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Anonymous - History of Nordic Runes p1

Anonymous - History of Nordic Runes p1

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Published by Bjorn Aasgard

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Published by: Bjorn Aasgard on Sep 21, 2012
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This corpus is also known as South Germanic, but I prefer the term Continental.
1
1
I.
 
G
ENERAL
I
NTRODUCTION
1. Aim of this study
1.1. This study offers an edition of inscriptions found in England, The Netherlands, Denmark,Germany, France, Belgium, Switzerland, Hungary and Rumania, dating from the period 150-700 AD. The book has been divided into two parts; the first part contains essays on earlyrunic writing and the historical and archaeological contexts of runic objects. The second partof this study contains a catalogue of the early runic inscriptions found in the regions mentio-ned above. The inscriptions of Germany, France, Belgium, Switzerland and Hungary havebeen listed together as the Continental Corpus. One found in Hungary and two found in
1
Rumania are listed among the Danish and Gothic Corpus. The catalogue offers readings,interpretations and limited graphic, orthographic and linguistic analyses of the inscriptionsfrom the above mentioned corpora. A concordance of the runic texts, an index on sites, andmaps will facilitate the use of the book. The basic principle underlying this investigation is
comparison
. Other important issues are the origin and initial spread of runic knowledge, andthe aim and use of early runic writing.1.2. Definition of the problem: This study aims at a comparison of the earliest runic traditionsin the countries around the North Sea (England, The Netherlands, Denmark) and on theContinent, i.c. predominantly Germany. Thus, the geographical point of departure is notScandinavia, as is mostly the case when studying the early runic traditions. The choice for anunorthodox approach stemms from the expectation that in doing so some answers might befound to questions concerning the essence of runic script in the first few centuries of our era.When focusing on the function of runic writing, one automatically has to face the questions:why was this special script designed at all, and who first used it? It seems logical to look forthe origin of the runic script not in Scandinavia, but near the Roman
limes
. This point of viewis contested, but it still seemed interesting enough for further investigation. The issue of thefirst runographers and their social context has also been dealt with. It appears imperative toreconsider the contents of the early runic inscriptions with a fresh view. It turned out that thechanging of perspective leads to unexpected insights.The runic texts are treated in the Catalogue, which contains concise linguistic information andthe most important data with regard to the objects and datings. The overall aim has been toprovide the reader with a practical survey of the oldest inscriptions from the aforementionedareas, together with relevant archaeological and cultural-historical data. Within this frame-work there was, unfortunately, no room for extensive linguistic considerations, although incompiling the catalogue quite some information from various sources has been used.Below a survey will be given of the procedures followed in this investigation, including asummary of the methods used. Attention will also be paid to necessary/logical restrictions.
 
 
A substantial part of the regions (apart from Denmark) from where early-medieval runic writing is recorded
2
was politically and culturally subdued by Merovingian influence.
2
2. Points of departure
2.1. Runic writing started at a time that a large part of Europe was under Roman imperialsway. Therefore, the impact of Roman culture on Germania and the Germanic - Romanrelations during the first two centuries of our era were among the first subjects to be investi-gated. A separate chapter has been dedicated to questions concerning the identification of both the early runographers and the location of the original region of runic writing. In myopinion, any runologist must take up a position in this field, in order to create a point of reference for further runic research.2.2. The oldest datable runic find (
ca.
160 AD, cf. Ilkjær 1996:68,73) is a comb with the
a
legend
harja
, found in the bog of Vimose on the Danish island of Funen. Ambiguous (runicor Roman) is the inscription on a brooch from Meldorf, North Germany, dated around 50 AD(Düwel & Gebühr 1981). From the 2nd century onwards, runic items have regularly beenrecorded, albeit in small numbers, and with findless intervals both in space and in time. Atte-stations from the 2nd - 4th centuries have been found in present-day Denmark, Sweden, Nor-way, North Germany, Poland, Russia and Rumania. From the 5th century onwards, runesappear in The Netherlands, England, and South Germany. A substantial number of inscribedobjects are weapons, parts of weapons and jewellery. The material used is mostly (precious)metal, but objects of wood and bone have also survived.2.3. Nearly two hundred gold bracteates inscribed with runes, dating from the 5th-6thcenturies, constitute a large category. They form a substantial and separate group among theobjects with runes from the Migration Period. Bracteates must not be overlooked in any studyof early runic texts. The fact that these precious objects were manufactured during a rathershort period (of some generations) may be due to a rise in power of an elite, or to the emer-gence of power-centres, like Gudme on Funen. Therefore, attention has been paid to thesehistorical developments.2.4. The initial aim of the present study was to focus on the countries bordering the NorthSea, i.e. to investigate the Danish, Frisian and Anglo-Saxon runic traditions, but soon theneed for an extension to a larger area was felt. Therefore the Continental inscriptions werealso included, being most fit for comparison with the North Sea group, especially as regardsthe combination and relation of objects, runes and texts, and also because of the cultural/poli-tical background in the Early Middle Ages. The intention, therefore, is to detect possible
2
similarities and differences between the runic traditions of England, The Netherlands,Denmark and the Continent, and to find out if it is possible to speak of a common runictradition, to be traced all over West and Central Europe and springing from one centralsource. Such deliberations lead to the question whether through the inventarisation andsubsequent comparison of texts, objects and their archaeological and historical contexts,information can be obtained about the use, spread and aim of runic writing in the period underdiscussion. If the nature and status of runic usage approximately can be established, insofarthis can be deduced from the inseparable triad: objects, texts and (archaeological) contexts,one might gain some insight in why people created runic script.
 
 
The datings are relative because they are based on the find context of the runic objects. Actually, runic writing
3
in a specific area may have begun at least a generation earlier. Runic objects may have circulated a long time beforethey were deposited in the ground. The exact beginning and end of a runic period actually cannot be determined,especially when additional circumstantial evidence is lacking.
3
2.5. The study has been restricted to a group of runic inscriptions dating from the earliestperiod of recorded runic writing, from
circa
150 to 700, i.e. from the Roman Imperial Period
3
via the Migration Period (from 350-500) to the Merovingian Period from 500 - 725. Thisrestriction is a logical consequence of the fact that initially the Frisian and Anglo-Saxoninscriptions were taken as a starting point. This necessitated the study of the preceding runicculture of Denmark and North Germany. The inscriptions from the period of the older
 fuþark 
are considered to be the most puzzling of all. Some of the reasons for their unintelligibility arethat basic questions concerning origin and purpose of the runic alphabet have still not beensolved. Therefore, the initial question should be: why and by whom were the runes introducedin Germanic society? One cannot start studying the oldest inscriptions without pondering overthese questions and without trying to offer an acceptable solution concerning the problem of the origin of the runes. The observation that the greater part of the earliest runic objects hasbeen found in a context with clear connections to the Roman Empire, showing obviousrelations to the military and economic elite of Germanic society, has led me to think that theart of writing in an otherwise oral society may have been introduced in the North by Germa-nic people who had connections with the Roman empire, such as mercenaries (cf. Rausing1987; Axboe & Kromann 1992; Rix 1992).2.6. To trace any influence of archaic mediterranean alphabets on early runic writing isanother subject of this study. Proceeding on the above mentioned primary runologicalquestion concerning the origin of the runic alphabet, one wonders
which
Mediterraneanalphabet must have been the forerunner of the runes and
when
and
where
the take-over tookplace. Many views have been proposed on this matter and still a consensus has not beenreached. No exactly fitting, all-covering matrix alphabet has been found yet. At this stage onegroup of runologists considers the Latin alphabet most likely the forerunner; another groupprefers the theory of an origin based on the Greek or North Italic/Etruscan alphabets. The timeof borrowing will probably have been the 1st century AD. On the strength of the present data,propositions will be forwarded as to the questions
how
a certain collection of graphs came tothe north, and
who
took them there. This subject will be treated more elaborately in chaptersII and III of this study.2.7. The runic objects discussed in this study have been found in different regions, but theyshow several similarities and a possible coherence as regards texts and contexts. Restrictingmyself to a discussion of these finds only, gives me the possibility to focus on a group of comparable items, in this case almost all portable, precious, objects. Besides, it has beenpossible to date most of the objects with reasonable accuracy by means of archaeologicaldata. Furthermore, the selection of this group offers the possibility of studying mutual con-tacts, the possible status of runic writing and the status of owners, commissioners and makersof runic objects in a gift-exchanging society, such as existed in the period under study.Legible texts of 48 rune-bracteates from the second half of the fifth century will be includedin this study. The study of the bracteates has been based on descriptions, photos and drawings

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