Before the invention of printing, books were written and illuminated by hand by professional scribes and illuminators. Following the gradual replacement of papyrus, parchment, made from specially prepared untanned animal skins became the main writing support. The wider use of parchment, a much stronger and flexible material than the papyrus, led to the establishment of the codex in the familiar to us today format of the book. The manuscript production process was time-consuming and costly, as it was the result of a laborious and joint effort of the different specialized craftspersons involved. The different stages of their production were the following: parchment preparation; quire assemblage; ruling of the parchment sheets; writing the text; decoration and illumination; and, finally, binding.
The content of the manuscripts varied and was not limited to religious texts. The manuscripts that came down to us include the texts of the Gospels and the Old Testament, works of the Fathers of the Church, Romances, Ancient literature, Philosophical and Rhetorical texts, Musical texts, the Services, Synaxaria and Menologia, Legal texts, Scientific texts (medicine and surgery, hippiatrica, pharmacology, mathematics, geometry, geography, arithmetic, astronomy and astrology, alchemy, zoology), Military texts, Texts dealing with technological and technical matters.
The scribes, illuminators, tanners, book-binders and every other craftsperson who contributed to the production of a manuscript did not come exclusively from the laity but were as well members of the clergy. They did not necessarily work in the same place, but were collaborating regularly, or, were coming together when an order was placed. In many cases copying and/or the illumination of manuscripts was the work task of a monk assigned by his spiritual father or abbot. It was through this activity that a monk was contributing to the Monastery of his repentance.
Parchment manuscripts were produced throughout the Byzantine Empire. The Byzantine capital, Constantinople, was renowned for the quality of manuscripts produced at the most important monasteries of the city, such as that of Stoudios and Hodegon. In the monasteries of Mount Athos lived and worked as-well highly skilled monks, calligraphers and/or illuminators.
Gospel Lectionary. Holy Monastery of Stavronikita 1 (f. 1r), 12th century
Gospel Lectionary. Holy Monastery of Karakallou 99 (f. 169r), 13th century
Psalter. Holy Monastery of Gregoriou 3 (f. 3r), 13th century
Psalter. Holy Monastery of Stavronikita 46 (f. 200r), 13th century
Manuscript containing Patristic works. Holy Monastery of Karakallou 147 (f. 10v), 11th-12th century
Manuscript containing Patristic works. Holy Monastery of Stavronikita 15 (f. 1r), 12th century
Manuscript containing Patristic works. Holy Monastery of Karakallou 33 (f. 4r), 11th-12th century
Manuscript containing philosophical and Patristic works. Holy Monastery of Xenophontos 8 (f. 6v), 11th century
Manuscript containing liturgical texts. Protaton 40 (f. 4r), 15th century
Manuscript containing liturgical texts. Holy Monastery of Karakallou 260 (f. 10r), 13th-14th century
Menologion. Holy Monastery of Simonos Petras 127 (f. 168r), 12th century
Menologion. Protaton 1 (f. 34r), 13th-14th century
Musical manuscript. Holy Monastery of Stavronikita 163 (f. 63r), 11th-12th century
Musical manuscript. Holy Monastery of Karakallou 87 (f. 15r), 13th century
Manuscript containing music notation. Library of the Greek Parliament 7 (f. 223r), 12th century