Greek manuscripts

A leaf from the Golden Canon Tables
The Golden Canon Tables, Add MS 5111, ff 10r-12r, Constantinople, 6th-7th century

Our collections constitute one of the largest and most important resources outside Greece for the study of Hellenic culture.

About the collection

Manuscripts of Greek texts form a relatively small, but significant part of the Library’s vast holdings of around 150 million items. Ranging in date from the 3rd century BC to the present century and in format from papyrus rolls and codices to ostraca, wooden and metal tablets, parchment and paper documents and codices, they bear eloquent testimony to the rich culture of Greek-speaking people from the time of the creation of the Iliad and Odyssey through the classical, Hellenistic, early Christian, Byzantine and Ottoman eras and beyond the creation of the Greek nation state. They also exemplify the passionate interest of successive generations of British scholars and collectors in Hellenic culture.

The British Library’s collection of Greek manuscript codices is one of the most substantial in the world, comprising around 1,000 items. The collection has considerable depth, including, for example, two of the three oldest Greek Bibles, the remains of some 227 manuscripts of the Greek New Testament, and around 50 Greek codices dating from the first millennium.

The collection has been built up over several centuries through purchase and donation. Its development reflects the opportunism and discrimination of successive Keepers of Manuscripts, as well as past trends in scholarship and collecting within Britain.

What is available online?

Most of the British Library’s Greek manuscripts are now accessible online. As a result of the Library’s Greek Manuscripts Digitisation Project, which began in 2008 and is funded by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, full digital coverage and new catalogue descriptions of 905 Greek manuscripts are now available to researchers.

A guide to the Greek Manuscripts collections, including articles, videos and collection highlights, is available here.

What is available in our Reading Rooms?

Most of the manuscripts, papyri, and seals can be consulted by anyone with a Reader Pass in the Manuscripts Reading Room. Some particularly fragile or rare items may require that you have a letter of introduction on file in the Reading Room. Others (including all the ostraka) require special permission before they can be issued. You are advised to check the relevant catalogue entry online in advance of your visit.

What is available in other organisations?

The website Pinakes assembles information about Greek manuscripts held all around the world, including details of contents, scribes, ownership history, and whether the manuscript has been digitised.

Further information

  • Marcel Richard, Inventaire des manuscrits grecs du British Museum, I: Fonds Sloane, Additional, Egerton, Cottonian et Stowe (Paris, 1952)
  • The British Library Summary Catalogue of Greek Manuscripts, I (London, 1999)