The makers of Greek manuscripts

The production of a book in the pre-modern era was a long and involved process. Scribes, illuminators, and binders all played their part in creating manuscripts.

A detail from one of the earliest dated Greek manuscripts on Western paper, featuring the Greek text of a work by John Zonaras.

Paper in Byzantium

Article by:
James Freeman

The transition from parchment to paper as the preferred writing surface happened slowly in the Byzantine Empire. James Freeman outlines this process and addresses some of its key features.

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A detail from a 10th-century manuscript of the Dialogues of Lucian of Samosata, featuring a marginal annotation.

Scribes and scholars in Byzantium

Article by:
Georgi Parpulov

Byzantine manuscripts were created by and for educated men both in Constantinople and further afield. Georgi Parpulov explores the lives and works of some of these figures.

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A detail from the Golden Canon Tables, featuring a small portrait of a haloed man and arches and columns filled with brightly coloured abstract ornamentation.

Illuminated Gospel-books

Article by:
Kathleen Maxwell

Kathleen Maxwell describes some of the remarkable illuminated copies of the Gospels to be found in the British Library’s collections.

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A detail from the Bankes Homes, a 2nd-century papyrus featuring the final book of the Iliad.

Ancient books

Article by:
Cillian O’Hogan

What did books look like in antiquity? In this article, Cillian O’Hogan tells how ancient books were made, and traces the process by which the bookroll was replaced by the codex.

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A detail from a Greek liturgical book, featuring chants with musical notation.

Byzantine music and musical manuscripts

Article by:
Nicolas Bell

Music has played a central role in Greek Orthodox services for centuries. Nicolas Bell describes the manuscript evidence for this music in the Byzantine and post-Byzantine eras.

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A detail from a 2nd-century papyrus, featuring a parchment label (sillybos) bearing the title of the original scroll (Bacchylides's Dithyrambs).

Ancient libraries

Article by:
Matthew Nicholls

How were books stored and accessed in the ancient world? Matthew Nicholls explores what the surviving evidence of ancient books can tell us about libraries in antiquity.

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An illustration of a bear in an arena, from a fragment of an illuminated papyrus.

Book illumination in antiquity

Article by:
Cillian O’Hogan

The history of illuminated manuscripts goes back to antiquity. In this article, Cillian O’Hogan describes the surviving fragments of ancient and late antique illuminated Greek books now held in the British Library.

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A detail from the Bristol Psalter, featuring a marginal illustration of the Blessed Man flanked by personifications of Day and Night.

Illuminating the Psalms in Byzantium

Article by:
Kalliroe Linardou

Byzantine book illumination was at its most ambitious and innovative in the decorated psalters produced between the 9th and 11th centuries. Here, Kalliroe Linardou explains the two main types of illuminated psalters and describes some of their key features.

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A detail from the Harley Greek Gospels, featuring a marginal illustration of a hare pursued by a dog.

Book illumination in the Eastern Mediterranean

Article by:
Elisabeth Yota

In this article, Elisabeth Yota surveys some of the evidence for the production of illuminated manuscripts outside of the imperial capital of Constantinople.

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A detail from the Florentine Homer, featuring a white vine initial M at the opening of the Iliad.

Printing Greek in the 15th century

Article by:
Eugenia Russell

The development of printing in the 15th century signalled huge changes for the spread of Greek knowledge in Western Europe. Here, Eugenia Russell describes the key events in the early years of Greek printed books.

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A marginal illustration of three flies from a 16th-century manuscript of the bestiary of Manuel Philes.

Writing Greek in the age of print

Article by:
Cillian O’Hogan

Greek manuscripts continued to be produced in substantial quantities long after the introduction of print. Here, Cillian O’Hogan surveys some of the features of Greek manuscripts from the 16th century.

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A detail from a 13th-century manuscript of the works of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, featuring a decorative panel and an epigram written in gold ink.

Byzantine book epigrams

Article by:
Julie Boeten, Sien De Groot

Byzantines were famous for inscribing verses in and on important objects including books. In this article, Julie Boeten and Sien de Groot explore the content, function and value of these so-called book epigrams.

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Further themes

Art

Learn more about Byzantine art from the illuminations and decorations found on Greek manuscripts.

Papyri

Explore what Greek papyri reveal about the lives, troubles, and joys of people who lived over a thousand years ago.

Religion

Discover more about what our rich collection of surviving religious manuscripts tells us about Byzantine life.

Scholarship

Explore the intellectual traditions of the Graeco-Roman world that continued throughout the Byzantine era and into the Early Modern world.

The Greek World

Explore the influence of the Greek world on Western Europe and the Middle East.

The makers of Greek manuscripts

Learn more about book production in antiquity. What was more popular: parchment or paper?