The Runic alphabets are a set of related alphabets using letters known as runes, formerly used to write Germanic languages, mainly in Scandinavia and the British Isles, but before Christianization also on the European Continent. The Scandinavian variants are also known as Futhark; the Anglo-Saxon variant as Futhorc. The runes were introduced to, or invented by, the Germanic peoples in the 1st or 2nd century .
The earliest runic inscriptions date from ca. 150, and the alphabet was generally replaced by the Latin alphabet with Christianisation, by ca. 700 in central Europe and by ca. 1400 in Scandinavia. However, the use of runes persisted for specialized purposes in Scandinavia, longest in rural Sweden until the early 20th century (used mainly for decoration as runes in Dalarna and on Runic calendars).
The three best known runic alphabets are:
• the Elder Futhark (Scandinavian )(ca. 150–800)
• the Anglo-Saxon Futhorc 400–1100)
• the Younger Futhark (800–1100)
While at this time the Germanic language was certainly not at the Proto-Germanic stage any longer, it may still have been a continuum of dialects not yet clearly separated into the three branches of later centuries, viz. North Germanic, West Germanic and East Germanic.
Runic alphabets first appeared among German tribes in central and eastern Europe. Some runes symbols are likely to have been acquired from other alphabets, such as the Greek, Etruscan, and the Early Roman.
The Old Germanic Runic alphabet or "Elder Futhark" contains 24 runes. The first six runes of the alphabet spell out the word "FUTHARK". As the runes spread northwards into Scandinavia, some rune symbols were dropped and the alphabet was reduced to only 16 runes. The runes might be read from left to right or from right to left, even on the same artifact. Translation of runic inscriptions is therefore extremely difficult, and complicated by the fact that rune masters sometimes wrote cryptic puzzles or in secret script.
Between 400 and 600 AD, three Germanic tribes, the Angles, the Saxons and the Jutes, invaded Britain. They brought the runes with them.
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