Research - Kartvelian


This excerpt is taken from Dr. Anna Meskhi’s book Encounter after Millennia or the Story of the Bamiyan Manuscript. It discusses not the accepted views on Kartvelian writing, which could be found in textbooks and research papers on traditional paleography, but rather goes beyond such characteristics and reveals how the symptoms of potential enigmas lying dormant behind the visible and the obvious could be identified. 

Kartvelian Scripts
A number of Georgian and foreign scholars have devoted their time and energy to the examination of numerous problems posed by the Kartvelian alphabet. Some of the issues are purely paleographic and shared with other alphabets of the world. These are found in a number of monographs and research papers, while others, such as lunar and solar calendars, geometrical formulas, the golden section, architectural principles of construction, and amiable numbers in mathematics to name just a few, are encoded systems of knowledge not found in any of the alphabets of the world. 

In the course of investigation, we will refer to the cryptic knowledge of the Kartvelian alphabet on numerous occasions. However, to put the Kartvelian alphabet in the correct perspective and to better understand the ensuing analysis, three features must be dwelt on in considerable detail:

  • Number of scripts in Kartvelian writing and their inter-relationship;
  • Chronology;
  • Origin of the Kartvelian script.

Number of Scripts in Kartvelian Writing and their Inter-Relationship
Kartvelian scripts are three in number: Asomtavruli (Capital letter) or Mrglovani (Rounded); Xuc‘uri (Priestly) or Nusxa-Xuc‘uri; and Mxedruli (literally of or belonging to horsemen). 

The first inscription in the Mxedruli alphabet is dated the ninth century and comes from Atenis Sioni, a church in Kartli (Pataridze 1980, 8, fn. 1). The graphics of the letter-signs are so perfect and refined even in the earliest records extant that the creation of the alphabet is attributed to a much earlier date, which due to lack of evidence, unfortunately, cannot be stated with reasonable precision. 

Mxedruli characters are written in a grid of four-lines and differ greatly from either Asomtavruli or Nusxa-Xuc‘uri. Mxedruli has always been a secular alphabet and came to use in religious writings after Asomtavruli and Xuc‘uri ceased to function. The Mxedruli alphabet has displayed a stunning stability as its structure and graphics have remained the same during the 12 centuries of its fact-based existence.

Similar to the Mxedruli script, the Xuc‘uri alphabet uses the same grid of four horizontal lines. Xuc‘uri was a priestly script and served religious purposes. The earliest record written in this alphabet is the Bible translation called Sinas Mravaltavi (The Sinai Gospel, A.D. 864.). The alphabet was in use till the beginning of the nineteenth century. Similar to Mxedruli, perfect graphics of the Xuc‘uri characters make scholars assume that the alphabet long ante-dated the first records that have come down to us. The Xuc‘uri alphabet shares another characteristic with the Mxedruli ABC: its stability, as during the 12 centuries of use, the Xuc‘uri alphabet kept its structure and graphics intact. 

Similar to Xuc‘uri, the Asomtavruli alphabet, also called Asomtavruli Xuc‘uri and Mrglovani, was a priestly script. The first inscription on the Nekresi church (Nekresuli carcera) is dated 292-274 B.C. The next chronological inscriptions are found on a stone slab (326 A.D.) and a stela found in Kvemo Kartli (329 A.D.). A manuscript record written in this alphabet goes back to the fourth century, namely, 342 when a Georgian scholar-priest and copyist, Ioane Zosime, copied Kebai da Didebai Kartulisa Enisai (Praise and Glory to the Kartuli Language). Similar to the previous two alphabets, the Asomtavruli characters are so well-defined and executed that scholars are unanimous in attributing its birth to a much earlier date.
The three features shared by all three Kartvelian alphabets become readily observable as follows.

  • All three alphabets are already well-developed in the earliest records extant.
  • Due to their well-defined and perfect graphics, the creation of all the Kartvelian scripts is assumed to long antedate their first records.
  • Unlike many other alphabets, all the Kartvelian alphabets are characterized by a remarkable resistance to change embracing over a millennia-long period.

The problems of derivational relations and chronological priority of the Kartvelian alphabets have been some of the most vexing issues in Georgian paleography. Considerable graphic differences persisting among the alphabets have only added fuel to the fire. Prof. Ramaz Pataridze, the greatest living authority on the Kartuli Asomtavruli alphabet, says: “If similarities between Asomtavruli and Nusxa-xuc‘uri can still be perceived, graphic affinities between Nusxuri and Mxedruli are even less obvious” (Pataridze 1980, 11). 

The differences between the three alphabets are so prominent that some scholars headed by Ilia Okromchedlishvili thought that the Mxedruli alphabet preceded the Asomtavruli ABC. In a situation when graphic ties are inconclusive to unequivocally determine the descending relationships between different scripts of the same nation, priority should be given to the chronological precedence of written records executed in respective alphabets. With this guideline in view, the cursor of time points at Kartuli Asomtavruli as the earliest Kartvelian script. Today, scholars are unanimous in recognizing the Asomtavruli alphabet as the first Kartvelian writing system, which, in the course of development, produced Xuc‘uri, the script to be later superceded by Mxedruli. Hence, the recognized sequence of the Kartvelian scripts follows the chain:

Asomtavruli → Xuc‘uri → Mxedruli

Despite the unanimously acknowledged relative chronological sequence of the Kartvelian scripts, the described common features leave a disquieting feeling that there is more to the relations of the Kartvelian scripts than what is given to direct observation. The feeling of misgiving is enhanced by the fact that all three alphabets were in parallel use till the beginning of the nineteenth century. Hence, the Asomtavruli alphabet was in active use and without a change together with Xuc‘uri and Mxedruli (i.e., the alphabets considered to be later developments of Asomtavruli) for almost 11 centuries, while independently its use covers the incredible 24 centuries - from the fifth century B.C. to nineteenth century A.D.! 

The history of paleography offers no analogous case. Just the opposite, the history of writing shows that alphabets had to meet constantly emerging requirements triggered by social, political, and cultural advancement of the society. Pushed into existence by extra-linguistic stimuli, emerging scripts are better suited to the new environment and oust the very source that produced them. 

In this light, the relations between the Kartvelian scripts go against the common paleographic development hinting at a different cause(s) of their millennia long stability and functionality. This very unusual and extraordinary phenomenon has never caught the attention of scholars; while I believe it is highly instrumental not only in determining the intra-alphabetic relations of Kartvelian scripts, but more importantly, in outlining the relative chronology of the Kartvelian writing system in general. 

Origin of the Kartvelian Script
A number of theories on the origin of the Kartvelian alphabet fall into two distinct groups. To the first group belong the theories that derive the Kartvelian alphabet from a myriad of scripts, while the other group declares its independent origin. Theories of the first class could be termed as theories of dependent origin, while the others represent the theories of independent creation.

One of the first foreign scholars to view Kartvelian writing as a descendent of a different script was Marie Brosset, a French Kartvelologist. In his view, the Mxedruli alphabet, now considered to be the latest, was created during the reign of Parnavaz, king of Kartli, while the Xuc‘uri script is attributed to Mesrop Mashtots, the creator or reformer of the Armenian alphabet (Brosset I, 1895, 65-67). 

W. E. D. Allen, an English scholar, expresses a similar view (Allen 1932, 309-10). Academician Nick Marr regarded Mxedruli as theoffspring of pagan Kartvelian culture, while Xuc‘uri was viewed to be the product of the Christian era (Marr 1925, 1-2). 

In contradiction to this, Klaproth J., another French scholar, thought that the Mxedruli ABC originated from the Hindu (Devanagari) alphabet (Klaproth 1832, 73), while according to H. Junker, the basis of the Kartuli alphabet was the fourth century Avesta deriving from Pahlavi (Junker 1925, 1926). 

I. Taylor together with some Georgian scholars (Ilia Okromchedlishvili, Sargis Kakabadze) also adhered to the view that the Kartuli alphabet was created on the basis of Pahlavi (Taylor II, 268). A renowned Georgian Orientalist, Giorgi Tsereteli, considered Aramaic (Eastern) to have been the source of the Kartuli alphabet (Tsereteli 1972, 395).

For some time there existed a view of the Armenian origin of the Kartuli Asomtavruli alphabet. The stance was based on a passage in Koriwn’s The Life of Mashtots, which ascribed the creation of the Kartuli Asomtavruli alphabet to his teacher, who, interestingly, possessed no knowledge of the language. This view refuted by Georgian scholars several decades ago, is, unfortunately, still mentioned as a theory in western scholarship. 

Prof. Z. Aleksidze demonstrated that the preceding evidence preserved in Koriwn’s work is a later interpolation (Aleksidze 1968, 037). Furthermore, according to T. Gamkrelidze, the Kartuli Asomtavruli and Armenian alphabets are based on entirely different structural principles which exclude any participation on Mashtots’ part in the creation of the Asomtavruli script (Gamkrelidze 1990, 195). Likewise, Prof. E. Machavariani regards the two alphabets – Kartuli Asomtavruli and Armenian – to be the creation of different individuals (Machavariani 1982, 77). Prof. R. Pataridze analyzed the Armenian script and comes to the conclusion that the creator of the alphabet used the letter-signs of three alphabets: South Semitic (Christian Ethiopian), Kartuli Asomtavruli, and Greek (Pataridze 1980, 544). 

Today the above mentioned theories are rejected and cast into oblivion; nevertheless, it is remarkable to observe that the Kartvelian alphabets should exhibit to such a high degree of similarity with numerous different alphabets that gave scholars grounds to declare their genetic relations.

There are two contesting theories on the dependable origin of the Kartuli Asomtavruli alphabet that still enjoy considerable popularity:

  • Origin of the Asomtavruli alphabet from Greek.
  • Origin of the Asomtavruli alphabet from Phoenician or the North Semitic alphabet.

The author of the Greek origin of the Asomtavruli alphabet is V. Gardthausen, a German scholar (Gardthausen 1876, 30B). The same view was propagated by Georgian historians Dimitri Bakradze (Bakradze 1889, 83), Pavle Ingorokva (Ingorokva 1939, 167-68), Akaki Shanidze (Shanidze 1973, 19-20), K. Kekelidze (Kekelidze 1929, 167), and T. Gamkrelidze (Gamkrelidze 1990).
The view of the Phoenician or Semitic origin of the Asomtavruli alphabet is shared by both foreign (Müller 1864, 431-438) and Georgian scholars: Mose Janashvili (Janashvili 1887), G. Tsereteli, Ivane Javakhishvili (1949), and the highest authority on the subject, R. Pataridze (Pataridze 1980). 

Depending on the view adopted by scholars, the date of the creation of the Asomtavruli alphabet varies from the fifth century A.D. (origin from Greek) to the fifth century B.C. (444 B.C., R. Pataridze, personal communication) when the creation of the alphabet is thought to have been completed. The period of a thousand years separating the alleged dates of the creation of the Asomtavruli alphabet is so great that one of them, namely, the origin from Greek, must be wrong. 
The Kartvelian historical tradition sides with the Semitic origin of the Asomtavruli alphabet. The information is preserved in Matiane Shemecnebata (Chronicles of Cognizance) belonging to Anton II, Catholicos Patriarch of Georgia. The record was copied by Teimurz Bagrationi, who included it in his book on the Kartuli Asomtavruli alphabet, and later G. Sharadze published it in his workTeimuraz Bagrationi: Life. The record says: 

“The Kartvels were not illiterate even in the hoary past. Before Parnavaz they wrote in the Uxuc‘est‘a cerilit‘a. That is to say, them the priests, called uxuc‘esni and xevis-berni (priests of the valley), they were the priests of the cults and sacrificers of the nation before God… And their script is our Xuc‘uri. The Xuc‘esni characters were first created from Hebrew and Chaldaean, and that is why our Xuc‘urni (letters) resemble them” (Sharadze 1972, 125-26; emphasis added).

Alongside the historical tradition, linking the Kartvelian script with Hebrew and Chaldaean writing, there is also evidence supporting the independent creation of the Kartuli alphabet. The Kartli Chronicles have preserved an eleventh-century record belonging to the Georgian historian Leonti Mroveli. He writes: “And Parnavaz, a descendent of Kartlos, was the first king of Kartli. He spread the language of Kartuli, and no other language was practiced in Kartli except Kartuli, and he created Kartuli writing” (The Kartli Chronicles 1973, 57). 

The historical tradition on the independent creation of the Kartuli alphabet is strengthened by the latest research in Kartvelian paleography. Thus, Prof. E. Machavariani, who examined the graphic basics of the Asomtavruli alphabet, concludes: 

"A complex variable system of letter creation and the stylistic unity of character-design based on the principle of conventionality demonstrate that the graphic structure of the Kartuli Asomtavruli alphabet was created without referring to letters of other alphabets" (Machavariani 1982, 98). "… Through proportional relations connecting the elements of characters, and with the help of the square based principle of the system creation, the Kartuli Asomtavruli is linked to the beginnings of folk architectural traditions (in wood and stone)" (ibid.). 

The mentioned traditions go as deep as the dwelling houses of the fifth-fourth millennia B.C. excavated on the Imiri Mound. Nevertheless, the author dates the creation of the Asomtavruli alphabet the third century B.C. complying with the Kartvelian historical tradition on the introduction of the Kartvelian script by King Parnavaz (ibid. 104). Given the high level of engineering science, and thus, a similar standard of cultural and scholarly development, it is a matter of curiosity that it took Kartvels almost 4,000 years to come up with the idea of an alphabet and develop it into two parallel consecutive scripts (Xuc‘uri and Mxedruli, IX ninth century A.D.) with the time slot of 1,300 years. 

Even more surprising is the fact that the mentioned four-thousand-year period outstrips the time of the creation of numerous world alphabets and their development to date. In like manner, the mentioned facts ill-agree with the incredible 2,500-year-stability of the Kartvelian alphabet since its emergence in the earliest inscriptions. Facts just do not add up. The absence of the missing link connecting the discovered features of the Kartvelian script into a solid system and the necessity of its recovery becomes obvious. In part, the present work is a linguistic journey to do exactly this.

Z. Kapianidze is the scholar who offers a date highly incompatible with traditional scholarship but more appropriate for the millennia-old characteristics of the Kartuli Asomtavruli alphabet. It is his contention that the alphabet was created in 5,604 B.C. The view is based on a simple and solid astronomical fact, namely, the function of the Asomtavruli alphabet to calculate the so-calledDasabamitgani calendar (the time from the creation of the world to the coming of Christ). With regard to the calendars encoded in the alphabet, Prof. R. Pataridze writes: 

In Christian Georgia, as is known, there were three calendar systems or three eras: calendar by Christ, calendar from the beginnings, and the koronikoni calendar. Calendar by Christ was the same for the entire Christian world. Kartuli Dasabamit‘gani and Kartuli koronikoni differ from the calendars in the Christian world. 

Dasabamit‘gani is the time since the emergence of the world or from Adam to the birth of Christ.

The Georgian Dasabamit‘gani calculates 5,604 years from Adam to the birth of Christ.

The koronikoni calendar counts 532-year cycles…

…the Georgian koronikoni and Dasabamit‘gani are in exact mathematical and chronological correspondence, i.e., they have the same origin.

As is well-known, the Georgian Dasabamit‘gani differs from other similar systems spread in the Christian world. Namely, the Georgian Dasabamit‘gani (5,604) exceeds the Byzantine 5,508-year era by 96 years; it exceeds the Alexandrian 5,500 calendar by 104 years, and the Jerusalem or the Pandore 5,492 calendar by 112 years”  (Pataridze 1980, 269-70; emphasis added).

I have cited the excerpt on the Dasabamit‘gani calendar to show simple but strong logic standing behind 5,604 as the date of the creation of the Kartuli Asomtavruli alphabet offered by Z. Kapianidze. Understandably, if the alphabet encodes the Dasabamit‘ganicalendar, which calculates the era before Christ since 5,604, then logically, the creation of the alphabet had to take place in the same year, i.e., simultaneously. 
Be it as it may, the problem of the date of the creation of the Kartvelian script is far from being resolved, and before the date of 5,604 is rejected or confirmed, as it will be demonstrated throughout the book, scholars must examine huge data of various writing scripts.
To sum up the presented short review of some of the fundamental issues (scripts, their inter-relationship, and origin) connected with the Kartvelian alphabet, one is compelled to conclude that the Kartvelian alphabet stands aside from the rest of the alphabets in a number of ways:

  • Number of scripts
  • Their interrelation
  • Derivational and chronological precedence
  • Date of creation
  • Affinities with other alphabets
  • Stunning structural and semantic stability

In toto, these features shroud the Kartuli Asomtavruli alphabet with a veil of curious mystery that can be cast away only through a combined examination of individual letter-signs and their interrelations within and outside the system, some of them accomplished in the work.


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  2. Allen W. E. D., 1932. A History of the Georgian People. London.
  3. Bakradze D., 1889. istoria sakartvelosi udzvelesi droidam me-x saukDasasrulamde (History of Georgia from the Oldest Times to the Tenth Century). Tfilisi.
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  5. Klaproth J, 1832. Aper de l’origine des diverses ecritures. Paris.
  6. Gamkrelidze, T., 1990. Alphabetic Writing and the Old Georgian ScriptA Typology and Provenience of Alphabetic Writing SystemsTbilisi University Press, Tbilisi.
  7. Gardthausen V., 1876. Uber den griechischen Ursprung der armenischen Schrift. ZDMG, 30B.
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  11. Javakhishvili Iv., 1949. kartuli paleograpia (Georgian Paleography). Tbilisi Stalin State University Press, Tbilisi.
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  24. Tsereteli G., 1972. BSE, 3rd edition, v. 13.

 1. Dee Ann Holisky translates the term as ‘warrior’ (Holisky 1996, 364).

2. Priestly or ecclesiastical script. Uxuc’esni = priests, literary old and wise.

 3. The ancient social and political arrangement of communities in the mountainous regions of Georgia was based on delimiting settlements according to valleys. Each valley had a High Priest – Xevis Beri – who represented the highest religious, political, and legal authority.

 4. Also implies performers of religious services.