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Persian Codices written in Armenian script

Jun 06, 2020 in Persian Language

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Armenian Language
Persian Language
Russian Language

The writing systems of Persian

The New Persian language has been written in various scripts throughout its long history (from the 8th century onwards): Arabic, Hebrew, Latin, and Armenian characters. 

The Perso-Arabic script

In the 8th century in Samarqand, in the heart of northern Central Asia, a new form of Persian now known as New Persian became the spoken language. The Samanids, a local dynasty that ruled the northern region of the Amu Darya River and part of eastern Iran between the 9th and 11th centuries, revived Persian as a language of literature, scholarship, and historical chronicles, utilizing the Arabic script to write it.

The earliest Persian manuscript in Arabic script is the Ketāb al-abnīa by Abū Manṣūr Heravī (10th century). The copy was made by the poet Asadī Ṭūsī in 1055-1056 and is preserved up to the present. In this manuscript, we can observe the principles of the adaptation of the Arabic script to render Persian phonetically.

There are two main innovations for rendering the Persian phonemes that are not found in Arabic. New letters were created for the four Persian consonants p, č, g, and ž. In final position, Persian short vowels are always represented by consonantal letters: final o by “w”, and both final e and a by “h”.

New Persian written in Arabic script began to flourish in the 9th century and continues to do so to this day.  

The Hebrew script – Judeo-Persian

Persian was also written in Hebrew script in a form known as Judeo-Persian. It was utilized for centuries by the Jewish community of Iran. There was never one form spoken by all Jews and the variety of spoken forms is reflected in the early Judeo-Persian literature that began to be used in the 8th century. In fact, the Judeo-Persian material that has been discovered from that time provides important information about early forms of New Persian itself.

Judeo-Persian literature includes both religious and secular texts.

The Latin alphabet – Latino-Persian

The Latin alphabet also was used to write Persian. One of the most important Latino-Persian texts is the Latin-Persian-Turkish /Cuman/ dictionary of Codex Cumanicus. It contains rich Persian material written in the Latin alphabet. The authors of the aforementioned dictionary were probably Franciscans active in the Crimea in the first half of the 14th century.

The manuscript of the Qur’ān written in Latino-Persian and kept in the Vatican Museum also provides evidence regarding Latino-Persian literature. This manuscript was probably written by a Spanish Carmelite who was a member of the missionary expedition to Persia from 1608-1624.  

Latin transcriptions of many Persian words and sentences are included in 17th-century European grammars of Persian.  

The Armenian alphabet – Armeno-Persian

The Persian corpus written in the Armenian script is comprised of literary and religious texts. The Armenian script was used by the Armenian Christians of Iran to write down mainly Persian translations of scripture. Armenian poets used Persian poetry fragments written in the Armenian script in their works.

The Armeno-Persian manuscripts of the Matenadaran

The Persian codices written in Armenian script are kept in the collection of Armenian codices of the Research Institute of Ancient Manuscripts of Yerevan — the Matenadaran. In general, the literary Armeno-Persian texts of the Matenadaran can be divided into the following classification system:

1) Works and fragments of a religious nature,
2) Persian poetry fragments used by Armenian authors, ashughs or troubadours,
3) Bilingual dictionaries used as manuals of Persian.

Works and fragments of a religious nature

In the Fund of Armenian manuscripts of the Matenadaran, there is a large number of religious fragments written in Armenian script interspersed amongst the Armenian manuscripts. The oldest fragment is the Armeno-Persian Lord’s Prayer from 15th century that is in the MS 7117. Armeno-Persian fragments of the New Testament make up the majority of the Armenian manuscripts. 

Two Armeno-Persian codices of the Gospel are also kept in the fund of Armenian manuscripts: MS 3044 and MS 8492, written in the 18th century by Armenian scribes. The two codices have the following structure: the introduction, the four canonical Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and the content of the passages. These manuscripts were written for Persian-speaking Christian Armenians.

Gospel in Persian written in Armenian script
Matenadaran collection, Ms 3044, f. 10r
Armeno-Persian codices of the Gospel, Matenadaran collection. MS 8492. f 187r
Matenadaran collection, Ms 8492, f. 187r

Persian poetry fragments used by Armenian authors, ashughs or troubadours

Armenian authors and ashughs used passages from Persian poetry in their works without changing their content but wrote them in the Armenian script. Many Persian literary passages and sentences written in Armenian script are stored amongst the Armenian manuscripts of the Matenadaran. This phenomenon is evidence of the spread of Persian among Armenians.

Bilingual dictionaries used as manuals of Persian

In the educational system of the Middle Ages, bilingual dictionaries and philological works were used in foreign language instruction. The Persian-Ottoman Turkish dictionary Tuhfe-i Šāhidī (The Gift of Shahidi)  (921/1514) is a work that includes the vocabulary of the Masnaviye ma’snavi of Jalal ad-din Muhammad Balkhi (13th century), one of the most studied and copied works. In the Fund of the Matenadaran, one of the manuscripts of this bilingual dictionary is written in the Armenian script (18th century). One of the most important dictionaries written in Armenian script is the Persian-Armenian dictionary of Gevorg Dpir Ter-Hovhanissyan (known as Palatatsi), again written in the 18th century.

Armeno-Persian literature is the result of the cultural interactions of the Armenians in the Persianate world.