Futhorc: Anglo-Saxon Runes

Futhorc is a system of runic writing used in Anglo-Saxon and Frisian inscriptions belonging to the 5th to 9th centuries. Already the word itself shows that Futhorc (as compared to Common Germanic Futhark) developed due to phonemic changes in the languages that it was designed to transcribe:

Anglo-Saxon Runes

At first, both Old English and Old Frisian used a runic alphabet of 26 signs, adding two new runes in order to allow for reflecting the soundchanges in West Germanic languages known as Ingveonic changes. These included (but were not limited to): (a) nasalization, (b) fronting and (c) monophthongization:

(a) a > o before nasal consonant and a + n > ō before voiceless spirant;

(b) a > æ when not followed by a nasal consonant;

(c) Gmc. *ai > OE ā; Gmc. *au > OFris. ā.

A good example of these changes is the name Oswald, the first element of which (ōs-), due to nasalization, reflects the common Germanic *ans-, found in the name of the *ansuz rune. Where this single rune sufficed in Germanic, one now needed three runes: (1) for /æ/, which developed as a result of fronting; (2) for short /a/ not affected by fronting and for long /a:/, which developed due to monophthongization; (3) for short /o/ and long /o:/, which developed due to nasalization. In Futhorc the original *ansuz rune was used to cover the first option (æ) and received a new name æsc, ‘ash-tree’. To cover the second and third options, two new runes were invented, both on the basis of the *ansuz rune: āc, which seems to be a combination of a + i and ōs, which seems to be a combination of a + n. It is the new ōs rune that now took the fourth place in the system, wherefore the change of the name: Futhark > Futhorc. Whether or not the use of these two additional runes reflecting parallel linguistic changes both in Frisia and Anglo-Saxon England point to a period of ‘Anglo-Frisian’ unity is a disputed issue. Whatever the case, from the 7th century on English runic alphabet continued to develop independently, adding new signs. Listed above are 31 runes, which are found in the inscriptions. There are three more runes that occur only in manuscript listings and were probably invented by a medieval scholar or learned rune-master. These are runes ior for ‘io’, cweorþ for ‘q’ and stan for ’st’.
A special place among Anglo-Saxon Futhorc inscriptions belongs to the 8th century Ruthwell Cross with 320 runes, containing portions of the poem known as The Dream of the Rood preserved in the so-called Vercelli Book. No less remarkable are the Francis Casket and St. Cuthbert’s Coffin.
The transliteration of the oldest Anglo-Saxon runic inscriptions is given in bold Roman lower-case letters. However, for later ones a so called Dickins-Page system is often used, according to which the transliteration is given in s p a c e d letters within ’single’ quotation marks.

26 comments… add one
  • Grace

    Hi there.

    I have a question similar to Justin’s. I’m wanting to translate modern English into Old English, and then Old English into runes. Would I simply substitute Old English letters for runes? It’s as simple as that?


    • Viking Rune

      Hello Grace. Yes, Old English letters correspond to the runes as outlined in the charter above.

  • Lichen

    Great list of Anglo-Saxon runes, and great explanation. You did miss one, however, that is nearly always included as Anglo-Saxon additions, and is present in the oldest Anglo-Saxon sources: Iar/Ior. It should appear between Yr and Ear.

    • Viking Rune

      Thank you, Lichen. I’ll make an update or even write a separate post about this rune.

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