The Franks Casket and Its Runic Inscriptions

The Franks Casket is an Anglo-Saxon chest from the 8th century, made out of whale’s bone. The four side panels and lid are decorated with carved images and text written in runes from the Old English fuþorc.

Front Panel

Left Panel

Rear Panel

Lid (coming soon)

Right Panel (coming soon)


Franks Casket (Rear Panel)

Go to Intro

The rear panel of the Franks Casket depicts the Siege of Jerusalem of 70 CE, when the future Emperor Titus sacked the city of Jerusalem and famously destroyed the Second Temple. The Jews who inhabited the city are put to flight by the Roman forces.


ᛏᛁᛏᚢᛋᛖᚾᛞᚷᛁᚢᚦᛖᚪᛋᚢ    HICFUGIANTHIEᚱUᚴALIM
titusendgiuþeasu    hicfugianthierusalim


Bottom-Left Corner

Bottom-Right Corner

The text of the rear panel, including the words in the bottom corners, with the Roman characters in italics:

Her fegtaþ Titus end Giuþea su.
Hic fugiant Hierusalim afitatores.

1   fegtaþ III feohtan 3 pl pres ind ‘they fight’—Giuþea su may perhaps be for Giuþea su[mæ] ‘some of the Jews’ or Giuþea su[na] ‘the sons of the Jews’

2   fugiant fugiō 3 pl pres subj ‘may they flee’—Hierusalim with a rune ᚱ for R and ᚴ, which looks like the Norse kaun rune but obviously stands for S here—afitatores = habitātōrēs ‘inhabitants’; a Latin word written entirely in runes; this erroneous spelling without initial h- suggests that h- was not pronounced in the local variety of Medieval Latin; f for b is a hypercorrection characteristic of Anglo-Saxon spelling (cf. the writing agof for agob in Exeter Book Riddle 46), a result of the fact that the intervocalic allophone of /b/ is [v], spelled f

3   dom ‘judgement, fate’ cf. doom < PIE *dʰóh₁-mos ‘that which is established,’ from *dʰeh₁- ‘put’ (cf. Gk τίθημι ‘to put, make,’ Eng do)

4   gisl ‘hostage, pledge’

The bottom-left corner, labeled dōm ‘judgement,’ shows a judge decreeing that the Jews of Jerusalem be taken as slaves. The bottom-right corner, labeled gīsl ‘hostage,’ depicts the defeated Jews as hostages.

Here Titus and the Jews do battle.
Here may the inhabitants flee Jerusalem.

Franks Casket (Left Panel)

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The left panel of the Franks Casket depicts, among other figures, a wolf lying on her back suckling the legendary twins Romulus and Remus who would later found Rome.





The text of the left panel amounts to a short description of the scene:

Romwalus and Reumwalus twœgen gibroþær
afœdde hiæ wylif in romæcæstri
oþlæ unneg

1 Romwalus and Reumwalus are the foundational brothers of Roman myth, Romulus and Remus; their names are altered here to appear Germanic in origin—twœgen ‘two’; cf. archaic Eng twaingibroþær ‘brothers,’ with collective ge- to denote a famous or canonical group; cf. Ger die Gebrüder Grimm

2 afœddæ 1 ā-fēdan 3 sg pret ind ‘nourished, reared’ lit. ‘fed’—hiæ ‘them’; direct object of afœddæwylif ‘she-wolf’ < PIE *wl̥kʷíh2 cf. * wĺ̥kʷos ‘he-wolf’—romæcæstri dat sg ‘Rome’ lit. ‘Rome-town’; the second element, OE ceaster (cf. modern -chester in place-names), is a loan from Lat castra ‘encampment’ lit. ‘camps,’ the plural of castrum

3 oþlæ neut dat sg ‘heritage, homeland’ < *ōþalą, which is also the reconstructed name of the ᛟ rune; the standard West Saxon form is ēþel < *ōþilą, which explains the Anglo-Saxon value of /œ/ for ᛟ (which was replaced with ᚩ ōs ‘[pagan] god’ for denoting the /o/ sound); both of these variants are themselves the lengthened-grade ablaut variants of the root *aþal-/*aþil- ‘noble’—unneg ‘far’ lit. ‘not near’ with negating prefix un– + OE nēah ‘near, nigh’

Romulus and Remus, two brothers;
A she-wolf reared them in Rome
far from their homeland.

Franks Casket (Front Panel)

Go to Intro

For the front panel, I will not go into a lengthy description of the central images, which present themes from Germanic legend (Wayland the Smith) and Christian tradition (the Adoration of the Magi—note the runic inset ᛗᚫᚷᛁ mægi ‘Magi’) but are unrelated to the runic text. Here below I give the text, clockwise from the top.

ᚠᛁᛋᚳ·ᚠᛚᚩᛞᚢ·    ᚪᚻᚩᚠᚩᚾᚠᛖᚱᚷ
fisc·flodu·    ahofonferg




Here is the text in verse format, with alliterating letters boldfaced. The first two lines make up a short riddle that tells where the material of the “casket” came from—a beached whale. The third line (=the text on the left of the panel) names the material.

fisc flodu ahof on fergen-berig,
warþ gas-ric grorn þær he on greut giswom.
hronæs ban.

1 flodu masc u ‘flood’—ahof VI ā-hebban 3 sg pres ind ‘lifted up’; fisc is its direct object, so that this sentence reads as OSV—fergen-berig firgen-beorh ‘mountain-cliff’

2 warþ III weorþan ‘became’—gas-ric ‘raging creature’; cf. Ic geisa ‘to rage’ and the proper name Geisaricus < *gaisa-rīkijaz (?) ‘raging ruler’—grorn ‘troubled, sad’—greut grēot ‘sand, dry land’—giswom III ge-swimman

3 hronæs sg gen ‘whale’s’—ban neut a ‘bone’

The flood lifted the fish up onto a mountain-cliff;
the raging creature became sad when he swam onto dry land.
Whale’s bone.