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Malamirovo, Bulgaria, 813
We have very, very, very little vernacular material from the Dark Ages, between Leontius of Neapolis in vii AD, and Michael Glycas’ Prison Verses from 1158. A couple of acclamations, the odd proverb, a song half-written down by Anna Comnena, a song reconstructed from a 16th century curse against mice, a few legal deeds from Southern Italy; that’s pretty much it.
- Beševliev, V. 1963. Die Protobulgarischen Inschriften. Berlin: Akademie Verlag.
These are the inscriptions placed around Bulgaria by the Bulgars in the eighth and ninth centuries. The Bulgars still spoke a Turkic language: they had not yet been assimilated to the Bulgarians they ruled. There are a few Turkic words in their inscriptions, but for the most part, they are in Greek. The presumption is, they were carved by Greek prisoners of war.
So these inscriptions potentially mark the earliest instances of Modern Greek—which is assumed to have formed exactly during that period. Maybe, maybe not: the phonology is certainly Modern Greek and accurate, except that υ and οι are still conflated as /y/ (λυπά). (The first evidence we have of them switching to /i/ is from around 1030.) Only some prepositions have switched from the genitive to the accusative. The texts are the earliest evidence for the Northern Greek use of the accusative in indirect objects (έδοκε[ν] αυτόν ο θεός). But they aren’t particularly rich syntactically, so they don’t tell us as much as they might.
The proto-Bulgarian inscriptions (to use the Bulgarian name for the Bulgars) don’t get a lot of airplay in histories of Greek. Part of the reason is, they’re not literary texts. Surely part of the reason is, they are texts unabashedly hostile to the Greeks. And the illustration I’m posting is particularly chilling: it’s Krum, boasting of his victories against the Byzantines between 811 and 813, and then going back to recounting the atrocities of Nicephorus I, emperor of “The Lower Land” (modern Eastern Thrace). After the Battle of Pliska in 811, likely commemorated at the end of this inscription, Krum drank wine out of Nicephorus’ skull. A year after the inscription, Krum himself was dead.
This is an inscription, and some of you may not be familiar with the conventions for transcribing inscriptions. Quoting from the first site I googled:
[ ] Square brackets enclose letters which are thought to have been originally engraved but which have been lost through the breaking or defacement of the stone.
( ) Round brackets enclose letters which have been added by the epigraphist to complete an abbreviated word; or, less commonly, which have been substituted by him to correct a blunder.
< > Angular brackets enclose letters which the epigraphist believes were included in error.
| A vertical bar indicates the beginning of a fresh line on the stone.
Ạ A dot placed under a letter indicates that it is not fully legible (through decay or erasure). (Your font may mangle that to a blank square.)
[ο Κρουμος ο] [ά]-
ρχον Ϲ̣ΒΗΝΝΟ. ε-
ξήλθεν ης (Κονσταν)ηνόπο-
(λη)ν (με τον λαόν) αυτού.
[Ομουρταγ ο] [ά]-
ρχον Ϲ̣ΒΗΝΝΟ. ε-
ξήλθεν ης (την πό)λην ο πα-
(τ)ήρ (μου με τον λαόν) αυτού.
[κ]ε ο αδελφός αυ-
[τ]ού ουκ εληθάρ-
[γ]ησεν αυτόν κε εξήλ-
[θ]εν κε έδοκε[ν]
αυτόν ο θεό-
ς κε τόπ[ου]ς κ[ε]
<ϹΕ> την Σερδη-
κήν, την<ν> Δεβελ-
τόν, την Κονστα-
ντήαν, την (Βερσ)ηνι-
ν. τα δε λυπά κ[άσ]-
τρα έδοκεν ο θε[ό]ς
φόβον κε ά[φ]ηκ-
[α]ν κε έφυγαν κ-
ε ο κά[τ]ου τόπος (ουκ) λ-
ηθάργησεν τον τό-
πον τούτον, <τ> όπου ε[ξ]ή-
λθε(ν με) τον όλον λαόν κε
έκ(α)ψ(εν τα) χορήα ημόν<ν> α[υ]-
τό(ς) ο γέρον ο βασηλεύ[ς]
ο φαρακλός [κ]ε επήρεν
όλα κε τους όρκους ε-
λησμόνησεν κε εξ-
[ή]λθεν επή (αυτόν) ο άρχον <ο ά>
ο Κρο[υ]μος προς [τ]ο πολ(εμήσε)
[κε τον βασ]ηλέ[α] ε[νίκησεν? εφόνευσεν?]
ΟΝ̣Ε .. κε απήλθεν ήνα
…… [κ]ε ερήμ(ο)σα την
… Lord Krum … went forth to Constantinople with his people [Or: (Krum’s son) Lord Omurtag … my father went forth to the City with his people.] And his brother neglected him not, and went forth, and God granted to Krum, and so he laid the following places and fortresses to waste: Serdica [Sofia], Debeltos, Constantia [location uncertain], Versinicia, Adrianople [Edirne]. These strong fortresses did he conquer. The other fortresses, God gave them fear and they left and fled. And the Lower Land—he did not forget that land, whence the old bald emperor himself came out with all his people, and burned our villages and took everything away, and forgot his oaths. And Lord Krum went forth against him, to make war on him, and he has (defeated? killed?) the emperor, … and he left to … and I have laid to waste the (Lower Land).