Anglo-Saxon runes

Infobox Writing system
name=Anglo-Saxon Futhorc
languages=Old English and Old Frisian
fam1=Phoenician alphabet
fam2=Greek alphabet (Cumae variant)
fam3=Old Italic alphabets
fam4=Elder Futhark
sisters=Younger Futhark

Futhorc, a runic alphabet used by the Anglo-Saxons, was descended from the Elder Futhark of 24 runes and contained between 26 and 33 characters. It was used probably from the fifth century onward, for recording Old English and Old Frisian.


There are competing theories as to the origins of the Anglo-Saxon futhorc. One theory proposes that it was developed in Frisia and from there spread later to England. Another holds that runes were first introduced to England from Scandinavia where the futhorc was modified and then exported to Frisia. Both theories have their inherent weaknesses and a definitive answer likely awaits more archaeological evidence.

The early futhorc was identical to the Elder Futhark but for the split of runic|ᚨ "a" into three variants runic|ᚪ "āc", runic|ᚫ "æsc" and runic|ᚩ "ōs", resulting in 26 runes. This was necessary to account for the new phoneme produced by the Ingvaeonic split of allophones of long and short "a".The earliest runic|ᚩ "ōs" rune is found on the 5th century Undley bracteate. runic|ᚪ "āc" was introduced later, in the 6th century. The double-barred runic|ᚻ "hægl" characteristic for continental inscriptions is first attested as late as 698, on St. Cuthbert's coffin; before that, the single-barred Scandinavian variant was used.

In England the futhorc was further extended to 28 and finally to 33 runes, and runic writing in England became closely associated with the Latin scriptoria from the time of Anglo-Saxon Christianization in the 7th century. The futhorc started to be replaced by the Latin alphabet from around the 9th century. In some cases, texts would be written in the Latin alphabet but runes would be used in place of the word it represented, and the þorn and wynn came to be used as extensions of the Latin alphabet. By the Norman Conquest of 1066 it was very rare and disappeared altogether shortly thereafter. From at least five centuries of use, fewer than 200 artifacts bearing futhorc inscriptions have survived.


The Anglo-Saxon rune poem (Cotton Otho B.x.165) has the following runes, listed with their Unicode glyphs, their names, their transliteration and their approximate phonetic value in IPA notation where different from the transliteration:
# "wealth" "f" [f] , [v]
# "aurochs" "u"
# "thorn" "þ", "ð" [θ] , [ð]
# " [a] god" "ó"
# "ride" "r"
# "torch" "c" [k]
# "gift" "latinx|ȝ" [g] , [j]
# "joy" "w", "latinx|ƿ" [w]
# "hail (precipitation)" "h"
# "need, distress" "n"
# "ice" "i"
# "year, harvest" "j"
# "yew" "eo"
# "p"
# "elk-sedge" "x"
# "Sun" "s" [s] , [z]
# "Tiw" "t"
# "birch" "b"
# "horse" "e"
# "man" "m"
# "lake" "l"
# "Ing (a hero)" "ŋ"
# "estate" "œ"
# "day" "d"
# "oak" "a"
# sc "ash-tree" "æ"
# "bow" "y"
# "eel" "ia", "io"
# "grave" "ea"

The first 24 of these directly continue the Elder Futhark letters, extended by five additional runes, representing long vowels and diphthongs ("á, æ, ý, ia, ea"), comparable to the five forfeda of the Ogham alphabet.

Thorn and Wynn were introduced into the Latin English alphabet to represent [θ] and [w] , but the they were replaced with "th" and "w" in Middle English.

The letter sequence, and indeed the letter inventory is not fixed. Compared to the letters of the rune poem given above,:"f u þ o r c latinx|ȝ w h n i j eo p x s t b e m l ŋ œ d a æ y io ea"the Thames scramasax has 28 letters, with a slightly different order, and "edhel" missing::"f u þ o r c latinx|ȝ w h n i io eo p x s t b e ŋ d l m j a æ y ea"The Vienna Codex has also 28 letters;the Ruthwell Cross inscription has 31 letters;
Cotton Domitian A.ix (11th century) has another four additional runes::30. runic|ᛢ cweorð "kw", a modification of peorð:31. "kk"):32. runic|ᛥ stan "stone" "st":33. runic|ᚷ "latinx|ȝ")

These four additional letters are not found epigraphically (the "stan" shape is found on the Westeremden yew-stick, but likely as a "Spiegelrune"). Cotton Domitian A.ix reaches thus a total of33 letters, according to the transliteration introduced above arranged in the order:"f u þ o r c latinx|ȝ w h n i j eo p x s t b e m l ŋ d œ a æ y ea io cw k st g"

In the manuscript, the runes are arranged in three rows, glossed with Latin equivalents below (in the third row above) and with their names above (in the third row below). The manuscript has traces of corrections by a 16th century hand, inverting the position of "m" and "d". Eolh is mistakenly labelled as "sigel", and in place of sigel, there is a kaun like letter runic|ᚴ, corrected to proper sigel runic|ᛋ above it. Eoh is mis-labelled as eþel. Apart from "ing" and "ear", all rune names are due to the later scribe, identified as Robert Talbot (died 1558).

Another futhorc row is found in Cotton Galba A.ii.

Walahfrid Strabo records a futhorc row of 42 runes.

Inscription corpus

The Old English and Old Frisian Runic Inscriptions database project at the Katholische Universität Eichstätt-Ingolstadt, Germany aims at collecting the genuine corpus of Old English inscriptions containing more than two runes in its paper edition, while the electronic edition aims at including both genuine and doubtful inscriptions down to single-rune inscriptions. The corpus of the paper edition encompasses about one hundred objects (including stone slabs, stone crosses, bones, rings, brooches, weapons, urns, a writing tablet, tweezers, a sun-dial, comb, bracteates, caskets, a font, dishes, and graffiti). The database includes, in addition, 16 inscriptions containing a single rune, several runic coins, and 8 cases of dubious runic characters (runelike signs, possible Latin characters, weathered characters). Comprising fewer than 200 inscriptions, the corpus is slightly larger than that of Continental Elder Futhark (about 80 inscriptions, ca. 400–700), but slightly smaller than that of the Scandinavian Elder Futhark (about 260 inscriptions, ca. 200–800).

Runic finds in England cluster along the east coast with a few finds scattered further inland in Southern England. Frisian finds cluster in West Frisia. Looijenga (1997) lists 23 English (including two 7th c. Christian inscriptions) and 21 Frisian inscriptions predating the 9th century.


Currently known Anglo-Saxon runic inscriptions include:


* Ferwerd combcase, 6th c.; "me uræ"
* Amay comb, ca. 600; "eda"
* Oostyn comb, 8th c.; "aib ka [m] bu / deda habuku" (with a triple-barred "h")
* Toornwerd comb, 8th c.; "kabu"
* Skanomody solidus, 575–610; "skanomodu"
* Harlingen solidus, 575–625, "hada" (two "ac" runes, double-barred "h")
* Schweindorf solidus, 575–625, "wela [n] du" "Weyland" (or "þeladu"; running right to left)
* Folkestone tremissis, ca. 650; "æniwulufu"
* Midlum sceat, ca. 750; "æpa"
* Rasquert swordhandle (whalebone handle of a symbolic sword), late 8th c.; "ekumæditoka", perhaps "I, Oka, not mad" (compare "ek unwodz" from the Danish corpus)
* Arum sword, a yew-wood miniature sword, late 8th c.; "edæboda"
* Westeremden A, a yew weaving-slay; "adujislume [þ] jisuhidu
* Westeremden B, a yew-stick, 8th c.; "oph?nmuji?adaamluþ / :wimœ?ahþu?? / iwio?u?du?ale"
* Britsum yew-stick; "þkniaberetdud / ] n:bsrsdnu"; the "k" has Younger Futhark shape and probably represents a vowel.
* Hantum whalebone plate; " [.] :aha:k ["; the reverse side is inscribed with Roman "ABA".
* Bernsterburen whalebone staff, ca. 800; "tuda æwudu kius þu tuda"
* Hamwick horse knucklebone, dated to between 650 and 1025; "katæ" (categorised as Frisian on linguistic grounds, from "*kautōn" "knucklebone")
* Wijnaldum B gold pendant, ca. 600; "hiwi"
* Bergakker gilt-silver scabbard mount, early 5th c., discovered in 1996; "haþeþewas:ann:kesjam:logens:"; the character transliterated as "e" is anomalous and otherwise unattested, looking like a doubled Latin "V".
* Kantens combcase, early 5th c.; "li"
* Hoogebeintum comb, ca. 700; " […] nlu / ded"
* Wijnaldum A antler piece; "zwfuwizw […] "


* Ash Gilton (Kent) gilt silver sword pommel, 6th c.; " […] emsigimer […] "
* Chessel Down I (Isle of Wight), 6th c.; " […] bwseeekkkaaa"
* Chessel Down II (Isle of Wight) silver plate (attached to the scabbard mouthpiece of a ring-sword), early 6th c.; "æko:?ori"
* Boarley (Kent) copper disc-brooch, ca. 600; "ærsil"
* Harford (Norfolk) brooch, ca. 650; "luda:gibœtæsigilæ" "Luda repaired the brooch"
* West Heslerton (North Yorkshire) copper cruciform brooch, early 6th c.; "neim"
* Loveden Hill (Lincolnshire) urn; 5th to 6th c.; reading uncertain, maybe "sïþæbæd þiuw hlaw" "the grave of Siþæbæd the maid"
* Spong Hill (Norfolk), three cremation urns, 5th c.; decorated with identical runic stamps, reading "alu" (in Spiegelrunen).
* Kent II coins (some 30 items), 7th century; reading "pada"
* Kent III, IV silver sceattas, ca. 600; reading "æpa" and "epa"
* Suffolk gold shillings (three items), ca. 660; stamped with "desaiona"
* Caistor-by-Norwich astragalus, 5th c.; possibly a Scandinavian import, in Elder Futhark transliteration reading "raïhan" "roe"
* Watchfield (Oxfordshire) copper fittings, 6th c.; Elder Futhark reading "hariboki:wusa" (with "a" probably already fronted to "æ")
* Wakerley (Northamptonshire) copper brooch, 6th c.; "buhui"
* Dover (Kent) brooch, ca. 600; "þd bli / bkk"
* Upper Thames Valley gold coins (four items), 620s; "benu:tigoii"; "benu:+:tidi"
* Willoughby-on-the-Wolds (Nottinghamshire) copper bowl, ca. 600; "a"
* Cleatham (South Humbershire) copper bowl, ca. 600; " […] edih"
* Sandwich/Richborough (Kent) stone, 650 or earlier; " […] ahabu […] i", perhaps "*ræhæbul" "stag"
* Whitby I (Yorkshire) jet spindle whorl; "ueu"
* Selsey (West Sussex) gold plates, 6th to 8th c.; "brnrn" / "anmu"
* St. Cuthbert's coffin (Durham), dated to 698
* Whitby II (Yorkshire) bone comb, 7th c.; " [dæ] us mæus godaluwalu dohelipæ cy [" i.e. "deus meus, god aluwaldo, helpæ Cy…" "my god, almighty god, help Cy…" (Cynewulf or a similar personal name; compare also names of God in Old English poetry.)
* the Franks casket; 7th c.
* the Thames scramasax; 9th c.
* the Ruthwell Cross; 8th c., the inscription may be partly a modern forgery
* the Brandon antler piece, "wohs wildum deoræ an" " [this] grew on a wild animal"; 9th century. [Bammesberger, Alfred. "The Brandon Antler Runic Inscription." Neophilologus 86 (2002), 129–31. [;jsessionid=3c7d05171lao9.alice] ]
*Kingmoor Ring

Related manuscript texts

* Codex Vindobonensis 795 (9th c.)
* the Anglo-Saxon rune poem (Cotton Otho B.x.165)
* "Solomon and Saturn" (Nowell Codex)



* A. Bammesberger (ed.), "Old English Runes and their Continental Background", Anglistische Forschungen 217, Heidelberg (1991).
* A. Bammesberger, 'Das Futhark und seine Weiterentwicklung in der anglo-friesischen Überlieferung', in Bammesberger and Waxenberger (eds.), "Das "fuþark" und seine einzelsprachlichen Weiterentwicklungen", Walter de Gruyter (2006), ISBN 3-11-019008-7, 171–187.
* J. H. Looijenga, " [ Runes around the North Sea and on the Continent AD 150–700] ", dissertation, Groningen University (1997).
*Odenstedt, Bengt, "On the Origin and Early History of the Runic Script", Uppsala (1990), ISBN 9185352209; chapter 20: 'The position of continental and Anglo-Frisian runic forms in the history of the older "futhark" '
* "Frisian runes and neighbouring traditions", Amsterdamer Beiträge zur älteren Germanistik 45 (1996).
*H. Marquardt, "Die Runeninschriften der Britischen Inseln" (Bibliographie der Runeninschriften nach Fundorten, Bd. I), Abhandlungen der Akademie der Wissenschaften in Göttingen, Phil.-hist. Klasse, dritte Folge, Nr. 48, Göttingen 1961, pp.10-16.

ee also

* Runic alphabet
* Elder Futhark
* Ogham

External links

* [ Anglo-Saxon Runic Texts at Georgetown Univ]
* [ Nytt om runer]
* [ Early Runic Inscriptions in England]

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