Slavonic alphabet (Glagolitic and Cyrillic)


The epitaph on Tzar Samuel's tombstone:
In their old motherland the Slavs did not have their alphabet and, as Crnorizec Hrabar says in his work "O pismeneh" (About the Letters), for a long time "with dashes and notches they were reading and telling fortunes". They had a sort of a tally board. When they came to the Balkans and were Christened, they wrote their Slavonic words with Roman and Greek letters, without any rules. However, those letters did not allow for the accurate spelling of many Slavonic words. The Greek alphabet had no letters for numerous Slavonic phonemes. "Then Saint Constantine the Philosopher named Cyril, a righteous and veracious man, created them 38 letters, one according to the Greek letters, and the other by Slavonic language."

This is how it happened: in 862 the duke of Velika Morava, Rastislav, trying to protect his duchy from the German political and cultural enslavement, sent a letter to the Byzantine Emperor Michailo III, offering him military alliance. At the same time, he requested for some scholars to be sent to him, who would disseminate education and culture in Slavonic language in Moldavia.

The Byzantine Emperor Michailo appreciated the proposal, since he foreseen the benefits of a country from the western sphere of influence on its own initiative to become subjugated to the Byzantine domination. Therefore, he summoned two scholarly brothers, Cyril and Methodius, and entrusted them a mission in Velika Moravia. The mission included the translation of the Christian books for religious service from Greek into Slavonic language, in an alphabet yet to be compiled. After that, and thus prepared, they were supposed to convert the Slavs from Moravia into Christianity.

Before long, Cyril made up a 38 letters alphabet - the Glagolitic. With it he and his brother Methodius translated the first church books from Greek into Slavonic, and in spring 863 A.D. set out to Velika Moravia.

It was found out that Cyril created the Glagolitic alphabet by using the Greek minuscule (cursive) alphabet, already in use in the VIII - IX centuries. He borrowed the letters that existed in the Greek alphabet, and for the non-existing ones, he invented new symbols.

Nevertheless, the Slavs used two alphabets and at approximately same time - Glagolitic and Cyrillic. Since the earliest records written in the Slavonic alphabet do not date from the time when Ss. Cyril and Methodius were alive and writing, but as late as the X and XI centuries, the scientists long argued which alphabet was created by Cyril - the Glagolitic or the Cyrillic that bears his name.

Now that issue has been cleared out - the Glagolitic is the alphabet created by Cyril. It is older than the Cyrillic. This is proved by the following facts:

1. The earliest Slavonic written records, the mid- X century Kiev Missal, was written in the Glagolitic and contains Moravisms (Czech language features), which suggests that it was written in Moravia, certainly by Cyril and Methodius's disciples.

2. Majority of the older preserved Old Slavonic records were written in the Glagolitic and have more archaic language features than the ones in the Cyrillic. They do not have the merging of the semi-sounds - "ers", which is not the case with the Cyrillic records.

3. The Glagolitic was in use in Moravia, in the Croatian territories, whereas the Cyrillic in the Eastern Bulgaria, which is obvious from the origin of the records.

4. On the palimpsests (parchments with traces of both alphabets), below there are visible traces of incompletely erased Glagolitic letters, and above are the overwritten Cyrillic letters.

It is believed that the Cyrillic was created by Clement (some attach it to either Methodius, Bishop Constantine or Crnorizec Hrabar) who named it Cyrillic in honour of his teacher. This alphabet was compiled by the example of the Greek constitutional (initial) alphabet and emerged in Eastern Bulgaria about fifty years after the Glagolitic.

Shortly after the Cyrillic pushed the Glagolitic out of use. It spreaded not only to the Balkans, but also to Russia. During Peter the Great it suffered certain changes and through the Russian church books spreaded among the Balkan Slavs. With certain amendments and alterations, the Cyrillic is still used today.
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