From Manuscript to Print

Գիրք առակաց (Book of Proverbs) from Աստուածաշունչ (Bible) published by Mkhit‘ar Sebastats‘i. Venice: Tparan Anton Bortoli, 1733. Near East Section, African and Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress (008.00.00)

During the sixteenth century, the Armenian homeland was fragmented and divided among powerful clans and nations, each attempting to control it. The economy suffered and manuscript production in that area decreased. In contrast, once the print era began, literary activity began to flourish in the extensive Diaspora, with the support of a wealthy merchant class. Printing offered a means to produce multiple copies of literary and religious texts faster and less expensively than by hand-copying manuscripts.

Relatively little is known about Hakob Meghapart (Jacob the Sinner) and the first Armenian press that he founded in Venice in 1512. However, the next two centuries were a period of trial and error as publishers produced, bought, and transported fonts and engravings from place to place. From Venice printing spread to other centers of the Diaspora, such as Amsterdam, Rome, and Constantinople. In 1636 the first book published in Persia was an Armenian psalter produced by the Armenian community of New Julfa. Although the first printed works were religious in nature, the seventeenth century ushered in a renewal of historical, literary, and linguistic creativity. In 1717 a young Armenian Benedictine monk, Mkhitar of Sebastia, founded a monastery on the Island of San Lazzaro in Venice that became, together with its sister monastery in Vienna, a center of Armenian scholarship and publishing.