RUNES, ALPHABET OF MYSTERY

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Origins of the Runes

A reader directed me to a wonderful website called "Omniglot, a guide to writing systems", which illustrates examples of various alphabets of the world. By examining some of these we can begin to see the influences which may have led to development of the Germanic/Norse rune alphabets. It is commonly thought that the Etruscan and Latin alphabets were sources, but as you will see below, there may have been others, also. All of the data that follows are from the information and graphics from the Omniglot website.

First, let's look at the major runic alphabets (called "futharks" based upon the first six symbols). There are many other variants, but the Elder, Anglo-Saxon, and Younger Futharks are the most well-known.

Runes were used to write many languages including, Gothic, German, Frisian, English, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Icelandic, Lithuanian, Russian, Hebrew and other Semitic languages (due to trade relations with the Khazars, a Semitic tribe of traders of the Silk Road).

The runes might be read from left to right or from right to left, even on the same artifact. Translation of runic inscriptions is therefore extremely difficult, and complicated by the fact that rune masters sometimes wrote cryptic puzzles or in secret script.

Elder Futhark

"The 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."

Elder Futhark

 Anglo-Saxon Futhorc

"A number of extra letters were added to the runic alphabet to write Anglo-Saxon/Old English. Runes were probably bought to Britain in the 5th century by the Angles, Saxons, Jutes and Frisians (collectively known as the Anglo-Saxons), and were used until about the 11th century. Runic inscriptions are mostly found on jewelry, weapons, stones and other objects. Very few examples of runic writing on manuscripts have survived. " [The chart that follows is incomplete. There are additional A-S runes, which you can see here.]

Anglo-Saxon Futhorc

Younger Futhark

"This version of the runic alphabet was used sporadically in Scandinavia, in particular in Denmark and Sweden, until about the 17th century ." [There are variants of the Younger Futhark also, which you can see here.]

Younger Futhark

The commonality of symbols of all of the following alphabets makes sense when one considers the migration of ancient peoples from the east to the west. The people and languages of northern Europe are considered "Indo-European" because of this migration. It's not unreasonable that customs, languages, alphabets, mythology, etc. share common origins. Staggering, isn't it!

Etruscan Alphabets

"The Etruscan alphabet is thought to have been developed from the Greek alphabet by Greek colonists in Italy. The earliest known inscription dates from the middle of the 6th century BC.

More than 10,000 Etruscan inscriptions have been found on tombstones, vases, statues, mirrors and jewelry. Fragments of a Etruscan book made of linen have also been found.

Most Etruscan inscriptions are written in horizontal lines from left to right, but some are boustrophedon (running alternately left to right then right to left).

Used to write: Etruscan, a language spoken by the Etruscans, who lived in Etruria (Tuscany and Umbria) between about the 8th century BC and the 1st century AD. Little is known about the Etruscans or their language."

Archaic Etruscan alphabet (7th-5th centuries BC)

Ancient Etruscan

Neo-Etruscan alphabet (4th-3rd centuries BC)

Neo Etruscan

 

Latin Alphabets

"The Old Italic alphabets developed from the west Greek alphabet, which came to Italy via the Greek colonies on Sicily and along the west coast of Italy. The Etruscans adapted the Greek alphabet to write Etruscan sometime during the 6th century BC, or possibly earlier. Most of the other alphabets used in Italy are thought to have derived from the Etruscan alphabet."

Ancient Latin

"The earliest known inscriptions in the Latin alphabet date from the 6th century BC. It was adapted from the Etruscan alphabet during the 7th century BC. The letters Y and Z were taken from the Greek alphabet to write Greek loan words. Other letters were added from time to time as the Latin alphabet was adapted for other languages."

Anciet Latin

Faliscan

Faliscan

Marsiliana

Marsiliana

Messapic

"The Messapic alphabet is thought to have derived directly from the Greek alphabet, rather than developing from the Etruscan alphabet. The only known inscriptions in the Messapic alphabet date from the 2nd and 1st centuries BC. The Messapic language was not related to other languages of Italy."

Messapic

Middle Adriatic - South Picene

Middle Adriatic - South Picene

North Picene

North Picene

Oscan

Oscan

Umbrian

Umbrian

Roman Alphabet for Latin

"The Romans used just 23 letters to write Latin. There were no lower case letters, and K, X, Y and Z used only for writing words of Greek origin. The letters J, U and W were added to the alphabet at a later stage to write languages other than Latin. J is a variant of I, U is a variant of V, and W was introduced as a 'double-v' to make a distinction between the sounds we know as 'v' and 'w' which was unnecessary in Latin."

Latin Alphabet

 

Other Alphabets

But what other alphabets may have influenced runes? Remember that over the millennia there was a great migration of people, spreading from the birthplace of mankind, in the "middle east" to what are now Europe and northern Africa. Ancient people did travel--a lot--and long before the Vikings became known as explorers and traders.

Hungarian Runes

"Hungarian runes (Székely Rovásírás) are descended from the Kök Turki script used in Central Asia. They were used by the Székler Magyars in Hungary before István, the first Christian king of Hungary, ordered all pre-Christian writings to be destroyed. In remote parts of Transylvania however, the runes were still used up until the 1850s. Hungarian runes were usually written on sticks in boustrophedon style (alternating direction right to left then left to right). The runes include separate letters for all the phonemes of Hungarian and are in this respect better suited to written Hungarian than the Latin alphabet. "

Hungarian Runes

Turkish Runes

The upper rune rows are the Elder Futhark variants. The lower rune row shows the Turkish Runes and their phonetic equivalents.

Turkish runes

Tifinagh abjad

"The Tifinagh or Tifinigh abjad is thought to have derived from the ancient Berber script. [Berbers were mountain people, who lived in northwestern Africa, in what is now Morocco.] The name Tifinagh means 'the Phoenician letters', or possibly comes from the Greek word for writing tablet, 'pínaks'. It is not taught in schools, but is still used occasionally by the Tuareg for private notes, love letters and in decoration. For public purposes, the Arabic alphabet is used."

Tifinagh abjad

South Arabian Alphabet

"The South Arabian alphabet is known from inscriptions found in southern Arabia dating from between 600 BC and 600 AD. Its origins are not known. The South Arabian alphabet, like Arabic and Hebrew, includes only consonants. It was written from right to left in horizontal lines. The top row of letters are written in monumental style, while the bottom row of letters are in cursive style. "

South Arabian Alphabet

Sabaean Alphabet

"The Sabaean or Sabaic alphabet is one of the south Arabian alphabets. The oldest known inscriptions in this alphabet date from about 500 BC. Its origins are not known, though one theory is that it developed from the Byblos alphabet. The Sabaean alphabet, like Arabic and Hebrew, includes only consonants. Unlike Arabic and Hebrew, Sabaean has no system for vowel indication. In most inscriptions it is written from right to left, in some it is written in boustrophedon style (alternating right to left and left to right). It was used to write Sabaean, an extinct Semitic language spoken in Saba, the biblical Sheba, in southwestern Arabia. The Sabaeans managed to unite southern Arabia into a single state by the 3rd century AD, but were conquered by the Abyssinians in 525 AD. "

Sabaean Alphabet

 

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