Buyla inscription

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The Buyla Inscription
The buckled bowl bearing the Buyla inscription.
Material gold
Created Middle or Late Avar Period (670 AD – 800 AD)
Discovered 1799 near Nagyszentmiklós (today Sânnicolau Mare in Timiş County, Romania)
Present location Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

The Buyla inscription is a 9-word, 56-character inscription written in the Greek alphabet but in a non-Greek language. It is found on a golden buckled bowl or cup which is among the pieces of the Treasure of Nagyszentmiklós[1][2] which are now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.[1][3] The bowl is 12 cm in diameter and weighs 212 g, and has a handle or buckle, perhaps for hanging on a belt. The inscription is found around the outside of a circular design in the middle of the bowl. In the place where the inscription begins and ends, there is a cross. The inscription reads: ΒΟΥΗΛΑ·​ΖΟΑΠΑΝ·​ΤΕϹΗ·​ΔΥΓΕΤΟΙΓΗ·​ΒΟΥΤΑΟΥΛ·​ΖΩΑΠΑΝ·​ΤΑΓΡΟΓΗ·​ΗΤΖΙΓΗ·​ΤΑΙϹΗ.[4]

Prevailing opinion is that the language of the text is a Turkic language, and several translations have been proposed, though none are agreed upon.[1][5][2] Vilhelm Thomsen translated the inscription: "Boila zoapan finished this bowl [this drinking cup], which Boutaoul zoapan made suitable for hanging up."[6] Nikola Mavrodinov translated it: "Bouila zoapan made this cup; Boutaul Zoapan made this cup suitable for drinking from."[6] Gyula Németh translated it: "Boila chaban's bowl, which was made to his order; Boutaoul had a buckle made for it, and this is his bowl."[6] Paul Lazăr Tonciulescu translated it: "Jupan Buila [has] all rights, jupan Butaul [has the right of] entering [in] all towns.[7]


The treasure of Nagyszentmiklós[edit]

The treasure of Nagyszentmiklós, of which the bowl is a part, consists of 23 decorated gold vessels weighing around 10 kg.[8][9][3] It was found in 1799 on the banks of the Aranca river, near Nagyszentmiklós (today Sânnicolau Mare in Timiş County, Romania),[10][3][11] in the region of Avar settlement in the Carpathian Basin.[12] It was also attributed to the lower Danube Bulgars,[13] but the current view is that the treasure is of Avar origin and closely related to the Avar culture.[14][12][13][15]

The objects were made by specialized craftsmen in the 7th and 8th centuries[14][16][12] and were hoarded by local lords.[17][18] The treasure was last "used" and buried in the second half of the 8th century or perhaps in the early 9th century.[12][18]

Some of the vessels bear runiform inscriptions. Similar characters can be found on a bone needle case excavated in the Late Avar cemetery of Szarvas (in Békés County, Hungary) and dated to the second half of the 8th century.[8][19] Based on this evidence, some scholars proposed a similar date for the Nagyszentmiklós inscriptions.[8][11]

The inscription[edit]

A drawing of the inscription made by József Hampel.

The Buyla inscription is engraved in Greek letters on the inner bottom of a round buckled bowl (no. 21 in József Hampel's list), on a flat ring surrounding a lavishly decorated disk.[20][21]

The inscription has the following text, easily readable, and uses a 'C'-shaped glyph for sigma:[22][23][21]


The lower case equivalent is:

† βουηλα • ζοαπαν • τεση • δυγετοιγη • βουταουλ • ζωαπαν • ταγρογη • ητζιγη • ταιση

The transliteration is:

† bouēla • zoapan • tesē • dugetoigē • boutaoul • zōapan • tagrogē • ētzigē • taisē

Paleographic and epigraphic considerations[edit]

Some of the letters of the inscription have distinctive shapes. The letters sigma and epsilon have broad arcs.[24] The base line of delta juts out on both sides.[25] Beta has also a prominent base line, a form found in the Greek inscriptions from Bulgaria dated to the early 9th century,[24][26][27] but otherwise it is rarely attested in the Greek-writing world: only[24][26] on several Cherson coins of the Byzantine emperor Basil I (867-886)[26][27][28] and also on one inscription of the same emperor, found in Mesembria (today Nesebar, Bulgaria).[26][29] The shape of alpha is also attested on the 9th century Greek inscriptions from Bulgaria.[24] On the other hand, omega's unusual shape, with a middle vertical line higher than the rounded sides, is specific for the 6th century Greek inscriptions and the oldest forms of the Greek Uncial script.[24][30]


In this inscription there is a free alternation between ε and αι, η and ι, and ο and ω.[31][32] These groups became homophones in Koine Greek, merging to /ɛ/, /i/ and /o/.[31][33] Also ου was read /u/,[33] υ was read /y/,[34][32][33] and οι was read either /y/[34][33] or /ø/.[35]


In the late 19th century, József Hampel suggested that the treasure of Nagyszentmiklós was buried by Gepids in the 4th or 5th century AD,[36][37] and attempted to decipher the text of the inscription using the Greek language. Three words end in -γη, which was read by Hampel as the Greek γῆ = "land, country". He concluded that the inscription records two Gepid princes, Bouila and Boutaoul, and the three lands they ruled: Tagro, Etzi and Dygetoi.[38][39][40] The last toponym was connected with the Getae of the Classical Antiquity.[41][40] This interpretation was sharply criticized by Vilhelm Thomsen and Gyula Németh, who showed that the language of the inscription cannot be Greek, but an old Turkic language.[42][43]

Today almost all scholars share the view that the text was written in a Turkic language,[1][44][2] but it has not been deciphered and the exact classification of the language has been a subject of debate.[1][5] It has been often compared with the Turkic Bulgar language of the First Bulgarian Empire,[32][5][27] attested on several 8th-9th century inscriptions found in north-eastern Bulgaria and written in Greek letters.[45] More recently Eugene Helimski argued the language is close to Proto-Tungusic,[46] but this proposal was rejected by Marcel Erdal as far-fetched.[47]


It is generally agreed that the first word is the Turkic title buyla or boyla (also spelled boila[48]) which is attested on several Old Turkic and Danube Bulgar inscriptions[49][50] and also mentioned by some 9th and 10th centuries Byzantine authors.[49][51] Some scholars proposed that Buyla should be read as a personal name in this text.[2][49]


Butaul is usually read as a personal name.[2][52][53] It may be interpreted as "son of Buta" with the final -ul being a development of the Turkic oğul = "son".[52][54] This etymology was challenged based on the observation that according to the predominant model of construction of Turkic patronymics, the possessive forms oğlu or oğli are expected.[52][55] Based on the names attested on Old Turkic inscriptions, Erdal posited the reading But Aul.[52]


In 1900, Karl Brugmann derived the Common Slavic *županъ from župa "district, small administrative region",[56] an etymology that was accepted by many linguists.[57] However, others suggested the opposite evolution: župa as a back formation from župan, a title of Iranian etymological origin, generally found among Slavs.


  1. ^ a b c d e Alemany 2009, p. 5.
  2. ^ a b c d e Róna-Tas 1999, pp. 131-132.
  3. ^ a b c Daim 2003, p. 515.
  4. ^ Gyula Moravcsik, Byzantinoturcica: Sprachreste der Türkvölker in den byzantinischen Quellen (1983)
  5. ^ a b c Göbl & Róna-Tas 1995, p. 19.
  6. ^ a b c according to Gyula László and István Rácz (The treasure of Nagyszentmikloś, 1984)
  7. ^ Paul Lazăr Tonciulescu - "De la Țara Luanei la Ieud", Editura Miracol, București, 1998
  8. ^ a b c Pohl 1988, p. 182.
  9. ^ Bálint 2010, p. 153.
  10. ^ Hampel 1885, p. 3.
  11. ^ a b Róna-Tas 1999, p. 131.
  12. ^ a b c d Daim 2003, p. 516.
  13. ^ a b Fiedler 2008, p. 218.
  14. ^ a b Bálint 2010, pp. 153,155.
  15. ^ Róna-Tas 1999, p. 132.
  16. ^ Curta 2006, p. 94.
  17. ^ Bálint 2010, p. 155.
  18. ^ a b Róna-Tas 1999, pp. 131,264.
  19. ^ Róna-Tas 1999, pp. 127,131.
  20. ^ Hampel 1885, p. 44.
  21. ^ a b Erdal 1988, p. 221.
  22. ^ Hampel 1885, p. 47.
  23. ^ Thomsen 1918, p. 15.
  24. ^ a b c d e Erdal 1988, p. 222.
  25. ^ Erdal 1988, pp. 222-223.
  26. ^ a b c d Beshevliev 1963, p. 21.
  27. ^ a b c Thomsen 1918, p. 27.
  28. ^ Wroth 1908, pp. 442-443.
  29. ^ Beshevliev 1952, p. 31.
  30. ^ Beshevliev 1963, p. 19.
  31. ^ a b Thomsen 1918, pp. 18-19.
  32. ^ a b c Erdal 1988, p. 223.
  33. ^ a b c d Petrounias 2007, pp. 602-605.
  34. ^ a b Thomsen 1918, p. 19.
  35. ^ Erdal 1988, p. 224.
  36. ^ Hampel 1898, p. 58.
  37. ^ Göbl & Róna-Tas 1995, p. 14.
  38. ^ Hampel 1898, pp. 47-51.
  39. ^ Göbl & Róna-Tas 1995, p. 13.
  40. ^ a b Thomsen 1918, p. 17.
  41. ^ Hampel 1898, pp. 48-50.
  42. ^ Thomsen 1918, pp. 17-18.
  43. ^ Göbl & Róna-Tas 1995, pp. 17-18.
  44. ^ Göbl & Róna-Tas 1995, pp. 18-19.
  45. ^ Fiedler 2008, pp. 189-191.
  46. ^ Helimski 2000, pp. 271-277.
  47. ^ Erdal 2007, p. 79.
  48. ^ Pohl 1988, pp. 182,305.
  49. ^ a b c Gobl & Róna-Tas 1995, p. 22.
  50. ^ Erdal 1988, pp. 225-226.
  51. ^ Erdal 1988, p. 225.
  52. ^ a b c d Erdal 1988, p. 226.
  53. ^ Gobl & Róna-Tas 1995, p. 23.
  54. ^ Göbl & Róna-Tas 1995, p. 23.
  55. ^ Helimski 2000, p. 271.
  56. ^ Brugmann 1900, p. 111.
  57. ^ Alemany 2009, p. 7.


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