Saturday, 9 August 2014

Runiform Ligatures in 10th Century Greek Manuscript

      In 1628, Sir William Roe British ambassador to Ottoman court donated to Bodleian Library 10th century Greek manuscript Roe 27 which contains Homilies on Genesis by John Chrysostom. There is a short description of the manuscript in the H. Coxe’s catalogue where accidentally was switched with previous Roe 26 manuscript (Coxe, H. 1853). Slavic notes in Roe 27 was mentioned by Hutter in 1982 (Hutter I, 1977). Six years later Ralf Cleminson published 27 of them, as Bulgarian. He dated them 13 -14 century (Cleminson, R. 1988). In 2005, A. Granberg published complete list of the Cyrillic Inscriptions and pictures of some of ligatures (Granberg, A. 2005a). Same year, in study on runiform scripts from Balkans, she defines them as runiform inscriptions (Granberg A. 2005b). In 2014 thanks to help of G. Georgieva from University of Veliko Tarnovo and Bodleian library I had chance to examine Roe 27 and take pictures of all runiform ligatures.  In this article, I will present those pictures and will try to establish connection between them and the Murfatlar Script as well as look for the answer of the question who wrote them and when it happened.
      Runiform ligatures written on margins of Raw 27 are 11. Medieval scribe employed about 10 different signs to write them.  All of them occur also among Murfatlar inscriptions. Here I will take a close look at every one individual ligature:  
   §1. Ligature L1 was written vertically on folio 381v, between two bodies of text. Most likely, it contains one or two letters second of which is repeated many times. The form of first letter is not certain. It could be or. The form of second one is more clear: .


f 381v  Roe 27 Bodleian Library

§2. Ligature L2 was written vertically on folio 126 on the right margin, just under the corner. It contains two letters. The form of first letter could be or which is the most frequent letter among Murfatlar inscriptions. Second letter of L2 is repeated many times as was the case with L1. Its form resemble Cyrillic letter "ж" :.

f 126 Roe 27 Bodleian Library

§3. Ligature L3 was written vertically on folio 134v. It is not very clear what is depicted on it.

f 134v Roe 27 Bodleian Library

§4. Ligature L4 was  written vertically in three columns on folio 235. According to the form of letter , the direction of writing of L4 is confronting with neighbouring Cyrillic inscription.   It starts from the right end of the margin going to the Greek text. In the first column from left to right,  letter was repeated few times. It is not very clear with what letter starts second column. Perhaps. This letter is followed by letter repeated few times. Third column starts with letter  and continues with few 
letters. It ends with single letter .

f 235 Roe 27 Bodleian Library

§5. Ligature L5 was written vertically on folio 238v. It starts with a picture of a house and continues with a single letter  repeated three times with three lines. In this case picture and text match perfectly. As I proposed in my work on Murfatlar script (Ovcharov, N. 2014), letter  had phonetic value "w, u" and when written separate was red "ew" (a house).


f 238v Roe 27 Bodleian Library

§6. Ligature L6 was written vertically in two columns on folio 242. It is very difficult to tell which letter is repeated few times in this ligature. It could be or . The second choice is more likely as nearby we have written single letter.

f 242 Roe 27 Bodleian Library

§7. Ligature L7 was  written vertically on folio 238v. It contains а picture of three rows of horses tied in a complicated pattern. With enlargement of ties, under the horses, was written a letter: possibly or .

f 238v Roe 27   Granberg, A. 2005a

§8. Ligature L8 was  written vertically on folio 250v. Here the motive of tied is executed with more detail. The picture is finished clearly with two letters:  and . In iscription M 38 from Murfatlar these two letters form an expression : Boïy ew (Lord's (God's) home):

f 250v Roe 27 Bodleian Library

 In iscription M 38 from Murfatlar these two letters form an expression : Boïy ew (Lord's (God's) home) (Ovcharov, N. 2014):

For L8 we can assume the same meaning:  Ew boïy  (Lord's home). Apart from the meaning of the ligature content of the picture with rows of tied horses is interesting by itself. In the Cyrillic inscriptions few times was mentioned a religious holiday "tudoritza" on which in Bulgaria  are held horse races. This fact suggests that it might be same person who wrote Cyrillic inscriptions and Runiform ligatures.  

§9. Ligature L9 was written vertically on folio 256v. It contents are not very clear. 

f 256v Roe 27 Bodleian Library

§10. Ligature L10 was written vertically on folio 298v.  It contents are not very clear.

f 298v Roe 27 Bodleian Library

§11. Ligature L11 was written vertically on folio 184. The form of first letter from the top is: or. Second letter is or .Third letter is . It is followed by . Next two letters are and  interwoven few times, combination that we already met  at L8. There might be another letter somewhere  between second and third, but its form it is not very clear. Above the ligature was depicted a drawing of the Ladder of Divine ascent.

f 184 Roe 27 Granberg, A. 2005a

       Among eleven  ligatures from Greek manuscript Roe 27 we found 10 grapheme:

All of them was used in Murfatlar script and are written repeatedly on many of Murfatlar's inscriptions (Ovcharov, N. 2014). This undoubtedly establishes that Murfatlar inscriptions and Roe 27 ligatures were written with the same alphabet.
     But with this, similarities between Murfatlar and Roe 27 are not limited. As A. Granberg noticed, dragons drown along with Cyrillic inscription on one of the pages of Roe 27 correspond with dragons carved at  Murfatlar.

Drawings from Murfatlar

Dragons from Row 27 Granberg, A. 2005a

     On one of the drawings from Roe 27 is depicted a boot. Drawings of boot have quiet limited area and time of occurrence among the material remains of Early Medieval Bulgaria. According to R. Kostova depictions of boot are known from North West Bulgaria and Northern Dobruja. The only exception from this area is a depiction a boot from Kherson. They have been drawn between 9th and 11th century. 

Drawing of a boot f  93v Roe 27 Bodleian Library

      In addition, V. Beshevliev mentioned in his work on Murfatlar inscriptions an interesting future of some of the runiform inscriptions. They are written in long single lines (Beshevliev, V. 1977):

Inscription from Murfatlar

Inscription from Murfatlar

At Murfatlar this future is not limited with runiform inscriptions. We have Cyrillic inscriptions inscribed in long single lines:

Cyrillic inscription from Murfatlar

Some of Cyrillic inscriptions written on margins of Roe 27 are executed also in single long line:

Cyrillic inscriptions from Roe 27 Granberg, A. 2005a

As we seen above ligatures from Roe 27 are written usually vertically and in linear stile. Why scribes did this? I think, responsible for this is material that was used to carve runiform inscriptions: long wooden sticks, called in Bulgarian "rabosh". Although there is no survived evidence of this writing practice in Bulgaria, we have examples of runiform inscriptions from other regions. One of them is famous Achiktash inscription found in 1932 near river Talas. A short runiform inscription is carved on four sides of  wooden rod. Another one is Szekely calendar copied by Luigi Marsigli from wooden stick, latter lost. Although non wooden objects, such as two bone needles from Vratsa can shed light on how would look like an inscription on a tally rod. According to P. Ivanov the first bone needle dated 7-11 century and bears runiform inscription (Ivanov, P. 1997)

Needle with inscription #1 (Ivanov P 1997)

The second needle have contemporary inscription on one of its sides and therefore should be modern. The inscription on the other side of the needle however, resembles remarkably runiform ligatures found on margins of Roe 27. I have to agree with P. Ivanov that it might be result of older tradition of tally carving.

Needle with inscription #2 (Ivanov P 1997)

      As can be seen from material presented, sometime between 10th and 11th century perhaps monks who new runiform alphabet similar to one used at Murfatlar churches had drawn pictures and had written Runiform ligatures as well as Cyrillic inscriptions. At the moment is impossible to say what is expressed trough those Runiform ligatures but it is very possible that the pictures drawn on the margins of Row 27 give an idea of their hypothetical meaning. Among with scene of ploughing and hunting there is depiction of horses a possible scene of Saint Tudor's day horse racing (as some of Cyrillic inscriptions talking about Saint Tudor's day). The depiction of dragons and a boot was already mentioned. 

 Drawings  from Row 27 Granberg, A. 2005a

Thus we seen covered a great amount of secular and religious live of medieval people. It is highly possible that, in the future, the contents of those drawings can help unravel the meaning of the Runiform ligatures.  


   Barnea I., Bilciurescu V. 1959, Şantierul arheologic Basarabi (reg. Constanţa), Materiale şi cercetări arheologice, Bucureşti, 6, 1959, pp. 541-566;
    Beshevliev, V. 1977 , Beobachtungen uber die protobulgarischen runeninschriften bei Basarabi (Murfatlar), IIMV , Varna, 13 (28) 49 55 ;
   Cleminson, R. 1988, A union catalogue of Cyrillic manuscripts in British and Irish collections, London, 1988;
   Coxe, H. 1853, Catalogi codicum manuscriptorum Bibliothecae Bodleianae pars prima recensionem codicum Graecorum continens, Oxford, 1853; reprinted with corrections, 1969;
   Hutter I, 1977, Corpus der Byzantinischen Miniaturenhandschriften. Oxford Bodleian Library, vol. 3, Stuttgart, 1977;
   Granberg, A. 2005a, Pictures and Bulgarian Cyrillic Inscriptions in a Greek 11th-century manuscript, Нѣстъ оученикъ надъ оучителемь своимь. Сборник в чест на Иван Добрев, член-кореспондент на БАН и учител, София, 2005;
   Granberg A. 2005b, On Deciphering Medieval Runic Scripts From the Balkans- cultural texts of the past: media, symbols and ideas , III, Sofia, 128-139 ;
   Ivanov, P. 1997, Иванов П.  Костена игла с рунически надпис, Annuary of the National Museum of Archaeology, 10, Sofia, 266- 272;
    Kostova, R. 1994, Костова, Р. За библейския смисъл на един ранносредновековен символ. – В: Българите в Северното Причерноморие. Изследвания и материали. Т. ІІІ. Велико Търново, 81-99.
    Kostova, R. 1996, Костова, Р. Една хипотеза за поклонничеството в България през X век. – В: Българите в Северното Причерноморие. Изследвания и материали. Т. V. Велико Търново, 149-173.
   Ovcharov, N. 2014, Murfatlar Script,