Little is known about the origins of the Runic alphabet, which is
traditionally known as futhark after the first six letters.
In Old Norse the word rune means 'letter', 'text' or 'inscription'. The
word also means 'mystery' or 'secret' in Old Germanic languages and
runes had a important role in ritual and magic.
Here are some theories about the origins of runes:
- The alphabet was probably created independently rather than evolving
from another alphabet.
- Runic writing was probably first used in southern Europe and was carried
north by Germanic tribes.
The Runic alphabet is thought to have been modelled on the
Latin and/or Etruscan
The earliest known Runic inscriptions date from the 1st century AD,
but the vast majority of Runic inscriptions date from the 11th century.
Runic inscriptions have been found throughout Europe from the Balkans
to Germany, Scandinavia and the British Isles.
- The direction of writing in early Runic inscriptions is variable.
Later they settled down into a left to right pattern
- Word divisions were not generally recognised in Runic writing, although
one or more dots were occasionally used for this function.
Types of runic inscriptions include:
- 'Hrolf was here' type inscriptions on cliff walls, large
rocks and buildings
- grave stone inscriptions, often with who carved the runes and
who was buried, and also who made sure the stone was raised.
(Later grave slabs or stone coffins were sometimes inscribed with
Christian texts carved in runes)
- religious/magic inscriptions: prayers and curses, formulas on
- inscriptions related to trade and politics: There are many examples
of trade communication: stock orders and descriptions, excuses for
not having payed on time, trade name tags for bags or cases of produce,
etc. The trade inscriptions are often carved on wooden rune sticks.
Political inscriptions are to do with matters of the law, historical
figures state that they were somewhere hiding from the enemy, secret
messages to do with the fighting of wars, etc.
- personal letters: love letters, greetings between friends, proposals,
- rude messages, similar to modern graffiti
- Art and craft-signatures: Goldsmiths, blacksmiths, wood carvers,
church builders, etc., often put their name on what they made. Objects
also somtimes had names carved onto them – either the name of the object
itself, or the name of the person who owned it.
There are a number of different Runic alphabets including:
Elder Futhark is thought to be the oldest version of the Runic alphabet,
and was used in the parts of Europe which were home to Germanic peoples,
including Scandinavia. Other versions probably developed from it. The
names of the letters are shown in Common Germanic, the reconstructed
ancestor of all Germanic languages.
The letter k is also called kēnaz (torch) or
kanō (skiff). The meaning of the letter name perþ
Younger Futhork or "Normal Runes" gradually evolved Elder
Futhark over a period of many years and stabilized by about 800 A.D.,
the beginning of the Viking Age. It was the main alphabet in Norway,
Sweden and Denmark throughout the Viking Age, but was largely though
not completely replaced by the Latin alphabet by about 1200 as a result
of the conversion of most of Scandinavia to Christianity.
Three slightly different versions of the alphabet developed in Denmark,
Sweden and Norway:
Swedish-Norwegian / Short-twig / Rök Runes
Gothenburg / Bohuslän Runes
Medieval (Latinised) Futhark
After the arrival of Christianity in Scandinavia, the Runic alphabet was
Latinised and was used occasionally, mainly for decoration, until 1850.
Thanks to Niklas Dougherty for some of the information on this page.
Sample text - Lord's Prayer in Old Norse (Runic alphabet - Futhark)
Faðer uor som ast i himlüm, halgað warðe þit nama. Tilkomme
þit rikie. Skie þin uilie so som i himmalan so oh bo iordanne. Wort
dahliha broð gif os i dah. Oh forlat os uora skuldar so som oh ui
forlate þem os skuüldihi are. Oh inleð os ikkie i frestalsan utan frels
os ifra ondo. Tü rikiað ar þit oh mahtan oh harlihheten i ewihhet. Aman.
More information about Old Norse
Download these alphabet charts (Excel speadsheet)
Information about the Runic alphabets
Nytt om runer: Meldingsblad om runeforskning - the international periodical for runic studies
An English Dictionary of Runic Inscriptions of the Younger Futhark
The mystery of the Runic alphabet - discusses the connections between
Scandinavian and Turkic runes: http://www.antalyaonline.net/futhark
Runes Secrets - How to Use the Elder Futhark Runes
Free Runic fonts
Your name in runes
ALPHABETUM - a Unicode font
specifically designed for ancient scripts, including classical
& medieval Latin, ancient Greek, Etruscan, Oscan, Umbrian,
Faliscan, Messapic, Picene, Iberian, Celtiberian, Gothic, Runic,
Old & Middle English, Hebrew, Sanskrit, Old Nordic, Ogham,
Kharosthi, Glagolitic, Old Cyrillic, Phoenician, Avestan, Ugaritic,
Linear B, Anatolian scripts, Coptic, Cypriot, Brahmi, Old Persian cuneiform:
Runic and Rune-like scripts
Medieval (Latinised) Futhark,
Székely-Hungarian Rovás (Hungarian Runes),
Turkic (Orkhon) Runes
Borama / Gadabuursi,
Carpathian Basin Rovas,
Old Church Slavonic,
Oirat Clear Script,
Székely-Hungarian Rovás (Hungarian Runes),