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Thousands of Important Ancient Texts and Manuscripts Now Available Online

Millions of pages of ancient books and manuscripts, including some of the most important printed works in the world, are now available online.


In a joint venture first announced in 2012, the Vatican and Oxford University’s Bodleian Libraries will make some of the most important printed works in the world available online.  Works from their collections of Hebrew and Greek manuscripts and early printed books will be transferred to a digitized format for a global audience.  The first 1.5 million pages were made available on Tuesday, December 3rd.


The four year, 2 million pound ($3.3 million) project is funded by the Polonsky Foundation.  The first works up on the Bodleian site are the two volume Gutenberg Bibles from each of the libraries. The Gutenberg Bibles, the first ever books set on type face in the mid 1400’s by printer Johannes Gutenberg in Germany, heralded in the age of the printed book in the West.


The online collection will also include an illustrated 11th century Greek bible and a 15th century German bible that was hand-colored and illustrated by woodcuts.  Other Greek manuscripts expected to go online soon will include works from Plato, Homer and Sophocles.


The Vatican Library is one of the most important research libraries in the world. It is home to 180,000 manuscripts, 1.6 million books and 150,000 prints, drawings and engravings. The Bodleian is the largest university library in Britain, with more than 11 million printed works.


“We want everyone who can to see these manuscripts, these great works of humanity,” Monsignor Cesare Pasini, the prefect of the Vatican Library, told the Associated Press. “We want to conserve them.”


Monsignor Pasini was also quoted as saying the Vatican has begun work on similar projects with libraries in Azerbaijan and China, among others.


Here Hansard Global Chairman Dr. Leonard Polonsky talks about what motivated him to dedicate his foundation's efforts to publish the ancient texts:


Open Up Access to Important Books and Ancient Texts


Support these organizations that publish historical books, manuscripts, and other texts online:

  • The Polonsky Foundation will publish ancient texts and manuscripts from the Vatican and Oxford Univesity.
  • Project Gutenberg offers over 42,000 free ebooks (including many classics): choose among free epub books, free kindle books, download them or read them online.
  • The Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center publishes ancient Buddhist texts online.