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Between runes and manuscripts

Between runes and manuscripts there were the Roman-alphabet inscriptions. This is the first comprehensive study of these inscriptions and the role they played in the Norwegian Viking and Middle Ages.

Book with brown wooden cover.

The Kvikne-psalter (NBO Ms.8vo 102).

Photo: Elise Kleivane

About the project

The project Between runes and manuscripts. Roman-alphabet inscriptions in Viking Age and Medieval Norway will focus on a category of written documents that has received remarkably little attention: inscriptions from Norway written in Roman-alphabet script. Norwegian manuscripts and runic inscriptions are already thoroughly described and analysed.

The primary objective for this project is to provide a comprehensive study of Roman-alphabet inscriptions from Viking Age and Medieval Norway. Roman-alphabet inscriptions are not sufficiently documented or studied as a whole. It is not possible to understand Viking Age and Medieval literacy unless the implications of the triangular relationship between manuscripts, runes and Roman-alphabet epigraphy are sorted out. This relationship cannot be sorted out without a full study also of the Roman-alphabet inscriptions.

Roman-alphabet inscriptions are found on a wide range of objects. The oldest examples from Norway are coins. Later we get inscribed grave stones, church bells, church decorations and liturgical objects such as chalices. Outside of churches there are inscriptions on lead sheets, drinking horns, seals and jewellery – to mention some examples. In addition there are several inscriptions that must be characterized as graffiti. Interestingly, most of these types of objects are also found among the runic material.

The project is set up in two stages. Both stages will contribute to meet the primary objective. The first stage is to construct a database for Norwegian Roman-alphabet inscriptions. The database will be the foundation for further analysis within the project’s second stage, where Roman-alphabet epigraphy will be analysed in order to meet the project’s secondary objectives:

  • To demonstrate how the foreign Roman script introduced in the Viking Age was transformed into a vernacular script;
  • to bring forth new knowledge about the uses and functions of writing outside manuscripts; and
  • to determine whether Roman-alphabet inscriptions are best understood in relation to runic inscriptions because both are epigraphic, or to the learned and imported manuscript culture because they are written with Roman letters, or if they are best understood as a writing culture of their own.

Project period

The project period is from August 2017 to February 2021.


The Research Council of Norway


Centre for the Study of the Viking Age, The University of Nottingham

Tags: Roman-alphabet script, Runes, Manuscripts, Old Norse, Latin, Middle Low German, Medieval period, Middle Ages, Viking Age, Inscriptions, Epigraphy
Published Feb. 14, 2017 2:13 PM - Last modified Aug. 17, 2020 10:40 AM


Project leader

Elise Kleivane