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Bill Thayer

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Book I
Note B

This webpage reproduces a section of
Italy and Her Invaders

Thomas Hodgkin

2nd edition
Oxford University Press
London, 1892

The text, and illustrations except as noted,
are in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Book I
Chapter 2

Book 1 (continued)

Vol. I
Note C

On the Runic Alphabet of the Goths,
the Alphabet of Ulfilas, and Gothic Grammar

I propose briefly to indicate the relation of the alphabet of Ulfilas both to the Runic Futhorc of his forefathers and to the Greek and Latin alphabets of his teachers.

As is well known, the Runic alphabets varied considerably both in the number and shapes of their letters; but we shall probably not be far wrong in supposing that the 'Futhorc' in use among the Goths, when Ulfilas was a child, was something like this: —

O or Ae

Twenty-four letters in all.

The alphabet of Ulfilas is as follows. There are some slight variations in the forms of the letters, but we will take those  p103 used in the early and beautifully executed Codex Argenteus. For purposes of comparison the Greek alphabet used in the Codex Sinaiticus (which was probably contemporary with Ulfilas) is placed side by side. It must be observed that the Gothic alphabet, like the Greek, is a numeration-table as well as an alphabet, and we thus know absolutely the order of the letters contained in it. The Greek has three signs and the Gothic two, introduced merely for purposes of numeration and not used as letters.

Numeral value Gothic letter English equivalent English equivalent Greek letter
1 𐌰 A A Α
2 𐌱 B B Β
3 𐌲 G G Γ
4 𐌳 D D Δ
5 𐌴 E E Ε
6 𐌵 Q Numeral ϛ (stigma)
7 𐌶 Z Z Ζ
8 𐌷 H Ē Η ( or h )
9 𐌸 Th Th Θ
10 𐌹 I I Ι ( or ï )
20 𐌺 K K Κ
30 𐌻 L L Λ
40 𐌼 M M Μ
50 𐌽 N N Ν
60 𐌾 J X Ξ
70 𐌿 U O Ο
80 𐍀 P P Π
90 𐍁 Numeral Numeral Ч
100 𐍂 R R Ρ
200 𐍃 S S Ϲ
300 𐍄 T T Τ
400 𐍅 V U Υ
500 𐍆 F Ph Φ
600 𐍇 Ch Ch Χ
700 𐍈 W Ps Ψ
800 𐍉 O O ω
900 𐍊 Numeral Numeral

ͳ (or in later Codices,  sampi)

 p104  It is at once evident that Ulfilas has founded his new alphabet mainly upon the Greek. Entirely departing from that order of letters which prevailed in the Runic 'Futhorc,' he has adopted, with very few exceptions, the order which prevails in the Greek alphabet. The very exceptions illustrate the general rule, and show the ingenuity of the Gothic apostle in making the redundancies and deficiencies of each alphabet balance one another.

1. The Greek alphabet possesses two sets of letters for the long and short forms of E and O. As Ulfilas did not require these, he has put his E and O opposite the short form of the one and the long form of the other, and then has used the place left vacant by Eta for the similar looking letter H, and the place of Omicron for his vowel U. There was something evidently peculiar both to Latin and Teutonic ears in the sound of the Greek U, and therefore Ulfilas sets opposite to it not his U but the kindred letter V.

2. The place occupied by the first merely numeral symbol (stigma) he appropriates for Q. Thus his alphabet has one letter more than the Greek: twenty-five instead of twenty-four.

3. The place of the Greek X, a sound not found in the Gothic language, is supplied by J.

4. He does not require the Greek Chi for native Gothic words, but he takes it over in order to enable him to reproduce Greek proper names which contain it, especially the name of Christ.

5. For the unneeded Psi he substitutes the essentially Teutonic W.

So much for the order of the letters. Now as to their shape, upon which also the strong but not exclusive influence of the Greek alphabet will be at once apparent.

The following six letters, 𐌲 𐌳 𐌻 𐍀 𐍅 𐍇 (representing G D F L P V Ch), are taken from the Greek alphabet, with no more modification than we can easily imagine to have existed between one codex and another in the fourth century.

These letters, nine in number, 𐌰 𐌴 𐌶 𐌷 𐌹 𐌺 𐌼 𐌽 𐍄 (representing A E Z H I K M N T), are also no doubt taken from the Greek, but are common to it and the Latin alphabet.  p105 Perhaps 𐌷 points to a Latin influence, as it is not often if ever found in Greek MSS. of so late a period, but is common in the Latin of the fourth century.

One letter, the peculiar 𐌱 (B), with the upper circle left open, may be either Greek or Runic.

Three are clearly Runic: —

𐌾 (J) derived from the Rune
𐌿 (U) do.
𐍉 (O) do.

One letter only, 𐍃, seems to be unmistakably Latin; but 𐌵, which Ulfilas uses for Q, appears to point to a Latin origin; though why he should have chosen a letter with so utterly different a power when the Latin Q was available for his purpose is a mystery of which, as it seems to me, we need further explanation.

These two letters 𐍂 and 𐍆 (R and F), may be either Runic or Latin, but are most probably Runic.

We have thus accounted for twenty-three out of the twenty-five letters of the Gothic alphabet. There remain two which at present we can only account for by a whim on the part of the Gothic letter-maker. These two are

𐌸 = Th,
and 𐍈 = W.

The first, it will be at once observed, is almost identical with the Greek Psi, the second only slightly altered from the Greek Theta, a dot in the middle of the circle being substituted for a line across it. As they occur in the corresponding places to Theta and Psi, but in inverse order, it looks at first sight as if Ulfilas had transposed the two symbols out of pure caprice. On further consideration we shall probably arrive at some such conclusion as the following. The Gothic bishop, having gone arranged all the other letters of his alphabet, had still two sounds unrepresented, th and hw. For neither was there an exactly corresponding letter in the Greek alphabet, for we must suppose that the th differed from the theta of the Greeks in having either a thicker or a thinner pronunciation. To avoid all possibility of  p106 mistake, therefore, he took the Greek Psi (the sound of which he did not need to represent), and with some slight modifications made it stand for his Gothic th; and similarly he made the transformed Theta do duty for his hw. This, or something like this, must surely be the explanation of the matter. To us, lovers of the old Runic lore of the Teutons, it certainly seems a matter of regret that Ulfilas did not here use at least one of the two Runic symbols ready to his hand —

ᚦ = th,

ᚹ = w;

though to have used both would certainly have perpetuated a defect in the Runic Futhorc, namely, the employment of two letters so like one another and so easily confused.

From a survey of the whole question we certainly rise with a higher appreciation of the ingenuity and the philological acquirements of the Moeso-Gothic bishop. His alphabet alone should suffice to convince us of the truth of the assertion of Auxentius as to his familiarity with the three great languages of the Lower Danube: 'Apostolicâ gratiâ Grecam et Latinam et Goticam linguam sine intermissione in unâ et solâ ecclesiâ Christi predicavit.'

An interesting evidence of the fact that Ulfilas did not wish altogether to part company from the old Runic literature, in introducing his new and more flexible alphabet, is furnished by the discovery that his letters appear to have been known by the same, or nearly the same, names as those borne by their Runic equivalents. In a MS. of the ninth or tenth century preserved at Vienna1 there are, attached to a treatise of Alcuin's de Orthographiâ, two alphabets, one, the Runic 'Futhorc' in use among the Anglo-Saxons, the other, the Gothic alphabet of Ulfilas, with the names of the letters annexed. These names have apparently been written by some High-German scribe unacquainted with Gothic, and thus have sustained considerable corruption, but the patient labours of four German scholars2 have at length restored them in all probability nearly to their original form. This being done, we find that we have a Gothic alphabet constructed like the Anglo-Saxon one, on the principle  p107 of children's picture alphabets ('A was an Archer, B was a Bull,' and so one), and choosing in almost all cases the same word as representative of the letter, which we know to have represented it in the old Runic 'Futhorcs.'

In the following table the order observed by the Vienna Codex (which is nearly but not quite that of the Latin alphabet) is maintained. The names are given both in their original and corrected forms, and the names of the corresponding Runes as given in an Anglo-Saxon poem (quoted by Kemble, Archaeologia, XXVIII.339‑345)º are also appended.

according to
Vienna MS.
Corrected Name Corresponding
in Anglo-Saxon
𐌰 A Aza Asks (ash‑tree)
or Ans (a god)
Os (mouth)
𐌱 B Bercna Bairika (birch) Beorch (birch)
𐌲 G Gewa Giba (gift) Gifu (gift)
𐌳 D Daaz Dags (day) Daeg (day)
𐌴 E Eyz Aihvus (a horse)
or Eius (ivy)
Eh (horse)
𐍆 F Fe Faihu (cattle, wealth) Feoh (money)
𐌾 J
or soft G
Gaar Jêr (year) Gear (year)
𐌷 H Haal Hagls (hall) Haegel (hall)
ï I Iiz Eis (ice) Is (ice)
𐌺 K Chozma Kaunsama?3
(a torch or a boil)
Cen (torch)
𐌻 L Laaz Lagu (lake) Lagu (sea)
𐌼 M Manna Manna (man) Man
𐌽 N Noicz Nauths (need) Nyd (need)
𐌿 U Uraz Urus (wild ox) Ur (wild ox)
𐍀 P Pertra4 ? Peorth (chessman)
 p108  𐌵 Q Quertra Quairthr (bait)
𐍂 R Reda Raida (carriage) Rad (saddle or chariot)
𐍃 S Sugil Sauil or sôjil (sun) Sigel (sail)5
𐍄 T Tyz Tins
(the god of battles)6
Tir (a god)
𐍅 V or W Winne Vinja (a meadow)
or Vinna (pain)
Wen (hope)
𐍉 O Utal Othal (native land) Ethel (native land)
𐍇 Ch Enguz Ingus
(a German hero)
Ing (a demi‑god, first seen among the East Danes)
𐌶 Z Ezet7a ?
𐍈 Hw Waer Hwair (a kettle)
𐌸 Th Thyth7b ? Thorn

I fear to trouble my readers (even in a note) with any details as to Gothic grammar: but some may perhaps care to see the declension of a Gothic noun and the conjugation of a Gothic verb, together with one or two well-known passages of the New Testament rendered into the language of Alaric.

Declension of Sunus, a son.

Singular Plural
Nom.   Sunus  Sunjus
Voc.   Sunu  Sunjus
Acc.   Sunu  Sununs
Dat.   Sunau  Sunum
Gen.   Sunaus  Sunive

 p109  Conjugation of Haban, to have.

Present Indicative
Singular Dual Plural
1. Haba Habos Habam
2. Habais Habats Habaith
3. Habaith Haband
Preterite Indicative
1. Habaida Habaidedu Habaidedum
2. Habaides Habaideduts Habaideduth
3. Habaida Habaidedun
Present Subjunctive
1. Habau Habaiva Habaima
2. Habais Habaits Habaith
3. Habai Habaina
Preterite Subjunctive
1. Habaidedjau Habaidedeiva Habaidedeima
2. Habaidedeis Habaidedeits Habaidedeith
3. Habaidedi Habaidedeina
1. Habam
2. Habai Habats 2. Habaith
Active Participle Habands
Passive Participle Habaith

These, or similar to these, were the noble forms of speech used by our Teutonic forefathers in the pastures of Holstein. Now, by the wear and tear of centuries and by the eager haste of an unleisured people, such grand words as habaideduth and habaidedeina have been rubbed down to the insignificant had, alike for all moods and numbers of the past of to have. Etiam perire ruinae.

Our Lord's Prayer in the version of Ulfilas is as follows:a —

Atta Father unsar our thu thou in in himinam the heavens veihnai hallowed be namo name thein. thine. Qimai Let come thiudinassus kingdom theins: thine: vairthai be done vilja will theins, thine, sve as in in himina heaven jah and (also) ana on airthai. earth. Hlaif Loaf unsarana ours thana the sinteinan enduring gif give uns us himma daga. to‑day. Jah And aflet let‑off uns us thatei that of which skulans debtors sijaima, we may be svasve so as jah also veis we afletam let‑off thaim the skulam debtors unsaraim. ours. Jah And ni not briggais8 bring uns us in into fraistubnjai, temptation,  p110  ak but lausei deliver uns us af of thamma the ubilin. evil. unte because theina thine ist is thiudangardi. king's-house jah and mahts might jah and vulthus glory in to aivins. ages. Amen. Amen.

The following is the parable of the Good Shepherd: —

Amen Verily, amen verily qitha I say izvis to you saei whoever ni not atgaggith goes in thairh through daur the door in into gardan the yard lambe of the lamb ak but steigith climbs up aljathro. some other way, sah he hliftus a robber ist is jah and vaidedja. an evil doer. Ith But sa the inngaggands enterer in thairh through daur the door hairdeis herdsman ist is lambe. of the lambs. Thammuh To him dauravards the door-ward uslukith. opens jah and tho the lamba lambs stibnai the voice is of him hausjand. hear, jah and tho (the) svesona his own lamba lambs haitith he calls bi by namin name jah and ustiuhith leads out tho. them. Jah And than when tho (the) svesona his own ustiuhith he leads out faura before im them gaggith. he goeth, jah and tho the lamba lambs ina him laistjand follow unte because kunnun they know stibna the voice is. of him. Ith But framathjana a stranger ni not laistjand. they follow, al but thliuhand flee faura before imma him unto because ni not kunnun they know thize of the framathjane stranger stibna. the voice.

The Christian Armour (Eph. vi.14): —

Standaith Stand nu now ufgaurdanai girdled round hupins loins izvarans yours sunjai. with truth jaggapaidodai and clothed brunjon with the breastplate garaihteins. of righteousness. Jah And guskohai shod fotum the feet in with manvithai readiness aivaggeljons of the gospel gavairthjis. of peace. Ufar Over all all andnimandans taking up skildu the shield galaubeinais, of faith, thammei with which maguth you may allos all arwaznos arrows this of the unseljins Evil one funiskos fiery afwapjan. quench. Jah And hilm the helmet naseinais of salvation nimaith, take, jah and meki the sword ahmins, of the Spirit thatei which ist is vaurd the word Guths. of God.

The vocabulary of the Goths throws an interesting light on many details of their daily life. As a Northern people their years are all counted by winters. Their word for fruit (akran) is essentially the same as our 'acorn.' Wealth is represented by  p111 cattle, and faihu (connected with the German vieh), which originally meant cattle, forms part of the word Faihu-thraihus (hoard of treasure), which is chosen by Ulfilas as the Gothic equivalent of 'Mammon.'

But the imported words are almost more interesting than the indigenous ones. When John the Baptist is represented as saying to the soldiers, Valdaith annom izvaraim, 'Be satisfied with your rations,' we have surely in annom a remembrance of the Latin annona. And when we read (Matthew vi.2) that the hypocrites andnemun mizdon seina, 'receive their reward,' we have before us in mizdon the Gothic equivalent of the Greek μισθός, a word which doubtless formed the subject of many a conversation, and the pretext for many a tumult, in the tents of the Gothic foederati in the Imperial armies.

The Author's Notes:

1 Known as Codex Salisburiensis, n. 140 (formerly lxxi).

2 Munch, Kirchhoff, Müllenhoff, and Zacher (Das Gothische Alphabet Vulfilas und das Runenalphabet). I quote chiefly from the last.

3 This is one of the most enigmatical names in the whole series. I would suggest the possibility that it may be imported from the Greek, and = καύσωμα or καῦμα. All interpreters are agreed in connecting it with the idea of burning.

4 From the Anglo-Saxon Rune-song we find that Peorth, the name of the p Rune, is connected with an in‑door game. Kemble translates it 'chessman,' and Grimm suggests with some probability that it is the name of the piece which we call the queen, and the Persians ferz (= 'captain of the host'), altered by the French into vierge, whence, through the idea of the Virgin Mary, the name of queen was introduced.

5 Kemble observes (Archaeologia, p345) that this rendering of Sigel is a mistake. 'This, which in all the Teutonic tongues denotes a gem or jewel — in a secondary sense the Sun — is here treated as if it were Segel, a sail.'

6 Tius, in Norse Tyr, in Old High German Ziu, is the Teutonic Mars, after whom Tuesday was named.

7a 7b The names Ezec or Ezet and Thyth have given much trouble to philologists. Kirchhoff (Das Gothische Alphabet, p. vi) confirms the conjecture originally startedº by Grimm that these names are nothing but Gothic transformations of Zeta and Theta, the Greek names of the corresponding letters.

8 gg is always used by Ulfilas, as in Greek, with the power of ng.

Thayer's Note:

a I must underscore how very grateful I am to D. M. Smith and Crosswire.Org for their page "An example of how to represent interlinear text": rendering such text in HTML and CSS is by no means intuitive, but once they walked me thru the process, it was easy enough to implement.

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Page updated: 4 May 20