martes, 8 de noviembre de 2011


For all their endeavors, the Viking Leith few written records, apart from the Skaldic legacy of the 13th-century sagas, which post dates the true Viking age. Instead, they inscribed their weapons, jewelry, and marker stones with their runes, the mysterious stick-like markings that served as their writing alphabet.
According to Viking legend, Odin, the chief of the old gods of Scandinavia, gave the runic alphabet to the Scandinavians as a gift. He was also the god of poetry, knowledge, and mystery, and his personal knowledge of runes was meant to have come from an even higher being. In his own quest for knowledge, Odin hung in Yggdrasil, the windswept tree of life for nice days and nine nights. In that time he gained his knowledge of the runes, and he subsequently passed this knowledge on to the mortals whom he ruled. So much for the legend. The real origin of the runic alphabet is far less straightforward.

Runes has been ascribed to the Bronze Age Greeks and Etruscans, although there is no indication that any southern European development of an alphabet was shared by the inhabitants of Bronze Age Scandinavia. In the Dolomite Mountains of Italy examples or runic scripts dating to the first century BC indicate that there may have been some Celtic antecedent to the Viking runic system. It has been suggested that migrating Germanic tribesmen took the alphabet north into Scandinavia at some time during the following four centuries.

There is a strong indication that similar runic scripts were used in other pagan Germanic regions during this period. Certainly by the ninth century, the Viking runic script was well established as a form of communication throughout the Viking world, and was different from any other runic form in Germanic lands, including Anglo-Saxon England or Frisia, where early runic inscriptions are also found.

Rudimentary Alphabet

The basic runic alphabet of 16 characters is known as futhark, after the first few characters of its script. An individual letter was known as a rune, while runic refers to the alphabet in its entirety. Each rune combined both and individual meaning as a letter in its own right with another specific meaning. These meanings may well have varied with region or time, and there is indeed evidence of a certain degree of variation in the meaning of runic lettering.

In its most common from (known as the Danish futhark) the double meaning of symbols seems to have been universally understood. As an example, of the 16 runic letters, the first, representing the letter F canbe used in combination with other letters to spell a word. But it can also stand alone, for instance when used to represent the word “cattle”. Of the most common variations, “short twig” or Norwegian/Swedish futhark, differed slightly from the universal form. It appears that as the Viking language developed, new symbols were introduced to represent letters that had been missed from the original alphabet. Previously, rune writers substituted one of the older standard 16 letters for a completely new one, which consequently means that some runes are difficult to read. Similarly the letter n is omitted before a consonant, making it even harder to read the scripts, unless the reader is a trained runemaster. When runes were carved on surfaces other than wood, the limitations of wood grain were no longer a consideration, and curves could be introduced to speed up the writing process. As a result, inscriptions on bone, stone, or metal tend to have more rounded features than is otherwise the case.

It was a simple alphabet, designed more for carving into wood or stone that for writing. Even the slopes of the lines were designed so they would not be obscured by the wood grain, which would have made them difficult to read. Although the style of writing was cumbersome, particularly when it came to carving long messages, it also meant that the means to write it were everywhere: On stones, trees, or on building. Some runic inscriptions also took the form of a grafitti, such as at the Maesshowe burial tomb in Orkeney, where a Viking adventurer extolled the beauty of a girlfriend called Ingjeborg. Although few wooden objects with runes carved on them have survived, a wealth of runic inscriptions on grave finds and marker stones still exists, and give us an insight into this lost Viking language. As a consequence, scholars have been able to unravel most of the mysteries of the runes.

Sergio Calle Llorens

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