A Note to Readers
We link below to a huge number of Syriac manuscript catalogues. In fact, exceedingly few, if any, physical libraries in the world own all of these catalogues. This list, organized alphabetically by city where the collection resides (or resided), is meant to facilitate serious research into the wealth of Syriac literature. For the beginner, we would like to signal up front that the most important historic collections of Syriac manuscripts are located in London (the British Library), Rome (Vatican Libraries), Birmingham (the Mingana Collection), Manchester (the John Rylands Library), Berlin, Paris, and Oxford and Cambridge Universities. The Monastery of St. Catherine in the Sinai also has an extremely important collection. In North America the most important collection is at Harvard University, which acquired the bulk of the manuscripts owned by James Rendel Harris (1852–1941).
Anton Baumstark's Geschichte der syrischen Literatur (1922) is still an invaluable starting point for students of Syriac (see our Histories of Syriac Literature page). Baumstark had a phenomenal personal knowledge of manuscript collections in both the Middle East and in Europe. While the idiosyncratic abbreviations Baumstark employed can be difficult to decipher, the payoff of learning them is that you can thereby get a reasonably good sense for the major manuscript sources for any particular Syriac author. One goal of this page is to link to every manuscript catalogue cited by Baumstark, so that, when you are interested in an author, you can find all the resources he had at his disposal right here in a single place. This is not enough, however. Baumstark's Geschichte appeared in 1922 before the publication of Mingana's catalogues of his own important collection. Therefore, the student should always consult Mingana in addition to Baumstark.
The vast majority of the most ancient and important Syriac manuscripts in existence today come from one of two places, both in modern Egypt: the Monastery of St Catherine's in the Sinai and Dayr al-Suryan (the Monastery of the Syrians) in the Wadi Natrun. W.H.P. Hatch's An Album of Dated Syriac Manuscripts is the standard point of reference for Syriac paleography and includes images of a large number of manuscripts from Dayr al-Suryan (Hatch superseded Tisserant, a resource which is still useful to be aware of). Following the discovery of a cache of new manuscripts and fragments at St. Catherine's in 1975, the recently published "New Finds" catalogues by Mother Philothea (manuscripts) and Sebastian Brock (fragments) have become crucial resources for manuscript study, especially for Chalcedonian ("Melkite") Syriac authors. The Sinai "New Finds" contain significant material that was unavailable to Baumstark. Most of the manuscripts originally collected or copied by the monks of Dayr al-Suryan in the medieval period were purchased by either the Vatican in the 18th century or the British Library in the 19th (and thus show up in those respective catalogues). However, a small number of important Syriac manuscripts remain at the Monastery. A catalogue of these "New Finds" at Dayr al-Suryan, edited by Sebastian Brock and Lucas van Rompay, is currently in press at Peeters.
Baumstark needs updating in other ways as well. While we have sought to link below as many of the manuscript catalogues that he cites as possible, the appearance of a manuscript in a catalogue does not mean that the manuscript is still in that library today. This is most notably the case for the catalogues by Addai Scher and for the catalogue of Urmia College. When looking up a manuscript cited by Baumstark, you should always consult Alain Desreumaux, Répertoire des bibliothèques et des catalogues de manuscrits syriaques (Paris, 1991), under the place name of the catalogue, and Desreumaux will often helpfully redirect you to where that manuscript resides now (if known).
Finally, the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library (HMML) at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University in Collegeville, MN, has made available an enormous number of manuscripts in digital form which were previously unknown to Western scholars. In terms of sheer quantity, HMML has more Syriac manuscripts than any other library in the Western world. A recent hand-list (July 2012) of Syriac, Christian Arabic, and Garshuni manuscripts available through HMML, organized and enumerated by library collection, can be found here (pdf). So, in addition to the places mentioned above, you should always search HMML's collection for a given author. Their cataloguing efforts are on-going, and it is worthwhile returning to their website regularly. HMML will allow a scholar to view, free of charge, up to three manuscripts online at a time. This is a remarkable development for Syriac studies and we anticipate that it will stimulate much new research in the future. OLIVER, the online catalog of HMML is often best searched through a 'keyword' search.
Aleppo (Syrian Orthodox Archdiocese)
Twelve manuscripts from the Syrian Orthodox Archdiocese are available online as part of the World Digital Library.
L. Cheikho and Ignace-Abdo Khalifé, eds., Catalogue raisonné des manuscrits historiques de la Bibliothèque Orientale de l'Université Saint-Joseph, 2 parts, collected from Mélanges de l'Université Saint-Joseph (Beirut, 1913–1929 and 1951–1964). (Part 1: Arabic MSS 1–792; Part 2: Arabic MSS 793–1520 and Syriac MSS 1–58). The catalogue of Syriac manuscripts begins on page 239 of the second part.
Berlin (Königlichen Bibliothek)
E. Sachau, ed., Die Handschriften-Verzeichnisse der Königlichen Bibliothek zu Berlin, 23. Band: Verzeichniss der syrischen Handschriften, 2 vols. (Berlin, 1899). (archive.org link: volume 1, volume 2)
Before doing the Berlin Catalog, Sachau also made a brief catalog of his own collection, a more detailed description of which can be found in the Berlin catalog above. For Sachau's catalog of his own collection, see E. Sachau, Kurzes Verzeichniss der Sachau’schen Sammlung syrischer Handschriften. Berlin: A.W. Schade, 1885.
Birmingham (Mingana Collection)
Cairo (Coptic Museum)
Cairo (Franciscan Center for Oriental Christian Studies)
Cambridge (University Library)
Cambridge, Massachusetts (Harvard: all libraries)
The most up-to-date catalog of Harvard’s important collection of Syriac manuscripts is online thanks to Dr. J.F. Coakley.
Chicago (Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago)
J.T. Clemons, ''A Checklist of Syriac Manuscripts in the United States and Canada'',Orientalia Christiana Periodica 32 (1966): 478–480.
Searching for the keywords "syriac manuscript" will give you a list of the Syriac manuscripts present in the OI's collections.
Damascus (Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate)
Damascus (Syrian Catholic Archepiscopal Residence)
NB: pp. 322–324 contains a description of the mss Baumstark found in an unnamed and apparently poor Syrian Orthodox church.
Dayr al-Anba Antunyus, Egypt (Monastery of St. Anthony)
Dayr al-Suryān, Wadi al-Natrun, Egypt ("Monastery of the Syrians")
As noted above, the Vatican Libraries and the British Museum did not purchase all the Syriac manuscripts present at Dayr al-Suryan. More than three dozen Syriac manuscripts remain there (alongside a large number of uncatalogued Coptic and Christian Arabic manuscripts). In 1901, an Arabic handlist was made of the remaining manuscripts there at Dayr al-Suryan and in the middle part of the 20th century, Murad Kamil made a more detailed description, a translated copy of which made it to Leiden, whence other copies of copies have floated around among scholars for years. At present, Sebastian Brock and Lucas van Rompay are publishing a new catalogue of these manuscripts with Peeters. See here for exciting first impressions (PDF) of the material there.
Here is Wright, supplementing the information in his monumental Catalogue, on the purchase of the Dayr al-Suryan convent by the merchants of Tikrit for 12,000 dinars.
Diyarbakir (Chaldean Archbishopric)
Here is another discussion of Diyarbakir by Voste, which gives updated information on the fate of many of the mss described by Scher.
Florence (de'Medici, Laurentian, and Palatine collections)
S.E. Assemani and A.F. Gori, eds., Bibliothecae Mediceae, Laurentianae et Palatinae codicum Mms. [sic] orientalium catalogus, sub auspiciis regiae celsitudinis serenissimi Francisci III... (Florence, 1742). (archive.org link) (Here is the scribal note contained in the famous Rabbula Gospels)
Jerusalem (Greek Orthodox Patriarchate)
The Library of Congress has also made available online its Checklist of manuscripts in the libraries of the Greek and Armenian Patriarchates in Jerusalem. Syriac material is included.
Jerusalem (Syrian Orthodox Monastery of St. Mark)
BYU Checklist of 31 Syriac and Garshuni "Brown Manuscripts" with PDFs of MSS.
W.F. Macomber, Final Inventory of the Microfilmed Manuscripts of St. Mark's Convent, Jerusalem (Provo, UT, 1990). (PDF link)
Leiden (multiple collections)
- J.H. Hottinger, Promptuarium; Sive Bibliotheca orientalis... (Heidelberg, 1658).
- Royal Academy of Sciences: Catalogus codicum orientalium bibliothecae academiae regiae scientiarum quem, a clar. Weijersio inchoatum, post hujus mortem absolvit et edidit Dr. P. de Jong (Leiden, 1862), pp. 8–17.
- Leiden University: J. de Goeje, Catalogus codicum orientalium bibliothecae academiae Lugduno-Batavae, vol. 5 (Leiden, 1873), pp. 64–75.
London (British Library)
Manchester (John Rylands University Library)
Mardin (Chaldean Bishopric)
Mosul (Chaldean Patriarchate)
Verzeichniß der orientalischen Handschriften der K. Hof- und Staatsbibliothek in München (Munich, 1875), pp. 109-119 (by J. Schonfelder). (This is Syriac mss 1-17).
New Haven, Connecticut (Yale: Beinecke and American Oriental Society)
Some of Yale's Syriac manuscripts (and a publication by Postel from 1543) can be seen digitally, here.
New York City (Metropolitan Museum of Art)
The Met's Syriac manuscripts were described briefly in J.T. Clemons, ''A Checklist of Syriac Manuscripts in the United States and Canada'', Orientalia Christiana Periodica 32 (1966), pp. 491–493. Now, one can see digital images of the Met's Syriac collection by searching its collection online.
New York City (Morgan Library)
J.T. Clemons, ''A Checklist of Syriac Manuscripts in the United States and Canada'', Orientalia Christiana Periodica 32 (1966), pp. 493–494.
The Morgan's Syriac holdings can be found by going to the Morgan's Corsair catalog, searching for the keyword "Syriac" and ordering the results by ascending date. Each Syriac manuscript is given a detailed online description. Some manuscripts have images available online.
It is not widely known that the Morgan not only has Syriac manuscripts, it has Syriac manuscripts of great antiquity. Of particular interest are two Gospel books from the sixth or seventh centuries (M. 783 and M. 784).
Paris (Bibliothéque Nationale)
Princeton (Princeton Theological Seminary)
There is an unpublished handlist of the Syriac manuscripts in the collection of Princeton Theological Seminary.
Princeton (Princeton University)
The Garrett and Scheide manuscripts can be found via Princeton's online catalog, by searching for "Syriac manuscript" under "keyword" and then listing the results by ascending date. NB: To get full information on the ms, you must click on "long view". Also, the data contained in the catalog is taken from Clemons' descriptions and may not be totally accurate. The Scheide Collection has acquired one additional Syriac ms. since Clemons looked at Princeton's mss.
J.S. Assemani and S.E. Assemani, Biblioteca apostolica vaticana: Bibliothecae Apostolicae Vaticanae codicum manuscriptorum catalogus in tres partes distributus; in quarum prima Orientales, in altera Graeci, in tertia Latini Italici aliorumque Europaeorum idiomatum codices. vols. 2–3. (Repr. Paris, 1926). (archive.org links: volume 2, volume 3)
S.E. Assemani and A. Assemani, Codices chaldaici sive syriaci Vaticani Assemaniani, pp. 1-82 in A. Maius, Scriptorum veterum nova collectio e Vaticanus codicibus edita, vol. 5.2 (Rome, 1831). [202 manuscripts from Assemani's own private collection, which went into the Vatican collection after he died]
The great Bibliotheca Orientalis of Assemani can also serve as a catalog to (part of) the Vatican collection, but it refers to the mss by a different system of numbering. For concordances between the BO system and the current Vatican numbering system, in addition to some background on the nature of the Vatican's marvelous collection, see H. Hyvernat, ''Vatican Syriac MSS: Old and New Press-Marks'', The Catholic University Bulletin 9 (1903): 94–104.
You should also be aware of the Fondo Borgia among the Vatican's collections (VtB in Baumstark's abbreviations). It contains some 179 mss. The great majority of these can be found described here:
There is now an online catalog for the Vatican Library for bibliography related to their manuscripts. The simple search includes basic options: you can search by MS number ("SEGNATURA"), or by author ("AUTORE/NOME") of the bibliographical item, or by title or incipit. The advanced search includes many more options, which can be combined.
St. Louis University has a number of Syriac (and Arabic and Greek) manuscripts from the Vatican on microfilm in its Vatican Film Library. Here is a search engine which allows you to see which manuscripts they have.
Saint Catherine’s Monastery, the Sinai
- A.S. Lewis, Catalogue of the Syriac Mss. in the Convent of S. Catharine on Mount Sinai, Studia Sinaitica 1 (London, 1894).
- Hiersemann 500 Catalog (1922)
- Hiersemann 500 contains descriptions of a number of Syriac and Arabic manuscripts which originated at St. Catherine’s but which ended up being sold on the antiquities market in Europe between the wars. Some of the manuscripts described in Hiersemann 500 (e.g., Hiersemann 500/2, Hiersemann 500/26, Hiersemann 500/34) were destroyed in the bombing of Louvain during the Second World War.
- For more on the Hiersemann 500 manuscripts, go here. A number of the Hiersemann manuscripts were purchased by Otto Mettler-Specker, who deposited them in the Zentral Bibliothek in Zurich. After his death, they were withdrawn from the library and auctioned by Parke-Bernet (now Sotheby's) in New York on November 29–30, 1948. The whereabouts of some of these mss are known (Hiersemann 500/46, is now Princeton Scheide M141, for example), but where others went is still a mystery. Hiersemann 500 is an important source of information about Melkite Syriac mss.
- There is also a Library of Congress Checklist of manuscripts in St Catherine's Monastery, which contains Syriac, Arabic, and Greek, among its contents. Many of these have been put online by the Catholic University of Louvain.
- The Syriac New Finds contain some truly exciting material.
- Here is a fundamental discussion of Sinai's liturgical manuscripts.
Grigory Kessel has made an invaluable abridged English translation of N. V. Pigulevskaya's Catalog of the Syriac Manuscripts in Leningrad.
For Karshuni mss in St Petersburg, see D. Gunzberg, V. Rosen, B. Dorn, K. Patkanof, J. Tchaubinof, Les manuscrits arabes, karchounis, grecs, coptes, ethiopiens, georgiens et babys de l'institut des langues orientales vivantes (St Petersburg, 1891).
Urmia (Oroomiah College)