The Armenian alphabet is a true masterpiece of its era and knows many secrets. However, there is one in particular that still blows my mind.
As some people know the Armenian alphabet was (re)invented in 405 AD by the Armenian linguist and theologian Mesrop Mashtots with the help of the patriarch Sahak Partev and the Armenian king Vramshapouh. For these achievements Mashtots was made a saint in the Armenian Church.
I say “(re)invented” because the medieval sources are somewhat unclear on how much the Armenian alphabet was actually a completely new invention or an updated modification of a much older (recovered) Armenian alphabet.
The Armenians after all had an ancient alphabet that was long lost by the early middle ages (for a discussion read: Tracing the oldest Armenian script). It was lost, but not forgotten in the middle ages, because the medieval authors describe that Mashtots’s initial mission was to recover and reapply the Armenian alphabet rather than to invent one from scratch.
The King told them of a man named Daniel, a Syrian bishop of noble lineage, who unexpectedly had come into the possession of letters of Armenian alphabet. And when the King told them concerning Daniel’s discovery, they prevailed upon him to do what was needful. He then dispatched a man named Vahrij along with messages to a priest called Habel, who was an intimate of Bishop Daniel.
As for Habel, upon hearing it, he hastened to Daniel, and first became familiar, through Daniel, with the letters, then taking them from him sent to the King in the land of Armenia. The [letters] reached his hands on the fifth year of his reign. Upon receiving the letters from Habel, the King rejoiced with Sahak and Mashtots.
Then the blessed stewards taking the unexpectedly discovered object of their search, requested of the King young children through whom they might experiment with the alphabet. And when many of them had been taught, the King commanded that everywhere the instruction be effected through the same [letters]. Thus the blessed one attained the noble rank of teacher, and taught for two years with the use of the same letters.Koryun (5th c. AD) The Life of Mashtots, translated from Old Armenian (Grabar) by Bedros Norehad (1981).
Unfortunately, the letters, due to their age and condition, appeared to be insufficient to be applied to the entire Armenian language. Thus it had to be updated and modified. Koryun explains this process as follows:
Yet when they became aware of the fact that those letters were insufficient to form all the syllables of the Armenian language, especially since the letters essentially proved to have been buried and then resurrected from other languages, they found themselves once more in the same anxieties and for some time were engaged in search of a solution.Koryun (5th c. AD) The Life of Mashtots, translated from Old Armenian (Grabar) by Bedros Norehad (1981).
The solution only came by divine intervention. Koryun tells us that Mashtots set out to rearrange and re-purpose the recovered letters. He struggled a long time without success, until one day miraculously he received a vision from God who instructed him and aided in this process.
Thus he experienced many tribulations in order to serve his nation. And God the All-Bountiful finally granted him that good fortune; for with his holy hand he became the father of new and wonderful offsprings – letters of the Armenian language, and then and there quickly designed, named, determined, their order and devised the syllabication.Koryun (5th c. AD) The Life of Mashtots, translated from Old Armenian (Grabar) by Bedros Norehad (1981).
According to tradition, the first sentence to be written down in the new Armenian alphabet by Mashtots was:
Ճանաչել զիմաստութիւն եւ զխրատ, իմանալ զբանս հանճարոյ:— Book of Proverbs, 1:2.
To know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding.
Another 5th century historian Ghazar Parpetsi, who wrote History of the Armenians, reiterates Koryun on the recovery mission but only mentions that Mashtots with the help of Sahak simply rearranged (not invented) the Armenian letters.
The king immediately dispatched an ambassador called Vahrich (by his parents) giving him a hrovartak, and sending him to a certain presbyter named Habel who earlier had spoken to the king and who was related to the pious bishop Daniel who had the Armenian letters. The venerable Habel accepted the hrovartak from Vahrich, listened to what he had to say, and then quickly hastened to the wondrous bishop Daniel. Habel learned the system of the letters from Daniel himself, and took [a copy of the letters] from him to the king, to the blessed patriarch of Armenia, Sahak, and to the venerable Mashtoc’. They received the letters from Habel, and were happy.
So it was that after fortuitously receiving the discovered letters, the venerable Mashtoc’ set to work adapting [the alphabet] to [the recommendations of] the blessed patriarch of Armenia, Sahak, putting the letters in an easily accessible order and correct syllabic pronunciation.Ghazar P’arbec’i’ (5th. c AD) History of the Armenians
Following primal sources, it is clear to me that the shapes of the Armenian letters (unlike their arrangement) were most likely recovered rather than invented, and that’s not a small feat by any stretch of the imagination. But that’s not the mind-blowing secret that I was going to discuss in this article.
The Armenian alphabet is not only an enigma when it comes to its creation, it also holds many astonishing hidden features. So much so that one would almost have to conclude that it was indeed either comprised by divine intervention or Mashtots together with Sahak ware linguistic geniuses far ahead of their time.
The original alphabet had thirty-six letters, with two being added later on in the 12th century to represent foreign sounds (and with one ligature apotheosized to the rank of letter). But for the sake of the argument we are going to stick with the 36 Mashtotsian letters in this post.
Numbers and Dates
The Armenian alphabet was not just a writing system, it was also a numerical system used for math calculations and recording calendar dates.
Not only do all the letters have their own numerical value based on their order in the alphabet, but they also differ in decimals. They are arranged in 4 columns and 9 rows. The first column represents single digits, the second represents tens, the third represent hundreds and the forth represents thousands.
Here is how that would work for dates. Dates were usually marked with the letters ԹՎ, often with an overline, indicating “t’vin” (meaning “in the year”) followed by one to four letters, each of which stands for a number based on its order in the alphabet.
In the Middle Ages, Armenians used a calendar that started in 552 AD (11 July) of the Julian calendar. To translate into standard years, simply add 551 to the number. Thus, should you see an inscription reading ԹՎՈՀԳ, simply check the alphabet table above and see that this equals to 600 + 70 + 3 + 551 = 1224 AD.
In one of my first articles on PeopleOfAr I talked but the Armenian love for geometry. The Armenian alphabet is no exception in that regard. There are many geometrical secrets hidden in the alphabet of which I shall discuss a few.
For example the fist letter of the Armenian alphabet is A «Ա» and stands for “Astvats” which means God, while the last letter in the alphabet is K «Ք» which stands for “Kristos” meaning Christ.
Now, if we arrange the Armenian alphabet into an equilateral triangle, the three letters at the edges read A, K and S describing the trinity, the Father God (Astvats), Son Christ (Kristos) and the Holy Spirit (Surb Hogin) of the Christian faith.
Similarly, if we to arrange the Armenian letters inside a square of an octagram, reading clockwise, the letters at the edges form the old native Armenian name for the country ՀԱՅՔ “Hayk”. The Armenian name of the homeland of the Armenian people.
By now you might think to yourself; “the Armenian alphabet is certainly impressive”. However, we’re not done yet. Remember the mind-blowing secret I promised? Well here it comes.
The numerical order of the Armenian letters appears to correspond with the atomic numbers of chemical elements from the periodic table for the 7 metals known in the antiquity. (sources: here and here)
The metals of antiquity are the seven metals which humans had identified and found use for in prehistoric times: gold, silver, copper, tin, lead, iron, and mercury. These seven are the metals from which the modern world was forged.
Each of the metals was associated with one of the seven then-known celestial bodies, and one of the seven days of the week.
|Metal||Body||Day of week|
The periodic table is a tabular arrangement of the chemical elements, arranged by atomic number, electron configuration, and recurring chemical properties, whose structure shows periodic trends.
The atomic number or proton number of a chemical element is the number of protons found in the nucleus of an atom. For example gold (latin: Aurum), Au in the table, has 79 protons in the nucleus of its atoms.
As discussed earlier, ever letter in the Armenian alphabet has a number attached to it. See the chart bellow:
Now, here is the interesting part. Let’s take the word “Gold” Voski in old Armenian. It is comprised of 4 letters “ՈՍԿԻ”. In alphabetical order Ո is the 24th letter, Ս is 29th, Կ is 15th and finally, Ի is 11th. If we add these numbers together 24+29+15+11=79 we get the number 79. Which is exactly the atomic number for the chemical element Au (Gold) in the periodic table.
And if you thought this was just a coincidence, think again! It applies to all of the 7 metals known in the antiquity. See the chart bellow:
The astonishing part here is that the periodic table wasn’t actually known in the antiquity. It was only invented in the 19th century. That’s almost 1500 years after the (re)invention of the Armenian alphabet. So, even though the 7 elements ware known at the time Mashtots completed his work, there is no way he could have known the periodic table or the atomic structure of chemical elements. So did he actually receive a divine vision, or is there another less spiritual explanation? I for one don’t know the answer.
Regardless of how this came about, there is no doubt that the Armenian alphabet is a piece of historic art, arranged by a true visionary polymath way ahead of his time.
But he didn’t stop with the Armenian alphabet. Mashtots actually created several other alphabets including that of the Georgians and the Caucasian Albanians (Aghvank, a Christian country now occupied by Azerbaijan).