Glagolitic alphabet


A page from the Zograf Codex with text of the Gospel of Luke
Languages Old Church Slavic
Creator Saints Cyril and Methodius
Time period
862/863 to the Middle Ages
Direction Left-to-right
ISO 15924 Glag, 225
Unicode alias

The Glagolitic alphabet (/ˌɡlæɡəˈlɪtɪk/,[1] Ⰳⰾⰰⰳⱁⰾⰻⱌⰰ Glagolitsa) is the oldest known Slavic alphabet. It was created in the 9th century by Saint Cyril, a Byzantine monk from Thessaloniki. He and his brother, Saint Methodius, were sent by the Byzantine Emperor Michael III in 863 to Great Moravia to spread Christianity among the Slavs in the area. The brothers decided to translate liturgical books into the Old Slavic language that was understandable to the general population, but as the words of that language could not be easily written by using either the Greek or Latin alphabets, Cyril decided to invent a new script, Glagolitic, which he based on the local dialect of the Slavic tribes from the Byzantine Salonika region.

After the deaths of Cyril and Methodius, the Glagolitic alphabet ceased to be used in Moravia, but their students continued to propagate it in the west and south. The Glagolitic alphabet was preserved only by the Croats, using it from the 12th to the 20th century, mostly in liturgy.


The name was not created until many centuries after the script's creation, and comes from the Old Church Slavonic глаголъ glagol "utterance". The verb glagolati 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.[2]

In Old Church Slavonic the name is Ⰽⱛⱃⰺⰾⰾⱁⰲⰺⱌⰰ, Кѷрїлловица (Kyrillovitsa).

Origins of characters

The creation of the characters is popularly attributed to Saints Cyril and Methodius, who may have created them to facilitate the introduction of Christianity.[3][4][5][6][7] It is believed that the original letters were fitted to Bulgarian (Macedonian dialects specifically).[4][8]

The number of letters in the original Glagolitic alphabet is not known, but it may have been close to its presumed Greek model. The 41 letters known 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.[9] In later centuries, the number of letters dropped 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 , tsi , and cherv 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, 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 Baška tablet, found in the 19th century on Krk, was dated to the year 1100.
Glagolitic script in the Zagreb Cathedral
A page from the 10th–11th century Codex Zographensis found in the Zograf Monastery in 1843.
In a book printed in 1591, Angelo Rocca attributed the Glagolitic letters to Saint Jerome (Sanctus Hieronymus).
The first page of the Gospel of John from Codex Zographensis

The two monks later canonized as Saints Cyril and Methodius, 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 in 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 into church use as a way to preserve the independence of the Bulgarian Empire 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 (Dalmatia), where the squared variant arose and where the Glagolitic remained in use for a long time. In 1248, Pope Innocent IV granted the Croats of southern Dalmatia the unique privilege of using their own language and this script in the Roman Rite liturgy. Formally granted to bishop Philip of Senj, the permission to use the Glagolitic liturgy (the Roman Rite conducted in the 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. Authorization for the use of this language was extended to some other Slavic regions between 1886 and 1935.[10] 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 students of the Ohrid academy went to Bohemia where the alphabet was used in the 10th and 11th centuries, along with other scripts. It is not clear whether Glagolitic alphabet was used in the Duchy of Kopnik before the Wendish Crusade, but it was certainly 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.[11]

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.[12] Nevertheless, particular passages or words written with the Glagolitic alphabet appeared in Bulgarian Cyrillic manuscripts till the end of the 14th century.[13]

Only in Croatia the Glagolitic alphabet was used until the 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 allochthonic Slovene origin, was that the Glagolitic was created or used in the 4th century by St. Jerome (Latin: Eusebius Sophronius Hieronymus), 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 the 13th century) ascribing its invention to St. Jerome (342–429). That claim, however, has been resolutely disproved.

Until the 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 existence 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 the 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 do not 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 in 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.[14]
Jagić, Vatroslav, Glagolitica. Würdigung neuentdeckter Fragmente, Wien, 1890

The epoch of traditional attribution of the script to Jerome ended probably in 1812.[15] In modern times, only certain marginal authors share this view, usually "re-discovering" one of the already-known mediaeval sources.[16]

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)[17] 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.[18] 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 "Ruthenian 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 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[19]
Б /b/ Buky Buky letters Unknown[19]
В /ʋ/ Vědě Vedi to know Possibly Latin V[19]
Г /ɡ/ Glagoli Glagoli to do/to speak Possibly cursive Greek gamma γ[19]
Д /d/ Dobro Dobro kindness/good Greek delta Δ[19]
Є, Е, Э /ɛ/ Jestъ Jest is/exists Possibly Samaritan he ࠄ or Greek sampi ϡ[19]
Ж /ʒ/ Živěte Zhivete life/live Unknown,[19] possibly Coptic janja ϫ or Pisces (astrology)
Ѕ /d͡͡z/ Dzělo Dzelo very Unknown[19]
З /z/ Zemlja Zemlja Earth/ground/soil Possibly a variant of Greek theta θ[19]
,  , И, Й /i/, /j/ Iže Izhe which is/the Possibly Greek iota with dieresis ϊ[19]
І, Ї /i/, /j/ I I and (&) Unknown,[19]
, Ћ, Ђ /d͡ʑ/ Djervь, ǵervь tree/wood Unknown[19]
К /k/ Kako Kako how/as Hebrew qoph ק[19]
Л /l/, /ʎ/ Ljudie Ljudi people Possibly Greek lambda λ[19]
М /m/ Myslite Mislete thought/think Greek mu μ[19]
Н /n/, /ɲ/ Našь Nash ours Unknown[19]
О /ɔ/ Onъ On he Unknown[19]
П /p/ Pokoj Pokoj calmness/peace Possibly a variant of early Greek pi Π[19]
Р /ɲ/ Rьci, rьtsi Rtsi Speak!/Pronounce! Possibly Greek rho ρ[19]
С /s/ Slovo Slovo word/speech Unknown,[19]
Т /t/ Tvrьdo Tverdo solid/hard/surely Perhaps from crossbar of Greek tau τ[19]
У /u/ Ukъ Uk Knowledgeable/Enlightened Ligature of onъ and izhitsa[19]
Ф /f/ Frьtъ Fert Variant of Greek phi φ[19]
Х /x/ Xěrъ Kher Unknown, similar to glagoli and Latin h[19]
Ѡ /ɔ/ Otъ Oht, Omega From Ligature of onъ and its mirror image[19]
Щ /tʲ/, /ʃ͡t/ Šta/Šča Shta/Shcha Ligature of sha over tvrьdo[19]
Ц /t͡s/ Ci, tsi Tsi Final form of Hebrew tsade ץ[19]
Ч /t͡ʃ/ Črьvъ Cherv worm Unknown, similar to shta[19] perhaps non-final form of Hebrew tsade צ
Ш /ʃ/ Ša Sha silence/quiet Hebrew shin ש[19]
Ъ /ɯ/ Jerъ Yer Possibly modification of onъ[19]
Ы /ɨ/ Jery Yery Ligature, see the note under the table
Ь /ə/ Jerь Yer` Possibly modification of onъ[19]
Ѣ /æ/, /jɑ/ Jatь, Yatь Yat Possibly epigraphic Greek alpha Α[19]
Ё /jo/ Unknown:[19] Hypothetical component of jonsь below; /jo/ was not possible at the time
Ю /ju/ Ju, yu Yu Unknown[19]
Ѧ, Я /ɛ̃/ [Ensь] Ya, Small yus Greek epsilon ε, also used to denote nasality[19]
Ѩ /jɛ̃/ [Jensь] [Small iotated yus] Ligature of jestъ and ensь for nasality[19]
Ѫ /ɔ̃/ [Onsь] [Big yus] Ligature of onъ and ensь for nasality[19]
Ѭ /jɔ̃/ [Jonsь] [Big iotated yus] Ligature of unknown letter and ensь for nasality[19]
Ѳ /θ/ [Thita] Fita Theta* Greek theta θ[19]
Ѵ /ʏ/, /i/ Ižica Izhitsa

Note that yery (ⰟⰉ) is a digraph of either yer (Ⱏ) or yerь (Ⱐ), followed by either izhe (Ⰹ, Ⰺ) or i (Ⰻ).[19]

In older texts, uk (Ⱆ) and three out of four yuses (Ⱗ, Ⱘ, Ⱙ) also can be written as digraphs, in two separate parts.

The order of izhe (Ⰹ, Ⰺ) and i (Ⰻ) varies from source to source, as does the order of the various forms of yus (Ⱔ, Ⱗ, Ⱘ, Ⱙ). Correspondence between Glagolitic izhe (Ⰹ, Ⰺ) and i (Ⰻ) 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+2C00U+2C5F.

Official Unicode Consortium code 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 9.0
2.^ Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points

The Glagolitic Supplement block (U+1E000–U+1E02F) was added to the Unicode Standard in June, 2016 with the release of version 9.0:

Glagolitic Supplement[1][2]
Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
U+1E00x 𞀀 𞀁 𞀂 𞀃 𞀄 𞀅 𞀆 𞀈 𞀉 𞀊 𞀋 𞀌 𞀍 𞀎 𞀏
U+1E01x 𞀐 𞀑 𞀒 𞀓 𞀔 𞀕 𞀖 𞀗 𞀘 𞀛 𞀜 𞀝 𞀞 𞀟
U+1E02x 𞀠 𞀡 𞀣 𞀤 𞀦 𞀧 𞀨 𞀩 𞀪
1.^ As of Unicode version 9.0
2.^ Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points

Glagolitic script is the writing system used in the world of The Witcher video game series.[20] It was also featured as an inscription in one episode of Log Horizon,[21] and as murder mystery clues in season 3 episode 7 of The Bridge. It is also featured, in various uses, in several of the point and click adventure games made by Cateia Games, a Croatian game studio.

See also

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Glagolitic alphabet.


  1. "Glagolitic". Unabridged. Random House.
  2. Bernard Comrie and Greville G. Corbett, The Slavonic Languages, Taylor & Francis, 2002, p. 29.
  3. Alan Timberlake, A Reference Grammar of Russian, Cambridge University Press, 2004, p. 14: "In order to write in Slavic they devised a new alphabet which is now called Glagolitic."
  4. 1 2 Florin Curta & Paul Stephenson, Southeastern Europe in the Middle Ages, 500–1250, Cambridge University Press, 2006, p. 214: "At the emperor’s request, Constantine and his brother started the translation of religious texts into Old Church Slavonic, a literary language most likely based on the Bulgarian dialect allegedly used in the hinterland of their home-town, Thessalonica. Constantine devised a new alphabet, later called Glagolitic, to render the sounds of the new language and to adapt it to the new conditions iii Moravia. The two brothers seem to have initially translated only texts for religious instruction, such as the excerpts from the Gospels that were used in liturgy."
  5. Simon Franklin, Writing, Society and Culture in Early Rus, c. 950–1300, Cambridge University Press, 2002, p. 93: "East Christian Slays used two alphabets, Glagolitic and Cyrillic. Just to confuse matters, the script devised by Cyril was probably Glagolitic, while Cyrillic—which came to predominate, emerged somewhat later."
  6. Henri-Jean Martin, The History and Power of Writing, University of Chicago Press, 1995, p. 40
  7. Jean W. Sedlar, East Central Europe in the Middle Ages, 1000-1500, University of Washington Press, 1994, p. 114: "Indeed, when a Slavic ruler named Rastislav in the year 863 invited the Byzantine emperor to send him a Christian bishop, the emperor was more than willing. He commissioned two eminent Greeks of Salonika. Constantine (better known by his monastic name of Cyril) and his brother Methodius, to develop a written language for the use of the Slavic peoples. These two apostles (who were later canonized as saints) were not the first to translate religious writings into Slavic, since some preliminary work had been done earlier by Bavarian missionaries. However, they were the first to invent a Slavic alphabet and undertake translations into Slavic on a major scale."
  8. "The original Glagolitic letters are regarded as having been a good fit for the original system (Macedonian Slavic"; The Slavic alphabets, P. Cubberley, p. 347
  9. Paul Cubberley (1996) "The Slavic Alphabets". In Daniels and Bright, eds. The World's Writing Systems. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-507993-0.
  10. "The right to use the Glagolitic language at Mass with the Roman Rite has prevailed for many centuries in all the south-western Balkan countries, and has been sanctioned by long practice and by many popes" (Dalmatia in Catholic Encyclopedia); "In 1886 it arrived to the Principality of Montenegro, followed by the Kingdom of Serbia in 1914, and the Republic of Czechoslovakia in 1920, but only for feast days of the main patron saints. The 1935 concordat with the Kingdom of Yugoslavia anticipated the introduction of the Slavic liturgy for all Croatian regions and throughout the entire state" (The Croatian Glagolitic Heritage by Marko Japundzić).
  11. (Croatian) Glagoljaška baština u Slavonskom Kobašu, Slavonskobrodska televizija, News from February 25, 2007.
  12. East Central Europe in the Middle Ages, 1000–1500, Jean W. Sedlar, University of Washington Press, 1994, ISBN 0295972912, p. 146. 1994. ISBN 9780295972916. Retrieved 2013-05-01.
  13. Велчева, Б. Късната българска глаголица. Кирило-Методиевски студии, кн. 12, София, 1999, 87–152.
  14. До конца XVIII века господствовало странное, но широко распространенное мнение, что глаголическое письмо, бывшее в употреблении в Далмации и Истрии с прилегающими островами и в приморской Хорватии, вместе с переводом священного писания, обязано своим существованием знаменитому отцу церкви св. Иерониму. Зная о нем как авторе латинской «Вульгаты», считая его же как уроженца Далмации славянином, в частности хорватом, домашняя славянская интеллигенция Далмации стала очень рано присваивать ему изобретение глаголицы, быть может, нарочно, с тем умыслом, чтобы успешнее отстаивать и письмо, и богослужение славянское от преследований и запретов со стороны римской иерархии, прикрывая авторитетным именем знаменитого латинского отца церкви свой от греков Кирилла и Мефодия унаследованный обряд. Кем впервые пущено в ход это ни на чем не основанное ученое предание об авторстве св. Иеронима по части глаголического письма и перевода св. писания, мы не знаем, но в 1248 году оно дошло уже до сведения папы Иннокентия IV. <...> Много столетий продолжалась эта вера в Иеронима как изобретателя глаголического письма, не только дома, т. е. в Далмации и Хорватии, не только в Риме, через проживавших там славян... но также и на западе. В Чехию предание занесено в XIV столетии хорватскими монахами-глаголитами, которым поверил даже император Карл IV. (Jagić 1911, pp. 51–52)
  15. P. Solarić's "Букварь славенскiй трiазбучный" (Three-alphabet Slavic Primer), Venice, 1812 mentions the version as a fact of science (see Jagić 1911, p. 52; Vajs 1932, p. 23).
  16. For example, K. Šegvić in Nastavni vjesnik, XXXIX, sv. 9-10, 1931, refers to a work of Rabanus Maurus. (see Vajs 1932, p. 23).
  17. Chernorizets Hrabar An Account of Letters; Preslav 895, Bulgaria; Oldest manuscript 1348
  18. L. Niederle, "Slovanské starožitnosti" (Slavic antiquities), III 2, 735; citation can be found in Vajs 1932, p. 4.
  19. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 Schenker, Alexander M. (1995). "Early Writing". The dawn of Slavic: an introduction to Slavic philology. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. pp. 168–172. ISBN 0-300-05846-2.


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