“Authors are much divided, as to the antiquity of the Runic characters; some suppose them to be very ancient, whilst others contend, that they are more modern than the ancient Gothic. Several writers affirm, that they were brought from Asia by the celebrated Woden. Olaus Wormius and Rudbeck contend, that they are older than the Greek. Mr. Wise says, that the Runic letters are found on coins, and on stone monuments, some of which may be near two thousand years old. He also supposes this alphabet to have been exceedingly ancient, and that it was formed from some alphabet of the Greeks, whilst it consisted of sixteen letters only, and before they had left the Eastern way of writing, from the right hand.
“The judicious Celsius was of opinion, that the Runic letters were nothing more than Roman letters, with the curves changed into straight lines, for the ease of engraving on hard substances. The learned and ingenious author of the History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire says, that the oldest Runic inscriptions are supposed to be of the third century; and he adds, that the most ancient writer, who mentions the Runic characters, is Venantius Fortunatus, who lived towards the end of the sixth century. Our opinion on the evidence before us, is, that the report of Woden having brought the Runic letters from Asia is entirely fabulous; that the tales of Rudbeck and Olaus Wormius, do not deserve the least attention; that Mr. Wise, though a respectable writer, is mistaken as to the antiquity of the Runic letters; that the opinion of the learned Celsius is nearly true, and that the Runic characters are composed partly of ancient Gothic and Greek letters, and partly of Roman, deformed and corrupted, probably by the Necromancers of the north, who used them in their spells and incantations, to which they were greatly addicted. The forms of several Runic letters, compared with the Greek and Gothic alphabets, sufficiently prove this observation. For instance, the Runic F or Fei, is a rude imitation of the Roman F, with the same vocal powers. The O or Oys, is an inverted digamma, with the power of the Roman U, that is of ou or W. R or Ridhur, is evidently the Roman R, with the same powers. I or Iis, is the Gothic and Roman I. S or Sol, is a resemblance of the ancient Greek Σ, with the same power. T or Tyr is an imitation of the Greek Tau, or Roman T. B or Biarkan is the Greek Beta, or Roman B; and L or Lagur appears to have been taken from the Grecian Lambda. We are of opinion, that the resemblances above pointed out, sufficiently evince, that the Runic characters are derived from the Greek, Gothic, and Roman letters.
“In the year 1001, the Swedes were persuaded by the Pope to lay aside the Runic letters, and to adopt the Roman in their room. In the year 1115, the Runic letters were condemned in Spain, by the council of Toledo. They were abolished in Denmark in the beginning of the fourteenth century, and in Iceland soon after.
“The order of the old Runic alphabet, which consisted of sixteen letters, was as follows: F, U, D, O, R, K, H, N, I, A, S, T, B, L, M, YR. It is not known when the order of the Runic alphabet was confounded, but we do not suppose that it is of greater antiquity upon that account.” — Astle.
Milman has the following remarks on the opinion of Gibbon quoted above by Mr. Astle: “The obscure subject of the Runic characters has exercised the industry and ingenuity of the modem scholars of the north; There are three distinct theories; one, maintained by Schlözer (Nordische Geschichte, p. 481, &c.), considers their sixteen letters to be a corruption of the Roman alphabet, post-Christian in their date, and Schlözer would attribute their introduction into the north to the Alemanni. The second, that of Frederick Schlegel (Vorlesungen über alte und neue Literatur), supposes that these characters were left on the coasts of the Mediterranean and Northern Seas by the Phoenicians, preserved by the priestly castes, and employed for purposes of magic. Their common origin from the Phoenician would account for their similarity to the Roman letters. The last, to which we incline, claims a much higher and more venerable antiquity for the Runic, and supposes them to have been the original characters of the Indo-Teutonic tribes, brought from the East, and preserved among the different races of that stock. See Über Deutsche Runen, von W. C. Grimm, 1821. A Memoir by Dr. Legis Fundgruben des alten Nordens. Foreign Quarterly Review, vol. ix. p. 438.” — Gibbon, chap. ix. note 16.
The University of Oxford are in possession of the matrices of a Pica Runic, which is the only one in England.