The early development of Runes was likely influenced by north Etruscan script, which was adapted by Germanic tribes living north of the Alps no earlier than the third century C.E. From Germany the use of Runes spread to Scandinavia, and was later brought to the British Isles by Angle, Saxon and, later, Viking conquerors.
The runic alphabet thrived between the fourth and twelfth centuries C.E., and was used as a system of writing most extensively in Scandinavia and the British Isles. However, like all other ancient peoples, the Germans and the Norse assigned to their written alphabet mystical significance that transcended its mere use as a system of writing. The word "rune" itself comes from an old Germanic word meaning "mystery." The Roman historian Tacitus, one of the earliest chroniclers of life among the ancient Germanic tribes, described the common practice of casting Runes for divination. The Runes were believed to have originated with the gods and to possess magical power which could be harnessed by those who knew how to use them.
The runic writing system evolved differently in Germany, Britain and Scandinavia. It has a long and diverse history, and changed over time in different countries. But below is a simplified chart mapping some of the key differences between early Germanic, Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian runic systems, and showing their phonetic correspondences.
|FEHU||FEOH||FE||F||cattle, livestock, riches, landed property, movable property|
|URUZ||UR||UR||U||primitive ox, wild ox|
|THURISAZ||THORN||THURS||TH||thorn, giant, troll|
|ANSUZ||OS||OSS||A||God, Asa god, divinity|
|WUNJO||WYN||W||good fortune, delight|
|NAUTHIZ||NYD||NAUDR||N||suffer want, crowd, bondage, slavery|
|JERA||GER||J||year, harvest, produce, crop, good year|
|EIHWAZ||EOH (14)||E (EI)||tree, yew|
|PERTH||PEORD (13)||P||stone, rock|
|SOWELU||SIGEL||SOL||S||sun, power of the sun|
|TEIWAZ||TIR||TYR||T||warrior, the god Tyr|
|BERKANA||BEORC||BJARKAN||B||birch, twigs of birch|
|MANNAZ||MAN||MADR (15)||M||man, husband, human being|
|INGUZ||ING||NG||phallus, name of a god|
|OTHILA||ETHEL||O||allodium, land-holding, inheritance|