On Runic Literacy


By Kvasir 2020


The above all-encompassing headline ”On runic literacy” deliberately leaves the space free for all broad, social or basic and pertinent questions about why Germanics / Northerners in contact with the Roman Empire during the late 100’s AD created a separate runic alphabet, the fuþark, instead of simply embracing the already existing and successful Latin alphabet? This text will deal with the literacy of the elder fuþark while the writing in the younger Viking Age fuþark will be dealt with in the text Runic-Literacy-2.txt.

The Germanics / Old Norse had realized that the Latin script was alphabetical, ie. that a script character corresponded to a language sound and that several characters could be written sequentially so that they together formed the language sounds of a spoken word. This is unlike an image and concept-oriented writing system such as hieroglyphs or the Chinese script. A lot of the origin-signs for the new runes can be shown to stem from different Roman scripts, some appear to be novelties and the Roman X, very similar to the Greek chi (drawn roughly as X), recorded their g-sound in the competition against both the Roman G and the Greek gamma, probably due to that the Germanic g-sound was fricative. In addition, they took up both the long and the short Greek ”e”, which in their italics look very similar to the corresponding rune. However, the rune sign, often transcribed as ï, with two points above, corresponding to the short Greek e, came quite early out of use.

To understand, at the outset, that a Latin script sign must correspond to a Latin language sound, it was required bilingualism including the ability to speak Latin among the Germanics or North-born, who invented the runes. Thus, in Germania and Scandinavia there have certainly been people who could also speak Latin during Roman Iron Age and also into the Migration time. We can think of this for example for Uppåkra, the settlement or township just south of Lund in the present Skåne, which has existed during the whole of the Iron Age.

Now the Germanics / Norse had thus created their new alphabet with 24 signs, the elder fuþark, corresponding to the language sounds that they considered necessary. But did they arrange these in something similar to the Roman or Greek alphabets? By no means! Instead, the runic characters come in the so-called fuþark scheme after the first six characters of this order. Extremely mysterious. And in reality, it is true that, according to the Swedish scientist Sigurd Agrell (1930’s), the fuþark scheme seems to be going back to the number-mysticism of Late Antiquity, and especially to the Mithra cult, which was widely spread in the Roman legions of Late Antiquity, where also Germanics and Norse people served. There are many ruins of Mithra monuments along the northern border of the Roman Empire, ie. in military camps, from the 180’s and during the 200’s.

Now let’s ask a simple, straightforward question. What does the word ”rune” mean? The word means secret, hidden, not to say the esoteric or holy, as evidenced by the poetic Edda. In addition, the word has been given the extra meaning of a runic character. We imagine how a Germanic / Nordic mercenary watches the following sequence of events: a significant man (a Roman officer) scratches with his stylus a number of scribbles on a waxen board.

A less significant man takes the board and goes (alternatively runs) to a larger group of other men and to whose leader he gives the board. This examines the scribbles. Suddenly he pronounces oral orders and a riot of activity breaks out, the camp is torn, weapons and harness polished a last time and the men get into formation, ready to march.

What was the power, from a distance, to cause all this activity? Did it lie with the letters, the Latin or the later runes? On older runestones, the runes are said to stem from the gods. On the Noleby runestone of Västergötland (from the 400’s, now in the Historical Museum), it says ”Runo fahi raginakundo toj


a …”, the colored god-given runes I ordered … The Sparlösa stone in Västergötland (from around the year 800) says,”Ok ráð rúnar þar regi[n]kuntu”, and interpret the runes, known by the gods. According to these stones, therefore, the runes and their power stem from the powers, the gods as a collective, but according to the Eddic poem Hávamál, the god Odin hung in the windy tree under sufferings and called up the runes. The runes anyhow possessed divine power.

139.Við hleifi mik sældu                 Bröd ej bars mig,

né við horni-gi.                         bjöds ej horn,

Nýsta ek niðr,                           skarpt jag skådar ner

(; bread I wasn’t borne, bidden no horn, sharply I viewed down)                                        

nam ek upp rúnar,                        runor rönte

œpandi nam,                              – ropande kallat –

féll ek aptr þaðan.                      föll jag åter från

(; I took up runes, with great cries, I fell away again)

The literate community of Rome

Let’s examine what literacy or a writing society means. Of course, we look at the example of Rome, which became the mother of the Germanic / Nordic literacy, as it was at the beginning or as it later became during the Viking Age and in the Middle Ages. We have already scrutinized our ”acquaintance” of the German / Norse looking how the Roman officer scratched scribblings on a writing board. Officers we can very much assume themselves being able to read and write. The leader needed to be able to read and write on his own instead of being dependent on a literate slave (was this trustworthy, his word taken for good?). This is almost the same as if the leader were blind and ought to listen to a description of the battlefield position and then give his command. Of course, our sub-officer is described as literate. Do you really need the rest of the crew to be?

Well! Perhaps! Regardless of which, everyone was included in a written society or reality, ie. a literate sub-community, the Roman army. As is known from other sources, the written order has the same validity, with a valid ”signature”, as the pronounced order from the concerned commander. Everyone understood the validity of the written word, irrespective of literacy, and everyone was expected to understand what writing meant, even if not being able to read himself. Now we also have the testimony from a number of tombstones over the fallen ”Roman” centurions (sub-officers), but also over ordinary soldiers. These are with stone-cut Latin letters. Literacy should have been significant in the army.

We also have the testimony from the Vindolanda tablets. Vindolanda was a Roman border posting at Hadrian’s wall in northern England and appears to have been in operation for some decades from around 100 AD according to archaeological datings. From the first excavation of 1973 onwards, in excavations have been found smooth, planed, Latin-written wooden pieces with ”ink” of carbon, gum arabic and water. These form around 1200 small ”wooden boards” with different letters or texts. There are military reports on the situation, inventory lists, camp-organization issues and a large number of personal letters, written by people in the camp: drafts, completed letters ready for the next mailsendings or copies. There are also letters to Vindolanda such as from Gallia. Some letters are written between people who themselves are called slaves. 200 of the names named in the letters (about half) had only one name and were not (yet) Roman citizens. Their name was not genuine Latin but derived from Germanic names. The crew in Vindolanda were Germanic aid troups (Batavians and Tungrians), but seem to have had Latin literacy to a high degree.

We’ll take a few more examples of writing in the Roman army, and then briefly glance at the whole of Roman society. Each unit in the Roman Army regularly sent out scouting patrols, which were replaced after a few hours. Each patrol was provided with a so-called Tessara, a very small board with today’s password, which was often changed and needed to be displayed to serving guards in the camp. On each tessara the old password was erased and the new one was written. Reading and writing skills were often required. Much of the army equipment such as helmets, leather straps, weapons, tools (such as spades to dig a new camp after moving) often contained a text with the name of the soldier and/or a number text corresponding to the number of each legion, the number of its cohorts and their subdivisions. Here, reading skills were needed for the individual soldier to keep track of both his own equipment and that of his unit.

It is likely that the Romans first taught Germanics to read the Roman numerals, which consisted of some major Latin letters like this: I (1), V (5), X (10), L (50), C (100), D (500), M (1000). The number or year 1967 would have been written MCMLXVII (ie. M-CM-LX-VII) and the number 33 XXXIII. It is apparently only partly a positioning system. With the Arabic numbers 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 (notice the 0 as the empty placeholder) we get a true positioning system, suitable for higher mathematics. The number or the year 1015. The numbers 1, 11 and 111, where the common sign for ”one” in the singular position, ten position or hundred position respectively imply different meanings. In this context, it should be noted that neither the older 24-character fuþark nor the younger Viking-16-character fuþark had special signs for numbers: in Old Norse, the number 21 had to be written with its words ”tuttugu ok einn”, twenty and one.

Finally, we take a look at the other forms of literacy in the Roman society. There are few archaeological findings of the kind of occasional writing that the Vindolanda tablets show, despite of frequent mentioning in Roman literature. More lasting texts are found on ceramics, household items and other object types often in the form of a name (the craftsman’s) + ”F.” (fecit = made). On monuments, visible to everyone to read, there is / there was richer text, namely about why the monument was raised. There are also very long texts, intended to be preserved and, for example, copied to get a new copy, that can be called books. These first came in the form of applicably long papyrus rolls and then as appropriately thick parchment handbooks with ”book pages” of prepared animal skin. There were also private and public libraries (from a Greek word meaning ”book house”), where you could read books on all topics. There were also schools where you learned to read, count and write (and at higher level to speak well, ie. eloquence).

Even merchants / craftsmen needed to be able to read and write. From the time of emperor August (around the year 0) written documents were used in connection with money loans. The Roman Empire had a monetary economy, with coins of gold, silver and simpler metal in various denominations with script and images (the metal content could sometimes be reduced despite the fact that the denomination remained, ie. a devaluation). The empire had to tax its own inhabitants in order to be able to build roads to connect the parts of the empire or aqueducts to ensure water supply to the cities. The most important expense item was the large army, expensive in operation, first to create the empire and then to keep away Germanics and others who knocked on the gate. In order to keep track of tax revenues, at provincial and imperial levels, a massive practice of literacy was required (usually by slaves). Without writing, an intricate and organized society can not occur. The Roman Empire was a written society, but it has been estimated that only about 20% of its inhabitants were literate, but probably more in the army.

The Germanics and the runic script

The Germanics / Norse had no organized states in the real sense. They had realms as far as their influence reached over groups of people or kindreds that were linked to them through alliances, gifts / return-gifts and guest feasts. The boundaries between different realms shifted and rested on whom they were currently allied with. You do not receive tax or gild from your own people or allied. If you needed more wealth, you could trade or battle others and take a booty or recurring debt from previously defeated. By ”the others” could be understood the neighbour tribe or the Roman empire. No standing army to pay was available but all free men were included / could be included in the army during war. The society was not quite equal, but had layers, while the kindred, not the individual person, was the smallest legal or criminal entity (as far as you can follow it back). On the thing or assembly (at least from the end of the Migration period) the kindreds had to settle disputes before the chief and everyone else.

This description represents largely the early Germanic society as well as also later, more peripheral Germanic societies such as the Nordic ones. Strangely enough, there is a tie between the Nordic region, in many cases, and the different southwardly wandering Germanic peoples, whose sagas of origin claim descent from the north without essentially the corresponding archeology there. The German people who came to occupy the remnants of the West-Western empire had increased their degree of civilization, while the ”remnants” had lowered their; cf. the term ”the dark Middle Ages”.

The Germanic communities were oral, simple societies without the actual need for writing. Its role became that of a superficial adornment (to show off to others), which gave the nimbus and aura of the written word and to the one who could write and read it and especially if it was written with the older futhark.

There were probably quite a few Germanics who could read Latin. One could have been perceived as being too Roman if using Latin script. A people with oral culture can thus invent their own written language and become pseudo-writing only by facing a powerful literate neighbour in order not to be swamped culturally. A later example from the 19th century is the Irokese Indians’ writing in North America.

There is a special feature in Germanic architecture that did not favour writing: the lack of window glass. Thus, for the sake of warmth, it was not possible, especially during the colder seasons, to have actual light-giving windows. This is a significant difference to a Mediterranean climate, where you could sit and read outside in only semi-thatched atriums. The true light source of the Germanics becomes fire. In the meeting rooms or the later large halls it became quite obscure. To fill these with content, it was not texts that were needed, but sound, ie. talking, speaches or skaldic art.

The Germans learned early from the Romans, among others how to circumvent the superiority of the legions on open field by letting them into a narrow, longer passage in the Teutoburg Forest in 9 AD, where Varus lost his three legions. Despite Roman later attempts at reaching Elbe, the Rhine remained the border between Roman and Germanic Europe. Over time, there is clearly a growing presence of weapons in the graves of Germania Libera. The Germans began to feel equal and needed to emphasize their own culture despite the culture loans, and this included the runic writing. We have noticed that there was a lot of Latin writing on Roman objects, this even on those found in the Nordic countries and the earliest elder runes are just on loose objects like fibulas and spearheads.

Significantly, many are found in Denmark, which does not necessarily mean that the elder runes were invented there. A great deal of runic finds are found in the Weichsel valley in Poland and elsewhere, and the early runic language carries traits of a koiné language, a standard German, understood by an elite with relations. Already, the proto-Germanic had begun to split apart into different sub-languages ​​and even language groups.

The Germanics also mimicked the Roman Emperor medals, which in the Roman Empire were ceremonially distributed to those deserving them. These became the bracteates of the 4th century and most of all the Migration time, which soon got their very own imagery with Germanic religious ideology. The bracteates were always looped and hence with an inserted ribbon to hang round the neck. They were of gold and precious and in the chieftains’ halls should have been awarded as reward to their own warriors or as signs of alliance to guests. Not a small fraction of the bracteates carries runic script.

The runes of the elder fuþark were applied to metal, especially gold and silver preserving them well, but worse by iron. They were also applied to bones and horns and also to wood, which will become apparent, but, however, are preserved poorly except in an oxygen-free environment like in a marsh. Finally, runes were also applied to more long-lived stone, thus we talk about runestones with the runes of the elder fuþark, including rune slabs. In Norway there are more than 30 so-called proto-nordic runestones and a handful of rock carvings. In Sweden there are just over 10, but in Denmark no one. (One can add to these numbers various minor fragments of runestones.) There is a single stray runestone outside the Nordic region; in Bosnia of all places (KJ 5 Breza). However, as mentioned above, there are runic loose finds both in Denmark and in continental Germania.

We will soon look at inscriptions with the elder fuþark. However, some of the external, further development must first be highlighted. We know that many Roman objects have been brought to Scandinavia during the Roman Iron Age as a result of trade, individual service in Roman legions, or Roman gifts for alliance purposes with northern Germanics in the back of southern and more restless Germanics closer to Rome’s borders (eg. full winedrinking sets with peripherals from the Danish islands). Rome made the mistake during the later empire, that more and more Germanics were taken up as auxiliary troups, full legions or as purely temporarily hired troops during the struggles of power between various emperors, which occasionally arose. Rome began to try to defend themselves using Germans against other Germans!

Have Nordic people participated in this? Yes, from Öland there are archaeologically two large treasures of Roman coins, which seem to be newly minted for certain specific years, when specific pretendent struggles have occurred. They therefore represent payment in newly minted lump sums for performed combat services by inhabitants on Öland towards the end of the 4th century. Coin treasures collected through trade will consist of mixed coins embossed from a variety of coinage centers and widely scattered years. The coins have first been dispersed and circulated through the trade.

Migration period

We know what happened during the Migration time. Driven by the intrusion of the Huns from the east, various continental Germanic people were moving mainly to the southwest, and eventually the result was the expulsion of the Huns, the establishment of a number of Germanic ”states” in the western half of the Roman Empire, and the fall of West-Rome, plentifully bleeding gold into the north (most of which did not end up far north, ie. in Scandinavia). Ostrogots and Langobards ended up in Italy, Visigots in Spain, Vandals in Northwest Africa. Some Germanic tribes from the southeastern North Sea coast wandered shorter, the Franks into Gaul and Anglers and Saxons (at least in part) into Britain. Those who did not emigrate were the Frisians in nowadays Netherlands, a large part of central German tribes, as well as some Saxons and the Nordic tribes.

Did Nordic people participate in among others the disputes of the Goths and Burgundians with the Asian Huns, which had been partially Germanicized (according to the author Procopius of Late Antiquity)? The Migration time is the gold-richest age in the North, purely archaeologically. The heroic epic of the poetical Edda treats those events in its own way (which is hardly to illuminate exact history in our sense). When Gudrun’s husband Sigurd Fafnesbane was killed, she turned to a Queen Tora in (explicitly) Denmark. The Danish island of Læsø (Hlésey) in the Kattegat is also mentioned in the Edda in other purely continental contexts. There have been connections here, the preservation of the tales has taken place in the Nordic region and the Nordic folk migration gold is a reality. (Similar has also been preserved in the Middle German Nibelungenlied with Christian views on the individual’s soul life, while the Edda is ”concrete cast” in a kinship society.)

Connection (and transcending of stories) requires a reasonable understanding between different Germanic peoples, who already spoke different closely related languages, which even could be divided into language groups. These are considered to be three in number, West Germanic languages, the proto-Nordic language, and East Germanic languages with the Gothic language at top, but extinct in the 7th century. Sometimes you only count on two groups, and then it is the last two groups, which have a lot of common features compared to the West Germanic group.

What the term ”folk”, ”people” in the concept of migration (’Völkerwanderung’) really means is widely debated. It is often about armies (of men), Old Norse ’her’, from often allied Germanic tribes. In some cases, in Late Antiquity sources, there are records of how a ”people” of combatable men, elderlies, women and children sought protection inside the Roman border against the Huns. One can also observe how in former Eastern Germania (see, for example, the Gothic former realms from Poland to the Black Sea), Slavic languages ​​spread after the Migration time, which must indicate that ”peoples” really mean peoples. (There was a difference between more nomadizing eastern Germanics and more resident, farming western Germanics.) This was also true throughout the whole of the German Baltic sea coast (except the Schleswig area, which was ”Danish”) in the form of the Slavic Vends, known at the latest from the beginning of the Viking Age. Thus, during Merovingian times, a beginning linguistic barrier between northerners and former ”co-Germanics” of the Migration era is established.

The newly established Germanic realms in former Western Rome took up as the bulk of their culture the remnants of the Roman, which since the mid-300’s officially included Christianity. However, there are preserved Germanic laws that clearly distinguished themselves from Roman law. The ruling class eventually lost (except in England) its Germanic languages ​​in favour of Latin’s daughter languages, the growing Romanesque vernacular languages. The shrinking Latin writings now served only the purposes of the Church. The Church continued to mission. The Franks ”took baptism” in 496, the Frisians and Anglo-Saxons in the 7th century (and here or earlier, southern ”German Germanics” also end up), while the Saxons first made it towards the end of the 700’s. The old southern connections of the Nordic countries were also broken by this growing cultural barrier during the Merovingian period. These general events are of course important for the continued development of runic literacy over time.

The inscriptions of the elder fuþark

Thus, we shall now look at inscriptions with the elder fuþark beginning with the earliest. What did the oral Germanic communities attach to plain scripture? We are here, as we shall see, quite far from the earlier Vindolanda writings.

We can start with a Frisian comb of yew wood, bearing the runic inscription kobu, ie. ”comb”. There are about 40 known objects, which bear their own name in runic script, both with the elder and the younger fuþark, for the latter such as mundlaug ’wash basin’ or spyti ’needle’. What sense does it make, in order to take a contemporary example, tidily to paint the word ”CAR” on your own car? There are few reasons that immediately spring to mind. One of them at that time was the power of the word or the runes and writing the correct title in runic script on the object gave oneself power over it as exhorting to faithful service or not to be lost. A magic if you so want.

We also have some male personal names on items, so also on items in women’s graves. A timeless male presence, which arises when reading the inscription. Somewhat later, female names are reported as on the Himlingøje fibula 1 from the mid-300s: hariso. The Old Norse word ’her’ (army, battle group) is derived from ’hari’ (a female warrior?). Himlingøje is a famous early find place in southeastern Zealand. We have a group of early spearheads with approximate dating around 200 or the 200’s, which appear to bear their own names. We have the spear tip of Mos on Gotland with the inscription gaois with the possible meaning ’Howler’. Ditto an inscription from Dahmsdorf in Germany: ranja and a spearhead from Kowel in southern Poland, with the words tilarids meaning ”goal rider”. The word is pure Gothic with the ending -s in the masculine nominative and with the meaning ”goal”. The forepart of the word is the same as in the preposition til / till (to/wards/) which in Old Norse rules the genitive with the masculine or neutre ending -s. Remains of this in modern Nordic languages ​​are for example ’till havs’, ’till skogs’, ’till sängs’: ’to the sea’, ’to the woods’, ’to the bed’.

In addition, we have a spearhead from a grave in Øvre Stabu in Norway’s ”head” with the inscription raunijaR, Old Norse reynir, ie. / out / tryer, examiner. The same tomb also contained a Roman sword with a picture of the Roman victory goddess Victoria and two Latin letters SF: someone whose name begins with S fecit, made. This Roman sword allows for a dating to 175 – 200 AD. The dead has either obtained his sword from the manufacturer himself or through an intermediary. This is an environment with not only different writing systems, but probably also some bilingualism. Some have been able to understand Latin.

However, we are in a runic literacy, which consists only of nouns such as personal names or names of objects. However, this also occurs in clearly later inscriptions. For example, we can take the Berga stone from around 500, one of Sörmland’s two proto-Nordic stones: saligastiR || fino. A male name with the meaning of ’hall’s guest’ and a female name. On the Skrydstrup bracteate from Denmark we find laukaR || alu, ’onion’, ’beer’. This was probably extremely meaningful. On the proto-Nordic Elgesem stone in Norway from the middle of the 400’s there is the lonely word alu. We will later look at the alu formula. On the flax scraping knife from Floksland on the Norwegian Vestlandet of the mid-400’s, there is Lina laukaR f. If we interpret the lonely ’f’ as a conceptual rune, fehu, we get ’flax, onion, wealth’. On the Darum bracteate 1, we will find ’frohila laþu, ie. possibly Frey’s call / invitation. The god name Freyr comes from a wordstem that means the Master, the ruler and the goddess name Freya means the Mistress, ruler.

We conclude this literacy on a substantive level with the utterly short inscription of the Norwegian Austad bracteate: gt. If you interpret it as concept-runes, then Gebo Tiwaz, that is, ’gift, Tyr’. A much grander rune text on the same level can be found on the Skodborg bracteate from Denmark: auja alawin, auja alawin, auja alawin, j alawid. If you interpret the single J, as the concept of jara with the meaning of ’year, annual plant growth, fertility’, then you will get ’success Alawin (repeated three times), fertility Alawid’. Note the number of three, which is a positive number, and according to the above-mentioned Sigurd Agrell’s interpretation the number of the ansuz-rune, the rune of the gods or the æsir. Also, according to more modern suppositions, one could ward off any threat by saying three times ’tvi’, ie. ’tvi, tvi, tvi’ or three times spit, as when a black cat (the devil!) crosses one’s way. (This at least in Sweden.)

We will now illustrate, by way of examples, the development of runic literacy beyond this noun level and over time by seeing how they began adding verbs and eventually in writing got full sentences with subjects, predicates and objects, etc. According to preserved findings, this took hundreds of years from the invention. This, if you can disregard the wood disc from the moss Vimose in Denmark. This is a level woodpiece with probably ten runewords, put on both sides. The text really can not be interpreted:

        Page A: talijo gisai oj: wiliR – la o —

        Page B: tkbis: hleuno: an-: regu

Talijo would mean ’surface’, wiliR ’you want’ and hleuno possibly belong to a reconstructed Germanic word with the meaning of protection or reputation. As a whole, you cannot put the message of the text together. However, there is a verb. The really exciting thing is that tree rings appear on the disc and you have dendrochronically been able to date it to about the year 160. Now we are astonishingly close to the Vindolanda tablets, but apparently far from their writing features, such as progress reports, inventory lists or personal letters and messages.

The next step is to insert an ’I’ (and an implied ’am’) together with a noun or substantive. The Gårdlösa fibula from the 200’s shows this stage: ek unwodiR, ’I the non-raging’ or ’I the non-ecstased’. The root ’wod’ after the later drop of w before o and u as well as syncopation, constrictions of word ends, corresponds to the forthcoming Old Norse óðr, ’rage, ecstasy’. To this basic word belongs the god-name Óðinn, Odin. The bearer of the Gårdlösa fibula might not have stood for such concepts. We also have the Himlingøje-fibula 2: ek widuhudaR, possibly ’I the forest dog’ (the wolf). Later, the formula ek erilar is common, often but not always with full sentences and longer texts. One example is the lonely ekerilaR on the Bratsberg fibula around 500, very likely an important message. We will go into this formula later.

At the same time they began to add a verb to the noun, eg. *taujan (do, make) and *talgian (Modern Swedish ’tälja’ cut or tell; it is unclear if the word then meant ”to cut [wood] with knife”) as well as *wurkian (work, make). Here we have the Nøvling fibula with the inscription bidawarijaR talgidai. The first word can be seen as a name or be solved as ’wish- (prayer-) warden’ and then ’has cut’. On the Garbølle wooden casket, we find hagiadaR: tawide, ’hagiadaR made’. This corresponds entirely to Roman object signatures such as SILVANVS FECIT.

During the 300’s and 400’s, full sentences begin to appear, as well as image-like, metaphorical rewrites and pure skaldic art, and during this time, bracteates and rune stones begin to appear. Some new verbs like *faihian (colour, paint) and *writan (to write) are added. One of the oldest runestones with the elder fuþark is the Einang stone in Valdres in southern Norway. It is in its original location in an area with many burial mounds dating back to the years 340-400 AD. The stone carries the text, ek godagastiR runo faihido, ’I the guest of gods, the rune painted’. In a nearby grave a Roman sword with the stamp RANVICI was found, probably a name.

The full sentences do not necessarily mean that the inscriptions became more mundane, they might as well become even more clearly magical or esoteric. A fairly straightforward text can be found on the Möjbro stone (mid-400’s from Uppland, now at the National Museum of History). On the stone there is in addition to a rider image the text frawaradaR ana hahai slaginaR, ’FrawaradaR (the quickly insighted) on the horse (in the dative) slain. A more esoteric inscription is found on the Zealand bracteate 2 (near the year 500): hariuha haitika: farauisa: gibu auja: (and a probable same-staved t-rune in three editions, ie. three pairs of auxiliary staves [Swe. bistavar] share the same vertical main stave. The sign resembles a small spruce.). The meaning becomes’ Hariuha I’m called: Travel wise: I give good luck: Tiwaz, Tiwaz, Tiwaz (or Tyr, Tyr, Tyr).

We highlight somewhat the Gallehus horn, which offers something exciting. The dating is for reasons we will come to, unclear, but can roughly be set to ”around the 400’s”. The inscription is: ek hlewagastiR / holtijar / horna / tawido. Let’s put the text as follows:

       ek Hle’wagastiR Ho’ltijar

       ho’rna ta’wido

Now we suddenly realize that this is a quite normal long line in the eddic metre fornyrdislag otherwise known from the Poetical Edda, written down in the late 13th century. What is incredible is that the long-line not is in Old Norse but in proto-Nordic with some sort of age-old time attest! Hlewa – may come from a stem that means glory or honour, so we get: I glory-guest (or Lægest), Holte’s son (or possibly from Holte) the horn made. This sounds like a real, actual message. That would be a big lie. The Gallehus horns were of gold and were found in Denmark. One of the horns had the above text and both were otherwise covered with image ornaments. These are unambiguously of Celtic type, it is only the text itself, which was Germanic / Nordic.

In the early 19th century the horns were grabbed by a thief who had melted down all the gold before being arrested. However, there were fairly accurate image reproductions that allowed today’s reconstructions. The originals are gone, so today’s metallurgical tracer methods, to determine where the gold came from and maybe indirectly when, are no longer available. We also do not know exactly how accurate the images were.

We describe another example of runic literacy, which describes a worldly message, namely a succession of inheritance in proto-Nordic: the Tune stone from Østfold in Norway. The carving is considered to be from around the year 400. The text implies a three-part message. A rune carver is named; a deceased relative (WoduridaR, ’Raging rider’) is described; three daughters get inheritance. We may have some kind of declination of *writan, ’write’, worahto. Some have interpreted the form as of another verb with the meaning of making living or lively. The wording is the following, but how the runes stand on the stone is not exactly reflected:

ek wiwar after woduride

wita(n)da halaiban

worahto r[unoR]???

[þri]R??? woduride staina

þrijoR dohtriR dalidun

arbij(a) arjosteR arbijano

The text is poetic, stave-rhyming and repetitive but not according to an exact later known metre. The allusions as well as the interpretation are a bit unclear, but something like this would be a translation:

I Wiwar after Wodurid (dative), the guardian of the /bread-/loaf (Old Norse hleif n.), wrote runes; three (nominative) to Wodurid (dative) the stone (accusative, direction); three daughters (nominative) shared (Old Norse deila); inheritance (accusative) excellent (nominative, probably alluding to the daughters) heirs’ (genitive plural).

Another example of a proto-Nordic grave-runestone with a factual message is the Norwegian Kjølevik-stone from the mid-400’s:

      C1: hadulaikaR                A name with the meaning of warriors

      C2: I hagustadaR                            I HagustadaR

      C3: hlaiwido magu minimo  buried the son mine

The name HadulaikaR is shaped so that its width adapts to the following lines and has possibly been carved last and possibly represents a kind of ”signature”, perhaps the name of the rune carver.

This representation of inscriptions of the elder fuþark, although it is a selection, aims at giving a true and fair view of the rather limited nature of this writing: it is not necessary for society, as everything could have been spoken orally. For this reason, this part of the text becomes somewhat long. We are now beginning to get into more purely magic carvings.


We are now entering on the ”ek erilar” formula. We have already encountered it alone on the Bratsberg fibula from around the year 500. The proto-Nordic word erilar with regular sound-law transition to Old Norse, with so-called ”Brechung”, breaking, of the e (e -> ja) and end-syncopation, would be jarl. One or more of these are known from both the Viking Age and the Middle Ages, and one knows his role. On the other hand, we are not sure what the erilar was. One hypothesis has been that the Germanic people /h/erules could hide behind ”erilar”. This clearly seems doubtful in terms of language. The breaking of the e should have been influenced by an ”away-syncopated” u in the ending of an imaginary ”erular” having received an u-Umlaut, ie. e -> jö, jörl! Regardless, the history of the Herules has significance for the above-discussed connections between Northerners and southern Germanians during the Migration period.

According to ancient sources, the Herules would have traveled south to the Black Sea from the north, and there, played pirates (or ”vikings”) in the 200’s and 300’s, since later during the turmoil of the Migration age, they were under the protection of the mainly Greek-speaking East-Rome. They have certainly here embraced Southern culture. One half of them decided to return home according to the same sources. They wandered north through Europe and without hostilities past Denmark’s territory (up Jutland?). Then they took the ”boat” over the sea (Kattegat?) and settled near the districts of the ”Göter” (Götaland?). Maybe Svealand??? Previously, the Greek theory of the origin of the elder fuþark from the Greek alphabet has been put fourth. The Herules could have conveyed the runes. However, this is far too late considering the Vimose disc (around the year 160). The same applies for any Gothic mediation (the rune finds of the Weichsel valley). But some kind of influence from the Greek alphabet appears to be on the elder fuþark. Now it is true that Greek teachers and Greek teaching have also existed in the western half of the Roman empire!

Anyway, on the proto-Nordic Järsberg stone in Värmland (the first half of the 5th century), the ”eril” appears as a runecarver. The runestone was found in the 19th century and with a bit of the top gone on a natural mound (proven by a later empty excavation). The top has never been found, but the stone has been raised again in place. The rune stone is not a grave monument, but communicates something else. Through a careful examination of the probable reading order of the rune fields and the estimation of the likely size of the headpiece (the different runic strings have different rune sizes, as if the runecarver towards the end had to make the rune signs smaller), the following text has been obtained:

ekerilaR / ubaR h[a]ite: HarabanaR / hait[e] / runoR w / arit / u

I ”erilaR” battle-ready called: ”Hrafn” (Raven) is called, (I) write runes.

The erilar was not only rune savvy but also combatative. Was he a warrior leader, an earl, a jarl too? There are several ekerilaR findings, but we will only take up one more, the Lindholm amulet. On this, the erilar is not only cunning or wily but also obviously a savvy of number magic.

The Lindholm bone amulet was found during peat digging in a bog in Skåne during the 19th century, thus in a preserving oxygen-free environment. It happened to be divided into two pieces. It is dated to the first half of the 5th century. The n which is written on the B page side in brackets, [], lies just at the break of the cut, but after careful study it is estimated to be an n.

     Page A reads: ek erilaR sa wilagaR ha(i)teka, ie. ’I the erilar, the wily one I’m called’.

     Page B reads: aaaaaaaa RRR nnn [n] bmu ttt: alu

This B page can be analyzed numerologically according to Sigurd Agrell’s scheme of an uþark order for the elder rune-row. Conceptions of number magic (numerology) were widespread during the Late Antiquity. He found out that if you put the f-rune last instead of first, this f-rune fehu, wealth takes the number 24, the number of completeness, as the number of runes in the elder fuþark is 24. The u-rune, ’uroxe’ (aurochs) or origin then becomes 1. In the Nordic creation myth we remember the primordial cow Audhumla, who licked fourth a man who became Bure, who with a giantess bred the gods and in the Mithra religion the conquest and the killing of the world bull was among the most central.

The number of the þ-rune, that of thurses or giants, in the uþark order becomes 2, and according to ancient number magic, a clearly demonic number. The giants (thurses) came before the gods and were in many ways enemies to the order of the gods. The number of the ansuz-rune, that of the æsir or gods becomes 3. This is a typical lucky number. We recall ’tvi, tvi, tvi’ pronounced for the purpose of warding off something unfortunate.

This is how to hold on, all the time on assuming that the f-rune shall be last in the rune-row. Comparing numerology from the Antiquity, Mithra cult and the significance of the rune-names in the older rune-row, one gets a clear connection between number magic and the order number for the concerned rune counted in uþark order. There are only a few names that appear to be more unclear. Of course, this topic is extremely comprehensive and this text does not intend to try to make it justice. We refer to the text of Sigurd Agrell and to this website’s text about the meaning of the runes. On the other hand, we will of course present the older rune row itself.

We analyze with Agrell the Lindholm amulet B page and begin to set number values: aaaaaaaa (8 x 3 = 24) RRR nnn [n] bmu ttt: alu (3 + 20 + 1 = 24). We have already received the numbers 24, 24. We continue with the R:s, n:s and t:s: aaaaaaaa (24) RRR nnn [n] bmu ttt: alu (24). RRR becomes 3 x 14 = 42 = 6 x 7. The number 6 is the gift-rune’s number (gebo) and the number 7 is the number of gladness or bliss (wunjo). The number 7 in the Mithra cult aimed at the seventh world sphere, which the myste sought to achieve. Four n-runes get the number 4 x 9 (9 is the wonder of the Mithras cult or the rune of necessity, naudiz, with the order number 9 according to the uþark order) = 36. The number 36 and the other numbers greater than 24 lack number-magical meanings apart from prime numbers generally being considered inauspicious.

Finally, we have three t-tunes (tiwaz) with the number 3 x 16 = 48 = 2 x 24, ie. two further, but hidden numbers of completeness.

The B-page of the Lindholm amulet with exposed numerals now looks like: aaaaaaaa (24) RRR (42) nnn [n] (36) – bmu – ttt (48): alu (24). We calculate the numerical value of the b-rune (berkana, birch rune, woman rune) and m-rune (mannaz, man rune) and u-rune (uruz, aurochs, origin) and get 37 (17 + 19 + 1). We should certainly also take into account the conceptual meaning of the three runes bmu together. Sigurd Agrell asserts, on various grounds, a special numerical value for punctuation marks namely 5, that of the k-rune (kauna). If we add all the numeric values ​​for the characters on the B page, we get 216 = 9 x 24. The number of necessity is associated with that of completeness. The Lindholms amulet stands for a strong protection and good fortune.


Another case of probable runic magic and the alu formula is the Funen bracteate:

     Page 1: houaR (the high; probably the god Odin)

     Page 2: laþu aaduaaaliia alu (where laþu means calling, invitation and alu ale, beer)

Thus we go to the alu formula, where we can count with reversals, ex. lua, at least if we count numerologically. After that, we intend to round up this section on the inscriptions of the older fuþark to go to the rune row itself.

The alu formula is mainly found on bracteates. Secure cases of alu are available on 19 stampings from 12 different shapes, which contain several preserved copies of some shapes. If you count on reversals and things that can be included in other words or names, thus insecure evidence, you will get up to 22 stampings from 14 shapes. There are a small number of cases from grave contexts that do not consist of bracteates. We have mentioned the Elgesem stone with its single word ”alu”, which belongs to a grave context. The odd bird, which is neither is the Lindholm amulet.

In pure language development, it is almost obvious that the proto-Nordic alu after u-umlaut and syncopation of the ending would evolve into Old Norse ǫl, the öl/øl of modern Nordic languages, ie. ale / beer. A previous theory that alu would be related to Gothic alhs, Old English ealh, alh ’temple’, Old English ealgian ’protect’ as well as Greek alké ’strength’ and alkas ’warding off, protection’ does not hold linguistically. The word should thus have had the meaning of ”protection” and the bracteates be amulets and on the tombstones provide protection and sanctification to the dead. However, an h or k can not evolve into a u. We are stuck with ’beer’, but do not understand the contexts.

We can start with the myth of the skaldic mead when the æsir and the vanir as a sign of peace spat into a vessel in which it fermented. Alcoholic beverages have indeed a sacred origin. Exactly what the drink was called is in literary sources such as northern skaldic art or Beowulf, rather substitutable. In the Beowulf, Hrōðgār’s Hall is called variously the medoærn ’mead house’, medo-heall ’mead hall’, bēorsele ’ale hall’, wīnærn ’wine house’. Similarly, in Eddic and Skaldic poems, the use of Old Norse ǫl, bjórr, veig, mjǫðr, etc. is interchangeable. It appears that it is a ritual drinking when Beowulf, after an initial trial, in the hall of the ruler was allowed to participate in the drinking led by the queen. Likewise one drank ritually at the return giftsgiving at the victory party after the victory over Grendel.

Similar beers as a confirmation for the community and for given promises are found in the Eddic poem Atlakviða. Before Gunnar’s departure to the Hunnic court, a common round-drinking was held í miǫðranni ’in the mead hall’, where the golden bowls wandered between men’s hands and Gunnarr in a speech confirming their departure. Similar are also reproduced ex. in the Historia Langobardorum (the history of langobards).

We must follow up with the role of ritual beers in the blóts of the Viking era, according to various Old Norse text sources. These are by no means confined to chieftains or princes. The blót was initiated with a formæli (”fore-speach”), a cultic speach or act by the cult leader. Then the ”beer” took place, where the beer horn wandered hand-to-hand (without being put down) by the community, followed by a sacred meal. Something similar is described for the former continental Germanics in Vita Columbani about a missionary’s life.

We have the Old Norse concepts of ǫldr ’drinking-community’, erfis-ǫl ’inheritance ale’ and minnis-ǫl ’memory ale’ (with corresponding stories). In modern times we have the concept of grave ale as well as the Danish-Norwegian concept of barsel < *barns-øl (meaning birth nowadays and it is the normal Danish-Norwegian word for birth, but formerly a celebration in connection with a birth). All these gatherings have the basic word ”öl”, ale.

In southern Scandinavia we have found hall buildings from this time at central places. The finding places for the bracteates are often linked to these centers and one can assume local production. The distribution patterns of the same bracteates can be interpreted as gifts to followers of the chieftain, as well as that of similar bracteates as alliance gifts to rulers at nearby centers. Significantly enough, in these halls, there are shards of glass (beverage glass – not window glass!). In the halls you have promised oaths, gifts such as bracteates have been awarded, victories been celebrated and ”common union-beers” were drunk – more or less in a religious vein. It is natural that bracteates can bear the word alu, the designation of the common beer. Alu, of course, means beer. But in a figurative sense, it can indeed be interpreted as / sanctified / community, ie. protection or defense.

Now we have some cases of the alu formula in a grave context. This can be interpreted as the same. We start with the fact that the dead predecessors were still considered to live on in the kin – though in another form. There are many indications for drinking in the afterlife concepts, such as the often-encountered beverage horns in the Viking-era Birka graves, the Valhall mythology, and for the part of the Roman Iron Age winery sets, which were found as grave goods. Freiya receives half of the dead in her Sessrúmni (”wealth of sitting places”), Hel’s hall is set with ready-made mead for those waiting in Balder’s dreams, and in the Gotlandic picture stones, we often see how a group of (fallen?) warriors are met by a woman with a raised drinking horn. These stones belong to burial fields, often located by highways.

Thus we have listed what we intended for this selection of the inscriptions in the elder fuþark and we have shown that it is a limited writing, usually magically-religious. We can find no signs that the script has been used for practical, everyday purposes such as pure letter notices or to listings such as for example the palace lists of contents in Linear B Script on ancient Crete. We can now turn to the elder fuþark itself.

The elder fuþark

How do we know at all how the fuþark’s rune signs were arranged? Of course, the fuþark has been carved on objects. Thus, we have the full fuþark on the Gotlandic Kylver stone from the beginning of the 400’s as follows: ”fuþarkgwhnijpïRstbemlηdo” (see Kylverstenen.jpg, extern link). Furthermore, it is on the Vadstena bracteate under this appearance ”fuþarkgw: hnijïpRs: tbemlηod:” (see Vadstena.jpg, extern link). [Wikimedia. Ulf Bruxe, 1993, SHM]

The Vadstena bracteate from just before the year 500 differs at some places from the order of the Kylver stone: its pï (ï with two dots) and its do, apparently, have changed their places within themselves. Another significant difference is that the p-rune on the Vadstena bracteate has been replaced by a b-rune. German languages ​​have, in comparison with other Indo-European languages, undergone the Germanic sound-crossing, where the original ”p t k” in many places has become ”f þ h”. One began to run out of words that demanded the p-sound as initial and this is a first hint of the forthcoming transition to the younger fuþark with only 16 runes.

Otherwise, the Vadstena bracteate has clear distinguishing signs between the three different ”kindreds” (a modern designation) or departments within the fuþark. Finally, the elder fuþark is on among others the Thames’ short sword from England as well as on the Charnay brooch from Burgundy and on the aforementioned Bosnian Breza stone. Every case has f, fehu, first in the runic system.

We will go somewhat into the Kylver stone and the Vadstena bracteate. The Kylver stone forms a grave-slab with the carving inwards towards the dead, as if the fuþark formed a compelling protection against a possible ghost. The runes and thus the rune row came from the gods. But the strongest magic should be in the uþark order, which should be considered kept secret to a non-ininitiated. If so, did you have to keep the actual order from an already dead? Yes, surely they were still living but in another form in the kindred and this possible ghost maybe was not initiated.

With the uþark theory, the Vadstena bracteate’s fuþark-order seems logical, bracteates were worn publicly visible for all kinds of people. The so-called Vadstena bracteate constitutes the first found of three stamp-like bracteates found at a little spread in Östergötland and Närke (two neighbouring districts of Sweden). These may have constituted signs of alliance. As other bracteates, the Vadstena bracteate has a central image and an ornamental border, but in addition to the border, it has an outlying fuþark inscription (preceded by the text ”luwatuwa”). (see the picture) In modern times, could you imagine a piece of jewelry with a picture and our alphabet signs a – ö (that is, the tiresome abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyzåäö) lined up around? Hardly. It is clear that the fuþark itself had a charge, which is not found in our modern alphabet row.

Let’s review for example the fuþark runes of the Vadstena bracteate (see the picture). They consist of all vertical and oblique (possibly slightly rounded) lines but never of pure horizontal. The same is characteristic of the runes of the younger fuþark. A logical explanation for such shapes would be if the runes had originally been developed to be engraved by a knife in wood. It is possible to imagine how you, to send a runic message, broke a twig / branch from the nearest tree, faced / leveled it and carved the main staves across the fiber direction but the assistant staves on the slope. This avoids carving along the fiber direction, which tend not to appear clear. As we have seen, we have no firm evidence of such writing for the elder fuþark, and it seems to have taken a few hundred years before you could express in writing what you could say, despite the model of the Vindolanda boards.

However, there are Latin-based references to possible runes on wood. In Tacitus’ Germania from around the year 100 it is mentioned that the Germans threw lots of tree twigs marked with some signs (”notis”: nothing is stated closer than that). During the 6th century, when runic literacy became more similar to the spoken word, a bishop of Poitiers, Venantius Fortunatus, wrote a letter to his friend Flavius​​(apparently a bad letterist), urging him to answer in any language or way: ”Barbarian runes (Barbara Rhuna) can be painted on the boards of ash-wood, what the papyrus is capable of also the planed tree twig is able to”. However, neither Tacitus nor Fortunatus seems to be eyewitnesses, but seems to have only gone for hearing of rumours.

We shall now get into the names of the older runes. These consist of full words or concepts. We can compare how abcdefghijkl is pronounced / is in Swedish: a :, be :, se :, de :, e :, eff, ge :, hå :, i :, ji :, kå :, ell (or in English: ay :, bee :, see :, dee :, ee :, eff :, dzhee :, aytch :, ai :, dzhay :, kay :, ell). This constitutes some sort of short names of the actual letters, but no pure words other than as a coincidence. Thus, the alphabetic order itself is protected or disconnected from language changes. We can point out the lack of correspondence between spelling and pronunciation in French or English. It was the beginning sound of the rune’s name that was linked to the corresponding writing sign of the rune (in two cases instead of the end sound of the rune’s name: -ng and -R). If the rune names would suffer from language changes to the beginning sound, as at the transition between proto-Nordic and Old Norse, then the rune name / rune word would lose its pointer to the rune sign, although the sound was left in other words, and the rune sign therefore was still needed.

We therefore think that the proto-Nordic rune-carver had a line of words, names or concepts in memory, and a series of runic signs. The runic carver would so to say ”sound” himself among the rune names to get the correct runic sign in writing to his thought or spoken word / sentence. In any case, such a procedure is well evidenced with the younger fuþark with only 16 characters. For common words or phrases the proceding would be directly from memory.

The rune names of the elder pan-Germanic / proto-Nordic fuþark are not preserved, but are linguistically reconstructed from the left over names of the younger fuþark’s runes, and also the names of the Anglo-Saxon runic row. In addition, the extinct Gothic language is very well-evidenced by among others Wulfila’s translation of the New Testament into Gothic, the so-called Silver Bible, a Swedish war booty during the thirty years’ war (17th century) and now preserved in Uppsala and in digital form online. All in all, you have a lot of preserved texts in different ancient Germanic languages, which allow for linguistic reconstructions.


Here come the names of the older runes as well as translations in, reality, Sigurd Agrell’s uþark order as the f-rune is first set, with number 24, but otherwise adapted to the fuþark of Kylver stone. End-z stands for a linguistic pan-Germanic sound; In proto-Nordic, it must be replaced by -R, end-r. During the Viking era, it was replaced with the usual r-sound.

24 fehu (livestock, wealth), 1 uruz (aurochs, origin), 2 þurisaz (thurs, giant), 3 ansuz (áss, god), 4 raido (wagon or ride, according to the Mithra cult the number or symbol of the four-in-hand or quadriga, according to Old Norse interpretations the number of the god Thor, who went in a wagon or wandered but never rode, compare the number of the weekday for his day, thursday = 4), 5 kauna (boil, abscess?! we return), 6 gebo (gift), 7 wunjo (bliss), 8 hagalaz (hail, hailstone) 9 naudiz (distress, need, necessity) 10 isaz (ice, stiffening), 11 jara (year, ering, bloom, fertility), 12 perþa (unclear meaning, possibly cliff; Mithras is said be born from a cliff), 13 ïhwaz (yew, possibly the god Ullr), 14 algiz (through regular sound syncopation, we get the Old Norse word elgr = moose; we will return), 15 sowilo (sun), 16 tiwaz (Tyr, according to Agrell Mithra’s number), 17 berkana (birch rune, woman rune), 18 ehwaz (horse rune = 2 x 9, ie. the numbers of thurs and of necessity, have been interpreted as the god of Odin), 19 mannaz (man), 20 laguz (water, lake; has also been interpreted as laukaz, onion), 21 ingwaz (a Vanir god, later acting as Freyr), 22 dagaz (day), 23 oþila (odal, odal soil, inherited soil).

To further point out the number magic of the elder fuþark we will only point to number 11, jara and number 10, isaz. From the Eddic poem Skírnismál we know how Skírnir, Frey’s servant, while attempting on Frey’s behalf to woo the recalcitrant giant-daughter Gerd attracted her with precisely eleven apples. We take an example but now from a long time later (from Sweden). There is a protection spell against supernatural un-things: ”Do you shoot one, I shoot two, do you shoot two, I shoot three,” … etc. until ”do you shoot ten (isaz = ice, stiffening), I shoot eleven = ering, bloom) and you nothing!”

For the sake of clarity, we’ll reapply the elder fuþark’s rune names, without translations or comments:

24 fehu, 1 uruz, 2 þurisaz, 3 ansuz, 4 raido, 5 kauna, 6 gebo, 7 wunjo, 8 hagalaz, 9 naudiz, 10 isaz, 11 jara, 12 perþa, 13 ïhwaz, 14 algiz, 15 sowilo, 16 tiwaz, 17 berkana, 18 ehwaz, 19 mannaz, 20 laguz (laukaz), 21 ingwaz, 22 dagaz, 23 oþila.

Of all possible names for their respective language sounds the above names / words are of course remarkable, almost cosmological. You can express this differently. Blinded or captured by its almost cosmological names, the elder fuþark came to an unpredictable, future language trap: the proto-Nordic loss on the transition to Old Norse of the beginning-j in a word like jara and the beginning-w: or -v in front of u or o , but not in front of e, i or a. Both 7 wunjo and 11 jara dropped their pointers to their resp. runic characters. It was certainly not easy to lose their ingrained names in this way. We can highlight the beginning-loss of j in jara by comparison with later Germanic languages: Old Norse ár, Swedish år, but German Jahr and English year.

Before we begin a more detailed assessment of the whole meaning of the elder fuþark’s names, we shall discuss three names: 5 kauna, 8 hagalaz and 14 algiz.

We start with a steep dive against the suspect boil, number 5 kauna. The Anglo-Saxon rune name is cen (pronounced with k) with the meaning of flare, torch (or symbolically just fire). The closest sound-like Old Norse word is kaun with the meaning of boil. The contemplated meaning of the reconstructed *kauna does not match the rest of the names of the elder runes. If we do not want to trust only the torch (with order number 5) of the Anglo-Saxon rune row, then we can move on to the Mithras cult. When Mithras is depicted, he usually appears with two torch bearers, equally equipped as Mithras but smaller, one of which raises his torch and the other lowers it (notice the 3’s).

The number 5 in the Mithras cult then? The significance of this is not known with certainty, but on a series of monuments, the remains of Roman legionares, the torch-raising torch carrier is called upon solely by these warriors. The Roman war god was known as Mars, and to him a certain wandering celestial body was attached with a clearly observable reddish shine, the celestial body we now call the planet Mars. According to astrology from the Late Antiquity, with which the Mithra cult was embroiled, the Mars-heavenly sphere had the order number 5 (and more clearly the Mithras sphere the order number 6; the name of the sixth rune in the uþark order was, as said, ’gift’).

With the Indo-Europeans the red colour was for the warriors, but white the sacred colour. This was true for both the ”war caste” and the priesthood in Rome and in the Vedic India, widely different geographically and in time. The fertility colour was darker than that, though not linguistically determinable. We are therefore trying to leave the narrow Mithras-cult perspective in favour of a broader Indo-European. The Mithra cult was essentially a part of the Old Iranian religion with the admixture of foreign elements such as Babylonian-Semitic astrology. The Old Iranian religion was clearly Indo-European, albeit divergent and odd.

With this in mind, we will now scrutinize the ”Älg rune” (Moose rune), No. 14 Algiz / AlgiR. The runic sound is here end-R or end-z. We have another animal rune: the horse’s 18 ehwaz, with possibly a more central significance. On the C-bracteates, however, an isolated human face is closely depicted to the back of an animal, which sometimes has a chin beard and sometimes horns (or ears) and a moose’s posture (and thus can be interpreted) or sometimes has features of a horse (often the animal has a typical horse tail).

Sometimes there is some kind of breath (or thought or speech) between the mouth of the human head and the animal. Whether the animal is turned to the right or left is not randomly distributed (and there are clearly many such bracteates), but 73% of the cases are turned to the left. In a number of cases, such bracteates have multiple borders or have hints of small sunrays, suggesting that the whole bracteate would be a sun symbol. In that case (with sun borders), the animal in 93% of the cases is turned to the left.

We compare with the fairly well-explored solar cult of the Bronze Age. This becomes a major section for entering into the 14th rune algiR, which is immediately before 15 sowilo / sun. The Bronze Age culture coincides with the probable time of Indo-European immigration into Europe, bearing several Indo-European language divisions. We have the wagon horse of Trundholm, found in Själland (Zealand, Denmark), from precisely the Bronze Age (1400 BC). It is made of bronze and represents a four-wheeled horse and a large circular disk on two wheels.

The circular disc is ornamental on both sides, one side is gilded and the other dark oxidized bronze. When the horse is seen to turn to the right, the gold-plated side is displayed. If you face the sun in the northern hemisphere and follow its path, you will find it raise to the left (east) to go down to the right (west) towards the evening. The sun’s path is to the right. The sun is visible in the southern hemisphere in the north, but is still rising east due to the rotation of the whole globe. If you look at the sun and see the sun’s path, it goes up to the right (east) but down to the left (west).

This section has taken a couple of statements from Anders Andrén, see the literature list. This is not true of the exhibited insights in the sun on the northern resp. southern hemisphere or the coming emfasis on the elder fuþark.

The gold-plated side of the Trundholm disc from Zealand (northern hemisphere!) clearly represents the day side of the sun and the dark side of the disc should represent the invisible, dark night-sun in the other direction through the night sky, underground or under the sea. There seems to be clear signs of a continuation of this solar cult far into the Iron Age, where the stubborn left-sidedness of the aforementioned bracteate animal (horse or moose) may be one, the animal can be seen as a night sunhorse. Dare we point out the above mentioned torch carriers where one pointed his torch up (sunrise) and the other down (sunset)? Another sign is that the elder fuþark showed a distinctive sun-rune, 15 sowilu, and at least one devoted horse rune 18 ehwaz and perhaps this 14 algiz rune under discussion.

We do not only have the Trundholmsvagn itself, but also a further two in a bad condition. In addition, there are sun horses and / or solar signs (circles) aboard some of the many ship pictures on the rock carvings. Now, such sun-displaying ships are only drawn going to the right, and left-hand ships are always missing sun horses and solar signs. To this solar art, also paired figures, images, objects or statuettes seem to belong, hence parity as a symbol. Many of these are known from the Bronze Age, and we point here only to the most famous, the two Danish twin-lurs of bronze. We aim here to make probable that the 14 algiz rune belongs to such a parity.

We have just pointed out that the C-bracteate beast appears to be left-handed and possibly a night sun or sunset horse. Looking at the similarly Migration age Gotlandic picture stones with their central large round swirls, one should consider these as sun symbols, the more as some central swirls along their edges have small triangular sun rays. Next to the swirl you will almost always find one pair of animals, opposed to each other, the sunrise and the sunset animal. You may see these as helpers for the sun at these critical transitions.

The most obvious evidence for this is the Migration age gilded silver brooch from Vännebo, Västergötland according to Andrén. At the top you will see a sun with long rays (the midday sun), left and right, a sun with short rays (sunrise, sunset) and at the bottom a sun or circle without rays (night sun). Twined into the ornament there are two pairs of opposed animal heads.

We further look into the literary evidence of Old Norse texts, these seem to be only passive remnants of this solar cult without mythical shaping power. In the poetical Edda it is mentioned that the sun was pulled in a carriage across the sky by a pair of horses, Alsvinn (the very fast) and Árvakr (the early awake, dawn awake), followed by the wolf Sköll. Only with Snorri we find that the day Dagr was pulled in a wagon by a single horse, Skinfaxe. The sun held paired horses but not the day. In the elder fuþark we find both a special sun rune, 15 sowilo and a special day-rune or daylight rune, 22 dagaz. One seems to have distinguished between sunlight and daylight, which may be explained by the fact that during a clouded day you see neither the sun nor any distinct light direction.

We will now examine the possible parity of 14 algiz (which is in the fuþark immediately before 15 sowilo). Tacitus mentions in his Germania the East-Germanic people the naharvales and their cultic use. A priest clad in women’s cloathes leads in a grove the cult of a divine brother couple. Tacitus immediately interprets these as Castor and Pollux, ie. dioscures, claiming that the Germanic name of the god brothers were ”Alcis” (pronounced ”alkis”). We follow somewhat the dioscures before proceeding with ”alkis”.

The dioscures belong to the circle of fertility gods, which in several Indo-European religions usually consist of male twins, attached to horses and accompanied by a single woman. The Greek / Roman Castor and Pollux were followed by Helena, the Indian asvins (horse men) had Sarasvati, the Naharval god-brothers had a women-clad priest, and the later Old Norse vanir Freyr, Freiya and Njǫrðr consisted of a goddess and two gods, thus in another relationship (brother-sister-father). We should also mention that Anglo-Saxons began their conquest of England under the leadership of a legendary brother pair named Hengest and Horsa (Stallion and Horse), perhaps rather to be understood as official titles than historical names.

According to the Germanic sound-crossing, as mentioned, f.ex. Latin k, p and t in many original words turned into Germanic h, f and þ. However, the Latinized name Alcis, quoted by Tacitus, may not have come from an alhiz (cf. Gothic alh’s ’sanctuary’), as the Latin had an h-sound and ditto letter. The Latin k-sound can be a reinterpretation of a foreign Germanic language sound, a frictional g-sound (phonetic ”γ”), giving us a reconstructed *algiz / algiR. However, it is only the Old Norse elgR ’moose’ that is evidenced, which can be derived linguistically from a previous hypothetical *algiR.

This was a long digression to end up in something not quite sure. But we have Tacitus, who denotes the god-brothers of the Naharvales as the dioscures, and puts the Germanic name ”Alcis”, we still have paired sun horses in the poetic Edda and we have the dubious C-bracteate beast, which at times seems like a horse, at times like a moose. And we have the appearance of the algiz rune itself: a vertical main stave with an oblique assistant upward left and a ditto to the right. They are symmetrical and certainly paired! Lastly we have the positions in the elder fuþark: 14 algiz, 15 sowilo. The sunhorse before the sun!

We will now pick up a last rune name, number 8 hagalaz, before we look generally at the names of the elder fuþark. Why just hail? Everyone has experienced a hailstorm, that is, downpouring white hail grains or hailstones, maybe somewhat painful to be struck by but otherwise rather harmless. However, from more recent times there are reports that hail grains may become rather large such as like a golf ball or tennis ball and people have been killed. Thus some kind of ”crystal stones” from the otherwise free sky. This has bearing on Indo-European traditions. In Indo-Iranian and Germanic languages, the reconstructed Indo-European word for stone can also be used for the concept of heaven. In this context one can also notice cognate (of the same root) words from different Indo-European language tribes for the weapons which Indo-European storm gods slung in connection with flashes. The words mean stone or brilliant. What does f.ex. ”hammer” in the term ”Thors hammer” mean? Yes, it does not mean a carpentry hammer, but the word has to do with ”mountain hammer”, thus a protruding mountain ridge. Compare the Swedish place names Hamrafjället (Hammer mountain) and Blåhammaren, which is a mountain in Jämtland. Thus stone.


This allows us to reassemble the rune names of the elder fuþark again, first with its reconstructed word forms and then with translations / concepts.

24 fehu, 1 uruz, 2 þurisaz, 3 ansuz, 4 raido, 5 kauna, 6 gebo, 7 wunjo, 8 hagalaz, 9 naudiz, 10 isaz, 11 jara, 12 perþa, 13 ïhwaz, 14 algiz, 15 sowilo, 16 tiwaz, 17 berkana, 18 ehwaz, 19 mannaz, 20 laguz (laukaz), 21 ingwaz, 22 dagaz, 23 oþila.

24 wealth, fullness, 1 origin, aurochs, 2 giants, 3 áss, æsir, 4 wagon (Thor), 5 torch, fire, 6 gift, 7 luck, 8 hail, sky, 9 distress, necessity, 10 ice, 11 year, ering, growth, 12 cliff?, 13 yew (Ullr), 14 elk, moose, sunhorses, 15 sun, 16 Tyr, heaven-god, 17 birch, woman, 18 horse (Odin), 19 man, 20 water, 21 fertility (Freyr, Freiya), 22 day, 23 odal soil, inherited land.

One may consider the list of names from many points of view. We have already discussed above, how, if you accept the uþark order by Sigurd Agrell, the Nordic world creation myth is illustrated. First, Ginnungagap ’The Bewildering Gap’, thereafter the giants, then the gods, but closely followed by the guardian god of the organized world (Thor, but not immediately named). We have it in the rune names: 1 uruz, 2 þurisaz, 3 ansuz, 4 raido. In passing, it should be pointed out that the clearly earlier elder fuþark thereby supports the authenticity of the poetic Edda’s retelling (as well as Snorri’s fuller story somewhat angled from the Christian point of view, which can be sorted out).

In addition, we intend only to raise two other perspectives and begin with the Bronze Age or the Indo-European perspective. To begin with, there is only one clearly named godhead among the elder fuþark’s names: 16 Tiwaz / TiwaR or Tyr. This is as Indo-European as anyone or anything can get. We see it in the cognate words of Sanskrit devas, Latin deus, Lithuanian devas, Old Irish dia and Old Norse plural tivar: god, gods. We also have the cognitive concepts of heavenly god and father in Sanskrit (Dyaus, Pita), Greek (Zeu, Pater), Latin (Ju, Piter, Jupiter!), Illyrian (Dei, Patyros) and the Hittite word of heavenly god d’Sius. Illyrian is part of a poorly known group of Indo-European languages ​​from the Balkans, and Hittite is an early breakaway language from the proto-Indo-European, which was spoken in Minor Asia and which has a preserved rich textual treasure. The recently given cognate words are derived from a variety of language divisions, widely separated in time and space.

However, we also see how the gods, which became known in the later Old Norse mythology, now begin to appear though hiddenly (Tyr became a somewhat faded off god). We thus have 4 raido (Thor), 18 ehwaz (Odin) and 21 Ingwaz (Freyr, Freiya). If we want to see the Bronze Age solar cult in the elder fuþark, we have of course a sun rune, 15 sowilo and a safe horse-rune, 18 ehwaz. As we have gone through, we have mentioned a possible sunhorse pair in the form of 14 algiz.

We then take up our second and last point of view and this is if you can read the early teachings about the four elements into the names of the elder fuþark and we will explain why we address this. The four elements, of which all was built, were of course fire, air, water and earth. You may be able to read these elements. We start with 20 laguz (laukaz). Some have thus thought that the rune name would mean ’onion’ instead of ’lake’. However, both the Anglo-Saxon rune row and the younger fuþark in the corresponding places here indicate words which mean ’lake’. We stop for the term water. Do we have the element earth? At least in the form of 23 oþila, the odal soil, as used and claimed by Man. Do we have the element of fire? If indeed 5 kauna really means a torch. As for the air element, it’s more difficult. We can point to 22 dagaz, the day, which is distinguished from the concept of sun as well as to 8 hagalaz, hail or sky. Both runic names require something intermediate, namely the concept of air.

Whether or not this doctrine or equivalent ideas have come from Antiquity with the elder fuþark we will never learn, since the users of the fuþark as shown above never used it for ”real” literacy or writing. Known is that Christianity in turn took up the doctrine of the four elements and passed it on. Of Indo-European origin, in any case, the concept of fire inside or below water seems to be. We have the myths about the Old Iranian and Vedic so-called napat apam ’nephiews’ and the possibly cognate (though disputed) names of the Roman sea god ’Neptunus’ resp. The Celtic (Irish) Nechtan, who lived in a lake or spring; in both cases without preserved connections to fire. We have Old Norse skaldic kennings like Ägir’s fire = gold (Ägir was the sea giant) or, for that matter, the talk in the poetical Edda about the Rhine gold.

The significance of whether the teaching of the four elements would have come to the North or Iceland first with the teaching of Christianity lies in the dating of one of the oldest skaldic poems, the so-called Ynglingatal and its probationary value for Viking era conditions. It is generally considered (at least to its core, it is harder to distinguish later additions) stemming from around 900 and designated thus by Snorri. Some researchers have observed the occurrence of expressions that require knowledge of the four elements, thus giving a date to the learned Christian 1200’s. We point to the possibility of a clearly earlier origin.

We then finish this section on the elder fuþark with this set of the germanic names of the runes alongside the corresponding rune names from the Anglo-Saxon rune row respectively the younger fuþark.

Old English            Germanic              Old Norse

feoh 24                  *fehu                     fé

ur 1                        *uruz                     úr

þorn 2                    *þurisaz þurs

os 3                        *ansuz          áss

rad 4                      *raido                    reið

cen 5                      *kauna                  kaun

gyfy 6                     *gebo

wynn 7                   *wunjo

hægl 8                    *hagalaz hagall                    

nyd 9                      *naudiz                 nauð(r)

is 10                       *ísaz                      íss

ger 11                    *jára                      ár

peorð 12 *perþu

eoh 13                   *ïhwaz

eolhx 14 *algiz                     ýr

sigel 15   *sowilo                  sól

tir 16                      *tíwaz                    Týr

beorc 17 *berkana bjarkan

eh 18                      *ehwaz

man 19                  *mannaz               maðr

lagu 20                   *laguz                    lögr

Ing 21                     *ingwaz 

dæg 22  *dagaz

eþel 23                   *óþila

The withering away of older runic literacy

We have already pointed out how the Nordic region during the Merovingian period became cut off from former southern contacts, partly through a Slavic language barrier along most of the southern coast of the Baltic Sea, and partly through an increasing cultural barrier through an increasing Christianity on the continent. We shall scrutinize the runic literacy in the elder fuþark in the light of this. Of the more than 300 preserved such runic inscriptions, just over 50 of cases are in / on stone (almost exclusively in Norway and Sweden) and the rest is on loose objects (about 250). More than 200 of these are on runic C-bracteates (as described above, and which, in total, with or without runes, constitute about 400 of the total close to 1000 bracteates found). An almost as numerous group of bracteates are the so-called D-bracteates, whose time date from 500 to 550, meaning the very last part of the Migration era before the Merovingian period.

These represent ornamental animals in the transition to the later animal ornamental style (Salin’s style II). The real significance for our purpose is that these last bracteates all lack runes. Runic literacy appears to become irrelevant.

If we now consider the known inscriptions with the elder fuþark on loose objects, ie c:a 250, including C-bracteates, you can note that the Merovingian ones from graves make up a very small number. We may know four from Norway, one from Denmark and three from Sweden. From a compilation of Denmark’s and Norway’s old recordings on loose objects from all sorts of finds, Denmark has the only one from Merovingian time but 35 from the Roman Iron Age and the Migration time. In Norway, the Merovingian inscriptions are somewhat more numerous with 8 finds against 25 from previous periods. The data can be obtained from Arild Hauges website on runic records. However, regardless of the completeness, the picture will be clear: Rune-writing seems to become irrelevant.

As far as rune stones are concerned, the picture is somewhat more favourable for the Merovingian period, ie. in some areas. However, we first intend to review one of Sweden’s three loose runic findings, in a fire grave; Most runic findings in the Nordic region are just fire grave findings. We talk about the ”rinker grave” in Rickeby in Vallentuna (ie. not the famous Stockholm suburb of Rinkeby at Spånga). In Uppland (and, in principle only here), there is a greater number of ”Rinke villages” (Rinkebyar) in terms of place names. The word rinc is found in Beowulf, but not in Snorri’s Heimskringla, though the word rekkr (with the so-called nasal assimilation of the n and corresponding to an Eastern Old Norse rinkR) is known from the Old Norse literature with the meaning of fighter, warrior. However, the meaning in the context of Svealand does not appear to be clear.

There are according to the Swedish researcher Svante Fischer (see reference list) two excavated rinkeby graves, Rinkeby in Spånga and Rickeby in Vallentuna. They are moderately big burial mounds, about 15m in diameter and 1.5m high, sword and helmet-clad graves, otherwise with a moderate amount of finer grave goods, but unbelievably large amounts of burned animal bones, a total of 32 liters, in addition to the rider himself of all kinds of animal species. The amount of burned bones applies to Rickeby. If we talk about the highest division, so-called royal mounds, like the old Uppsala three royal mounds and Anundshögen outside of Västerås, we talk about mounds beyond and around 65 m and a height up to 9 m (Anundshögen). One of the king’s mounds, Ottarshögen in Vendel contained only 1-2 liters of burned animal bones. A King’s mound is at the center of its settlement/district, and contains much finer and older, most commonly imported, objects from the Eastern Roman empire (rarely from the Merovingian realm of the former Western Rome) but moderate amounts of burned animal bones and not runic literacy.

The Rinker graves do not constitute the center of the district according to burial fields or settlements, and the local settlement has not been able to afford its rinker grave. These are clearly different from other local graves and are a one time only phenomenon in the first part of the Merovingian period, and the rinkers appear to have been in the service of an overlord, who paid for the rinker grave (noting the horrible amount of burned animal bones of all kinds). By place names, the rinker graves seem to have had a rather small farm attached to it.

In the Rickeby grave in Vallentuna there was a die of bone. Dice (or other remnants of board games) are not uncommon in richer graves, and they correspond to recent dice with circles corresponding to numbers 1-6 on the six sides of the cube (this means numerical literacy, which we have been into above). Just this die had a runic script: h(l)AhA-hAukR, ’Laugh-Hawk’, where hAukR < habukaR. The syncopation has apparently taken place and the jara rune has been transformed into a special A-rune, which looks like the latter long-twig-h in the younger fuþark, ie. a main stave and two crossing assistants in a cross. Jara has become an ”ár” (year) and the rune name has lost its initial j-sound. This is so-called transitional runes which we will talk about later.

After that, the Vallentuna area is empty in runes up to the about 165 rune stones here from the late Viking era. We reiterate this again: a single lonely early-Merovingian runic writing on a rinker die against 165 Viking rune stones with the younger fuþark. Merovingian runic literacy was in stand-by or shut-down mode, but apparently survived until the Viking era’s boost with the writing in the younger fuþark. The immense in this boom will be the subject of the text Runic-Literacy-2.txt. Here we will probe more into the decline of Merovingian times in writing and its causes. First, however, we must complete the discussion about who the rinker or fighter was.

We make the most of the Rickeby grave, which is most apparent. We have the rinker himself with a helmet, armour and sword or in the Rinkeby case helmet, shield and spear (as well as a blue clover, dice and other gaming equipment for entertainment, though no runes). In addition, both rinker graves contained lots of different animal bones. In the Rinkeby grave there were among others three horses, three dogs, two cows, two pigs, two geese, one hen and a dove and an owl. In the Rickeby grave animal bones were found of 12 different species, among others again an owl, a number of birds of prey, of which three hawks. In both of the tombs there was a large set of different edible wild birds, some of which are difficult to shoot down. Hunting for black grouse for instance requires high-level archery and trained dogs that can give a standstill. Live owls can be used to attract crows and ravens, which can then be shot down with arrows or let loose trained hawks against. You may also have had special dogs trained to ”put” wild boar, elk or deer.

Svante Fischer (see the list of literature) has interpreted the role of the rinker as not only the ”fighter” or man of the ”king” (or petty-king or chieftain) in the local district but also breeder of hunting dogs, hunting hawks or hunting falcons serving as game guardian for the purpose of mediating hunting pleasure for his chief and for his guests. Keeping track of the training of a number of hunting dogs or hunting birds is costly as it takes time. So costly, in fact, that rinkers became a one-off event. The rinkers certainly had a lot to keep up with both their dogs or falcons and their different guests’ different wishes. He may have had a reason to maintain runic literacy for this purpose. The hunting rinker was a cultural trait, which had been copied from the contemporary continent. As we saw, they did not manage to maintain it over time. There were no subsequent rinker graves.

As a result, we are discussing the more general decline during the Merovingian period. This is mainly evidenced archaeologically. The gold flow northwards was cut off and hencefourth gold plating was used, a thin layer of gold over bronze objects in stead of real gold. There is a clear decrease in imports of status goods, except for beverage glass and after the 5th century there is little evidence that Eastern Roman (or Frankish) splendour objects or solidii reaches the Nordic region. Army raids southward which were performed during the Migration time were no longer feasible. According to the Beowulf and Historia Francorum, the army of the geatic King Hygelacs (Chlochilaich) was defeated in Frisland by a Frankish army around the year 520.

During Migration times or earlier, Germanic tribes (including the North-born) had been able to gather under charismatic leaders on the continent with ”force of luck” or ”king’s luck” and eventually became equal to the Romans. They had learned advanced warfare, diplomacy, foreign languages ​​like Latin as well as writing skills, both their own Runic and the Latin. On these happenings, the poetical Edda speaks, but in almost legendary form, with symbolism like dragons, and emphasizing moral questions about what is honour and conflicts with it rather than actual historical writing. Thus, the poetical Edda is more a reflection of ”good old days” than a practical manual for the Merovingian youth to repeat the deeds. They had lost their continental connections.

According to archaeological and place name evidence, you get the image of f.ex. the Merovingian Mälar valley as a patchwork of petty kingdoms, where occasionally there seems to have been kindreds trying to get hegemony against the background of conservative assembly meetings. The name Uppsala seems less responsible for the seat of a central authority than for an ideological-religious center in common. There is also a semi-legendary historical writing about the Merovingian Mälar valley in the form of the Ynglinga saga, which is the first part of Snorri’s Heimskringla. Snorri says among other things ”þá váru þar margir heraðskonungar”, there were then many petty kings there. We will stay here. How could Snorri possibly know this, which completely matches archeology and place name research. The easiest way is to assume that Snorri encountered genuine oral traditions, claiming this.

Snorri not only was a Christian chieftain, writer and poet in the early 13th century Iceland.

Through several visits to Norway, he was also familiar with King Hakon and Earl Skuli, as well as involved in various intrigues aimed in the end at the Norwegian ”Machtübernahme” over its free colony, Iceland, in 1264 (We are fully aware of the Nazi occupation of Norway during World War II). Snorri has also visited Eskil Lagman in Sweden in the early 1200’s in Västergötland and has been on Visingsö an island in Lake Vättern. Does anyone doubt that Snorri may have picked up genuine Swedish traditions? The Ynglinga saga seems semi-legendary. Some things can be proved. The place names exist in reality and are such that they should not have been widely known throughout the Nordic region. The place names as such are carriers of relevant archeology. Such is semi-legendary historical writing. Like a sponge. If you squeeze it, then you will not come up with solid, proven history. Truth comes of some kind, to be interpreted by the one who is capable of it.

We are now somewhat reviewing (or conjecturing) those who returned from the Migration age battles, ”enlightened” by Roman civilisation, practiced in advanced warfare, diplomacy and social art, foreign languages ​​such as Latin as well as writing skills, both their own Runic and Latin. They met with their more small-minded homestaying tribe kins with their ”heraðskonungar” and their thing meetings with their claiming of the importance of the odal soil and the old birth-rights for which ”the art of war” stopped at recurrent cattle raids against the neighbouring tribe.

Archeologically, the new cultural traits with runic literacy as a marker seem to have been marginalized as we have seen. The assertion of the importance of the odal soil took in the early days of the Merovingian period outraged, landscaping expressions in the form of giant graves, the so-called royal mounds and in the form of widely visible funeral pyres. Such funerals were hardly used later. We are talking about some kind of social crisis.

Somewhere here during late Migration times to early Merovingian times we have signs of a change of religion from earlier outdoor cult or wetlands cult or even Vanir cult to an indoors cult in the main hall of the chief with subsequent Valhalla mythology. Alongside this, the use of burning funerals spread, which Snorre called the brennuöld (the burning age, however Snorri knew about this). However, during the Viking era, the cult of Thor seems to be predominant according to the rune-stone evidence and written later sources.

We also have the signs of the early Merovingian population crisis in the form of the Ragnarök catastrophe, a likely volcanic eruption in 536, reflected in Greenland ice-core kernels, and pollen-based in a clear reduction of cultivated area in the Nordic region. This latter (but only this) could also have been due to the contemporary Justinian plague. During the Merovingian period, the population gradually recovered with new cultivation as a consequence and still so during the Viking era without archaeological signs of overpopulation. This gave rise to the upswing of the Viking era, commercially and in writing. We now get a clear impression of a very widespread writing in addition to the sparse magical one, thus a Vindolanda writing. We round up this text about the literacy of the elder fuþark with the transition stones.

Transitional rune-stones

Sweden’s runestones with the elder fuþark can be counted. We start with the true proto-Nordic stones. The two Rö and Kalleby in Bohuslän, Vg 63 Noleby and Vg 65 Vånga in Västergötland and KJ 70 Järsberg and the rather newfound Skramlesten in Värmland. In the Mälar valley there are four, in Södermanland KJ 85 Berga and KJ 86 Skåäng, as well as in Uppland KJ 99 Möjbro and KJ 100 Krogsta. On Gotland there are three, KJ 1 Kylver, KJ 99 Martebo and KJ 102 Roes. Together we get thirteen pure proto-Nordic stones. In addition, we have rune stone fragments from a fire pit in Tomteboda in the Solna parish in Uppland and from Strängnäs in Södermanland. This fragment carries the captivating inscription ”-rilaR: wodinR”, with an early syncopation and a possible ekerilaR formula, the only one from the Mälar valley.

We transfer to the transition stones. In eastern Östergötland there is the Söderköping stone. All others are from western Blekinge, especially Listerland, and thus constitute a completely local accumulation of Merovingian transitional stones. These are five: KJ 95 Gummarp, KJ 96 Stentoften, KJ 97 Björketorp, KJ 98 Istaby, and KJ 98 Anm. Sölvesborg. In total, there are six transition stones in Sweden. We take the liberty of briefly mentioning the Eggjum stone from the Norwegian Vestlandet. This is carved with transitional runes, exhibiting a long-driven transition to age-old, but understandable Old Norse and constitutes, with its rather precisely 200 runes, the world’s longest inscription with the elder fuþark. The somewhat uncertain timeframe is around 650.

We go into the West Blekinge transition stones. Their somewhat insecure time is the first half of the 7th century. Four of them are in the so-called Listerlandet, a peninsula in the westernmost Blekinge, which is protected from Skåne by the north-south running beech-clad mountain Ryssberget. The Björketorp stone is the separate, odd, though entirely related stone within the group, in that it is located 60 km to the east, which enters the eastern half of Blekinge. We will return. Listerlandet, a fertile agricultural area, is archaeologically apart from the surrounding eastern Blekinge, Skåne, Bornholm, Öland and Gotland. The other areas are characterized during Migration and Merovingian times of bracteates (such as eastern Blekinge’s Tjurkö bracteate), Roman gold coins (solidi) – for Blekinge, the five found solidii are all from East Blekinge, imported weapons or Merovingian boat graves. In Listerland, all this is missing, which is a negative archaeological evidence: something unsure, the evidence may not yet have been found.

Instead, as a visible cultural expression, there is a peculiar runic literacy from Merovingian times. Even during the Viking era, Listerlandet distinguishes itself through distinctive burial customs. It is something of a cultural enclave in a different environment. We start by looking at these runic texts.

Istaby runestone:

AfatR hAriwulafa

hAþuwulafR hAeruwulafiR

warAit runAR þAiAR

”After Hariwulaf HaþuwulafR, (a) ’Hjörylfing’, wrote runes these”. There is at least one syncopation in that hAeruwulafiR should have called hAeruwulafi-ja-R. The sign big A stands for the new a-rune, (ár) year from jara, while small ”a” stands for the ansuz rune. The rune A is drawn on this stone with a character that corresponds completely to the later, lightning-like long-twig s and actually resembles the jara-runan. On other stones, A is drawn with the a rune, which is quite similar to the latter long-twig h, as already mentioned above. In hAeruwulafiR, the A-rune really seems to stand for the j-sound ’Hjeruwulafir’ ’of Hjörulf’s. Note also that the wunjo-rune is used and that the Old Norse loss of w or v in front of u or o has not yet taken place.

There are three male names: Hariwulafr (Old Norse Herulfr with the meaning of ’Army wolf’), Haþuwulafr (Höðulfr ’Battle wolf’) and Haeruwulafr (Hjörulfr ’Sword wolf’). The stone is about death and kinship. In any case, Höðulfr and Hjörulfr are clearly related. The Swedish religious historians Sundqvist and Hultgård have thought that these wolf names can go back to religious war groups such as the ”ulvhednar”. A better known warrior community in the sources is the berserkir, still active during early Viking times. The first part of the word is interpreted as coming from a Germanic stem with the meaning of ’bear’. See the German ’das Bähr’. Already on linguistic grounds, the berserkir appear to be far older than the Viking age, before the Old Norse ’Brechung’ of e to jö.

Gummarp stone:

(H) AþuwolAfA sAte

(s)tA(b)A þr(i)a


”To (?) Haþuwolfa [R] [is put] staves three, fff (fehu, fehu, fehu = wealth in three)”. There seems to be no nominal-R after the name. One can notice the distinctly different spelling compared with the Istaby stone, and that for A the long-twig ”h” is used. The Gummarp stone is no longer available. It had been moved early to Copenhagen and disappeared in the city’s fire in 1728. An image remains.

Stentoften stone:

niu hAborumR niu hagestumR hAþuwolAfR gAf j hAriwolAfR (m)A–u snuh-e hideRrunono fe(l)(A)h ekA h ed|erA ginoronoR herAmAlAsAR ArAgeu we(l)Adud sA þAt bAriutiþ

”With nine bucks (Old Norse hafr), nine stallions Höðulfr gave j (jara, ering, good year). Herulfr … something.” Then a nearly identical representation of the Björketorp stone’s single curse formula follows with among others changed spellings. We will return.

In addition to the curse formula, the Stentoften stone and the Björketorp stone share the property that they are part of a larger monument with several bauta stones (for the Stentoften stone this applies in past time, as the actual stone is moved). Rune-wise, we notice that the concept rune j is actually the real proto-Nordic jara rune. Furthermore, in the word ”hagestumR” ’a’ really consists of the ansuz rune, which according to recent research findings gives the above reading (hangestumr).

Culturally, you get the following picture. It is obvious that there are several different rune carvers who carved their different stones and tried to express themselves orally as to which runic sign to carve. This despite the fact that the stone texts are about the same named persons who are relatives to each other. The interpretation is that these people or chieftains have been able to command the various stone carvers. The chieftains have, with their recommended rune-stone art, been able to manifest a funeral and also official cultic acts, such as putting staves three, fff or with nine bucks and nine stallions giving a good year. As we have seen, the number 9 has been the naudiz-rune number, the rune of necessity. The chiefs have also threatened with the curse formulas to destroy those who break the monuments at Stentoften and Björketorp.

We have already seen how Listerland is a secluded cultural enclave. The Swedish scientists Nerman and von Friesen have dared to suggest that the Listerlanders originally came from without, more specifically from Rogaland in southwestern Norway, around modern Stavanger and with immigration around the year 600. They suggest two hints. First, the unusual form of the k-rune, found in the two curse formulas. K is like a large, modern Y. Such k-s one has to search for, but they are found on transitional stones in precisely Rogaland. Also, the Istaby stone’s name pair (in Old Norse Höðulfr and Hjörulfr) can be found together throughout the fornaldar saga of Hálfs saga ok Hálfsrekka, which deals with early conditions in precisely Rogaland. Finally, you can highlight the strange place name ’Norje’ on the coast in the middle of Listerlandet. The village is in modern times the seat of the annual Sweden Rock Festival. We have been there and joked with visiting Norwegians – but you are still in Norje (= Norge; same pronunciation). However, we have not seen a place name survey of the name.

Björketorp Stone:

hAidR runo ronu

fAlAhAk hAiderA g

inArunAR ArAgeu


utiAR welAdAude

sAR þAt bArutR

uþArAbA sbA

HaidR runo ronu, falh’k haidera ginnarunaR. Argeu hermalausR, utiaR weladaude, saR þat brutR. Uþarba spa.

A possible translation reads: ”The rune line of the shining sky I concealed haidera? Bewildering runes.” With vileness (Old Norse ergi) constant, utiaR? with withcraft’s death, (for) the one that breaks. Bad times I foretell.

It is quite obvious that transition stones with their small overall text mass can be difficult to understand. Rune-wise, it can be noted that the p-sound in ’uþarba spa’ is reproduced with the rune b (sba) as on the Vadstena bracteate, not with the perþa-rune of the Kylver stone. What does the A-rune actually mean in all of these occurrences? The researchers believe that A in many text cases constitutes an mute supportive vowel between two consonants, a so-called svarabhakti vowel. Compare the original transcription with the imaginary rendering in proto-Nordic. A particularly clear case is the word bArutR or as the Stentoften stone puts it: bAriutiþ. The Old Norse verb for breaking, destroying is called brjóta with the inflection pattern; brýt; braut, brutum; brotinn. Germanic, proto-Nordic and Old Norse words are always emphasized at the first syllable, it is the wordendings that are blurred over, that is, syncopated. The big A in ’bArutR’ must reasonably be a svarabhakti vowel. It can be said further on the A-rune, that some researchers believe that it may also designate an ”æ” sound. Though we so to say ”break” here.

What are the cultural implications from the Björketorp stone? It is extremely related to the Stentoften stone in Listerlandet, but stands 60 km eastwards, ie. into Blekinge’s eastern half in the later Listerby parish on the border of two neighbouring parishes. ”Lister” like in Listerland? The stone puts fourth a very threatening message with its single curse formula. The interpretation would be that the good Listerland boys (alternatively the ancient Rogaland’s men or rygir) thought to extend their ruling area to the east.

Hereby we have put forward what we wanted to say about the writing in the elder fuþark. In order to follow the script development with the younger fuþark, please see the text Runic-Literacy-2.txt.

Reference list

Anders Andrén: Tracing Old Norse Cosmology. Vägar till Midgård, 16. ISSN 1650-5905. Nordic Academic Press, Lund, 2014

Sigurd Agrell: Runornas talmystik och dess antika förebild (;In swedish. The number mysticism of the runes and its roots in Antiquity.). Projekt Runeberg.

Svante Fischer: Roman Imperialism and Runic Literacy. The Westernization of Northern Europe (150-800 AD). Aun 33, 2005. Uppsala.

Tacitus: Germania

Terje Spurkland: The Older Fuþark and Roman Script Literacy. Futharc, 2010

Ute Zimmermann: Bier, Runen und Macht: Ein Formelwort im Kontext. Futharc, 2014


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