Kaukasische Sprachen und Kulturen:
Grundlagen ihrer elektronischen Dokumentation
Alternative Ressourcen, Materialien, Anwendungen und zusätzliche Informationen

კავკასიური ენებისა და კულტურების ელექტრონული დოკუმენტირების საფუძვლები
ახალი რესურსები, მასალები და აპლიკაციები - ზოგადი ინფორმაციები

Fundamentals of an Electronic Documentation
of Caucasian Languages and Cultures
Alternative Ressources, Materials, Applications and Zipped Information

Georgische Akademie der Wissenschaften:
საქართველოს მეცნიერებათა აკადემია:
კ. კეკელიძის სახელობის ხელნაწერთა ინსტიტუტი
Georgian Academy of Sciences:
K. Kekelidze Institute of Manuscripts


Digitization of the Albanian palimpsest manuscripts from Mt. Sinai

Zaza Aleksidze

A Breakthrough in the Script of Caucasian Albany

The Institute of manuscripts of the Academy of Sciences of Georgia has already held three expeditions to Mount Sinai (in 1990, 1994 and November-December of 1996) to study the manuscripts first found in 1975. 133 manuscripts have been described during the first expedition. We managed only to give numbers to 15 manuscripts the leaves of which had been stuck together in a compact mass. Just before our departure we saw great number of fragments, we couldn't manage to look through. Even then it became evident that if we prepare the catalogue for publication more expeditions would be needed.

The second and third expeditions contained more people: beside the scholars, the restorers also participated. Some 140 manuscripts have been described and sorted out by the expedition and microfilms of the 1600 fragments were made. The work performed by the restorers was immensely effective. They managed to open 15 manuscripts turned into compact mass and 77 manuscripts underwent preliminary preventive works.

How should this new discovery be categorized?

1. There are now more then 230 manuscripts and 1600 fragments in Sinai collection, in all. Thus, at present much more is known about Georgian colonies on Sinai and about their activities, than it was known till nowadays. A great number of Sinai manuscripts (old and new ones) date back to the 10th c. The comparison of the manuscripts (old and new ones) preserved and written here on various languages (Greek, Arabic, Syriac etc.), reveals that the second half of the 10th c. is mainly marked by presence of Georgians on Mount Sinai. This is also proved by the colophons of the manuscripts of the new collection, supplying new and interesting information about building activities of the Georgians on Mount Sinai. It is one of the most interesting important conclusion based on the new discoveries.

2. New Georgian material from Sinai has preserved the ecclesiastical liturgy called Hierosolimite. They are liturgical books written up till the 10th c. (hymnography, lectionaries, liturgies, calendars) that were lost in other literatures. It happened due to the fact that new liturgy, called Constantinoplean or Byzantine, come into use since the 10th c. There have been made some attempts of restoring this stage on the basis of Armenian literature, that was separated from Orthodox church in early period. Thus, the reforms of Orthodox church would not have had any impact on it. The old collection of Sinai and especially the new one, have changed the emphasis. Now the attention focused also on Georgian as it is the one showing the oldest stage of liturgy.

The New Sinai collection reveals the close contacts of the Georgian brethren on Sinai with other Georgian culture centres. The new for us and most important among them is the close contacts with the Mount Athos and with the Athonites. This was proved by the discovery of the documents written on Athos within a short span of time since their creation.

4. These are also such codexes that are likewise preserved only in Georgian. They imply new names of unknown authors such as the Sinaite Holy father Samuel the Georgian.

5. The new collection includes two oldest recensions of the first Georgian historical work "Conversion of Kartli (Georgia)" and "The Lives of 13 Syrian fathers". Luckily, we have got the photocopies of these manuscripts and they are being studied at present.

6. The information given in Sin-50 of the new collection has proved to be unique as far as it concerns the most interest period of Georgian history of 6-7th c. Only some scanty, authentic sources shed light on this particular period. It implies the catalogues of big cloister libraries and the description of their treasure; there are exact chronological and genealogical data of Georgian Kings, Dukes and their family members taken more likely from tombstone inscriptions. This information outstrips in several centuries the lineage and chronology of the Bagratids and Rustavelis.

7. Particular international interest will be aroused by an amount of newly discovered palimpsests . The lower texts of the 10th c. manuscripts are Georgian, Greek, Syriac, Ethiopian, Coptic and several pages - Armenian. Unfortunately, the expeditions didn't have enough time and possibility to study the palimpsests. They may bring forth more important discoveries, than we can imagine it nowadays. Two manuscripts among them may serve as an example.

My present paper deals with information about these manuscripts. We can say for sure that two underwriting texts of the palimpsests found on M. Sinai represent the monument or monuments of the lost literature of Caucasian Albania.

Caucasian or Caspian Albania, as it is called in order to differentiate it from Balkan Albania, was situated in Eastern Transcaucasia, mostly on the territory of modern Azerbaijan,

The main problems concerning Albania of the Antique period and early middle Ages are as follow: When was the state formed on this territory? Haw far did it spread? How did the process of ethnic and cultural consolidation flew there? Did the Albanians create their original script and literature? If so, how well it develop and how long did it exist? Caucasian studies face two radically diverse positions concerning the aforementioned problems.

According to one hypothesis of Armenian scholars (sometimes called the "New point of view"), Albanian Kingdom was formed at the beginning of the 1st c. BC. Its border spread to the South only till the river Mtkvari (Kur). According to Strabo, the Albanians consisted of 26 tribes. Ethnical consolidation in the Albanian Kingdom did not take place till the 3rd c. AD and each tribe spoke its own language.

Albanian Kingdom was abolished in 462 and Sasanids` created a Persian province (Marzpanate) under the name of "Albania". It comprised two provinces of the Former Great Armenia: "Utiq" and "Artsakh" that were situated on the right bank of the river Mtkvari ("Kur"). The annexation of Utiq and Artsakh to Albania is sometimes dated by 387, when Armenia was divided into two parts between Byzantine and Iran. These provinces were ever since named "Albania". This name Never acquired ethnonymic implication but only political meaning. Gradually, Armenian provinces, situated on the right bank of the river Mtkvari adopted this name without implying the Albanians living on the left bank and Armenians of these provinces considered that they had had that name from the beginning. Likewise, the so called "Albanian outlook" and "Albanian patriotism" were formed among the inhabitants of Armenian provinces dwelling on the right bank of the river Mtkvari; though they never lost the Armenian outlook on the world. These provinces, compared to the native Albanians living on the left bank of the river Mtkvari, have formed "New Albania" as for cultural and economic point of view they were at higher level of development. The language of the church and the country was Armenian. Mashtots (Mesrop), granted Armenian alphabet (36 graphemes) to Armenian population of Albania and created new script (52 graphemes) for the native Albanians. Thus, when speaking about creating new alphabet for the coarse language of barbarian Albanians, he means the native Albanians; but when speaking about Bible translation by the Albanians, he means Armenian part of Albania. Native Albanians could not create their own literature and they soon mingled with other people. When the sources of middle ages narrate about Albanian written literature we must identify it as not native Albanian one, but as the Armenian written literature created by the population of Utiq, Artsakh and Gardman.

The outlook of Armenian scholars should radically be changed to consider the positions of Azerbaijanian scholars: the territory of Albania, including the right bank of the river Mtkvari, has always remained unchanged throughout its existence. Utiq and Artsakh have only temporarily been seized by Armenia and in 387 it is returned to Albania. The hole territory of Albania including the disputable province of Karabakh in modern Azerbaijan is populated by the people of ethnic lineage, changing only its language and religion throughout the centuries. Albanian script was created at the beginning of the 5th c. successively followed by translated and original literature. The Arab invaders and the Armenian Church ravaged the monuments of Albanian written language in the 8-10th cc. Before that, the Armenians translated to their language the works on the history of Albania and ecclesiastical canons. That explains why they are preserved only in Armenian language. Being under the influence of the Armenian Church, consequently, the language and the literature of the monophysite Albanian Church, gradually becomes Armenian. All the outstanding figures of the 10-13th cc. originating from Albania situated on the right bank of the river Mtkvari (Mkhitar Gosh, Kirakos of Ganzak) ought to be considered Albanian writers and public figures using Armenian language.

What have we known about the Albanian language up to now?

Armenian sources are the only ones presenting substantial information about Albanian script and language. The sources dealing with Mesrop-Mashtots' life must be considered first. According to Koriun, Moses Khorenatsi, Moses Kalankatuatsi, etc. (not taking into consideration the differences), Mesrop-Mashtots at the beginning of the 5th c. "created alphabet for the Gargarians' pharyngal, disharmonious, barbaric and coarse language". The books of the Prophets, the books of Apostles and the Gospel were also translated by his assistance.

The most precise documentary account on the existence of Albanian script and written language is represented in the accounts of the all Transcaucasian church counsel in Dvin in 506. In his letter to the christians living in Persia, the Catholicos of Armenia - Babgen - says that the letter was written "in consent with Georgians and Albanians, according to the letters of each country".

The Albanian historian Moses Kalankatyatsi's (Moses Daskhurantsi) work is available in a 10th c. Armenian version. The author wrote his work in the 7th c. and he names the nations that had their own script at that time and mentions Albanian language among them.

Further accounts about the existence of the Holy Scripture in Albanian language is represented by the 8th c. Armenian historian -Ghevond. The languages that had Gospels are named in his work and Albanian language occupies the 12th place among them.

Such is the entire information about Albanian script and literature I won't take into consideration indirect information, but it is evidently impossible to avoid it.

A search for Albanian written language has been undertaken since 30s of XIXc. Scholars have from time to time received news of finding Albanian manuscripts and epigraphical monuments. The news was sensational, but has always been proved to be premature. In all the cases the texts were written in unknown manner of either Armenian or Greek script; sometimes, indeed, it proved to be a cryptogram.

Georgian scholar Ilia Abuladze found Albanian Alphabet in the manual of Armenian grammar, among the alphabets of Armenian, Greek, Jewish, Georgian, Syriac and Arabic languages, when there was almost no hope of finding it. It caused such a great effect in the world of scholarly literature that the date - 28th of September, 1937 was fixed exactly. The outstanding Armenian scholar Hr. Acharjan wrote in the "Herald" of Armenian Academy of Sciences: "Young Georgian scholar Ilia Abuladze is worthy of unlimited honour and praise, who on the 28th of September, 1937 discovered Albanian alphabet among other Manuscripts of Echmiadzin". He also compared the post-discovery condition to a sudden exposure to the daylight of a man who had been in the darkness for ages.

I.Abuladze only made an announcement about the discovery and passed it on for further study to A. Shanidze. The principal pathos of this analyses was to prove that it actually was Albanian alphabet, that it was correct in whole and that the system of sounds must have belonged to Udian language system of sounds of Lezgian group of Caucasian languages.

It seemed to be a signal to further discoveries. One more manuscript with Albanian script was found since then in California, but it proved to be a copie of the 15th c. manuscript discovered by I.Abuladze.

The archaeological discoveries of 1948-1952, caused new impetus in the development of Albanian studies. Several lapidary inscriptions and graphitties were discovered on the territory of Azerbaijan and Dagestan. The unity of these discoveries is conventionally called the Corpus of Albanian inscriptions. The overall number of the graphemes is approximately 200 and was dated back to the 6-9th cc. by the archaeologists. The pillar with Albanian text, discovered in Dagestan is rightly considered by the specialists to be untrustworthy as it is the exact copy of Armenian alphabet given in Armenian manuscripts.

The archaeological discoveries promised that Albanian texts would easily be deciphered as it was known what language to attribute it to and the alphabet with its corresponding meanings was at hand. Specialists from a number of countries participated in deciphering the inscriptions. But the promise was not fulfilled. Each specialist began everything from the beginning not taking into consideration the predecessors' specific results. Nowadays, it has become evident to everybody that despite some minor successes in deciphering Albanian script, all the attempts have ended in a deadlock.

Albanian alphabet given in the Armenian manuscript has been rewritten several times by scriber who does not know the script he reproduced. He sometimes makes mistakes in shaping the letters. Albanian graphemes resemble Armenian ones that are familiar to him. As a result it makes it difficult to identify the graphemes of the alphabet and the graphemes of the corpus of the inscriptions. The writer sometimes makes mistakes in giving phonetic meaning of the graphemes (the same mistakes that we can easily check are made concerning Georgian and Greek alphabets); the phonematic meaning of Albanian alphabet, presented in the manuscript is given by means of Armenian phonetics that inevitably causes great differences, as 36 graphemes (phonemes) in Armenian language cannot reproduce 52 graphemes (phonemes) in Albanian alphabet. A great number of Albanian corpus of inscriptions are the graphitties, where the outline of the letters depends on the material, the skill of the author and his own handwriting. Only 32 graphemes out of probable 52 ones have been proved to be in the corpus of inscriptions. The lack of long and continuous text makes it impossible to scheme various data. We could not be entirely sure that Albanian writing must be deciphered by means of Udian language as Gargarian language is mentioned in the sources. It is doubtless that Udian language that is today spoken only by some thousand people, is rather far from old Albanian language. All these difficulties became evident in the process of attempts to decipher Albanian writings. They proved to be futile. New blood transfusion for Albanian studies became necessary.

Precisely 60 years ago A. Shanidze wrote: "We should hope that by means of special researches and archaeological excavations in Azerbaijan (and first of all on the adjoining territory with Bardav) Albanian written texts will be found. The clue to them is already found. Besides, it is possible that once, somewhere in a certain library, among the palimpsests there will be found the fragments of the manuscripts in Albanian language". The first hope was realized 10 years after those words had been written and 60 years later was realized another new stage.

What view shall we take of the newly discovered Albanian texts and what can we therefore state? We have to remember that these are texts which have not been yet rewritten and consequently have not been deciphered.

1. There is no more doubt that Albanian literature has existed and did not die in the bud.

2. The discovered text (or even texts), speaking formally, are made to the same high standard as the similar texts in Armenian and Georgian languages are. It is written in two columns in delicate uncial, bold and well-trained handwriting. It has initial letters with punctuation and abbreviation markings. There are some commentaries or notes about the paragraphs on the borders written in small letters. Headings are written in bold letters as compared to the text. According to the all aforementioned features, Albanian writing kept up with its contemporary Armenian and Georgian written culture.

3. The Albanian text must be an ecclesiastical work. Typologically, it does not differ from the similar Georgian and Armenian written monuments. According to common features, the palimpsests takes after Georgian-Jewish palimpsest of 6-7th cc., that is kept in the Bodleian library in Oxford. According to the sources, the Albanians had translated the books of Prophets, Apostles and the Four Gospels. As far as the text has not been deciphered yet, I consider that Albanian text may likely be the Acts of the Apostles.

4. It cannot be stated that Albanian texts had not been searched among the palimpsests. But the main mistake was that they were mainly searched for among Armenian manuscripts. A. Shanidze also, wrote about it: "such fragments can likely be found in Armenian manuscripts. I have worked in this direction in Echmiadzinin 1924, but without any results". The thing is that the time of the development of Albanian Christian literature dates to the 5-7 th cc, and especially to the 6-7 th cc., when it keeps close connections to Georgian Church. It is independent at this stage and is confined to reconciling the doctrines of Zeno's Henoticon between the diophysites and the monophysites, later on it opposes the Armenian Church, and allies itself with Chalcedonian and Georgian Church. It is the only time of its free development. But from about 720 onwards it was affected by the strong influence of the Monophysite Armenian Church. According to the sources, the Armenian Church burnt the Albanian literature considered to be diophysite. Consequently the Monophysite Albania changed to Armenian language and script. Thus, the diophysite world, and particularly Georgia, affords greater chances for the survival of the fragments of Albanian written language.

How did the palimpsests with this Albanian text come to Mount Sinai? It is evident that the manuscript was being kept untouched till the 10th c. Evidently, some people knew its importance throughout all this time and it still was in demand. The manuscript was very likely reused either on Mount Sinai or somewhere nearby to Palestine. It was normal for the 10th c. Sinai makers of books to reuse the manuscript or to reuse the torn parts of old manuscripts for sewing new ones, as there was a great shortage of parchments. This fact is proved by the great amount of palimpsests in Sinai collections and by notes on the shortage of parchment in colophons.

The Albanian Church considered Elisha (Elisei), one of the Apostles of Christ, who was ordained by James, brother of the Savour, to be its illuminator. He came from Jerusalem and this explains the special attraction of the Albanian Church to the Holy Land and this would also cause the probability of their pilgrimage to that place. Moses Kalankatuatsi gives an account of Albanian churches and monasteries in Jerusalem, with their names and exact pointing to the places of location. Besides, he gives precise information about Albanian clergymen in the churches in the 10th c., about those churches where Christian Arabs held services and about those that are in the possession of Arabs, not implying whether these Arabs are Christians or not. Moses Kalankatuatsi gives the overall number of Armenian and Albanian churches in Jerusalem and however exaggerating the number - more than hundred - is still rather impressive. Evidently, Moses Kalankatuatsi (even may be Moses Daskhurantsi, 10th c.) means the monophysite Albanian Churches both in 4-7 th cc. they ought to have been chalcedonian ones.

As we can see there are two ways for Albanian manuscripts to come to Mount Sinai.

A). The Albanian manuscript came into Georgia in the hands of Chalcedonian Albanians after Albanian Church became monophysite. Within a certain period of time there was no one left who could rend it and in the 10th c. the manuscript was washed away. A new text was rewritten on the previous one and was donated to Mount Sinai.

B). After Albanian Church became monophysite, the text that had been made in the Chalcedonian Albanian circle of Palestine, came to Mount Sinai either via St. Saba or a Georgian monastery in Jerusalem . Georgians (or even Albanians who had become Georgians and brought the manuscript as a relic to the Mount Sinai) could not understand the Albanian text. The shortage of parchment made him wash away the text and write Georgian text anew. Incidentally, G. Klimov has supposed the possibility of finding Albanian text outside the territory of the Caucasia. In 1984, in the "Junior Philologist Encyclopaedia" he wrote: "new discoveries can be expected not only in the Transcaucasia, but even in historical centres of foreign Christian East".

5. Two palimpsests with Albanian texts, enumerating 170 folios, with 12 fragments have survived. The lower text in many cases has been so much washed away that it is impossible to read it. It is still difficult to say how many pages will possibly be read by means of applying special equipment. I hope, the entire number of the pages will not be less than 100. Luckily, there are pages that can easily be read even now. Thus, a continuous text is at our hand, enabling us to decipher it, though the Albanian alphabet found in 1937 cannot always serve as its clue.

At this point I have got the entire microfilms of both manuscripts. 10 pages of the reproduced by me Albanian text and three frames (two pages of the open book from both manuscripts). At the meeting point, this alphabet is closer to the graphemes of the inscription corpus more than to the alphabet from Armenian manuscript. All the words, with abbreviation markings are written out from the text that we have at hand. We know in general the words and proper names that had such markings in old texts. It gives a great possibility to read them, to state phonetical meanings of the graphemes and the case makings of the proper names, etc. Some words and even bigger phrases are often repeated in the text. According to the data of the Udian language, the meaning of some words have been read and stated; there are separated infinitive endings of the verbs etc.

Before the Albanian text has been fully copied it is difficult to determine the exact number of the graphemes used in it. We shall probably make mistakes in reading the lower text of the palimpsest, since some of the graphemes may not have the distinctive details, or they may have been made illegible since they have been covered by the upper text; some separate graphemes may be confused with technical signs, etc. But it is evident that even the preliminary reckoning of the number of graphemes given in the Albanian text is very close to the number of the graphemes discovered by I. Abuladze. At present, I can only say that this number may fluctuate between 50 and 56.

The shape of the letters of the Albanian text found on Mount Sinai is graphically rather close to the graphemes of the inscription corpus, than to the alphabet of Armenian manuscript. It is natural, as the Armenian manuscript is rather a late one and the Armenian scribes sometimes distort the Albanian alphabet or just write it in a similar way to the Armenian alphabet. The graphemes of the Sinai text and the corpus of inscriptions differ in just the way that neatly written manuscripts differ from graphemes. Typologically, the graphemes of Sinai manuscripts are very close to the Georgian and Armenian languages. But the frequency of semblance with Georgian is a bit more than with the alphabet of an Armenian manuscript. 20 graphemes of Georgian alphabet coincide with Albanian ones without any difference though, evidently they differ in pronunciation.

The importance of these two manuscripts from Mt.Sinai implies not only this valuable discovery. It is interesting that in the layer of both manuscripts Armenian text can also be read. Thus 13 and 55 manuscripts of new Georgian collection from St. Catherine's library, actually embrace entire ancient Christian Caucasia. Despite other discoveries, this single fact would bear greatest historical and symbolic importance to display the unity of Christian Caucasia.

It seems that Armenian text in N/Sin-55 is mainly written in one column, in bold capital (Erkatagir) letters, horizontally along Georgian text. Conventionally we shall call it "Arm.1", though there are some pages with Armenian text written in small, thin letters, in one column, in Erkatagir writing, and likewise Albanian it reads perpendicularly to Georgian text "Arm.2". In N/Sin-13 the text is written in the second type manner. It seems to me that it indicates to the fact that Georgian scribe uses different Armenian manuscripts to create two Georgian manuscripts. At present we can only state that the Armenian text in both Manuscripts can be traced with the naked eye, only on 20 pages.

The "Arm.1" paleographically is evidently very old. It may be placed between 5-7th c. According to our present knowledge of Armenian paleography the "Arm.2" should be considered to be written in later period but its `terminus ante quem` is 9th c. as far as the Georgian text is written on it at the beginning of the 10th c. Besides, the "Arm.2" also bears some evidences indicating that it had been written in the earlier times than the 9th c. These features are as follows: there is no evidence of titlos, that means that they were used infrequently; no separation marks can be traced; letters are written strictly between two lines and only ("Pure") and ("Ke") letters stretch beyond the line; There are no initial letters either, though even there should be some, still they were not expected to be found at present places; partially rounded letters have the shape of crescent, etc.

The question of correlation of the Armenian text with the Albanian is likely to arise immediately. Do we have three texts successively written on one another or is there no connection between Armenian and Albanian? I consider it difficult to give decisive answer to this question. The whole text should de studied du ultra-violet filming and computer programs. At this stage, it seems to me that Armenian and Albanian are presented by different manuscripts in the 10th c. Georgian manuscripts. Though one open folio enables us to think that the "Arm.2" could be written written under Albanian or on top of it.

At this stage, I think, the most correct conclusion is that the "Arm.1" should be regarded to be written between the 5th and the middle of the 6th cc., that is the times before the II Dvin Council, in the epoch of accord of Georgian, Armenian and Albanian Churches. The "Arm.2" must be written at the end of the 7th and the beginning of the 8th cc. in the times of unity of Caucasian monothelite Churches.

We are facing the possibility of making a new step in Caucasian studies. A new unknown christian world is revealing itself to us. Today, we can say that we shall soon have to hand the precise alphabet of one of the original written languages in the world; we'll have a chance of reading a literary monument or monuments of the language of a nation that has long ago been lost. This discovery will also have an interest for any scholars of Caucasian languages and for general linguistics. It will enable the specialists to study for the time, a literary language of the mountainous Caucasia. And finally, this will enable us to be more unbiased when reading many more documentary sources on the history of Albania and to reshape ethnic origin and the history of the Albanian nation.

Further information on the present project:  
 ზაზა ალექსიძე, ალბანური მწერლობის ძეგლი სინას მთაზე და მისი მნიშვნელობა კავკასიოლოგიისათვის  
 Zaza Aleksidze, Preliminary Account on the Deciphering  
 Zaza Aleksidze, First Specimen (2.Cor. 11,25-27) 

 Zurück zur Startseite des Projekts  Back to the project homepage  პროექტის საწყისი გვერდი

 Zurück zur Startseite des Projekts  Back to the project homepage  პროექტის საწყისი გვერდი

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Copyright Jost Gippert / Manana Tandashvili Frankfurt 1999-2002. No parts of this document may be republished in any form without prior permission by the copyright holder. 31.12.2002