Runes are the letters in the runic alphabets. Runic alphabets were alphabets used by various Germanic tribes not only to write their own languages but also in divination and magic. They were used throughout northern Europe, Scandinavia, the British Isles, and Iceland before Christianity spreading from Rome took over and made these tribes abandon their runic alphabets to adopt the Latin alphabet.
The earliest runic inscriptions date back to around 150 CE; Runic inscriptions have even been found in North America, supporting stories that the Vikings arrived in the Americas long before Columbus.
The use of runes had generally died out by about 700 CE in central Europe and 1100 CE in northern Europe (except for specialized use).
Old English was written in the runic alphabet known as Anglo-Saxon (or Anglo-Frisian). This had between 26-33 letters and was used from about the 5th century CE to about the 10th century. During this period they were slowly replaced by the Latin alphabet and the use of the runic alphabet in England died out following the Norman invasion.
Likely to have been acquired from other alphabets (Greek, Etruscan, and Early Roman), runes were made of straight lines as this shape allowed the characters to be carved more easily into wood or stone.
Some 200 examples of runic inscriptions have survived and are found mainly on jewellery, weapons and stones in eastern and southern England.