In the Greek and Syriac legal documents from Osrhoene dating from the early 240s, it is only in the three Syriac documents that the scribe identifies himself by name (see Old Syriac Documents). This practice continues to be frequently found in the colophons to Syriac literary and liturgical manuscripts; there the scribe is normally a deacon, priest, or monk (women scribes are extremely rare: one example is a Maronite priest’s daughter [British Library, Sloane 3597, of 1701]). In a fairly small number of cases the scribe is also the author of the work he is copying; it has been suggested that this may be the case with the single ms. of the Chronicle of Zuqnin, and it may also be the case with the ‘Chronography’ of Eliya of Nisibis; Yaʿqub of Edessa may possibly have written the ms. containing his revision of the Hymns of Severus (Brit. Libr. Add. 17,134). In some other cases the scribe is a well-known person, such as Patr. Michael Rabo, from whom several autographs survive (Nau). Other patriarchal scribes are Nuḥ the Lebanese (ms. Oxford, Marsh 437), Yawsep I (ms. Brit. Libr. Egerton 703), and Yawsep  II (3 mss.).

Quite often, and especially in the last five centuries or so, the role of scribe passes from father to son, and sometimes entire family trees of such families can be constructed (Wilmshurst, 244, 249, 251, for scribal families of Alqosh). Several writings of much earlier Syriac authors are only preserved thanks to a number of scribes active around the turn of the 19th and 20th cent.; one of these was the deacon Mattai bar Pawlos of Mosul, working between 1872 and 1934, over 40 of whose mss. are now in the Mingana Collection (Birmingham).

See also Manuscripts.

See Fig. 18, 75, and 94.


  • Barsoum, Scattered pearls , 539–50. (‘famous calligraphers’)
  • S. P.  Brock, ‘The art of the scribe’, in Brock and Taylor, Hidden Pearl, vol. 2, 243–62.
  • H.  Kaufhold, ‘Kirchliche Gemeinschaft und Schisma im Spiegel syrischer Schreibervermerke’, OC 85 (2001), 94–118.
  • M.  Mundell Mango, ‘Patrons and scribes indicated in Syriac manuscripts, 411–800 AD’, Jahrbuch der österreichischen Byzantinischen Gesellschaft 32.4 (1982), 3–12.
  • H.  Murre-van den Berg, ‘ “I, the weak scribe”. Scribes in the Church of the East in the Ottoman period’, JEastCS 58 (2006), 9–26.
  • F. Nau, ‘Sur quelques autographes de Michel le Syrien’, ROC 2.9 (1914), 378–97.
  • Wilmshurst, Ecclesiastical organisation, 382–732. (scribes in dated E.-Syr. mss.)

How to Cite This Entry

Sebastian P. Brock , “Scribes,” in Scribes, edited by Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompay,

Footnote Style Citation with Date:

Sebastian P. Brock , “Scribes,” in Scribes, edited by Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompay (Gorgias Press, 2011; online ed. Beth Mardutho, 2018),

Bibliography Entry Citation:

Brock, Sebastian P. “Scribes.” In Scribes. 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.

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