Viking Alphabet

What are Vikings?

Vikings are a name that is given to the largely seaborne and seafaring people that were in Scandinavia, mainly between their rise in the 8th century and up until their fall in the 11th century. It is said that the drastic fall of the Viking people was in 1066 when William the Conqueror invaded England to capture it for the glory of France. Vikings were known for raiding, pillaging, pirating, and settling different parts of the world, as a large source of their income was plundering and exchanging their wealth with other nations for luxury goods. Despite their "pirate" nature, the Vikings were hard-working and honest people who both feared and loved their Gods. Their primary aim for expansion was to farm arable land, as the cold winters in Scandinavia, coupled with poor soil quality, severely reduced the foodstuff variety for the people.

Vikings spoke Old Norse and made their inscriptions (written language) using the runic script, simply called runes. Runes were also inscribed on bones and charms and used for various religious ceremonies, including predicting the future. As Old Norse was primarily an oral language, runes, or the spoken word, were viewed much like magic.

What is the Viking Alphabet?

The Viking Alphabet is unique, as it was created for a completely different reason. While most other languages tried to shift the spoken word into written texts, runes were used as inscription tools, originally, which were used to inscribe secrets. In fact, the rune is a Proto-Germanic term that translates to mystery, secret, or even council. Runes were used similar to magic, or as a way to divine certain things from the gods or the land.

Runes were native to the Germanic peoples and eventually used to translate and write various Germanic languages before their adoption into what is now considered the current Latin alphabet. The actual transmission of the runic script is largely unknown and is a topic for debate and further research by those who study runology. The oldest clear inscriptions of the runic script were found in northern Germany, and in Denmark. One of the most common hypotheses suggests that the transmission of the runic alphabet was done between the Elbe and Germanic groups. Another popular hypothesis states that the runic alphabet was understood and spread through a period known as the East Germanic expansion.

History of the Viking Alphabet

The earliest recorded use of runic inscriptions dates back to 150 CE. Runic inscriptions could have possibly started much earlier, particularly in 50 BCE by Roman senator Tacitus' potential description of rune use. It is difficult to exactly pinpoint their emergence as runes were largely replaced by Latin alphabets once many cultures that used runes turned towards the teachings of the Bible, and the spread of Christianity had penetrated into Europe. Although they were largely eliminated from public use by 1100 in northern Europe, the use of runic inscriptions persisted for certain uses up until the early 20th century, when they were used in pockets of Sweden for decorative purposes.