It is highly illustrative of the tenacity with which the ancient sepulchral usages were retained even after the introduction of Christianity that King Harold, son and successor of Gorm the Old, who is said to have christianized all Denmark and Norway, followed the pagan custom of erecting a chambered tumulus over the remains of his father, on the summit of which was placed a rude pillar-stone, bearing on one side the memorial inscription in runes, and on the other a representation of the Saviour of mankind distinguished by the crossed nimbus surrounding the head.
They were not entirely unlettered; for the use of runes dates back considerably earlier than the Viking Age.
It has been argued that the runes of the Teutonic peoples have been derived from a form of the Etruscan alphabet, inscriptions in which are spread over a great part of northern Italy, but of which the most characteristic are found in the neighbourhood of Lugano, and in Tirol near Innsbruck, Botzen and Trent.
Wimmer's own view is that the runes were developed from the Latin alphabet in use at the end of the 2nd century A.D.
Wimmer supports his thesis with great learning and ingenuity, and when allowance is made for the fact that a script to be written upon wood, as the runes were, of necessity avoids horizontal lines which run along the fibres of the wood, and would therefore be indistinct, most of the runic signs thus receive a plausible explanation.
The runes are found in all Teutonic countries, and the Romans were in close contact with the Germans on the Rhine before the beginning I For further details of these alphabets, see Conway, The Italic Dialects, ii.
It is strange, therefore, if the Roman alphabet, which formed the model for the runes, was that of two whole centuries later, and even then the formal alphabet of inscriptions.
It has, however, been contended that a system of primitive runes existed whence some at least of the later runes were borrowed, and the ownership marks of the Lapps, who have no knowledge of reading and writing, have been regarded as borrowed from these early Teutonic runes.
2 Be this as it may, the resemblances between the runic and the Mediterranean alphabets are too great to admit of denial that it is from a Greek alphabet, whether directly or indirectly, that the runes are derived.
It is very unlikely that a people borrowing an alphabet which was uniformly written from left to right should have used it in order to write from right to left, or (30uvrp04riOOP. Hence Hempl contends 3 that Wimmer's view must be discarded, and that the runes were derived about 600 B.C. from a western Greek alphabet which closely resembled the Formello alphabet (one of the ancient Chalcidian abecedaria) and the Sabellic and North Etruscan alphabets.
Taylor, however, derived the runes from the alphabet of a Greek colony on the Black Sea.
600 (see Plate), the signs are divided up into three series of eight (the twenty 'fourth, p4, being omitted for want of room), Upon the basis of this division a system of cryptography (in the sense that the symbols are unintelligible without knowledge of the runic alphabet) was developed, wherein the series and the position within the series of the letter indicated, were each represented by straight strokes, the strokes for the series being shorter than those for the runes, or the series being represented by strokes to the left, the runes by strokes to the right, of a medial line.'
P. 264), it was from Britain that the use of runes upon gravestones was derived, a use which, to judge from the number of bilingual inscriptions in Britain, the Celts derived from the Romans.
Professor Rhys, who at one time considered runes and ogam to be connected, now thinks that ogam was the invention of a grammarian in South Wales who was familiar with Latin letters.
Stephens that the Ruthwell Cross, on which a portion of the poem is inscribed in runes, bore on its top-stone the name "Cadmon"; 2 but, according to Professor W.
Vietor, the traces of runes that are still visible exclude all possibility of this reading.