How was Latin written in runes
Did the early Slavs write in Germanic runes?
A small piece of bone is just about to rewrite history. It's as long as a hand's breadth. And it contains a message, albeit difficult to read. The piece was found near Břeclav / Lundenburg in South Moravia in a place that is considered an early Slavic settlement area. As early as 2017, scientists came across the bone during excavation work. Archaeologists from the Czech Republic, Austria, Switzerland and Australia then took a closer look at it. The team also includes Jiří Macháček, the head of the Institute of Archeology and Museology at Masaryk University in Brno:
“It's a piece of the rib of a cow. A text is carved on it. When we examined the characters more closely, we found out that they are old Germanic runes of the so-called older Futhark. This is an alphabet that the Germanic-speaking population in Central Europe used from the 2nd to the 7th century AD. The surprising thing was that this document was found in an early Slavic settlement. "
A piece of beef rib
So far, the so-called Glagoliza has been considered the Slavic original. However, it was only invented in 863 by the Slav apostle Kyrill of Saloniki. As part of his missionary work alongside Method, he created his own alphabet. This was based on Greek lowercase letters, as well as on the Caucasian and Semitic writing systems.
Of course, some researchers speculated earlier on whether the Slavs might not have had some kind of written form before that. But there was no evidence of this. So is it that beef bone now? A difficult question, because first you have to realize that there is no continuous text scratched there, says Macháček:
“The runes do not form specific words, but are arranged like an alphabet. But they are different letters than in our alphabet. We scientists call it Futhark because the series of characters begins with F - U - TH - A - R - K. And we discovered the last part of the runic alphabet on the fragment from the rib. "
The researchers therefore consider two possibilities of what the signs might mean ...
“Rows of runes can often be found on stone monuments, because in the Germanic belief magical powers were assigned to each sign. If the runes were arranged correctly, this magic supposedly did its job. But there is a second possibility, and that seems more likely to us. The runes could have served as a teaching primer or a series of exercises for someone who learned to write with them. It cannot be ruled out that the early Slavs took over the knowledge of runic script from the Teutons and tried to write in it themselves "says Macháček.
But what does that mean? Did these inquisitive early Slavs translate their own language into runic script or did they write in a Germanic idiom? The archaeologist admits that it is too early to answer this question:
“It is a first swallow. That is, we have proven that the early Slavs actually came into contact with the Germanic runes. Because until now it was considered that the first script used by Slavs was Glagoliza, which Cyril and Method brought to the Great Moravian Empire in order to spread the Christian faith from Byzantium. But there are also historical reports, according to which the Slavs could have used signs before. "
Jiří Macháček refers primarily to a writing by the monk Chrabr from the Bulgarian Preslaw. It is called "O pismenech", ie "About the letters", and was written at the beginning of the 10th century. Earlier it sparked discussions about a possible pre-Christian Slavic runic script. Because there it says:
"Before, when the Slavs were pagans and had no books, they read and prophesied with the help of lines and carvings."
Ultimately, however, the researchers couldn't figure out what these words were ...
“Some thought that this could mean their own rune-like letters. This hypothesis was rejected again because runes were not found anywhere among the Slavs. Only now do we have the proof that the early Slavs did not have their own characters, but could have come into contact with Germanic runes and possibly also wrote with them "says the expert.
But that can only be confirmed through further research, or better still: further finds, he adds.
Hope for more finds
However, on the threshold of the early Middle Ages, the masses were certainly not literate. Even among the Germanic peoples, only a small shift could write and read - the so-called rune masters. In Central Europe, however, the skill dwindled with the advancing Christianization. The Latin alphabet was used for church purposes. If the Slavs also wrote with runes, this too must have lost importance with the spread of Glagolitic script and the advance of Latin from the west.
“Because we have not yet found any further evidence, we do not know how widespread knowledge of runes was among the Slavs. This means that the find only shows that they came into contact with letters much earlier than previously assumed. Further research must now show whether the writing was not much more widespread among the early Slavs than we would have ever believed ”, says Jiří Macháček.
The place where the bone was found is known to researchers for one of the settlements in the Great Moravian Empire. It was at the confluence of the March and Thaya rivers. But Slavs had settled there much earlier. The archaeologist said:
“Obviously, the residents there have gradually acquired different knowledge and certain skills from the peoples around them. So they came to a relatively sophisticated culture. And this flowed into the Great Moravian Empire, which was then already Christianized, with its churches and the wonderful jewelry production. Perhaps this takeover process began at the end of the 6th or beginning of the 7th century, so that the early Slavs could already read and write - albeit with Germanic runes. "
Macháček confesses that whoever has scratched the runes on the cattle bone from both sides must remain open until now:
“It could have been a Teuton who lived with the Slavs. Or it was really a Slav who must have learned the script from a Germanic. In any case, the contact was probably close. It is not true that all of the Germanic tribes who lived in what is now the Czech Republic moved away with the arrival of the first Slavs. Likewise, masses of Slavs did not suddenly advance here. The processes were much more complex and were gradual. "
Jiří Macháček is now hoping for more discoveries to shed light on these processes. It could also help to check archived items again ...
“The inscription on the piece of bone is very difficult to see. You have to look very carefully to see them. Perhaps similarly labeled bones are already in the archive or in the museum. That means we should look at such finds again. At the same time, you have to take a closer look at new excavations. Personally, I hope that more documents from the early Slavs will be found. But the future will show whether this will come true "says the specialist.
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