Runic Numerals- A proposal for writing numbers in runes

Posted by Byron Pendason on , in Runes

I've written a couple blog posts about writing modern English in runes (Here and here). One problem that arises is writing numbers in runes. As some may already know, the numbers we use on a regular basis (0, 1, 2, 3, etc) are called Arabic numerals. While it's fine to use these when writing in runes, it's not very helpful if you're wanting to keep your thoughts private. It also doesn't look as good, in my opinion. Your milage may vary though

Medieval and early modern Scandinavians sometimes used the Pentimal system for writing numbers, but the Anglo-Saxons did not use them. In my opinion, they also do not look very runic due to the straight horizontal lines and curved half circles. Someone trying to decipher your runes may notice how they look different from the rest and focus in on them to decipher your text. Another downside is that most fonts do not have them in their Unicode blocks, making it impossible to type them.

While the Anglo-Saxons (like many ancient people) were more likely to write down numbers fully written out (forty three, fifty two, etc), they also made frequent usage of Roman numerals. We do have one old English manuscript (Corpus Christi College, MS 041) where the writer uses the Futhorc (Anglo-Saxon runes) to write Roman numerals. It reads ᛉᛁᛁ⁊ᛉᛉᛉᛋᚹᛁᚦᚩᚱ, which is apparently to be read as 12 and 30 more (that is, 42). So my recommendation is to use Roman numerals to write numbers.

There are a couple things to note about the Anglo-Saxon usage of Roman numerals, however. If you take a so look at the first couple sentences of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle in Old English, you'll notice numbers such as .cccc. (400) and .xciiii. (94). This shows inconsistent use of the subtractive notion of Roman numerals, the standard that today's Roman numerals are written in. Historically, there was never a single standard that Roman numerals conformed to, thought they got a little more consistent as the middle ages progressed.

If one examines the way numbers are written thoroughout Old English sources, the additive notation of Roman numerals is the norm. In this variant of Roman numerals, you would use iiii for 4 instead of iv, viiii for 9 instead of ix, xxxx for 40 instead of xl, etc. You will find subtractive notation used on occasion, but it's the exception rather than the rule.

Another thing you'll probably notice is that the Anglo-Saxons wrote their Roman numerals lowercase bracketed by periods. So, with this in mind, my proposal for writing numbers in runes is to use Roman numerals, additive notation, in the Anglo-Saxon runes. So, I use a ᛁ for ones, ᚢ for fives, ᛉ for tens, ᛚ for fifties, ᚳ for hundreds, ᛞ for five hundreds, ᛗ for thousands, and ᚾ for zero. Surround a number with the end of sentence punctuation (two dots, looks like a colon). So, to help you visualize it, let's count to 20 in runes!

᛬ᛁ᛬, ᛬ᛁᛁ᛬, ᛬ᛁᛁᛁ᛬, ᛬ᛁᛁᛁᛁ᛬, ᛬ᚢ᛬, ᛬ᚢᛁ᛬, ᛬ᚢᛁᛁ᛬, ᛬ᚢᛁᛁᛁ᛬, ᛬ᚢᛁᛁᛁᛁ᛬, ᛬ᛉ᛬, ᛬ᛉᛁ᛬, ᛬ᛉᛁᛁ᛬, ᛬ᛉᛁᛁᛁ᛬, ᛬ᛉᛁᛁᛁᛁ᛬, ᛬ᛉᚢ᛬, ᛬ᛉᚢᛁ᛬, ᛬ᛉᚢᛁᛁ᛬, ᛬ᛉᚢᛁᛁᛁ᛬, ᛬ᛉᚢᛁᛁᛁᛁ᛬, ᛬ᛉᛉ᛬

So what about larger numbers? The Anglo-Saxons would often write out thousand. So for example, 15,000 could be written out as ᛬ᛉᚢ᛬ᚦᚩᚢᛋᚪᚾᛞ. But what if you need more precision than to the nearest thousand? I recommend separating magnitudes of a thousand with a punctuation mark, like we do today. I like to use ᛭ since it doesn't get much use anywhere else. So, if you need to do something like 115,512, it would be ᛬ᚳᛉᚢ᛭ᛞᛉᛁᛁ᛬, and 7,000,062 would be ᛬ᚢᛁᛁ᛭ᚾ᛭ᛚᛉᛁᛁ᛬.

Now, the majority of use cases of using numbers in runic writing will probably be dates. I recommend going with the format of 1 June 2022, which in runes would be ᛬ᛁ᛬᛫ᛄᚢᚾᛖ᛫᛬ᛗᛗᛉᛉᛁᛁ᛬.

So, what about smaller numbers, like fractions and decimals? I've had a several ideas, but all ended up with major drawbacks. So, I've come to the conclusion that if you need that kind of precision, it's probably best to stick to Arabic numerals.

So, to end this blog post, I'm going to give a few numbers below as an exercise to decode. As always, feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below!

1.) ᛬ᚳᛚᛉᛉᛉᛁᛁ᛬
2.) ᛬ᛞᚳᚳᚳᚳᛚᛉᚢᛁᛁ᛬
3.) ᛬ᛞᚳᛉᚢᛁ᛬
4.) ᛬ᚳᚳᛁᛁ᛬
5.) ᛬ᚳᚳᚳᚳᛚᚢᛁᛁᛁᛁ᛬
6.) ᛬ᛞᚳᚳᚳᛚᛁᛁᛁᛁ᛬
7.) ᛬ᛗᛞᚳᛁᛁᛁᛁ᛬