ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

What are Runes?

Updated on May 1, 2011

Runes are the characters used in writing by the Teutonic tribes of northwestern Europe in early times. Three classes of runes are recognized, Anglo-Saxon, German and Scandinavian, but the differences of form which distinguished them are no wider than the differences between the alphabets employed in very ancient times by various Greek peoples—between the Old Athenian alphabet, for example, and the Old Corinthian, or between the earliest Phoenician and the earliest Hebrew. The name Rune is significant of the use to which this manner of writing was first applied. In Anglo-Saxon run means secret, and runa magician; and the knowledge of runes was confined to a small class—priests or sorcerers. For this reason, upon the introduction of the Christian religion the use of the runes was condemned as connected with heathenish superstitions. A poet of the 6th century, Venantius Fortunatus, tells of runes being written on tablets or slabs of ash (fraxineis tabellis), but there are extant numerous runes inscribed on memorial stones, personal ornaments, rings, and coins, which have been found in Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Germany, and Iceland, and in Britain within the limits of the ancient kingdoms of Northumbria, Mercia, and East Anglia. Some examples of runes have been found in Ireland, France, and Rumania. The best British examples are found on a cross in Ruthwell, Dumfriesshire, Scotland ; on a pillar in Bancastle, Cumberland; and on the Frank's casket in the British Museum. The system of characters called runes gets the name Futhorc from the first six letters, just as the Greek system is called Alphabet from the names of the first two letters, alpha and beta, A and B, or as we call our alphabet the ABC.

The origin of the runes is still a matter of uncertainty. While they are obviously an offshoot of the Helleno-Italic family of alphabets, it is not easy to ascertain at what point they branched out from their ancestral stock. While they have usually been regarded as of a purely Latin origin, the alternative theories have been propounded that they were invented upon a Galatian base, by the Goths soon after their expedition to Asia Minor in 267, and that they are of Euboean origin, through the contact of the Goths with Greek colonies in the Crimea. All these theories depend on a dating of the runes which is itself dependent on that of the Gothic bible of Ulfilas, in which an alphabet is used containing at least two runic characters. The authenticity of the 4th century date usually assigned to Ulfilas, and his bible, has been called into question by the investigations of Leo Wiener, who also explained the order of the runes through their relation to the so-called ogams or tree-runes.

Except in Scandinavia, the runes were always a purely inscriptional alphabet. Scandinavian runic manuscripts exist, but are not older than the 13th century. The Latin alphabet gradually supplanted the runes, though they lingered on in popular use and in calendars until modern times. In England, runes are found between the middle of the 6th and the middle of the 10th centuries. Some Celtic runic inscriptions also exist.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • Mr Knowitall profile imageAUTHOR

      Mr Knowitall 

      7 years ago

      They are interesting aren't they. And steeped in history and mystique.

    • Jhangora profile image

      Dinesh Mohan Raturi 

      7 years ago from Dehradun

      Thanx a lot for a very informative Hub on Runes. I had always been curious to know more about these fascinating pieces of art and history.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)