23 June 2011

The Alphabet of Religion

Serbia and Poland are Slavic Eastern European countries. On opposite ends of Eastern Europe, Serbia is relatively close to Italy while Poland is nearby Russia. Yet, despite their geographical position, Polish and Serbian alphabets are juxtaposed in that Polish writing is more Italian-like while Serbian writing is more Russian like.  The Polish language uses Latin letters (like these) while the Serbian alphabet uses Cyrillic letters (Кириллица). One wonders why that is.

Latin and Cyrillic alphabets are both Greek alphabet derivatives.  Latin alphabet was borrowed and modified from yet another Greek alphabet derivative, called Euboean alphabet, by Etruscans, rulers of the early Rome.   From there, it took its hold and became the most widely-used alphabet in the world today, in great part thanks to Rome's expansive multi-century dominance.

Cyrillic alphabet, whose origin is attributed to two 9th Century Byzantine Greek brothers, Saints Cyril and Methodius, was first developed in Bulgaria in 10th century AD.  From there, it traveled, mostly eastwards, with those who were motivated to educate, namely Christian monks.

Serbia was Christianized by the Byzantine Papacy, which adhered to Eastern Orthodox Christianity.  Over the years, Serbian Orthodoxy survived the Muslim Ottoman Empire, Croatian domination, World War II, and a suspicious socialist regime led by Tito.  Throughout this time, Serbia maintained its character and culture, propagating the Cyrillic alphabet to today.

Poland was Christianized by Mieszko I, Poland's first ruler.  Perhaps opportunistically, Mieszko chose to be baptized in Rome to strengthen his hold on the relatively new state of Poland.  With that Roman Catholic Christendom, Mieszko also brought Latin letters, propagated by church's teachings, to Poland.

Take a look at the maps below.  The first shows the distribution of Cyrillic alphabet in the world.  The second shows how Latin alphabet is distributed.  Areas in lighter shade of green show countries where multiple alphabet systems are used.

The World of Cyrillic Alphabet

The World of Latin Alphabet

Now, exclude the non-Western portions* from the Latin alphabet map.  You basically have North America, Western Europe, and Australia.  Compare that with the Cyrillic alphabet map.  You have the Soviet Union and a good chunk of the "Iron Curtain."  In other words, you have a nice proxy for the 20th century East-West conflict.

My hypothesis is that the 20th Century Cold war ("East-West Conflict") was part of a longer historical arc that started with the East-West Schism of 1054.  This topic shall be discussed in more detail in the next blog.


*  The alphabet map just shows how each church, the Roman Catholic Church or the Eastern Orthodox Church, spread throughout the world.  Latin America, by virtue of Catholic Spanish and Portuguese conquests, adopted the Latin alphabet.  North America got its alphabet from England, France, and Spain, all of which were under the influence of the Roman Catholic church at some point in their history.  Australia, thanks to British prisoners, became Christianized and Anglicized.  India, Africa, and Southeaster Asia all have the Latin alphabet system thanks to aggressive colonization efforts by Western European powers.


  1. I think you have to read some work of the Dmitry Galkovsky - just to see this from other dimesion.

  2. In the first map with the cyrillic alphabet,Romania is highlighted in light green which is wrong because it only uses the latin alphabet.