A 12th century trilingual Arabic, Greek and Latin psalter

A correspondent tells me about this post at Arab Orthodoxy:

On the website of the British Library they’ve posted images of a Psalter dated to 1153 written in parallel Greek, Latin, and Arabic. The Arabic translation of the Psalms is that of Abdallah ibn al-Fadl al-Antaki, the famous 11th century deacon and translator from Antioch. You can turn to all the pages and zoom in. Take a look, it’s beautiful.


In St. Petersburg they’ve recently published a two-volume facsimile and study of a 17th century illuminated Arabic Psalter based on Abdallah ibn al-Fadl’s translation. I’ll get around to writing a review of that at some point…..

I wonder where on earth that was written.  My guess, considering that it dates to the crusader period, is in Syria.  Just before the crusades the Byzantines had conquered the area, bringing Greek; then the crusaders come in, with Latin; and the local Christians speaking Arabic.  Where else would you have this kind of tri-lingualism?

What a wonderful thing to have online!


12 thoughts on “A 12th century trilingual Arabic, Greek and Latin psalter

  1. Amazing. It is my view that the degree of interaction between the Latin Crusaders and the native Christians of the Levant, including Palestine, Syria and Egypt, is underestimated. The impact of the former on the latter is not yet properly studied.

  2. I think it is quite remarkable. This must be a crusader book. The question is why people — which people? — would want it. The bibliography doesn’t give us anything.

    I would imagine that it was commissioned by someone with money, probably in the native Christian community — someone like Michael the Syrian — for reference purposes, in discussions with crusader clergy.

  3. “Just before the crusades the Byzantines had conquered the area, bringing Greek…”

    Greek has been widespread in Syria since Alexander the Great. It was one of the successor kingdoms under the Seleucids, and was part of the Greek end of the Roman Empire until Khaled stole it for the Arabs in the 7th century.

    I don’t know when Arabic replaced Greek and Syriac as the liturgical language in Syria but it was probably during the Seljuk period. That the Arabic translation was by a deacon of Antioch does support the theory that it was Syrian, though.

  4. Tim,

    Well I could be wrong! But as I understand it Greek was largely abandoned in the Islamic world by the 10th century. For a century after the conquest no doubt it was spoken. But by the 10th century even the vernacular languages like Syriac were being abandoned. The Melkites had started to use Arabic earlier than that.

    Hunain ibn Ishaq tells us that he was searching for Greek manuscripts in that period, and still finding them, although many were in bad condition.

    But the Byzantine reconquest would naturally bring in people who knew Greek, just before the crusader period. In other words, we have no question of inherited languages — for surely Syriac would be in there otherwise — but of languages that were pretty much active at the time.

    Glad to hear from anyone with better info than I have.

  5. It is accessible via the Kataloge der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek at

    There you browse to the Katalog der Papyrussammlung and enter the Inventory number K 11346. At the bottom end of the entry you click on the link next to Digitales Objekt and it should lead you to a leave from a trilingual coptic-greek-arabic

    There are more leaves of that object in the Bodleian, the BL, and the Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Hamburg.

    It is one of these scattered coptic mss, though a comparatively late one. It is a paper ms from the 13th c. Thus also close to the crusaders’ period.

  6. Thank you very much, Ulrich. This is very interesting. Although Greek is thought to have disappeared from Egypt in the Middle Period of Coptic history (roughly 880-1250 AD), there is evidence that the consecration prayer of Coptic patriarchs was read in Coptic, Greek and Arabic. So Greek did not entirely disappear, and there must have been several trilingual documents that have perished.

    I think there are even documents written in Coptic, Arabic and Old French, but I must look for one of these and let Roger’s readers share in them.

    Dioscorus Boles

  7. Perhaps its from Sicily. There were plenty of Greek-speaking inhabitants, but it had been ruled by Arabs until the Latin-reading Normans invaded toward the end of the 11th Century.

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