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The Runic alphabets are a set of related alphabets using letters (known as runes) formerly used to write Germanic languages before and shortly after the Christianization of Scandinavia and the British Isles. The Scandinavian variants are also known as Futhark (or fuþark, derived from their first six letters: F, U, Þ, A, R, and K); the Anglo-Saxon variant as Futhorc (due to sound changes undergone in Old English by the same six letters). However, the first A in the fuþark was nasal, hence originally close to an o.

The earliest runic inscriptions date from c. 150, and the alphabet was generally replaced by the Latin alphabet with Christianization by c. 700 in central Europe and by c. 1100 in Scandinavia. However, the use of runes persisted for specialized purposes in Scandinavia, longest in rural Sweden until the early 20th century (used mainly for decoration as runes in Dalarna and on Runic calendars). The three best-known runic alphabets are:


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The Alamanni, Allemanni, or Alemanni were originally an alliance of west Germanic tribes located around the upper Main, a river that is one of the largest tributaries of the Rhine, on land that is today part of Germany. One of the earliest references to them is the cognomen Alamannicus assumed by Caracalla, who ruled the Roman Empire from 211-217 and claimed thereby to be their defeater. The nature of this alliance and their previous tribal affiliations remain uncertain. The alliance was aggressive in nature, attacking the Roman province of Germania Superior whenever it could. Generally it broadly followed the example of the Franks, the first Germanic tribal alliance, which had stopped the Romans from penetrating north of the lower Rhine and subsequently invaded the Roman province of Germania Inferior.

From the first century, the Rhine had become the border between Roman Gaul and tribal Germania. Germanic peoples, Celts, and tribes of mixed Celto-Germanic ethnicity were settled in the lands along both banks. The Romans divided these territories into two districts, Germania Inferior and Germania Superior situated along the lower and upper Rhine respectively.



The Franks were one of several west Germanic tribes who entered the late Roman Empire from Frisia as foederati and established a lasting realm in an area that covers most of modern-day France and the region of Franconia in Germany, forming the historic kernel of both these two modern countries. The conversion to Christianity of the pagan Frankish king Clovis I was a decisive event in the history of Europe.

The realm underwent many partitions and repartitions, since the Franks divided their property among surviving sons, and lacking a broad sense of a res publica, they conceived of the realm to a large extent as private property. This practice partially explains the difficulty of describing precisely the dates and physical boundaries of any of the Frankish kingdoms and who ruled the various sections. The decline of literacy while the Franks ruled compounds the problem: they produced few written records. In essence however, two dynasties of leaders succeeded each other, first the Merovingians and then the Carolingians.


Merowingian seaxes Württembergisches Landesmuseum Stuttgart.jpg
A Seax (also Hadseax, Sax, Seaxe, Scramaseax and Scramsax), was a type of Germanic single-edged knife. It seems to have been used primarily as a tool but may also have been a weapon in extreme situations. They occur in a size range from 7.5cm to 75cm. The larger ones (langseax) were probably weapons, the smaller ones (hadseax) tools, intermediate sized ones serving a dual purpose. Quite a lot is known about Germanic military war gear from the ritual sacrifice of war booty in Danish bogs. Wearing a seax may have been indicative of freemanship, much like the possession of a spear since only free men had the right to bear arms. The seax was worn in a horizontal sheath at the front of the belt. Scram or scran is a word for food in some English dialects and seax to a blade (so a possible translation is "food knife"). However, as the word 'scramseax' is only used once in early medieval literature (In Gregory of Tours' 'History of the Franks'; the general use of the term when referring to all short knives of this type is erroneous).

The Saxons may have derived their name from seax (the implement for which they were known) in much the same way that the Franks were named for their francisca. The seax has a lasting symbolic impact in the English counties of Middlesex and Essex, which both feature three seaxes in their ceremonial emblem.


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An elf is a creature of Germanic mythology. The elves were originally imagined as a race of minor nature and fertility gods, who are often pictured as youthful-seeming men and women of great beauty living in forests and underground places and caves, or in wells and springs. They have been portrayed to be long-lived or immortal and as beings of magical powers. Following J. R. R. Tolkien's influential The Lord of the Rings, wherein a wise, immortal and humanoid people named Elves have a significant role, elves became staple characters of modern fantasy (see Elves in fantasy fiction and games).

The English word elf is from Old English ælf (also ylf), from a Proto-Germanic *albo-z, *albi-z, whence also Old Norse álfr, Middle High German elbe. In Middle English, until the 14th century, elf was the masculine, while the corresponding feminine was elven (Old English ælfen, from *albinnja).

The word's ultimate etymology may be the Proto-Indo-European root *albh- meaning "white", from which also stems the Latin albus "white". Alternatively, a connection to the Rbhus, semi-divine craftsmen in Indian mythology, has also been suggested (OED). In this case, a Latin etymological root cognate would be labor.



Alliterative verse, in various forms, is found widely in the literary traditions of the early Germanic languages. The Old English epic Beowulf, as well as most other Old English poetry, the Old High German Muspilli, the Old Saxon Heliand, and the Old Norse Poetic Edda all use alliterative verse.

Originally all alliterative poetry was composed and transmitted orally, and much has been lost through time since it went unrecorded. The degree to which writing may have altered this oral artform remains much in dispute. Nevertheless, there is a broad consensus among scholars that the written verse retains many (and some would argue almost all) of the features of the spoken language.


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The Limes Germanicus (Latin for Germanic frontier) was a remarkable line of frontier (limes) forts that bounded the ancient Roman provinces of Germania Superior and Raetia, and divided the Roman Empire and the unsubdued Germanic tribes, from the years 83 to 260. At its height, the limes stretched from the Northsea outlet of the Rhine to near Regensburg on the Danube.

The Limes Germanicus was divided into:


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Thorn, or þorn (Þ, þ), is a letter in the Anglo-Saxon and Icelandic alphabets. It was also used in medieval Scandinavia, but was later replaced with th. The letter originated from the rune ᚦ in the Elder Fuþark, called thorn in the Anglo-Saxon and thorn or thurs ("giant") in the Scandinavian rune poems, its reconstructed Proto-Germanic name being *Thurisaz.