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Runes – an old Germanic writing system

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The Runic Writing System

Runes are an old Germanic writing system. Runes were used in Scandinavia, Continental Europe and Britain. The oldest known runic inscription is from Vimose, Denmark, written in an antler comb. It is dated to 160 CE. The origin of the runic writing system is unknown, but it has common attributes with old Italic and Greek alphabets. Although the runes have been in use in large parts of Europe. In Scandinavia runes were still used in the Middle Ages and even in the 19th century in some places. Elsewhere they were given up already in the 8th century during the christianisation.

The name of the runic alphabets in Scandinavia, Futhark, comes from the first letters of the alphabet system. The older Futhark consisted of 24 letters, that were later lessen to 16 (the younger Futhar). In the younger Futhark a letter can have several phones. The most of the found runic inscriptions have been written in the younger Futhark and are dated to Viking Age or later, about 800-1250 CE, most of them between 1000 and 1250 CE.

The best preserved examples of runic inscriptions are big rune stones that are mainly from Scandinavia. The stones were usually made for the honor of the deceased and they were erected from the Migration Period to the Viking Period (5th to 11th century. In addition to the runic texts the stones were decorated with animal motifs and later ones also with Christian symbols. The inscriptions were often carved inside a serpent figure.

Runes of the younger futhark on bone object
The younger futhark runes inscription on bone found in Lund. Picture Wikimedia.
Runestone in Uppsala, Sweden

The Elder Futhark runes

– f Fehu – cattle, prosperity, wealth

– u Uruz, urox – ox, challenge, trial

– th thurisaz – giant, thorn, disruption

– a Ansuz – god, mouth, Odin, communication

– r raidō – wagon, wheel, riding, movement, journey

– k kaunan, kenaz – torch, light, enlightenment, learning

– g gebō – gift, exchange, offering

– w wunjō – joy, delight, happiness, fulfillment

– h hagalaz – hail, bad happenings, disruption, change

– n naudiz – need, destiny, destination, suffering, inability to act

ᛁ- i īsaz – ice, danger, coldness

– j jāran, jera –  year, harvest, growing time, fertility

– ï ïwaz, eihwaz – yew, transition, death, gate

  – p  perqō, pertho – game piece?, gaming, feasting

–  z  algiz – elk, elk sedge, protection, defence[:] – s sōwilō, sowulo – sun, inner light, growth, flourishment, enlightenment, spiritual power

– t  tīwaz- Tyr, the sky god, battle, honor, courage

– b  berkanan – birch, birth, new beginning, fertility, pregnancy

– e  ehwaz – horse, mobility, journeying, partnership

– m  mannaz – man, humanity, ability, creativity

– l  laguz – lake, water, journey by water, spiritual depth

– (i)ng  ingwaz, inguz – Ing, fertility god, sexuality, ancestry

– d  dagaz – day, blessing, enlightenment, the sun’s rays

– o  ōthalan, othila – heritage, possession, Ancestral Hall, home