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The Glagolitic alphabet ( ), also known as Glagolitsa, is the oldest known Slavic alphabet. The name was not coined until many centuries after its creation, and comes from the Old Slavic glagolъ "utterance" (also the origin of the Slavic name for the letter G). Since glagolati also means to speak, the glagolitsa poetically referred to "the marks that speak".

The name Glagolitic is rendered in Belarusian as глаголіца ('hlaholitsa'), Bulgarian and Macedonian глаголица ('glagolitsa / glagolica'), Croatian and Serbian glagoljica/глагољица, Czech hlaholice, Polish głagolica, Russian глаголица ('glagólitsa'), Slovene , Slovak hlaholika, Ukrainian глаголиця ('hlaholytsia').

Origins of the Glagolitic characters

Although popularly attributed to Saints Cyril and Methodius and the introduction of Christianity, the origin of the Glagolitic alphabet is obscure. The medieval text Pannonian Life of Constantine records that the Slavs were already literate at the time of Cyril's mission: "during a mission to the Crimea in 860 he [St Cyril] was shown a Gospel and Psalter written in rousskymi pismeny ["Rus letters"] [...] Constantine [St Cyril] is reported not to have seen these before, but to have learnt to read them surprisingly quickly." Cubberley (1996) suggests that this pre-existing script may have developed from cursive Greek in the Balkan region of Macedonia centuries earlier, only to be formalized and expanded with new letters for non-Greek sounds by Saint Cyril. However, the nature of the "Rus letters" is debated, and a number of Slavicists retain the view that "Since glagolitic is the work of one man, or one man and his immediate associates, it is pointless to try to trace the gradual development of various letters from other symbols in other alphabets."

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. In later centuries the number of letters drops dramatically, to less 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 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 got to know during his journey to the Khazars in Chersonmarker.

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 Slavic missionaries canonized as Saints Cyril and Methodius were sent to Great Moravia in 862 by the Byzantine emperor at the request of Knyaz (Duke) 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.

In 886, an East Frankish bishop of Nitramarker 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 Bulgariamarker 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 Bulgariamarker 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 Bulgariamarker from Greek Constantinoplemarker. As a result of Boris's measures, two academies, one in Ohridmarker and one in Preslav, were founded.

From there, the students traveled to various other places and spread the use of their alphabet. Some went to Croatiamarker (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 Senjmarker, 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 Adriaticmarker 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. 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 onwards, Glagolitic inscriptions appeared mostly in littoral areas: Istramarker, Primorje, Kvarnermarker and Kvarner islands, notably Krkmarker, Cresmarker and Lošinjmarker; in Dalmatia, on the islands of Zadar, but there were also findings in inner Likamarker and Krbavamarker, reaching to Kupa river, and even as far as Međimurjemarker and Slovenia.The Hrvoje's Missal (Croatian Hrvojev misal) was written in Splitmarker, and it is considered as one of the most beautiful Croatian Glagolitic books.

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

At the end of the 9th century, one of these students of Methodius who was settled in Preslavmarker (Bulgariamarker) created the Cyrillic alphabet, 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.

Nowadays, Glagolitic is only used 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, on the same model as 'alpha' + 'beta'. (Actually, the word means simply "alphabet", see its a bit later form azbuka for the Cyrillic alphabet). The Slavs of Great Moravia (present-day Slovakiamarker and Moravia), Hungarymarker, Sloveniamarker and Slavoniamarker were called Slověne at that time, which gives rise to the name Slovenish for the alphabet. Some other, more rare, 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).

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 - as Dalmatian-born - a Slav, and especially a Croatian, the home-bred slavic intellectuals in Dalmatia very early began to ascribe to him the invention of glagolitsa, possibly on purpose, 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 honourable opinion of the famous Latin holy father 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 St. 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 St. 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 themДо 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)</…>

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

Pre-Glagolitic Slavic writing systems

A hypothetical pre-Glagolitic writing system is typically referred to as cherty i rezy (strokes and incisions) - 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 artefacts 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. 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 alphabet has two variants: an early rounded form, used for Old Church Slavonic, and a late squared form, used for Croatian. See an incomplete image of both variants. More details. 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 , the name, and suggestions for its origin. Several letters have no modern counterpart.

Letter Cyrillic Sound OCS name CS name Meaning Origin
А Azъ Az I Hebrew aleph א or the sign of the cross
Б Buky Buky letters Unknown
В Vědě Vedi to know Possibly Latin V
Г Glagoli Glagoli verb/word Possibly cursive Greek gamma γ
Д Dobro Dobro kindness/good Greek delta Δ
Є, Е, Э Estъ, jestъ, yestъ Jest is/exists Possibly Samaritan he ϡ or Greek sampi ϡ
Ж Živěte Zhivete life/live Unknown, possibly Coptic janjamarker ϫ
Ѕ Dzělo Dzelo green/very Unknown
З Zemlja Zemlja Earth/ground Possible a variant of Greek theta θ
Ⰹ, Ⰺ И, Й Iže Izhe Possibly Greek iota with dieresis ϊ
І, Ї I I and (&) Unknown, Christian symbols circle and triangle
Ћ, Ђ Djervь, ǵervь tree/wood Unknown
К Kako Kako how Hebrew qoph ק
Л Ljudie Ljudi people Possibly Greek lambda λ
М Myslite Mislete thought/think Greek mu μ
Н Našь Nash ours Unknown
О Onъ On he Unknown
П Pokoi Pokoj calmness/room Possibly a variant of early Greek pi Π
Р Rьci, rьtsi Rtsi Hand/Hands Possibly Greek rho ρ
С Slovo Slovo word/letter Unknown, Christian symbols circle and triangle
Т Tvrьdo Tverdo solid/hard Perhaps from crossbar of Greek tau τ
У Ukъ Uk Knowledgeable/Enlightened Ligature of onъ and izhitsa
Ф Frьtъ Fert Variant of Greek phi φ
Х Xěrъ, Khěrъ Kher Unknown, similar to glagoli and Latin h
Otъ Oht, Omega Ligature of onъ and its mirror image
Щ Šta Shta what Ligature of sha over tvrьdo
Ц Ci, tsi Tsi Final form of Hebrew tsade ץ
Ч Črьvъ Cherv worm Unknown, similar to shta perhaps non-final form of Hebrew tsade צ
Ш Ša Sha Hebrew shin ש
Ъ Erъ, jerъ, yerъ Yer Possibly modification of onъ
ⰟⰉ Ы Ery, jery, yery Yery Ligature, see the note under the table
Ь Erь, jerь, yerь Yerj Possibly modification of onъ
Jatь, Yatь Yat Possibly epigraphic Greek alpha Α
Unknown: Hypothetical component of jonsь below; /jo/ was not possible at the time
Ю Ju, yu Yu Unknown
, Я [Ensь] Ya, Small yus Greek epsilon ε, also used to denote nasality
[Jensь, Yensь] [Small iotated yus] Ligature of jestъ and ensь for nasality
[Onsь] [Big yus] Ligature of onъ and ensь for nasality
[Jonsь, Yonsь] [Big iotated yus] Ligature of unknown letter and ensь for nasality
[Thita] Fita Greek theta θ
Ižica, Izhitsa Izhitsa Unknown

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

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 I 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 Unicode in version 4.1. The codepoint range is U+2C00 U+2C5E. See Mapping of Unicode Characters for context.

See also


  1. 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."
  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 Macedonian 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."
  3. 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 St Cyril was probably Glagolitic, while Cyrillic—which came to predominate, emerged somewhat later."
  4. Henri-Jean Martin, The History and Power of Writing, University of Chicago Press, 1995, p 40
  5. 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."
  6. Bernard Comrie and Greville G. Corbett, The Slavonic Languages, Taylor & Francis, 2002, p. 21. Comrie & Corbett note that Cyril was familiar with Biblical scripts such as Greek, Hebrew, Armenian, and Syriac, so the Gosplel and Psalter he was shown were presumably not written in one of these scripts.
  7. Paul Cubberley (1996) "The Slavic Alphabets". In Daniels and Bright, eds. The World's Writing Systems. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-507993-0.
  8. Horce G. Lunt, Old Church Slavonic Grammar, Walter de Gruyter, 2001, p 15
  9. "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).
  10. Glagoljaška baština u Slavonskom Kobašu, Slavonskobrodska televizija, News from February 25, 2007.
  11. P. Solarić's "Букварь славенскiй трiазбучный" (Three-alphabet Slavic Primer), Venice, 1812 mentions the version as a fact of scinnce (see Jagić 1911, p. 52; Vajs 1932, p. 23).
  12. For example, K. Šegvić in Nastavni vjesnik, XXXIX, sv. 9-10, 1931, refers to a work of Rabanus Maurus. (see Vajs 1932, p. 23).
  13. Chernorizets Hrabar An Account of Letters; Preslav 895; Oldest manuscript 1348
  14. L. Niederle, "Slovanské starožitnosti" (Slavic antiquities), III 2, 735; citation can be found in Vajs 1932, p. 4.


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  • 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.
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