Rohonc Codex

Apr 26, 2022 0 comments

The Rohonc Codex is a 448-page illustrated manuscript book written by an unknown author in an unknown language that has baffled scholars and historians since it was discovered at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in mid 19th century. The codex is named after the Hungarian city of Rohonc, where it was kept until it was donated to the Academy in 1838 by Count Gusztav Batthyany from his Rohonc estate, along with 30,000 other books in his possession. The town is now called Rechnitz, is in Austria, close to the Hungarian border.

Photo: Klaus.Schmeh/Wikimedia

The codex measures 12 by 10 centimeters, with each page having between 9 and 14 rows of symbols. The total number of symbols used in the book is around 800 which is about ten times higher than any known alphabet, but most symbols are used with little repetition, so the symbols in the codex might not be an alphabet, but instead a syllabary, or be logographic in nature, such as Chinese characters. Accompanying the cryptic texts are some 90 pages of illustrations that include religious, laic, and military scenes. The crude illustrations seem to indicate an environment where Christian, pagan, and Muslim religions coexist, as the symbols of the cross, crescent, and sun/swastika are all present.

Some scholars believe that the codex is a hoax, but others believe it to be genuine and have spent years trying to decode the text and illustrations. Analysis of the paper seem to suggest that the codex was written in Venetian paper sometime in the 16th century, but the date is not a certainty because the paper could have been much older than the text. Also, the text could have been copied from a much earlier source. Taking clue from the illustrations, some scholars speculate it was most likely created in the 16th-17th centuries.

Cracking the code

One Hungarian scholar proposed that he could read the book by turning it upside down to resemble a Sumerian ligature. He then associated Latin alphabet letters to the rest of the symbols by resemblance. He also rearranged the order of the letters to produce meaningful words. However, his methods were criticized because he sometimes transliterated the same symbol with different letters, and conversely, the same letter was decoded from several symbols.

A Romanian philologist Viorica Enăchiuc proposed that the text had been written in the Vulgar Latin dialect of Dacia, and the direction of writing is right-to-left, bottom-to-top. The alleged translation indicates that the text is an 11-12th century history of the Blaki (Vlachs) people in their fights against Hungarians and Pechenegs. Enăchiuc’s method was also criticized because the symbols that appeared in the same context throughout the codex were regularly transliterated with different letters, so that the patterns in the original code are lost in the transliteration. Besides, there is no relation between the illustrations of the manuscript and Enăchiuc's translation.

Another alleged solution was made by the Indian Mahesh Kumar Singh. He claims that the codex is written left-to-right, top-to-bottom with a so far undocumented variant of the Brahmi script. He transliterated the first 24 pages of the codex to get a Hindi text which was translated to Hungarian. Singh’s method was also criticized for lack of consistency.

Gábor Tokai and Levente Zoltán Király proposed that the script is a code system that does not indicate the inner structure of words, and the language of the text is most probably artificial. They claim that the codex contains the date 1593 CE as a probable reference to its writing. They also state that is an ordinary Catholic reader mostly containing paraphrases of New Testament texts about the life of Jesus.

The mystery of the Rohonc Codex would perhaps never by fully solved.


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