Aug 9, 2015

Futhark: Mysterious Ancient Runic Alphabet of Northern Europe

Detail of the runic inscription found on one of the copies of the golden horns of Gallehus housed at the Moesgaard Museum.

The word rune comes from the Norse rún which means mystery or secret. Little is known about the origins of the Runic alphabet and no one knows exactly when, where or who invented it.

Runes are the characters of the earliest written alphabet used by the Germanic peoples of Europe called Futhark. The runic alphabet was used within Germanic languages but primarily in Nordic countries. Inscriptions have been found throughout northern Europe from the Balkans to Germany, Scandinavia, the British Isles and Iceland, and were in use from about 100 to 1600 AD. Runic inscriptions have even been found in North America, supporting claims that the Vikings arrived in the Americas long before Columbus. These days English and other Northern European languages are written using Latin letters, but they used to be written using “Runestaves.”

The oldest known runic inscription dates to 160 AD and is found on the Vimose Comb reading simply “HARJA”.


A comb made of antler from around 150 to 200 CE and was found in Vimose on the island of Funen, Denmark. The Elder Futhark inscription reads "Harja", a male name. This is the oldest known runic inscription. The comb is housed at the National Museum of Denmark. Wikimedia Commons

More than 4,000 runic inscriptions and several runic manuscripts have been found with approximately 2,500 of these coming from Sweden. Many date from the 800's to the 1000's, during the period of the Vikings. Runic texts are found on hard surfaces such as rock, wood, and metal. The characters were also scratched on coins, jewelry, monuments, and slabs of stone.



This runic inscription has been carved into bone. Found in Sweden. Wikimedia Commons

The Runic alphabet is known as Futhark after the first six runes, namely f,u,th,a,r and k. It consisted of 24 letters, 18 consonants and 6 vowels, and was a writing system where each character marked a certain sound. Runes could be written in both directions and could also be inverted or upside down. The earliest runes consisted almost entirely of straight lines, arranged singly or in combinations of two or more. Later runes took on more complex forms and some even resemble modern day letters of the English alphabet.

Futhark origins

Because of the resemblance to Mediterranean writing, it is thought that Futhark was adapted from either the Greek or Etruscan alphabet and its origin begins further back than the pre-history of Northern Europe. 
The earliest Futhark inscriptions don’t have a fixed writing direction, but instead were written left-to-right or right-to-left, which was a feature of very archaic Greek or Etruscan alphabets before the third century BC. One theory is that the runic alphabet was developed by the Goths, a Germanic people. Two inscriptions, the Negau and the Maria Saalerberg inscriptions, written in Etruscan script in a Germanic language and dating from the second and first centuries BC, give credence to the theory of Etruscan origins.


A sample of Etruscan text carved into the Cippus Perusinus - a stone tablet discovered on the hill of San Marco, Italy, in 1822. Circa third/second century BC. Wikimedia Commons
Elder Futhark – the oldest runic script

Elder Futhark is thought to be the oldest version of the runic script, and was used in the parts of Europe that were home to Germanic peoples, including Scandinavia. It consisted of 24 letters, and was used mostly before the ninth century AD. This was the ancestor language of English, Dutch, German, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish and Icelandic. As languages changed and more Germanic groups adopted it, Futhark changed to suit the language that it came to write. An early offshoot of Futhark was employed by Goths known as Gothic Runes, which was used until 500 AD before it was replaced by the Greek-based Gothic alphabet. Elder Futhark was used until 550 AD around the Baltic and North Seas to write the language described by Antonson as ‘North-west Germanic’. Unlike other forms of runes, the skill of reading Elder Futhark was lost overtime until it was rediscovered with its decipherment in 1865 by the Norwegian Sophus Bugge.

Younger Futhark or "Normal Runes" evolved from Elder Futhark over a period of many years and stabilized by about 800 AD, the beginning of the Viking Age. Instead of 24 letters, the Scandinavian "Younger" Futhark had 16, as nine of the original Elder Futhark letters were dropped.
The Younger Futhark is divided into two types, short-twig (Swedish and Norwegian) and long-branch (Danish). It was the main alphabet in Norway, Sweden and Denmark throughout the Viking Age, and largely (though not completely) replaced by the Latin alphabet by about 1200 AD, which was a result of the conversion of most of Scandinavia to Christianity. Futhark continued to be used in Scandinavia for centuries, but by 1600 AD, it had become little more than a curiosity among scholars.



Description of the Younger Futhark as "Viking Ogham" in the Book of Ballymote (AD 1390). Public Domain
Futhark is brought to Britain

Between 400 and 600 AD, three Germanic tribes, the Angles, the Saxons and the Jutes, invaded Britain and brought Futhark from continental Europe with them. They modified it into the 33-letter "Futhorc" to accommodate sound changes that were occurring in Old English, the language spoken by the Anglo-Saxons. The name "Futhorc" is evidence to a phonological change where the long /a/ vowel in Old English evolved into a later /o/ vowel. Even though Futhark thrived as a writing system, it started to decline with the spread of the Latin alphabet. In England, Anglo-Saxon Futhorc began to be replaced by Latin by the ninth century AD, and did not survive much more past the Norman Conquest of 1066. By the 1000's, missionaries had converted the Germanic peoples to Christianity.

A secret religious formula?

As runes date from before the time Northern Europe became Christianized, they have become associated with the "pagan" or non-Christian past, and thus a mystique has been cast upon the alphabet. The many meanings of the word have led to a number of theories linking the origin of the runic alphabet to cultic use. When the missionary bishop Wulfila translated the Bible from Greek into Visigothic in the fourth century, he translated the word mysterion to runa. One theory, therefore, is that the oldest Proto-Norse or Proto-Germanic meanings of the word may have been “religious mystery” or “secret religious formula.”



Codex runicus, a vellum manuscript from c. 1300 containing one of the oldest and best preserved texts of the Scanian law (Skånske lov), written entirely in runes. Public Domain

In popular culture, runes have been seen as possessing mystical or magical properties. Historical and fictional, runes appear commonly in modern popular culture, particularly in fantasy literature, video games and various other forms of media. Many modern Wiccan sects use Runes ceremonially and ritualistically.

The ‘secret’ of the runes continues to captivate us today.

Featured image: Detail of the runic inscription found on one of the copies of the golden horns of Gallehus housed at the Moesgaard Museum. Wikimedia Commons

By Bryan Hilliard

References


"The Origins of the Runes." Norse Mythology for Smart People. [Online] Available here.

"Runes." Norse Mythology for Smart People. [Online] Available at: http://norse-mythology.org/runes/

"The Runic Alphabet – Futhark." ThorNews. March 2, 2013. [Online] Available at: http://thornews.com/2013/03/02/the-runic-alphabet-futhark/

"Use of Runes Survived Introduction of Christianity." ThorNews. February 5, 2015. [Online] Available here.

"Ancient Scripts: Futhark." Ancient Scripts: Futhark. [Online] Available at: http://www.ancientscripts.com/futhark.html

"Runic Alphabet." Omniglot. [Online] Available at: http://www.omniglot.com/writing/runic.htm

Read more: http://www.ancient-origins.net/artifacts-ancient-writings/futhark-mysterious-ancient-runic-alphabet-northern-europe-003250#ixzz3haiRfrsu
Follow us: @ancientorigins on Twitter | ancientoriginsweb on Facebook
Post a Comment

Labels

Giveaway ( 3135 ) Excerpt ( 1391 ) blog tour ( 966 ) Book Blitz ( 877 ) Cover Reveal ( 571 ) Guest post ( 528 ) Teaser ( 349 ) Book blast ( 293 ) Interview ( 267 ) Books ( 246 ) Culture ( 246 ) Trailer ( 238 ) freebie ( 227 ) Art ( 226 ) Funny ( 225 ) History ( 220 ) Promotion ( 211 ) Science ( 202 ) Articles ( 181 ) free kindle ( 145 ) Literature ( 142 ) Release Day ( 131 ) Review ( 120 ) Photography ( 115 ) nature ( 113 ) kindle ( 112 ) Gender ( 105 ) Book tour ( 91 ) Authors ( 89 ) new release ( 83 ) myth ( 77 ) Coffee ( 76 ) newsletter ( 72 ) Children ( 70 ) PLAYLIST ( 69 ) Music ( 66 ) box set ( 60 ) Archaeological ( 59 ) illustration ( 56 ) spotlight ( 51 ) food ( 50 ) social ( 48 ) 0.99 sale ( 46 ) YA ( 45 ) contest ( 43 ) fantasy ( 43 ) Mythology ( 42 ) Grand Finale ( 41 ) sale ( 40 ) blog hop ( 37 ) words ( 37 ) Poetry ( 35 ) artist ( 34 ) Characters interviews ( 32 ) Game ( 32 ) syfy ( 32 ) quotes ( 31 ) language ( 30 ) recipe ( 30 ) Release Party ( 29 ) Expert ( 27 ) ads ( 21 ) mystery ( 21 ) Photos ( 20 ) reading ( 20 ) top 10 ( 20 ) Romance ( 19 ) dream cast ( 19 ) Animals ( 18 ) Design ( 18 ) Education ( 18 ) Street Photography ( 18 ) book highlight ( 18 ) facts ( 18 ) comics ( 17 ) health ( 17 ) writing ( 17 ) Folklore ( 16 ) Holidays ( 16 ) Movies ( 16 ) Characters bio ( 15 ) poem ( 15 ) Characters cast ( 14 ) Biology ( 13 ) Book release ( 12 ) Book trailers ( 12 ) Cash Giveaway ( 12 ) Maps ( 12 ) covers ( 12 ) Giveaways ( 11 ) Twitter Blast ( 11 ) Valentine ( 11 ) events ( 11 ) Friday revel ( 10 ) Libraries ( 10 ) Paranormal ( 10 ) Release blitz ( 10 ) agriculture ( 10 ) sport ( 10 ) Publishing ( 9 ) Sneak Peek ( 9 ) work ( 9 ) BOOK SIGNING ( 8 ) Steam-punk ( 8 ) astronomy ( 8 ) interviews ( 8 ) plants ( 8 ) soundtrack ( 8 ) technology ( 8 ) Free Book ( 7 ) Goodreads giveaway ( 7 ) Halloween ( 7 ) NA ( 7 ) Thanks Giving ( 7 ) blog ( 7 ) blog blast ( 7 ) economy ( 7 ) letters ( 7 ) street art ( 7 ) Christmas ( 6 ) Contemporary Romance ( 6 ) Genetic ( 6 ) This and That ( 6 ) YA RELEASES ( 6 ) news ( 6 ) short story ( 6 ) writing tools ( 6 ) Amazon. ( 5 ) Audio ( 5 ) Philosophy ( 5 ) Spring ( 5 ) YA Fantasy ( 5 ) hosting ( 5 ) jobs ( 5 ) mother day ( 5 ) top 5 ( 5 ) Black Friday ( 4 ) BookRave ( 4 ) Characters ( 4 ) Fun Facts ( 4 ) Grammar ( 4 ) Song ( 4 ) Sunday Read Recommendation ( 4 ) Weather ( 4 ) Web ( 4 ) cakes ( 4 ) deals ( 4 ) evolution ( 4 ) gift card ( 4 ) horror ( 4 ) lol ( 4 ) photographer ( 4 ) studies ( 4 ) video ( 4 ) Architecture ( 3 ) Book Swapping ( 3 ) Book tor ( 3 ) Cartoon ( 3 ) Computing ( 3 ) Dance ( 3 ) Easter ( 3 ) Erotica ( 3 ) Indian ( 3 ) Kindle Fire HDx Giveaway ( 3 ) St. Patrick's day ( 3 ) Suspense ( 3 ) TV series ( 3 ) Thriller ( 3 ) Translation ( 3 ) bookstore ( 3 ) chapters ( 3 ) chemistry ( 3 ) contemporary ( 3 ) ecology ( 3 ) fall ( 3 ) film director ( 3 ) guest review ( 3 ) hope ( 3 ) icon ( 3 ) launch day ( 3 ) math ( 3 ) story ( 3 ) summer ( 3 ) syfi ( 3 ) urban ( 3 ) winter ( 3 ) 10 Fun Facts ( 2 ) 10 things ( 2 ) 4th of july ( 2 ) Adventure ( 2 ) Audiobook ( 2 ) Awards ( 2 ) Blogger Appreciation ( 2 ) Book reveling ( 2 ) Bookstores ( 2 ) Clean Sweep ( 2 ) Cover wars ( 2 ) Crime ( 2 ) Debut Author Challenge ( 2 ) Dystopian ( 2 ) Family ( 2 ) Free Shipping ( 2 ) Fun ( 2 ) Gifts ( 2 ) Graphs. STAT ( 2 ) Hop International ( 2 ) Introduction ( 2 ) Literature awards ( 2 ) New Year ( 2 ) Nostalgic ( 2 ) Ocean ( 2 ) Psychological ( 2 ) Psychological Thriller ( 2 ) Reading Contest ( 2 ) Release week ( 2 ) Selfies ( 2 ) Summer Reading ( 2 ) Summery of the year ( 2 ) Tablets ( 2 ) Tea ( 2 ) Titles ( 2 ) add ( 2 ) art Articles ( 2 ) birds ( 2 ) book bash ( 2 ) book contest ( 2 ) bread ( 2 ) cell & molecular biology ( 2 ) children’s literature ( 2 ) climate change ( 2 ) codes ( 2 ) discussion ( 2 ) dragons ( 2 ) ebooks ( 2 ) epic ( 2 ) extreme ( 2 ) facebook ( 2 ) facebook Blast ( 2 ) games & gadgets. test ( 2 ) ilustration ( 2 ) immunology ( 2 ) incredible ( 2 ) internet ( 2 ) labels ( 2 ) lists ( 2 ) lunch blitz ( 2 ) martial ( 2 ) min-interview ( 2 ) monsters ( 2 ) physics ( 2 ) poets ( 2 ) sea ( 2 ) songs tracks ( 2 ) tips ( 2 ) tv ( 2 ) water ( 2 ) wolf ( 2 ) 5 Fun Facts ( 1 ) 5 Rapid Fire Round ( 1 ) A vote ( 1 ) Action ( 1 ) Adult ( 1 ) Adult Historical Fantasy ( 1 ) Adult fiction ( 1 ) African-American Lit ( 1 ) Amazing ( 1 ) Amazon ( 1 ) Amazon.Tech ( 1 ) Announcement ( 1 ) Apology ( 1 ) April ( 1 ) Atlit Yam ( 1 ) B-day ( 1 ) Badass heroes ( 1 ) Baking ( 1 ) Bibliophile ( 1 ) Black & White ( 1 ) Blogoversary ( 1 ) Book Hop ( 1 ) Book Series ( 1 ) Bookfest ( 1 ) Booklikes ( 1 ) Bravery ( 1 ) Bundles ( 1 ) Catalog ( 1 ) Concepts ( 1 ) Critique ( 1 ) Cut Scene ( 1 ) DVD ( 1 ) Did you know ( 1 ) Discovery ( 1 ) Disney ( 1 ) Donation Campaign ( 1 ) Earth Day ( 1 ) Etymology ( 1 ) Extravaganza ( 1 ) FAQ ( 1 ) Falafel Day ( 1 ) Favorite Reads ( 1 ) Folklure ( 1 ) Gadgets ( 1 ) Garden ( 1 ) Geography ( 1 ) Greating ( 1 ) Happy New Year. greatings ( 1 ) Heroes ( 1 ) High-Rise Buildings ( 1 ) Highlights ( 1 ) Holocaust ( 1 ) Infographic ( 1 ) Inspiration ( 1 ) International ( 1 ) Japan ( 1 ) Jazz ( 1 ) Kindness ( 1 ) Linguists ( 1 ) Literary Fiction ( 1 ) Maleficent ( 1 ) Meet the author ( 1 ) Misconceptions ( 1 ) Movie poster ( 1 ) Multicultural ( 1 ) New Adult ( 1 ) New Adult fiction ( 1 ) New Series Releases ( 1 ) Offers ( 1 ) PRE-RELEASE ( 1 ) Parental ( 1 ) Passover ( 1 ) Personal message ( 1 ) Picture Revision ( 1 ) Piracy ( 1 ) Pirates ( 1 ) Preview ( 1 ) Print Design ( 1 ) Psychology ( 1 ) QA ( 1 ) Query Contest ( 1 ) Quet ( 1 ) Quiz ( 1 ) Quize ( 1 ) Random Facts ( 1 ) Rapid Fire Round ( 1 ) Recommends ( 1 ) References ( 1 ) Religion ( 1 ) Reveal ( 1 ) Rhymes ( 1 ) Romantic Suspense ( 1 ) Scavenger Hunt ( 1 ) Scots ( 1 ) Sleeping Beauty ( 1 ) Sparkiversary ( 1 ) Target ( 1 ) Tax day ( 1 ) Tour ( 1 ) Tour Highlight ( 1 ) Tourney ( 1 ) Trivia ( 1 ) Typography ( 1 ) Unbelievable ( 1 ) Urban Fantasy ( 1 ) Vintage ( 1 ) Virtual Book Tour ( 1 ) Visa ( 1 ) WWII ( 1 ) Waiting on Wednesday ( 1 ) Western Historical Romance ( 1 ) What I'm reading ( 1 ) Women ( 1 ) Women’s Fiction ( 1 ) Women’s Lit ( 1 ) YA nonfiction ( 1 ) academic ( 1 ) alternative medical ( 1 ) angry robot ( 1 ) anima ( 1 ) author blog ( 1 ) available ( 1 ) book hunt ( 1 ) book industry ( 1 ) book sketch ( 1 ) book swag ( 1 ) brain ( 1 ) calligraphy ( 1 ) ceremony ( 1 ) challenge ( 1 ) clips ( 1 ) clocks ( 1 ) confidence ( 1 ) convention ( 1 ) crazy ( 1 ) creative ( 1 ) cupping ( 1 ) daimonds ( 1 ) diet ( 1 ) digital copy ( 1 ) discount ( 1 ) drugs ( 1 ) east ( 1 ) editing ( 1 ) essays ( 1 ) fairy tales ( 1 ) fashion ( 1 ) fiction ( 1 ) fool day ( 1 ) genre ( 1 ) gift ( 1 ) global warming ( 1 ) gov ( 1 ) green ( 1 ) greeting ( 1 ) guns ( 1 ) harvest ( 1 ) help ( 1 ) here and there ( 1 ) ideas ( 1 ) indi ( 1 ) infectious disease ( 1 ) info ( 1 ) insects ( 1 ) intro for audio ( 1 ) introducing ( 1 ) labor day ( 1 ) lego ( 1 ) make up ( 1 ) manga ( 1 ) meaning ( 1 ) message ( 1 ) money ( 1 ) monthly ( 1 ) mystical ( 1 ) names ( 1 ) names.culture ( 1 ) new cover ( 1 ) note ( 1 ) olympic ( 1 ) organic ( 1 ) out takes ( 1 ) outage ( 1 ) packing ( 1 ) palentology ( 1 ) party ( 1 ) pepco ( 1 ) physiology ( 1 ) pk ( 1 ) protein ( 1 ) protein foldingץ ( 1 ) protest ( 1 ) public transportation ( 1 ) pulp fiction ( 1 ) rare ( 1 ) recommendation ( 1 ) rescued ( 1 ) retail ( 1 ) reveal tour ( 1 ) revel party ( 1 ) shopping ( 1 ) solutions ( 1 ) support ( 1 ) surfing ( 1 ) survival ( 1 ) swords ( 1 ) tags ( 1 ) theater ( 1 ) title reveal ( 1 ) top 12 ( 1 ) trees ( 1 ) update ( 1 ) visual ( 1 ) winner of giveaway ( 1 ) wo ( 1 )