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Syriac language collections

The British Library's Syriac language manuscript collection is one of the largest and most diverse in the world, containing 1,075 manuscripts and 12,000 printed books. The manuscripts range in date from 450 to 2000 A.D.



The manuscript collection covers:

  • Biblical manuscripts
  • service-books
  • commentaries
  • Patristic literature
  • lives of the saints
  • theology
  • history
  • philology
  • medicine
  • some scientific literature

The nucleus of the Syriac manuscript collection was the 66 volumes purchased at Mosul by Claudius Rich and acquired by the Library in 1825. During the next 40 years, nearly 600 more volumes were acquired, mostly from monasteries of the Wadi Natrun. By the end of the 19th century, 50 had been added from Urmia, and 100 from Mosul.

A further 150 or so manuscripts have been added since. Manuscripts are now only very rarely acquired.

The numerous manuscripts of the Old Testament have enabled the Peshitta text of the 5th, 6th and 7th centuries to be restored. The collection also includes specimens of translations used by the Malkite Syrian Church in Palestine in its peculiar dialect and written character. Another significant feature of the collection is the variety of illumination of the manuscripts.

Printed books and serials

The printed book collection is also quite comprehensive. It is rich in early items, from a 1555 New Testament onwards. It also includes modern critical editions of Syriac texts, critical studies and the relevant western journals. In addition to classical Syriac, books in modern Syriac and Syro-Palestinian are also included. Works published by the St Thomas Christians in India are also held. 


To access the Syriac language collections, see the separate catalogues and guides page.


Ilana Tahan, M.Phil., Lead Curator, Hebrew and Christian Orient Studies
Asian and African Studies
The British Library
96 Euston Road
United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7646
Fax: +44 (0)20 7412 7641