Monday, 7 May 2018

Four Inscriptions from Medieval Bulgaria

 In recent descriptions of Danube-Bulgar language was pointed out that what survived  from it was a "lexicon", a merely list of words(1). In fact, two major monuments of this language, Nominalia of Bulgarian princes and Preslav inscription does not possess any grammatical futures(2). What does this mean? Language have two main properties, vocabulary and grammar. Without grammar a language must be considered dead. When did this happened? Preslav inscription cannot be dated precisely, but Nominalia of Bulgarian princes might have been created shortly after 766 when was 40 days rule of Khan Umor. Did then Slavic(3) completely replaced Danube-Bulgar by that time? In this article will be presented and analysed four inscriptions from Early Medieval Bulgaria that give answer to this question. All of them come from same area: three of them was found in Silistra and the fourth in vicinity of nearby village Garvan. 
    First three inscriptions, found in Silistra, are written on small limestone blocks. In 1913 they have been moved to archaeological museum of Ruse. According to Veselin Beshevliev those blocks look complete and probably, although short, inscriptions on them have to be  regarded entirely preserved. (Beshevliev, V. 1979, p. 239) He also excepts the possibility that inscriptions are written in Bulgar language. His reasoning comes from two observations. Firstly, almost non of the words can be read in Greek(1). Secondly, Beshevliev found two words that can be interpreted as Bulgar. "Ζερα"(ins.2) is a part of known Bulgar composite title: ζερα ταρκανος (4), and υτζι (ins. 2) which can be read üč (three). 

Inscription 1, Silistra, (Beshevliev, V. 1979, p.239)

Inscription 2, Silistra, (Beshevliev, V. 1979, p.239)

Inscription 3, Silistra, (Beshevliev, V. 1979, p.239)

      Next to examine these inscriptions was Petar Dobrev (Dobrev, P. 1992). His hypothesis is based on the assumption that the language of the inscriptions was Eastern Iranian, akin to several Pamirian languages. According to Dobrev these were funeral inscriptions and started with the name of the deceased. He also noticed that the names had attached a suffix -ι. His readings are as follow: Ins. 1 "Of Osh honour the urn"., Ins. 2 "Of Anza the messenger here down the dust is"., and Ins. 3 "Of Zenta the dust is". Although, it is difficult to follow his translations, as he never added reference of his sources, some of his insights might endure the test of the time. Unfortunately, he attempted to translate in the same way another inscription  found in Pliska, that contains virtually the same sequence of signs as Ins. 1: "ΟΧΣΙ"(6).

Inscription found at Pliska, (Georgiev, P. 2007, t. XIII)

      It turned out that this inscription was a Greek language cryptogram deciphered in 1939 by the Russian scientist A. Vichnyakova. When this fact was rediscovered in Bulgaria, new improved translation was made (Georgiev, P. 2007) and was concluded that other undeciphered inscriptions, including these three being discussed here, might be cryptograms as well(Georgiev, P. 2007, p. 128, Rashev, R. 2008). In fact, as Pavel Georgiev admitted, the inscriptions under question doesn't give readable text after converted through Vishnyakova's key table.

Greek cryptographic table, (Georgiev, P. 2007)

      Meanwhile, new readings of runiform inscriptions brought to light new language material that fits with inscriptions from Silistra. On the Rosette of Pliska, where names of seven gods of Bulgarian pagan pantheon are written, was found hitherto unknown name of deity:  (Ošъ) (Ovcharov, N. 2016 B).

Rosette of Pliska

      Ins. 1 have the same  on first line, ΟΧΣΙ (оši), here with added suffix -ι. The search, in sources about religion of 10th century Bulgaria, for a possible pagan God's name starting with /oš/ (Оšъ)(5), doesn't give any result. In this case is relevant to search Caucasus regions where Bulgar tribes used to live. Here two religious terms resemble Оšъ. First one, "Ash" is included in the name Ash Totur, master of wolfs in pre-Islamic  Balkar and Karachay religion, whose prototype is Christian saint Theodore of Tyre (Dzhurtubaev, M. 1991). Idiom "Ash" comes from Ossetian “Uac-”, apellative for "Saint" as in Uacilla (St. Elias) and Uaskergi, Uashgergi (St. George) (Gershevitch, I. 1955 p. 478). According to V. Abaev, Uac- can be connected with Chorezmian Waxsh, "Saint", Pehlevi Vaxshvar, "Prophet", and Sogdian waxshik, "divine", and it must have been a pre-Christian religious term (Abaev, V. 1989 p.26-27). Second similar to Оšъ divine name, Aspandiat, Caucasian Hun's God is mentioned by Movses Kaghankatvatsi (Dasxuranc'i) in his work "The History of the Country of Albania": "Using horses as burnt offerings they worship some gigantic savage monster whom they invoke as the god T'angri Xan, called Aspandiat by the Persians" (Dasxuranc'i, M. 1961 p.159) According to H. Hübschmann, Aspandiat comes from Avestan spenta "holly" (Hübschmann, H. 1897). Others see in its root Middle Persian and Avestan aspa "horse" (Novoseltsev, A. 1990). Another passage from the same source also suggest that Aspandiat was worshipped with horse sacrifices: "From among the tall, leafy oak-trees which were dedicated to the abominable Aspandiat and to which they sacrificed horses, pouring their blood over the trees and throwing their heads and skins over the branches." (Dasxuranc'i, M. 1961 p.161). Indirect evidence that "Horse" rituals can be connected with Old-Bulgarian paganism is found on pages of Oxford Manuscript. On one of its pages were drawn an interesting horse scene underlined by a "runiform" inscription:

Oxford, Bodleian Library, Roe 27

Also, among the marginal notes of the Oxford Manuscript, several times, is mentioned St. Theodore's Day known in Bulgaria as Horse Easter. After Christianisation, on that day was tradition to take special  care of horses and its culmination were horse races. Another reason to connect Old Bulgarian Оšъ with Dagestani Aspandiat is the fact that they both are accompanied by a Solar Gods, beаring similar Iranian names: Old Bulgarian Hars and Caucasian-Huns Kuar.  Now, God Hars, which name also had been casted on Rosette of Pliska (Ovcharov, N. 2016) have Iranian origin: Middle Iranian xvaršêt, and Persian xuršēt‎ "shining Sun" as well as Ossetian hur. "Sun" (Fasmer, М. 2004). This synchronises perfectly with the etymology(6) of God Kuar mentioned by Movses  Kaghankatvatsi: "If flashes of thundering fiery lightning and ethereal fire struck a man or some material object, they considered him or it to be some sort of sacrifice to a god K'uar"(Dasxuranc'i, M. 1961 p.159). By the way, Hars has been considered master of the thunder as well: "There is two angels of the thunder, Hellenic old man Perun and Hurs, the Jew" (Kaloyanov, A. 2004).
     In addition, to this is a short inscription incised on funerary urn found near village of Garvan. It contains a mixed Cyrillic/Runiform text, that also synchronises with the inscriptions from Silistra. Garvan inscription was discovered in grave 9 of the cemetery Garvan 1. Grave goods consisted of a iron knife, a bronze button, a bronze earring, and a part of spindle whorl. The cemetery is believed to contain two phases of use: 6-7th century, and 8-10th century. However, the use of Cyrillic letters in the inscription sets it,  after 883, when Cyrillic alphabet was invented. 
Garvan inscription, (Vazharova, Z. 1976, p.16)

Inscription was examined by Ivan Ivanov. He identified Bulgar word БIЛIГ (sign) (Sevortyan, E. 1978, p. 108) on it and correctly compared the inscription with an early Cyrillic funerary inscription from Pliska.

Cyrillic inscription from Pliska

The word БIЛIГ stays in the middle of the first row of the inscription. It thus makes it easy to separate other words. Before БIЛIГ there is four signs: KЪГI, which makes a phrase: KЪГI БIЛIГ. This might be similar in meaning and grammar with funerary inscription from Pliska: ПОКАЗУВЪ КРИЧАГѦ (Pokaz's pot). Here suffix -УВЪ sets the relationship between words Pokaz and pot. In the same way in the Garvan inscription name is depicted with KЪ(8) and ГI is a suffix probably denoting declension. The second part of first row
decodes as follow: 
 (8)(Isusi ariкh) "Holy Jesus"(Ovcharov, N. 2016 B). Here the logograph IYI is actually supplied with its reading. The second row contains 4 signs: It is possible that the first of them is an alograph of well known logograph:  (Ovcharov, N. 2016 A). It comes right after IYI in the famous Byala inscription.

Byala inscription

      The other three signs might denote its pronunciation: ЧIT (čit). The word with same pronunciation is found also at second raw of Ins.1: τζιτ. Such a pronunciation resemble Old Bulgarian word чтить (to honour, revere). In both occasions word order is OV, as both objects Oši and Isusi have the same suffix -i, denoting a declension. The other two rows of Ins. 1 also contain interesting words: Ma and Gils. Ma sounds as the name of Central Asian earth-mother goddess May (Toleubaev, A. 1991, p. 43), and "gil", according to several dictionaries of Iranian languages means "clay", "earth"(Tsabolov, R. 2001, p. 384). 
     In conclusion, this study creates more questions than gives answers. It might be even too wild of a stretch into unknown. It is very possible that future will prove some of those observations wrong. Nevertheless, world of Danube-Bulgar inscriptions has been for too long no mans land. That's why any progress in reclaiming it is a huge step toward understanding the culture of Medieval Bulgarians. 


   1). See Rashev, R. 2008, p. 237 and following pages. Also see Tafradziyska, T. 1982,
   2). Preslav inscription is a list of weapons, but in another damaged list of weapons, found near village of Czar  Krum, word κυπε have attached, according to Venedikov, possessive suffix -σε. 
    3).In sources from 10th century this language is called "словѣньск". 
    4). According to Beshevliev, combination ΑΞΟΕ can be regarded as ἃξο(νες) ἐ.
    5). Bulgar title ζερα ταρκανος is used in inscription №60 (by Beshevliev).
    6). Actually, as P. Georgiev points out the third letter here is rear form of ξ and then the sequence of signs is not the same: ΟΧΞΙ
    7). Henning suggested Pahlevi "hwar".(Dasxuranc'i, M. 1961, p. 156)
    8). For writing names with 2 signs see "Spelling Names with "Runiform" Signs in Medieval Bulgaria", (Ovcharov, N. 2018).
    9). Here the sign X is suggested by crossing other two signs.  In same way the word "ari(kh)" was written in other inscription, this time from Great Basilica.(Ovcharov, N. 2016). For the meaning of  "ari(kh)": Sevortyan, E. 1978, p. 184. 


   Abaev, V. 1989- Абаев В.И. Историко-этимологический словарь осетинского языка. Том 4, Ленинград, 1989;
   Beshevliev, V. 1979 - Веселин Бешевлиев, Първобългарски надписи, София, 1979;
   Dasxuranc'i, M. 1961- Movsēs Dasxuranc'i (1961). The History of the Caucasian Albanians (translated by C. F. J. Dowsett). London: (London Oriental Series, Vol. 8);
   Dzhurtubaev, M. 1991- М. Ч. Джуртубаев, Древние верования Балкарцев и Карачаевцев, Нальчик, 1991;
   Dobrev, P. 1992- Петър Добрев - Каменната книга на прабългарите, София, 1992;
   Fasmer, M. 1986-  Фасмер М. Этимологический словарь русского языка: В 4-х т.: Пер. с нем. — 2-е изд., стереотип. — М.: Прогресс, 1986—1987
   Georgiev, P. 2007- Павел Георгиев Криптограмата от Плиска и писмените практики в България през IX – X век” in Нумизматика, сфрагистика и епиграфика Брой 3, Част 2, 2007;
   Gershevitch, I. 1955- Ilya Gershevitch, Word And Spirit In Ossetic. Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, 17(3), 478-489; 
   Hübschmann, H. 1897- H. Hübschmann, Armenische Grammatik, Leipzig, 1897;
   Ivanov, I. 2010- Иван Т. Иванов, Мариана Минкова, За четенето на някои раннобългарски надписи от Североизточна България, Laurea in honorem Margaritae Vaklinova, Книга 2, София, 2010, 354-359;
   Kaloianov, A. 2000-  Анчо Калоянов, Тодор Моллов, Слово на тълкувателя- един неизползван източник за българската митология, в Старобългарското езичество, Варна, 2000;
   Novoseltsev, А. 1990- А.П. Новосельцев, Хазарское государство и его роль в истории Восточной Европы и Кавказа, Москва, 1990;
   Ovcharov, N. 2016 A- Недялко Овчаров, Българската Свещена Писменост (Рога от София) - Част 1, London, 2016,
   Ovcharov, N. 2016 B- Недялко Овчаров, Българската Свещена Писменост (Рога от София) - Част 2, Лондон, 2016,

   Ovcharov, N. 2018- Nedyalko Ovcharov, Spelling Names with "Runiform" Signs in Medieval Bulgaria, London, 2018,
   Rashev, R. 2008- Рашо Рашев, Българската езическа култура VI- IX век, София, 2008;
   Sevortyan, E. 1978-  Севортян Э. В.Этимологический словарь тюркских языков, Общетюркские и межтюркские основы на гласные, Москва, 1974;
   Sevortyan, E. 1978-  Севортян Э. В.Этимологический словарь тюркских языков, Общетюркские и межтюркские основы на букву Б, Москва, 1978; 
   Tafradziyska, T. 1982- Цветана Тафраджийска, Ориенталистика и прабългаристика in Проблеми на културата, 1982, бр. 3;
   Toleubaev, A. 1991- А. Т. Толеубаев, Реликты доисламских верований в семейной обрядности казахов XIX - начало XX в., Алма- Ата, 1991;
   Tsabolov, R. 2001- Р. Л. Цаболов, Этимологический словарь курдского языка, Т.1, Москва, 2001;
   Vazharova, Z. 1976 - Живка Н. Въжарова, Славяни и прабългари (по данни от некрополите от VI- XI в. на територията на България), София, 1976;
   Venedikov, I. 1950- Ivan Venedikov, Trois inscriptions protobulgares, Разкопки и проучвания IV, 1950, 177- 181;

Saturday, 7 April 2018

Spelling Names with "runiform" signs in Medieval Bulgaria

      The reason for this article to come to existence is a monogram written with "runiform" signs that might belonged to a medieval Bulgarian ruler. During search of other names written in Bulgarian Sacred script, it appeared that  it was a rule to spell names with 2 or 3 signs. 
     In 2006 a large set of table pottery was found at a pit in the latest known underground passage in the Bulgarian medieval capital Pliska. From the pieces archaeologists recovered 33 vessels completely and 20 partially, or total of 53 vessels (Grigorov, V. 2013). On some of the vessels are incised "runiform" signs:

Set of pottery found in Pliska, (Grigorov, V. 2013, p. 124)

       The most frequent of the them is IYI, a logogram bearing meaning of "holly, good"(Ovcharov, N. 2014). Perhaps those pitchers and amphorae were used in drinking at ruler's palace, part of a religious ritual. In fact in Old-Bulgarian literature survived evidence for such a rite(1). According to Bulgarian historian Ancho Kaloyanov:  "The singing of the troparii(2) when drinking wine was the Christianise form of the royal ritual of the Bulgarians from the pagan era in which the Khan and its (according to stone inscriptions) "fed people"(3) took part. In the text, the word san, which has an approximate semantic field, is used to denote the representatives of a combat unit (military squad) led by a "fed man". What could be the event caused depositing of this particular drinking pottery into a underground tunnel? Bulgarian 9th century was full of decisive turbulent events. Boris I came to power around 832. He baptised Bulgaria in 864, in 865 he crushed rebellion against him and the "new fate". In 889 he surrender his duties as a monarch to his elder son Vladimir and went to monastery. Vladimir did steps towards ether restoring paganism or at list tolerated a mixture of Christianity and pagan cults. In 893 Boris got out of monastery dethroned his elder son and with a special church convent made way  to a "clean" from pagan rites Christianity. To figure out how this pottery set fits in this chain of events might help a monogram written on one of the amphorae. The monogram contains two signs:  and  that represent sounds "r" and "sh". This leads to Rasate, the pagan name of Knyaz Vladimir.  
      On one hand, such identification of the pottery set is supported by the report in the chronicle of the monk Regino of Prüm, where pagan rituals associated with drinking wine are attributed to Rasate, understandingly presented in negative light:. "Interea filius eius quem regem constituerat, longe a paterna intentione et operatione recedens, praedas coepit exercere, ebrietatibus, comessationibus et libidinibus vacare et omni conamine ad gentilitatus ritum populum noviter baptizatum revocare;"(LIBI, 1960, p. 307) (In the meantime, his son, whom he placed as a prince, withdrawing far from his father's intention and deed, began to pillage, devoted to drunkenness, feasts, and debauchery, and by all means tried to bring the newly-baptised people back to the pagan rituals.)
      On other hand, connecting the monogram with Rasate's name poses two questions: why on monogram is written a "sh" instead of "s" and why it is consists of only two letters. 
      First question is answered by the fact that name Rasate is known only from Gospel of Chividale, where is recorded in Latin (Péchayre, А. 1936, p. 472). As Latin alphabet doesn't have letter that represent sound "sh" it is quiet possible that this sound was written with letter "s".
      Second question needs longer answer. In fact writing names with only 2 or 3 "runiform" signs is not an isolated phenomena in Early Medieval Bulgaria. Here are some examples:
 1. Names of gods. On the Rosette of Pliska are written names of seven gods of Bulgarian pagan pantheon. Three of them can be identified: - Rod- Perun, - Hars (Ovcharov, N. 2016).
   2. Names of Saints. On three icons at Murfatlar, names of saints are written in "runiform" signs. In first icon words are separated by double dots: . As the second word means prophet, depicts it's name: (I)li(e)- Elijah.


Icon, Churches of Murfatlar, (Tryjarski E.1985)

Writings on the other two icons are not separated by dots, but the fact that they end with  (i) and (iz) allow the word for saint to be identified as Volga-bulgarian "izge" (holly, saint).

Icon, Churches of Murfatlar, (Tryjarski E.1985)

Then one of the names must have been spelled , and the other  (Ovcharov, N. 2014).

Icon, Churches of Murfatlar, (Popkonstantinov, K. 1994)

   3. Names of people. The following inscription was discovered at medieval monastery near Ravna, and published by Kazimir Popkonstantinov:  (Popkonstantinov, K. 1997, p. 112). Here first word (wrote) is written with Cyrillic letters but for the name following it are used two "runiform" signs. Another example of a personal name comes from Murfatlar. There on the wall of one of the churches, a two sign monogram is incised:

Runiform monogram, Churches of Murfatlar, (

The two signs reads: . Perhaps the monogram stays for the name written completely on an other wall,  (suduk/ südük)(4):   

Runiform inscription, Churches of Murfatlar, (


   1). According to Ancho Kaloyanov, "Speech on the Troparion Chalices" was written in Bulgaria, in 889, as a criticism of singing troparii during drinking wine, a Christianise form of  pagan ritual performed in Bulgarian Royal Palace. 

   2). Troparion- "short hymn or stanza sung in Greek Orthodox religious services". Encyclopaedia Britannica- 
   3). "Fed people" is a translation of θρξπτός άνθρωηος a elite social group in Early Medieval Bulgaria, a term known from several stone inscriptions (Andreev, Y. 1968). 
   4). As anthroponym suduk is found Ukraine and Medieval Dagestan. Also, it was a name of  a Medieval Crimean town.


     Andreev, Y. 1968- Йордан Андреев, Няколко въпроса около θρξπτός άνθρωηος в Първата българска държава ″ in ВПИ „ Братя Кирил и Методий ”, т. ІV, кн. 2, 1968/1969г.
     Grigorov, V. 2013- Valeri Grigorov, Janko Dimitrov, New Data about Pottery Production in the 9th–10th centuries in Pliska (Capital of the First Bulgarian Kingdom) in Bulgarian e-Journal of Archaeology, vol. 3 (2013) p.121–135;
     Kaloyanov, A. 2007- Анчо Калоянов, Славянската православна цивилизация, Началото: 28 март 894г., Плиска, Велико Търново, 2007;
     LIBI, 1960- Латински извори за българската история,Том II, София, 1960;
     Ovcharov, N. 2014- Nedyalko Ovcharov, Murfatlar Script, London, 2014,;
     Ovcharov, N. 2016- Недялко Овчаров, Българската Свещена Писменост (Рога от София) - Част 2, Лондон, 2016,
     Péchayre, А. 1936- A.-P. Péchayre , „Histoire et littérature slaves“, Échos d'Orient, tome 35, N°184, 1936. pp. 442 – 472., doi : 10.3406/rebyz.1936.2885;
     Popkonstantinov, K. 1994- Popkonstantinov K. Kronsetiner O. 1994 , Altbulgarische Inschriften. I. (Die Slawischen Sprachen, 36 . Salzburg-Wien;
     Popkonstantinov, K. 1997- Казимир Попконстантинов, Рунически надписи и знаци от манастора при Равна и техните аналози, Проблеми на прабългарската история и култура, 3, Шумен, 1997, 110-121;
     Tryjarski E.1985- Edward Tryjarski, Alte und neue Probleme der runenartigen Inschriften europas. Ein Versuch der Entzifferung der texte aus Murfatlar und Pliska. - Runen tamgas und Graffiti aus Asien und Osteuropas. Wiesbaden, 53-80;


Sunday, 31 December 2017

Bulgarian Sacred Script (The Slavic Chapter) Part 2

      The ultimate goal of this study should be a deciphering of Raven inscriptions. Unfortunately at this stage such an aim is unrealistic. At the moment it is not even possible to determine nature of signs: holographs, alphabetic, or mixture of both. The fact that the script was found at Raven gives an opportunity to date it between establishing of city of Raven before 852 AD and beginning of spread of Glagolitic alphabet in Bulgaria around 886. There is largely undated corpus of purely logographic inscriptions as Horn inscription, Byala inscription, Shudikovo inscriptions, and so on (1). They have to be more archaic, as, at least theoretically, alphabetic signs must have been created out of logographic characters. The inscription of the Rosette of Pliska and most of Murfatlar inscriptions are alphabetic (2). Cyrillic inscriptions date Murfatlar monastic complex to first half of 10th century (Popkonstantinov, K. 1986, p. 102) when Dobruja's stone wall war erected, so the inscriptions from Raven have to be earlier. Adding to this, legends that connect creation of Glagolitic alphabet with Bregalnitza region bring suspicion that Raven might be the place where a new "runiform"  alphabet was created out of an archaic logographic version of Bulgarian Sacred script. To clarify this, as already was mentioned in the first part of this study, a search for familiar clusters of signs will be conducted. Also, inscriptions will be examined for their style, meaning and context which will result in better understanding of the history of Bulgarian Sacred Script that happened at medieval Raven.
     1.Cluster of signs . It was used at two occasions at Plate 1 and Plate 3 (3). As it is known from ligatures of Oxford manuscript (Ovcharov, N. 2014 b) and Inscriptions of Murfatlar, this doublet can be a starting point of understanding Raven inscriptions.  At the figure down is shown a ligature from Plate 3 named here for clarity as Inscription 1:
Ins. 1 Plate 3

At the centre of this ligature stay our cluster of signs: 
. In Inscription 2 the same doublet participate in larger ligature:

Inscription 2, Plate 1

As have been said, this doublet was used several times at Murfatlar inscriptions and Oxford manuscript. In the first occasion signs  were drown together with a scene of horses, perhaps involved in some sort of ritual:

Oxford, Bodleian Library, Roe 27

In fact, some of the Cyrillic  notes written on pages of the manuscript suggest that this have to be a horse race held on St. Theodore's day known in Bulgaria as Horse Easter. Second time, again in Oxford Manuscript, signs  participate in a complicated ligature, and are again accompanied by a drawing: 

Oxford, Bodleian Library, Roe27, f  184 (Granberg, A. 2005a)

Here two signs are inscribed repeatedly which might suggest pronouncing them several times when reading, typical for religious chanting.  The third time signs  were incised on a wall at Murfatlar:


Inscription M38, Murfatlar, Church B1

Firstly, here word order is reversed, so logograph  come first. Secondly,  to this logograph has been added two alphabetic signs to clarify its meaning or pronunciation.  As it resembles an /o/ with addition, the phonetic value of the second sign can be guessed as /oi/  - thus a reading could be /boiɨ/. This lexeme is similar to Turkic and Mongolian word for "rich", "owner", "God"(Sevortjan, E. 1978, p.27). In addition, the approximate idea of "possession" might be also semantic extension of initial meaning of the pictograph "house", as it has been seen by researchers of Orchon alphabet ( Rona-Tas, A. 1987, p.9). Knowing that character  represents a noun, the logogram   can be regarded as a modifier to it. In other words, it is very likely that the word that character   represents serves as an adjective. But before start thinking of adjectives that can suit "God", "Lord", lets narrow the search. Character  takes part in several inscriptions that contain three signs:


Inscriptions "Byala" type

All four of above inscriptions have the same beginning and end, only the sign in the middle can vary. The inscription 2 and 3 suggest that script runs from right to left and that character  come first. For the meaning of two of middle signs has been proposed:  - ari "good, holy" and  - tengri "sky, god" (Ovcharov, N. 2016). The third one, , has been identified with Christian cross (Rashev, R. 2008, Inkova, M. 2014), thus raising question about christian nature of sign IYI. However, there is evidence that even sign  is not a christian symbol in those inscriptions(4), but at least at this point it can be assumed that is a noun describing a divine being. This all narrows down choices for adjective that can suit character . To add even more to its nature, search in another direction have to be carried.  Inscriptions and signs  of Early Medieval Bulgaria are found on many different materials : incised on stone, scratched no bricks and tiles, printed on pottery or cast and incised on metal(9). One might think that perishable materials might also been used as medium of writing but of course non of them survive.  Actually at Raven can be found indirect evidence of using such materials. Several sequences of signs throughout all plates are written in cursive stile, but very much on Plate 2:
Those examples look so elaborate that suggest use of the script on parchment or wax tablets. It also raises question of characters having evolved new form over the switching from stone and wood to parchment and wax tablet. (10)(This is good explanation of very large number of characters found at Raven, so it have to bore in mind that any of the characters might have two forms: square and cursive.) Another stile of writing and its patterns shows similarity of some Raven inscriptions and signs with Bulgarian embroidery motives from 19th century. (medieval writer actually copied textile motives in creating ligatures) This suggest that textile might been also in the list of writing materials or at least textile motives were copied.  

left- signs from P3, Raven;   right- embroidery from Bulgaria, Chukanova, R. 1957, p 

left- sign from P15,Raven;  right- embroidery from Bulgaria, Chukanova, R. 1957, p14

Embroidery compositions of 20th century repeat old motifs, which meaning might been forgotten long time ago, but similarity between medieval characters and embroidery elements is striking:


left- signs from P1, Raven;   right- embroidery from Bulgaria, Chukanova, R. 1957, p 47

left- signs from P15, Raven;   right- embroidery from Bulgaria, Chukanova, R. 1957, p 69

Due to their antique origin and cultural influences, these  geometric ornaments and patterns can be find in many Eurasian cultures, including Russian, Belorussian, Ukrainian, Chuvash,Bashkir and Balkar, among others:

left- sign from P 15, Raven;   right- Russian embroidery, Durasova, 1990 p. 38

left- signs from P1, Raven;  right- carpet, Altai, Edokov, V. 1771

lefty- signs from P3, Raven;  right- carpet, Ukraine, Zaharchuk- Chugai, R. 1988, p. 37 

left- signs from P21, Raven;  right- carpet, Balkaria, Drobysheva, N. 2015

      Resemblance of some of Bulgarian runiform characters with Greek letters let some scientist to developed hypotheses that Greek alphabet was used to create this particular Runiform script (5). Especially solid is the case with sign  similar to Greek ligature Ȣ, as it it is not found in any other Stepean runiform script. Finding sign with the same graphic appearance among textile ornament not only in Bulgarian and Romanian designs but also in Chuvash and Altai compositions, which are highly improbable to have any influence  by Greek alphabet, raises the question of sign  having much ancient origin. This and the other similarities between runiform signs and geometric ornament already shown on above illustrations might shift the search for roots of Bulgarian runiform graphics in ancient geometric motifs. Of course such a serious claim needs more evidence, but at least makes the study of textile ornament a fruitful task. However, motif  is purely studied. In the case with its name and symbolic not much research is done (6). That's why before continue with it, the use of runiform character  as ornamental design will be explored.
      2. Character . As was previously shown this character was used in one of triplets together with . Understanding of its meaning is hampered by the fact that a sign with similar appearance was used in christian context long after Baptism of Bulgarian Kingdom. It is found on lead medallions, walls of rock churches dating from 10th century as well as ritual breads from 20th century. 

Church 4 Murfatlar,

Lead medallions, Doncheva, S. 2007

Ritual breads (from Boeva, Y. 2017, 
originally published by Marinov, D. 1994) 

Perhaps new christian and yesterday pagans gave it double meaning in the beginning until its pagan past was completely forgotten.                 Although precisely same sign is not found in Raven, similar cross like signs was incised isolated in Plates 1 and 3:  

Part of Plate 1 where two cross-like signs

Crosses on Plate 1 are decorated with rhombuses as many other Raven characters. Were their creators depicted with them christian cross or perhaps had totally different meaning? Let's see what explanation the world of embroidery ornament have to offer. 
      Like logograms, geometric motifs originate from pictures, but unlike logograms they don't form sentences; ornamental motifs are used to create compositions that tell stories. In Early Medieval Bulgaria such compositions were used alongside writing. Pottery and lead medallions are most noticeable artefacts bearing large variety of images(18):

Pottery stamps, Doncheva-Petkova, L. 1980, Table XXX.
Lead medallions, Doncheva, S. 2007, p 210.

It is hard to imagine what kind of story can tell these laconic compositions if similar imagery didn't survive in church iconography. The "Wheel of life", as it is been called in Bulgaria, depicts stages human live in connection with cycles of nature, celestial bodies and God:  

Wheel of life, Transfiguration Monastery, (Veleva, T. 2009).

In the centre of the most famous "Wheel of Life" in Bulgaria, shown above, a young woman holds the cup of fate. However, at the centre of the oldest "Wheel" was depicted the Sun:

Wheel of life, Church of the Nativity, Arabanasi, (Nejkova R. 2008).

Similar circular arrangement of the world is followed even by very distant and archaic compositions. The one below was created among Kumandians, a small nation that lives in Altai Mountains.  

Kumandian Rug (Slavnin, V. 1992, p 71).

Following is an approximate translation of the meaning  of above rug motive as given to Russian ethnographer Slavnin (Slavnin, V. 1992, p 71):
  • the diamond shaped figure in the middle represents the Earth,
  • two figures on right and left are women and also day and night,
  • two diamond shaped figures with wings up and down symbolise sky Thunderbird or The fertilising Sky, 
  • two large rosettes on left and right represent the Sun and the Moon and also the husband and wife, owners of the rug,
  • ram heads on the four corners of the carpet stay for the four directions, four seasons, four solar phases, and months  March, June, September, December. Two diamond shaped figures with wings and six ram horns with wings represent the rest of the years months,
  • four star-like figures symbolise four times of the year when family shaman can travel to the world of dead,
  • the figures around the edge of the rug represent dead ancestors of  its owners; husband and wife,
  • 16 swans stay for half of the days of lunar phase (according to Kumandian calendar) 
In the centre of  above composition is not the Sun but habitable earth, and four figures around it symbolise agrarian cycle. Sky goddess in a image of a woman and a bird is one that gives rain to the cultivated fields (12). Representing the Earth as a rhombus with four dots (symbolising seeds) goes back at least to 4 millennia BC in Neolithic East-Europe (Rybakov, B. 1965, p. 33): 

Representations of the Earth in different epochs (Rybakov, B. 1965).

Compositions with "the Earth" surrounded by four elements are very common in traditional embroidery. (In Bulgarian embroidery such motif is called "elbetitza"(елбетица). "Elbete"(елбете), according to Bulgarian Etymological Dictionary comes from Arabic, via Turkish(BER, 1971 p. 489). In Bulgarian, as well as Turkish and Arabic, it means certainly, absolutely.) As they depict many different (variety) compositions they probably tell variety of stories. What unifies them is that a rhombus or a square in the middle   / in a circular fashion four or eight elements are connected by radial lines. that four or eight arrow cross. Sometimes those are blossoming plants perhaps showing the year round cycle of floral live: 

Chuvash designs, Mejitova, E. 1981, p. 19 and 21

Left- Ukrainian design, Zaharchuk- Chugai, R. 1988, p. 34, 
Right- Masedonian design - Krsteva, A. 1975, p. 60.

Some of them represent crosses:

Ukrainian motifs, Nyachaeva, G. 2004, left p. 81, right p. 88

Or crosses in rhombuses:

Ukrainian motifs, Nyachaeva, G. 2004, left p. 156, right p. 126
This simplified composition tells a different story. Its origin go back to Neolithic:

Tripolian ware, Rybakov, B. 1965b, left p 42, right p 34

According to Russian ethnologist Rybakov above images represent daily run of the Sun. However, it is very possible that those four points that the Sun is shown are the four most important moments of its yearly journey, 2 solstices and 2 equinoxes.
     Another four part pattern, like one on Kumandian rug, involves female figures, but unlike Kumandian rug, they are in birth giving position and are accompanied not by birds but by horned heads:

Boeva, Y. 2015, p.7

Bulgarian researcher Boeva sees here Mother Goddess and Bull heads or bucranii, images originating from Neolithic Çatalhöyük(8) (Boeva, Y. 2015). In Kumandian rug, horned heads (in this case rams) represent months March, June, September, December, when solstices and equinoxes occur. In fact, horn(9) is another motif arranged in compositions around a central rhombus:

Left- Azeri design, Muradov, V. , p. 208, 
Right- Mordvian design,Martyanov, V. 1991, Table 78

Sometimes quiet simplified: 

Boeva, Y. 2015, p.7

,and look very similar to the cross with blossomed ends, . Then what symbolises the "Horns" motif?  There are two ways to interpret it. First, researchers believe that prehistoric farmers connected horned animals as goats and deer whit rain( Антонова, Е, 1984, p.104, Rybakov, B. 1965b, p. 14). Following image on Tell Hassuna's ware futures four wild goats and between each of them clouds poring rain:

Lloyd, S. 1945, fig. 1

      On the illustration down, first plate from Samara futures wild goats in cross-like formation around a rhombus, perhaps agricultural land, on the next plate they surround a tree. On image of the third plate goats are redused to triangles. Fourth plait yields triangles with horns:

Plates from Samara, Braidwood, R. 1944

Ware of Tripolie culture also contains similar cross-like designs. However here responsible for the rain are "Sky deers". According to Rybakov they are anachronism from hunter-gatherer society, when half woman half, deer goddess was responsible for the abundance of game. Neolithic farmers though, rethought Deer goddess as rain giver(Rybakov, B. 1965b, p 14):

"Sky Deer", Rybakov, B. 1965b, p 14, p 16.

       Clue to second way to second way of interpreting the cross with blossomed ends comes from Bulgarian mythology. According to popular believes until mid of 19th century, the Earth stood on the horns of an ox(Georgieva, I. 1993). Expression of this idea can be seen on one of the illustration of the Gospel of Tzar  Ioan Alexander. Tzar's daughter Kera Tamara have embroidered Earth on horn design on front of her dress several times(10)(Wikipedia):

Gospel of Tzar  Ioan Alexander, Wikipedia

     In conclusion, the meaning of horned cross motif is connected with Sky, fertility of the Earth and its feminine nature. This gives an idea in which direction semantics of sign  shell be searched.


      1). For the inscriptions of Bulgarian Sacred script see (Ovcharov, N 2016a)
      2). On Murfatlar inscriptions and Rosette of Pliska see Ovcharov 2014 and cited there literature.
      3). For the images of the plates see first part of this study (Ovcharov, N. 2017)
      4. This will be discussed later in present article.
      5. Georgiev's hypothesis that Bulgarian runiform signs are developed locally and some of them come directly from Greek letters is presented in his article "About the Character of the Runic Writing in Medieval Bulgaria" (Georgiev, P 1997). Here he also quotes other authors supporting similar ideas. Although, he didn't particularly mentioned sign , it sims especially good candidate to be developed from Greek ligature as such a grapheme is absent from the inventory of signs of so called East European runiform scripts.
         6). For example, for the Chuvash motif  recent monograph give such an abstract meaning of "solidarity", probably how was explained by modern embroidery makers(Iskenderov, F. 2006, p. 17).
       7). Famous work of Lyudmila Doncheva-Petkova, "Signs on Archaeological Monuments from Medieval Bulgaria" cover partially Pottery marks(Doncheva-Petkova, L. 1980). (By the way much more works on the same topic has been published by Russian, Polish and Ukrainian researchers). An excellent monograph on Lead medallions was published recently by Stela Doncheva (Doncheva, S. 2007). 
      8) Neolithic settlement that existed in Southern Anatolia from 7500 BC to 5700 BC.
      9) This motif is named "ram's horn" in many Central Asian and Siberian cultures, including Buryat- хусын эбэр (rams' horns), Tuvin- кошкарлап (ram's), кошкар мыйызы (ram's horn), Kirgiz- кочкор мюйюз (ram's horn) (Dondokova, D, 2003).
   10). By the way, her husband, Konstandin have embroidered two headed eagles. Here again we see connection between bird representing sky and the Earth as in Kumandian rug.


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