From Academic Kids

Before the invention of printing by moveable type, a scriptorium (plural scriptoria) was a normal adjunct to a library, which after the active destruction of classical libraries in the wake of the Theodosian decrees of the 390s and the collapse of public institutions in general, were entirely in Christian hands from the early 5th century.

The information about Greek and Roman scriptoria is more extensive than that about the Early Christian scribes, their organization and control, their tasks and social status. Publication of texts in Antiquity involved having multiple copies efficiently produced in scriptoria. In these workshops, a manuscript would be carefully dictated to a large group of scribes working simultaneously. This allowed many duplicates to be produced at once, with some control over the accuracy of the transmission.

For the 2nd century Christian copyist, the Shepherd of Hermas (Vision 2.1.1-4) provides a glimpse. Two essential social differences set the Christian copyists apart from their pagan counterparts. The first is that the transmitters of the earliest Christian texts were not professional scribes like the highly-trained slaves who staffed pagan scriptoria, but highly motivated private copyists who worked within small networks, where texts were passed from hand to hand. Second, they were committed users of the texts, believers and partisans, whose own current cultural (and theological) concerns influenced the text modifications that they introduced in the process of transmission, which in turn had an influence on debate. By comparison with the pagan scriptoria, the transmitters of the earliest Christian literature exercised authority and power over the texts which they creatively modified in the service of particular theological agendas. (Haines-Eitzen, 2000).

The monastery built in the second quarter of the 6th century under the eye of Cassiodorus at Vivarium in southern Italy, contained a purpose-built scriptorium, with self-feeding oil lamps, and a sundial and a water-clock. In the work of transcribing, he declared "every work of the Lord written by the scribe is a wound inflicted on Satan", for "by reading the Divine Scripture he wholesomely instructs his own mind and by copying the precepts of the Lord he spreads them far and wide" ( Cassiodorus, Institutes, I, xxx). Unlike later abbots, Cassiodorus did not omit in his scriptorium the great pagan texts. When his contemporary Benedict of Nursia settled his community at Monte Cassino, his Rule (529) mentions a library without apparently needing to mention the scriptorium that was an integral part. He initiated the tradition of Benedictine scriptoria, where the copying of texts not only provide materials actually needed in the routines of the community and and served as work for hands and minds otherwise idle, but produced a desirable product. The earliest commentaries on the Benedictine rule imply the labor of transcription as the common occupation of the community. Montalembert draws attention to the 6th-century rule of St Ferreol that regards transcription as the equivalent of manual labor since it charges that the monk "who does not turn up the earth with the plow ought to write the parchment with his fingers."

In the monasteries, the scriptorium was a room, rarely a building, set apart for the professional copying of manuscripts.


See also

External links

Further reading

  • Haines-Eitzen, Kim, 2000. Guardians of Letters: Literacy, Power and the Transmitters of Early Christian Literature. New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Rosamond McKitterick, Rosamund, 1994. Books, Scribes and Learning in the Frankish Kingdoms, 6th-9th Centuries (Aldershot)
  • Bischoff, Bernard, "Manuscripts in the Age of Charlemagne," in Manuscripts and Libraries in the Age of Charlemagne, trans. Gorman, pp. 20-55. Surveys regional scriptoria in the early Middle Ages.


  • The Digital Scriptorium ( a visual catalog, an image database of dated and datable medieval and Renaissance manuscripts that forms a repertory of scriptorium styles

"Manuscript catalogues": Charles D. Wright's on-line bibliography covering medieval libraries and scriptoria. (


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