Old Hungarian script

Infobox Writing system
name=Old Hungarian
languages=Hungarian language
time=c. 600/700–1850
unicode=Not in Unicode (see [http://std.dkuug.dk/jtc1/sc2/wg2/docs/n1758.pdf proposal] )

The Old Hungarian script, also known as rovásírás ( _hu. rovásírás, _hu. "székely rovásírás" (audio|Szekely_rovasiras.ogg|listen) or simply _hu. "rovás"), is a type of writing system used by the Magyars (mainly by Székely Magyars) prior to AD 1000. The name _hu. "rovás" is the Hungarian word for "carving" [ _hu. "rovás" derives from the verb _hu. "ró", English "to carve, to score".] since the letters were usually carved on wood or sticks.

Technically the alphabet isn't a true runic alphabet because it is unrelated to the Futhark. However, the similarity of the letter shapes to runes have led to them popularly being called "Hungarian runes", the "Hungarian runic script", etc.

The script is thought to be derived from the Old Turkic script, and probably first appeared between 600 to 700 AD. The Hungarians settled the region that is now Hungary in 895. In December 1000 the country became a kingdom, where the Latin alphabet was adopted. However, the pagan runic script remained in use in remote regions of Transylvania until the late 1850s.

Some claim that this writing system is more suitable for writing the Hungarian language than the Latin alphabet, because it includes letters for all the phonemes of Hungarian, such as "cs, gy, ly, ny, ö, sz, ty, ü, zs.". The modern Hungarian alphabet represents these sounds with digraphs (letter sequences used to write a single sound) and diacritics.

Note that the _hu. "rovásírás" alphabet does not contain the letters for the phonemes "dz, dzs" of modern Hungarian since these are relative recent developments in the language's history. The Latin letters "q, w, x" and "y" also do not have an equivalent as these do not stand for separate phonemes in Hungarian but are only used to spell foreign words.


Early period, 600 – 896

Around 600 AD, the Hungarian tribes moved southwest from their earlier territories to the coastal region of the Eastern Black Sea. The Hungarian Runes are almost certainly related to the Old Turkic script, itself deriving from Aramaic scriptFact|date=September 2008. This is supported by the Hungarian tribes' early geographical proximity to the Göktürks. Moreover, thirteen of the Hungarian "rovás" glyphs closely resemble characters of the Orkhon script. .

Around 830, after living for 230 years in Khazaria, the Hungarians moved westwards, to Etelköz (the land of present-day Moldavia). Off here, they descried the Pannonian Basin. In 896, because of external pressures, they left behind Etelköz and conquered the territory of present-day Hungary.

Later Middle Ages, 896 – 1526

The century after 896 saw the emergence of the Hungarian State. The seven Hungarian tribes settled the Pannonian Basin, where the Principality of Hungary was formed.The Principality of Hungary, however, was not a coherent state in a modern sense; local rulers had a considerable power.] There are archaeological findings from the 10th century, for example, from HomokmégySource: István Fodor - György Diószegi - László Legeza: "Őseink nyomában". (On the scent of our ancestors) - Magyar Könyvklub-Helikon Kiadó, Budapest, 1996. ISBN 963-208-400-4 (Page 82)] The latter inscription was found on a fragment of a quiver made of bone. Although there have been several attempts to interpret it, the meaning of it is still unclear. In 1000, with the coronation of Stephen I of Hungary, Hungary became a Kingdom. The Latin alphabet was adopted as official, however rovasiras remained in use for a long time.

The runic script was first mentioned in the 13th century Chronicle of Simon of Kéza,Source: Dóra Tóth-Károly Bera: "Honfoglalás és őstörténet". Aquila, Budapest, 1996. ISBN 963-8276-96-7] where he stated that the Székelys borrowed the Bulaq turks' script: "... non tamen in plano Panonie, sed cum Blackis in montibus confinii sortem habuernut, unde Blakis commixti litteris ipsorum uti perhibentur". [Simon Keza, Endlicher, p. 100] The earliest surviving copy of the actual alphabet was found is an incunabulum from 1483, found at the library of the castle of Nikolsburg, now Mikulov in Moravia, hand-written onto the endpaper of the printed book. This alphabet lists 35 letters and 15 ligatures with Latin transcriptions.

The period between 1526 – 1850

In 1526, Hungary lost the Battle of Mohács against the Ottomans. This led to the partition of the Kingdom: the western and northern parts remained Royal Hungary, the southern parts were occupied by the Ottoman Empire, and the eastern portion became independent. The latter, notably the Principality of Transylvania, favoured Hungarian culture.The indigenous script was not widely used, as previously, but became part of folk art in several areas. Thus, the corpus of Hungarian runes became more voluminous at the time. In 1598, János Telegdi wrote his primer, "Rudimenta Priscae Hunnorum Linguae", where he presents his understanding of the rovás. It also contains Hungarian texts written with runes, for example, the Lord's Prayer. In Royal Hungary, rovás was used less, although there are relics from this territory, too.

There is another copy – similar to the Nikolsburg Alphabet – of the rovás alphabet, dated 1609. The inscription from Inlăceni, dated 1668, is a good example of the "folk art use".

In 1686, the Kingdom of Hungary regained the territories lost in 1526. After that time several other runic inscriptions were created, for example the inscriptions of Kibéd, Csejd, Makfalva, Szokolma, Marosvásárhely, Csíkrákos, Mezőkeresztes, Nagybánya, Torda, Felsőszemeréd [http://www.felvidek.ma/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=7929] , Kecskemét and Kiskunhalas, all ranging from the 17th to the early 19th century.

After 1850, with the spread of modern education, Hungarian runic writing was all but extinguished.

20th century: the era of research

Because their use had died out, researchers in the twentieth century had to reconstruct the alphabet from historic sources, with very limited reference to a living tradition. Gyula Sebestyén, Hungarian folklorist, did the lion's share of this work.His publications, "Rovás és rovásírás" ("Runes and Runic Writing", Budapest, 1909) and "A magyar rovásírás hiteles emlékei" ("Official Relics of Hungarian Runic Writing", Budapest, 1915) contain valuable information on the topic.

In the latter part of the twentieth century, several new rovás and "rovás-like" inscriptions were found all over Hungary. This includes the 10th century relic from Homokmégy, which is surely Hungarian, and the 8th century inscribed Avar needle-box from Szarvas. Also, runic inscriptions appear on the Nagyszentmiklós Treasure, which is a precious golden hoard of unknown origin. These created much confusion. However, nowadays, experts agree that the alphabets used on the Nagyszentmiklós Treasure and on the Szarvas needle-box are the same, while the Hungarian one is of another ancestry.


Though the rovás script is no longer in practical use, Hungarians treasure it — especially the Hungarians of Transylvania. The worldwide Hungarian Scout organisations are still teaching it today.Fact|date=February 2007

The script does not have its own code page, and it is not coded in Unicode either.It is proposed that the "old Hungarian script" will be added to the Unicode Standard. See Michael Everson's [http://std.dkuug.dk/jtc1/sc2/wg2/docs/n1758.pdf discussion and proposal] . ] However, there are some fonts which contain Hungarian Runic characters. After installing one of them and applying their formatting to the document – because of the lack of capital letters – rovás characters could be entered in the following way: those letters which are unique letters in today's Hungarian orthography are virtually lowercase ones, and can be written by simply pressing the specific key; and since the modern digraphs equal to separate rovás letters, they were encoded as 'uppercase' letters, i.e. in the space originally restricted for capitals. Thus, typing a lowercase "g" will produce the rovas character for the sound marked with Latin script "g", but entering an uppercase "G" will amount to a rovás sign equivalent to a digraph "gy" in Latin-based Hungarian orthography.

Just like the German runes, the Hungarian rovás writing appeared in Hungarian neopaganism as well. The runes sometimes also have a political undertone, as they are used by far-right groups in their propaganda or graffiti across Hungary.Fact|date=February 2007


The runic alphabet includes 42 letters. [The letters may vary, but every style is almost the same.] Some consonants have two forms, for example, aS and eS. The 'a' form should be written after vowels a, á, o, ó, u, ú, while the 'e' form after e, ë, é, i, í, ö, ő, ü, ű.
To gather information about the transliteration's pronunciation, see Hungarian alphabet.

The Hungarian runes also include some non-alphabetical runes which are not ligatures but separate signs. These are called _la. "capita dictionum". Further research is needed to define their origin and traditional usage. Some examples:


Old Hungarian letters were usually written from right to left on sticks. Later, in Transylvania, they appeared on several media. Writings on walls also were right to left and not boustrophedon style (alternating direction right to left and then left to right).The numbers are almost the same as the Roman, Etruscan, and Chuvash numerals. Numbers of livestock were carved on tally sticks and the sticks were then cut in two lengthwise to avoid later disputes.

* Ligatures are common. ("Note": the Hungarian runic script employed a number of ligatures. In some cases, an entire word was written with a single sign.)
* There are no lower or upper case letters, but the first letter of a proper name was often written a bit larger.
* The _hu. "rovás" did not always mark vowels. The rules for vowel inclusion were as follows:
** If there are two vowels side by side, both have to be written, unless the second could be readily determined.
** The vowels have to be written if their omission created ambiguity. (Example: _hu. "krk" – [rounded] , thus the writer had to include the vowels to differentiate the intended words.)
** The vowel at the end of the word must be written.
* Sometimes, especially when writing double consonants, a consonant was omitted.

Text example

Text from Csikszentmárton, 1501."Runes originally written as ligatures are underlined."

Interpretation in old Hungarian: "ÚRNaK SZÜLeTéSéTÜL FOGVÁN ÍRNaK eZeRÖTSZÁZeGY eSZTeNDŐBE MÁTYáSJÁNOS eSTYTáN KOVÁCS CSINÁLTáK MÁTYáSMeSTeR GeRGeLYMeSTeRCSINÁLTÁKG IJ A aS I LY LY LT A" (The letters actually written in the runic text are written with uppercase in the transcription.)

Interpretation in modern Hungarian: "(Ezt) az Úr születése utáni 1501. évben írták. Mátyás, János, István kovácsok csinálták. Mátyás mester (és) Gergely mester csinálták [uninterpretable] "

English translation: "(This) was written in the 1501st year of our Lord. The smiths Matthias, John (and) Stephen did (this). Master Matthias (and) Master Gergely did [uninterpretable] "

Archeological findings

Rune relics exist all over the territory of the Kingdom of Hungary, from Transdanubia to Transylvania. Only some of these:
* A labeled crest etched into stone from Pécs, late 13th century (Label: "aBA SZeNTjeI vaGYUNK aKI eSZTeR ANna erZSéBeT"; We are the saints [nuns] of Aba; who are Esther, Anna and Elizabeth.) ( [http://www.rovas.hu/uploads/photos/579.jpgphoto] )
* Runic stick calendar, around 1300, copied by Luigi Ferdinando Marsigli in 1690Fact|date=February 2008. It contains several feasts and names, thus it is one of the most extensive runic records.
* [http://www.rovas.hu/modules/wfsection/article.php?articleid=4 Nicholsburg alphabet]
* Runic record in Istanbul, 1515.
* Dârjiu: a brick with runic inscription, found in the Unitarian church
* [http://www.rovas.hu/modules/wfsection/article.php?articleid=4 Énlaka] : runic inscription, discovered by Balázs Orbán in 1864. ( [http://www.rovas.hu/modules/myalbum/photo.php?lid=520 photo] )
* Székelydálya: runic inscription, found in the Calvinist church
* The inscription from Felsőszemeréd (Horné Semerovce), Slovakia (1400s)
* A letter by missionary János Zakariás from Peru, Pauline runes




* István Fodor - György Diószegi - László Legeza: _hu. "Őseink nyomában". (On the scent of our ancestors) - Magyar Könyvklub-Helikon Kiadó, Budapest, 1996. ISBN 963-208-400-4 (Page 82)
* en icon [http://www.geocities.com/rovasiras/index.html Gábor Hosszú: Rovásírás]
* _hu. "Új Magyar Lexikon" (New Hungarian Encyclopaedia) - Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest, 1962. (Volume 5) ISBN 963-05-2808-8
* Gyula Sebestyén: _hu. "A magyar rovásírás hiteles emlékei", Budapest, 1915.
*en icon Dr. Edward D. Rockstein: "The Mystery of the Székely Runes", "Epigraphic Society Occasional Papers", Vol. 19, 1990, pp. 176-183.
*la icon J. Thelegdi: _la. "Rudimenta priscae Hunnorum linguae brevibus quaestionibus et responsionibus comprehensa", Batavia, 1598.
*hu icon Dóra Tóth-Károly Bera: "Honfoglalás és őstörténet". Aquila, Budapest, 1996. ISBN 963-8276-96-7

External links

* [http://www.rovas.hu Hungarian Rovas Portal - www.rovas.hu]
* [http://www.omniglot.com/writing/hungarian_runes.htm Omniglot entry]
* [http://www.geocities.com/rovasiras Hungarian runic writing in Hungarian]
* [http://www.acronet.net/~magyar/english/96-10/magyarad.htm The ancient Magyar "Rovás"]
* [http://www.geocities.com/rovasiras/cikkr/abc_ismertetes/abc_ismr.gifAn example of the runic script]
* [http://www.geocities.com/rovasiras/papers/hungarian_rune_writing/hungarian_rune_writing.htm More circumstantial English article about both variants]
* Example in Felsöszemered (Upper Hungary - today Slovakia [http://www.felvidek.ma/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=7929]

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