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Runes

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RUNES, the characters used in writing by the Teutonic tribes of northwestern Europe in early times. Three classes of runes are recog nized, Anglo-Saxon, German and Scandinavian, but the differences of form which distinguished them are no wider than the differences between the alphabets employed in very ancient times by various Greek peoples—between the Old Athenian alphabet, for example, and the Old Corinthian, or between the earliest Phcenician and the earliest Hebrew. The name Rune is significant of the use to which this manner of writing was first applied. In Anglo-Saxon nix means secret, and runa magician; and the knowledge of runes was confined to a small class— priests or sorcerers. For this reason, upon the introduction of the Christian religion the 'use of the runes was condemned as con nected with heathenish superstitions. A poet of the 6th century, Venantius Fortunatus, tells of runes being written on tablets or slabs of ash (fraritteit tabellis), but there are extant numerous runes inscribed on memorial stones, personal ornaments, rings, coins, etc., which have been found in Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Ger many and Iceland, and in Britain within the limits of the ancient kingdoms of Northumbria, Mercia and East Anglia. Some examples of runes have been found in Ireland, France and Rumania. The best British examples are found on a cross in Ruthwell, Dumfriesshire, Scot land, on a pillar in Bancastle in -Cumberland, and on the Frank's casket in the British Mu seum. The system of characters called runes gets the name Futhore from the first six let ters, just as the Greek system is called Alpha bet from the names of the first two letters, alpha and beta, A and B, or as we call our alphabet the A B C. The following examples show the agreements and differences between British and Norse runes: The origin of the runes is still a matter of uncertainty. While they are obviously an off shoo t of the Helleno-Italic family of alphabets, it is not easy to ascertain at what point they bran ched out from their ancestral stock.

While they have usually been regarded as of a purely Latin origin, the alternative theories have been propounded that they were invented upon a Galatian base, by the the Goths soon after their expedition to Asia Minor in 267, and that they are of Eubcean origin, through the contact of the Goths with Greek colonies in the Crimea. All these theories depend on a dating of the runes which is itself dependent on that of the Gothic bible of Ulfilas, in which an alphabet is used containing at least two runic characters. The authenticity of the 4th century date usually assigned to Ulfilas and his bible has been called into question by the in vestigations of Prof. Leo Wiener of Harvard University, and accordingly he is able to use for the derivation of the runes Greek alphabets much later than those which were formerly accessible for this purpose. He finds the proto type of the runes in the Greek cursive. He has also explained the order of the runes through their relation to the so-called ogams (q.v.) or Except in Scandinavia, the runes were al ways a purely inscriptional alphabet. Scandi navian runic manuscripts exist, but are not older than the 13th century. The Latin alpha bet gradually supplanted the runes, though they lingered on in popular use and in calendars until modem times. In England runes are found between the middle of the 6th and the midddle of the 10th centuries. Some Celtic runic inscriptions also exist. Consult Olsen, (Runerne i den oldislandske Literatur> (Chris tiania 1891) ; Stephens, G., (The Old-Northern Runic Monuments of Scandinavia and Eng land' Copenhagen 1879) ; Taylor, T., (Greeks and Goths: a Study on the Runes> (London 1879) ; Wimmer, F. A., (Die Runenschrift> (Berlin 1887).