Armenian Alphabet and Printing
“To know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding.”
Book of Proverbs 1:2.
This translation from the Proverbs of Solomon was the first sentence ever written using the Armenian alphabet.
Language and literature have always had a special role in the preservation of Armenia’s cultural and national identity. Until the 5th century when the Armenian alphabet was created, Armenian tales were either passed down through the oral tradition or written down in other languages.
Armenian is a distinct branch in the Indo-European family of languages. Early in the 5th century, Classical Armenian or “Grabar” was one of the richest languages of the Near East and Asia Minor.
The Armenian alphabet has certain unique characteristics. It uniquely expresses the characteristics of the Armenian language and Armenia's Christian culture; and, although it was created in 405 AD, it has undergone only minor changes since. The modern Armenian alphabet has 39 letters. In the 12th century the letters "o" and "f" were added to the 36 letters of the original Mashtots alphabet, and in the 20th century the letter "yev" was included. The uniqueness of the Armenian alphabet is also expressed in its digital equivalent system. Armenian letters can be arranged in four columns: units, tens, hundreds and thousands. Armenian writing is composed on a principle of one letter per sound.
Matenadaran (the Institute of Ancient Manuscripts in Yerevan) includes a collection of 14,000 complete manuscripts, fragments and miniatures. The oldest parchments date back to the 5th and 6th centuries. These manuscripts include but are not limited to theology, geography, astronomy, astrology, history, alchemy, medicine, poetry and music.
The very first books printed in the Armenian language were “Urbatagirk”, “Parzatumar”, “Pataragatetr”, “Aghtark”, and “Tagharan”. These books were printed in Venice in 1512-1513 by Hagop Meghapart. Since the printed versions of these books were unfamiliar to Armenians and handwritten books were considered to be great valuables, Hakob Meghapart attempted to give these printed books a handwritten appearance. It is interesting that even before Armenia acheived status as a state, more than 20 thousand books were printed in Armenian between 1512 and 1918.
The first printing house in Armenia was established in Vagharshapat in 1771 and the first book printed was “Zbosaran Hogevor” (Spiritual Promenades). The book was published in 1772 by Catholicos Simeon I of Yerevan.