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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