Sources and approximations
The inscriptions discussed by Krause and Moltke come mainly from archaeological finds such as stone monuments, bracteates and other archaeological discoveries, while those from Derolez are from manuscripts. Therefore there is a certain amount of overlap between Krause and Moltke, but almost none with Derolez. In this presentation, I have kept Krauses order (alphabetical by place name), and when the inscription has also been discussed by Moltke or Antonsen, I provide their translation of the inscription as well. In this way, the various translations can be directly compared. Krause is less known than Moltke, but I have to say that my preference is with them without hesitation because they included a grammar and an etymology of Primitive Old Norse (not a small undertaking to say the least), and this allows us to understand why they interpret the inscriptions as they do. All of them use the Nordic alphabet which contains several vowels which, for simplicity, I have reduced here to a and o. Therefore there will seem to be some incoherence in the alphabetical order I give.
Reporting all the runic scripts together (as I do here) without some approximation would be quite hard to do since there is such a wide variety, but if I didnt do so, this chapter would become loaded with digressions on the exact form of the runes. This is why I overlook many facts in my presentation. I make three most notable simplifications.
First, I deliberately merge the large variety of forms and sounds that the letter a has represented (going from a to o and including a nasal vowel like in French an), which are usually marked by using different symbols, such as "a", "A", etc.
Second, (illustrating very well the kind of details I have supressed for the sake of simplicity), I ignore the runic character for the following reasons:
Third, I give the same representation (R, see below) to rune Algiz of the Older Futhark and to rune Yr of the Younger Futhark (because they are representing the same sound). Rune Algiz has (most often, but not always!) the form : while rune Yr has the form :
|The three periods of Scandinavian runes|
|Scandinavian runes can be conveniently clustered into three periods that, unfortunately, are unrelated to the life of the Anglo-Saxon Futhorc.|
|The first period goes from the origin of the runes (approximately dated to the beginning of our era) up to the 8th century.|
|(Note: Most runologists date the beginning of the runes to around the year 175 but there have been more recent finds that lower this limit down to something like year 50 (see the Meldorf fibula below, # 129). In passing, I should note that the same thing happened with the Anglo-Saxon Futhorc, where recently runes have been found dating from the 5th century instead of the 6th, as was previously thought.)|
|It is called the Primitive Norse period, and the language of the Nordic inscriptions is Primitive Old Norse, Gothic or other primitive Germanic languages in some other inscriptions found more southwards, and Anglo-Saxon in the British inscriptions. The runes are those of the Elder Futhark, and in Great Britain, it is the Anglo-Saxon Futhorc. All the Northern inscriptions are purely Heathen since christianity had not yet stricken that far North.|
|The second, so-called Viking period starts from the 8th century (with an obvious transition, the "late primitive period" that I will ignore for the sake of simplicity), and mostly Younger Futhark runes are found. The language is Old Norse, and the inscriptions show a mixture of Heathenism and christianity. This period ends in the eleventh century, around 1075. In the South, the situation is totally confused since many of the runic inscriptions of this period are due to British scholars who were traveling on the continent, bringing with them the Anglo-Saxon Futhork.|
|After this a third period starts, the Medieval period, that lasts until the middle of the fourteenth century when runic inscriptions disappear, certainly under pressure of the Church since many clerics were using runes in ways that morality, christian or not, reproves. In this last period, the magical use of the runes is at its maximum height, with a mixture of Pagan and christian magic, Latin charms written in runes, etc. We shall discuss a few beautiful charms from this period that still show a great deal of Heathenism, but we shall discard all inscriptions that call on Christ or his saints since runes were created within one particular religious context, and christianity has certainly proved since its incapacity to retain the magical aspects of life.|
|(Note: this argument would be rejected by most scholars who argue that the Aesir might not have been known so early. It is indeed absolutely impossible to date the beginnings of what we call today the Asatru religion which is still beautifully called by some "the old faith" or "our way". However, Tacitus clearly shows that a Germanic religion existed very early, which has obviously been evolving over time into Asatru. My argument applies perhaps more to this primitive religion than to the strict Asatru one. In particular, my own practice calls very much upon Nerthus and Nj÷rd, the latter became a "secondary" God in Asatru, and Nerthus disappeared to become perhaps both Freya and Frigg. However even modern Asatru is very tolerant in what would be called heresy in a christian context. I ask the reader to be tolerant as well with the definition of the exact religious context into which the runes were born, as long as a Germanic or Nordic heathenism is involved, even a Celtic one would be welcome although Oghams are better suited to a Celtic religion.)|
|Krauses inscriptions all belong to the first period, while Moltke reports mostly from the second and third period. As mentioned earlier, I will keep Krause's ordering of the inscriptions for the first period, and add, as a comment, Moltke's opinion when appropriate. Following this, Ill add the two instances that Moltke provides us with that are not found in Krause's work. They are indeed from the end of the first period but they were found after Krause's death. Many inscriptions are indecipherable at present, or they simply repeat ad nauseam "NN made the runes". I do not think it is necessary to be exhaustive here with these kinds of inscriptions. However, their sheer number is very interesting. One might ask if they were engraved simply as graffiti, or if they import some mystical content. Contrary to what modern runology tends to believe, I will maintain the position that they sanctify, or hallow, the object. The basis of my opinion is not at all mystical, it stems from the fact that many finds obviously have magical content. For instance, an inscription, now lost, on the Gummarp stone (# 32 below) said: "Hadulv placed three staves f f f" where the rune Fehu is repeated three times. Everyone agrees, including the most unimaginative rationalists, that this otherwise incomprehensible triple Fehu is of a magical nature. Since it shows just as much dryness as the other inscriptions, I do not see why the other inscriptions would not equally be of a magical nature especially since a large number of them do not even show the name of the rune-master, so the engraver cannot even be accused of wanting to spread his/her name all over the place, as the authors of graffiti are.|
|(Note: As a side remark, distinct from the argument held above, most runologists say that the inscription is a call to fertility. Since Fehu is the rune of wealth (attested by many objective traces), it seems much simpler to me to see it as a call to wealth, rather than a call to fertility. For once, they are showing an excess of imagination which contradicts existing knowledge about the runes. As far as I can imagine, this custom originates from late Icelandic texts describing their Futhark in three groups or aetts, Freys aett, Hagals aett, Tys aett. Since the last two names refer obvioulsy to the first rune of the aett, it must be the same with the first one, hence Frey has been be associated with rune Ansuz.)|
|As a concluding remark, Krause, who died in 1966 just after finishing the book that I use here, does not report the more recent finds. Moltke also died in 1984 just after the publication of the English version of his book (note) which makes his version quite up to date, but he was only exhaustive with the Danish inscriptions. So far, we have no available report of all the existing runic inscriptions in the world. (note)|
|(Note: Smiling remark: my health is good, thank you for your concern.)|
|(Note: Second smiling remark: I might allow myself to die when I have finished the compilation of all existing runic finds, it gives me at least a solid half century of life left.)|
|Runic inscriptions from the first period|
|W. Krause, "Die Sprache der urnordischen Runeninschriften"|
|E. Moltke, "Runes and their Origin, Denmark and elsewhere"|
given here are not in runes. I have used the letter equivalent for each
rune with the following transcription conventions. R represents the rune Algiz
(also called Elhaz) in the Elder Futhark and rune Yr of the Younger
Futhark. It was pronounced as "z" during the ancient Germanic
period, and then gradually became pronounced as "r". We cant
be certain, but the sound change likley occurred around the 5th century.
This symbol, R, means therefore that
it should be pronounced as "z" if one wants to use the pronunciation
of ancient Germanic times, and "r" if one wants instead to
place it in the times of the Viking civilization. The "i"
of Ihwaz is represented by ´, while the " i "
of Isaz is written i; the "ng" of
Ingwaz is written h ; and the "th"
of Thurisaz is written ■ (thorn). The other runes
are represented with their more classic equivalents , for example, the
letter "f" represents Fehu,
etc.(click here for a chart of equivalents) An
X in the inscription means that the corresponding rune is illegible,
and a question mark means that the letters are barely legible. /// means
that a certain number of runes have been scratched. When runes are between
( ), then they didnt occur in the original, when they are between
[ ], it is that they are hardly legible. An approximate date is indicated
in parentheses, except for the bracteates that are seldom dated.
note: I am well aware that there are still discussions on the name of rune "Ihwaz" and on the sound it represents. I have chosen to follow Krause's convention of notation, without intending in any way to take a position in this quarrel.
|I have almost always taken Krauses or Moltkes translations, except when I found that it was interpreted a bit too much (with respect to the vocabulary and the grammar given by Krause himself). As often as possible, I give a word for word translation, and in the same word order as in the original, so that the reader can see easily which runic word has which meaning. In particular, I tried to provide the meaning of the words looked upon as names by the runologists. The reader will judge alone if a name or a concept are more intelligible in the concerned inscriptions. When the word order is clear, I leave it as such without comment. For example, "(he) has engraved runes these" must obviously be understood as "he has engraved these runes".|
time to time, I dare give my own opinion on the
transcription. These relatively rare cases are vigorously
underlined to avoid confusion between what is the
classical scholarly opinion, and my non-scholarly one.
The beginning of this inscription has been interpreted as lau(ka)R = name of the Laukaz rune; o■a = ancestral property
Amla Stone (2nd half of the 5th century)
Barmen Stone (1st half of the 5th century)
What I understand in this sentence, is that the rune-master is bragging about being able to steal souls, or being able to create "soft men" as seen in chapter 3 of book 1, in other words to teach seidr.
Antonsen translates ■irbijaR by 'one who makes strong'.
Belland Stone (around 500)
Berga Stone (around 500)
Two names, a man and a woman.The name of the man, sali-gastiR means ground-guest, or hall-guest.
Antonsen says that the name fino means 'Finnish woman'.
Bj÷rketorp stone, two panels (2nd half of the 7th
century) with these inscriptions:
Of course, in the curse containing arageu, which was translated as "by ergi", Krause, as all the runologists do, links ergi to the curse. This might seem obvious because to be "ergi" was a great shame in the Nordic civilization, as I have often said. However, we need to remember that it was necessary to be ergi in order to practice seidr to the perfection, and therefore being ergi was also a proof of power: the one who was ergi was also a great magician. Here we have a direct trace of what the magician meant, and I think that the way he expresses it is ambiguous. One can interpret it as Krause does: "Shame on you who will be ergi". But, it can also be interpreted as an affirmation of ones own power: "my runes are made powerful through ergi". The magician may well be bragging of having been ergi, because it asserts his magical power. Of course, my interpretation goes against all that we know, but it is because what we know comes from the sagas, the Edda, etc., and all texts have been written by belated commentators who have insisted on the shameful aspect of being "ergi". To the extent that all magical manifestations of power were considered diabolic, it is not surprising at all that these commentators have insisted on the shameful aspect of ergi. On the other hand, in a text coming from the magician himself, I do not see why he would not have praised his power, rather than shaming himself, and B3, B4 and B5 become:
This argument will be continued later when we see the Stentoften stone which bears a very similar inscription.
Moltke gives the same runes (without the "spaces" between words, for example, he gives for B1: haidRrunoronu) and translates them as follows (the (? ) are his):
Antonsen provides a translation similar to Krauses.
Bratsberg Fibula (around 500)
Krause suggests that it should be interpreted as: Me, rune-master
Bratsberg Stone (around 500)
A name meaning: the silent one.
Antonsen: 'the still one'.
By stone Slab (2nd half of the 6th century)
The beginning of the inscription translates as:
Krause proposes an interpretation for dR || rm■´: it could be d(aga)R, an evocation of rune Dagaz, and rm■´ could be r(unoR) m(arki)■´ = runes marking.
Antonsen: the name HroRaR means 'the quick moving'. He also reads hroRe worte in place of hroReR orte, but this does not significantly change the meaning of this inscrption.
Bo Stone (around 500)
Darum Bracteate 1
(which I will translate as "invocation" for an invitation of a mystical nature).Therefore, what could be understood for this bracteate is:
Moltke gives the identical inscription without commentary.
Antonsen reads frodila instead of frohila, and translates 'Frodila (i.e., the little wise one) summons'
Darum Bracteate 5
Moltke gives the identical inscription without commentary.
Antonsen: 'Magic. Niujila (i.e., little newcomer)'
Denmark Bracteate 1
Moltke gives the identical inscription without commentary.
Eggjum stone slab (around 700)
First sentence of P1: Ni = no, not; s = ist = is; solu = sun; sot = tracked, found; uk = and; sakse = the sax (a type of sword); stain = the stone; skorin = carved.
Second sentence of P1: maR = man; nakdan = nude, stripped; snXXrXXR =? snaar■iR = to challenge; wiltiR = to be in the wrong; lagi = to be able to sleep; XX =? af = after. [Note that " =? " means : " perhaps equal to "].
First sentence of P2: hin = this one'; warb = covered; naseu = lake of the corpse = blood; made = rubbed off; ■aim = with; kaiba = pin (the pin of an oar); i = in; bormo■a = bor-mo■a = hollowed-by-tiredness; huni = short piece of wood = a young animal' = small bear.
Second sentence of P2: huwaR = interrogative who; ob kam = arrived; harisa = hari - sa =? hari - as = the troop (the army) of Aesir; a =? 'in'; lat = country, empty space; gotna = men;
Third sentence of P2: fiskR = fish; oR = outside of, outside; fXXnauim =? firnauim = a wave of horror; suwimade = swiming; fokl = bird; i = in; fXaXX =? enemy; galande = howling.
P3: misurki = the harmful one, and therefore "alu misurki!" can mean:
Eidsvag Stone (2nd half of the 5th century)
Eikeland Fibula (around 600)
WiR =?; wiwio = feminine name also meaning 'fishpond'.
Antonsen sees a masculine genitive plural in wiwio, and he reads writum instead of writu i, and aisaR instead of aRsni, he translates: 'Me, of the descendants of WiwaR, wrote the rune. AisaR (i.e., the zealous one)'
Einang Stone (2nd half of the 4th century)
Godagastir means "Host of the Gods".
Moltke makes the hypothesis that the missing runes are [ek gu] and he translates it as:
Eketorps slate fragment (middle of the 6th century)
For g■ut■, two interpretations have been proposed: Get out of here, or Ride away from here. Krause is not able to interpret the "aluk".
If we think of fever, then it would go (or ride) away from here, "alu k", in other words, by the magic of Kaunan (personal interpretation).
Elgesem Stone (middle of the 5th century)
Moltke notes this inscription without comment.
Ellestad Stone, containing four rows of runes.
R1: eka sigimaraR afs / / /
R2: ka raisidoka
R4: kk. kiiii. kkk ///
Often, these secret runes can be interpreted as follows.The group of identical runes represents the rune carved, and the number of times that the rune is repeated represents the position of the second rune in the same aett. For example, kk represents rune k, Kaunan, since it is found in the first aett, and it is repeated twice, it is also referring to the second rune of the first aett which is Uruz. So kk represents Kaunan followed by Uruz; kkk represents Kaunan followed by Thurisaz, while iiii, with Isaz being the second aett, represents Isaz followed by Ihwaz. The magical formula would be thus: ku ki´ k■.
Etelhem Fibula (2nd half of the 5th century)
Moltke gives the runes: mkmrlawrt(a) and notes that one usually interprets this formula as m(i)kM(e)r(i)law(o)rta: Merila made me. His hypothesis is that the "ignoramus of a goldsmith" (so he says) who carved the runes blundered in copying a classical formula. It is true that the runes m and e are very similar, and that replacing the m by e gives: ek erla wrta, which is indeed very near to a classical formula: ek erilaR wraita (me, rune master, I engraved) Without insulting the rune-master, Antonsen confirms this interpretation
One hypothesis is to cut as fo-slau where fo would represent the futhark by its first and its last letter, and where slau would be a magical formula. My personal interpretation of "slau" is s = Sowelo = sun, victory, and "lau" = alu = magic.
Moltke gives the identical runic inscription without comments.
(the isolated rune, "f", is taken for fahi, I write) The name "Fakar" can mean 'chief', or 'strong one', or 'horse'.
Floksland Bone Scraping-Knife (middle of the 5th century)
which is a formula of fruitfulness. In this case, the rune "f" represents possibly Fehu, rune of the wealth.
Fosse Bronze Plate (1st half of the 6th century)
The first word is definitely a name: Kala, and therefore the inscription is
As we have seen in # 22, one can decipher the magical inscription as audua■lina.
Forde Fishing Weight (middle of the 6th century)
The diminutive of a feminine name based on the formula alu. A bit of imagination leads us to believe that the master of runes wanted to evoke with affection,
Gallehus Horn B (around 400)
The name, HlewagastiR, means 'glory-guest' or 'protection-guest'.
Moltke give the identical runic inscription translated as: I Laegaest, son of Holte, made the horn.
Wooden casket (around 400)
Moltke notes, that by studying this inscription under the microscope, he succeeded in convincing Frau Krause that the "i" was an error. Indeed, Krause, having become blind at the end of his life, used his wife for his "eyes" . Moltke makes it clear (and Odin knows that he was sparce with his compliments), that Frau Krause was "an admirable rune reader". Thus this "i" is a simple division mark that should not be translated. The 'inside' above is to be forgotten.
Antonsen reads hagiradaR in place of hagiadaR i, which means 'giver of suitable advice'
Gummarp Stone (around 600)
Here we have a clear example of the reason why runologists tend to present some runic words as names rather than to give their meaning. It happens that at least one historical character bore this name: Hathowulf, bishop of Cambrai 728-9.
Moltke translated the same runic inscription as: "Hadulf placed three staves fff."
Gardl÷sa Fibula (around 200)
The word "wodu" means rage, but it also means ecstasy and therefore unwodir means "presenting myself without ecstasy". This root is found in the name Woden, or Odin, who is indeed the God of poetical ecstasy (or rage). It is interesting to note that all Anglo-Saxon words beginning with 'wod-' designate either Woden or a form of madness.
I suppose that, contrary to the rune master of the Bj÷rketorp stone, this one is boasting about never having known the poetical ecstasy associated with the practice of the runes, and therefore, consequently, he boasts of not being a disciple of Odin.
Moltke notes that in fact the R, which should have been written , is found under the form and that it can not be mistaken for Kaun of the Viking age which only apeared six centuries later. This is why it is supposed, instead, that it was an error of the jeweler who engraved the runes.
Moltke gives a much longer runic inscription, with only one comment, as follows:
fahide = painted, carved
Hammeren Slate (around 500)
XXhip can be understood as fahip which means (he) writes, and therefore the inscription speaks of writing the runes.
Himlingoje Fibula 1 (middle of the 4th century)
A name meaning 'army, crowd'
Antonsen translates the name hariso by 'female warrior'
Moltke gives an identical runic inscription on what he calls the "Himlingoje bow fibula", without any comment.
Himlingoje Fibula 2 (around 200)
widu = forest; hundaR = dog.
Moltke calls it the "Himlingoje bow fibula" and describes the same runes without comment.
Himmelstalund Cliff Inscription (around 500?)
Krause emphasizes that the form is undisputably feminine and that one could then interpret this inscription as a feminine name of a rune master. Her name would then mean 'the large.
This inscription is given by Moltke without comment.
Antonsen reads brando (i.e., the one who brandishes), and confirms the feminine form.
It seems to be linked to a family name, "Fosi", with a feminine ending.
Moltke gives the identical runic inscription but doesnt translate it.
Istaby Stone (1st half of the 7th century)
The three names mean 'army wolf', 'struggle wolf', sword wolf'.
Moltke gives two translations that have similar meanings:
Jńrsberg Stone (1st half of the 6th century)
Moltke gives: ek erilaR ubaR h(a)ite harabanaR hait(e) runoR waritu. He translates it as:
Kalleby Stone (around 400)
■rawijan = to desire ardently; haitinar = called; was = was. Krause cites another author who interprets this inscription as a call for the union of two souls after death.
Kinneve stone Fragment (2nd half of the 6th century)
siR is definitely the end of a name, alu means magic, and the h must represent the Hagla rune. This stone fragment was found in a grave and the inscription likely relates to mortuary magic.
Kjolevik Stone (middle of the 5th century)
(those who amuse themselves through combat, could be a name)
Moltke notes that the word hadulaikaR, considered the first word of the inscription, is in fact added above the runes and it is adjusted to fit over them. It likely designates the name of the one who engraved the runes
Antonsen reads the last line as :
and translates the entire inscriptions as follows:
Moltke also gives the same runic inscription without comment. Elsewhere, Moltke comments on the formula, alu, by saying that alu and laukaR are "the favorite protective words of the Roman Iron age..."
Kragehul Spear-shaft (beginning of the 6th century)
asugisalas =? ansu-gisalas = hostage of the Aesir; muha = follower (man belonging to the retinue of a powerful person); haite = I am called; ginu = effective magic; he / / / lija =? helmat-talija = helmet-destroying; wiju = I hallow; bi = on, to; g / / / = beginning of a name
Moltke (who calls it the Kragehul spear-shaft) does not read the final "g" and replaces it by ?. He suggests various interpretations in parenthesis: I, Asgil's eril, am called Muha (I, the eril, am called Asgil's muha) ga ga ga ginu [a word to accentuate] = very; hagala [accusative neutral singular] = hail, hail stone, wiju = I hallow.
He notes that an English bracteate (called bracteate A) reads :
Gaedae evokes a group of companions in Anglo-Saxon, and medu means mead. So the inscription can be interpreted as Gyfu Aesc (= generosity of the ash) Gyfu Os (= generosity of the mouth) Gyfu Aesc (= generosity ash) mead of the group, which alludes to the magic of mead and to the group formed by the bind-runes.
The runes gagaga of the Kragehul lance are linked and look very similar to the English runes.
Runes of Kragehul : gagaga =
Runes of bracteate A: gaegogae =
Note that the words in runes read clearly as I indicate here. However, Moltke says maegae in place of gaedae, which is I guess a printing mistake.
Antonsen reads em uha instead of muha, and translates: 'I am the erilaz of Ansugisalaz. I am called Uha. I give protection, I give protection, I give protection, ... hail ...'
Kragehul Knifeshaft (beginning of the 6th century)
uma could be the end of a word meaning experienced; bera means bear, perhaps a name. What follows aau is not interpreted by Krause, it could be part of a magical formula.
Moltke does not read the last group of runes as clearly, he gives:?(a)u. He only says that bera might be the remnant of a proper name.
Krogsta Stone (middle of the 6th century?)
We dont know how to interpret these inscriptions. Note that if the "´"of B is read as a "t", then B gives stainaR which means stone.
Side A also has the drawing of a man whose arms are "in a position of defense", as we say.
Kylver flat Stone (1st half of the 5th century)
Moltke dates this inscription to the year 400 and compares the formula sueus to sis of the Flemlose stone 2 (see below, Moltke period 2).
Inscriptions 51 to 129
Other Classical Inscriptions
Inscriptions from the Viking Period and the Middle Ages
Inscriptions from Derolez
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