Runes were an ancient writing system used by the Vikings and other Germanic peoples during the early Middle Ages. They were primarily used in Northern Europe, and the oldest known runic inscriptions date back to the 2nd century CE. The word "rune" itself comes from the Old Norse word "rún," meaning "secret" or "whisper."
The runic writing system was made up of characters known as runes, which were typically carved or inscribed onto various materials like stone, metal, wood, and bone. Runic inscriptions were used for a variety of purposes, including commemorative purposes, religious rituals, magical spells, amulets, and simple communication.
The runic alphabet is called the Futhark, named after its first six letters: F, U, Þ (pronounced "thorn"), A, R, and K. The basic Futhark consisted of 24 characters, divided into three groups or "aettir." The different Futharks were used at different periods and regions, with the Elder Futhark being the oldest and used by the early Germanic peoples, including the Vikings.
The use of runes by Vikings can be seen in various contexts:
Communication: Runes were used for everyday communication, similar to how we use alphabets today. They were used to write names, inscribe messages, and label objects.
Epitaphs: Vikings used runic inscriptions on gravestones to commemorate the deceased and provide information about the person's name, lineage, or achievements.
Magical and Divinatory Practices: Runes were believed to possess magical properties and were used for divination and casting spells. The process of divination involved drawing runes from a bag and interpreting their meanings to gain insight into future events or seek guidance.
Amulets and Talismans: Runic symbols were often used as protective amulets and charms to bring good luck, ward off evil spirits, or enhance a person's abilities.
Religious and Ritual Use: Runes were associated with the Norse gods and were used in religious contexts, such as dedications to deities or sacred symbols on temple artifacts.
It's essential to note that the interpretation and usage of runes by Vikings can vary based on historical and cultural contexts. The knowledge of runes and their meanings were often passed down orally and might not have been consistent across different Viking communities. Additionally, with the advent of Christianity and the Latin alphabet, the use of runes gradually declined over time, eventually being replaced by the Latin script. Nonetheless, runes remain an essential part of Viking history and cultural heritage.