Saturday, 19 November 2016

Bulgarian Sacred Script (Part 1)

       Around 630-635 in the steppes north of Black Sea, Khan Kubrat united Bulgar tribes. After his death, newly established nomadic confederation was attacked by Khazars. While Bayan, Kubrat's oldest son and successor subjugated to Khazars, his younger brother Asparuh retreated westwards with his people. In 680, he established his rule over shores of Lower Danube. Since then, a new pagan culture, an alloy of Bulgar, Slavic and Thracian traditions developed. In 865, Bulgarian ruler Boris baptized and thus started the Christianisation of Bulgaria. In 1018 after decades of struggle, First Bulgarian Empire was eventually conquered and its territory incorporated into Byzantine Empire. In the Pagan period, Bulgarian rulers used Greek language and script to record their deeds. Nowadays over a hundred of those inscriptions are recovered and studied. Around 886, a newly devised script, the Glagolitic alphabet, was adopted in Bulgaria, and Old Bulgarian (Old Church Slavonic) replaced Greek language as official language of Bulgarian Kingdom. Furthermore, in the beginning of the 10th century, on base of Greek and Glagolitic, was developed the Cyrillic alphabet. Numerous Glagolitic and Cyrillic inscriptions from 10th and 11th century are found on archaeological sites of the First Bulgarian Empire. Alongside with them and Greek inscriptions, another large group of signs and inscriptions, usually called Runic (more precisely runiform), emerge from the chronological boundaries of Early Medieval Bulgaria.
        Here I will discuss two unique runiform inscriptions that remained unnoticed by scholars and amateurs since they were published in 1999 by Bulgarian scientist Raiko Sefterski and examine their relationship with other Eurasian steppe’s scripts. I also will try to unravel their meaning.
       In 1999, in a journal called Paleobulgarica, Raiko Sefterski published an article: “Two Newly Discovered Inscriptions of The Type Runica Bulgarica”. There he presented drawings of a musical instrument made out of a cattle horn. The horn have been covered with two gold plated metal rings, both bearing inscriptions. Unfortunately, Sefterski published only drawing of the inscriptions and the horn.

Fig 1

Horn from Sofia

Furthermore, Sefterski analysed the signs and compared them with similarly looking signs found in archaeological excavations of sites of the First Empire. His conclusion was that signs were to be logographic. Sefterski supported his view with the information written by Ibn ad Nadim in his Fihrist that Bulgars used Chinese script and he cited an abstract of an article by Bulgarian sinologist Gogova dealing with connection between Chinese script and Bulgar runic signs. Sefterski believes that the script used for two inscriptions is logographic.

Fig 2

The short inscription

In fact, the two inscription contain about 50 characters and only several of them repeat only second time and never in the same inscription. So to say, in shortest inscription which contains 14- 15 signs, there is no repeated sign. In the longest inscription as well, there is no repetition within some 32-35 signs.

Fig. 3

Long inscription from Musical Horn

Now, this is unusual even for syllabic writing system. On other hand, there is no examples pour logography among known writing systems. For example, Chinese script involves phonetic principles as well. On other hand, all nomadic, so called runiform s
cripts are alphabets. In 7th-9th century, Bulgaria shared borders with two nomadic states: Avar Khanate on the North-West and Khazar Khanate on the East. Little is known about language of Avars, and until recently no inscription was found in archaeological sites of Avar Khanate. But discovered in 1983 Szarvas inscription and runiform fragments from Kiskundorozsma in 2004 changed this view. Together with them inscriptions of treasure from Nagyszentmiklosh constitute the corpus of this unknown script most likely used in Late Avar Period. The Carpathian Basin script, as Hungarian scientists call it, is an alphabet and some 25 of its signs are known by now.

Fig 4

Runiform fragments from Kiskundorozsma

Also,According to Russian scientist I. Kizlasov, two runiform scripts were used in Khazar Khanate: Don Script and Kuban Script, both quiet similar to each other. The corpus of Don Script consists of number of short inscriptions mostly found in ruins of Khazar settlement Mayatskoe. Don script is undoubtedly alphabet. Inscriptions attributed to Kuban script are mostly found in ruins of another Khazar settlement, Humara. The Kuban Script is also alphabet and most possible used for the language of Bulgars.

      On sites of First Bulgarian Empire also, has been discovered hundreds of short inscriptions.To categorize them is quiet difficult. First of all comes alphabet from Murfatlar, used to write more than 60 short inscriptions in rock churches of Murfatlar and inscription on famous Rosette of Pliska. Murfatlar alphabet contains about 40 signs. Another site from times of Early Medieval Bulgaria yielding inscriptions is Monastery of Ravna. There were found only few inscriptions but their signs might be similar to an inscription on golden ring found near Shumen. Script from Ravna is most likely an alphabet and according to D. Ovcharov is similar to Orkhon alphabet. And finally, at Monastery of Krepcha was discovered number of inscriptions. Their signs resemble Hebrew alphabet and doesn’t bear any similarity with two inscriptions from the horn. Out of these three groups stays number of short inscriptions that are difficult to categorize and understand but they also show signs that are written on some sort of logographic (or logosilabic) script. Here I will try to compare them with two inscriptions on musical horn. 

        As I already mentioned, R. Sefrerski published only drawings of the two inscriptions under question. He positioned the drawings of inscriptions as he thought they was written. His decision to position short inscription on base of the position of sign which resemble human figure sims correct:

Fig 5 
The Short inscription

However, I think that he failed to situate the long inscription correctly. There is three reasons that this is so.

Fig 6
The Long inscription
First of all, there is number of signs in the short inscription that have exactly the same match in the long inscription but inverted in 180 degree. In this way, signs,,,,from short inscription correspond exactly to signs,,,,andfrom long inscription. Secondly, the sign , as being smaller occupies the upper writing space, whereas sign from long inscription occupies the lower writing space. If there was such a writing convention, it would be expected both signs to be written either only on upper half or lower half of writing space. By the way, in the same manner Glagolitic letter “sha” is written on the upper writing space. Thirdly, the sequence of signsfrom short inscription will be read inverted in the long inscription:. And lastly the signshould be actuallywhich is well attested grapheme in number of inscriptions, the most famous of them being “Inscription from Byala”.

Fig. 7

The Inscription from Byala

        Although, Sefterski didn’t explained in his article, I think that he copied short inscription and then holding the horn in the same way copied the long inscription. Now if this is the case one of the inscriptions must have been written upside down. In that way, only both inscriptions are synchronized in content, so I reversed the long inscription to have the signs correctly understood:


Long inscription after rotation on 180 degree.

As you can see, the new numeration of signs omits short vertical lines that resemble some sort of punctuation, for example, short lines between gliph 14 and gliph 13 and so on. Those gliphs actually are composed of two elements and the lines that surround them make perfect sense.  Also the dot between gliph 22 and gliph 23 is another punctuation mark, may be as Sefterski thinks a sentence divider. 

        Next, I will introduce a number of short inscriptions from the period of First Bulgarian Kingdom, which contain same signs or even same sequence of signs as the horn inscriptions:
         Inscription 1 was found on defensive ditch near village of Byala, North-Eastern Bulgaria. On a stone block are engraved three gliphs. One of them is the most enigmatic of all signs of First Bulgarian Kingdom: IYI. The last Byala sign from left to right resemble gliph 18 from long inscription. Actually, the whole qliph sequence  bears the futures of the Byala inscription, or it is of Byala type, where belongs number of inscriptions that also should be written with the same mysterious script. 
Fig. 9
Inscription from Byala

      Group of inscriptions 2 was found at Shudikovo. In a ruins of old church near Shudikovo monastery was found large rectangular stone block, on five sides of which were engraved inscriptions. It is believed that stone block was once pagan altar, because of presumption that many former pagan temples were turn into churches. One of its sides bears inscription of Byala type. The gliph IYI is repeated several times. (Pudic, I., 1965)
Fig. 10
The inscription from Shudicovo

           Inscription 3 was found at Pliska at the south wall of the inner city. It was incised on ceramic roof tile (Doncheva-Petkova, L. 1980 tab. XXIII). From its three gliphs two are identical with gliphs from Byala. Middle one is different.
Fig. 11
The inscription on ceramic roof tile

         Inscription 4 was found at Madara, engraved on ceramic roof tile (Popov, R.,1936, с. 41, обр. 56.). Its gliphs are same as in Inscription 3.

Fig. 12 
The inscription found at Madara

      Inscription 5 was discovered at Popina, incised on the neck of amphora-like pitcher ( Doncheva-Petkova, L.,1973, р.16, samp. 7). It contains gliph IYI.

Fig. 13 
The inscription from Popina

      The gliph IYI was used also for Inscription 6, found at Asparuhovo, North-Western Bulgaria. It was engraved on tombstone. (Mavrodinov, N., 1943 p. 83, fig. 46). 

Fig. 14
The inscription from Popina

      Inscription 7 was found near Vratza, incised on bone needle (Ivanov, P.,1997) . It shares the same gliph only with Inscription 6: 
Fig. 15
The inscription on bone needle

The Inscription 8 is from exposition of  museum at Bitolja, FURO Macedonia. It is another inscription Byala type.(Ivanov, Iv. 2008)

Fig. 16
The inscription from Bitolja

Inscription 9 is a ligature written vertically on folio 184 from 11th century Greek manuscript kept in Bodleian Library, Oxford . It is not very clear if all of signs in the ligature are gliphs but I am convinced by the contents of other ligatures from the same manuscript that at least larger part of them are.(Ovcharov, N. 2014 B)

Fig. 17
The inscription from Greek manuscript.

      Inscription 10 was found in Rock Churches of Murfatlar. It was incised on a wall of church B3 and consists of 4 characters. A photo of the inscription was published in, N., 2014A)

Fig. 18
The inscription from Murfatlar

 Inscription 11 was found at Pliska, near south wall of inner city. It was incised on roof tile (Doncheva-Petkova, Л., 1980 tab. XXIII).

Fig. 19
The Inscription from Pliska

      Inscription 12 is a Pottery mark made on bottom of a ceramic vessel found at Medieval castle of Odartsi.(Doncheva-Petkova, L.,1999)

Fig. 20
The pottery mark from Odartsi

       In the tables down, I compared 10 of above 14 inscriptions that might be written with the same writing system. Evidence for that is only that they share same gliphs, sometimes only one and of course I cannot be sure 100% of it. Nevertheless, table below gathers 55 gliphs that are candidates to be signs of Bulgarian Sacred Script existed in Medieval Bulgaria. 


      It is time to explain why I gave the name "sacred" to the script. Raiko Sefterski believed that the musical horn was used by a kolobur, as Bulgarian pagan priest was called. He guessed that the horn was used without carvings or change in any kind, just as it was on animal to preserve its magical power. He saw a pictograph of a kolobur in gliph and a tambourine in gliph . Even thought his guesses for above signs are wrong, the idea that script was created and used for religious purposes is correct. Let's see where above mentioned inscriptions were found. The inscription of Shudicovo was carved on large stone block, possibly pagan altar. Inscription from Byala was carved as well on smaller stone block,  on defensive ditch. It couldn't been part of small shrine too. Inscriptions 3 and 4 were incised on ceramic roof tiles, place where god can see them. Inscription 10 was found in Rock Churches of Murfatlar, and inscription 9, on pages of  homilies of John Chrysostom. All this evidence leads to the conclusion that Bulgarian Sacred Script was used predominantly for religious purposes. 


    Doncheva-Petkova, L., 1973: Людмила Дончева-Петкова, “Ранносредновековни ангобирани съдове”, in: Археология 15/3, София, 1973.    Doncheva-Petkova, Л., 1980:  Людмила Дончева-Петкова, Знаци върху археологически паметници от средновековна България VII-Х в., София 1980.
    Doncheva-Petkova, L.,1999:  Л. Дончева-Петкова – Л. Нинов – В. Парушев:Одърци. 1. Селище от Първото българско царство. София 1999.
    Ivanov, Iv., 2008: Иванов, Иван, Връзка на скалните графити от Козячко-Осоговския район на Р. Македония с прабългарски графити от североизточна България,, 2008,
 Нинов – В.

    Ivanov, P., 1997: Иванов П. Костена игла с рунически надпис, Annuary of the National Museum of Archaeology, 10, Sofia, 266- 272
    Kyzlasov, I., 1994: Кызласов, И. Л., Рунические письменности евразийских степей,  Москва: «Восточная литература», 1994.
    Mavrodinov, N., 1943: Mavrodinov, N., Le trésor protobulgare de Nagyszentmiklós, Archaeologica Hungarica 29, Budapest 1943
    Odartsi 1999: Одърци. Том 1: Селище от Първото българско царство, 1999.
    Ovcharov, N., 2014 A: Ovcharov, N.,Murfatlar script,, 2014.
    Ovcharov, N., 2014 B:  Ovcharov, N.,Runiform Ligatures in 10th Century Greek Manuscript,, 2014
    Popov, R., 1936:  Попов, Р, Материали от разкопките през 1934- 35г. in Мадара II. 1936.
    Pudic, I., 1965: Pudic, I., Sudikovska ispitivanja, Godisnjak za balkanoloska ispitivanja, kn.II, Sarajevo, 1965, p.179
    Sefterski, R., 1999:   Два новооткрити надписа в София тип Runica Bulgari­ca // Palaebulgarica, XXIII, София, 1999.

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