The precise number of Byzantine Hebrew manuscripts that survive in whole or part is not known, because specialists have only recently begun to develop objective criteria for identifying a manuscript as Byzantine. It has been estimated that about 10 per cent of all medieval Hebrew manuscripts are Byzantine, and if this estimate is correct there could be as many as 10,000 manuscripts and fragments in all.

Many manuscripts contain colophons in which the scribes state where and when they wrote the text. Such dated and localised manuscripts from Byzantium begin in the twelfth century; they are rare before the beginning of the fourteenth century but become increasingly common thereafter. We also find notes of sale and gift and other personal details inscribed on the flyleaf of some manuscripts. These manuscripts are potentially an extremely rich source of knowledge about Byzantine Jewish life.

Manuscript of Hebrew Former Prophets, Byzantine empire, 11-12th century (Cambridge, Fitwilliam Museum, MS 364*).

  • Mapping the Jewish communities of the Byzantine Empire
  • is funded by:
  • ERC
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  • University of Cambridge