The Rohonc Codex
The Rohonc Codex is an illustrated manuscript by an unknown author, with a text in an unknown language and writing system, that surfaced in Hungary in 1839. The book's origin and the meaning have been investigated by many scholars and amateurs, with no definitive conclusion, although many Hungarian scholars believe that it is an 18th-century hoax.
The Rohonc Codex is believed to have been part of the personal library of Count Gusztáv Batthyány. When the Codex surfaced, it initially appeared to be from medieval times. However, the text appears to more closely resemble Old Hungarian script, as they are both written with a similar orientation style and have comperable combinations of straight and rounded characters. Scholars have asserted that the writing could be anything from a form of Old Hungarian to Hindi, although the lettering lacks features from each of those written languages.
Stranger still, the number of different symbols used is extremely high, with ten times more symbols than are found in any known alphabet. Most symbols are used only rarely, so the symbols in the codex might not correspond directly to an alphabet after all, but more like a syllabary, or logographs like Chinese characters.
The paper within the Codex has an unique characteristic; each page contains a watermark, which has the appearance of an anchor, within a circle, within a six-rayed star. The watermark itself appears to date to 1529-1540 AD, although the actual Codex appears to have been written much earlier than that. Study of the paper on which the codex is written shows that it is most probably a Venetian paper. Its small format resembles that of a prayer book and has 87 illustrations depicting military battles, landscapes, and religious icons, hinting at several different religions, including Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam.
There is much variation in the theories of origin, as scholars have not even been able to agree on the true orientation of the text, though justification of the right margin would seem to imply the symbols were written from right to left. Each page has between 9 and 14 rows of symbols, which may or may not be letters. Deciphering the codex is made even more difficult with a lack of clear spacing between what might be letters, words, or phrases. However, the illustrations of most of the images in the Rohonc Codex can be identified; almost all of them show scenes from the Bible – for example, Jesus on the cross or Moses on Mount Sinai.
Although Hungarian, Dacian, early Romanian, and even Hindi have been proposed as the language of the codex, none of the hypotheses have been backed with scientific proof to date. Those who claim the codex's Hungarian authenticity either assume that it is a paleo-Hungarian script, or that is Hungarian runes.
Today the Codex is kept Library of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. A researcher must have special permission in order to study the codex. However, a microfilm copy is available. In 2015, the Codex was rescanned by Hamburg University, but only eight higher resolution pages were provided.
The Rohonc Codex was found to contain a great deal of Christian iconography, but additionally, some illustrations depicting astronomical symbols, such as stars, suns and crescent moons, have hinted at pagan or even Islamic iconography. Some experts have theorized indicates the book comes from an unusually cosmopolitan society or originates from a syncretistic religious tradition. Attempts at translating the Codex have led to several theories:
Sumero-Hungarian hypothesis – A solution was proposed whereby one researcher turned the pages upside down, identified a Sumerian ligature, then he associated Latin letters to the rest of the symbols by resemblance. The text, if taken as meaningful, is of religious, perhaps liturgical character. Critical responses pointed to the fact that with such a permissive deciphering method one can get anything out of the code. They also cited that this solution alludes to the fringe theory that the Hungarian language descended from Sumerian, thus greatly discrediting it.
Daco-Romanian hypothesis – A proposed translation was published in 2002 whereby it was claimed that the text is 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. This proposition was criticized for the method of transliteration where symbols that characteristically appear in the same context throughout the codex are regularly transliterated with different letters, so that the patterns in the original code are lost in the transliteration. There were also no relations between the illustrations of the manuscript (of clear Christian content) and the translations.
Brahmi-Hindi hypothesis - Another alleged solution in 2004 claims that the codex is written left-to-right, top-to-bottom with a so far undocumented variant of the Brahmi script. The first 24 pages of the codex were translated first to get a Hindi text which was then translated to Hungarian. His solution is mostly like the beginning of an apocryphal gospel, with a meditative prologue, then going on to the infancy narrative of Jesus. This transliteration completely lacks consistency and is generally considered a hoax.
Old Hungarian Alphabet hypothesis – Some researchers and linguists consider that the codex focuses on New Testament-related topics; according to them, the language of the codex is Hungarian and the words are encoded in a version of the Old Hungarian alphabet, also known as székely rovásírás.
As research around the codex has intensified in the last 20 years, two scientists have alleged that they have broken the code and are beginning to decipher the Rohonc Codex. They based their arguments initially on character strings that appear in pictures. As the pictures suggest, the content of the Rohonc Codex is Christian in nature. From there they were able to use number systems and literal quotations from the Bible to create a sort of Rosetta Stone, in order to use certain words to conject others. They claim to have found several prayers, Bible stories and quotes, and that most of the text refers to the New Testament. Although they claim they could decipher considerable parts of the Rohonc Codex, the scientists say now hope for help from specialists of other disciplines - such as linguistics or historians -.but that it is likely that the code will never be completely broken.
However, other experts claim this decipherment looks more than arbitrary in its choices. The numerical system they derived that is similar to roman numerals was reconstructed haphazardly and decryptions of individual words are not supported by evidence of their languages or even if they are pronounceable. They do support that the scientists may be working in the right direction, but that their current claims are still weak at best, all of which have yet to be fully substantiated, yet they claim will be published in future papers.
It is possible that with further study, the Rohonc Codex will be more fully understood. For now, it remains a textual clue to some of the mysteries of humankind’s ancient past.