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Ancient Runes Lesson 3

Lesson 3 First Years

The Viking Age

One of the reasons that we have so few records from the Viking Age is that the Vikings did not become familiar with the Roman alphabet (the alphabet we use today) until they adopted Christianity. However, they did have another form of lettering, known as runes. Runes were normally carved, rather than written, and were therefore mostly used for fairly short inscriptions.

The futhark had only sixteen runes. This meant that some runes were used for several different letters, but there were two runes for the letter 'a', two for 'r', and one for our 'th'. More runes were gradually added after the Vikings became familiar with the Roman alphabet. There were several different versions of some of the runes, and individual runes might be carved back-to-front or upside down. All these factors can make runes difficult to read.

It is unknown how many people could read runes in the Viking Age. Runic inscriptions on pieces of wood from Bergen in Norway show that runes were used for all sorts of everyday purposes later in the Middle Ages, but no comparable evidence has survived from the Viking Age, and it is likely that few people were literate in runes. However, the fact that some Vikings were able to carve their names on their possessions suggests that the use of runes wasn't uncommon. Most of the surviving runes are found on large memorial stones. Very often they only have the name of the person in whose memory the stone was carved, and the names of those responsible for having it made. Sometimes the name of the rune-carver was also given. Occasionally the inscriptions describe the achievements of the person commemorated, and refer to historical events in which they were involved. For this reason, runic inscriptions are a valuable source for Viking history. However, because they are so brief, they never give a very full picture, and often raise as many questions as they answer.


1. What two letters had only two Runes used for them?

2. When were more Runes added?

3. What two countries used pieces of wood to carve their Runes on?

4. Where are most of the surviving Runes found?

5. What do the inscriptions describe?

Don't forget, the first student to send me the correct answer to the Trivia question will receive an extra 10pts. for their house.
Assignments will be due on:

Please send your assignments to Professor Parson at the link below. Please click on Flying Harry