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Syriac Collection

Collection Details

Syriac Collection held at Asian and African Studies [Institution record]

Description of Collection

Content description

The manuscript collection is one of the largest and most diverse in the world.

The printed book collection is also quite comprehensive, comprising both antiquarian items from the 16th century onwards down to modern critical editions of Syriac texts and 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.

History and development

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. 50 from Urmia and 100 from Mosul had ben added by the end of the 19th century. A further 150 or so manuscripts have been added since. Manuscripts are now only very rarely acquired.

Although the printed book collection derives overwhelmingly from the British Museum Library, the India Office Library also had a very small number of printed items.

New printed book acquisitions comprise mostly modern critical editions of Syriac texts and the standard Western journals relating to Syriac studies.


The manuscript collection covers Biblical manuscripts, all categories of service-books, commentaries, Patristic literature, lives of the Saints, theology, history, philology, medicine, and some scientific literature.

The numerous manuscripts of the Old Testament held 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.

The Syriac printed book collection is rich in early items, from the 1555 New Testament onwards.

General arrangement and access regulations

Both the manuscript and printed book collections are closed access.

Subjects of the Collection

Regions of Asia

Near & Middle East and North Africa.


Iraq, Syria, Turkey.

Languages of material



Arts, Education, Geography, History, Language, Law, Literature, Medicine, Music, Philosophy, Religion, Travel.

Languages as linguistic focus


Collection Material and Size of Collection

Material Types

Books, Manuscripts, Music (only includes printed & manuscript music), Newspapers (includes microfilm editions), Serials.

Total size of collection

1075 manuscripts, 12,000 printed books.

Collection Management Information

The collection is being actively developed, and the average intake has fallen.

Annual intake

100 printed items.

Content date range

450 to 2000 AD

Collection policy

Collection Catalogue Information


There is no separate online catalogue of Syriac manuscripts or printed books. The manuscript holdings are described in 3 printed catalogues. There is a printed catalogue of printed books, supplemented by a card catalogue in the OIOC Reading Room; more recent holdings (particularly Western printed editions and studies of Coptic texts) are added to the LIbrary's online catalogue BLPC.

Catalogue transliteration schemes

In-house (British Museum Library) scheme.

Collection printed catalogues

Catalogus codicum manuscriptorum orientalium qui in Museo Britannico asservantur. Pars prima, codices Syriacos et Carshunicos amplectens.
Rosen, F. A., & Forshall, J.
London: The British Museum, 1838.
Lists 90 works.

Catalogue of Syriac manuscripts in the British Museum, acquired since the year 1838..
Wright, W.
London: The British Museum, 1870-72.
In 3 volumes. Lists 1036 works.

Descriptive list of Syriac and Karshuni manuscripts in the British Museum acquired since 1873.
Margoliouth, G.
London: The British Museum, 1899.
Lists 250 works.

Catalogue of Syriac printed books and related literature in the British Museum.
Moss, C.
London: The British Museum, 1962.

Catalogue of Malayalam books in the British Museum.
Gaur, Albertine.
London: The British Museum, 1971.
Includes Syriac items published by the St. Thomas Christians of Kerala in south-western India.

India Office Library catalogue of books in minor languages P-W.
[London: India Office Library & Records, n.d.]
Not published. Bound-up copy of xeroxes of catalogue cards. Lists c. 25 printed Syriac items.

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