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.
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