An interpretation of the Buyla inscription
Updated: Dec 22, 2020
The most intriguing artifact in the Treasure of Nagyszentmiklós is the golden round tray for baptism. More on my critique of the dating it at https://www.peterclings.com/post/santnicolau-mare-treasury-tells-more
In this posting, I argue that the inscription visible on the reproduction of the golden tray below can be read in an ancient form of Romanian. It must have been used by a high priest who was not a speaker but knew well the Greek alphabet. It was used most likely during the ceremony of a baptism of adults by cutting a cross on the forearm
The artifact can be seen at the Kunsthistorishes Museum in Vienna. An image of is next
A paper reproduction of the inscription was published by József Hampel
Various interpretations have been given to the text (1). Most I find unsatisfactory because they are missing the religious context in which the tray must have been used. It is a 212 g (7.48 ounce) golden object, therefore it is precious by weight and it must have been even more so in the past. The context of its use must have been ceremonial and meant to impress
Some paleographic features on it seem to connected to the Bulgars of Omurtag and his son Malamir (cca 814 to 833 AD). From their period there are a number of inscriptions using Greek letters such as the Chatalar Inscription, or the Tarnovo Inscription. However, Christianity was persecuted in the Bulgar land whose brutal repression are described in vivid terms in the Byzantine literature (2)
To me, it is impossible to reconcile the idea of producing such a fine object of art with clear Christian features during the time when the Bulgars did use the Greek alphabet indeed yet strongly went against that faith. Moving in time further to the time when the Bulgar rulers became more inclined to Christianity, the 'official' scripts became the Glagothic and later the Cyrilic adaptation
Simply put, the assumptions of a Bulgar source do not seem to match the historical context. At the time that the paleography seems to place the manufacturing of the artifact in that is 814 - 833 AD, neither the Bulgars nor the Slavs were yet Christians. Christianity was introduced to them at least 2 generations later with the great work of Saint Cyril and Methodius, as well as by their spiritual descendant Saint Naum and others
The only population that was presumable still Christian in the region of the Lower Danube (where the artifact was found) up to the 9th century were the proto Romanians, or the surviving speakers of the Danubian Romance language. They must have spoken language only slightly different to those living in Pannonia, but nevertheless a transitional language between the ancient Vulgar Latin and modern day Romanian. This finding attributed to a Christian Romance speaking population using Greek letter would not be unique to this case (3)
I was thinking of a different interpretation though, starting from the graphical features of the artifact. The largest feature that can be seen in the reproduction is the central decorated cross. There is a cross that separates the beginning of the text from the ending. Therefore, the meaning of the entire text must be interpreted in a Christian religious context
In a linear representation, the text in Greek letter reads (Ω replaces the lower case ω):
The dots seem the indicate the ending of a phrase rather than that of a single word. Interpreted otherwise, some words would be too long and others just too short
Not surprising given the religious context of the tray, one can find the word BOG (God - in Slavonic) highlighted in the text in two phrases. The ending letter 'Y' cannot be interpreted as the upper case for the letter op-silon from the Greek alphabet because it would prevent the entire inscription to have a religious meaning, The 'Y' should be read rather as the lower case for the letter gamma 'γ'. In that way, the Slavonic word for God appears twice on the inscription, either start almost at the top and the bottom arms of the cross. A very nicely chosen symmetry
If we admit that the text must be a religious one, and that the religious golden trail was meant to be used in the Christian context than the first phrase transliterated into Latin words reads
ΒΟΥΗ ΛΑΖ Ο ΑΠΑ Ν.
BOGE LAZ O APA N.
The above would be a strange mixture of old Slavic, and Romanian in which as we have seen. BOG means 'God' in the old Slavic. E is a suffix to make the subject God a vocative case (an invocation) that translates as 'God, you'. The LAZ could be the verb 'to let' or 'to allow'. O APA is the subject 'some water'. N is the contrived 'în' (nasal i + n). In short, the meaning of the sentence is 'God let some water in'
TESE is the verb in the indicative mode 'to weave' in Romanian, but the word does exist in Romanian too as 'tesatura' or Italian 'tessile' (Eng. translation for both 'textile') from the verb 'tessere'. The meaning is a 'Weave'. In combination with the word 'Bog', 'tese' makes the Romanian word for Baptism 'Bo(g)tez'
DUGE could be the Romanian 'Duce' meaning 'to lead to', if we assumes the transliteration of the word Γ as C. TOIRE is difficult. It could be to ancient word that formed the Romanian word for 'salvation' in a religious meaning. The modern Romanian word 'MÂNTUIRE' could actually be a composition from 'MANI' (hands) + 'TOIRE' as in the inscription. Therefore, the meaning of the sentence would be 'Give salvation' in the 10th century Romance language that evolved towards Romanian
In the above BOG means 'God'. TAOUL is the second person pronoun of possession for a masculine subject in Romanian which translates as 'yours' . The meaning of the sentence is 'Your God'
ΖΩ ΑΠΑ Ν.
ZO APA N.
ZO could be a loan word from Slavic 'from'. APA means 'water'. N from 'în' (nasal i + n). The meaning of the sentence is 'From the water'
TA is the second person pronoun of possession for a feminine subject in Romanian which translates as 'yours'. GROGE could actually read as 'CROCE' if we assumes the same transliteration of the word Γ to C. Cruce from Romanian translates to English as 'Cross'. The meaning of the sentence is 'Your cross'
ET is the Latin for 'and'. ZIGE could actually read as 'ZICE' if we assumes the same transliteration of the word Γ to C. Zice from Romanian translates to English as the reflexive verb second person 'say'. the meaning of the sentences is 'And say'
TAISE could be from the past tens third person for the verb 'to cut'. The meaning of the sentence is 'cut the cross'
The entire inscription would read as:
'Boge las o apa n. Tese. Duce toire. Bog tau. Za apa n. Cruce ta. Et zice. Taise+'
'God let some water in. Weave. Give salvation. Your God. From water in. Your cross. And say. Cut the cross'
The translation of the inscription above can be augmented with observations from the linguistic domain. In the modern Romanian, the word for the salvation of the soul is MÂNTUIRE. If the word 'TUIRE' or 'TOIRE' was its 10th century form, than the inscription actually describes the practice of a baptism by making a small incision to the hand in the form of a cross. Hence the word preserved in the local tongue as 'Mântuire' meaning have the sign of a cross marked on your fore arm. That practice must have been adopted for a possible competition for religious alliance. The fraction of the word '-tuire' can also be found in Romanian in the word 'tămăduire' that translates to 'to heal'. Just as the word 'mântuire'. The word 'tămăduire' is also a composition in which the first part can be recognized as the word 'tămădă' that translates to English as 'the healing potion'
There are quite a few Romanian words that point to a legacy of a baptism with Greek letters:
The word from 'baptism' is Botez. In it, we may recognize the two root words 'Bog' and 'tese' both found inscribed on the round tray
The word for 'rich' in Romanian is Bogat. That word also contains the root word 'Bog' and the verb 'dat' (to be given by)
The word for 'morn' in Romanian in 'bocire'. One can guess it comes from 'Bog' + 'vocire' (to raise a crying voice)
Using Greek letters to represent Romanian phonon it is not unique for this case. A contemporary finding from the region is described a the Petre inscription
Also from the linguistic domain, the traditional Romanian word for God is 'Dumnezeu'. It comes from Latin 'Domine Deus' as a reminiscence of a religious allegiance to Rome. That way of naming God was in a direct competition to Constantinople though. The closest word to use for the local people to be somewhat familiar with was the old Slavic word 'Bog'. This ceremony of baptism was expected to bring it to use in the common parlance . Could the consistent use of word 'Bog' on the inscription be a reminiscence of a direct conflict in the region between Rome and Constantinople? To read more about this from Conversion to Christianity: Moravia and Bulgaria
For the domain of history, the work for the salvation of the Souls of the Romance language people in the Balkans (for the Eastern Church, that is to say) could have been conducted by the Bulgar Empire of the Czar Boris upon adopting Christianity. After the Avar Khagan had been destroyed in the early 9th century, the region where the treasury was found was conquered or became part of the Bulgarian Empire. The region must have been inhabited by the Avar nomadic people still. But the text that otherwise contains only words of a Romance language. The key word for God is 'Bog' of Slavic origin, but that of the Cross is 'Cruce' of a Romance language. At the time of the First Bulgarian Empire two alternative alphabets were also in circulation. The Glagolitic script promoted by Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius, and the Cyrilic alphabet promoted by the Preslav school that was from the heartland of the First Bulgarian Empire. The inscription is with Greek letters though. It points to users that were familiar with the Greek letters only. This fact excludes the Bulgarian alternative
The alternative interpretation from the domain is the Greek monastery at Morissena / Cenad established during the rule of Ajtony/Ahtum (read more on this at https://www.peterclings.com/post/on-hierotheus-as-bishop-of-hungary). The treasury that contains the artifact was discovered buried just 10 Km from that monastery. The monastery was in use between 950 to 1020AD, and run by a Greek monks following into the works of Bbishop Hierotheus. The treasury was buried most likely during the war between chieftain Ajtony and the army sent by Stephen I, which were lead by the fugitive Csanad (who gave the name of the city Csanad / Cenad).
One can only think that the Greek monastery was located there, in the lands ruled by the Gyula, were actively converting people to the true faith. The use of the round tray of such an imperial value (212 g of gold) by Greek speakers, can explain the use of the Greek letters for the inscription and its purpose. It was used to recite a chant to a foreign audience (Romanian) by a non speaker of a high religious rank
The lasting effect of the practice of 'cutting' the cross into the skin was still seen in both the Romanian and Aromanian communities as of the previous centuries. The Romanian national anthem has the last verse "Preoți, cu crucea-n frunte căci oastea e creștină" (English translation "Priests, with crossed on the head for the army is christian"). The tradition was practice among Aromanians too (read more https://identitatea.ro/femeile-cu-crucea-pe-frunte/ )
(1) - Marcel_Erdal - "The Turkic Nagy-Szent-Miklós inscription in Greek letters". Acta Orientalia Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae. 42: 221–234.
(2) - Il Menologio di Basilio II (cod. Vaticano Greco 1613). Turin 1907 (Schwarz-Weiß Faksimile-Gesamtausgabe).
(3) - Székely Zoltán, Eléments byzantins dans la civilisation matérielle des VI– VIIIe siecles dans le sud-est de la Transylvanie, Dacia, N.S., 15, 1971, p. 353–358.