Syriac Scripts: 20th/21st century, Serto


The object of this lesson is threefold:

  • to serve as a reminder that Syriac manuscripts have continued to be copied up to the present (see further)

  • to show the kinds of supports and writing instruments used in these more recent manuscripts

  • to offer samples of the continued use of the scripts we have looked at so far


For number 3, there is really nothing unexpected in terms of letter shapes. Estrangela is generally used, if at all, for decorative purposes or titles (much as Blackletter or Fraktur typefaces may be used in English-language newspaper names, for example), but both Serto and East Syriac have continued in regular use throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. While the kinds of supports (such as a composition book or datebook) and writing instruments (pencil, ballpoint pen) may seemingly be more pedestrian than for earlier manuscripts and thus confer upon these modern manuscripts less gravitas, there is not really a new ductus in letter-forms. These manuscripts often appear less carefully executed than at least some earlier copies (some of them are actually drafts for works intended to be printed). Even in earlier periods, scribes who knew how to write, but not necessarily how to write well, nonetheless produced manuscripts.


In what follows, sample pages are thus offered with no comment on the forms of the letters, but a few remarks highlight supports and writing implements.

Example 1 - Through World War II

Diyarbakir, DIYR 270, ff. 17v-18r (dated 1931-35)

Liturgical texts

Mardin, CFMM 550, p. 3 (dated 1945)

Ibn Sina, translator Bar Hebraeus

Intended to be a Syriac and Garshuni parallel, but here only the Syriac column is present.

Mardin, CFMM 232, pp. 12-13 (20th C.)

The Syriac Church in Malabar

Note: the text is written in pencil.

Example 2 - Post World War II

Mardin, CFMM 222, p. 152 (dated 1954)

Abraham Gabriel Ṣawmā, The Book of Syriac Instruction

Mardin, CFMM 238, ff. 73v-74r / pp. 130-31 (dated 1958)

Yuhanon Dolabani, History of the Qartmin Monastery

Mardin, CFMM 555, p. 568 (dated 1964)

Ḥunayn ibn Isḥāq

Notice the footnote at the bottom of the page, in imitation of printed texts, and the catchword, a regular feature of manuscripts.

(On this manuscript, see also the hmmlorientalia blog)

Midyat, MGMT 81, p. 2 (dated 1968)

Dionysius bar Salibi, Commentary on Genesis

This manuscript is written in a kind of composition book, like the previous example CFMM 555, here divided into fixed columns.

Midyat, MGMT 83, p. 3 (dated 1971)

Anthology on Liturgical Topics

This manuscript is paginated in western Arabic numerals and in Syriac letters. As with MGMT 81 the text is copied into a composition book with two columns, and as with CFMM 555 there is a footnote.

Mardin, ZFRN 385, ff. 3v-4r (dated 1992)


This manuscript, a collection of three saints’ lives copied into a 1992 calendar book, is, according to the colophon, based on a much older manuscript on parchment from 1496 AG (= 1184/5 CE).

Example 3 - 21st-century manuscripts

Jerusalem, SMMJ 475, pp. 9-10 (dated 2012)

Jacob of Serugh, Memra on the End and Gehenna

Like the previous example MGMT 83, this is paginated in western Arabic numerals and in Syriac letters.