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Glagolitic script

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Title: Glagolitic script  
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Glagolitic script

Gospel of Luke
Type Alphabet
Languages Old Church Slavic
Creator Saints Cyril and Methodius
Time period 862/863 to the Middle Ages
ISO 15924 ,
Unicode alias
Unicode range U+2C00–U+2C5F
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

The Glagolitic alphabet /ˌɡlæɡɵˈlɪtɨk/, also known as Glagolitsa, is the oldest known Slavic alphabet from the 9th century.


The name was not coined until many centuries after its creation, and comes from the Old Church Slavonic glagolъ "utterance" (also the origin of the Slavic name for the letter G). The verb glagoliti means "to speak". It has been conjectured that the name glagolitsa developed in Croatia around the 14th century and was derived from the word glagolity, applied to adherents of the liturgy in Slavonic.[1]

In , Кѷрїлловица.

The name Glagolitic in Bulgarian, Russian, Macedonian глаголица (glagolica), Belarusian is глаголіца (hłaholica), Croatian glagoljica, Serbian глагољица/glagoljica, Czech hlaholice, Polish głagolica, Slovene glagolica, Slovak hlaholika, and Ukrainian глаголиця (hlaholyća).

Origins of the Glagolitic characters

The creation of the characters is popularly attributed to Saints Cyril and Methodius, who may have created them in order to facilitate the introduction of Christianity.[2][3][4][5][6] It is believed that the original letters have been fitted to the original Macedonian Slavic.[7]

The number of letters in the original Glagolitic alphabet is not known, but may have been close to its presumed Greek model. The 41 letters we know today include letters for non-Greek sounds which may have been added by Saint Cyril, as well as ligatures added in the 12th century under the influence of Cyrillic, as Glagolitic lost its dominance.[8] In later centuries the number of letters drops dramatically, to fewer than 30 in modern Croatian and Czech recensions of the Church Slavic language. Twenty-four of the 41 original Glagolitic letters (see table below) probably derive from graphemes of the medieval cursive Greek small alphabet, but have been given an ornamental design.

The source of the other consonantal letters is unknown. If they were added by Cyril, it is likely that they were taken from an alphabet used for Christian scripture. It is frequently proposed that the letters sha Ⱎ, tsi Ⱌ, and cherv Ⱍ were taken from the letters shin ש and tsadi צ of the Hebrew alphabet, and that Ⰶ zhivete derives from Coptic janja Ϫ. However, Cubberley (1996) suggests that if a single prototype were presumed, that the most likely source would be Armenian. Other proposals include the Samaritan alphabet, which Cyril learned during his journey to the Khazars in Cherson.

Glagolitic letters were also used as numbers, similarly to Cyrillic numerals. Unlike Cyrillic numerals, which inherited their numeric value from the corresponding Greek letter (see Greek numerals), Glagolitic letters were assigned values based on their native alphabetic order.


The two monks later canonized as Saints Cyril and Methodius, the brothers from Thessaloniki, were sent to Great Moravia in 862 by the Byzantine emperor at the request of Prince Rastislav, who wanted to weaken the dependence of his country on East Frankish priests. The Glagolitic alphabet, however it originated, was used between 863 and 885 for government and religious documents and books, and at the Great Moravian Academy (Veľkomoravské učilište) founded by the missionaries, where their followers were educated. The Kiev Missal, found in the 19th century in Jerusalem, was dated to the 10th century.

In 886, an East Frankish bishop of Nitra named Wiching banned the script and jailed 200 followers of Methodius, mostly students of the original academy. They were then dispersed or, according to some sources, sold as slaves by the Franks. Many of them (including Naum, Clement, Angelarious, Sava and Gorazd), however, reached Bulgaria and were commissioned by Boris I of Bulgaria to teach and instruct the future clergy of the state into the Slavic languages. After the adoption of Christianity in Bulgaria in 865, religious ceremonies and Divine Liturgy were conducted in Greek by clergy sent from the Byzantine Empire, using the Byzantine rite. Fearing growing Byzantine influence and weakening of the state, Boris viewed the introduction of the Slavic alphabet and language in church use as a way to preserve the independence of Slavic Bulgaria from Byzantine Constantinople. As a result of Boris' measures, two academies, one in Ohrid and one in Preslav, were founded.

From there, the students traveled to other places and spread the use of their alphabet. Some went to Croatia (into Dalmatia), where the squared variant arose and where the Glagolitic remained in use for a long time. In 1248, Pope Innocent IV gave the Croats of southern Dalmatia the unique privilege of using their own language and this script in the Roman Rite liturgy. Formally given to bishop Philip of Senj, the permission to use the Glagolitic liturgy (the Roman Rite conducted in Slavic language instead of Latin, not the Byzantine rite), actually extended to all Croatian lands, mostly along the Adriatic coast. The Holy See had several Glagolitic missals published in Rome. Authorisation for use of this language was extended to some other Slavic regions between 1886 and 1935.[9] In missals, the Glagolitic script was eventually replaced with the Latin alphabet, but the use of the Slavic language in the Mass continued, until replaced by the modern vernacular languages.

Some of the students of the Ohrid academy went to Bohemia where the alphabet was used in the 10th and 11th century, along with other scripts. Glagolitic was also used in Kievan Rus.

In Croatia, from the 12th century, Glagolitic inscriptions appeared mostly in littoral areas: Istria, Primorje, Kvarner and Kvarner islands, notably Krk, Cres and Lošinj; in Dalmatia, on the islands of Zadar, but there were also findings in inner Lika and Krbava, reaching to Kupa river, and even as far as Međimurje and Slovenia. The Hrvoje's Missal (Croatian: Hrvojev misal) from 1404 was written in Split, and it is considered one of the most beautiful Croatian Glagolitic books. The 1483 Missale Romanum Glagolitice was the first printed Croatian Glagolitic book.

It was believed that Glagolitsa in Croatia was present only in those areas. But, in 1992, the discovery of Glagolitic inscriptions in churches along the Orljava river in Slavonia, totally changed the picture (churches in Brodski Drenovac, Lovčić and some others), showing that use of Glagolitic alphabet was spread from Slavonia also.[10]

At the end of the 9th century, one of these students of Methodius – Naum, who had settled in Preslav (Bulgaria) created the Cyrillic script, which almost entirely replaced the Glagolitic during the Middle Ages. The Cyrillic alphabet is derived from the Greek alphabet, with (at least 10) letters peculiar to Slavic languages being derived from the Glagolitic. The decision in favor of Cyrillic created an alphabetical difference between the two literary centres of the Bulgarian state in Pliska and Ohrid. In the western part the Glagolitic alphabet remained dominant at first. However, subsequently in the next two centuries, Glagolitic gradually ceased to be used there at all.[11] Nevertheless, particular passages or words written with the Glagolitic alphabet appeared in Bulgarian Cyrillic manuscripts till the end of the 14th century.[12]

Only in Croatia the Glagolitic alphabet was used until 19th century. Nowadays, Glagolitic is used only for Church Slavic (Croatian and Czech recensions).

Versions of authorship and name

The tradition that the alphabet was designed by Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius has not been universally accepted. A less common belief, contradicting allochtonic Slovene origin, was that the Glagolitic was created or used in the 4th century by St. Jerome, hence the alphabet is sometimes named Hieronymian.

It is also acrophonically called azbuki from the names of its first two letters in Bulgaria, on the same model as 'alpha' + 'beta'. The Slavs of Great Moravia (present-day Slovakia and Moravia), Hungary, Slovenia and Slavonia were called Slověne at that time, which gives rise to the name Slovenish for the alphabet. Some other, rarer, names for this alphabet are Bukvitsa (from common Slavic word 'bukva' meaning 'letter', and a suffix '-itsa') and Illyrian.

Hieronymian version

In the Middle Ages, Glagolitsa was also known as "St. Jerome's script" due to popular mediaeval legend (created by Croatian scribes in 13th century) ascribing its invention to St. Jerome (342–429). That claim, however, has been resolutely disproved.

Till 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 existing 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 Dalmatian borders extended well into Istria at that time) – presumed to be an Illyrian, the self-styled 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 don't know who was the first to put in motion this unscientifically based 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 at his 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[13]

The epoch of traditional attribution of the script to Jerome ended probably in 1812.[14] In modern times, only certain marginal authors share this view, usually "re-discovering" one of the already-known mediaeval sources.[15]

Pre-Glagolitic Slavic writing systems

Further information: Pre-Christian Slavic writing

A hypothetical pre-Glagolitic writing system is typically referred to as cherty i rezy (strokes and incisions)[16] – but no material evidence of the existence of any pre-Glagolitic Slavic writing system has been found, except for a few brief and vague references in old chronicles and "lives of the saints". All artifacts presented as evidence of pre-Glagolitic Slavic inscriptions have later been identified as texts in known scripts and in known non-Slavic languages, or as fakes.[17] The well-known Chernorizets Hrabar's strokes and incisions are usually considered to be a reference to a kind of property mark or alternatively fortune-telling signs. Some 'Russian letters' found in one version of St. Cyril's life are explainable as misspelled 'Syrian letters' (in Slavic, the roots are very similar: rus- vs. sur- or syr-), etc.


The values of many of the letters are thought to have been displaced under Cyrillic influence, or to have become confused through the early spread to different dialects, so that the original values are not always clear. For instance, the letter yu Ⱓ is thought to have perhaps originally had the sound /u/, but was displaced by the adoption of an ow ligature Ⱆ under the influence of later Cyrillic. Other letters were late creations after a Cyrillic model.

The following table lists each letter in its modern order, showing an image of the letter (round variant), the corresponding modern Cyrillic letter, the approximate sound transcribed with the IPA, the name, and suggestions for its origin. Several letters have no modern counterpart.

Letter Cyrillic Sound OCS name CS name Meaning Origin
А /ɑ/ Azъ Az I Phoenician alphabet Aleph or the sign of the cross[18]
Б /b/ Buky Buky letters Unknown[18]
В /ʋ/ Vědě Vedi to know Possibly Latin V[18]
Г /ɡ/ Glagoli Glagoli to do/to speak Possibly cursive Greek gamma γ[18]
Д /d/ Dobro Dobro kindness/good Greek delta Δ[18]
Є, Е, Э /ɛ/ Estъ, jestъ, yestъ Jest is/exists Possibly Samaritan he ࠄ or Greek sampi ϡ[18]
Ж /ʒ/ Živěte Zhivete life/live Unknown,
Ѕ /dz/ Dzělo Dzelo very Unknown[18]
З /z/ Zemlja Zemlja Earth/ground/soil Possible a variant of Greek theta θ[18]
Ⰹ, Ⰺ И, Й /i, j/ Iže Izhe which is/the Possibly Greek iota with dieresis ϊ[18]
І, Ї /i, j/ I I and (&) Unknown,[18] Christian symbols circle and triangle
Ћ, Ђ /dʑ/ Djervь, ǵervь tree/wood Unknown[18]
К /k/ Kako Kako how/as Hebrew qoph ק‎[18]
Л /l, ʎ/ Ljudie Ljudi people Possibly Greek lambda λ[18]
М /m/ Myslite Mislete thought/think Greek mu μ[18]
Н /n, ɲ/ Našь Nash ours Unknown[18]
О /ɔ/ Onъ On he Unknown[18]
П /p/ Pokoi Pokoj calmness/peace Possibly a variant of early Greek pi Π[18]
Р /r/ Rьci, rьtsi Rtsi Speak!/Pronounce! Possibly Greek rho ρ[18]
С /s/ Slovo Slovo word/speech Unknown,[18] Christian symbols circle and triangle
Т /t/ Tvrьdo Tverdo solid/hard/surely Perhaps from crossbar of Greek tau τ[18]
У /u/ Ukъ Uk Knowledgeable/Enlightened Ligature of onъ and izhitsa[18]
Ф /f/ Frьtъ Fert Variant of Greek phi φ[18]
Х /x/ Xěrъ, Khěrъ Kher Unknown, similar to glagoli and Latin h[18]
Ѡ /ɔ/ Otъ Oht, Omega Ligature of onъ and its mirror image[18]
Щ /tʲ, ʃt/ Šta/Šča Shta/Shcha Ligature of sha over tvrьdo[18]
Ц /ts/ Ci, tsi Tsi Final form of Hebrew tsade ץ‎[18]
Ч /tʃ/ Črьvъ Cherv worm Unknown, similar to shta[18] perhaps non-final form of Hebrew tsade צ
Ш /ʃ/ Ša Sha Hebrew shin ש‎[18]
Ъ /ɯ/ Erъ, jerъ, yerъ Yer Possibly modification of onъ[18]
ⰟⰉ Ы /ɨ/ Ery, jery, yery Yery Ligature, see the note under the table
Ь /ə/ Erь, jerь, yerь Yerj Possibly modification of onъ[18]
Ѣ /æ, jɑ/ Jatь, Yatь Yat Possibly epigraphic Greek alpha Α[18]
Ё */jo/ Unknown:[18] Hypothetical component of jonsь below; /jo/ was not possible at the time
Ю /ju/ Ju, yu Yu Unknown[18]
Ѧ, Я /ɛ̃/ [Ensь] Ya, Small yus Greek epsilon ε, also used to denote nasality[18]
Ѩ /jɛ̃/ [Jensь, Yensь] [Small iotated yus] Ligature of jestъ and ensь for nasality[18]
Ѫ /ɔ̃/ [Onsь] [Big yus] Ligature of onъ and ensь for nasality[18]
Ѭ /jɔ̃/ [Jonsь, Yonsь] [Big iotated yus] Ligature of unknown letter and ensь for nasality[18]
Ѳ /θ/ [Thita] Fita Greek theta θ[18]
Ѵ /ʏ, i/ Ižica, Izhitsa Izhitsa spoon Unknown[18]

Note that yery is a digraph of either yerъ or yerь and izhe or i.[18]

In older texts, ukъ and three out of four yuses also can be written as digraphs, in two separate parts.

The order of izhe and i varies from source to source, as does the order of the various forms of Yus. Correspondence between Glagolitic izhe and i with Cyrillic И and І is unknown – textbooks and dictionaries often mention one of two possible versions and keep silence about the existence of the opposite one.


The Glagolitic alphabet was added to the Unicode Standard in March 2005 with the release of version 4.1.

The Unicode block for Glagolitic is U+2C00–U+2C5F. chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
U+2C3x ⰿ
1.^ As of Unicode version 6.3

See also

  • Relationship of Cyrillic and Glagolitic alphabets



  • Branko Franolić, Mateo Zagar: A Historical Outline of Literary Croatian & The Glagolitic Heritage of Croatian Culture, Erasmus & CSYPN, London & Zagreb 2008 ISBN 978-953-6132-80-5
  • Bauer, Antun: Armeno-kavkasko podrijetlo starohrvatske umjetnosti, glagoljice i glagoljaštva. Tko su i odakle Hrvati, p. 65–69, Znanstveno društvo za proučavanje etnogeneze, Zagreb 1992.
  • Franolić, Branko: Croatian Glagolitic Printed Texts Recorded in the British Library General Catalogue. Zagreb – London – New York, Croatian Information Center, 1994. 49 p.
  • Fučić, Branko: Glagoljski natpisi. (In: Djela Jugoslavenske Akademije Znanosti i Umjetnosti, knjiga 57.) Zagreb, 1982. 420 p.
  • Fullerton, Sharon Golke: Paleographic Methods Used in Dating Cyrillic and Glagolitic Slavic Manuscripts. (In: Slavic Papers No. 1.) Ohio, 1975. 93 p.
  • Гошев, Иван: Рилски глаголически листове. София, 1956. 130 p.
  • Jachnow, Helmut: Eine neue Hypothese zur Provenienz der glagolitischen Schrift – Überlegungen zum 1100. Todesjahr des Methodios von Saloniki. In: R. Rathmayr (Hrsg.): Slavistische Linguistik 1985, München 1986, 69–93.
  • Jagić, Vatroslav: Glagolitica. Würdigung neuentdeckter Fragmente, Wien, 1890.
  • Ягичъ, И. В.: Глаголическое письмо. In: Энциклопедія славянской филологіи, вып. 3, Спб., 1911.
  • Japundžić, Marko: Postanak glagoljskog pisma. Tromjesečnik Hrvatska, srpanj 1994, p. 62–73.
  • Japundžić, Marko: Tragom hrvatskog glagolizma. Zagreb 1995, 173 p.
  • Japundžić, Marko: Hrvatska glagoljica. Hrvatska uzdanica, Zagreb 1998, 100 p.
  • Japundžić, Marko: Gdje, kada i kako je nastala glagoljica i ćirilica. Staroiransko podrijetlo Hrvata p. 429–444, Naklada Z. Tomičić, Zagreb 1999.
  • Kiparsky, Valentin: Tschernochvostoffs Theorie über den Ursprung des glagolitischen Alphabets In: M. Hellmann u.a. (Hrsg.): Cyrillo-Methodiana. Zur Frühgeschichte des Christentums bei den Slaven, Köln 1964, 393–400.
  • Miklas, Heinz (Hrsg.): Glagolitica: zum Ursprung der slavischen Schriftkultur, Wien, 2000.
  • Steller, Lea-Katharina: ISBN 963-450-922-3
  • Vais, Joseph: Abecedarivm Palaeoslovenicvm in usum glagolitarum. Veglae [Krk], 1917. XXXVI, 74 p.
  • Vajs, Josef: Rukovet hlaholske paleografie. Uvedení do knizního písma hlaholskeho. V Praze, 1932. 178 p, LIV. tab.
  • Žubrinić, Darko: Biti pismen – biti svoj. Crtice iz povijesti glagoljice. Hrvatsko književno društvo Sv. Jeronima, Zagreb 1994, 297 p.

External links

  • Glagolitic Converter at
  • Croatian Glagolitic Script
  • Croatian Glagolitic Script
  • Glagolitic alphabet. Alternative encoding. – Proposals.
  • The Glagolitic alphabet at
  • The Budapest Glagolitic Fragments – links to a Unicode Glagolitic font, Dilyana
  • Glagolitic Fonts
  • Usage of numbers
  • Ancient Scripts: Glagolitic
  • Misal 1483 – hrvatski prvotisak
  • Vrbnički statut 1380/1527
  • Istarski razvod 1325/1546
  • GNU FreeFont

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