The ELDER FUTHARK (also called ELDER FUþARK, OLDER FUTHARK, OLD
FUTHARK or GERMANIC FUTHARK) is the oldest form of the runic alphabets
. It was a writing system used by
* 1 Description
* 2 Origins
* 2.1 Derivation from Italic alphabets * 2.2 Date and purpose of invention
* 3 Rune names
* 4 Inscription corpus
* 4.1 Scandinavian inscriptions * 4.2 Continental inscriptions * 4.3 Distribution * 4.4 List of inscriptions
f u þ a r k g w
h n i j ï p z s
t b e m l ŋ d o
þ corresponds to . ï is also transliterated as æ and may have been
either a diphthong or a vowel near or . Z was
The earliest known sequential listing of the alphabet dates to 400
and is found on the
Two instances of another early inscription were found on the two Vadstena and Mariedamm bracteates (6th century), showing the division in three ætts, with the positions of ï, P and O, D inverted compared to the Kylver stone: F U þ A R K G W; H N I J ï P Z S; T B E M L ŋ O D
DERIVATION FROM ITALIC ALPHABETS
The angular shapes of the runes, presumably an adaptation to the
incision in wood or metal, are not a Germanic innovation, but a
property that is shared with other early alphabets, including the Old
Italic ones (compare, for example, the
The F, A, G, I, T, M and L runes show no variation, and are generally accepted as identical to the Old Italic or Latin letters F, A, X, I, T, M and L, respectively. There is also wide agreement that the U, R, K, H, S, B and O runes respectively correspond directly to V, R, C, H, S, B and O.
The runes of uncertain derivation may either be original innovations,
or adoptions of otherwise unneeded Latin letters. Odenstedt 1990 , p.
163 suggests that all 22 Latin letters of the classical Latin alphabet
(1st Century, ignoring marginalized K ) were adopted (þ from D, Z
from Y, ŋ from Q, W from P, J from G, ï from Z), with two runes (P
and D ) left over as original Germanic innovations, but there are
conflicting scholarly opinions regarding the E (from E ?), N (from N
?), þ (D ? or
Of the 24 runes in the classical futhark row attested from 400
Note that the "mature" runes of the 6th to 8th centuries tend to have only three directions of strokes, the vertical and two diagonal directions. Early inscriptions also show horizontal strokes: these appear in the case of E (mentioned above), but also in T, L, ŋ and H.
DATE AND PURPOSE OF INVENTION
The general agreement dates the creation of the first runic alphabet
to roughly the 1st century. Early estimates include the 1st century
BC, and late estimates push the date into the 2nd century. The
question is one of estimating the "findless" period separating the
script's creation from the
Other scholars are content to assume a findless period of a few decades, pushing the date into the early 2nd century. Pedersen (and with him Odenstedt) suggests a period of development of about a century to account for their assumed derivation of the shapes of þ and J from Latin D and G.
The invention of the script has been ascribed to a single person or a group of people who had come into contact with Roman culture, maybe as mercenaries in the Roman army, or as merchants. The script was clearly designed for epigraphic purposes, but opinions differ in stressing either magical, practical or simply playful (graffiti ) aspects. Bæksted 1952 , p. 134 concludes that in its earliest stage, the runic script was an "artificial, playful, not really needed imitation of the Roman script ", much like the Germanic bracteates were directly influenced by Roman currency, a view that is accepted by Odenstedt 1990 , p. 171 in the light of the very primitive nature of the earliest (2nd to 4th century) inscription corpus.
Each rune most probably had a name, chosen to represent the sound of the rune itself.
The Old English names of all 24 runes of the Elder Futhark, along
with five names of runes unique to the
This concerns primarily the runes used magically , especially the
Ansuz runes which are taken to symbolize or invoke deities
in sequences such as that on the
Reconstructed names in
ᚠ F /f/ *fehu "wealth, cattle"
ᚢ U /u(ː)/ ?*ūruz "aurochs " (or *ûram "water/slag"?)
ᚱ R /r/ *raidō "ride, journey"
ᚲ K (C) /k/ ?*kaunan "ulcer"? (or *kenaz "torch"?)
ᚷ G /ɡ/ *gebō "gift"
ᚹ W /w/ *wunjō "joy"
ᚾ N /n/ *naudiz "need"
ᛁ I /i(ː)/ *īsaz "ice"
ᛃ J /j/ *jēra- "year, good year, harvest"
ᛇ ï (æ) /æː/(?) *ī(h)waz/*ei(h)waz "yew-tree"
ᛈ P /p/ ?*perþ- meaning unclear, perhaps "pear-tree".
ᛒ B /b/ *berkanan "birch "
ᛖ E /e(ː)/ *ehwaz "horse"
ᛚ L /l/ *laguz "water, lake" (or possibly *laukaz "leek")
ᛞ D /d/ *dagaz "day"
The rune names stood for their rune because of the first phoneme in
the name (the principle of acrophony ), with the exception of Ingwaz
and Algiz: the
* Mythology: Tiwaz, Thurisaz, Ingwaz, God, Man, Sun. * Nature and environment: Sun, day, year, hail, ice, lake, water, birch, yew, pear, elk, aurochs, ear (of grain). * Daily life and human condition : Man, wealth/cattle, horse, estate/inheritance, slag/protection from evil, ride/journey, year/harvest, gift, joy, need, ulcer/illness.
Elder Futhark inscriptions
Old Futhark inscriptions were found on artifacts scattered between
the Carpathians and Lappland , with the highest concentration in
Words frequently appearing in inscriptions on bracteates with
possibly magical significance are ALU , LAþU and LAUKAZ. While their
meaning is unclear, ALU has been associated with "ale, intoxicating
drink", in a context of ritual drinking , and LAUKAZ with "leek,
garlic", in a context of fertility and growth. An example of a longer
early inscription is on a 4th-century axe-handle found in Nydam,
The oldest known runic inscription dates to 160 and is found on the
The typically Scandinavian runestones begin to show the transition to
The longest known inscription in the Elder Futhark, and one of the youngest, consists of some 200 characters and is found on the early 8th century Eggjum stone , and may even contain a stanza of Old Norse poetry .
The Caistor-by-Norwich astragalus reading RAïHAN "deer" is notable as the oldest inscription of the British Isles, dating to 400, the very end of Roman Britain and just predating the modifications leading to the Anglo-Saxon futhorc .
The oldest inscriptions (before 500) found on the Continent are
divided into two groups, the area of the North Sea coast and Northern
Germany (including parts of the Netherlands) associated with the
In this early period, there is no specifically West Germanic runic
tradition. This changes from the early 6th century, and for about one
century (520 to 620), an Alamannic "runic province" emerges, with
examples on fibulae, weapon parts and belt buckles. As in the East
Germanic case, use of runes subsides with Christianization, in the
case of the
There are some 350 known
Elder Futhark inscriptions
Elder Futhark inscriptions
Estimates of the total number of inscriptions produced are based on the "minimal runological estimate" of 40,000 (ten individuals making ten inscriptions per year for four centuries). The actual number was probably considerably higher. The 80 known Southern inscriptions are from some 100,000 known graves. With an estimated total of 50,000,000 graves (based on population density estimates), some 80,000 inscriptions would have been produced in total in the Merovingian South alone (and maybe close to 400,000 in total, so that of the order of 0.1% of the corpus has come down to us), and Fischer 2004 , p. 281 estimates a population of several hundred active literati throughout the period, with as many as 1,600 during the Alamannic "runic boom" of the 6th century.
LIST OF INSCRIPTIONS
After Looijenga 1997 , Lüthi 2004 .
* Period I (150–550)
* Bracteates: total 133 (see also ALU )
* Period II (550–700)
* South-Eastern Europe (200–550): 4 AD.
* Continental inscriptions (mainly Germany; 200–700): 50 legible, 15 illegible (39 brooches, 11 weapon parts, 4 fittings and belt buckles, 3 strap ends, 8 other)
* English and Frisian (300–700): 44; see futhorc
Further information: Runic (
Encoded separately is the "continental" double-barred h-rune, ᚻ. A
graphical variant of the ng-rune, ᛝ, is also encoded separately.
These two have separate codepoints because they become independent
letters in the Anglo-Saxon futhorc . The numerous other graphical
* ^ Speculated by Looijenga 1997 to be a variant of B .
* ^ Westergaard 1981 postulates occurrence in 34
* ^ Vänehem, Mats, Forskning om runor och runstenar (article),
Stockholms Lans Museum .
* ^ Elliott 1980 , p. 14.
* ^ Gippert, Jost, The Development of Old Germanic Alphabets, Uni
* ^ Stifter 2010 , p. 374.
* ^ Odenstedt 1990 , pp. 160ff.
* ^ Moltke 1976 , p. 54: "the year 0±100".
* ^ Askeberg 1944 , p. 77.
* ^ Odenstedt 1990 , p. 168.
* ^ Moltke 1976 , p. 53.
* ^ Page 2005 , pp. 8, 15–16. The asterisk before the rune names
means that they are unattested reconstructions.
* ^ "Runic", Nordic life .
* ^ Ilkjær 1996 , p. 74 in Looijenga 2003 , p. 78.
* ^ Martin 2004 , p. 173.
* ^ Martin 2004 .
* ^ Fischer 2004 , p. 281.
* ^ Lüthi 2004 , p. 321.
* ^ Lüthi 2004 , p. 323.
* ^ Jansson, Sven Birger Fredrik (1962), The runes of Sweden,
Bedminster Press, pp. iii–iv, The oldest known runic inscription
from Sweden is found on a spearhead, recovered from a grave at Mos in
the parish of
* Bæksted, A (1952), Målruner og troldruner, Copenhagen .
* Elliott, Ralph Warren Victor (1980), Runes: An Introduction,
Manchester University Press, ISBN 0-7190-0787-9
* Fischer, Svante (2004), "Alemannia and the North — Early Runic
Contexts Apart (400–800)", in Naumann, Hans-Peter; Lanter,
Franziska; et al., Alemannien und der Norden, Berlin: Walter de
Gruyter, pp. 266–317, ISBN 3-11-017891-5
* Ilkjær, Jørgen (1996), "Runeindskrifter fra mosefund i Danmark
– kontekst og oprindelse", Frisian