eISSN 2217-5563 ISSN (Print) 2217-5555

Ћирилица Latinica English

Radivoj Radić
Univerzitet u Beogradu
Filozofski fakultet – Odeljenje za istoriju, Beograd

doi: 10.19090/cit.2021.38.2-16
No. 38 (May 2021), p. 2-16

Byzantines and the Written Word


Byzantine civilization did not know the printed book: it was a civilization of manuscripts and manuscript books (codices) made of papyrus, parchment, and paper. The ancient Greeks bequeathed to the Byzantines the word Logos (in multiple meanings – word, speech, mind, reason, supreme principle, the divine creative power, the word of God, the word as the bearer of life and light), as the greatest treasure. The Rhomaioi (Byzantines) polished the skill of use of words and the ability to persuade with words to their full glory. However, the use of words within Byzantine civilization flourished completely and reached its apogee in literature. An important feature of the Greek language in Byzantine times (the period from the fourth to the fifteenth century) is diglossia, i.e. the existence of two different varieties of a language used under different conditions within a community – a high, socially prestigious form, used for writing, and a low, simpler, everyday spoken form. For Christians, a sensitive issue was the attitude towards the ancient pagan heritage: they accepted what did not conflict with their dogmas, and rejected the rest.
Today, there are about 55,000 Greek manuscripts in the world, of which about 40,000 are Byzantine. In order to be distributed to readers and preserved from decay, manuscript books were being transcribed in scriptoriums, in which not only monks but also secular people of various professions were working. Books were very expensive. There were public, imperial, patriarchal, monastic, and private libraries, with not large collections of manuscripts. As Byzantine civilization was approaching its decline, the migration of Greek manuscripts from Byzantium to the Latin world of Western Europe began. In that way, the great heritage of ancient civilization was preserved and transferred to European countries.


Byzantium, manuscripts, codices, scriptoriums, words, civilization, antiquity, Western Europe

Submitted: 5th February 2021
Correction to the manuscript: 11th March 2021
Accepted for publication: 15th March 2021

Creative Commons License
Byzantines and the Written Word by Radivoj Radić is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Full text