Runic Alphabet


The runic alphabet is a set of characters (runes) used for writing by ancient Germans. It is a consonant-vowel script, where all vowels are explicitly written. The word “rune” derived from the root “run,” which means “secret”. These symbols may have been given mystical features, which is no wonder, since the shape and appearance of runes looks very “mysterious” too.

The direction of writing is left to right, although there are inscriptions that follow a “serpent” pattern. It means that each line is written in an opposite order. Such way of writing is called boustrophedon. In such cases, the characters written from right to left are mirrored.

With the advent of Christianity, the runic alphabet was replaced by the  Latin alphabet 0041–007A . It remained in use in Iceland and Greenland until the 10th to 13th centuries, and in the territories of present-day Denmark, Sweden, and Norway until the 12th century. It continued to exist until the 19th century in the Swedish province of Dalarna.

Today, approximately 5,000 runic inscriptions have been found. The oldest ones date back to the 1st century. The content of the inscriptions varies, including invocations to gods, praise of returning Vikings from expeditions, and most commonly, memorial inscriptions. There are several theories about the origin of runes. The most popular theory suggests that the runic alphabet derived from one of the northern variants of the  Etruscan alphabet 10300–10323 . It may have also been influenced by the  Ogham script 1680–169C .

The runic alphabet differs from others in its specific letter order. It is called the “futhark,” based on the first six letters.

Germanic runes spread not only among Germans, but among other peoples as well. For example, it became the basis for the Anglo-Saxon runic alphabet.

Runes have a distinctive angular shape, likely because they were carved on stone, metal, bone, or wood. The letters of the Old Turkic alphabet, which have a similar appearance, are also referred to as runes.