Futhark is a writing system of uncertain origin that was used by Germanic peoples of northern Europe, Britain, Scandinavia, and Iceland from about the 3rd century C.E. to the 16th or 17th century C.E. Because of its angular letter forms, runic writing is believed to belong to an ancient system.
Elder Futhark is the oldest form of the runic alphabet, used by Germanic tribes for Proto-Norse and other Migration period Germanic dialects of the 2nd to 8th centuries C.E. for inscriptions on artifacts such as jewelery, amulets, tools, and weapons, and also on rune stones. In Scandinavia, the script of the Elder Futhark was simplified to that of the Younger Futhark from the late 8th century C.E., while the Anglo-Saxons and Frisians extended the Futhark which eventually became the Anglo-Saxon Futhorc after Proto-English.
Futhark was likely adapted from the Greek or Etruscan alphabet. Futhark can be written either left-to-right or right-to-left. The Futhark of 24 letters is called "Elder Futhark." It was used mostly before the 9th century C.E.
As languages changed and more Germanic groups adopted them, Futhark changed to suit the language that it came to write. An early offshoot of Futhark was employed by the Goths and so came to be known as the Gothic Runes. The Gothic Runes were used until 500 C.E. when they were replaced by the Greek-based Gothic alphabet.
Futhark, and more specifically Runes, have always been seen as possessing mystical properties. Many modern Wiccan sects use Runes ceremonially and ritualistically. As Runes date from before the time Northern Europe became Christianized, they became associated with "pagans" of the non-Christian past and subsequently a mystique developed around them. Even the supposed root of rune, the German word raunen means "to whisper."
Elder Futhark runes are believed to originate in the Old Italic alphabets. The angular shapes of the runes, presumably an adaptation to the incision in wood or metal, are a property that is shared with other early alphabets, including the Old Italic ones. The runes of uncertain derivation may be original innovations or adoptions of otherwise unneeded Latin letters.
The invention of the Futhark script has been ascribed to a person or persons who had come into contact with Roman culture, perhaps as mercenaries in the Roman army, or even as merchants. The Futhark script was clearly designed for epigraphic purposes, but opinions differ in stressing magical, practical, or graffitical aspects.
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