Manuscripts, that is, books written by hand, are among the most important heirlooms from the Byzantine period.
Unlike printed books which are available in many copies, manuscripts share a feature with all artistic creations: there is no second copy. Most of them are written and edited carefully, being the perfect object of study for experts in the field, and of admiration for art lovers.
The number of manuscripts housed in Greek libraries is still unknown, since they are not yet listed in a catalogue. Nonetheless, it is estimated that there are far more than 20,000 manuscripts. Apart from the large collections of Greek manuscripts housed in some of the most important monastic centres (on Mount Athos, in Meteora, in Patmos), and in the National Library of Greece, most monasteries house manuscript collections, and the same applies to many public or private libraries all over Greece.
A brief history of the manuscript collection of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki
Until 1939, the collection of the newly founded University of Thessaloniki consisted of forty manuscripts, most of which were bought from private collectors. They were described by A. Sigalas, Professor of Philosophy, who was in charge of their collection, in his book entitled The Religious Life of the Greek Communities in Macedonia: Archives and Libraries of West Macedonia, Thessaloniki: 1939, pp. 156-170.
Linos Politis contributed greatly to the expansion of the collection. As he was appointed to the position of professor at the Faculty of Philosophy in 1948, it was at his initiative that the collection was enriched – some of the manuscripts were donated by private collectors, others were bought and others were part of stolen property restored to the state, pursuant to judicial decisions. In 1976, Politis wrote and published a brief description of manuscripts 41-88 in his work entitled Brief Record of Greek Manuscript Collections, Thessaloniki: 1976, pp. 42-48. Before moving to Athens in 1977, Politis gave to his assistant P. Sotiroudis the 88 manuscripts which were housed in the Library of Classical Philology.
Over the years, fifteen manuscripts were added to the collection at the initiative of P. Sotiroudis. Seven of these manuscripts were found among printed books in the Central Library of the Aristotle University, whereas the remaining eight were discovered, mainly in fragments, while clearing the paleographic material housed in the Library of Classical Philology.
The AUTh manuscripts catalogue
Apart from the brief description of manuscripts 41-88, Politis also provided a full description of all manuscripts. After his death, this handwritten catalogue was donated to the School of Philology, which undertook its publication. Its editing was assigned to P. Sotiroudis and A. Sakellaridou-Sotiroudi, assistants then, and supervision was assigned to professor G. Parasoglou.
The catalogue was expanded with the description of the ten manuscripts which were known to be housed in other libraries of the Aristotle University, and had never been catalogued before: seven of these manuscripts were housed in the Library of Practical Theology, while the remaining three in the Library of Greek and Roman Law History. The catalogue was published in 1991 by the Central Library of the university. After its publication, five more manuscripts were added. Thus, the total number of the manuscripts held in the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki is 118. Except for the three manuscripts of the School of Law, all manuscripts have been transferred to the Central Library, where they are kept under the right conditions.
Information about the collection
The manuscripts of this collection date to the period between the 10th and the 20th century. Like all Greek collections, most manuscripts (76) date between the 18th and the 19th century. Only six fragments date between the 10th and the 12th century. The oldest complete manuscript was written at the beginning of the 13th century. Overall, the content of the manuscripts varies – there are manuscripts of the Bible, liturgical manuscripts, manuscripts of the Fathers of the Church, manuscripts regarding post-byzantine theology, homiletic manuscripts, manuscripts of literary texts, canon law manuscripts, manuscripts regarding the interpretation of paintings, byzantine music manuscripts, etc. Twelve manuscripts are written on parchment, that is, on specially processed skin of certain animals.
The manuscripts are used as teaching material to meet the needs of undergraduate and postgraduate students, mainly with regard to the course of Greek paleography. It needs to be noted that after the publication of the catalogue many researchers, from Greece and abroad, expressed their genuine interest in the manuscripts of the collection, and some of them even studied them on the spot.