The Runic System as a Reinterpretation of Classical Influences and as an Expression of Scandinavian Cultural Affiliation

The Runic System as a Reinterpretation of Classical Influences and as an Expression of Scandinavian Cultural Affiliation

Anderson, Carl Edlund

Published Online (2005)


The ERIA seems to have seen the rise of the chieftains supported by warrior retinues as a dominant feature of Germanic society. The same period saw the emergence one of the most complex and distinctive facets of Germanic culture: the runic writing system. The creation of the runic system almost certainly owes something to interaction between Roman and Germanic culture, though the mechanisms at work are subject to much debate. Debate over the runic system’s origins has produced an enormous body of scholarship. The oldest commonly accepted runic inscription is found on a spearhead from Øvre Stabu (Illerup,  Norway) and is dated to about ad 175. There is a fibula from Meldorf (in Ditmarschen) dated to around ad 50 that contains what may be a runic inscription, though this is not universally agreed upon. It is often assumed that a system of writing must have been forming for at least a century or so before
the earliest surviving examples, so it might be concluded that the runic system was formulated at some point between the beginning of the RIA (c. 50 bc) and the time of the Øvre Stabu inscription. It is clear that the runic characters were inspired in part by Mediterranean writing systems—Roman, Greek, North Italic, or possibly some combination of these—but there has been no firm consensus on this point. Certainly it seems likely that the Roman script was the writing system best known to the Germanic peoples during the period when the runic system was developed.


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