The Old English runic corpus contains (at least) thirty-six inscriptions on stone monuments, almost all from the north of England, produced in the period ca. 700-900. The texts recorded vary greatly in length, content, care of execution, placement on the monument, and quality of survival. The majority of these inscribed monuments are memorials and many of the inscriptions are considered to have served commemorative purposes, together with various other aspects of the monuments (iconography, monument type, location). The distribution of the runic monuments largely overlaps with those inscribed with texts in roman letters; in fact, a number of monuments display both scripts. This suggests a coexistence, functional distribution, or even occasional rivalry of the two scripts in similar (functional and cultural) contexts. Inscribed stones were part of a rich and widespread epigraphical and commemorative tradition in the North that originated in an ecclesiastical context.
The tradition of runic monuments came to an end some time in the tenth century, which largely coincided with the settlement of the Vikings in the Danelaw. It seems to be a strange coincidence though, considering the incredible proliferation of sculpture in northern England in the Viking period and the popularity of Norse runic monuments on the Isle of Man. What local transformations of context contributed to the changing perception of these monuments? What, if anything, did it have to do with the Scandinavian settlers? In my paper I will discuss the place and development of runic monuments in England in the wider context of memorial stone monuments, and explore changes in commemorative practices, patronage, and literacy (already in the period preceding the arrival of the Vikings) that may have contributed to the dwindling popularity of runic monuments as a form of commemoration in northern England. A brief comparison with inscribed stones of the Isle of Man, Southwest Scotland, and Wales will serve as comparison for identifying regional differences and similarities.