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23. Runes

Patrik Larsson


Subject Literature » Medieval Literature

Place Northern Europe » Scandinavia

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631235026.2004.00026.x


Extract

The oldest written records in the Scandinavian countries are those written, or perhaps more correctly, carved or cut, in runes. The runes, those letters of exclusively Germanic type, first emerge on loose objects such as weapons and jewellery from the second century ad , but exactly when and where they were created is not known. That one of the classical alphabets, most probably the Latin alphabet, served as a model is, however, certain. The oldest inscriptions, the so-called Proto-Scandinavian ones (c. ad 150–700), are often very brief and difficult to interpret. In many cases they consist of a single word, which could well have had a protective or magical function. One example is * alu , which linguistically corresponds to OWN ǫl n. ‘beer’, but could also be interpreted as ‘(I) give strength, (I) keep alive’ ( Elmevik 1999 ; abbreviations are listed below the notes to the present chapter). For all their brevity, the Proto-Scandinavian inscriptions are, because of the almost total lack of other contemporary sources, of great importance. During the Viking Age (c. ad 750–1100), especially the eleventh century, the runic inscriptions are much more numerous and, given the fact that most of them are commemorative texts with rather strictly regulated patterns of formulation, relatively easy to interpret. From the Middle Ages (c. ad 1100–1500) we again have many inscriptions on ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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