Old Hungarian alphabet

For an outline of this language's history, see Old Hungarian language.
Old Hungarian
Székely-magyar rovás
Languages Hungarian
Time period
Attested from 12th century. Marginal use into the 17th century, revived in the 20th.
Parent systems
Direction Right-to-left
ISO 15924 Hung, 176
Unicode alias
Old Hungarian

The Old Hungarian script is an alphabetic writing system used for writing the Hungarian language. Today Hungarian is predominantly written using the Latin-based Hungarian alphabet, but the Old Hungarian script is still in use in some communities. The term old refers to the historical priority of the script compared to the Latin-based one.[1]

The Hungarians settled the Carpathian Basin in 895. After the establishment of the Christian Hungarian kingdom, the old writing was partly forced out of use and the Latin alphabet was adopted. However, among some professions (e.g. shepherds used a "rovás-stick" to officially track the number of animals) and in Transylvania, the script has remained in use by the Székely Magyars, giving its Hungarian name székely rovásírás. The writing could also be found in churches like the one in Atid.

The Old Hungarian script has also been described as "runic" or "runiform" because it is superficially reminiscent of the Germanic runic alphabet.[2] Its English name in the ISO 15924 standard is Old Hungarian (Hungarian Runic).[3][4]


In modern Hungarian, the script is known formally as Székely rovásírás ('Szekler script').[5] The writing system is generally known as rovásírás, székely rovásírás,[5] and székely-magyar írás (or simply rovás 'notch, score').[6]



Scientists can not give an exact date nor an origin which is known for the script.

Proto-Rovas from 5300 BC can be seen at the Tărtăria tablets according to Klára Friedrich.[7]

Axe socket found near Campagna.

Attila Grandpierre describes the incision of an axe socket found in the plains of Campagna, near Rome, that was made around 1000 BC.[8]

András Róna-Tas derives Old Hungarian from the Old Turkic script,[9] itself recorded in inscriptions dating from c. AD 720. The origins of the Turkic scripts are uncertain. The scripts may derived from Asian scripts such as the Pahlavi and Sogdian alphabets, or possibly from Kharosthi, all of which are in turn remotely derived from the Aramaic script.[10] Or alternatively, according to some opinions, ancient Turkic runes descend from primaeval Turkic graphic logograms.[11]

The inscription found in Homokmégy-Halom. From the 10th century

Speakers of Proto-Hungarian would have come into contact with Turkic peoples during the 7th or 8th century, in the context of the Turkic expansion, as is also evidenced by numerous Turkic loanwords in Proto-Hungarian.

All the letters but one for sounds which were shared by Turkic and Ancient Hungarian can be related to their Old Turkic counterparts. Most of the missing characters were derived by script internal extensions, rather than borrowings, but a small number of characters seem to derive from Greek, such as 'eF'.[12]

The modern Hungarian term for this script (coined in the 19th century) rovás derives from the verb róni ('to score') which is derived from old Uralic, general Hungarian terminology describing the technique of writing (írni 'to write', betű 'letter', bicska 'knife (also: for carving letters)') derive from Turkic,[13] which further supports transmission via Turkic alphabets.

Medieval Hungary

The alphabet of Nikolsburg

Epigraphic evidence for the use of the Old Hungarian script in medieval Hungary dates to the 10th century, for example, from Homokmégy[14] The latter inscription was found on a fragment of a quiver made of bone. Although there have been several attempts to interpret it, the meaning of it is still unclear.

In 1000, with the coronation of Stephen I of Hungary, Hungary (previously an alliance of mostly nomadic tribes) became a Kingdom. The Latin alphabet was adopted as official script, however Old Hungarian continued to be used in the vernacular.

The runic script was first mentioned in the 13th century Chronicle of Simon of Kéza,[15] where he stated that the Székelys may use the script of the Vlachs[16][17][18][19]

Early Modern period

The Old Hungarian script became part of folk art in several areas during this period. In Royal Hungary, Old Hungarian script was used less, although there are relics from this territory, too. There is another copy – similar to the Nikolsburg Alphabet – of the Old Hungarian alphabet, dated 1609. The inscription from Énlaka, dated 1668, is an example of the "folk art use".

There are a number of inscriptions ranging from the 17th to the early 19th centuries, including examples from Kibéd, Csejd, Makfalva, Szolokma, Marosvásárhely, Csíkrákos, Mezőkeresztes, Nagybánya, Torda, Felsőszemeréd , Kecskemét and Kiskunhalas.

Scholarly discussion

Hungarian script[20] was first described in late Humanist/Baroque scholarship, in 1598 by János Telegdi in his primer, "Rudimenta Priscae Hunnorum Linguae", where he presents his understanding of the script. It also contains Hungarian texts written with runes, for example, the Lord's Prayer.

In the 19th century scholars began to research the rules and the other features of the Old Hungarian script. From this time the name rovásírás 'runic writing' began to enter again into the popular consciousness in Hungary, and script historians in other countries began to use the terms "Old Hungarian", "Altungarisch", and so on. Because the Old Hungarian script had been replaced by Latin, linguistic researchers in the 20th century had to reconstruct the alphabet from historic sources. Gyula Sebestyén, ethnographer, folklorist and Gyula (Julius) Németh, philologist, linguist, turcologist did the lion's share of this work. Sebestyén's publications, Rovás és rovásírás (Runes and runic writing, Budapest, 1909) and A magyar rovásírás hiteles emlékei (The authentic relics of Hungarian runic writing, Budapest, 1915) contain valuable information on the topic.

Welcome sign in Latin and in Old Hungarian script for the town of Vonyarcvashegy, Hungary

Beginning with Adorján Magyar in 1915, the script has been promulgated as a means for writing modern Hungarian. These groups approached the question of representation of the vowels of modern Hungarian in different ways. Adorján Magyar made use of characters to distinguish a/á and e/é but did not distinguish the other vowels by length. A school led by Sándor Forrai from 1974 onward did also distinguish i/í, o/ó, ö/ő, u/ú, and ü/ű. The revival has become part of significant ideological nationalist subculture not only in Hungary (largely centered in Budapest), but also amongst the Hungarian diaspora, particularly in the United States and Canada.[21]

Old Hungarian has seen other usages in the modern period, sometimes in association with or referencing Hungarian neopaganism, similar to the way in which Norse neopagans have taken up the Germanic runes, and Celtic neopagans have taken up Ogham script for various purposes. The use of the script sometimes has a political undertone, as they can be found from time to time in graffiti with a variety of content.[21]


Luigi Ferdinando Marsigli's work (1690), The copied script derives from 1450

The inscription corpus includes:


The runic alphabet included 42 letters. As in the Old Turkic script, some consonants had two forms, one to be used with back vowels (a, á, o, ó, u, ú) and another for front vowels (e, é, i, í, ö, ő, ü, ű). The names of the consonants are always pronounced with a vowel. In the old alphabet, the consonant-vowel order is reversed, unlike today's pronunciation (ep rather than ). This is because the oldest inscriptions lacked vowels and were rarely written down, just like other ancient languages' consonant-writing systems (Arabic, Hebrew, Aramaic, etc.). The alphabet did not contain letters for the phonemes dz and dzs of modern Hungarian, since these are relatively recent developments in the language's history. Nor did it have letters for Latin q, w, x and y. The modern revitalization movement has created symbols for these; in Unicode encoding they are represented as ligatures.

For more information about the transliteration's pronunciation, see Hungarian alphabet.

Letter Name Phoneme (IPA) Old Hungarian (image) Old Hungarian (Unicode)
A a /ɒ/    𐲀 𐳀
Á á /aː/    𐲁 𐳁
B eb /b/    𐲂 𐳂
C ec /ts/    𐲄 𐳄
Cs ecs /tʃ/ 𐲆 𐳆
D ed /d/    𐲇 𐳇
Dz dzé /dz/    Ligature of 𐲇 and 𐲯
Dzs dzsé /dʒ/ Ligature of 𐲇 and 𐲰
E e /ɛ/    𐲉 𐳉
(Ë) ë /e/ 𐲊 𐳊
É é /eː/    𐲋 𐳋
F ef /f/    𐲌 𐳌
G eg /ɡ/    𐲍 𐳍
Gy egy /ɟ/    𐲎 𐳎
H eh /h/ 𐲏 𐳏
I i /i/ 𐲐 𐳐
Í í /iː/    𐲑 𐳑
J ej /j/    𐲒 𐳒
K ek /k/    𐲓 𐳓
K ak /k/    𐲔 𐳔
L el /l/    𐲖 𐳖
Ly elly, el-ipszilon /j/    𐲗 𐳗
M em /m/    𐲘 𐳘
N en /n/ 𐲙 𐳙
Ny eny /ɲ/    𐲚 𐳚
O o /o/ 𐲛 𐳛
Ó ó /oː/    𐲜 𐳜
Ö ö /ø/    𐲝 𐳝 𐲞 𐳞
Ő ő /øː/ 𐲟 𐳟
P ep /p/    𐲠 𐳠
(Q) eq Ligature of 𐲓 and 𐲮
R er /ɲ/    𐲢 𐳢
S es /ʃ/    𐲤 𐳤
Sz esz /s/    𐲥 𐳥
T et /t/    𐲦 𐳦
Ty ety /c/    𐲨 𐳨
U u /u/ 𐲪 𐳪
Ú ú /uː/    𐲫 𐳫
Ü ü /y/ 𐲬 𐳬
Ű ű /yː/    𐲭 𐳭
V ev /v/    𐲮 𐳮
(W) dupla vé /v/    Ligature of 𐲮 and 𐲮
(X) iksz Ligature of 𐲓 and 𐲥
(Y) ipszilon /i/ Ligature of 𐲐 and 𐲒
Z ez /z/    𐲯 𐳯
Zs ezs /ʒ/    𐲰 𐳰

The Hungarian runes also include some non-alphabetical runes which are not ligatures but separate signs. These are called capita dictionum. Further research is needed to define their origin and traditional usage. Some examples:


Old Hungarian letters were usually written from right to left on sticks. Later, in Transylvania, they appeared on several media. Writings on walls also were right to left and not boustrophedon style (alternating direction right to left and then left to right).

Hungarian numerals

The numbers are almost the same as the Roman, Etruscan, and Chuvash numerals. Numbers of livestock were carved on tally sticks and the sticks were then cut in two lengthwise to avoid later disputes.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 50 100 500 1000
𐳺 𐳺𐳺 𐳺𐳺𐳺 𐳺𐳺𐳺𐳺 𐳻 𐳻𐳺 𐳻𐳺𐳺 𐳻𐳺𐳺𐳺 𐳻𐳺𐳺𐳺𐳺 𐳼 𐳽 𐳾 𐳿

Text example

Text from Csíkszentmárton, 1501. Runes originally written as ligatures are underlined.

Interpretation in old Hungarian: "ÚRNaK SZÜLeTéSéTÜL FOGVÁN ÍRNaK eZeRÖTSZÁZeGY eSZTeNDŐBE MÁTYáS JÁNOS eSTYTáN KOVÁCS CSINÁLTáK MÁTYáSMeSTeR GeRGeLYMeSTeRCSINÁLTÁK G IJ A aS I LY LY LT A" (The letters actually written in the runic text are written with uppercase in the transcription.)

Interpretation in modern Hungarian: "(Ezt) az Úr születése utáni 1501. évben írták. Mátyás, János, István kovácsok csinálták. Mátyás mester (és) Gergely mester csinálták [uninterpretable]"

English translation: "(This) was written in the 1501st year of our Lord. The smiths Matthias, John (and) Stephen did (this). Master Matthias (and) Master Gregory did [uninterpretable]"


After many proposals[23] Old Hungarian was added to the Unicode Standard in June, 2015 with the release of version 8.0.

The Unicode block for Old Hungarian is U+10C80–U+10CFF:

Old Hungarian[1][2]
Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
U+10C8x 𐲀 𐲁 𐲂 𐲃 𐲄 𐲅 𐲆 𐲇 𐲈 𐲉 𐲊 𐲋 𐲌 𐲍 𐲎 𐲏
U+10C9x 𐲐 𐲑 𐲒 𐲓 𐲔 𐲕 𐲖 𐲗 𐲘 𐲙 𐲚 𐲛 𐲜 𐲝 𐲞 𐲟
U+10CAx 𐲠 𐲡 𐲢 𐲣 𐲤 𐲥 𐲦 𐲧 𐲨 𐲩 𐲪 𐲫 𐲬 𐲭 𐲮 𐲯
U+10CBx 𐲰 𐲱 𐲲
U+10CCx 𐳀 𐳁 𐳂 𐳃 𐳄 𐳅 𐳆 𐳇 𐳈 𐳉 𐳊 𐳋 𐳌 𐳍 𐳎 𐳏
U+10CDx 𐳐 𐳑 𐳒 𐳓 𐳔 𐳕 𐳖 𐳗 𐳘 𐳙 𐳚 𐳛 𐳜 𐳝 𐳞 𐳟
U+10CEx 𐳠 𐳡 𐳢 𐳣 𐳤 𐳥 𐳦 𐳧 𐳨 𐳩 𐳪 𐳫 𐳬 𐳭 𐳮 𐳯
U+10CFx 𐳰 𐳱 𐳲 𐳺 𐳻 𐳼 𐳽 𐳾 𐳿
1.^ As of Unicode version 9.0
2.^ Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points

Pre-Unicode encodings

A set of closely related 8-bit code pages exist, devised in the 1990s by Gabor Hosszú. These were mapped to Latin-1 or Latin-2 character set fonts. After installing one of them and applying their formatting to the document – because of the lack of capital letters – runic characters could be entered in the following way: those letters which are unique letters in today's Hungarian orthography are virtually lowercase ones, and can be written by simply pressing the specific key; and since the modern digraphs equal to separate rovás letters, they were encoded as 'uppercase' letters, i.e. in the space originally restricted for capitals. Thus, typing a lowercase g will produce the rovas character for the sound marked with Latin script g, but entering an uppercase G will amount to a rovás sign equivalent to a digraph gy in Latin-based Hungarian orthography.

See also


  1. "Consolidated proposal for encoding the Old Hungarian script in the UCS" (PDF).
  2. Everson & Szelp (2012)
  3. "ISO 15924/RA Notice of Changes". ISO 15924.
  4. Code request for the Rovas script in ISO 15924 (2012-10-20)
  5. 1 2  listen 
  6. by the public. From the verb 'to carve', 'to score' since the letters were usually carved on wood or sticks.
  7. Friedrich, Klára. "A Kárpát-medence, a bosnyák piramisok és Glozel jelrendszerének összehasonlítása". Retrieved 14 April 2015.
  8. Grandpierre, Attila (2012). Atilla és a hunok. NAPKÚT KIADÓ KFT. p. 64. ISBN 9789637707018.
  9. Róna-Tas (1987, 1988)
  10. András Róna-Tas: On the Development and Origin of the East Turkic "Runic" Script (In: Acta Orientalia Academiae Scientiarum Hungariae XLI (1987), p. 7-14
  11. Franz Altheim: Geschichte der Hunnen, vol. 1, p. 118
  12. Új Magyar Lexikon (New Hungarian Encyclopaedia) – Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest, 1962. (Volume 5) ISBN 963-05-2808-8
  13. András Róna-Tas A magyar írásbeliség török eredetéhez (In: Klára Sándor (ed.) Rovás és Rovásírás p.9-14 — Szeged, 1992, ISBN 963-481-885-4)
  14. István Fodor – György Diószegi – László Legeza: Őseink nyomában. (On the scent of our ancestors) – Magyar Könyvklub-Helikon Kiadó, Budapest, 1996. ISBN 963-208-400-4 (Page 82)
  15. Dóra Tóth-Károly Bera: Honfoglalás és őstörténet. Aquila, Budapest, 1996. ISBN 963-8276-96-7
  16. Bodor, György: A blakok. In: Viktor Szombathy and Gyula László (eds.), Magyarrá lett keleti népek. Budapest, 1988. pp. 56-60.
  17. Drăgoescu, Anton. Istoria României: Transilvania. Vol. I, Ch. 4,p. 34
  18. Adolf Armbruster. Romanitatea Românilor: The History of an Idea. Editura Enciclopedică. Ch1.3. This is further strengthened by the quote by Keza: Blackis, qui ipsorum (Romanorum) fuere pastores et coloni, remanentibus sponte in Pannonia.
  19. http://epa.oszk.hu/00000/00010/00048/pdf/EPA00010_hsr_2013_2.pdf
  20. Diringer, David. 1947. The Alphabet. A Key to the History of Mankind. London: Hutchinson's Scientific and technical Publications. Pp. 314-315. Gelb, I. J. 1952. A study of writing: The foundations of grammatology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Pp. 142, 144. Gaur, Albertine. 1992. A History of Writing. London: British Library. ISBN 0-7123-0270-0. P. 143. Coulmas, Florian. 1996. The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Writing Systems. ISBN 0-631-19446-0. Pp. 366-368.
  21. 1 2 Maxwell, Alexander (2004). "Contemporary Hungarian Rune-Writing: Ideological Linguistic Nationalism within a Homogenous Nation", Anthropos, 99: 2004, pp. 161-175
  22. Klára Sándor: A bolognai rovásemlék, Szeged, 1991; ISBN 963-481-870-6


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