A Real Early Frankish Runic Text Translated

The Bergakker inscription is a runic inscription found in Gelderland, Netherlands, on a gilt-silver scabbard mount, found in 1996. It has an inscription in Elder Futhark runes, which can be transcribed as follows:

ha?VþV? s:ann:kVsjam::logVns
halVþVwas:ann:kVsjam::logVns
1234567 8 901 234567  890123
0-         1-           2-

Runes marked in the first line as ? are Here is a nice drawing of the inscription for your viewing pleasure:

Here is a (not terribly clear) photo of the inscription:

BergakkerPhoto

Source: Museum Het Valkhof, Nijmegen, Holland

It seems that the find location was a Frankish settlement within the Roman limes, and the find dates somewhere between 425 and 450 AD. This is pretty damned interesting, as it means that we may here have the only extant written example of early Frankish. The inscription looks promising, because most of the runes are well-formed and the words appear to be divided by colon-like marks. This indicates that either the writer or the model was prepared by a person who was fully literate in runes. This increases the chances that the spelling accurately reflects the language.

Textual difficulties

If you would like to read a list of previous attempts to read the inscription, the Wikipedia page has a handy listing (under Scholarly Interpretations). Arild Hauga has a mighty go here too (see number 19).

Rune 3 is quite difficult to read. It could be a, l, n, or þ. It has even been read with no justification as ‘r’. ‘a’ is unlikely, as Rune 3 follows an ‘a’, and the rest of the text does not include doubled vowels. If the shaft goes up to the top, then ‘n’ is quite possible, although the diagonal stroke does not cross the shaft. On similar arguments, ‘þ’ can be conjectured if one supposes a missing lower diagonal. However, if you look closely at the photo, instead of the drawing, it can be seen that the part of the shaft above the diagonal is very faint and may just be a scratch. If this is right then the rune is definitely a small l. This is the simplest reading and has been adopted by several experts.

BergakkerDetail

Rune 7 is an ‘a’ written over ‘w’. Because the two letters are similar in shape, it has been read as a bind-rune ‘wa’, but it might just be an error, representing single ‘a’ or ‘w’. As I read the letter before as a ‘u’, the reading ‘wa’ is more probable than either ‘a’ or ‘w’.

Runes 4/6/13/21 (shown as V) represent an unknown sign, which is clearly to be read as part of the inscription. From the surrounding letters, it must be a vowel. It is possibly either a doubled upside-down ‘u’ rune, or a strangely formed ‘e’. I am not convinced by the explanation for ‘e’, which requires the bottoms of the two vertical shafts to have been moved together to form the lower V shape. It is possible that it is some kind of bind-rune. While the top v could be a reference to ‘e’, I am unable to find a combination ‘?+e’ or ‘e+?’ which fits in all positions. I believe that reading ‘u’ in all positions gives a more plausible early germanic reading than reading ‘e’ or a diphthong in all positions. Accordingly I read V as an upside down doubled ‘u’. [1]

Can We Read It Yet?

Assuming that the rune marked as V = ‘u’, we can make the following observations:

loguns looks like acc. pl of a u-stem verb in Gothic. [2] The word is not found in Gothic. loug in OHG is an i-stem (which would give logins) but some of the OHG i-stems apparently used to be u-stems (Wright p. 51).

kusjam looks like indic 2nd pers. pl. in Gothic. But the older forms in OHG have -mes, and the PG form is supposed to have been -mz. For some reason Gothic dropped the -s, but presumably a Frankish text would be descended from the same form as the later OHG form. But the subjunctive 2nd pers. pl. in OHG has the -m form mostly, instead of the -mes form, and this may be the historical WG form. In this text, a subjunctive would be required after ann. Alternatively, as koron is a Class II weak verb in OHG (but not in Gothic), kusjam could represent first person singular indicative (but not subjunctive). On the whole, I prefer the plural reading, as the subjunctive is grammatically necessary.

KVsjam has often been read as a dat. pl. noun, which is grammatically possible, but I find the resulting readings forced and unconvincing (see for yourself in the Wikipedia listing).

Kiusan has been suggested (albeit in a related nominal form), but in Gothic & OHG it is strong so wouldn’t end in -ja-. However there is a related Gothic weak verb kausjan = prove, test (= O.H.G koron) which would fit.

So we can read “ann:kusjam::loguns” as meaning “grant that we experience the flames”, which would seem to refer to the funeral pyre. So ‘grant that we die in glory’ is the meaning. So far so good.

The first word, haluþuwas, is masc. sing. (because it governs the imp. sing. ann and ends in -s). Great effort has been made to read it as a personal name in the genitive, indicating either the owner or the maker. But the presence of ann, grant, indicates that the first word indicates something or somebody who is invoked. So if it is a proper name, it is probably the name of a deity or semi-deity.

The first part of the word looks very much like halu– health (O.E. hǣlu). There are various germanic suffixes containing ‘þ’ which make abstract nouns, but none of them really fits here.

If we read ‘-þewas’, it would mean servant, but then we are reading V as ‘e’ and to change it to ‘e’ here would render the other readings with ‘u’ difficult. Perhaps the writer was not such a good speller after all and a letter (i?) is missing here. In this case we could perhaps read -þiuwas, servant, resulting in a divine epithet “servant of salvation”, but there is simply not enough evidence to do this.

Alternatively, haluþ- could represent O.E. hæleþ, OHG helid, hero, warrior, which according to Kluge (viz. sub Held) derive from Germ. haluþ. This looks promising, but it is then more difficult to account for the rest of the word.

So haluþuwas appears to be some divine name connected with health and salvation. Let’s call him ‘the Protector’.

Finally The Translation!

Early Frankish: Haluþuwas ann kusjam loguns

Modern English:”May the Protector grant that we taste the flames”

Definitely a ripping motto to put on one’s scabbard, don’t you think?

NOTES
[1]An additional consideration, for the more mystically-inclined, is that the runic name for ‘u’ was ur, aurochs, a wild bull. Turning the ‘u’ upside down and doubling it makes the letter look like bulls horns, which may be magically significant. Note that 2 of the 3 ‘s’ runes are also doubled, making them look like lightning. The name of the ‘s’ rune is sun.

[2]The Gothic comparison is important, as the age of our Gothic texts is roughly contemporaneous with this inscription, whereas all our other germanic texts are centuries later.

References:

Arild Hauge: http://www.arild-hauge.com/PDF/Runes-around-north-sea-c9.pdf
Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bergakker_inscription
Wright OHG: https://archive.org/stream/oldhighgermanpri00wrigiala#page/50/mode/2up
Kluge, Friedrich, Etymologisches Wörterbuch der deutschen Sprache, 25. Auflage, Rev. Elmar Seebold.

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