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Bosnian Cyrillic


Bosnian Cyrillic

Bosnian Cyrillic
Alphabet Cyrillic script
Languages Bosnian
Time period
10th-18th century

Bosnian Cyrillic, widely known as Bosančica[1][2] is an extinct variant of the Cyrillic alphabet generally found in Bosnia and Herzegovina.[1] It was widely used in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the bordering areas of Croatia (southern and middle Dalmatia and Dubrovnik regions). It was particularly used by the Bosnian Church community. Its name in Bosnian is bosančica, bosanica or bošnjačko pismo,[3] the latter of which can be translated as Bosnian script. Croat scholars also call it Croatian script, Croatian–Bosnian script, Bosnian–Croat Cyrillic, harvacko pismo, arvatica or Western Cyrillic.[4][5] For other names of Bosnian Cyrillic, see below.

The use of Bosančica amongst Bosniaks was replaced by Arebica upon the introduction of Islam in Bosnia Eyalet, first amongst the elite, then amongst the wider public.[6]


  • History and characteristic features 1
  • Controversies and polemic 2
  • Other names 3
  • Gallery 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7

History and characteristic features

It is hard to ascertain when features of characteristically Bosnian type of Cyrillic script had begun to appear, but paleographers consider that the Humac tablet (Bosnian Cyrillic tablet) is the first document of this type of script and dates back supposedly to the 10th/11th century. Bosnian Cyrillic lasted continuously until the 18th century, with sporadic uses even in the 20th century.

Historically, Bosnian Cyrillic is prominent in the following areas:

  • Passages from the Bible in documents of Bosnian Church adherents, 13th and 15th century.
  • Numerous legal and commercial documents (charters, letters, donations) of nobles and royalty from medieval Bosnian state in correspondence with Dubrovnik and various cities in Dalmatia (e.g. the Charter of Ban Kulin), beginning in the 12th and 13th centuries, and reaching its peak in the 14th and 15th centuries.
  • Tombstone inscriptions on marbles in medieval Bosnia and Herzegovina, chiefly between 11th and 15th centuries.
  • Legal documents in central Dalmatia, like the Poljica Statute (1440) and other numerous charters from this area; Poljica and neighbourhood Roman Catholic church books used this alphabet until the late 19th century.
  • In the middle of Istria in Sveti Petar u Šumi was found the so called Supetar fragment from the 12th century. It was found among the stones of collapsed south monastery wall. Until the 15th century it was a Benedictine monastery and later a Pauline monastery. This finding could indicate that Bosančica spread all the way to Istria and Kvarner Gulf.
  • Roman Catholic diecese in Omiš kept the seminary in the 19th century, in which arvatica letters were used (called "arvacki šeminarij", "Croat seminary")
  • Liturgical works (missals, breviaries, lectionaries) of the Roman Catholic Church from Dubrovnik, 15th and 16th century - the most famous is a printed breviary from 1512[7][8][9]
  • The comprehensive body of Bosnian literacy, mainly associated with the Franciscan order, from the 16th to mid-18th century and early 19th century. This is by far the most abundant corpus of works written in Bosnian Cyrillic, covering various genres, but belonging to the liturgical literature: numerous polemical tractates in the spirit of the Counter-Reformation, popular tales from the Bible, catechisms, breviaries, historical chronicles, local church histories, religious poetry and didactic works. Among the most important writings of this circle are works of Matija Divković, Stjepan Matijević and Pavao Posilović.
  • After the Ottoman conquest, Bosnian Cyrillic was used, along with Arebica, by the Bosnian Muslim nobility, chiefly in correspondence, mainly from the 15th to 17th centuries (hence, the script has also been called begovica (bey's script)). Isolated families and individuals could write in it even in the 20th century

In conclusion, main traits of Bosnian Cyrillic include:

  • it was a form of Cyrillic script mainly in use in Bosnia and Herzegovina, central Dalmatia and Dubrovnik.
  • its first monuments are from the 11th century, but the golden epoch covered the period from 14th to 17th centuries. From the late 18th century it rather speedily fell into disuse to be replaced by Latin script.
  • its primary characteristics (scriptory, morphological, orthographical) show strong connection with the Glagolitic script, unlike the standard Church Slavonic form of Cyrillic script associated with Eastern Orthodox churches
  • it had been in use, in ecclesiastical works, mainly in Bosnian Church and Roman Catholic Church in historical lands of Bosnia, Hum, Dalmatia and Dubrovnik. Also, it was a widespread script in Bosnian Muslim circles, which, however, preferred modified Arabic aljamiado script. Serbian Orthodox clergy and adherents used mainly standard, Resava orthography version of Serbian Cyrillic.
  • the form of Bosnian Cyrillic has passed through a few phases, so although culturally it is correct to speak about one script, it is evident that features present in Bosnian Franciscan documents in the 1650s differ from the charters from Brač island in Dalmatia in the 1250s.

Controversies and polemic

The polemic about "ethnic affiliation" of Bosnian Cyrillic started in the 1850s and is not settled yet. Without going into nuances and details, the polemic about attribution and affiliation of Bosnian Cyrillic texts seems to rest on further arguments:

  • Serbian scholars claim that it is just a variant of Serbian Cyrillic; actually, a minuscle, or Italic script devised at the court of Serbian king Dragutin. This general claim ranges from the contention that other nations had been using a form of Serbian script to the idea that all who wrote in Bosnian Cyrillic were ethnically Serb. According to them, all Bosnian Cyrillic texts belong to the corpus of Serbian literacy. Some consider that a strong argument in favour of the Serb side is the fact that there are a lot of mentions of Bosnian Cyrillic as 'Serbian letters' or 'Serbian characters' among Catholics (in Bosnia and Dubrovnik) and Muslims. The main Serbian authorities in the field are Jorjo Tadić, Vladimir Ćorović, Petar Kolendić, Petar Đorđić, Vera Jerković, Irena Grickat, Pavle Ivić and Aleksandar Mladenović.
  • The Croatian side is split. One school of paleography basically challenges the letters being Serbian. It claims that majority of the most important documents of Bosnian Cyrillic had been written either before any innovations devised at the Serbian royal court happened, or did not have any historical connection with it whatsoever- the Serbian claims on the origin of Bosnian Cyrillic are unfounded, and the script, since belonging to the Croatian cultural sphere should be called not Bosnian, but Croatian Cyrillic. Another school of Croatian philologists acknowledges that "Serbian connection", as exemplified in variants present at the Serbian court of king Dragutin, did influence Bosnian Cyrillic- but, they aver, it was just one strand, since scriptory innovations have been happening both before and after the mentioned one. First school insists that all Bosnian Cyrillic texts belong to the corpus of Croatian literacy, and the second school that all texts from Croatia and only a part from Bosnia and Herzegovina are to be placed into Croatian literary canon (they exclude c. half of Bosnian Christian texts, but include all Franciscan and the majority of legal and commercial documents). Also, the second school generally uses the name Western Cyrillic instead of Croatian Cyrillic (or Bosnian Cyrillic, for that matter). Both schools mention that various sources, both Croatian and other European (German, Italian,..) call this script "Croatian letters" or "Croatian script". The main Croatian authorities in the field are Vatroslav Jagić, Mate Tentor, Ćiro Truhelka, Vladimir Vrana, Jaroslav Šidak, Herta Kuna, Tomislav Raukar, Eduard Hercigonja and Benedikta Zelić-Bučan.
  • Bosniak scholars unisonally dismiss any claims of Croat or Serb affiliation, instead maintaining the Bosnian Cyrillic as ethnically Bosnian and, consequently, Bosniak, in legacy of medieval Bosnia and the native Bosnian Church.

The irony of the contemporary status of Bosnian Cyrillic is as follows: scholars are still trying to prove that Bosnian Cyrillic is ethnically their own, while simultaneously relegating the corpus of Bosnian Cyrillic written texts to the periphery of national culture. This extinct form of Cyrillic is peripheral to Croatian paleography which focuses on Glagolitic and Latin script corpora.

Other names

Other names (originally written):


See also


  1. ^ a b Balić, Smail (1978). Die Kultur der Bosniaken, Supplement I: Inventar des bosnischen literarischen Erbes in orientalischen Sprachen. Vienna: Adolf Holzhausens, Vienna. pp. 49–50, 111. 
  2. ^ Algar, Hamid (1995). The Literature of the Bosnian Muslims: a Quadrilingual Heritage. Kuala Lumpur: Nadwah Ketakwaan Melalui Kreativiti. pp. 254–68. 
  3. ^ Popovic, Alexandre (1971). La littérature ottomane des musulmans yougoslaves: essai de bibliographie raisonnée, JA 259. Paris: Alan Blaustein Publishing House. pp. 309–76. 
  4. ^ Prosperov Novak & Katičić 1987, p. 73.
  5. ^ Superčić & Supčić 2009, p. 296.
  6. ^ Dobraća, Kasim (1963). Katalog Arapskih, Turskih i Perzijskih Rukopisa (Catalogue of the Arabic, Turkish and Persian Manuscripts in the Gazihusrevbegova Library, Sarajevo). Sarajevo. pp. 35–38. 
  7. ^ Susan Baddeley, Anja Voeste (2012). Orthographies in Early Modern Europe.  
  8. ^ Jakša Ravlić, ed. (1972). Zbornik proze XVI. i XVII. stoljeća. Pet stoljeća hrvatske književnosti (in Croatian) 11.  
  9. ^ Cleminson, Ralph (2000). Cyrillic books printed before 1701 in British and Irish collections: a union catalogue.  
  10. ^ Poljička glagoljica ili poljiška azbukvica
  11. ^  
  12. ^ Matija Antun Reljković (1974) [17xx], Ivo Bogner, ed., Satir iliti divji čovik 
  13. ^ Vladimir Ćorović (1925), Bosna i Hercegovina 
    Čuveni krajiški begovi Kulenovići [...] Njihovo pismo bilo je sve do okupacije ćirilica, takozvano begovsko pismo, koje su oni sami zvali stara srbija.
  • Domljan, Žarko, ed. (2006). Omiš i Poljica. Naklada Ljevak.  
  • Mimica, Bože (2003). Omiška krajina Poljica makarsko primorje: Od antike do 1918. godine.  
  • Superčić, Ivan; Supčić, Ivo (2009). Croatia in the Late Middle Ages and the Renaissance: A Cultural Survey. Philip Wilson Publishers.  

External links

  • Bosanica: Croatian Cyrillic Script
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