingers are the rays of the sun, the sun-god's hand, and the horizontal lines beyond the fingers the reflection of the light of the sun on the waves. This explanation of the hand figures gives still another connecting link with the Greek and lndian sun-cults. Corresponding to the Greek rosy­fingered Eos of Homer there can be found representations in the Rigveda of the sun-god who raises his hand to symbolize the rising of the sun 10).

Behind this investigation of the sun-cult in the Bronze Age has lain the view that a religious cult which spans a period of a thousand years must have undergone a process of development, the direction of which has been determined by influences from areas with a higher spiritual culture than the Scandinavian; and the investigation has made it appear probable that the Greek sun-cult has exerted just such an influence, leading the Scandinavian cult forward to the concept of a personified god in the course of the Later Bronze Age. The investigation has also made it appear probable that the mode of construction of the solar chariot is evidence for the solar cult in its most primitive form, that we can point to parallels in the Greek, Persian and lndian solar cults, where the same primitive concepts appear to underlie the later forms, and that the explanation for this circumstance must be a common origin in an earlier solar cult.

The investigation has moreover shown the related and very characteristic features of the sun-cult of which we can find undoubted traces in the four geographical regions of Greece, Persia, India and Scandinavia. These are:

that the sun has been an object of worship, either the sun's disc as such or a personified sun-god,

that the horse assumes a prominent place as a holy animal specifically associated with sun-worship,

and that dawn is interpreted as the warning of the coming of the sun, associated with the idea of the sun-god stretching up his hand above the horizon 8).

If, as these related features of primitive character would suggest, the Scandinavian, Greek, Persian and lndian solar cults have had a common origin in an earlier solar cult, then this can scarcely be explained by any other postulate than that this solar cult was brought to the four regions by immigration of tribes of the same people. All four regions are parts of the lndo-European language area, and this would suggest that the spread of the solar cult occurred in association with the spread of the lndo-European language. This theory is made more probable by the fact that the words for sun, horse and dawn are lndo-European 12).

A conjecture that the spread of the lndo-European language happened in association with the spread of the knowledge of agriculture and stock-keeping in the Stone Age is weakened by the philologists, who reveal that the words for corn and for the types of corn known in the New Stone Age, barley and wheat, are not of lndo-European origin, but are loan-words and words of indigenous origin within the Germanic area of Europe 18).

Words for horse, sheep, bull, ox and cattle of lndo-European root are, however, found. But they are not concepts exclusively associated with agriculture and with farmers; they belong just as much to a nomad life. And just this fact, that they occur as an isolated group within the general agricultural terminology, suggests that they were originally associated with a nomad people 21).

Brandenstein's investigations in historical philology appear to have established that the original lndo-European language was a language of herdsmen, spoken by a nomad people 22). There is therefore much evidence to support a view that the lndo-European language, and with it probably the solar cult, was spread by the wanderings of tribes of a nomad people. The archeological evidence makes it probable that the spread of the language and of the solar cult should be placed in association with the wide-spread tribes of the Cord-Ware Culture of the New Stone Age 23).

The characteristic burial customs of the tribes of the Cord-Ware Culture who immigrated into Jutland, with their single graves oriented east-west and with the bodies lying on their sides facing south, may also be regarded as an indication that they were sun-worshippers 24) 25) 26).

Knud A. Larsen





Larsen, K. A. (1955). Solvogn og solkult. Kuml, 5(5), 46–64. Hentet fra