Runic alphabet

Runic alphabet

Infobox Writing system
languages=Germanic languages
time=Elder Futhark from the 2nd century AD.
fam1=Phoenician alphabet
fam2=Greek alphabet (Cumae variant)
fam3=Old Italic alphabet
sisters=Latin alphabet
children=Younger Futhark, Anglo-Saxon futhorc

The runic alphabets are a set of related alphabets using letters known as runes to write various Germanic languages prior to the adoption of the Latin alphabet and for specialized purposes thereafter. The Scandinavian variants are also known as futhark (or fuþark, derived from their first six letters of the alphabet: "F", "U", "Þ", "A", "R", and "K"); the Anglo-Saxon variant as "futhorc" (due to sound changes undergone in Old English by the same six letters).

The earliest runic inscriptions date from around 150 AD, and the alphabet was generally replaced by the Latin alphabet with Christianization by around 700 AD in central Europe and by around 1100 AD in Scandinavia; however, the use of runes persisted for specialized purposes in Scandinavia, longest in rural Sweden until the early twentieth century (used mainly for decoration as runes in Dalarna and on Runic calendars).

The three best-known runic alphabets are the Elder Futhark (around 150 to 800 AD), the Anglo-Saxon runes (400 to 1100 AD), and the Younger Futhark (800–1100). The Younger Futhark is further divided into the long-branch runes (also called "Danish", although they were also used in Norway and Sweden), short-twig or Rök runes (also called "Swedish-Norwegian", although they were also used in Denmark), and the Hälsinge runes (staveless runes). The Younger Futhark developed further into the Marcomannic runes, the Medieval runes (1100 AD to 1500 AD), and the Dalecarlian runes (around 1500 to 1800 AD).

The origins of the runic alphabet are uncertain. Many characters of the Elder Futhark bear a close resemblance to characters from the Latin alphabet. Other candidates are the 5th to 1st century BC Northern Italic alphabets: Lepontic, Rhaetic and Venetic, all of which are closely related to each other and descend from the Old Italic alphabet.


The runes were introduced to the Germanic peoples in the 1st or 2nd century AD. (The oldest known runic inscription dates to around 150 AD and is found on a comb discovered in the bog of Vimose, Funen, Denmark. [Stoklund (2003:173)] The inscription reads "harja"; a disputed candidate for a 1st century inscription is on the Meldorf fibula in southern Jutland). This period may correspond to the late Proto-Germanic or Common Germanic stage linguistically, with a continuum of dialects not yet clearly separated into the three branches of later centuries; North Germanic, West Germanic, and East Germanic.

No distinction is made in surviving runic inscriptions between long and short vowels, although such a distinction was certainly present phonologically in the spoken languages of the time. Similarly, there are no signs for labiovelars in the Elder Futhark (such signs were introduced in both the Anglo-Saxon futhorc and the Gothic alphabet as variants of "p"; see peorð.)

The name given to the signs, contrasting them with Latin or Greek letters, is attested on a 6th century Alammanic runestaff as "runa", and possibly as "runo" on the 4th century Einang stone. The name is from a root "run-" (Gothic "runa"), meaning "secret" or "whisper" (In Finnish, the term "runo" was loaned to mean "poem").



In Norse mythology, the runic alphabet is attested to a divine origin (Old Norse: "reginkunnr"). This is attested as early as on the Noleby Runestone from around 600 CE that reads "Runo fahi raginakundo toj [e'k] a...", meaning "I prepare the suitable divine rune ..."Entry Vg 63 in Rundata 2.0 for Windows.] and in an attestation from the 9th century on the Sparlösa Runestone which reads "Ok rað runaR þaR rægi [n] kundu", meaning "And interpret the runes of divine origin".Entry Vg 119 in Rundata 2.0 for Windows.] More notably, in the Poetic Edda poem "Hávamál", Stanza 80, the runes are also described as "reginkunnr":

In the Poetic Edda poem "Rígsþula" another origin is related of how the runic alphabet became known to man. The poem relates how Ríg, identified as Heimdall in the introduction, sired three sons (Thrall (slave), Churl (freeman) and Jarl (noble)) on human women. These sons became the ancestors of the three classes of men indicated by their names. When Jarl reached an age when he began to handle weapons and show other signs of nobility, Rig returned and, having claimed him as a son, taught him the runes. In 1555, the exiled Swedish archbishop Olaus Magnus recorded a tradition that a man named Kettil Runske had stolen three rune staffs from Odin and learned the runes and their magic.



thumb|right|_Codex Runicus, a vellum manuscript from around 1300 AD containing one of the oldest and best preserved texts of the Scanian Law, written entirely in runes.] The runes developed centuries after the Mediterranean alphabets from which they are potentially descended. There are some similarities to alphabets of Phoenician origin (Latin, Greek, Italic) that cannot possibly all be due to chance; an Old Italic alphabet, more particularly the Raetic alphabet of Bolzano, is often quoted as a candidate for the origin of the runes, with only five Elder Futhark runes ( runic|ᛖ "e", runic|ᛇ "ï", runic|ᛃ "j", runic|ᛜ "ŋ", runic|ᛈ "p") having no counterpart in the Bolzano alphabet (Mees 2000). This hypothesis is often denied by Scandinavian scholars, who usually favour a Latin origin for most or all of the runic letters (Odenstedt 1990; Williams 1996). [Cf. [ Oxford Dictionary of the Middle Ages (book under preparation)] ] An Old Italic or "North Etruscan" thesis is supported by the inscription on the Negau helmet dating to the 2nd century BC (Markey 2001). This is in a northern Etruscan alphabet, but features a Germanic name, "Harigast". New archaeological evidence came from [ Monte Calvario] (Auronzo di Cadore).

The angular shapes of the runes are shared with most contemporary alphabets of the period used for carving in wood or stone. A peculiarity of the runic alphabet as compared to the Old Italic family is rather the absence of "horizontal" strokes. Runes were commonly carved on the edge of narrow pieces of wood. The primary grooves cut spanned the whole piece vertically, against the grain of the wood: curves are difficult to make, and horizontal lines get lost among the grain of the split wood. This vertical characteristic is also shared by other alphabets, such as the early form of the Latin alphabet used for the Duenos inscription.

The "West Germanic hypothesis" speculates on an introduction by West Germanic tribes. This hypothesis is based on claiming that the earliest inscriptions of around 200 AD, found in bogs and graves around Jutland (the Vimose inscriptions), exhibit word endings that, being interpreted by Scandinavian scholars to be Proto-Norse, are considered unresolved and having been long the subject of discussion. Inscriptions like "wagnija", "niþijo", and "harija" are supposed to incarnate tribenames, tentatively proposed to be Vangiones, the Nidensis and the Harii, tribes located in the Rhineland. [Looijenga, J. H. (1997). " [ Runes around the North Sea and on the Continent 150-700CE] ", dissertation, Groningen University.] Since names ending in "-io" reflect Germanicmorphology representing the Latin ending "-ius", and the suffix "-inius" was reflected by Germanic "-inio-", [Weisgerber 1968:135, 392ff. and Weisgerber 1966/67:207] the question of the problematic ending "-ijo" in masculine Proto-Norse would be resolved by assuming Roman (Rhineland) influences, while "the awkwardending -a of laguþewa (cf. Syrett 1994:44f.) can be solved by accepting the fact that the name may indeed be West Germanic;" [Looijenga, J. H. (1997). " [ Runes around the North Sea and on the Continent AD 150-700] ", dissertation, Groningen University.] however, it should be noted that in the early Runic period differences between Germanic languages are generally assumed to be minute. Another theory assumes a Northwest Germanic unity preceding the emergence of Proto-Norse proper from roughly the 5th century. [Penzl (1994) assumes a period of "Proto-Nordic-Westgermanic" unity down to the 5th century and the Gallehus horns inscription. H. Penzl, Language (1994), p. 186; in greater detail in "Englisch: Eine Sprachgeschichte nach Texten von 350 bis 1992 : vom Nordisch-Westgermanischen zum Neuenglischen" (1994); the division between Northwest Germanic and Proto-Norse is somewhat arbitrary, see Elmer H. Antonsen, "On Defining Stages in Prehistoric Germanic", Language (1965), p. 36] An alternative suggestion explaining the impossibility to classify the earliest inscriptions as either North or West Germanic is forwarded by È. A. Makaev, who assumes a "special runic koine", an early "literary Germanic" employed by the entire Late Common Germanic linguistic community after the separation of Gothic (2nd to 5th centuries), while the spoken dialects may already have been more diverse. [cited after . Antonsen (1965), p. 36]

The formation of the Elder Futhark was complete by the early 5th century, with the Kylver Stone being the first evidence of the "futhark" ordering as well as of the "p" rune.

Runic divination

thumb|An_illustration_of_the_Gummarp Runestone (500 to 700 AD) from Blekinge, Sweden.]

In stanza 157 of "Hávamál", the runes are attributed with the power to bring that which is dead to life. In this stanza, Odin recounts a spell:

ee also

*Runamo – a false runic inscription
*"Solomon and Saturn"
*Codex Runicus
*Computus Runicus

Other scripts, reminiscent of, based on or related to runes:
*Old Italic alphabet
*Ogham, the early Irish monumental alphabet
*the "Armanen runes", invented by Guido von List
*the Cirth "runes", invented by J. R. R. Tolkien
*Orkhon script and Old Hungarian script (sometimes referred to as Turkic and Hungarian runes)
*Slavic runes (unattested sign system postulated from medieval accounts)
*Siglas Poveiras



* Bammesberger, A and G. Waxenberger (eds), "Das "fuþark" und seine einzelsprachlichen Weiterentwicklungen", Walter de Gruyter (2006), ISBN 3-11-019008-7.
* Blum, Ralph. (1932. "The Book of Runes - A Handbook for the use of Ancient Oracle : The Viking Runes",Oracle Books, St. Martin's Press, New York, ISBN 0-312-00729-9.
* Brate, Erik (1922). "Sveriges runinskrifter", ( [ online text] in Swedish)
* Düwel, Klaus (2001). "Runenkunde", Verlag J.B. Metzler (In German).
* Foote, P.G., and Wilson, D.M. (1970), page 401. "The Viking Achievement", Sidgwick & Jackson: London, UK, ISBN 0-283-97926-7
* Looijenga, J. H. (1997). " [ Runes around the North Sea and on the Continent AD 150-700] ", dissertation, Groningen University.
* MacLeod, Mindy, and Bernard Mees (2006). " [ Runic Amulets and Magic Objects] " . The Boydell Press: Woodbridge, UK; Rochester, NY, ISBN 1843832054.
* Markey, T.L. (2001). A tale of the two helmets: Negau A and B. "Journal of Indo-European Studies" 29: 69-172.
* McKinnell, John and Rudolf Simek, with Klaus Düwel (2004). "Runes, Magic, and Religion: A Sourcebook". Wien: Fassbaender, ISBN 3900538816.
* Mees, Bernard (200). The North Etruscan thesis of the origin of the runes. "Arkiv for nordisk fililogi" 115: 33-82.
* Odenstedt, Bengt (1990). "On the Origin and Early History of the Runic Script", Uppsala, ISBN 9185352209.
* Page, R.I. (1999). " [ An Introduction to English Runes] ", The Boydell Press, Woodbridge. ISBN 0-85115-946-X.
* Prosdocimi, A.L. (2003-4). Sulla formazione dell'alfabeto runico. Promessa di novità documentali forse decisive. "Archivio per l'Alto Adige". XCVII-XCVIII:427-440
* Robinson, Orrin W. (1992). "Old English and its Closest Relatives: A Survey of the Earliest Germanic Languages" Stanford University Press. ISBN 0-8047-1454-1
* Spurkland, Terje (2005). "Norwegian Runes and Runic Inscriptions", Boydell Press. ISBN 1-84383-186-4
* Stoklund, M. (2003). "The first runes - the literary language of the Germani" in "The Spoils of Victory - the North in the Shadow of the Roman Empire" Nationalmuseet (?)
* Werner, Carl-Gustav (2004). "The allrunes Font and Package"PDFlink| [] .
* Williams, Henrik. (1996). The origin of the runes. "Amsterdamer Beiträge zur älteren Germanistik' 45: 211-18.
* Williams, Henrik (2004). "Reasons for runes," in "The First Writing: Script Invention as History and Process", Cambridge University Press, pp. 262-273. ISBN 0-521-83861-4

External links

* [ Futhark entry.]
* [ runic alphabet entry.]
* [ "Nytt om Runer" Magazine.]
* [ Bibliography of Runic Scholarship]


*PDFlink| [ Unicode Code Chart] |68.3 KB

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