Runic cryptography in early epigraphic period (200-700)


  • Sebastien Zimmermann



Runic script, cryptography, chronology, typology, Roman period, Merovingian period


Runic script is an alphabetic system based on a non-alphabetical order row. The oldest row contained 24 letters but was reduced to 16 in Scandinavia around 800, and enlarged to 28 then 31 letters in England between 7th and 10th century (See Duwel, 2008). Runic script also adopted various original encryption systems during Viking and Middle Ages. Recent and very complete studies help us to understand the way they worked, both on social and technical levels. Nevertheless, the very first uses of cryptography are probably far much older and could have even occurred since runic script is first attested, that is in the end of 2nd century. It should be emphasized that it was based on a visual effect and riddles which goal was to make guess names rather than magical formulae. Indeed, the use of magical formulae is only attested lately, in the medieval times in Scandinavia and England inscriptions, and it is clearly related to Christian prayers and Kabbala (Bauer, 2020). This article aims to provide a chronology and a typology of possible cryptography techniques used with runic script in its earliest period.