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Terje Spurkland (Oslo)

Runes and Roman script in medieval Scandinavia – complementary entities or cross-over phenomena?

In Norway in the High Middle Ages (AD 1150–1400) runes and Roman script constituted a two-script community. In some aspects the two scripts were complementary entities. The decisive factor for this complementary distribution could be the communicative situation; runes were made to be cut in wood while Roman script was contingent upon parchment, pen and ink. Wooden sticks and a knife were more accessible than pen, ink and parchment. The reason for the complementary distribution might also lie in the communicative context; something might be expressed more appropriately in wood than on parchment. There were, however, situations where the two scripts overlapped; they might be used in the same communicative context. There are also evidences of mutual influences between the two script systems. Runic activity seems to have been stimulated by the growth of Roman script literacy and the literate script was not completely unaffected by the parallel runic activity.