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Glagolitic alphabet

The Glagolitic alphabet or Glagolitsa is the oldest known Slavonic alphabet. It was created by Saint Cyril around 862-863 in order to translate the Bible and other texts into the Slavonic language(more exactly, Old Church Slavonic).

The name comes from the Old Church Slavonic glagolo, meaning word (which was also the name for the letter "G"). Since glagolati also means to speak, the Glagolitsa are poetically referred to as "the marks that speak".

The Glagolitic alphabet has around 40 letters, depending on variant. 24 of the original (Great Moravian, see below) 38 Glagolitic letters are derived from graphemes of the medieval cursive Greek small alphabet, and they have been given an ornamental design. It is presumed that the letters Sha, Shta and Tsi were derived from Hebrew alphabet (Shin and Tsadi) - the phonemes that these letters represent did not exist in Greek but are quite common for all Slavic languages. The remaining original characters are of unknown oriental origin. Some of them are presumed to stem from the Hebrew and Samaritan scripts, which Cyril got to know during his journey to the Khazars in Cherson.


Rastislav, the Prince (King) of Great Moravia, wanted to weaken the dependence of this Slavonic empire on East Frankish priests, so in 862 he had the Byzantine emperor send two Slavonic missionaries, Cyril and Methodius, to Great Moravia. Cyril created a new alphabet for that purpose - the Glagolitic. The alphabet was then used in Great Moravia between 863 (when Cyril and Methodius arrived there) and 885 for government and religious documents and books, and at the Great Moravian Academy (Veľkomoravské učilište) founded by Cyril, where followers of Cyril and Methodius were educated (also by Methodius himself).

The script was prohibited in 886 by Wiching, an East Frankish bishop of Nitra, and the students of the academy fled to the Ohrid lake (present-day Republic of Macedonia, at that time Bulgaria), where they founded a new academy. From there, the students travelled to various other places and spread the use of their alphabet. Some went to Croatia and Dalmatia where the squared variant arose and where the Glagolitic remained in use for a long time. Some went to Bohemia where the alphabet was partly used in the 10th and 11th century. Glagolitic was also used in Russia, although rarely.

At the end of the 9th century, one of these students of Methodius who was settled in Preslav (Bulgaria) created the Cyrillic alphabet, and this descendant of the Glagolitic almost entirely replaced the Glagolitic during the Middle Ages.

Nowadays, the Glagolitic is only used for Church Slavonic and, sometimes, vernacular in the service-books of the Catholic Eparchy of Križevci in former Yugoslavia.

Formerly, the tradition that the alphabet was designed by the Greek monks Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius was not universally accepted. A less common belief was that the Glagolitic was created by St. Jerome, hence the alphabet is sometimes named Hieronymian. The Slavs of Great Moravia (present-day Slovakia and Moravia), Hungary, Slovenia and Slavonia were called Slov(i)enians at that time, hence the name Slovenish. Some other, more rare names for the alphabet are Bukvitsa and Illyrian. The name of the alphabet is in Czech hlaholice, in Slovak hlaholika, in Polish glagolica, in Russian глаголица (phonetically: glagolitsa), in Croatian glagoljica etc.


The alphabet has two variants: round and square. The round variant is dominated by circles and smooth curves, and the square variant features a lot of right angles, and sometimes trapezoids. See an image of both variants (incomplete).

The following table lists each letter in order, giving a picture (round variant), its name, its approximate sound in SAMPA, the Greek letter that it was used to transliterate (if applicable), and the modern Cyrillic letter that it directly gave rise to (if any).

PictureNameSoundRelation to GreekRelation to modern Cyrillic
Dzelo/dz/Macedonian Dze
I/i/IotaUkrainian I
Dzherv/dZ/Serbian Đerv
Uk/u/Omicron UpsilonU
Oht/o/OmegaOnly used to transcribe Greek
Jer/w/, /@/The hard sign
Jerj/j/The soft sign
Jat/j{/Removed from Bulgarian in 1945
Jus Malij/E~/Obsolete
Jus Malij Jotirovannij/jE~/Obsolete
Jus Bolshoj/O~/Obsolete
Jus Bolshoj Jotirovannij/jO~/Obsolete
Thita/f/ThetaOnly used to transcribe Greek
Izhitsa/v/, /i/UpsilonRemoved from Russian in 1917

I'm not sure of the name of the letter between Jat and Ju.

Note that Jery is simply a ligature of Jer and I. The order of Izhe and I varies from source to source, as does the order of the various forms of Jus.

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