Roots of the Runic Alphabet or Futhark


History of the Futhark

The term "rune" seems native of the old Icelandic language " runar " (secret) or the old Saxon " runa " (whisper) or even from the Irish and the Welsh languages "Rhine" (secret / mystery), seems to indicate that the runic alphabet was reserved for an elite.

The origin of the futhark remains mysterious and Odin appointed as the inventor of runes, by the Germanic tradition, does not really enlighten us.

Engraved Runes

Between the IIth and the XIVth century, Germanic peoples used the runic writing.

These runic signs were engraved on a large number of awls, rings, spearheads and especially stones, as for example that of Eggjum in Norway. The engraved texts were generally rather short. Often the texts which were preserved on gravestone, had been drafted with the aim of honoring the memory of a deceased.

The runic alphabet or Futhark, because of the name of its first six letters, possesses twenty four letters classified in three groups of eight ( Aettir). Every letter is associated with a name which gives the phonetic value of the rune. For example the rune Fehu (F / livestock).
On the other hand when the pronunciation of a rune varies, the phonetic value varies with her. That's why perceptible variations of the phonetic values of runes were noticed in the time and in different geographic places.

Some people wanted to associate the runic alphabet, to the divinatory runes used by the Germanic in the Roman period. Indeed according to the literary work " Germania " of Tacit, the Germanic used sticks with some engraved symbols for the divination. These engraved signs was divided into three groups. This hypothesis must not to be completely rejected in the possible elaboration of the runic alphabet, or Futhark, divided into three Aettir.

If the written form of runes offers obvious common points with the alphabets of the Greco-phoenician family, the real contributions of those peoples remains without answer. What writing was able to be of use as model by the Germanic ? Several hypotheses coexist but nobody bring proofs and/or decisive arguments.

Roman Empire, which possessed border zones with Germanic tribes, could have contribute to the elaboration of the runic alphabet as for example with letters U, F, H and R existing in the Latin alphabet. But although this hypothesis is not to reject, it is possible as one of the north-Etruscan alphabets could also have been use as model to the futhark. Indeed, a helmet of the IIth century BC, discovered to Negau and wearing a north-Etruscan graffiti mentions a Germanic family name. This discovery proves that links existed between Tyrrhenian and Germanic tribes.

The lead of Goth is not to reject too. These would have been able to borrow the letters of the futhark from an oriental Greek alphabet, used by Greek colonies of the Black seaside. Not insignificant lead, because it is attested that the Goths plundered Olbia and the other Hellenic cities of the region, in the IIIth century AD.

All these hypotheses on the runic aphabet origin are valid, but none is really satisfactory. So the mystery of Runes remains...