runes, ancient characters used in Teutonic, Anglo-Saxon, and Scandinavian inscriptions. They were probably first used by the East Goths (c.300), who are thought to have derived them from Helleno-Italic writing. The runes were adapted to carving on wood and stone; they consisted of perpendicular, oblique, and a few curved lines. The first six runic signs were for f, u, th, o ( a ) , r, c ( k ), hence the name Futhorc for the runic alphabets. There were two alphabets, one of 16 signs and the other of 24 (the same 16 with 8 additional signs). They were used extensively throughout N Europe, Iceland, England, Ireland, and Scotland until the establishment of Christianity. From then on the use of runes was reviled as a pagan practice. In Scandinavia their use persisted even after the Middle Ages; there they were used for manuscripts as well as inscriptions. The word rune is derived from an early Anglo-Saxon word meaning secret or mystery.
See A. F. Brodeur, The Riddle of the Runes (1932, repr. 1973); R. I. Page, An Introduction to English Runes (1973).