The Armenian Alphabet

One of the most important events in the history of Armenia happened in 405 AD, when the new Armenian alphabet was created. Before that, for about 16 hundred years,
various forms of cuneiforms had been used in Armenia. After the adoption of
Christianity as the state religion of Armenia in 301 AD, the Church regarded the old
systems of writing as inappropriate for religious use. An attempt was made to use the
Greek and Syriac languages as the official languages of the Church and the state, but
this was rejected after several decades, mainly because the ordinary people did not
understand those languages, which made the spread of the new religion more difficult,
and also because of the resistance of the nationalistically minded aristocracy and

At the end of the IV century

there were several attempts to adjust the old systems of
writing to the needs of the Church, but they all failed, because the proposed versions did
not reflect correctly the phonetic system of the language. In the nineties of the century
king Vramshapuh asked a high-ranking official in his chancellery and a prominent
scholar Mesrop Mashtots to make another attempt. Mesrop Mashtots traveled to
Alexandria, then the biggest cultural and scientific center of the world, and studied there
various principles of writing. He came to the conclusion that the Greek alphabet was the
most advanced one of that time since it had one letter for each sound and was easy to
memorize and to use. So he created an alphabet which followed the principle of ‘one
letter for one sound’ and was written from left to right and had capital letters, unlike all
other languages of Eastern Anatolia and the Middle East, which were mostly written
from right to left and had no capitals.

Mesrob Mashtots the Armenian Icon

Mesrob Mashtots the Armenian Icon

In 405 Mesrop Mashtots returned to Armenia,

bringing with him the 36 new letters of
the Armenian alphabet. The same year the Bible was translated anew and re-written in
the new alphabet. The Armenian translation of the Bible, which contains more words
than the Hebrew and Greek originals, was so perfect that it soon came to be known as
the ‘Queen of Translations’. The new alphabet stimulated an unprecedented boom in
literature, and the V century was later called the ‘Golden Age of Armenian Literature’.
The alphabet created by Mesrop Mashtots was so perfect that it has not been changed or
reformed since 405 AD. The letters used today look exactly as Mesrop Mashtots created
them. The Armenian alphabet played an enormous role in the preserving of the national
and cultural identity of the Armenian people, and enjoys a very special love and respect.
For the creation of the alphabet Mesrop Mashtots was later canonized by the Armenian
Apostolic Church.

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