Another Theory on the Origin of the Georgian Alphabet

UPDATE Nov 5, 2015: It’s come to my attention that some people have taken this post to be about a serious theory on the origin of the Georgian alphabet. It’s not. It’s about a kooky, nutball theory. Developed by Zurab Kapianidze — philologist, thespian, member of Georgian parliament — the theory deals entirely with the asomtavruli script (the oldest form of the Georgian alphabet), but in a bizarre and borderline insane way. Although I shouldn’t have to say this, I don’t endorse this idea at all.

If you want to see what I actually think about the origin of the Georgian alphabet, check out this post. That said, if you want a fun-but-crazy theory about where the Georgian alphabet came from, read on.

georgian alphabet asomtavruli

The modern mkhedruli script superimposed over their corresponding asomtavruli letters.

The story goes like this. Long ago the Sumerians had the cuneiform alphabet with which we’re all familiar. But they also had another alphabet, a secret, cosmic alphabet which encoded a great deal of knowledge about astronomy and the gods. This second alphabet was known only to the Sumerian priests, but the Semites (Akkadians) who conquered Sumeria knew of its existence. They demanded that the Sumerians teach them the secret alphabet, but instead the priests fashioned a crude simulacrum of the secret alphabet, which was “devoid of all philosophic content, but good for practical activities”. This alphabet was the Phoenician alphabet, which would later give rise to every script of Europe and the Middle East.

phoenician alphabet evolution

Simulacra, all of them!

The secret Sumerian alphabet was forgotten by the world, but the knowledge of it remained with the descendants of the Sumerians…the Georgians! (Kapianidze tells us “The Sumerian language, considered a dead language for about four milleniums, is still alive in the ancient dialects of the Georgian language-Svanian and Megrelian.”) And the secret alphabet is none other than…asomtavruli!

The shapes and ordering of the asomtavruli letter are supposed to deities and their relations to each other. I haven’t yet been able to understand this part of the theory in full, but the asomtavruli a, for instance, is supposed to represent the moon, while the d is supposed to represent the Earth. Kapianidze also makes a lot of the geometry of the letters. Overlaying all the letter atop one another, he determines that they all fit on a kind of grid he calls a bikila.

asomtavruli geometry

The bikila is complex enough that it’s hard to imagine a letter which wouldn’t fit on it.

asomtavruli bikila

So there you have it: Sumerians, Semites, secrets, geometry, and Georgians.

To put things in perspective time-wise: most people (those, including me, who believe one of the various stories about the spread of Christianity) believe the Georgian alphabet to have been devised between 300 and 400 AD; many Georgians (that is, those who believe the story about King Parnavaz) place it between 300 and 200 BC; Kapianidze’s theory has it being created by Sumerian priests no later than 2000 BC.

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8 thoughts on “Another Theory on the Origin of the Georgian Alphabet

  1. Pingback: The Georgian Alphabet: A Gallery of Specimens | georgiasomethingyouknowwhatever

  2. Pingback: The Armenian Alphabet: Pictures and Miscellania | georgiasomethingyouknowwhatever

  3. so you(and Kapianidze) say this theory would be right just because some(9 from 35) letters make some geometric figure? and we don’t even know and see this cosmic alphabet. would you show me that one? and besides, armenian alphabet really has too much similarities with old georgian to say that they don’t have the same origin.

      • so what is your thought about creating the georgian alphabet? i mean the oldest one. which theory you think is more possible?

          • as i remember you said that mashtots did not know georgian. well, i read that he knew it. so i do not understand why you think it is bogus, because it is the most probably hypothesis(due to the facts we have, not much, but the only ones, because it is usual to the history of ancients). and besides it, the first georgian alphabet is just too similar to armenian one to name the hypothesis above doubtful.

            • Okay, so we have the fact that certain letters in the old Georgian alphabet and the Armenian alphabet look similar, although the similar letters usually don’t represent the same sounds. Maybe we can deduce from this that there is some connection between the two alphabets. How can we explain this? Here are some hypotheses:

              1) The two alphabets were created independently, and the convergence is due to the fact that the creators of the different alphabets were all familiar with the Greek alphabet, the Aramaic alphabet, and perhaps others. In this scenario, the similarity between letters comes from the other alphabets that were “in the air” at the time.

              2) The Armenian alphabet was created first (by Mashtots or whoever), and the Georgians created their own alphabet after seeing it. The Georgians may have had a passing familiarity with the Armenian alphabet, but not enough to copy it exactly. This explains why the similar letters don’t have the same sound, and also why there aren’t more similarities. Maybe Mashtots invented the Armenian alphabet. Maybe Mashtots showed it to some Georgian monks, and hagiographer exaggerated that into him inventing alphabet for them.

              3) Same as the second scenario, but with the order reversed: the Georgians invented their alphabet first, and the Armenians copied it. Maybe Mashtots was the one who did the copying, and this was later exaggerated into him inventing the Armenian alphabet out of nothing.

              4) Neither alphabet was really “invented”, but both developed from an unattested (Why?) common South Caucasian proto-alphabet. Maybe this alphabet was some crude blend of the Greek and Aramaic alphabets. Maybe Mashtots refined this crude script into something more respectable, and this was later exaggerated into him inventing the Armenian alphabet out of nothing.

              5) Mesrop Mashtots invented the Armenian alphabet, then later invented the Georgian alphabet. He reused some Armenian characters, but only a few. (Why?) Those reused characters were made to represent different sounds than they originally did. (Why?)

              Now, what is there to recommend that fifth hypothesis over the other hypotheses? Because Mashtots’s hagiographer says that’s what happened? What else? And how do you explain the changes made to the alphabets? They don’t look like purposeful changes. Further, we also have to account for the Caucasian Albanian alphabet. That alphabet’s existence doesn’t pose any problems for the other hypotheses, but it compounds the existing problems for the Mashtots-invented-everything theory.

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