Colophons, or notes added by the scribe at the end of a ms. that he is copying, often provide a great deal of valuable information; this will often consist of the scribe’s name (and parentage), date, place of writing, the person who commissioned the work and its destination, and the name(s) of the reigning hierarchs. For the date, the Seleucid era is normally used (to find the AD equivalent, subtract 311, or if the month is Oct.-Dec., 312). Already by the late 7th cent. the Hijra dating is sometimes also used, and Melkite mss. frequently employ the Byzantine World Era (subtract 5508, or if Sep.–Dec., 5509). Other eras (e.g., of the Ascension) are only rarely found. From the 17th cent. onwards the Christian era is also employed, sometimes in conjunction with the Seleucid (which continued in use well into the 20th cent.). In India the Kulam era (beginning AD 825) is sometimes used. Dates given (sometimes including the hour as well as the day) will refer to that of completion; only rarely does the scribe indicate when he started: a recent example is provided by Mor Julius Çiçek’s calligraphed Gospel Lectionary, published in 1987: his long colophon states that it took him 340 hours, starting on 5 Jan. and finishing on 4 Feb. Information about the place of writing, if not a monastery, may include the church, as well as the village or town. Later owners have sometimes substituted later names, erasing the original ones. In order to discourage unauthorized removal of a ms. dire curses on any would-be culprit may be provided. Further information of a purely historical nature is occasionally to be found in colophons: a dramatic example of this is in a ms. written in Jerusalem in 1149 (ms. Damascus, Patr. 12/4) whose colophon describes the capture of Edessa by Zengi in 1144 (ET by A. N. Palmer, in OC 76 [1992], 85–7).

The oldest dated Christian ms. in any language is Brit. Libr. Add. 12,150, whose colophon states that it was written in Edessa and completed in Nov. 411. A  number of formulaic features are apt to reappear, such as the comparison of the scribe reaching his last line with that of a ship, or sailor, reaching harbor; this particular example, first known from a ms. of 543, and still in use in modern times, is also found in Greek and Latin mss.

See also Manuscripts, Palimpsests, Scribes.

See Fig. 36 and 119.


  • L.  Bernhard, Die Chronologie der syrischen Handschriften (1971).
  • F.  Briquel Chatonnet, ‘Le temps du copiste: notations chronologiques dans les colophons de manuscrits syriaques’, in Proche Orient ancien: temps vécu, temps pensé, ed. F. Briquel Chatonnet and H. Lozachmeur (1998), 197–210.
  • S. P.  Brock, ‘The scribe reaches harbour’, Byzantinische Forschungen 21 (1995), 195–202. (repr. in From Ephrem to Romanos [1999], ch. XVI)
  • S. P.  Brock, ‘The use of Hijra dating in Syriac manuscripts: a preliminary investigation’, in Redefining Christian identity: Cultural interaction in the Middle East since the rise of Islam, ed. J. J. van Ginkel et al. (OLA 134; 2005), 275–90.
  • S. P.  Brock, ‘Early dated manuscripts of the Church of the East, 7th–13th cent.’, JAAS 21.2 (2007), 8–34. (with translations of several colophons)
  • H. Kaufhold, ‘Zur Datierung nach christlicher Ära in den syrischen Kirchen’, in Malphono w-Rabo d-Malphone, ed. G. A. Kiraz, 283–337.
  • Wilmshurst, Ecclesiastical organisation. (A study largely based on the evidence of colophons)

| Colophons |


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