Birch bark letter no. 292

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Birch-bark letter No. 292

The birch bark letter given the document number 292 is the oldest known document in any Finnic language. The document is dated to the beginning of the 13th century. It was found in 1957 by a Soviet expedition led by Artemiy Artsikhovsky in the Nerevsky excavation on the left coast side of Novgorod.[1] It is currently held at the Novgorod City Museum.

The language used in the document is thought to be an archaic form of Livvi-Karelian, the language spoken in Olonets Karelia,[2] although the exact form is difficult to determine, as Finnic dialects were still developing during that period.


Birch-bark letter 292.gif

The text is written in Cyrillic in the Karelian dialect of the archaic Finnic language. A transcription of the text is as follows:



By Yuri Yeliseyev[edit]

The text, as transliterated to the Latin alphabet by Yuri Yeliseyev in 1959[3] and interpreted in modern Finnish:

jumolanuoli ï nimizi

nouli se han oli omo bou

jumola soud'ni iohovi
Jumalannuoli, kymmenen [on] nimesi

Tämä nuoli on Jumalan oma

Tuomion-Jumala johtaa.

In English, this means roughly the following:

God's arrow, ten [is] your name
This arrow is God's own

The Doom-God leads.

Yeliseyev believes, that this is an invocation against lightning, as evidenced by "ten your names" construction. According to superstitious notions, knowledge of the name gives a human the magic power over an object or phenomenon.[4]

By Martti Haavio[edit]

As the orthography used does not utilize spaces between words, the source text can be transcribed into words in different ways. Martti Haavio gives a different interpretation of the text in his 1964 article, suggesting, that this is a sort of an oath:

jumolan nuoli inimizi

nouli sekä n[u]oli omo bou

jumola soud'nii okovy

In modern Finnish, this means roughly the following:

Jumalan nuoli, ihmisen

nuoli sekä nuoli oma.

Tuomion jumalan kahlittavaksi.

In modern Estonian, this means roughly the following:

Jumala nool, inimese

nool ja nool omaenda.

Kohtujumala aheldatuks.

In English, this means roughly the following:

God's arrow, man's
arrow, and (his) own arrow. [

To be chained by the Doom-God.]

By Yevgeny Khelimsky[edit]

Professor Yevgeny Khelimsky in his 1986 work[5] criticizes Haavio's interpretation and gives the third known scientific interpretation, believing the letter to be an invocation, like Yeliseyev:[4]

Jumalan nuoli 10 nimezi

Nuoli säihä nuoli ambu

Jumala suduni ohjavi (johavi?)

A translation into Finnish of this interpretation would look something like this:

Jumalan nuoli 10 nimesi

Nuoli säihkyvä nuoli ampuu

Suuto-Jumala (Syyttö-Jumala)† ohjaa (johtaa?)

In English, it means roughly the following:

God's arrow, ten your name(s)
Arrow sparkling, arrow shoots

The Doom-God guides/directs (leads/rules?)

Syyttö-Jumala could also mean "Blaming God" or "God that blames"; modern Finnish syyttää = to blame or prosecute.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ А.В. Арциховский, В.И. Борковский. Новгородские грамоты на бересте (из раскопок 1956–1957 гг.). М.: Из-во Акад. Наук СССР, 1963.
  2. ^ Itämerensuomalaista kirjoitusta 1200-luvulta Archived 2012-05-25 at (in Finnish)
  3. ^ Елисеев Ю. С. Древнейший письменный памятник одного из прибалтийско-финских языков.— Изв. АН СССР. Отд-ние лит. и языка, 1959, т. 18, Вып. 1, с. 65—72.
  4. ^ a b Written information on Karelians by S. I. Kochkurkina, A. M. Spiridonov, T. N. Jackson, 1996
  5. ^ Хелимский Е. А. О прибалтийско-финском языковом материале в новгородских берестяных грамотах. In the book Янин В. Л., Зализняк А. А. Новгородские грамоты на бересте (из раскопок 1977—1983 гг.): Комментарии и словоуказатель к берестяным грамотам (из раскопок 1951—1983 гг.) / АН СССР. Отд-ние истории. — М.: Наука, 1986. — С. 254—255.)


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