Example 1

London, BL Add. 12150, f. 235v (dated 411)

Eusebius of Caesarea

Here we take a look at the earliest Syriac codices, beginning with the earliest dated Syriac manuscript, the famous BL Add. 12150, copied in the year 411, up to about the seventh century. The examples we consider here have similarities with each other as well as with some later Estrangela books, but there are, of course, also more particular characteristics for each scribe’s work. In addition, the assumed hallmarks of a particular letter and script-type may not show up where we expect them to. We see, for example, that the 411 manuscript does not usually have the sharp, angled form of dālat and rēš, but a shape we might describe as perfectly matching a Serto form. The rēš is written in the presumably later (Serto) shape; the dālat is written in both the assumed Estrangela form and in the Serto form. Here we have both dālat and rēš in one word, both in the Serto form.


© The British Library Board, Add. 12150, f. 235vc, l. 28.


No attempt will be made to provide a complete inventory of the least common denominators, or fundamental characteristics, for the examples of the handwriting of these manuscripts. But a few observations on letterforms in each manuscript may serve as an initial guide for a foray into these and similar manuscripts. For each chosen manuscript, a sample page in its entirety is included, and a few additional images show specific forms.

Note first of all that the text stands in three columns. Early Syriac manuscripts were mostly written in one or two, less often three, and later there are examples, although few, of four-column manuscripts.


Example of the ālap with connector-serif

© The British Library Board, Add. 12150, f. 235va, ll. 20-22.

Example 2

Vatican City, Vat Sir. 160, f. 140v (6th C. [?])

Lives of Saints and Martyrs


yod — example of the final, unconnected form with left extender, col. b

© Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticana, Sir. 160, f. 140vb, l. 13.


yod — example of the final, unconnected angled form, col. a

© Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticana, Sir. 160, f. 140va, l. 12.


elongated initial ʿē

© Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticana, Sir. 160, f. 140va, l. 1.

Example 3

Diyarbakir, DIYR 339, f. 29v (6th C.)

Gospels (Peshitta)


f. 62r, with two tightly closed tāws, with only a slightly left-leaning vertical

Diyarbakir, Meryem Ana Syriac Orthodox Church, DIYR 339, f. 62ra, l. 2. All rights reserved. Image provided by HMML.

Example 4

London, BL Add. 14460, f. 80r (dated 599/600)

Gospels (Peshitta)


© The British Library Board, Add. 14460, f. 80r, l.4.

Example of the unconnected, tightly looped, tāw, with only a slightly left-leaning vertical; even with these similar features, the tāw in this example and that of the previously noted DIYR 339 are quite distinct from each other: note the more spacious and sharply angled part to the right of the loop in the DIYR 339 tāw, and note the large dot at the top of the vertical in the example here:

Example 5

Tell Kaif, QACCT 8 (7th C.?)

Gospel Lectionary

Many characteristics in Tell Kaif, QACCT 8 are shared with DIYR 339, but the lines in this manuscript are overall thicker than the other manuscript.