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Caucasian Albanian alphabet

Caucasian Albanian
Matenadaran MS No. 7117, fol. 142r
ISO 15924 Aghb, 239
Direction Left-to-right
Unicode alias
Caucasian Albanian
U+10530 – U+1056F

The Caucasian Albanian alphabet, or the alphabet for the Gargareans, was an alphabet used by the Caucasian Albanians, one of the ancient and indigenous Northeast Caucasian peoples whose territory comprised parts of present-day Azerbaijan and Daghestan. It was one of only two indigenous alphabets ever developed for speakers of indigenous Caucasian languages (i.e. Caucasian languages that are not a part of larger groupings like the Turkic and Indo-European languages families) to represent any of their languages, the other being the Georgian alphabet.[1] The Armenian language, the third language of Caucasus with its own alphabet, is an independent branch of the Indo-European language family.


File:Mesrop Mashtots by Francesco Majotto.jpg
Mesrop Mashtots by Francesco Maggiotto (1750-1805). Mesrop Mashtots, an Armenian medieval evangelizer and enlightener, invented the Gargarean ("Caucasian Albanian") alphabet in the 5th century, shortly after creating the Armenian script.[2]

According to Movses Kaghankatvatsi, the Caucasian Albanian, or Gargarean, alphabet was created by Mesrop Mashtots,[3][4][5] the Armenian monk, theologian and translator who is also credited with creating the Armenian alphabet.[6][7]

Koriun, a pupil of Mesrop Mashtots, in his book The Life of Mashtots, wrote about the circumstances of its creation:

Then there came and visited them an elderly man, an Albanian named Benjamin. And he, Mesrop Mashtots, inquired and examined the barbaric diction of the Albanian language, and then through his usual God-given keenness of mind invented an alphabet, which he, through the grace of Christ, successfully organized and put in order.[8]

The alphabet was in use from its creation in the early 5th century through the 12th century, and was used not only formally by the Church of Caucasian Albania, but also for non-religious means.[9]


File:Caucasian albanian stone azerbaijan mingechaur2.jpg
A capital from a 5th-century church with an inscription using Caucasian Albanian lettering, found at Mingachevir in 1949

Although mentioned in early sources, no examples of it were known to exist until its rediscovery in 1937 by a Georgian scholar, Professor Ilia Abuladze,[10] in Matenadaran MS No. 7117, an Armenian language manual from the 15th century. This manual presents different alphabets for comparison: Armenian, Greek, Latin, Syriac, Georgian, Coptic, and Caucasian Albanian among them. The Caucasian Albanian alphabet came with a comment in Armenian: "Ałuanic girn e" - Աղուանից գիրն է - that is translated from Armenian as "Aghuanic alphabet/writing". Abuladze made an assumption that this alphabet was based on Georgian letters.

Between 1947 and 1952, archaeological excavations at Mingachevir under the guidance of S. Kaziev found a number of artifacts with Caucasian Albanian writing — a stone altar post with an inscription around its border that consisted of 70 letters, and another 6 artifacts with brief texts (containing from 5 to 50 letters), including candlesticks, a tile fragment, and a vessel fragment.[11]

The first reasonably long work in the Caucasian Albanian alphabet was discovered on a palimpsest in Saint Catherine's Monastery on Mount Sinai in 2003 by Dr. Zaza Aleksidze; it was a lectionary dating to the late 4th or early 5th century AD, containing verses from 2 Corinthians 11, with a Georgian Patericon written over it.[12] Jost Gippert, professor of Comparative Linguistics at the University of Frankfurt am Main, is preparing an edition of this manuscript.[13]


The Udi language, spoken by some 8,000 people, mostly in Azerbaijan but also in Georgia and Armenia,[14] is considered to be the last direct continuator of the Caucasian Albanian language.[15][16]


The Caucasian Albanian alphabet was added to the Unicode Standard in June, 2014 with the release of version 7.0.

The Unicode block for Caucasian Albanian is U+10530–1056F:

Template:Unicode chart Caucasian Albanian


  1. ^ Catford, J.C. (1977). "Mountain of Tongues:The Languages of the Caucasus". Annual Review of Anthropology 6: 283–314 [296]. doi:10.1146/ 
  2. ^ Peter R. Ackroyd. The Cambridge history of the Bible. — Cambridge University Press, 1963. — vol. 2. — p. 368:"The third Caucasian people, the Albanians, also received an alphabet from Mesrop, to supply scripture for their Christian church. This church did not survive beyond the conquests of Islam, and all but few traces of the script have been lost..."
  3. ^ Gippert, Jost; Wolfgang Schulze (2007). "Some Remarks on the Caucasian Albanian Palimsests". Iran and the Caucasus (Leiden, Netherlands: Koninklijke Brill NV) 11: 201–212 [210]. doi:10.1163/157338407X265441.  "Rather, we have to assume that Old Udi corresponds to the language of the ancient Gargars (cf. Movsēs Kałankatuac‘i who tells us that Mesrop Maštoc‘ (362-440) created with the help [of the bishop Ananian and the translator Benjamin] an alphabet for the guttural, harsh, barbarous, and rough language of the Gargarac‘ik‘)."
  4. ^ К. В. Тревер. Очерки по истории и культуре Кавказской Албании. М—Л., 1959:"Как известно, в V в. Месроп Маштоц, создавая албанский алфавит, в основу его положил гаргарское наречие албанского языка («создал письмена гаргарского языка, богатого горловыми звуками»). Это последнее обстоятельство позволяет высказать предположение, что именно гаргары являлись наиболее культурным и ведущим албанским племенем."
  5. ^ Peter R. Ackroyd. The Cambridge history of the Bible. — Cambridge University Press, 1963. — vol. 2. — p. 368:"The third Caucasian people, the Albanians, also received an alphabet from Mesrop, to supply scripture for their Christian church. This church did not survive beyond the conquests of Islam, and all but few traces of the script have been lost, and there are no remains of the version known."
  6. ^ Lenore A. Grenoble. Language policy in the Soviet Union. Springer, 2003. ISBN 1-4020-1298-5. P. 116. "The creation of the Georgian alphabet is generally attributed to Mesrop, who is also credited with the creation of the Armenian alphabet."
  7. ^ Donald Rayfield "The Literature of Georgia: A History (Caucasus World). RoutledgeCurzon. ISBN 0-7007-1163-5. P. 19. "The Georgian alphabet seems unlikely to have a pre-Christian origin, for the major archaeological monument of the first century 4IX the bilingual Armazi gravestone commemorating Serafua, daughter of the Georgian viceroy of Mtskheta, is inscribed in Greek and Aramaic only. It has been believed, and not only in Armenia, that all the Caucasian alphabets — Armenian, Georgian and Caucaso-Albanian — were invented in the fourth century by the Armenian scholar Mesrop Mashtots.<...> The Georgian chronicles The Life of Kanli - assert that a Georgian script was invented two centuries before Christ, an assertion unsupported by archaeology. There is a possibility that the Georgians, like many minor nations of the area, wrote in a foreign language — Persian, Aramaic, or Greek — and translated back as they read."
  8. ^ Koriun, The life of Mashtots, Ch. 16.
  9. ^ Schulze, Wolfgang (2005). "Towards a History of Udi" (PDF). International Journal of Diachronic Linguistics: 1–27 [12]. Retrieved 4 July 2012.  "In addition, a small number of inscriptions on candleholders, roofing tiles and on a pedestal found since 1947 in Central and Northern Azerbaijan illustrate that the Aluan alphabet had in fact been in practical use."
  10. ^ Ilia Abuladze. "About the discovery of the alphabet of the Caucasian Aghbanians". In the Bulletin of the Institute of Language, History and Material Culture (ENIMK), Vol. 4, Ch. I, Tbilisi, 1938.
  11. ^ Philip L. Kohl, Mara Kozelsky, Nachman Ben-Yehuda. Selective Remembrances: Archaeology in the Construction, Commemoration, and Consecration of National Pasts. University of Chicago Press, 2007. ISBN 0-226-45058-9, ISBN 978-0-226-45058-2
  12. ^ Zaza Alexidze; Discovery and Decipherment of Caucasian Albanian Writing
  13. ^ Digitization of the Albanian palimpsest manuscripts from Mt. Sinai
  14. ^ Wolfgang Schulze, "The Udi Language",
  15. ^ The Arab geographers refer to the Arranian language as still spoken in the neighbourhood of Barda'a (Persian: Peroz-Abadh, Armenian Partav), but now only the two villages inhabited by the Udi are considered as the direct continuators of the Albanian linguistic tradition. V. Minorsky. Caucasica IV. Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Vol. 15, No. 3. (1953), pp. 504-529.
  16. ^ "Caucasian Albanian Script. The Significance of Decipherment" (2003) by Dr. Zaza Alexidze.

External links

de:Kaukasische Sprachen#Alwanisches Alphabet