The History of Armenian Alphabet Creation

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 bureaucracy.

    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 travelled to Alexandria, then the biggest cultural and scientific centre 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 memorise 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.

    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 canonised by the Armenian Apostolic Church.