On the origins of Glagolitic




Tobias Rais







The Glagolitic script invention has traditionally been credited to Constantine, also known as saint Cyril, his monastic name (hence the name of the Cyrillic script in use in the Eastern Slavic countries) and his brother Methodius who came to the kingdom of Great Moravia in the 860’s. There is no trace of a Slavic writing system prior to that time. Cyrillic is clearly Greek, using the Byzantine uncial letters and completing them with Glagolitic letters for the sounds missing in Greek (š, č, ž, ę, ą, ť, etc.) Glagolitic is therefore thought to predate Cyrillic and is viewed by some as a totally individual creation. History is so often a palimpsest rewritten by the winners, in our case, the scholars of Christianity. In Croatia, those Christian scholars trace this script back to saint Hieronymus, a fourth century church father born in Illyria. In the eastern part of Christianity, under Byzantine influence, Constantine is credited for the invention.


Glagolitic is possibly preChristian and connected with imperial Aramaic, the script of the Persian empire. Persia was for the Slavs dwelling in the steps of Ukraine, Eastern Europe and Central Asia the most probable center of civilization, commercial exchanges and religious influence prior moving westward and entering the GrecoRoman sphere of influence in the fifth century and being christianized in the ninth century.




The traditional history on the origins of Glagolica

The most traded history on the origins of Glagolitic, in its Czech and Slovak versions, goes as such: in the ninth century, Cyril & Methodius were sent as ambassadors to the kingdom of Great Moravia and created a script adapted to the phonology of the Slavic language in order to translate and propagate the holy scriptures.

East Christian Slavs used two alphabets, Glagolitic and Cyrillic. Just to confuse matters, the script devised by Cyril was probably Glagolitic, while Cyrillic—which came to predominate, emerged somewhat later.1

Czechoslovak version since it goes back to saint Jerome (342–429) and the fifth century:

Until the end of the 18th century, a strange but widespread opinion dominated that the Glagolitic writing system, which was in use in Dalmatia and Istria along with neighboring islands, including the translation of the Holy Scripture, owe their existence to the famous church father St Jerome. Knowing him as the author of the Latin Vulgate, considering him – by his own words, born on the border between Dalmatia and Pannonia (remembering that the Dalmatian borders extended well into Istria at that time) – presumed to be an Illyrian, the selfstyled Slavic intellectuals in Dalmatia very early began to ascribe to him the invention of glagolitsa, possibly with the intention of more successfully defending both Slavic writing and the Slavic holy service against prosecutions and prohibitions from Rome’s hierarchy, thus using the opinion of the famous Latin Father of the Church to protect their church rituals which were inherited from the Greeks Cyril and Methodius. We do not know who was the first to put in motion this unscientificallybased tradition about Jerome’s authorship of the Glagolitic script and translation of the Holy Scripture, but in 1248 this version came to the knowledge of Pope Innocent IV. <…> The belief in Jerome as an inventor of the Glagolitic lasted many centuries, not only in his


1 Simon Franklin, Writing, Society and Culture in Early Rus, c. 950–1300, Cambridge University Press, 2002

2 Jagić, Vatroslav, Glagolitica. Würdigung neuentdeckter Fragmente, Wien, 1890



homeland, i.e. in Dalmatia and Croatia, not only in Rome, due to Slavs living there… but also in the West. In the 14th century, Croatian monks brought the legend to the Czechs, and even the Emperor Charles IV believed them.




Linguistic analysis

If Glagolitic was borrowed from Greek, so should be the vocabulary linked with writing. Let’s call this the “computer effect”: when technique or technology is borrowed from elsewhere, so are the words linked to it. Czech, for example, has ajťák or “IT specialist”, coined after the phonetic pronunciation of IT, internet, programovat, etc. & počítač, “computer” is a clear calque of computer, based on počítat, “count, compute”.


The Slavic word for “write” has nothing in common with grapho or any Greek word linked with the act of writing. Pisati, “to write”, psát in Czech, is etymologically linked via IndoEuropean with Latin pingo, and our paint. Its closest relative is Tocharian pik, “write” (same as in picture) which regularly give the root pis of pisati, with the satem of k^3^ .


The Slavic word for “book”, kъnjiga, is unrelated to any of the Greek words for book, be it biblion, biblia (our Bible), our parchment (from Pergamon), our paper (from papuros), etc. The Romans (and us afterwards) got their culture and their words from the Greeks, the Slavs would here show a remarkable exception… On the other hand, kъnjiga is linked with the “book” word of another barbarian tribe which came from the plains of Eurasia, könyv, or “book” in Hungarian, and Old Turkic küiniŋ.

If the writing vocabulary is not Greek, is it possible or probable that the script Slavic tribes used predated the arrival of Cyril and Methodius? Before moving westward, the Slavs were in contact with another great civilization, the Persian one. Would the source of Slavic writing be Persian instead of Greek? Persian and Greek alphabets share a common Phoenician ancestry and a similar order, this is why Glagolitic can be prescribed to Greek but could also be linked with Aramaic, the alphabet of the Persian empire.








3 Julius Pokorny, Indogermanisches etymologisches Wörterbuch, 1959




Alphabetical analysis

Before starting the comparison between Glagolitic, Greek and imperial Aramaic, let’s restate a few evidences regarding alphabets:

p(()))<>{color:#000;}. an alphabet is a convention adopted by the many people using it, as such it is very rigid, the order does not go from abcde to qwerty without a very good reason;

p(()))<>{color:#000;}. alphabet has an order and when it is adopted from one source to another, it is so in the same order;

p(()))<>{color:#000;}. alphabets put later borrowings at the end: x, y, z in Latin were borrowed from Greek after the first alphabet construction and put at the end of the letter order.

p(()))<>{color:#000;}. a mutated letter is added after the original letter: i & j in Latin, u, v & w can be explained as subsequent additions.


Rigidity rule: the qwerty convention for typewriters was adopted to slow down typing when mechanical typewriters would jam when stroking was too fast. This is no longer needed with computers but, here we are, stuck with an “archaic” convention from the end of the nineteenth century.


Source conservatism: Latin kept the Greek/Phoenician order of the letter: Greek: a b g d e f (z) ē th i k l m n o p x r s t u

Latin: a b c d e f (g) h ^ i k l m n o p q r s t u x y z

We can trace precisely the reasonwhy of the exceptions. Latin F corresponds to the graph of Greek digamma which was otherwise useless to Romans, having U for the w sound; Latin H corresponds to the graph of Greek heta which was otherwise useless, having created the digraph Æ. Theta was not imported, this sound not existing in Latin.


Later additions: Greek added, at the end of their alphabet, phi, khi, psi and omega, letters absent from its Phoenician source. Latin added X, Y and Z to mark the pronunciation of words imported lately from Greek and pronounced the Attic way.



Mutations are added after the phonetically mutated letter: in low Latin prevocalic /i/ was pronounced /j/ and became /dj/ in English: iocus > joc > joke. So our alphabet goes: H I J… Something similar happened with prevocalic /u/ which was later pronounced /v/: uerbum became verb. So our alphabet adopted the convention T U V. Then, during medieval times, to render the fact that Germanic languages kept the U sound in front of a vowel: another V letter was added as W: west would have been written uest in classical Latin. Hence the convention T U V W and we know that the letter W has been added after V.


This was done and changed over a long period of time, and we can track and explain each variation. Why would Cyril, having learnt and memorized the Greek alphabet, decide to make so many amendments and in that order:

Greek: A B G D E Z Ē TH I K L M N O P R S T U PH KH PS Õ

Slavic: A B V G D IE Ž ZV Z I I I KH K L M N O P R S T U F KH O Š


Isn’t it because Slavs already had a long history of writing and reorganized their writing system after having, they too, experienced phonetic mutations and later borrowing?




If we compare the Glagolitic letter order with that of Greek and Aramaic, it is clear that the Aramaic script can, as much as the Greek one, be the ancestor of Glagolitic:

table<>. <>. |<>.
p(<>{color:#000;}. Glagolica |<>.
p()<>{color:#000;}. phonetic equivalent |<>.
p((<>{color:#000;}. Greek |<>.
p((<>{color:#000;}. Aramaic |<>.
p={color:#000;}. note | <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. az |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. a |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. alpha |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. aleph |<>.

| <>. |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. buky |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. b |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. beta |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. beth |<>. p<>{color:#000;}.   | <>. |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. vědě |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. v |<>. p<>{color:#000;}.   |<>. p<>{color:#000;}.   |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. as far as the placement in the alphabet goes, Greek beta which in Byzantine times was pronounced v: Vasil is

Basileus, “king”.

| <>. |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. glagoli |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. g |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. gamma |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. gamal |<>. p<>{color:#000;}.   | <>. |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. dobro |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. d |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. delta |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. dalath |<>. p<>{color:#000;}.   | <>. |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. jestъ |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. e |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. heta |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. he |<>. p<>{color:#000;}.   | <>. |<>. p<>{color:#000;}.   |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. w |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. digamma |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. waw |<>. p<>{color:#000;}.   | <>. |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. živěte |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. ž / zh |<>. p<>{color:#000;}.   |<>. p<>{color:#000;}.   |<>. p)<>{color:#000;}. variation of z added before z | <>. |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. dzělo |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. zv |<>. p<>{color:#000;}.   |<>. p<>{color:#000;}.   |<>. p)<>{color:#000;}. variation of z added before z | <>. |<>. p<>{color:#000;}.   |<>. p<>{color:#000;}.   |<>. p<>{color:#000;}.   |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. zain |<>. p<>{color:#000;}.   | <>. |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. zeme |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. z |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. theta |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. heth |<>. p<>{color:#000;}.   | <>. |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. iže |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. i |<>. p<>{color:#000;}.   |<>. p<>{color:#000;}.   |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. variation of i added before i | <>. |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. i |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. i |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. iota |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. iud |<>. p<>{color:#000;}.   | <>. |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. kako |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. k |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. kappa |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. kaph |<>. p<>{color:#000;}.   |



table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. ljudie |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. l |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. lambda |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. lamadh |<>.

| <>. |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. myslite |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. m |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. mu |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. mim |<>. p<>{color:#000;}.   | <>. |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. nas |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. n |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. nu |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. nun |<>. p<>{color:#000;}.   | <>. |<>. p<>{color:#000;}.   |<>. p<>{color:#000;}.   |<>. p<>{color:#000;}.   |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. semkath |<>. p<>{color:#000;}.   | <>. |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. onъ |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. o |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. o micron |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. ayin |<>. p<>{color:#000;}.   | <>. |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. pokoj |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. p |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. pi |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. pe |<>. p<>{color:#000;}.   | <>. |<>. p<>{color:#000;}.   |<>. p<>{color:#000;}.   |<>. p<>{color:#000;}.   |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. sadhe |<>. p<>{color:#000;}.   | <>. |<>. p<>{color:#000;}.   |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. q |<>. p<>{color:#000;}.   |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. qoph |<>. p<>{color:#000;}.   | <>. |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. rьci |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. r |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. rho |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. resh |<>. p<>{color:#000;}.   | <>. |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. slovo |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. s |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. sigma |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. shin |<>. p<>{color:#000;}.   | <>. |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. tvrьdo |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. t |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. tau |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. tau |<>. p<>{color:#000;}.   | <>. |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. ukъ |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. u |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. upsilon |<>. p<>{color:#000;}.   |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. later addition | <>. |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. frьtъ |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. f |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. phi |<>. p<>{color:#000;}.   |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. later addition from Greek | <>. |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. xěrъ |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. x |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. khi |<>. p<>{color:#000;}.   |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. later addition | <>. |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. otъ |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. o |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. omega |<>. p<>{color:#000;}.   |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. later addition | <>. |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. šta |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. sh |<>. p<>{color:#000;}.   |<>. p<>{color:#000;}.   |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. later addition | <>. |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. tsi |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. ts |<>. p<>{color:#000;}.   |<>. p<>{color:#000;}.   |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. later addition | <>. |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. črьvъ |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. tch |<>. p<>{color:#000;}.   |<>. p<>{color:#000;}.   |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. later addition | <>. |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. Yerъ |<>. p<>{color:#000;}.   |<>. p<>{color:#000;}.   |<>. p<>{color:#000;}.   |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. later addition | <>. |<>. p)<>{color:#000;}. yatь, yo, yu, yon, yen |<>. p<>{color:#000;}.   |<>. p<>{color:#000;}.   |<>. p<>{color:#000;}.   |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. later additions | <>. |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. thita |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. th |<>. p<>{color:#000;}.   |<>. p<>{color:#000;}.  
p<>{color:#000;}. later addition from Greek




Graphic analysis

[_graphs in the left box is the Slavic letter, in the center box a possible equivalent from Aramaic, Syriac or Hebrew alphabets (all three being closely related) and in the right box a Greek equivalent.

Serif marks have been shown as grey. Diacritic marks in green.



With the basic shape of a cross, az comes from an Aramaic alap rather than from a Greek alpha which has a pyramidal shape. The central bar got straighten up vertically (as in Arabic aleph), both arms then rearranged horizontally and given symmetry.




This letter is a clear Aramaic beth with an extra “arm” added in the center, most probably for disambiguation purposes. It cannot be graphically related to Greek beta.




Note the horizontal mirror symmetry between buky and beth. It is a phenomenon that we find in other glagolitic letters. What might have happened is that Slavs borrowed the Aramaic alphabet and either used it in a boustrophedon manner (writing right to left on one line, then left to right on the following one, then again left to right, etc.) or plainly switched the letters when switching from righttoleft and adopting a lefttoright way of writing.


The order of this letter V was probably placed to represent Byzantine B, pronounced V as in Vasil (Basile). Graphically, it is fundamentally an obscure letter. It could, for the sake of finding an ancestor, be related to Aramaic ayin (its Phoenician equivalent is the ancestor, via Greek, of our O, which in front of a vowel is pronounced W) or to Greek upsilon.













It can also represent, graphically speaking, a Slavic on (see below), or the Aramaic

waw switched by 90 degrees. In Slavic, as in Latin, the /w/ sound evolved towards a

/v/ sound. It could have been graphically represented with a waw and following its phonetic evolution, placed after buky to represent the Greek b/v sound.





The letter G is fundamentally an angle, with a diacritical round mark, the Slavic “serif”. It is probably an Aramaic gamel with the mirror symmetry we have noticed for buky.




Compare with Syriac gamal:




Dobro can either be a Greek delta, having lost its base, with the addition of a round “serif”, or an Aramaic dalath rounded and given symmetry (as in the az letter).



Note the similarity with the ljudie L letter (below) but it is that one, not dobro, which has a base line. If, respectively, Δ delta and Λ lambda would have been the models, we would expect dobro to have a base and ljudie to be deprived of it. This strongly hints that Slavs adapted the Aramaic script to their needs rather than the Greek one.





In terms of alphabetical placement, it can either be Greek heta or Aramaic he. Graphically, it is possible, but improbable if we compare the order of lettering system, that it represents an inversed Greek epsilon, and possible and probable that it represents the adaptation of Aramaic he.




Zemlie, živěte and zvelo

The letters živěte and zvelo, in the alphabetical order, have been placed before z with which they are phonetically related.


Graphically, the slavic Z has nothing in common with Aramaic zain or Greek theta to which it corresponds in the letter order sequence, as analyzed above. Knowing that the word зємлıa, zemlja_ (“earth”) is cognate with latin _humus (“earth”), we could ascribe this graph to the Aramaic hēth, the immediate follower of zain and consider than the latter had been skipped in the adoption process. On a phonological basis, it would mean that the Slavs, as the Romans, did not originally possess the z sound. In English, z is either of Greek origin (zoology, for example) or a softening of the Latin s (measure, for example). In the Slavic language, it is the shift in the pronunciation of a gh/gh sound.

To support this association with gh, we can remind ourselves that zhena, “woman” is cognate with Persian zān and Greek gunê (both meaning “woman”).



Hêth has a basic graphic “table shape”. To this shape, some diacritic marks were added, most probably do disambiguate this letter with tvrdo (see below) to which it must have been too similar at one point.



By ascribing this zemlie letter to heth, the letters živete becomes clear as a digraph with a diacritic mark on heth or on the original shape of zemlie:



Its shape further evolved to become the Cyrillic ž sound which was missing in the Greek alphabet:




Dzelo is a rare letter used for zvězda, “star” and zvon, “ring” and other words starting with zv. It is most probably a zandv, and possibly an old digraph heth+waw, here presented as 1. possible Aramaic digraph, 2. “square” and 3. “round” glagolitic letters:



We notice the horizontal reversing of the waw letter as in buky. As opposed to ž which has a clearly distinct pronunciation from z, zv is not really necessary as a letter but can (and later was) represented with two letters. My assumption on this is that

p(()))<>{color:#000;}. it was a relatively frequent sound and therefore kept in the graphic memory of the scribes with its distinctive placing in the alphabet. It is a little bit as if our “&” was placed after e since it represents a Latin et.

p(())<>{color:#000;}. it was considered, as a “full consonance”, as it is always followed by a vowel.


I and iže

Is this i letter a tortured iota or a yud? Let us assume that it is a yud whose shape is basically ^ with a softening diacritique ˇ present above the živete letter in order to represent the sound that Czechs still call a soft i (měkký i). The hard i is being represented by yery (see below) and the long i by iže.







Long i:



The i letter shape might have evolved like this for disambiguation purposes with the slovo letter:The iže, as a longi is a digraphic letter with an i and a diacritical mark akin to on.




I’ll allow myself a bit of philology here. Slavic language, as Latin and Greek, had (and to some degree still has) a complex adjectival suffixation system with short, long and “super long” suffix to mark some degree of determination.

In Latin the standard adjectival suffix is us, a longer one is ius and the super long is

[]uus, []vus (u became v in front of a vowel). Compare ajdectus and adjectivus, “adjoined” (it is done and terminated), “adjective” (it is done and lasting), contentus, “contained” and continuus, “continual”.

In modern Czech, we have a zero degree corresponding to the verbal latin ending

us, the “soft i” ending, í latin ius and the “hard i” ending ý akin to Latin uus. Compare verbal chráněn, “saved” (once and terminated) and adjectival chráněný,



“protected, lastingly saved from danger”. There is also vodní and vodný and the “super long” vodový, with the same basic meaning of “containing water, of water” but the first one being a definite adjective has a comparative and a superlative (vodnější byla první polovina roku), the second one, does not as its meaning being “having water forever, being of water”.

This development seemed necessary to explain why an i+o/u digraph is “natural”. It is in essence, the equivalent of the Cyrillic letter (and digraph) Ы. And why one needs a complex vocalic system absent in Aramaic, but present in Greek (omega is a “doubleo” created to match the longshort vocalism.


Let’s see how Hungarian rovasiras (or old script) and Old Turkic script, dealt with this issue. In Hungarian, the letters J, Í, I and Y are written as:



The first letter could be derived from a ^ yud, the others being diacritic variations of the first one to mark different vocalic mutations of the y, i sound corresponding to the needs of the Hungarian language.

The Turkic script for I (alternatively Y or E) and Ö and Ü goes:





The first letter also has the basic shape ^ of a yud, the other being diacritical variations of the first one with a bar added as a sort of accent to mark it long.


This letter is the mutation of kako, and as such placed before it. In some grammatical instances, k becomes c (pronounced ts). This letter became in rare use, replaced in its usage by tsi (see below) and was later used to denote the ǵ sound for words borrowed from Turk in the Balkans.



The k letter is most probably an Aramaic kap. It was simplified and/or given symmetry by dropping an “arm” of the original letter.


Later scripts, left Croatian, right Bulgarian, include the addition of a diacritic mark, breaking the original symmetry:






This L letter is potentially either a lambda or a lamad with the basic shape of an angle.


Because of the presence of the base line (see above note on dobro), my assumption is that it is a lamad which inherited the characteristical round serif and was given a symmetrical aspect, a phenomenon which we see also in az, dobro or kako.


The lamad shape was kept (notice the mirror inversion) with typical round diacritics in Bulgarian Glagolitic (right) but made symmetric and squared to form a very abstract pyramid in the square Croate version (left):






The Aramaic mem has four arms and a central cross, the Greek mu has four strokes and two humps. Myslite is most probably the graphic heir of the Aramaic mem with its arms slightly rearranged and given a symmetrical aspect as for az and ljudie above.




It would take a lot of efforts to link nas with Greek nu, it is also difficult to think of a way it comes from Aramaic.

The baseshape, if we have to force the equivalence with Aramaic, is basically a ] shape, akin to Hebrew נ. A diacritical addition was added in the adaptation process.


Compare with rovasiras n below where the letter n is represented by the shape [*)*].






In the letter order, on is either associable with Greek omicron or Aramaic ayin. Since omicron is represented by a closed circle and on is clearly an opened graphem, I would associate it with ayin. In any case, this letter is closely related to Hungarian rovasiras and Turkic graphs for o (see below).

Compare with Arabic w letter, also a descendant of ayin: ﻭ




The P letter is either a Greek pi whose right leg would have shrunk and be curled or an Aramaic pe very similar to the modern Hebrew p, given here as equivalent.


Note the mirror symmetry between the Glagolitic letter and its Hebrew equivalent.





One of the early examples of this letter, as found on the Baška tablet (shown in annex) in Krk, Croatia, shows a graph with a horizontal bar on top of the letter. With the same mirroring symmetry which we notice with pokoj, above, it represents, more probably than an inversed Greek rho, an Aramaic resh with:

p(())<>{color:#000;}. the addition of a serif for disambiguation purposes with other signs

p(())<>{color:#000;}. the dropping of the initial top bar which was later seen as unnecessary.




If we refer to the letter order above, this letter should either be a shin or a sigma. It fails to approach, even remotely, either.


The closest related letter to slovo would be rovasiras S written as Λ. My assumption goes as such to explain this letter construction:

p(())<>{color:#000;}. it was originally close to a Λ shape

p(())<>{color:#000;}. as such, it was too similar to an i (see the construction of i and iže)

p(())<>{color:#000;}. both i and slovo were added diacritics to differentiate them, in the case of

slovo, a round serif.





But still, there is something deeply disturbing as far as the rigidity of the alphabet order is concerned… Aramaic shin and sadhe were imported (see below sha, tsi). Why were there not kept in their “natural” Aramaic order? Why don’t we have sha here instead of slovo?

A plausible explanation would be that, from the time of the creation of the Cyrillic alphabet, both Glagolitic and Cyrillic were perceived as equivalent, if not identical alphabets where only letter shapes would vary. And it is the Cyrillic letter order (where borrowings from Glagolitic are logically put at the end) which was subsequently taught and transmitted.


With the basic shape of a “table”, this is an Aramaic taw (here shown with its Hebrew equivalent tav), rather than a Greek to. Round serifs were added to the legs.




Uki and Otъ

Aramaic is notoriously deprived of vowels. Slavs had to do with it and be creative to match the rich vocalisation of their language with:

p(())<>{color:#000;}. short and long vowels

p(())<>{color:#000;}. nasalized vowels

Uki, is a later addition after tvrdo/taw which marks the end of the Aramaic alphabet. I corresponds to the ligature of on and izhitsa (see below) according to Alexander Schenker.4 But since izhitsa is at the very bottom of our Glagolitic alphabet, and if we follow the rules we set above (any later addition or borrowing goes after the existing list of letters) the second part cannot be izhitsa. It may simply be a “doubleo” as we have a “doublev” to represent a w sound: compare English *w*est and french *ou*est. In the square version of Glagolitic, it evolved as:


In the square version of the script, it became:






4 Schenker, Alexander M. (1995). “Early Writing”. The dawn of Slavic: an introduction to Slavic philology. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. pp. 168–172.



When “doubleo” was ascribed the sound u as we have seen in uki, how would you mark the long o sound? By adjoining on and its mirror image.5


Hungarians, in their rovasiras, did exactly the same thing with their o’s. Here O, Ó and Ö:





Frьtъ and thita

According to Alexander Schenker, frьtъ is a variant of Greek Φ phi.6 In shape, it can also be a theta with a horizontal bar. Slavs could not pronounce th and replaced it with a f sound. Feodor is the Russian equivalent of Theodore. Originally, Slavs did not possess a f sound. The earliest borrowings of Latin or Germanic words with f were replaced with a b sound in Czech, this being then felt as the closest equivalent. Fredrich is Bedřich, or in the religious vocabulary firmo, firmatio was adopted as biřmovat, biřmování.

Phi is a round shape with a vertical line barring it, theta and fert are both circle with a horizontal line:





Ša, šta, črьvъ

The sha letter is a clear borrowing from Aramaic shin, there is no Greek equivalent:



Shta is sha with a hard diacritical mark:



The tsh letter is a digraph of shta and ttvrdo in its original “table shape”, i.e. without its late serif.





With a distinctif round serif, tsi is very close in shape and probably originated from Aramaic sadhe, here shown as Hebrew tsade:


We have a small issue, here, in regards to the letter order. As we have seen with zemlja, živete and dzelo on the one hand, iže and i on the other, later additions are bizarrely but systematically added before the mutated letter. Tsi is a notable exception, this letter being placed in the middle of sha mutations.


How can this be explained? It could, if one considers the diacritic below shta as a tsi and this letter as a digraph ts+sh. This taw would have been later rounded up as a diacritic mark:




Yer and the vocalic system

As said when analyzing uki and ot, Glagolitic inherited from Aramaic an abjad quite deprived of vowels and unfit to represent the richness and extent of Slavic vocalic system.

From Latin to French and English, we notice how the pronunciation of consonants were influenced by the following vowel, g is rendered as /g/ or /ʒ/ as in garage. Slavic people have the same thing. Except, that what is happening here is that you have two i sounds (let’s say, using letters familiar with our writing system: i and y), one of which has a softening impact on the consonance before, the other one not.

On an etymological basis, one is U, which as Greek Upsilon, ended up being pronounced, well… y. It behaves like a u and does not soften the consonance before it. It is called a hard i or yerŭ.

The other one is an i and softens the preceding letter. It is called a soft i or yerĭ. There is a third one called yery, which is a combination of the two and is mainly a Cyrillic letter, Ы, rather than a Glagolitic one.


Yeru is possibly modification of onъ according to Alexander Schenker.7 Here are two examples of the letter, the first one from the Baška stele, in so called square Glagolitic, the second from the round version of the script:










7 Schenker, Alexander M. (1995). “Early Writing”. The dawn of Slavic: an introduction to Slavic philology. New Haven and London: Yale University Press



Compare the first one with the uki letter as engraved in the Baska tablet:


Compare the second one with iže and what we have defined as the “etymon” shape of

i. This letter was pronounced as i or very close to i and there is no reason not to think scribes would have created a mutated version of i.

I would encline for this “solution” rather than an “ovariation” since:

p(())<>{color:#000;}. the order is yerŭ, yery, yerĭ;

p(()))<>{color:#000;}. the later graphs are Ъ Ы Ь where the first two are clearly diacritics of the last one;

p(())<>{color:#000;}. we know that mutations are added before the mutated letter in Glagolitic;

p(())<>{color:#000;}. and Ь is grammatically and etymologically an i.




Descendance Cyrillic script

Letter order

The Cyrillic script is Greek completed with Glagolitic letters whenever the proper letter would not be supported with a Greek corresponding letter.

table<>. <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. a |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. b |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. v |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. g |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. d |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. e |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. ž |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. z |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. í |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. i |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. k |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. l |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. m |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. n |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. o |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. p |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. r |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. s |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. t |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. u |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. f |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. x | <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. А |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Б |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. В |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Г |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Д |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Е |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Ж |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. З |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. И |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Й |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. К |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Л |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. М |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Н |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. О |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. П |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Р |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. С |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Т |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. У |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Ф |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Χ | <>. |<>.
p<>{color:#000;}. Α |<>.

|<>. p<>{color:#000;}. Β |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. Γ |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. Δ |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. Ε |<>. p<>{color:#000;}.   |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. Ζ |<>. p<>{color:#000;}. Η |<>. p<>{color:#000;}.  
p<>{color:#000;}. Κ
p<>{color:#000;}. Λ
p<>{color:#000;}. Μ
p<>{color:#000;}. Ν
p<>{color:#000;}. Ο
p<>{color:#000;}. Π
p<>{color:#000;}. Ρ
p<>{color:#000;}. Σ
p<>{color:#000;}. Τ
p<>{color:#000;}. Υ
p<>{color:#000;}. Φ
p<>{color:#000;}. Х


We have a pure Greek alphabet with three exceptions:

p(()))<>{color:#000;}. Buky represents the Glagolitic b while vede represents the Greek beta which was then pronounced v as in Vasil/Basil.

p(()))<>{color:#000;}. Glagolitic živete survives in its Glagolitic letter order where it was a mutation of z.

p(()))<>{color:#000;}. Iže and i survive, replaced by a Greek heta, but while iže as a long i was clearly a mutation of i, we now have i (considered long) and short i with a diacritic macron showing it is a short letter.

The following letters added at the end of the Greek alphabet are Glagolitic:


p<>{color:#000;}. tch
p<>{color:#000;}. š
p<>{color:#000;}. šč
p<>{color:#000;}. ŭ
p<>{color:#000;}. y
p<>{color:#000;}. ĭ
p<>{color:#000;}. e
p<>{color:#000;}. iu
p<>{color:#000;}. ia
p<>{color:#000;}. ia
p<>{color:#000;}. ɔ̃


In terms of letter ordering, we have the quadrilogy ts, tch, sh, shtsh, as seen above ; the yers are arranged with what seems to be mutations (yerŭ, yery) placed before yerĭ

; more vowels to complete the list.



explanation, that Glagolitic ductus was harder, more timeconsuming to write down.




8 Marica Čunčić, Što je lakše pisati? [What is easier to write?], Drugi hrvatski slavistički kongres, 2001, p. 199209.



The growing usage of Cyrillic would be explained by its relative simplicity compared to Glagolitic. I would object that a script evolves and can get simplified, one can write alpha in one stroke in the minuscule script, while it does take three strokes as a capital letter. The fact is that the script was not supported by the clergy and the clerks. On the Roman catholic front, Croats fought and lost with Rome to have their script recognized. On the Orthodox front, things were more fluid due to the polycephalous aspect of oriental christendom. But at the end of the day, the barbaric font lacked support and prestige and was abandoned.




Neighboring examples

Hungarian old alphabet

The old Hungarian alphabet, or rovasiras, has been in use before being replaced by the Latin alphabet. It presents some similarities with our Glagolitic script.



O is similar, in essence, to the Slavic on. E can also be assimilated to our Э. N, as outlined above, could be related to nas with the basic ] or ) shape of its Aramaic ancestor. T reminds us of the way tvrdo was shaped from original taw. Ö/Ü, in its formation is not dissimilar to the way uki was coined as two mirroring o’s.

Turkic alphabet

In the early eighth century, in the Orkhon valley, a stele commemorating the brothers Bilge Khagan (683734) and KulTegin (684731), was erected with an inscription in [+ Old Turkic+] and Chinese. This is nearly two centuries before Constantine and Methodius came to the kingdom of Moravia…


If a “barbarian” tribe in the eastern depth of Siberia could master the art of writing (clearly not borrowing on the Chinese script), why would Slavs be incapable of doing so?


Here again, we can find similarities with both Aramaic and Glagolitics:

A is Aramaic aleph, Y/I is akin to the triangular base of i, O is on, K is close enough to a squared version of our kako, P can be traced back to Aramaic pe, N has two shapes, both graphically linkable to our nas, M present the same “cross” shape which we have analyzed in myslete.






source: Thomsen, Vilhelm. Inscriptions de l’Orkhon déchiffrées, Suomalais[]ugrilainen seura, Helsinki Toimituksia, no. 5 Helsingfors: Société de

littérature finnoise, 1893





Cyrillic, created in the 9th century, is a Greek alphabet with Glagolitic borrowings to cover for the letters missing in Greek covering Slavic specific sounds.


Glagolitic script is graphically unrelated to Greek. There is a strong alphabetical (as “order letter”) and a strong graphic link with Aramaic with the following rules:

p(()))<>{color:#000;}. Some letters seems to have been given a symmetry, not present in the original script;

p(()))<>{color:#000;}. Most letters present a mirrored, reversed from right to left, version of the original script as the script went from written righttoleft to our lefttoright way;

p((<>{color:#000;}. For esthetic or readability purposes, serifs were added, either round or square.



Glagolitic shows some graphic connection with Hungarian rovasiras and Old Turkic script, the former not attested, as Glagolitic is, before late Middle Age, the later being found in Siberia in a stele dating back to the 8th century. The etymon of the Slavic word for book is also shared with these two languages.


The order letter of Glagolitic shows regular mutation as addition, placed, unlike our western equivalents, before the mutated letters. This shows that this alphabet had some history prior to its borrowing into Cyrillic.


For these reasons, we can say, if not with certainty, at least with a high probability that Glagolitic is of Oriental origin and predates the arrival in Morava of the two missionaries, Cyril and Methodius, sent by Byzantium to Morava.







Baška tablet, circa 1100, Krk, Croatia Latin text equivalent:

A[zъ vъ ime o]tca i s(i)na [i s](ve)tago duha azъ opat[ъ] Držiha pisahъ se o ledin[n]e juže

da Zъvъnim[i]rъ kralъ hrъvatъskъï [vъ] dni svoję vъ svetuju Luciju i s[vedo]

mi županъ Desimra Krъ[ba]vě Mra[tin]ъ vъ l(i)

cě Pr(i)bъnebža [s]ъ posl[ъ] Vin[od]°lě [Ěk]°vъ v(ъ) O tocě da iže to poreče klъni i bo(g) i bï(=12) ap(osto)la i g(=4) e va(n)j(e)listi i s(ve)taě Luciě am(e)nъ da iže sdě žive

tъ moli za ne boga azъ opatъ D°brovitъ zъ dah crěkъvъ siju i svoeju bratiju sъ dev etiju vъ dni kъneza kosъmъta oblad

ajućago vъsu Kъrainu i běše vъ tъ dni M ikula vъ Otočъci [sъ S]vetuju Luciju vъ edino




Square or Croate version

The serifs are systematically squared.






Round or Bulgarian version



On the origins of Glagolitic

The Glagolitic script has traditionally been ascribed to saint Cyril and his brother Methodius. This book examines the possible pre-Christian origin of the script used by the Slavic people and links it with Aramaic, the official script of Persia. Persia was the closest superpower for the Slavs, before they moved West. It is logical they would be culturally and scripturally influenced by Persia. This link has never, so far, been established. It is this hypothesis that this book analyses.

  • Author: Tobias Rais
  • Published: 2015-09-27 16:20:34
  • Words: 5700
On the origins of Glagolitic On the origins of Glagolitic