Bosnian Cyrillic

Bosnian Cyrillic, widely known as Bosančica[1][2] is an extinct variant of the Cyrillic alphabet that originated in medieval Bosnia.[1] The term was coined at the end of the 19th century by Ćiro Truhelka. It was widely used in modern-day Bosnia and Herzegovina and the bordering areas of modern-day Croatia (southern and middle Dalmatia and Dubrovnik regions). Its name in Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian is Bosančica and Bosanica[3] the latter of which can be translated as Bosnian script. Serb scholars call it Serbian script, Serbian–Bosnian script, Bosnian–Serb Cyrillic, as part of variant of Serbian Cyrillic and the term "bosančica" according to them is Austro-Hungarian propaganda.[4] Croat scholars also call it Croatian script, Croatian–Bosnian script, Bosnian–Croat Cyrillic, harvacko pismo, arvatica or Western Cyrillic.[5][6] For other names of Bosnian Cyrillic, see below.

Bosnian Cyrillic
Script type
Cyrillic script
Time period
10th-18th century
 This article contains phonetic transcriptions in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA. For the distinction between [ ], / / and ⟨ ⟩, see IPA § Brackets and transcription delimiters.

The use of Bosančica amongst Bosnians was replaced by Arebica upon the introduction of Islam in Bosnia Eyalet, first amongst the elite, then amongst the wider public.[7] The first book in Bosančica was printed by Frančesko Micalović in 1512 in Venice.[8]

History and characteristic featuresEdit

It is hard to ascertain when the earliest features of a characteristic Bosnian type of Cyrillic script had begun to appear, but paleographers consider the Humac tablet (a tablet written in Bosnian Cyrillic) to be the first document of this type of script and is believed to date from the 10th or 11th century.[9] Bosnian Cyrillic was used continuously until the 18th century, with sporadic usage even taking place in the 20th century.[10]

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 the Republic of Ragusa 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.
  • The "Supetar fragment" from the 12th century was found in Monastery of Saint Peter in the Forest in central Istria, among the stones of a collapsed southern 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.
  • The Roman Catholic diocese in Omiš had a seminary (called arvacki šeminarij, "Croat seminary") active in the 19th century, in which arvatica letters were used.
  • 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[11][12][13]
  • 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 earliest monuments are from the 11th century, but the golden epoch covered the period from the 14th to 17th centuries. From the late 18th century it rather speedily fell into disuse to be replaced by the 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.[10]
  • It had been in use, in ecclesiastical works, mainly in Bosnian Church and Roman Catholic Church in historical lands of Bosnia, Herzegovina, 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 the standard Serbian Cyrillic of the Resava orthography.[10]
  • 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 polemicEdit

The polemic about "ethnic affiliation" of Bosnian Cyrillic started in the 19th century, then reappeared in the mid-1990s.[14] The polemic about attribution and affiliation of Bosnian Cyrillic texts seems to rest on following arguments:

  • Serbian scholars claim that it is just a variant of Serbian Cyrillic; actually, a "minuscle", or Italic (cursive) script devised at the court of Serbian king Stefan Dragutin, and accordingly, include Bosnian Cyrillic texts into the Serbian literary corpus. Authors in "Prilozi za književnost, jezik, istoriju i folklor" in 1956, go as far to state that Bosančica was a term introduced through Austro-Hungarian propaganda, and regarded it a type of cursive Cyrillic script,[15] without specifics that would warrant an "isolation from Cyrillic".[16] 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.
  • On the Croatian side, the split exists among philologists. One group basically challenges the letters being Serbian, and 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, thus considering Serbian claims on the origin of Bosnian Cyrillic to be unfounded and that the script, since they allege belonging to the Croatian cultural sphere, should be called not Bosnian, but Croatian Cyrillic. Other group 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 group 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, so they exclude c. half of Bosnian Christian texts, but include all Franciscan and the majority of legal and commercial document. Also, the second school generally uses the name "Western Cyrillic" instead of "Croatian Cyrillic" (or Bosnian Cyrillic, for that matter). Both schools allege that supposedly various sources, both Croatian and other European,[citation needed] 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.
  • Jahić, Halilović, and Palić dismiss claims made by Croatian or Serbian philologists about national affiliation.[17]
  • Ivan G. Iliev, in his "Short History of the Cyrillic Alphabet", summarize the Cyrillic variant, and acknowledge it was spread into and used in both Bosnia and Croatia, where these variants were called "bosančica" or "bosanica", in Bosnian and Croatian, which can literally be translated as Bosnian script, and that Croats also call it "arvatica" (Croatian script) or "Western Cyrillic".[10]

The irony of the contemporary status of Bosnian Cyrillic is this: some scholars are still trying to prove that Bosnian Cyrillic is ethnically theirs, while simultaneously relegating the corpus of texts written in Bosnian Cyrillic to the periphery of national culture. This extinct form of Cyrillic is unrelated to Croatian paleography, which focuses on writing corpora Glagolitic and Latin Script. In addition, has a relation with Slavonic-Serb Alphabet, successor of Old Serbian Cyrillic and predecessor of Modern Serbian Cyrillic.


In 2015, a group of artists started a project called "I write to you in Bosančica" which involved art and graphic design students from Banja Luka, Sarajevo, Široki Brijeg, and Trebinje. Exhibitions of the submitted artworks will be held in Sarajevo, Trebinje, Široki Brijeg, Zagreb, and Belgrade. The purpose of the project was to resurrect the ancient script and show the "common cultural past" of all the groups in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The first phase of the project was to reconstruct all of the ancient characters by using ancient, handwritten documents.[18][19]


The name bosančica was first used by Fran Kurelac in 1861.[20] Other instances of naming by individuals, in scholarship and literature or publications (chronological order, recent first):[21][22]

  • poljičica, poljička azbukvica, among the people of Poljica and Frane Ivanišević (1863−1947)[23]
  • srbskoga slovi ćirilskimi (Serbian Cyrillic letters) and bosansko-dalmatinska ćirilica (Bosnian-Dalmatian Cyrillic), by Croatian linguist Vatroslav Jagić (1838–1923)[24][25]
  • bosanska ćirilica ("Bosnian Cyrillic"), by Croatian historian and Catholic priest Franjo Rački (1828–1894)[22]
  • bosanska azbukva ("Bosnian alphabet"), by Catholic priest Ivan Berčić (1824–1870)
  • (Bosnian-Catholic alphabet), by Franciscan writer Ivan Franjo Jukić (1818–1857)[24]
  • (Bosnian or Croatian Cyrillic alphabet), by Slovene linguist Jernej Kopitar (1780–1844)[24]
  • bosanska brzopisna grafija ("Bosnian cursive graphics"), by E. F. Karskij[20]
  • zapadna varijanta ćirilskog brzopisa ("Western variant of Cyrillic cursive"), by Petar Đorđić
  • Serbian letters, by Bosnian Franciscan writer Matija Divković, who explains in preface to his Nauk krstjanski za narod slovinski, that he wrote "for the Slavic folk in correct and true Bosnian language", while Georgijević also notes that he referred to the Bosnian Cyrillic, which he wrote in, as "Serbian letters".[26][27]


See alsoEdit


  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. ^ Prilozi za književnost, jezik, istoriju i folklor. Vol. 22–23. Belgrade: Državna štamparija. 1956. p. 308.
  5. ^ Prosperov Novak & Katičić 1987, p. 73.
  6. ^ Superčić & Supčić 2009, p. 296.
  7. ^ Dobrača, Kasim (1963). Katalog arapskih, turskih i perzijskih rukopisa (Catalogue of the Arabic, Turkish and Persian Manuscripts in the Gazi Husrev-beg Library, Sarajevo). Sarajevo. pp. 35–38.
  8. ^ Bošnjak, Mladen (1970). Slavenska inkunabulistika. Mladost. p. 26. Najstarija do sada poznata djela tiskana su tim pismom u izdanju Dubrovcanina Franje Micalovic Ratkova
  9. ^ "Srećko M. Džaja vs. Ivan Lovrenović – polemika o kulturnom identitetu BiH Ivan Lovrenović". (in Croatian). Polemics appeared between Srećko M. Džaja & Ivan Lovrenović in Zagreb's biweekly "Vijenac", later in whole published in Journal of Franciscan theology in Sarajevo, "Bosna franciscana" No.42. 2014. Archived from the original on 11 April 2018. Retrieved 6 June 2018.
  10. ^ a b c d ILIEV, IVAN G. "SHORT HISTORY OF THE CYRILLIC ALPHABET - IVAN G. ILIEV - IJORS International Journal of Russian Studies". INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF RUSSIAN STUDIES. Retrieved 4 July 2016.
  11. ^ Susan Baddeley; Anja Voeste (2012). Orthographies in Early Modern Europe. Walter de Gruyter. p. 275. ISBN 9783110288179. Retrieved 2013-01-24. [...] the first printed book in Cyrillic (or, to be more precise, in Bosančica) [...] (Dubrovnik Breviary of 1512; cf. Rešetar and Đaneli 1938: 1-109).[25]
  12. ^ Jakša Ravlić, ed. (1972). Zbornik proze XVI. i XVII. stoljeća. Pet stoljeća hrvatske književnosti (in Croatian). Vol. 11. Matica hrvatska - Zora. p. 21. UDC 821.163.42-3(082). Retrieved 2013-01-24. Ofičje blažene gospođe (Dubrovački molitvenik iz 1512.)
  13. ^ Cleminson, Ralph (2000). Cyrillic books printed before 1701 in British and Irish collections: a union catalogue. British Library. p. 2. ISBN 9780712347099. 2. Book of Hours, Venice, Franjo Ratković, Giorgio di Rusconi, 1512 (1512.08.02)
  14. ^ Tomasz Kamusella (15 January 2009). The Politics of Language and Nationalism in Modern Central Europe. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 976. ISBN 978-0-230-55070-4.
  15. ^ Prilozi za književnost, jezik, istoriju i folklor. Vol. 22–23. Belgrade: Državna štamparija. 1956. p. 308.
  16. ^ Književnost i jezik. Vol. 14. 1966. pp. 298–302.
  17. ^ Jahić, Dževad; Halilović, Senahid; Palić, Ismail (2000). Gramatika bosanskoga jezika (PDF). Zenica: Dom štampe. p. 49. ISBN 9789958420467. Archived from the original (PDF) on 10 January 2020. Retrieved 4 November 2017.
  18. ^ Rodolfo Toe (10 December 2015). "Bosnian Arts Save Vanished Script From Oblivion". Balkan Insight. Retrieved 7 May 2020.
  19. ^ Morton, Elise (11 December 2015). "Bosnian artists revive disused script". The Calvert Journal. Retrieved 7 May 2020.
  20. ^ a b Vražalica, Edina (2018). "Bosančica u ćiriličnoj paleografiji i njen status u filološkoj nauci". Književni Jezik (in Bosnian). Institut za jezik. 29 (29): 7–27. doi:10.33669/KJ2018-29-01. ISSN 0350-3496. Retrieved 7 May 2020.
  21. ^ Kempgen, Sebastian; Tomelleri, Vittorio Springfield (2019). Slavic Alphabets and Identities (in German). University of Bamberg Press. p. 202. ISBN 978-3-86309-617-5. Retrieved 7 May 2020.
  22. ^ a b Midžić, Fikret (2018). "Bosančica (zapadna ćirilica) kroz odabrana krajišnička pisma" (html, pdf). MemorabiLika : časopis Za Povijest, Kulturu I Geografiju Like (Jezik, Običaji, Krajolik I Arhivsko Gradivo) (in Croatian) (god. 1, br. 1): 47–62. ISSN 2623-9469. Retrieved 7 May 2020.
  23. ^ Poljička glagoljica ili poljiška azbukvica
  24. ^ a b c Journal of Croatian Studies. Vol. 10. Croatian Academy of America. 1986. p. 133.
  25. ^ Jagić, Vatroslav (1867). Historija književnosti naroda hrvatskoga i srbskoga. Knj.l.Staro doba,, Opseg 1. Zagreb: Štamparija Dragutina Albrechta. p. 142. Retrieved 4 November 2017.
  26. ^ Fine, John V. A. (Jr ) (2010). When Ethnicity Did Not Matter in the Balkans: A Study of Identity in Pre-Nationalist Croatia, Dalmatia, and Slavonia in the Medieval and Early-Modern Periods. University of Michigan Press. pp. 304–305. ISBN 978-0-472-02560-2. Retrieved 7 May 2020. Jagić cites another seventeenth-century author, the Bosnian Matija Divković (1563–1631), who was born in Bosnia, educated in Italy, and then became a Franciscan back in Bosnia; Divković, though usually calling the language “Illyrian,” at times called it “Bosnian.” Georgijević disagrees, saying he usually called the language “Bosnian”, “Slavic”, or “ours” and goes on to cite a passage: that Divković had translated (a work) into Slavic language, in the way that in Bosnia they speak the Slavic language. Moreover, Ravlić provides excerpts from Divković’s “Beside varhu evandjela nediljnieh priko svehga godišta” (Venice 1614), including the whole dedication to Makarska Bishop Bartol Kačić (spelled Kadčić by Divković). In that dedication Divković twice refers to the language he is employing; both times he calls it “Slavic” (Slovinski jezik). Divković also used the term “Slavic,” at times for the people involved; Kombol notes that he published in Venice, in 1611, a work entitled “Christian Doctrine for the Slavic People” (Nauk krstjanski za narod slovinski). In its preface, he stated that he wrote for the Slavic folk in correct and true Bosnian language. Georgijević also notes that he referred to the Bosnian Cyrillic, which he wrote in, as Serbian letters.”
  27. ^ Krešimir Georgijević (1969). Hrvatska književnost od XVI do XVIII stoljeća u Sjevernoj Hrvatskoj i Bosni (Katalog Knjižnica grada Zagreba - Detalji ed.). Matica hrvatska Zagreb. pp. 150, 158, 164, 165. Retrieved 7 May 2020.
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  • Mimica, Bože (2003). Omiška krajina Poljica makarsko primorje: Od antike do 1918. godine. ISBN 953-6059-62-2.
  • Prosperov Novak, Slobodan; Katičić, Radoslav, eds. (1987). Dva tisućljeća pismene kulture na tlu Hrvatske [Two thousand years of writing in Croatia]. Sveučilišna naklada Liber: Muzejski prostor. ISBN 863290101X.
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