Syriac printed from wood-cuts can be found in European books as early as 1486, but the first text to be printed from type was in T. Ambrogio’s Introductio in linguam chaldaicam (Pavia, 1539). Later in the century and on into the 18th cent., presses in Rome (the Tipografia Medicea, 1592; Maronite College, 1617; and Propaganda Fide, 1627), took the lead in the production of Syriac books, chiefly service-books but also grammatical and other scholarly works. All these presses used well-cut Serṭo types based on Maronite handwriting. A type in the same style cut for F. Savary de Brèves was first used in Paris for a Psalter in 1624; and another for the polyglot Bible of M. Le Jay (starting with vol. 5, 1630). Elsewhere in Europe, Syriac printing began with J. Widmanstetter’s New Testament printed in Vienna in 1555. Other biblical and scholarly printing followed, especially in the Netherlands (C. Plantin, 1569; T. Erpenius, 1619; Elsevier, 1630) and eventually in Britain (1639). The Serṭo types in these books were generally independent of the Maron. models, and inferior.
In the Middle East, a Syriac Psalter was printed at the Maron. monastery of Quzḥayya, Lebanon, as early as 1610, but nothing followed there until the printing of service books began again after 1782. East of Lebanon, Syriac printing started with the American ‘Nestorian Mission’ in Urmia, Persia. The missionaries reduced the local dialect to writing (using the E.-Syr. script), and began to print in it in 1841. They used at first the type made by W. Watts for an E.-Syr. edition of the New Testament (London, 1829), then new types made by the mission printer Edward Breath. The output of this press was chiefly Protestant religious literature, but it also included a long-running newspaper Zahrire d-bahrā ‘Rays of Light’ (1849–1918). Among other mission and church presses in the Middle East in the 19th–20th cent., the most important printers of Syriac were the Imprimerie des Pères Dominicains in Mosul (ca. 1857) and the Jesuit Imprimerie Catholique in Beirut (ca. 1877).
In India, Syriac has been printed by various church-owned presses since the 19th cent. The most important are St. Joseph’s Press, Mannanam (1866), St. Thomas Press, Cochin (1870), Mar Julius Press, Pampakuda (1870), and Mar Narsai Press, Trichur (1926). Most of the types used in their books are of Indian manufacture.
A Linotype version of E.-Syr. was first made in 1915, for Joel E. Werda’s newspaper Izgadda (New York, later Connecticut, 1915–25). Hand and Linotype composition produced a good deal of secular Assyrian journalism and other literature between the wars in the USA and in Iran and Iraq.
Printing of scholarly Syriac was stimulated in the mid 19th cent. by the acquisition of old mss. by the British Museum. The years 1848–1914 saw a boom in publications, many in the Esṭrangela script and printed to a high standard of typography and presswork, notably by Oxford and Cambridge University presses, the Imprimerie Nationale (Paris) and W. Drugulin (Leipzig). For the Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium (printed by the firm of Peeters in Louvain), the British Monotype Corporation produced an Esṭrangela type in 1954 designed by R. Draguet that allowed machine composition of this script for the first time. A film version for the Monophoto typesetter followed in 1977.
Since the mid 1980s, digital technology has democratized the printing of Syriac at all levels: ecclesiastical, academic, and vernacular. Syriac text may now be composed on a personal computer, using ordinary word-processing software and fonts available for all the Syriac scripts, and sent electronically in pdf format to a commercial printer for lithographic reproduction.
- J. F. Coakley, The typography of Syriac (2006).
- G. Duverdier, ‘Les impressions orientales en Europe et le Liban’, in Le livre et le Liban (1982), 159–279.
- G. Kiraz, ‘Forty years of Syriac computing’, Hugoye 10.1 (2007).
How to Cite This Entry
Footnote Style Citation with Date:
James F. Coakley, “Printing,” in Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage: Electronic Edition, edited by Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompay (Gorgias Press, 2011; online ed. Beth Mardutho, 2018), https://gedsh.bethmardutho.org/Printing.
Bibliography Entry Citation:
Coakley, James F. “Printing.” In Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage: Electronic Edition. Edited by Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompay. Digital edition prepared by David Michelson, Ute Possekel, and Daniel L. Schwartz. Gorgias Press, 2011; online ed. Beth Mardutho, 2018. https://gedsh.bethmardutho.org/Printing.
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