The Vikings are considered to have been accomplished seafarers and warriors, but did you know that they also had their own alphabet? Known as the futhark, it consisted of 16 characters or letters called runes. The Vikings carved these symbols into metal, wood, bone, or stone (see below).
Some Vikings believed that runes were magical and that engraving them on a sword would make it stronger. Warriors also carved their names onto their swords to make sure nobody stole them. Craftsmen used runes to proclaim their skill. An inscription on a gold horn made by a Viking in Germany around A.D. 400 reads, "I, Hlegest of Holt, made this horn."
Throughout Scandinavia and the British Isles, archaeologists have found runic inscriptions carved in memory of dead friends and family. The most famous example is in Jelling, Denmark, where in around A.D. 950, King Harald Bluetooth honored his parents with a runestone that is more than 8 feet high.
Runes can also give archaeologists clues about how far some Vikings traveled. For example, we know a Norseman named Halfdane once visited or worked in Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire (part of which is now Turkey). How? He carved his name into the marble at the city's enormous church. However, the ancient graffiti did not read, "Halfdane was here." - Jeff Sypeck
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