A cold opinion on the rovás (or Magyar "runes")

 

The topic and even the existence of a runic-like writing originating from Hungary is often superbly ignored by the runologists, even when they discuss the possible origin of the runes. It seems that, worse, the Hungarian Academy of Sciences does not want to see the topic even discussed. Thus, it is left to a handful of faithful Hungarians who try to show the antiquity of their rovás writing. When so few people are active in a field, it cannot but show large deficiencies. For example, when a set of shapes is found, nothing proves it represents runes, rovás, or gothic letters, etc. The recognition comes when some archeological studies have been performed, the shapes are well recognized for belonging to a given alphabet, an interpretation is given, and some kind of coherent body of knowledge is formed about the topic.

As opposed to what I could believe at first, I have been shown that this body of knowledge, how still shaky it might be, does exist, but it is not officially acknowledged, nor well-spread also because the relatively small number of people able to understand the Hungarian language, not to speak of old versions of this language.

 

My warmest thanks go to Susan Tomory who Xeroxed and partly translated some of the documents available in Hungarian about the rovás. She also kindly answered my many naive and less naive questions. Without her help, the work presented here would have been unthinkable.

 

In spite of my gratitude to Susan, this presentation is done with a critical spirit, I do not try to hide any inconsistency, and I rather point at them. This being said, a simple exposition, in an objective way, without passion, without being troubled by linguistic theories, or hypotheses about the origin of the Magyar people, does not seem to exist. This is what I tried to present here: what is known and unknown about the rovás today, period.

 

more www information about the rovás

 

1.       Journal of The Institute For Hungarian Studies at

http://www.acronet.net/~magyar/english/96-10/magyarad.htm

Susan Tomory is chief editor of this journal.

2. A rovás "alphabet" at : http://www.imagesoft.net/hungary/hun101/fx010015.htm

3. Many rovás and pictures, but the texts are in Hungarian, at http://www.inforum.hu/rovas/

 

 

On the existence of a coherent rovás alphabet

The rovás and runic alphabets

 

Since most, such as me a few months ago, ignore everything of the rovás, it seems necessary to underline how well grounded is this alphabet. Antal Karoly Fisher, in Hun-Magyar Iras ("The Hun-Magyar writing"), Heisler J. Könyvnyomdaja, Budapest, 1889, compares the letters and sound value of twelve findings ranging from 1501 to 1753. The sound value has been obtained after the inscription was deciphered, or it is coming directly from an alphabet with sound values. Even the small variations observed kind of confirm the global coherency of the Magyar rovás alphabet. For example, the sound CZ can be rendered by , which is used as the canonical CZ shape, and the variations are as follows. The same shape somewhat rounded as in: or with a shortened central line as in : or else a much fancier similar form such as : . Even this last one cannot be confused with another letter. The largest variations one can observe is the strange A shown below in table 1 and in the shape of the sound called "vég-K" (“end K,” takes place at the end of the words to express plural) which can look like a Z or an N.

This means that the rovás alphabet is well known and well fixed from the 16th century on.

Here is a version into which I have included the observed variations that can puzzle a reader. Notice that most publications will present "the" Magyar rovás alphabet without giving the allowed variations.

I will take the opportunity of showing details of the Magyar alphabet to put in front of each rovás character the Germanic rune which looks the most like a rovás, together with its sound value. When no rune-equivalent is available, then some other ancient alphabets equivalent shapes will be given. My goal there is to show two things very clearly: on the one hand, the sound values of the rovás and the runes have nothing in common, on the other hand they have most of their shapes in common. This last statement is rejected seemingly with the same strength by the specialists of rovás and by those of runes. You will judge by yourself how much they are mistaken.

 

ROVÁS

Sound value followed by possible shapes

 

Shapes as reported by Fisher

RUNES

Germanic Futhark shape looking like the rovás on the left, followed by its sound value

Shapes as reported by Bengt Odenstedt, Origin and early history of runic script, Almquist 1990.

When no rune-equivalent, then other ancient alphabets equivalent shapes are given.

A, Á:

: sound W

B :

: sound G

CS :

: sound H

CZ :

: sound T

D :

and also (very seldom) : sound N

E :

no equivalent

rune-shape, no equivalent

ancient alphabet shape.

É :

no equivalent

rune-shape but same as Old Latin & Etruscan C

F :

no equivalent

rune-shape but evokes Old Greek, Phoenician, and Etruscan theta:

G :

 : sound U and Old Latin & Etruscan A:

GY :

: sound A, and : sound F

H :

: sound G and : sound O

I, Í :

and also (very seldom) : sound N

J :

: sound L and : sound unknown

Köz-K :

: sound ng

Vég-K :

Rune-shape: and obvious Latin Z and N

L :

no exact equivalent

rune-shape but evokes  : sound U, and Old Latin & Etruscan A:

LY :

 

no equivalent rune-shape

but evokes Etruscan O:

M :

with variants: sound B

N :

no equivalent

rune-shape but Old Latin and Etruscan C.

NY :

no equivalent

rune-shape but Latin D.

O, Ó :

no equivalent

rune-shape, evokes classical Greek nu (1st shape) and delta (4th shape).

Ö :

: sound G

P :

: sound A

R :

: sound H

S :

 : sound U

SZ :

: sound I

T :

: sound K, Old Greek ypsilon:  and Etruscan U,Y:

TY :

No exact equivalent

but evokes G-rune:

U, Ú :

with rare variant: sound D

Ü :

: sound S

V :

: sound M

Z :

: sound H

ZS :

: sound Z becoming R

 

Table 1: Various rovás shapes, and similar rune shapes with a different sound.

 

It is easy to see that all rovás have a shape which is somewhat similar to a rune shape, except the rovás made of a rounded form such as E and LY. A bit later we shall see some of the “bug like” rovás that are also totally absent from the runes.

Inversely, a few runes, such as

TH :            ,

P:       ,

J :

do not exist among the rovás shapes. The general feeling however is the one of a large common pool, with a few divergences. The two main divergences are the bug-like rovás, and th-, p-, j-runes.

It must be pointed out, however, that the standard practice when comparing two alphabets, is to compare shapes rendering the same sound, as it often happens in the Greek, Latin, and Etruscan alphabets shown below in table 3. Since it can be said that none of the of the rovás sounds corresponds to a rune sound of the same shape, standard practice leads to conclude that runes and rovás are completely distinct system of writing. In other words, there is no way by which it could be claimed that one has been originating the other one, or that they have a common ancestor.

 

 

Rovás and their links with ancient writings

 

Most of what I'll present in this section comes from: AZ Ékírástól a Rovásírásig ("From the cuneiform to the Rovás"), by Walter Anna Fehérné, published by Magyar Öskutatas, Buenos Aires 1975.

 

In her well-documented book, W. A. Fehérné supports the idea that the shapes of today rovás have been slowly emerging by a progressive transformation of very ancient shapes, that can be traced back to the cuneiform writing, dating some 6000 BC. In order to give you an idea of these very early shapes, here are examples of later findings, dating some 2400 BC, and done in sites called Sitovo and Gradesnica, both situated in what is now Bulgaria.

 

 

Figure 1: A sample of the kind of script found at Sitovo

 

 

 

Figure 2: A list of the shapes found on inscriptions of Gradesnica

 

Jovan Todorovic put together the shapes in such a way that resembling shapes could be compared among themselves, and with shapes found in the Phoenician alphabet (he calls them "Crete-Mesopotamia," but they follow the Phoenician "Mesa" alphabet - using the older "Ahiram" alphabet of 1000 BC would slightly only decrease the resemblance). Shape similarity only has been deciding of where to put each shape. It is obvious, as the following table shows, that some shapes could shift place. However, you can check by yourself that even the hardest critique will not change considerably Todorovic's table.

 

Karanovo and Sitovo are situated in what is now Bulgaria, Vinca is at the frontier Hungary-Rumania-Bulgaria, Tatárlak and Tordos are situated in Rumania.

 

Phoenician "Mesa" alphabet 850 B.C.

Karanovo

 

Tatárlak

 

Sitovo

 

Vinca

 

Tordos

"breathed" sound

 

 

sound "b"

 

 

 

 

 

sound "g"

 

 

sound "d"

sound "h"

 

sound "w"

sound "z"

 

 

sound "kh"

 

 

sound "th"

 

 

 

sound "j"

 

 

 

 

sound "k"

 

 

 

sound "l"

sound "m"

 

 

sound "n"

 

sound "ks"

 

 

 

"guttural" sound

 

 

 

sound "p"

 

 

 

 

 

sound "ts"

 

 

 

 

 

sound "q"

 

 

sound "r"

 

 

sound "sj"

 

 

sound "t"

 

 

 

Table 2: comparison of the shapes of the letters in the Phoenician alphabet and the various finds of early scripts in the regions called nowadays Bulgaria and Rumania.

 

Conclusion:

This comparison is quite interesting, and it shows the strong relationship among these shape systems. Some interaction with the Phoenician alphabet is thus to suspect. Fehérné's opinion that rovás originate from cuneiform is perhaps somewhat exaggerated. A simpler hypothesis that fits as well the data is that the rovás originate from the Phoenician, and the Phoenician itself can perhaps have some links with the cuneiforms.

 

Here is now a table that compares a few of the rovás writing to the most ancient other alphabets, according to their sound value. The shape values given here are these given in the first chapter of Erik Moltke, Runes and their Origin, Denmark and Elsewhere, The National Museum of Denmark, 1985, ISBN 87-480-0578-9.

The "mesa" Phoenician alphabet is already shown on figure 2. There are many "Etruscan" alphabets. I chose to show here the letter of these alphabets that is the most similar, if any similarity, to a rovás.

 

Sound value

"Turkish" group

"Mediterranean" group

Phoenician

 

Magyar

Ancient Török

Eastern Greek (Samos alphabet)

Latin

(old)

Etruscan

 

a, á

 

 b

cz, k

,

 

 

 cs

 

 

 

 

 d

 e, é

 

 f, j

 

 

 

 v, f

 

 g

Same as C

Same as C

 

 gy

 

 

 

 

 

 h

 

 

 i

 

 j

 

Same as i

 

 

Table 3: Comparison between a few rovás, and the corresponding sounds written in the main ancient languages. Notice that sound "cz" sounds like "TZ" and that sound k shown here is the one found in the middle of the words.

 

This table shows the originality of the Magyar sound-shape relationship. Except perhaps the sound F that is somewhat similar to the rovás in other writings, other shapes in the other alphabets render other sounds.

 

One last important feature of the rovás is their ability to build complex forms called ligatures because individual shapes are mixed up. This phenomenon is also observable in the realm of Germanic-Viking-English runes (so-called bind-runes), but it takes here such an extent that it is worth reporting some examples of possible ligatures.

The individual letter A is: the individual letter for L is: , the individual letter for B is: , the individual letter for T is: , it was thus possible to propose for the compound ALBT, read as ALBeT: . Other instances might be more simple, and similar to bind-runes, as for instance, the ligature VA,  simply made of V: and A: .

More surprising are the so-called "bug-like ligatures" that used two facing each other images of the E, like E$

thus leading to something like a bug when using the Magyar E: leading to completely new compounds that are not logically linked to E, such as:

Ü : , EMP : , PTHRU : , TPRU: , while the simpler TPR reads :  , and finally  NB : .

 

 

 

Some samples of the scholarly debate:

"Is it possible to decide whether a particular writing is made of rovás?"

 

In order to point at which difficulty is met here, I'll show a famous runic inscription, is found in a location where rovás inscriptions could be found, but that never has been supposed to been made of rovás. This is the Pietroassa gold ring (Rumania, dated 300-400). The inscription is:

and, in Older Futhark runes, it reads:

g  u  t a n iowi h ai l a g

This set of shapes shows a coherent use of the Older Futhark, and all experts accept the words it thus creates as being Gothic. The interpretation is not however unique. I know two meanings attributed to this formula. Düwel interprets it as: "Property of the Goths holy and inviolate," and Antonsen's is: "Sacred temple of the female warriors, or of the female Goths." Even though the two interpretations differ, both agree that it speaks of something sacred to the Goths.

Now, it could be quite possible to claim that the inscription is made of rovás, and to give to it a completely different meaning. I guess that this was attempted, but that it did not lead to anything understandable, thus the rovás interpretation was abandoned.

This to point out that even "well-known" inscriptions could be interpreted in a way different from the classical one. It is thus very hard to decide whether an isolated inscription belongs to a given alphabet. Each interpretation comes as a hypothesis, each set of hypotheses is discussed for consistency, and only consistent sets of hypotheses are kept: the scarcity of ancient rovás inscription makes their reading very fragile because we work on a small set of hypotheses.

 

The first two examples I will show here come from Fisher's book cited above. Both are part of the so-called Nagyszentmiklós treasure that will be given its special section below. These examples are extremely interesting because they show that the rovás interpretation leads to some partial success in reading the shapes, and an even more partial one in deciphering the obtained texts. This means that, even though rovás constitute a very interesting key to the reading of many inscriptions, still much work has to be done.

About the lack of complete interpretation, it should be emphasized that there exist several texts that mix up Latin characters with runic ones, and a similar phenomenon could well have been happening to the rovás, making the inscription even more difficult to decipher. Besides, as Fisher notes, there are also many inscriptions that put together initials only of the words they were supposed to evoke, and we have lost completely their meaning. Similarly, many runic inscriptions are obviously magic formulae the meaning of which has been long ago burned by the Inquisition. Thus, we should not be amazed at being unable to decipher all of these inscriptions.

 

The third example is more a matter of speculation, but it shows also how the researcher can try to find new interpretations: in the book of Renate Rolle, The world of the Scythians, B.J. Batsford LTD, London, 1980, p. 51, fig. 28 shows an inscription on a silver bowl, and the author says that this was not yet deciphered. We shall try to use the alphabet of table 1 in order to try to interpret it as a set of rovás.

 

Example 1: the drinking cup inscription

 

 

 

 

 

Example 2: the large plate inscription

 

 

Example 3: a not deciphered Scythian inscription

 

 

Figure 1: A silver bowl with a "mysterious inscription" found in central Asia, Scythian made, dating unknown.

 

By comparing with the rovás alphabet and its variations given in figure 1, it can be said that:

Shape 1 is perhaps twice O (?); shape 2 can be a B or an H; shape 3 is perhaps a ligature of a J (?) with a ZS (the ZS shape is itself clear); shape 4 can be the ligature of an R (?) or a K with a G or a D (?); shape 5 could be a J or an R; shape 6, which repeats itself in 8, 22, 24 and perhaps in a ligature of 13, can be guessed to be a special form of T (?) or of J (?); shape 9 can be a vég-K; shape 10 can be an S; shape 11 can be the ligature of a small S and of a bigger Z; shape 12 can be again the ligature of a small S together with a T and a G (?) (so as to take into account the two fine lines at the bottom right of the shape); shape 13 can be a ligature of S with a T (?) or a J (?); shape 14 is a B; shape 15 is the same as shape 7; shape 16 reproduces 10 with an extra curve to the right that can constitute an R (??); shape 18 is a vég-K; shape 19 can be a T (?); shape 20 is the same as 9, i.e., another form of the vég-K different from 7, 15, 18 and 21; shapes 21 and 22 have already been seen; shape 23 is ZS as part of shape 3; shape 24 has been seen already; shape 25 is an R.

Obviously, this is only one possible interpretation and the numerous interrogation marks show that other interpretations are possible. For instance, shape 12 looks like a classical ligature called "tprus" and it can mean ’tiprás’ : thrashing.

 

 

Rovás on bronze age axes

 

We shall present two axes, the so-called Campana axe, and the one found in Radocsásany (Moldavia). They seem very ancient, say Bronze age. It is possible however to interpret their writing using the "well-known" Székely rovás alphabet. That the inscription is found on a bronze age axe does not prove that it dates Bronze age. It is even a common rule in runology to carefully dissociate the dating of support and inscription except when there is absolute proof that they are contemporary. The same rule of wisdom must apply to the rovás.

 

The letters on the Campana ax look like:

Obviously, many interpretations are possible. Here is one that gives a sentence that makes sense for an axe:

Campana's inscription with a possible reading of the ligatures, and the corresponding Székely letters

 

Using some rules of the old Székely language this can be read as "eGE  SÉT  ÉS  ÜT  ÉS  RO  ÉS", i.e., in modern Hungarian: "Ékesit is, üt is, ró is, which means: "It decorates it, it hits, it writes".

Obviously, that shape number 1 is interpreted as a GE, and that shapes number 2 and 3 contain a T, is at least doubtful to the innocent reader like me. This cautious statement done, this inscription is very interesting since the naive reader can indeed recognize most of the shapes proposed as being Székely's alphabet. It should raise more research relative to its exact dating.

 

The Radocsásany axe carries the drawing of an animal whose general shape evokes a deer, but that has ears like an ox. Under it, the following inscription has been drawn:

The Radocsásany inscription with a possible interpretation

 

The reader can see that the sign "vertical bar," reading as an R on Campana, is now interpreted as a SZ, and that the "inverted lambda" (second sign from the right) is now read as an R. The "lambda" (second sign from the left) is read a G, as if the upper diagonal bar was forgotten. Again, my naive critiques do not destroy the fact that most of the letters are easy to attribute to the Székely alphabet, as it is known from more recent sources.

The reading takes place, as often in the rovás inscriptions, from the right to the left, and leads to: "DeReSZ eZ éSZ IGÁS," understood as: "It is gray and under yoke" which makes sense relative to the drawing above the inscription. Some attempts at dating, associated to the attribution to a specific dialect, place this inscription at the end of the 15th century.

 

The Nagyszentmiklós treasure

(from the yearbook of Andras Josa Museum, Nyiregyhaza, 1968)

 

It has been found in 1799 by people that sold it at once. We thus lack the circumstances of the find, and its dating is very uncertain.

The interpretation of the rovás inscriptions on the pieces of this treasure has given raise to many controversies. We shall report here only what seems to be agreeable to everyone: the list of signs found, and the names of probable owners. The last ownership has been satisfactorily established through some of the deciphered texts and family-histories, documents of the region. From these names some hints about the dating of the treasure can be found: 9th to 11th century seems to be a good guess, as we shall see.

 

Many of the treasure pieces carry the name of a clan, or of a town. It happens that several of these names are related to a clan, the Sunád clan that has been so-called until 1028, where it received the name Csanád. Since the spelling appearing in two inscriptions is unmistakably Sunád, this shows that the inscription predates 1028.

Another container bears the inscription "nag-idis" that can be interpreted as "big-land."  The interesting point is that "nag" is frequent in the 9th century spelling of places, which brings us down to the 9th century.

Finally, the family Sunád comes in pre-eminence during the 9th century, which gives us the earliest possible dating of these rovás.

 

 

The rovás during the period 0 to 1200 AD

 

 

Due to political reasons, there is and there will always be a lack of rovás inscriptions of this period that were first considered as pagan, and later anti-Austrian revolt stirring, and thus looked for to be destroyed systematically. The 13th century renaissance of interest in this topic has saved many rovás from the 13th century on, but it is very hard to find any of them predating 1200, except some Scythian antiquities that were not, and are yet not, officially acknowledged as being rovás. Besides, many finds were not properly treated, and their dating is unknown.

 

Let us thus track the few remains that can prove or only hint at the existence of rovás during the first millenium.

 

1.     Some of the people that have been studying the Nagyszentmiklós treasure, and that did not recognize any rovás writings on them, have been nevertheless dating some of the inscriptions between the 3rd and the 6th century. If these are really rovás, and if the dating is exact, this hints at the existence of rovás in this period.

 

2.     A needle holder found in a woman's grave in Szarvas in 1983 is attributed to the Avar civilization, and carries inscriptions that can be seen as rovás. Under this hypothesis, they read:

[TO BE COMPLETED]

 

This would give them a dating around the 6th century AD.

 

3.     A buried site of the 9th century, Pomáz, Hungary, started to be dug out in 1941. Due to the war, this site was buried again and seems to be still now waiting for renewed exploration. The newspapers of the time reported the finding of a few rovás on the site walls. Here are the signs given by the newspapers, with a possible rovás interpretation.

Confirmation of the finding, together with a complete explanation of the rovás would provide an indisputable proof of the rovás existence in the 9th century.

 

4. As seen above, some inscriptions of the Nagyszentmiklós treasure can be dated between the 9th and the 11th century.

 

5.     A recent find in a foundry of the 10th century, March 1999, Bodrog, Hungary, is finally the earliest indisputable rovás finding. Note however how much recent is the finding: there should be more confirmation of the dates, and other rovás found on the site. The inscription takes place on the broken piece of an earthenware blower. It reads: aP aP KANÓNya, meaning: "To mother papa." It can be viewed as a plainly family-life inscription, or as a more mystical one where the "mother" is mother-Earth who provides the ore, and "papa" the founder who brings charcoal to earth in order to make iron. Whatever its meaning, it brings a kind of continuity of rovás writing from the 6th century up to the well-attested ones of the 13th.

 

 

Conclusion

 

It seems to me obvious that the rovás is a very ancient system of writing. The dating of its origin is absolutely impossible to perform presently, especially because of the large interval during which no rovás are found. This lack of evidence is not a proof of non-existence due to the political story of Hungary, but there is a large need for more inscriptions to be found, so as to build a coherent body of interpretation of rovás inscriptions between, say 500 BC and 1300 AD.

 

Since I have no fixed answer about many sensitive questions raised by the Magyar civilization, I prefer not to go into these problems now. However, if you want to discuss some of these sensitive issues, for instance:

                Are the rovás at the origin of the Germanic runes or the runes at the origin of the rovás?

                Did the Huns have their own (non Latin) system of writing?

                Are Hungarian and Finnish languages belonging to the same family?

                What is the origin of the Hungarian language, anyhow?

                Are Hungarians descendants of the Huns? What is their origin?

 

You are welcome to email us. Use yvko roudedat free. symbol of France = fr. I do have more or less grounded opinions on some of these points, and I'd be delighted to increase my knowledge of this topic.