On the appearance and development of Cyrillic letterforms

21 September 2020


Eugene Yukechev

On the ap­pear­an­ce and de­vel­op­ment of Cyril­lic let­ter­forms

Cyril­lic is a phon­et­ic writ­ing sys­tem largely worked out in a re­l­at­ively short time (9th – 10th cen­tur­ies) in the First Bul­gari­an Em­pire. East­ern Greek un­cial script un­der­lies the gen­er­al look of the script and that of many of its char­ac­ters, while the phon­et­ic struc­ture de­rives from earli­er Glagolitic. Cyril­lic script and sub­se­quent Cyril­lic ty­po­graph­ic forms de­ve­loped gradu­ally up to the early 18th cen­tury, ap­prox­im­ately up to the cre­ation of the Rus­si­an Em­pire and the ac­ces­sion to the throne of Peter the Great. Peter was deeply in­volved in the design and pro­duc­tion of the new Rus­si­an type, known as Civil Type. However, the stand­ard let­ter­forms of Prin­ted Cyril­lic (as they ap­pear today) were reached only in the 19th cen­tury — 400 years after the de­vel­op­ment of West­ern ro­mans.

The de­vel­op­ment of the Cyril­lic al­pha­bet was thus marked by three im­port­ant turn­ing points:  ➊ The in­ven­tion of the Glagolit­ic al­pha­bet in Great Moravia as part of the work of the Byz­an­ti­ne Chris­ti­an mis­sion­ar­ies Saints Cyril and Meth­o­di­us (863 CE);  ➋ De­vel­op­ment of the Cyril­lic al­pha­bet by pu­pils of Cyril and Meth­o­di­us in the First Bul­gari­an Em­pire on the basis of Greek let­ter­forms and ₜhe phon­et­ic sys­tem of Glagolit­ic 4 (893 CE)  ➌ The “Ro­man­iz­a­tion” of Cyril­lic by the first Rus­si­an em­per­or Peter the Great in 1708–1710.

His­tory and Back­ground

In 831, Louis the Ger­man, of Bav­aria, ordered the con­ver­sion to Chris­tian­ity of the lands of Great Moravia, a Slavic king­dom, un­der his con­trol. Prince Ras­tis­lav, whom Louis in­stalled as king in 846, soon broke from his pro­tect­or and cre­ated a Bav­ari­an clergy. Hop­ing to bol­ster the in­de­pend­en­ce of Moravia, Ras­tis­lav sought the as­sist­ance of the papacy in Rome in de­vel­op­ing liturgy and trans­la­tion of bib­lic­al schol­ar­ship in the lan­guage of the Slavs. When the re­quest was denied by Pope Nich­olas I , Ras­tis­lav turned  to Byz­an­ti­um and Em­per­or Mi­chael III, who quickly dis­patched the broth­ers Kon­stantin Filo­sof (giv­en the name Cyril only at his last rites in 869) and Meth­o­di­us as the re­ques­ted mis­sion­ar­ies.

Broth­ers Kon­stantin and Meth­o­di­us ar­rived in Great Moravia in 863. Born in Thessalonika, they knew the Slavic lan­guage of their neigh­bors, and it is pos­sible that Kon­stantin had trans­lated litur­gic­al texts in­to Old Slavon­ic and was us­ing some ver­sion of the new Glagolit­ic al­pha­bet be­fore the broth­ers’ ar­rival in Moravia. In Moravia, for three years, the broth­ers trans­lated Greek litur­gic­al books, us­ing Glagolit­ic, and in­struc­ted the Moravi­an Slavs in the liturgy and book­craft. 

A frag­ment of the Kiev Missal. This is a sev­en-fo­lio Glagolit­ic Old Church Slavon­ic manuscript con­tain­ing parts of the Ro­man-rite liturgy. It is held to be the most ar­cha­ic Old Church Slavon­ic manuscript (ca. second half of the 10th cen­tury). 

The mis­sion­ary broth­ers’ work ran counter to the policy of the West­ern church, which re­cog­nized no lan­guages but Lat­in, Greek, and Hebrew as ap­pro­pri­ate for the Holy Scrip­tures, and ac­cused the broth­ers of blas­phemy. They were called to Rome by Pope Ad­ri­an II in 867 and, in the end, re­ceived his bless­ing.

However, this did not save Great Moravia. Ras­tis­lav died in 870, and the policy of the Ro­man church was in­voked. After the death of Meth­o­di­us in 885, his pu­pils were ex­pelled from Moravia, set­tling among oth­ers in Pan­no­nia and the First Bul­gari­an Em­pire, and took with them the Glagolit­ic al­pha­bet and the books they had already trans­lated. In 907, after an in­va­sion from Hun­gary, Great Moravia ceased to ex­ist.

The Birth of the Cyril­lic Script

When and how Early Cyril­lic was de­ve­loped and in­tro­duced are a mat­ter of con­tro­versy. It is gen­er­ally be­lieved that Cyril­lic was in­ven­ted by dis­ciples of St. Meth­o­di­us who were teach­ing in Preslav after the con­ver­sion to Chris­tian­ity of Bul­gari­an lands in the 880’s.  

Left — a frag­ment of the Lec­tion­ari­um 183, by num. Gregory-Alanda, 10 cent. writ­ten in Greek un­cial; right — a frag­ment of the Os­tromir Gos­pel (1056-57) writ­ten in Ustav (Cyril­lic un­cial).

The reigns of Bor­is I (852–889) and his son, Simeon I (893–927), stand as the high point of the First Bul­gari­an Em­pire, and ques­tions of eth­nic unity, re­li­gion, and re­la­tions with Europe’s Chris­ti­an states were up­per­most for the rulers. To­ward the end of his reign, Con­stantinople gran­ted Bor­is I the right to a loc­ally headed branch of the church, and the ex­iles from Great Moravia found them­selves in de­mand. In 886 Bor­is I es­tab­lished schools for them in Preslav and Okhrid, the em­pire’s lit­er­ary and edu­ca­tion­al cen­ters, and it was in them that the Holy Scrip­tures were trans­lated and wide-ran­ging schol­arly and edu­ca­tion­al work was car­ried out.

The res­ult was that Old Slavon­ic ous­ted Greek as the lan­guage of di­vine ser­vices, and in 893, un­der Simeon, a church coun­cil de­clared it the lan­guage of church and gov­ern­ment. The Cyril­lic al­pha­bet then be­came the basis for vari­ous al­pha­bets across Euras­ia. In con­sid­er­ing the de­vel­op­ment of Cyril­lic in the broad­er con­text of Rus­si­an cul­ture, it is im­port­ant to note the close­ness in time of the con­ver­sions to Chris­tian­ity of Great Moravia (831), the First Bul­gari­an Em­pire (865), and of the pen­et­ra­tion of Chris­tian­ity in­to the Kiev­an lands (the con­ver­sion of Askold, 867). From the at­tack on Con­stantinople by the Rus in 860, right up to the of­fi­cial date of the con­ver­sion of Kiev­an Rus by Prince Vladi­mir (988), mis­sion­ar­ies from Byz­an­ti­um sought to es­tab­lish re­la­tions with Kiev.

➁ Early Cyril­lic broadly fol­lowed ➀ Glagolit­ic in the num­ber, al­pha­bet­ic­al se­quence, and sound val­ues of the let­ters. But, as to the forms of the let­ters, Cyril­lic bor­rowed dir­ec­tly from Greek, spe­cif­ic­ally from ➂ Greek un­cial forms .

The earli­est form of Cyril­lic script, called ➁ ustav in the gene­a­logy of Lat­in, is com­par­able to un­cial. De­rived from Greek un­cial, it was in­ten­ded for use in cler­ic­al books. Dur­ing the 9th–14th cen­tur­ies, the Cyril­lic script was based on a single mode of the ustav form: no minus­cule or majus­cule, no it­al­ic. As the Cyril­lic al­pha­bet came to­geth­er hand in hand with Or­tho­doxy and cler­ic­al books were sac­red ob­jects, the look of the let­ters was as­sidu­ously pro­tec­ted. The fur­ther evol­u­tion of Cyril­lic script was un­hur­ried and meas­ured.

Civil Type

The next cru­cial step in the de­vel­op­ment of Cyril­lic script was the Pet­rine ty­po­graph­ic re­form (1708–10). It was based on Peter’s dir­ect­ives, rather than on ma­ture so­ci­et­al ne­ces­sity. The re­form was an in­teg­ral part of a much wider pro­gram for re­mod­el­ing Rus­si­an cul­ture on the pat­tern of European Baroque/Clas­si­cism. Peter in­sis­ted on the ad­op­tion of European clothes and wigs, made fa­cial shav­ing ob­lig­at­ory for the rul­ing class, and changed the cal­en­dar. He also pro­moted European forms of ar­chi­tec­ture and paint­ing and in­tro­duced sec­u­lar hol­i­days, etc. Peter took par­tic­u­lar in­spir­a­tion from Louis XIV of France, who in the lat­ter part of his reign also con­cerned him­self with type design.

By the Pet­rine re­form, Cyril­lic writ­ing had already de­ve­loped to a stage com­par­able with semi-un­cial (poluustav), which had been known since the 15th cen­tury. Poluustav could be writ­ten faster than ustav—both were book styles—and, in time, took its place.

Cyril­lic semi-un­cial (poluustav). Apostle.•Prin­ted by Ivan Fy­o­dorov and Pyotr Mstis­lavets. Mo­scow, 1564.

It also fea­tured lig­at­ures and dia­crit­ics and had more vari­et­ies of let­ter­forms. From the middle of the 16th cen­tury—that is, from the time of the Rus­si­an print­ing pi­on­eer Ivan Fe­dorov—un­til the Pet­rine re­form Cyril­lic script changed little. In the ab­sence of oth­er type, poluustav was used in the print­ing of both re­li­gious and sec­u­lar lit­er­at­ure.

The only branch of early Cyril­lic which was de­ve­loped in the same nat­ur­al way as Lat­in hands was quick hand (skoropis), which ap­peared in the 15th cen­tury and was used for every­day needs. Com­pared to ustav and poluustav, it was writ­ten much faster, with a great vari­ety of let­ter­forms. Some cor­rel­a­tions with quick hand can also be found in mod­ern it­al­ic let­ter­forms.

Even­tu­ally, the old poluustav type was re­served by Peter the Great for re­li­gious lit­er­at­ure, which also helped to sep­ar­ate cler­ic­al and sec­u­lar au­thor­it­ies and avoid a dis­pute over the ty­po­graph­ic re­form. For all oth­er pub­lic­a­tions, he in­tro­duced a new style, which im­it­ated the forms of con­tem­por­ary West­ern type. This was what be­came known as Civil Type (grazh­danskiy shrift).

Civil Type,large size, 1707.

As a con­se­quence of the re­forms ini­ti­ated by Peter and de­ve­loped by the Im­per­i­al Academy of Sci­en­ces dur­ing the peri­od 1708–1758, the Rus­si­an al­pha­bet it­self changed. The num­ber of char­ac­ters was re­duced from 45 to 36. Sev­er­al char­ac­ters in­her­ited from the Greek al­pha­bet, in­clud­ing ω (omega), ѱ (psi) and ѯ (ksi), as well as the lig­at­ures Ѿ (ot) and Ȣ (ou), were dropped. Also aban­doned were ѥ (est’ iotated), Ꙗ (az iotated), Ѫ (yus large), Ѭ (yus large iotated), Ѩ (yus small iotated), and the let­ter s (zelo). The char­ac­ter Ѧ (yus small) was re­placed by the let­ter я, and the let­ters э (e re­versed) and й (short i) were in­tro­duced. In ad­di­tion, in the course of the re­forms punc­tu­ation marks and Ar­ab­ic nu­mer­als were in­tro­duced, the use of cap­it­al let­ters was sys­tem­at­ised, and dia­crit­ic­al marks and ab­bre­vi­ations were aban­doned. 

Left: Cyril­lic semi-un­cial (poluustav); right: Civil Type.•Com- par­is­on of the prin­ted types pub­lished in The Civil Al­pha­bet with Ar­gu­ments (Azbuka grazh­danskaja s nra­vouchen­i­jami), 1710.

The new ty­po­graph­ic style was settled by 1710. The pro­por­tions of Cyril­lic type, the re­la­tion­ship of cap-height and x-height, the char­ac­ter of round forms, the shape of serifs, and oth­er de­tails were now all clearly in­flu­en­ced by old-style Dutch (Baroque) ro­man, es­pe­cially as com­pared to poluustav. Most of the glyphs spe­cif­ic to the Cyril­lic al­pha­bet are also styled after West­ern mod­els. Thus, Cyril­lic took on the form of ro­man serif type in much the same way that Mus­covy then dressed in European clothes.

Ad­mit­tedly, Peter the Great was a mul­ti­tal­en­ted per­son, but he def­in­itely knew little of type design. The res­ults of his lack of know­ledge in­clude the un­easy com­bin­a­tion of cer­tain Lat­in cap­it­als and spe­cif­ic Cyril­lic glyphs that were taken from the poluustav of the 17th cen­tury, even though the new let­ter­forms were in­tro­duced to let­ter­press im­me­di­ately upon in­ven­tion. The let­ter­forms of the new type fol­lowed the in­struc­tions (some be­lieve even sketches) of Peter the Great and his as­sist­ant — a mil­it­ary en­gin­eer and drafts­man Ku­len­bach — in Am­s­ter­dam. At the end of 1707, three spe­cially in­vited Dutch print­ers, equipped with type and print­ing presses, reached Mo­scow. All of this sug­gests why mod­ern Cyril­lic did not have the nat­ur­al de­vel­op­ment of Lat­in, though it looks quite sim­il­ar.

Since the Pet­rine ty­po­graph­ic re­form nearly 300 years ago, the lat­in­ized form of Cyril­lic has been tra­di­tion­al in Rus­sia, and Cyril­lic type has de­ve­loped in par­al­lel to Lat­in, re­peat­ing vir­tu­ally all the stages of its de­vel­op­ment and changes of style: Clas­sic­al, Ro­mant­ic, Art Nou­veau, Con­struct­iv­ist, Post-Mod­ern­ist, etc.

Ident­ic­al glyph shapes. Left: Greek, Lat­in, Cyril­lic (Rus­si­an). Right: Ma­cin­tosh, code­pages 201 and 251. Typeface: PT Prag­mat­ica.•The il­lus­tra­tion by Max­im Zhukov for his es­say “ITC Cyril­lics: 1992–. A case study” in Lan­guage Cul­ture Type. John D. Berry (ed.), 2002.

Re­form of Rus­si­an Spelling 1917–18

The most re­cent ma­jor re­form of Rus­si­an spelling was car­ried out shortly after the Rus­si­an Re­volu­tion of 1917. The pro­posed re­form had been de­ve­loped in 1912 by a num­ber of em­in­ent Rus­si­an philo­lo­gists, in­clud­ing the pro­lif­ic Aleksey Shakh­matov. It sim­pli­fied Rus­si­an or­tho­graphy by drop­ping four let­ters of the al­pha­bet in fa­vor of already ex­ist­ing let­ters whose pro­nun­ci­ation was ex­actly the same. Spe­cif­ic­ally, the let­ters ѣ (yat), ѳ (fita), і (i des­ja­terich­noe) and ѵ (izhitsa) were re­placed by the already ex­ist­ing e, a, и, и (resp.). Ad­di­tion­ally, the sign ъ (yer) changed its name to that of the hard sign, and the use of the ъ (hard sign) in fi­nal po­s­i­tion fol­low­ing con­son­ants was dropped.

The look of Cyril­lic re­flects the pe­cu­li­ar­it­ies of the Pet­rine Civil Type. The mod­ern (black) and pre-re­form let­ters of the Cyril­lic al­pha­bet are shown. Let­ters aban­doned after the de­cree of 1918 are marked (–); let­ters of­fi­cially re­cog­nized in the lat­ter half of the 20th cen­tury are marked (+); ar­cha­ic let­ter­form con­struc­tions are marked (•)A di­git­al re­viv­al by Dmitry Khoroshkin (2017) of the Academy typeface by the H. Ber­thold type foundry (Saint Peters­burg, 1912), it­self based on the Sor­bonne typeface (H. Ber­thold, Ber­lin, 1905).

The So­viet gov­ern­ment rap­idly im­posed a mono­poly on print­ing and kept a very close eye on the in­dustry. Many dis­play typefaces were elim­in­ated for ideo­lo­gic­al reas­ons, and the pro­duc­tion of new ones slowed dra­mat­ic­ally. 

Be­fore and After Peres­troyka

Type design in the USSR de­ve­loped very slowly. There was only one gov­ern­ment-owned en­ter­prise re­spons­ible for the design of typefaces — the Type Design De­part­ment of the Re­search In­sti­tu­te of Print­ing Ma­chinery. Its typefaces of the 1960s be­came the new stand­ard look of Cyril­lic. The lack of dis­play faces was com­pensated for by much re­li­ance on hand-let­ter­ing. The di­git­al re­volu­tion which took place in Rus­sia in 1990s — al­most sim­ul­tan­eously with the end­ing of the iron cur­tain — posed many chal­lenges for Cyril­lic type design. The pi­on­eer­ing en­thu­si­asm of a tiny group of pro­fes­sion­als led to the cre­ation of the Para­Graph In­ter­na­tion­al com­pany (later Para­Type), whose team in­cluded such de­sign­ers as Ly­ubov’ Kuznet­sova, Isay Slut­sker, Ta­gir Safayev, Al­ex­an­der Tar­beev, and Vladi­mir Ye­fimov, with Max­im Zhukov as a non-staff ty­po­graph­ic­al con­sult­ant. Their work res­ul­ted in a wide range of type clas­sics.

Ex­ten­ded Cyril­lic

Cyril­lic script is used for more than one hun­dred lan­guages, liv­ing and/or ex­tinct (par­tic­u­larly in East­ern Europe, the Cau­cas­us, Cent­ral Asia, and North Asia). As of 2011, more than 252 mil­li­on people around the globe con­sidered Cyril­lic their nat­ive script. It is spread over ter­rit­or­ies of many coun­tries such as: Ab­khazia, Be­larus, Bos­nia and Herzegov­ina (along with Lat­in), Bul­garia, Kaza­kh­stan (sup­posed to switch to the Lat­in al­pha­bet by 2025), Kyrgyz­stan, North Mace­do­nia, Mol­dova (along with Lat­in), Mon­go­lia, Montenegro (along with Lat­in), Rus­si­an Fed­er­a­tion, Ser­bia (along with Lat­in), South Os­se­tia, Tajikistan, and Ukraine.

The code­page Win­dows 1251 Stand­ard Cyril­lic (52 let­ters, in­clud­ing pre-1918 let­ters, high­lighted) cov­ers 6 Slavic lan­guages and 21 non-Slavic. 

Char­ac­ters of the Ex­ten­ded Cyril­lic are used for spe­cif­ic sounds of mostly non-Slavic lan­guages (93+ let­ters, not in­clud­ing Old Slavon­ic let­ters and em­phas­ized vow­els). As each let­ter has lower- and up­per­case forms, the total num­ber of Cyril­lic char­ac­ters is 290 and keeps chan­ging.•Based on a study of Cyril­lic al­pha­bets by Vladi­mir Ye­fimov, 2009. Typeface used: Gauge Text Pro, de­signed by Al­ex­an­der Tar­beev (2019). A note: the let­ter­forms with uni­code num­bers 0401, 0451, 0472, 0473 and all the let­ter­forms with N/A are not in­cluded in Gauge font’s char­ac­ter map, but de­signed ad­di­tion­ally for this table of ex­amples. 

Just as Lat­in-based writ­ings act­ively use dia­crit­ics for spe­cif­ic re­gion­al sounds, Cyril­lic-based writ­ings have fre­quently used modi­fic­a­tions of the ba­sic forms of its char­ac­ters for the same pur­pose. For ex­ample, there is the let­ter Ӄ (Ka with hook), which is formed from the Cyril­lic let­ter К by the ad­di­tion of a hook. The let­ter is used in, among oth­er minor­ity lan­guages, Itel­men (the ori­gin­al lan­guage of Rus­sia’s Kamchatka Pen­in­sula), which has few­er than 100 nat­ive speak­ers. It is hardly sur­pris­ing that, among the world’s per­haps 100,000 com­mer­cial fonts, few­er than a dozen in­clude the let­ter Ӄ.

Cyril­lic and Lat­in

Since the 18th cen­tury, as a con­se­quence of the Pet­rine re­form Cyril­lic ty­po­graphy and type design fol­low Lat­in in most visu­al as­pects: it has ident­ic­al re­la­tions between ro­man and it­al­ic faces, as well as between cap­it­als and small cap­it­als (with rare ex­cep­tions, which de­pend on the pe­cu­li­ar­it­ies of the typeface design). Mod­ern fonts that sup­port Stand­ard Cyril­lic code­page (Win­dows СР 1251, Ma­cin­tosh Cyril­lic) in­clude Lat­in shar­ing ident­ic­al let­ter­forms: 16 in up­per­case and 12 let­ters in lower­case (16 in up­per­case and 15 in lower­case in it­al­ic forms), though the same shapes of­ten rep­res­ent dif­fer­ent sounds.

The con­struc­tion of glyphs in Lat­in, Cyril­lic, and (up­per­case) Greek fol­lows the same pat­tern, and the glyphs share many visu­al fea­tures (e.g., height, weight, con­trast, stress) and even design ele­ments (serifs, stems, bars, bowls, ter­min­als, etc.). As a res­ult, cre­at­ing non-Lat­in ex­ten­sions, or ex­pand­ing an ori­gin­al font com­ple­ment, is very of­ten a soph­ist­ic­ated ex­er­cise in glyph com­bin­at­or­ics.

In typeface clas­si­fic­a­tion, mod­ern Cyril­lic fol­lows the pat­tern of the aes­thet­ic evol­u­tion of European ty­po­graphy: Em­pire–Ro­mant­ic–Vic­tori­an–Art Nou­veau, etc., but the earli­er style peri­ods (pri­or to the Pet­rine re­form) have left no trace on the forms of Cyril­lic type. Nev­er­the­less, with ex­tra­pol­a­tion of mod­ern Cyril­lic design con­ven­tions and their ap­plic­a­tions to pre-Pet­rine times, cred­ible res­ults in cre­at­ing Cyril­lic typefaces in the styles of, say, early Hu­man­ist faces, French Old Styles, Dutch old­styles, or even Black­let­ter and Cap­it­al­is mo­nu­men­tal­is style can be achieved.

Tra­jan Pro 3 Cyril­lic, by Robert Slimbach and Car­ol Twombly (Adobe, 2011). Cyril­lic let­ters in­cluded in the most com­monly used en­cod­ing Win­dows 1251 (“Stand­ard Cyril­lic”). Ident­ic­al let­ter­forms shared by Lat­in and Cyril­lic are shown in sol­id black.

Al­though Cyril­lic glyphs share much with Lat­in, they present a num­ber of unique fea­tures. Type set in Cyril­lic is al­ways dif­fer­ent in tex­ture from type set in a Lat­in face, even when the faces are the same. But this is the res­ult not only of the pres­en­ce of very dis­tinct­ive non-Lat­in let­ters, such as н, п, ш, б, ж, ч, я, but also of dif­fer­en­ces in mor­pho­logy. Lan­guages that share the use of Lat­in script also dif­fer dra­mat­ic­ally from each oth­er in tex­ture, col­or, and rhythm when set.

The fol­low­ing three factors should be taken in­to ac­count in any con­sid­er­a­tion of Lat­in–Cyril­lic bis­criptal type­set­ting: ➊ Over­all, Cyril­lic char­ac­ters are much wider than Lat­in char­ac­ters. Texts of sim­il­ar num­bers of char­ac­ters take, for ex­ample, 15–20 % more space in Rus­si­an and 10–15 % more space in Ukrain­i­an than in Eng­lish. ➋ Be­cause of the rar­ity of ex­tenders among Cyril­lic char­ac­ters, the lead­ing of a Rus­si­an copy text looks much looser in com­par­is­on with Eng­lish. ➌ Cyril­lic con­tains many few­er roun­ded ele­ments than Lat­in, which strongly af­fects the rhythm and tex­ture of text pages.


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Early spe­ci­mens of Glagolit­ic (in the form of in­scrip­tions and manuscripts) are ex­ceed­ingly rare, and none bears a date. Cyril­lic was long thought to have been the old­est Slavic al­pha­bet. The hy­po­thes­is of the primacy of Glagolit­ic script was bolstered by the dis­cov­ery in the 1845 on the Balkan Pen­in­sula of the 13th-cen­tury Boy­an­ski pal­impsest by V. I. Grig­orovich. It in­cludes sev­er­al pages of Cyril­lic text writ­ten over par­tially ob­scured Glagolit­ic. The primacy of Glagolit­ic 

is now ac­cep­ted by most Slav­ists.

“Our na­tion is bap­tized and yet we have no teach­er. We un­der­stand neither Greek nor Lat­in. We do not un­der­stand writ­ten char­ac­ters nor their mean­ing; there­fore send us teach­ers who can make known the words of the Scrip­tures and their sense.”— Ras­tis­lav, prince of Moravia, 862 CE.

Today the Greek city of Salon­ica. In the 9th cen­tury, Salon­ica was the second (after Con­stantinople) most im­port­ant cen­ter of Chris­tian­ity in the Byz­an­ti­ne Em­pire, a power­ful, mul­tina­tion­al met­ro­pol­is situ­ated at the junc­tion of the em­pire’s most sig­ni­fic­ant eco­nom­ic and cul­tur­al path­ways.