Viking Runes: The Historic Writing Systems of Northern Europe

Viking runes were not for everyday use. The Northmen’s history was told orally, and runes used only to record moments of great importance. Let’s dive deep into the fascinating world of the Viking alphabet.

We’ve talked before about the many remaining runestones of Scandinavia. These magnificent monoliths with intricate imagery litter the landscape of Scandinavia. But how much do we know about what they say?

Let’s continue our look at Viking history and take a deep dive into the runic alphabets.

Origins of Viking runes

The exact origins of the runes used by the Germanic people of Northern Europe in the first millennium of the Common Era are up for debate. The characters share similarities with various other writing systems yet none of them match up precisely enough to form a definitive ‘yep, this is it’ for the scholars.

The runes clearly developed from the old Italic scripts used on the Italian peninsula in ancient times, which in turn came from the Greek alphabet.

It’s possible that they came from the Etruscan alphabet, which went on to become the Latin alphabet that English and most Western languages use to some extent today.

How we get from Italy to Scandinavia is also up for discussion! As the runes first appear in Denmark and Northern Germany, there are two hypotheses for how they got there.

Read more: Life in Norway

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