Runes - write as a viking

The Vikings used letters called runes. They are imitations of the Latin letters used in most of Europe during the Viking era. The Latin letters are the ones we use today.

What are runes?

During the first centuries AD, the Romans influenced most of Europe. Runes developed in areas populated by Germanic tribes, probably inspired by the Latin alphabet of the Romans. The earliest runic inscriptions, dating from ca 150 AD, are particularly common in what is now Denmark, Northern Germany and Southern Sweden.

The oldest runes are often found on items such as coins, suit buckles, weapons and implements, and are often the names of the owner of the item or the name of the person who made it.

Runes - an ancient alphabet

The runic alphabet is named after its first six letters:
f – u – þ – a – r – k
The strange þ-rune is pronounced 'th', a sound we find today especially in English words like 'the', 'think' and 'throne'.
Elder Futhark had 24 letters while Younger Futhark, developed at the beginning of the Viking Age, had only 16 letters.

Elder Futhark inscriptions etched by craftsmen and owners have been found on coins, garment brooches, weapons and implements dating primarily from the era of the Iron Age princes.

The runic stones of the Viking Age were erected in commemoration of powerful leaders and their heroic achievements. Short runic inscriptions are also found on everyday artefacts from Viking towns and marketplaces.

Runes were used alongside our present-day alphabet up until the 14th century.

The Vikings did not write on paper, but carved them into stone, wood or iron. The hard materials made it difficult to make round edges, so the runes are more angular than our letters.

At the excavation of the Roskilde 6 long ship, which was found beneath the Museum Island at the Viking Ship Museum, the archaeologists found a runic-stick. Some of the text was lost, but the rest can be read as "Saxe carved these runes, ... man".

Runes are phonetic symbols, just like the letters we use today. The names of individual runes begin with the sound the rune describes, e.g. the m-rune is called maðr, meaning 'man' or 'human being', and the s-rune is called sól, meaning 'sun'.

Runes in the Viking Age

In the Viking Age, runes were used only by the people living in the Nordic area. The Vikings who traveled the world brought the runes with them. There are runic inscriptions written by Vikings in England and as far away as Greece, Turkey, Russia and Greenland.

The runic alphabet of the Viking Age lacks some runes to express all sounds in the language. There are no longer runes for o, d, e and g. The Vikings instead used the runes closest to the sound they were supposed to use.
They could use the u-run for the o-sound, the t-run for the d-sound, the i-run for the e-sound and the k-run for the g-sound.

Write your name with runes

Even though there are fewer letters in the runic alphabeth of the Viking Age (Younger Futhark) it is the easiest of the two Futharks to use today, because the runes here can be easily rewritten to the letters we have today.

You write words and names as they sound. Christoffer is written 'kristofer', and if you are called Chanel, you have to write it, as you pronounce it: 'sjanel'.

You should not use the same rune twice in succession and there is no difference between big and small runes. So if you are called Marianna or Emma, just write 'mariana' or 'ema'.

The runes have names

All runes have their own name, which dates back to the earliest runes. The names of the runes have probably helped to remember what sound the runes stand for.

It is only the rune names of the Viking Age that we know for sure. The eight runes from the Elder Futhark that are not used in the Viking Age have been recreated from the Anglo-Saxon runes. When a * is in front of the rune's name, it means the name has been reconstructed based on the Viking Age language.

On the right side you will find a document with both the older and younger futhark.