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Athos Holy Mount

Greek Manuscripts

The Original New Testament

Manuscripts - that is, books which have been written by hand - are the main vehicles of any people's cultural and historical heritage; as unique, unparalleled creations of the human spirit with special qualities of their own, they arouse wonder and admiration, not least by their material form. Many manuscripts are true monuments of art in terms of their writing alone, not to mention their content or decoration.

Amongst the priceless treasures preserved on Mount Athos today are its manuscripts.

From the time monks first settled on the Holy Mountain and formed an organized monastic community there was a need for books to satisfy their devotional and liturgical needs and also to cultivate the mind. These factors proved decisive in determining the types and content of the manuscripts which gradually began to accumulate in the monasteries and other foundations and which were eventually to form the manuscript collection of each.

Today we know for certain that on Mount Athos there are both manuscripts which were written locally a limited number from the early centuries of minuscule script, and a much greater number from post-Byzantine and modern times and also manuscripts (as a rule, the oldest, most notable and sumptuous) which were written outside Athos and came into its possession by way of commissions, purchases, donations, etc.

The total number of Greek manuscripts which exist on Mount Athos today, let alone those scattered around the world, is difficult to determine.

If we impose no limits - in terms of date, quality or content, for example - according to the data currently available (September 1996), the total number of Greek manuscripts recorded as existing on Mount Athos today is estimated to be around 15,000. This number, which is unlikely to change significantly with the addition of unrecorded or wrongly attributed manuscripts, represents a little over one quarter of all the Greek manuscripts in the world, most of which are scattered throughout Europe and the rest in America.

The Greek manuscripts on Mount Athos, therefore, constitute the largest collection of Greek manuscripts in the world, since in number they greatly exceed the combined total of the two largest collections in Europe, those of the Vatican and the BibliothEque Nationale in Paris, which together amount to fewer than 10,000.

Of course, at this point it ought immediately to be made clear that this superiority is only in terms of quantity and not quality. On Mount Athos, as we shall see, Greek manuscripts continued to be produced for many centuries after the invention of printing, with the result that many of the surviving manuscripts date from later periods. Also, as regards content, many of the manuscripts are of a religious or liturgical nature, while the best manuscripts of Classical non-Christian literature, through a continuous process of abstraction and theft, have found their way to libraries abroad.

The Great Lavra, the oldest cenobium and therefore the highest-ranking monastery on Athos, also comes first in terms of the number of manuscripts it holds in its possession. It has been calculated that Lavra possesses 2,242 manuscripts, of which about 100 are Slavonic. This rich collection suffered its worst and most systematic acts of plunder between the end of the fifteenth and the end of the nineteenth century, during which time it also sustained certain losses as a result of natural decay. The manuscripts which survive in the monastery today include not only ones of religious, ecclesiastical and liturgical content, which is natural for a monastic centre, but also geographical, medical and legal ones, as well as manuscripts of Classical texts.

Of the most notable manuscripts apart from the illuminated manuscripts, which are discussed in another section space permits us to mention here only the eight leaves of the well-known Codex Euthalianus, or Codex H, of the Epistles of St Paul, which are written in sixth-century majuscule biblique, and Codex 75, which was written in the twelfth century, is lavishly decorated and comprises the Herbal of Dioscurides.

Vatopedi, the second monastery in the hierarchy, also occupies second place in terms of the quantity of manuscripts currently in its collection. According to recent and reliable data, the monastery's collection contains a total of 2,058 manuscripts, of which 26 are parchment rolls. It ought to be pointed out, however, that Cods. 643 and 644 are in Latin, and Cod. 1049 is in both Arabic and Greek, and that the library also contains 9 Slavonic manuscripts. As for the type and content of the manuscripts, what was stated about the manuscripts of the Lavra also holds true here.

Special mention ought to be made of one of Vatopedi's most notable treasures: the celebrated manuscript of the geographers Ptolemy and Strabo (the thirteenth-century Cod. 655), which, apart from its priceless decoration, assists in the textual restoration of the geographers works and the compilation of critical editions; this is especially true with regard to Strabo's text, since this manuscript is one of the most complete copies of it. Likewise worthy of note is Cod. 1221, which consists of 17 bound fragments of various manuscripts of the New Testament (amongst which are some parchment leaves with majuscule script) and also the 21 precious manuscripts stored in the sacristy which remained unknown to research until August 1993.

As for the collection at the Iviron Monastery, according to recent information supplied by the team of professors and researchers collaborating there on the new manuscript catalogue, it contains some 2,000 manuscripts. To these should be added 15 liturgical rolls, as well as about 100 parchment codices written in Georgian, which constitute the largest collection of Georgian manuscripts outside Georgia.

As for the content of the manuscripts, the same applies as for those in the two monasteries mentioned earlier, except that in this case there is an impressive number of manuscripts containing non-religious material. Whilst Iviron occupies third place in terms of the overall number of manuscripts in its collection, it far outstrips all the other monasteries in terms of the number of manuscripts of texts by Classical authors, since it holds about 220 of the total of 600 manuscripts of this type which survive on Mount Athos.

The fourth largest collection of manuscripts is to be found in the Panteleimon Monastery, which lies 19th in the monastic hierarchy. Today its collection numbers 1,320 Greek and 600 Slavonic manuscripts. If, however, one excludes approximately the first 100, which are early parchment manuscripts, the rest are of paper and later date, in fact mainly from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

The collection at the Dionysiou Monastery until recently numbered 831 manuscripts; however, after the collection in 1987 and 1988 of all the manuscripts from the katholikon, the typikarion, the parekklesia, the kellia and other places, the number rose to 1,080, of which 1,053 are parchment codices and 27 parchment rolls. Of the manuscripts gathered recently, most are liturgical and musical ones from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The monastery also possesses 6 Slavonic manuscripts.

As for their content, the same applies as before, although quite a few of the manuscripts are of Classical texts, and of these only a few are old and the majority of later date. A good many of the codices are interesting from a palaeographical and codicological point of view (such as Cods. 30, 126, 311), either because they come from notable scriptoria in Constantinople or because they have been written by monks who lived on Mount Athos.

The number of manuscripts which the Koutloumousiou Monastery is reckoned to possess today is 770, of which 95 are old parchment ones. Outstanding among these are Cods. 25, 90 and 324. Of the later manuscripts, mention ought to be made of those, approximately 50 in number, which were written in a period of forty years (1542-1583) by Sophronios Koutloumousianos (the monk Euphrosynos), and Cod. 293, a Tetraevangelon of 1597, written by Matthew of Myra.

The collection at the Xenophontos Monastery is highly typical in terms of the constant increase in the number of its manuscripts. Whereas in 1895 some 163 manuscripts had been recorded by Lambros, in a publication issued in 1989 this number rises to 600. Of these manuscripts, only 11 (7 codices, 1 fragment and 3 rolls) are of parchment and quite old, while the vast majority of the rest are of much later date. The monastery also possesses 1 Slavonic manuscript.

The manuscripts in the possession of the Monastery of St Paul today amount to 494. Without doubt, the most important is Cod. 2, the surviving section of which contains the Acts of the Apostles with marginal scholia, and, according to recent opinion, was probably written in the tenth or eleventh century.

The collection at the Docheiariou Monastery contains 440 manuscripts, of which quite a few are of parchment (62), a large number musical (121), and 1 Slavonic.

The Xeropotamou Monastery holds 425 manuscripts in its possession, of which only a few are old parchment ones and a few illuminated, while the majority are of later date. Particularly worthy of note are the manuscripts of Kaisarios Dapontes, which are either autographs or contain notes signed by him.

The manuscripts of the Esphigmenou Monastery, though relatively few in number - 372 in total, of which 3 are parchment rolls - are of manifold interest. There are 75 old parchment manuscripts, some of which are important for their date - Cod. 13, for example, was written in A.D. 937 'by the hand of the monk Ioannis, unworthy sinner', who is not to be confused with the well-known calligrapher, the 'unworthy sinner' Ioannis of the Lavra who was a contemporary and friend of St Athanasios the Athonite. Others are important for their decoration - Cod. 14, for example (11th-12th c.), with its 80 miniatures - and others still for their content - Cod. 3, for example (12th c.), which, amongst other things, contains the Manual of Epictetus, and is the oldest of the 65 manuscripts which preserve this text.

The Pantokrator Monastery has 352 manuscripts, of which 68 are old pre-fourteenth-century parchment ones, 2 liturgical rolls, and the rest of later date. It is worth mentioning that some of the manuscripts were written by monks who lived in the monastery.

The manuscript collection of the Gregoriou Monastery, following the great fire of 1761, is comparatively poor. It contains 297 manuscripts, of which just 11 are old parchment ones; of particular interest are the 6 leaves of the Shepherd of Hermas, which constitute the only manuscript in the world which preserves the original Greek text of this work.

The Karakalou Monastery possesses 279 manuscripts. Of particular note are Cod. 11, an Evangelion written in ninth-century majuscule script and adorned with decorative initial letters, headpieces and musical notation, Cods. 1-38 and the two manuscripts described in Vol. II of Lambros's work all of which are old parchment codices and Cod. 243, a parchment roll of the thirteenth century.

The Philotheou Monastery has 250 manuscripts. Outstanding among these are Cod. 2, from the eighth century, and Cod. 33, an illuminated Tetraevangelon from the tenth century.

The number of manuscripts held by the Chelandari Monastery, according to the facts supplied to us by two researchers, is uncertain: according to one, the collection consists of 181 Greek manuscripts, a large number of fragments and 809 Slavonic codices; according to the other, it contains 241 (208 manuscripts and 33 fragments).

The Stavronikita Monastery possesses 206 Greek and 5 Romanian manuscripts. Of the Greek ones, 58 are old parchment codices (chiefly from the 12th-14th c.). As for their subject-matter, the same applies as above, though in this case there are a large number of music manuscripts (35). Outstanding amongst these are the illuminated manuscripts and certain others, such as Cod. 97 (A.D. 1598), an Evangelion written by Matthew of Myra.

The Zographou, Monastery according to recent information, has 170 Greek and 388 Slavonic manuscripts. Of the Greek ones, only 3 are of parchment, while the others most of which are music codices are of paper and date from post-Byzantine times.

The Simonopetra Monastery used to possess an important collection of 245 manuscripts, which were totally destroyed in a fire in 1891. In recent decades, after a series of concerted efforts, about 140 manuscripts have been gathered together at the monastery from its various dependencies: of these, according to a recent publication, just a few are parchment fragments, while all the rest are of later date, and many of these are musical in content.

The Konstamonitou Monastery, last (20th) in the monastic hierarchy, and also last in terms of the size of its manuscript collection, has 111 codices: 14 are of parchment, while the remainder are of later date and mostly liturgical or musical.

Apart from the 20 main monasteries, however, manuscripts also exist in the various other foundations on Athos, which are generally dependencies of the main monasteries (sketae, kellia, kalyvae etc.), as well as in the library of the Protaton.

The latter contains 117 Greek and 7 Slavonic manuscripts. The Greek manuscripts at the Protaton, though few in number, are interesting nonetheless: 47 are old parchment codices, and indeed two of these are written in majuscule.

As for the sketae, manuscripts are held by the following:

St Anne (a dependency of the Lavra) 494; Kapsokalyvia (Lavra) 272; the New Skete (St Paul's) 200; St Demetrios (Vatopedi) 73; St Panteleimon (Koutloumousiou) 40; Little St Anne (Lavra) 37; St John the Baptist (Iviron) 20; the Annunciation (Xenophontos) 13; the Prophet Elijah (Pantokrator) 1. The 73 manuscripts in the Skete of St Demetrios (Vatopedi) and the 20 in that of St John the Baptist (Iviron) have been transferred and today lie in the libraries of Vatopedi and Iviron respectively, though they retain their original numbering.

Particularly worthy of note are the fortunes of the manuscripts belonging to the Skete of St Andrew, the largest skete on Mount Athos, though space does not permit us to give an account of them here.

The manuscripts held by the sketae are generally of later date, with most in fact dating from the eighteenth or nineteenth century. They are mainly of liturgical or musical content, while a few contain religious works, and are of no especial interest, except for a few isolated cases, such as Cod. 3 of the Skete of St John the Baptist (Iviron), which contains works by Justin the Philosopher and Martyr.

The time-span during which the manuscripts in the monasteries and other Athonite foundations were written was, as we have noted repeatedly, a long one, extending over the course of many centuries. There are manuscripts in majuscule script (6th 10th-11th c.) and manuscripts in minuscule from between the ninth and the nineteenth century, and in some cases even the twentieth. Of course, the number of old parchment manuscripts is small overall, while there is a much greater abundance of paper codices, particularly from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Particularly worthy of mention are a large number of old dated parchment codices written in an early form of minuscule; apart from their subject-matter, these are also interesting from a palaeographical and codicological point of view.

Special mention ought to be made of the group of approximately 140 rolls, a special category of manuscript with a distinctive form, which preserved the old traditional form of book, the scroll, and contained the texts of the liturgies of Basil the Great, John Chrysostom and the Presanctified Gifts. Many of the rolls stand out for their antiquity, decoration and script, executed as they were by the hands of experienced scribes, who had worked in well-known scriptoria, such as that of the Hodegon Monastery in Constantinople.

The reason why the number of post-Byzantine and more recent manuscripts is high - they are estimated to form 40-50% of the total - is because the continued production of Greek manuscripts in the East generally and on Mount Athos in particular after the invention and spread of printing, especially during the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, was both a conscious choice and a pressing need. The production and distribution of books during this time was a highly costly business, which meant that in a closed society, like that on Athos, it was both easier and more expedient to produce manuscripts - proof that, not infrequently, the writing of many later manuscripts was influenced by the production of printed books, where these served as models for the former.

As for the content of the manuscripts in general, as has often been pointed out already, this usually consists of religious works ('theological literature') or ecclesiastical, liturgical or musical texts, although there are also a number of manuscripts - particularly those of Classical authors - which deal with 'secular' or 'technical' subjects, such as astrology, botany, geography, medicine and law. Unfortunately, we do not possess reliable and systematic statistics on all the categories of manuscripts. An indication, however, is provided by the details we do have for certain categories: approximately 3,000 music codices, 1,000 illustrated manuscripts, and 600 of works by Classical authors. As for the latter, it should be noted that, although they are few in number a study carried out in 1956 estimated that they formed about 5% of the total of 11,000-12,000 manuscripts a considerable number of them are valuable for the manuscript tradition and textual criticism of the works of quite a few Classical authors.

The greatest number of manuscripts, and the best in quality, are to be found in the collections of the three largest monasteries: the Great Lavra, Vatopedi and Iviron.

The total number of Greek manuscripts surviving on Athos today undoubtedly falls far short of what it was in the past, if one takes into account the manuscripts which have been lost as a result either of natural causes or the continuous abstractions of one kind or another. An idea may be gained from the figures provided by Curzon, who estimated in 1837 that the libraries on Athos contained approximately 3,500 parchment and 14,000 paper manuscripts: a total of 17,500.

Immediately after the fall of Constantinople, organized missions were sent out to the old Byzantine centres (Constantinople, Mount Athos, Meteora, Sinai, Southern Italy, Sicily) in order to find and collect Greek manuscripts for the new centres in Europe, initially mainly in Italy and France, then later in other countries. This is the reason why the best Greek manuscripts today lie scattered in the greatest libraries of Europe. The few manuscripts, chiefly illuminated ones, which exist in American libraries and museums were added to these collections in recent times.

To be specific, those involved in missions to collect manuscripts from Mount Athos, either as organizers or mere participants, include the following:

Ianos Laskaris (1445-1534), perhaps the most important Greek intellectual of the Renaissance, who, on a mission undertaken in 1491-1492, carried off about 200 Greek manuscripts, of which about 80 contained works which were unknown in the West at that time. Many of these came from the monasteries of Mount Athos: 50 from the Lavra, and a smaller number from other monasteries, such as Vatopedi, Esphigmenou and Chelandari.

The Corfiot scholar Nikolaos Sophianos ( ca. 1552), who between 1540 and 1544 copied and gathered on Mount Athos some 300 manuscripts on behalf of Hurtado de Mentoza, the bibliophile ambassador of Charles V to Venice.

Athanasios the Orator (+1669), who, in about the middle of the seventeenth century, carried off 109 manuscripts to France, of which 74 came from Lavra and now lie in the BibliothEque Nationale in Paris.

Minas Minoidis, who between 1840 and 1855 removed many Greek manuscripts to France, both from Mount Athos and also, to a lesser extent, other Greek monasteries (e.g. the Timiou Prodromou Monastery at Serres).

Greek manuscripts found their way into Russia through the concern of, amongst others, the following:

Michael Trivolis (+1556), alias Maximos the Greek 'the Enlightener of the Russians', who transferred many Greek codices there; Arsenii Suchanov (+1668), a Russian monk, who denuded many monasteries of notable manuscripts, many of which contained Classical texts - in all, he removed 498 Greek and Slavonic manuscripts from many of the monasteries on Mount Athos; the renowned Porfirij Uspenskij (+1885), Archimandrite and later Archbishop of Kiev, who travelled around the monasteries on Sinai, Meteora and Mount Athos and did not hesitate to remove from them as many manuscripts and even individual leaves as appeared to be of value.

Despite these great and serious losses of Greek manuscripts, however, not to mention others which cannot be included in this brief note, the Greek manuscripts which have survived and are to be found on the Holy Mountain today constitute, as mentioned earlier, the largest collection of Greek manuscripts in the world and, as vehicles of culture, are important testaments not only to our own heritage but also to that of Orthodoxy and the world's culture in general.

Bibliography: Lambros 1895, 1900. Vogel - Gardthausen 1909. Eustratiades -Arkadios 1924. Spyridon Lavriotes - Eustratiades 1925. Korovskij 1931, cols. 113-118. Lake 1934-1939. Rudberg 1956, pp. 174-185. Manousakas 1958, pp. 262c -267a. Patrinelis 1963. Politis 1963, pp. 116-127. Politis - Manousakas 1973. Thesauroi 1973, 1975. Politis 1975. Stathis 1975, 1976. Thesauroi 1979. Kadas 1979. Litsas 1986, pp. 191-193. Sklavenitis 1986, pp. 83-122. Christou 1987. Thesauroi 1991. Lamberz 1991, pp. 25-78. Nikodemos 1992, pp. 60-61. Stathis 1993. Richard - Olivier 1995.

Exhibits per Monastery
Chronological Classification

The Authentic Greek New Testament Bilingual New Testament I

Icon of the Mother of God and New Testament Reader Promote Greek Learning
Three Millennia of Greek Literature

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