Azerbaijan International

Autumn 2003 (11.3)
Page 43

Quick Facts
Caucasian Albanian Script
by Zaza Alexidze and Betty Blair

Also spelled Zaza Aleksidze

Related Articles
1 Caucasian Albanian Alphabet: Ancient Script Discovered in the Ashes - Zaza Alexidze and Betty Blair
2 Udi Language: Compared with Ancient Albanian - Alexidze
3 Albanian Script: How Its Secrets Were Revealed? - Alexidze and Blair
4 Zaza Alexidze. Decipherer: Glimpses of Childhood - Blair
5 Caucasian Albanian Script: Significance of Dechipherment - Alexidze
6 Udins Today: Ancestors of the Caucasian Albanians - Zurab Konanchev
Heyerdahl Intrigued by Rare Caucasus Albanian Text - Alexidze






Albanian (from the Caucasus, not to be confused with the language and country of the same name in the Balkans). The Caucasian Albanian language has been identified as the ancestor of the language spoken by the Udi people, who primarily live in present-day Azerbaijan. The alphabet dates to the 5th century A.D., possibly earlier. It is not known for certain who created this alphabet although Old Armenian sources suggest Mashtots (5th century).
Language Family Caucasian Language Family: Dagestani Branch: Lezgian Group.

Discovered and Deciphered by


Dr. Zaza Alexidze (1935- ), Historian and Director of the Institute of Manuscripts in Tbilisi, Georgia

Where the Manuscript Was Found





In St. Catherine's, an Orthodox Monastery on Mt. Sinai, Egypt. The manuscripts due to a devastating fire in 1975 in which hundreds of manuscripts were discovered that had been stored in a forgotten basement cell. So far two Georgian/Albanian palimpsests have been discovered, totaling about 300 pages. (A palimpsest is a manuscript with one or more scripts penned on top of the original text; in this case, after the scribes had tried to scrub off the Albanian, they wrote Georgian on top of it, leaving the Albanian barely visible).

Alphabet Characteristics


Albanian has 52, possibly 54, letters (graphemes). Exact number can be determined when equipment will be available to see clearly. All letters are written as capitals in a continuous line of text. There are no separating spaces between words and no punctuation at the end of sentences.
When the Script Was First Seen

1990. But the Albanian letters were barely visible on the lower layer of two manuscripts as scribes had attempted to scrub off the parchments in order to reuse it for a new Georgian text.
When the Script Was First Identified
as Albanian
1996. Prior to that time, specialists in Caucasian Studies were not even sure that a written form of the Albanian language even existed in the form of an extended text. They least expected to find such manuscripts in Egypt.
First Word Deciphered

2001. The word, "Thesalonike", referencing the Biblical teachings of Apostle Paul directed to the Christians who lived in Thessaloniki, Greece, in the 1st century A.D.
Manuscript Content

On the lower layer is an Albanian Christian Lectionary, possibly one of the earliest, if not the very earliest Lectionary, that exists today, judging from the simplicity of its church calendar. This Lectionary dates to the late 4th or early 5th century A.D. The top layer contains a Georgian Patericon, containing biographies and writings of some of the Church Fathers. It may have been prepared around 10th century after scribes tried to scrub off the Albanian text.

How the Caucasian Albanian Script
Probably Disappeared?

Historians suggest that the disappearance of the Albanian state and its written script occurred over several centuries due to various political influences in the region. First came the Arabian invasion and the process of Islamization (7-10th centuries) followed by the invasion of Turk-Seljuks and assimilation with them (11th century).

In addition, they believe that fundamental differences in Christian doctrine between Armenians and Albanians dealt the final blow to the Albanian written language. Armenians are Monophysites, meaning that they believe that Christ had a single nature - only God. Albanians were Diophysites, insisting on the dual nature of Christ-both God and man.

When Armenians gained religious power over the Orthodox communities in the region, they forced Albanians to give up their beliefs. Albanian sacred and liturgical documents were burned or destroyed as heresy. Consequently, the Albanian alphabet, so closely identified with the church, disappeared from use.

How the Albanian Manuscript Ended Up
at Mt. Sinai, Egypt



Perhaps after the Albanians were forced to become Monophysites, some of them left for Palestine to the St. Saba Monastery in Jerusalem. In the 10th century, Georgian monks left St. Saba and went to Mt. Sinai. Perhaps among them was an Albanian monk, who carried this manuscript with him.

Dr. Zaza Alexidze, Institute of Manuscripts in Tbilisi, Georgia:
or Betty Blair, Editor, Azerbaijan International Magazine in Los Angeles:

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