The History of Writing in Armenia

From the 10th to the 5th millennia BCE, the territory of modern-day Armenia utilized etchings known as “goat scripts” (etzagir) – the world’s oldest form of writing, yet to be deciphered (found in the Gegham mountains and Lake Sevan basin). In the 3rd and 2nd millennia BCE, Armenia employed a hieroglyphic writing system which laid the foundation for the first alphabetic script, known scientifically as the Hyksos alphabet (S. Ayvazyan).

Therefore, in Armenia, four varieties of ancient hieroglyphic writing are known: the etzagir (goat script from the 10th-5th millennia BCE), the Hyksos script (17th century BCE), the Metsamor hieroglyphs (19th century BCE), and the hieroglyphs from the Matenadaran manuscripts (the first half of the 2nd millennium BCE and earlier).

Most of the Hyksos alphabet symbols were identified by the author among rock drawings published by the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography of the National Academy of Sciences of Armenia and also among hieroglyphs discovered by architect S. Petrosyan and presented to the “Search” center.

The graphical analysis of hieroglyphic writings, the Hyksos alphabet, and the hieroglyphs from Matenadaran manuscripts leave no doubt in the conclusion: the origin of the writing system, the oldest alphabet in the world, are the symbols carved on the peculiar stone “tablets” of Armenia (comparable to the stone tablets given by Yahweh to Moses on the mountain).

The Armenian Hieroglyphic System

A large number of Armenian hieroglyphs have been preserved in medieval manuscripts. The most famous is the Erznka manuscript, where both symbols and their meanings are indicated. The hieroglyphic writings found in the margins of medieval manuscripts are remnants of a once-powerful relic system that dominated Armenia in the 3rd-2nd millennia BCE before Armenians began using cuneiform.

As medieval authors point out, “Our ancestors (i.e., Armenians) used these scripts to express their speech.” For the first time, hieroglyphic writings in their original form were discovered by S. Ayvazyan at Metsamor in 1963 (figure not provided).

These are pictograms, symbols carved on a smooth tuff surface, completely similar to those preserved in medieval Armenian manuscripts. The Armenian hieroglyphic system has several features in common with the Hittite and Egyptian systems but is distinct from them, constituting an independent system.

As in Egyptian hieroglyphs, there is a cartouche line – an oval surrounding the names of gods and kings, but in Metsamor, the cartouche takes the form of both an oval and a rectangle. The Metsamor hieroglyphs were read by comparing them with hieroglyphs from medieval Armenian manuscripts where the meanings of symbols are preserved.

The Cuneiform Codex of the Armenians was similar to the cuneiform of the Assyrian-Babylonians, but, of course, it also had a number of distinctive features. The most important of these was the principle of alphabetism: a group of cuneiform signs among Armenians more often than among other peoples expressed not a syllable, but a single separate sound. Cuneiform was first discovered in Armenia in 1862; since then, several hundred inscriptions have become known.

The texts are predominantly engraved in even lines on basalt or tufa monoliths or stamped on copper and bronze shields, helmets, and vessels. Although the texts of Armenian cuneiform inscriptions were identified using bilingual inscriptions, their phonetic pronunciation remained controversial; that is, a full deciphering had not been completed until recently.

This was due to the fact that the signs of Armenian cuneiform were mechanically given the same meaning as they had in Assyrian-Babylonian cuneiform, without taking into account their specific differences. Clearly, the cuneiform was read phonetically somewhat distorted, for instance, instead of reading “Van” one had to pronounce “Biaina”, etc.

In 1959, S. Ayvazyan managed to restore the true pronunciation of Armenian cuneiform signs by the method of phonetic correspondences, showing that all the root words of cuneiform texts have Indo-European origins and they are all written in the language of archaic Grabar. The alphabetic system of the Hyksos consists of 21 signs.

Having researched the problem of the origin of letter signs of ancient alphabets, S. Babayan managed to identify the common principles of their creation. For instance, he concluded that a worldview aspect is common and fundamental for the Armenian, ancient Greek, and ancient Indian (Brahma) alphabets. S. Babayan showed that the Hyksos alphabet (ancient Sinai script) is formed from 12 signs of the Zodiac, signs of sensations (taste – mouth, touch – palm, hearing – wave, sight – eye see. Table), as well as three signs symbolizing eternal divine concepts – Reason, Breath, Time.

The last three signs (19,20,21) are the foundation on which everything exists. Ancient thinkers attached special importance to breathing, considering it one of the main properties of the living soul. It is no coincidence that many peoples believed that the soul is eternal (without breathing there is no life, compare with yogic breathing exercises, in Armenian the soul is “ogi”). The signs of the angle ( ) and seeds ( ) mean thinking and growth.

According to the philosophy of the ancients, the inner world of a person (microcosm) is a mirror reflection of the outer world (macrocosm), and there is a connection between them. In the Hyksos alphabet, this connection is evident: the signs of the Zodiac (macrocosm), signs of sensations, thinking, and growth (microcosm) within the coordinate system “reason, breath, time.”

The ancient Greek and ancient Indian (Brahma) alphabets incorporated the primal elements instead of the Zodiac signs, while the Armenian absorbed both the primal elements and (instead of sensations) generalized epistemological concepts – categories, reflecting the worldviews of their epochs.

Thus, the alphabet represented a system for modeling the soul, its model; as the ancient philosophers believed, the main properties of the soul were movement, sensation, thought, and growth. Movement is represented by the signs of the Zodiac. The rest, as noted by S. Babayan, reflect sensation, thinking, and growth.

Let’s consider the signs of the Zodiac, its calendar circle. One rotation of the outer circle gives a year, one rotation of the inner circle a week. Celestial bodies ruled the days of the week. They were also associated with metals. The week began with the day of the Moon and ended with the day of the Sun.

In the mythology of ancient peoples, thinking was associated with the Moon, and time with the Sun. S. Babayan notes that the Hyksos alphabet begins with the sign of the bull (a symbol of the Moon) and ends with a cross (a symbol of the Sun for ancient Armenians). These two signs symbolize a pair (unity) of opposites – night and day (as well as good and evil, fire and water, etc.). S. Babayan breaks down the alphabet signs into triads, which in his opinion symbolize the days of the week (and consequently reflect the overall properties of celestial bodies).

So, all lines integrate the model of the week. Rotating, they accumulate a month (one sign of the Zodiac), then another, etc., up to the full calendar circle, constantly influencing growth, sensation, and thinking (taking into account reason, breath, and time). It is no coincidence that the Hyksos, during their rule in Egypt, introduced a calendar reform.

It can be confidently emphasized that the Biblical words “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” in this context are understood anew, becoming concrete in time and space. The Hyksos reformed the Egyptian calendar system during their rule. The number 3, as well as the head of a bull, symbolically represent the Moon (N. Hentze). In ancient mythology, thinking was associated with the Moon, and time with the Sun.

The creation of such an alphabet by the Hyksos is the greatest achievement of the indigenous people of the Armenian Highlands in the development of civilization. V. Ivanov notes that not only material elements were created; for them, a “word” was created, and then “creation was accompanied and directed by the word, expressing a certain semblance of divine order, so that the created elements could be understood.”

In the beliefs of the ancients, words came from the heart (soul), (In everyday use now, people say “a word from the heart, soul (or from the whole heart, from the whole soul)”). Therefore, sounds, through the symbols that represent them (letters), also represent models of the soul, cosmos (cf. the works of S. Aroyan on decoding ancient Armenian khaz). S. Babayan convincingly showed that the world’s first alphabet was created based on the synthesis and analysis of quite complex and deep ideas of the ancients about the soul and the system of interrelation of the macrocosm and microcosm, about the role and place of man in the cosmos.

Undoubtedly, the alphabet concentrates in a complex the elements of knowledge and experience in the fields of astronomy, natural philosophy, theology, mathematics, and linguistics. M. Khorenatsi, in his history recounting the activities and campaigns of the glorious and mighty progenitor Aram, notes that he “instructed the inhabitants of the country (Proto Armenia) to learn the Armenian language and speech.

Caesarea later came to be called the dwelling (dastakert) built and named after its name by Aram’s governor Mshak. The native local inhabitants of this country (at first, unable to pronounce correctly, they called the dwelling “Mzhak” instead of Mshak). What is the most important and interesting here?

The most important and interesting thing is that it should be objectively recognized that the letters used at that time (how can one learn a language without letters) were insufficient for precise expression of sounds pronounced in Armenian speech. M. Khorenatsi later in the section “On Daniel’s Writing” writes that in Mesopotamia (look at the map where Caesarea is located) there lived a certain bishop Daniel who had writings (a row of letters drawn in ancient times, arranged in the order of the Greek alphabet).

Mesrop Mashtots and Saak the Great came to the conclusion that “this writing, with its received letters as a gift, is not sufficient for the precise expression of sounds pronounced in Armenian speech.

Then Mesrop went to Edessa to a certain Plato (a pagan, the head of the archive), who had knowledge in Armenian (through his former teacher Epiphanius), who, after taking the works of the sages in the Edessa archive and having left, converted to Christianity. Plato, recognizing his own helplessness, then turns to Mashtots.

“Find him, and your wish will be fulfilled.” Mesrop finds Khropanos, a disciple of the deceased Epiphany, but achieves nothing. He then turns to prayers. “He sees neither a nighttime dream nor a vision when awake, but in his beating heart, revealed to the eyes of the soul, a hand writing on stone (supported by the author). The stone, like snow, retained the marks of inscriptions.

It was not just an apparition to him, but it settled in Mesrop’s mind in all its details, as if in a vessel. Rising from prayers, he created our script, refining the Mesropian letters with Khropanos, adjusting Armenian signs in line with the complexity of the Greek alphabet.

Thus, long before Mesrop, there were letters (Armenian symbols) through which the native inhabitants of Proto Armenia learned the Armenian language (Hyksos alphabet, and later even Daniel’s writings) around 1800 BC.

The emphasized words of M. Khorenatsi artistically describe the structure and method of the inventor’s creative process, who not only managed to recreate (the worldview technology of the ancients using symbols) the old alphabet, but also to develop it considering the development level of the Armenian speech, the range of sounds used, adding new signs (including vowels) and symbols, drawing from the cave paintings of ancient Armenia, preserving national characteristics and experience, and then refining these Armenian signs with Khropanos. He doesn’t invent their shapes but uses the symbolism of cave paintings to give them their final form.

That’s why architect S. Petrosyan is amazed and surprises many with his findings from cave paintings, which are very similar to the shapes of the letters of the Armenian Mesropian alphabet. S. Babayan also managed to uncover the principle of constructing Mesropian letters, which consists of all 36 letters formed by combining two heterogeneous elements, where the first type (primary) belongs to one of eight homogenous groups symbolizing Aristotle’s philosophical categories, and the second type (secondary) – to a group symbolizing philosophical elements: earth, water, air, fire, and ether.

The quantitative ratio between the homogeneous groups of primary elements is 1:2:3:4:5:6:7:8, and between secondary elements, there are proportions, which are not random, as written by the famous Plato.

Mesrop could not take an arbitrary number of certain elements because, in his era, as in antiquity, the idea of beauty and harmony prevailed, which in turn were associated with symmetry and proportion.

This approach allowed the researcher to discover other patterns related to the ordering and naming of letters. Turning to the study of the ancient Greek alphabet, created three thousand years ago, S. Babayan, to his surprise, found a similar principle there as well.

It turned out that, in the perception of the ancient Greeks, the alphabet is a model of the soul, which consists of combinations of sensations and worldly elements, and the letter symbols are obtained through combinations of signs and elements.

The quantitative relationships, both primary and secondary elements, are also harmonious. A similar model was found in the ancient Indian alphabet, but the philosophical concept there is different, corresponding to ancient Indian philosophy.

In Conclusion,

According to the Stone Chronicle of civilizations (according to the Bible), there once existed a single nation and a single language on Earth – a unified civilization (pre-flood). After the flood, the remnants of civilization in the form of Noah and his children (sons and their wives) arrive in Armenia, emerge on land, and start spreading across the earth, bringing knowledge and experience to the world, laying the foundations of a reborn civilization.

The descendants of Japheth-Ayka, having reclaimed the territory of the Armenian Highlands (the bearer of the pre-flood civilization), preserved, absorbed, and developed to a greater extent the culture and language, traditions, beliefs, pantheon of gods, and other elements of civilization. As a result, they achieved tremendous accomplishments for their time in various fields of human activity, particularly creating the world’s first alphabet.

Engaging with other nations, our ancestors, under the onslaught of neighboring, more backward nomadic peoples (idolaters), gradually lost their strength, power, and statehood. A time of turmoil and discord began. The hour of trials has come.

Suren Ayvazyan Miniatures and photographs: Alexander Bakulin

Translated by Vigen Avetisyan

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