Runes: a Handbook

Runes: a Handbook

Michael P. Barnes


Boydell Press



Offers a full introduction to and survey of runes and runology: their history, how they were used, and their interpretation.
Runes, often considered magical symbols of mystery and power, are in fact an alphabetic form of writing. Derived from one or more Mediterranean prototypes, they were used by Germanic peoples to write different kinds of Germanic language, principally Anglo-Saxon and the various Scandinavian idioms, and were carved into stone, wood, bone, metal, and other hard surfaces; types of inscription range from memorials to the dead, through Christian prayers and everyday messages to crude graffiti. First reliably attested in the second century AD, runes were in due course supplanted by the roman alphabet, though in Anglo-Saxon England they continued in use until the early eleventh century, in Scandinavia until the fifteenth (and later still in one or two outlying areas).
This book provides an accessible, general account of runes and runic writing from their inception to their final demise. It also covers modern uses of runes, and deals with such topics as encoded texts, rune names, how runic inscriptions were made, runological method, and the history of runic research. A final chapter explains where those keen to see runic inscriptions can most easily find them.

Professor Michael P. Barnes is Emeritus Professor of Scandinavian Studies, University College London.


September 2012
40 black and white, 34 line illustrations
256 pages
24.4x17.2 cm
ISBN: 9781843837787
Format: Hardback
Boydell Press
BISAC HIS037010, LAN009000
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Table of Contents

The origin of the runes
The older futhark
Inscriptions in the older futhark
The development of runes in Anglo-Saxon England and Frisia
The English and Frisian inscriptions
The development of runes in Scandinavia
Scandinavian inscriptions of the Viking Age
The late Viking-Age and medieval runes
Scandinavian inscriptions of the Middle Ages
Runic writing in the post-Reformation era
Cryptic inscriptions and cryptic runes
Runica manuscripta and rune names
The making of runic inscriptions
The reading and interpretation of runic inscriptions
Runes and the imagination: literature and politics
A brief history of runology
Where to find runic inscriptions
Phonetic and phonemic symbols
The articulation of speech sounds
Transliteration conventions
The spelling of edited texts
Index of inscriptions


A clear and authoritative textbook as well as an attractive, amply illustrated, and well-made artifact. It is written in an accessible style that nevertheless does not oversimplify. Michael Barnes has set a new standard, providing us with a clear and dedicated textbook for teaching the study of runes. STUDIES IN MEDIEVAL AND RENAISSANCE TEACHING

Barnes has succeeded in systematizing for students an elusive body of knowledge, and models...a careful, logical approach. MEDIEVAL REVIEW

Extremely welcome [and] likely to attract an international readership. The book covers essential aspects of runology and it provides us with a succinct research overview. NOWELE

An accessible and useful introduction to the topic. YEARS WORK IN ENGLISH STUDIES

Provides students with an introduction to the topic which is both accessible and erudite. It brings the reader up to date on current issues in the discipline and demonstrates the concern with methodological rigour for which its author is well known. HISTORY

A user-friendly scholarly reference and resource. [...] Highly recommended. MIDWEST BOOK REVIEW

Not only a handbook but a textbook for the study of runes. CHOICE,

A prudently structured, lucidly written, and judiciously reasoned overview of a subject that has engendered much divisiveness among experts. [...] A first-rate contribution. ANGLIA

[An] immaculately produced book. [...] This book is both a pioneering textbook of runic studies and a reference resource on runes, thus serving the needs of students of language studies, medieval history and cultural matters, and the just plain curious. REFERENCE REVIEWS

Overall, the book is abundant in interesting material, well-written, a rare reliable source on this often overdramatized aspect of our field. COMITATUS

An immaculately scholarly and notably rational introduction to runology. [It] tells the reader everything he or she needs to know about runes and how to study them. It will be invaluable to students. TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT