An Analysis of the Shapes of the Letter “O” (ON)
in Early Printed Church Slavonic Resources:
The Northern Slavic Typographic Tradition (c.1555 – c.1655)

Nikita Simmons, February 2011

I. Remarks on the Selected Resources used in this survey:

1) These resources represent the Poluustav typographical tradition which evolved from the printing houses of Muscovite Russia, beginning in the year 1555 and ending with the transition to the more westernized features of the Synodal period (late 1600s). Printing presses were located in Moscow, Kiev, Mogilev, L'vov, Vilna, Ostrog, Kuteino, Striatin, Zabludov, and a few other places.

2) This selection focuses on publicly-available reproductions of period resources, for use in research. Editions from the initial formative years have been included in this catalog, as well as editions which stand apart from their contemporary editions because they depart from the typographical norms of their time. While a few Kievan editions are significant sources which represent an off-shoot of the Poluustav tradition (such as the Trebnik of Metropolitan Petr Moghila), the low priority of reproducing these editions with precision determines that the distinctive features of this typeface can be accessed in OpenType fonts as discretionary or alternate historical forms.

3) Of particular importance is the ability to faithfully reproduce pre-Nikonian typographical forms (with full integrity and with no compromise to the shortcomings of the currently available fonts) to meet the ongoing religious needs of members of the Russian Orthodox Church who adhere to the "Old Rite". Editions of the Synodal period and all later periods, as well as editions from the Balkan countries, contain character sets which are a subset of the earlier Poluustav tradition, and may be disregarded as unnecessary for determining the full range of characters needed for reproducing Church Slavonic printed literature.

4) The distinctive features of the South and West Slavic typographical traditions (such as the editions of Dr. Francysk Skaryna, 1517-1519) and the unique features of the small text size of the Ostrog Bible (printed by Ivan Fedorov, 1581), provide challenges to our task of establishing a fixed character set for the Church Slavonic range in Unicode. Further work needs to be done in the future to accomodate an additional repertoire of characters found in these printed editions, but at present it is beyond the scope of our present objectives.

For a more extended catalog of period resources, see:


II. Letter Forms

Lower case letter forms:

1) initial (round, standard width; either with decorative “knobs” or without)
2) round (standard width)
3) narrow (space-saving; used with and without diacritical marks)

Source Initial small o Medial unaccented o Medial accented o Final unaccented o Final accented o

Anonymous Typografia (locations all unidentified)

  • Evangelie – 1553
  • Triod' Postnaia – 1555-56
  • Evangelie – 1558
  • Psaltyr – 1564-65

Ivan Fedorov (and Petr Mstsislavets)

  • Apostol – Moscow, 1564
  • Chasovnik – Moscow, 1565
  • Evangelie Uchitelnoe – Zabludov, 1569
  • Psaltyr – Zabludov, 1570
  • Azbuka – Lvov (Lviv), 1574
  • Apostol – Lvov (Lviv), 1574
  • Azbuka – Ostrog, 1578
  • Biblia – Ostrog, 1581 (not a source for standard Poluustav typography)

Tipografiia L. Mamonich (Momonich brothers) – Vilnius

  • Evangelie – 1575
  • Evangelie Uchitelnoe – 1595

[?] Pechatnyi Dvor (Printing Court) – Moscow

  • Oko Tserkovnoe – 1610

Petr Mogila; Tipografiia Pecherskoi Lavry – Kiev

  • Trebnik – 1646 (contains many character variants not included in standard printed Poluustav)


1. In the majority of circumstances where a letter titlo is placed over an “o”, the “round o” was generally used, regardless of usage elsewhere; the “round o” was preferred because it provides sufficient width for displaying abbreviated superscript letters.

2. Initial capital O often had the distinctive “knobs” on the top and bottom of the round O, even in sources which did not have the “knobs” in the lower case form; a narrower capital O (0) without “knobs” was always used with displaying capital forms of “0y” and “0Y”.

3. Lower case “оу” (used in modern Slavonic exclusively in initial position, but in pre-Nikonian sources used occasionally in all positions) always (without exception) used a lower case narrow “о” in its formation.