AUB Libraries Online Exhibits

First Arabic Incunabula

Bibliteca Historica de la Universidad Complutense de Madrid. Sig: BH FLL 25956

 1. كتاب صلاة السواعي بحسب طقس كنيسة الإسكندرية

(1514). Fano: Italy.

The Kitab Salat al-Sawaʾi “represents the first attempt ever made at printing in Arabic from movable type.”[4] It was first printed in Arabic in 1514 in Fano, Italy, by a publisher subsidized by Pope Julius II. The book consists of 120 leaves in octavo (format of the book or the way sheets are folded), and apart from copies in the Princeton University library and Oxford’s Bodleian Library, only three other copies are known to exist in libraries in Italy.

“Most probably, this book was intended for Melkite Christians in Syria.” [5]



 By permission of the Master and Fellows of St John’s College, Cambridge

2. Psalterium, Hebr[a]eum, Gr[a]ecu[m]. Arabicu[m], & Chald[a]ecu[m] : cu[m] tribus Latinis i[n]terp[re]tato[n]ibus & glossis ...

Giustiniani, A. (1516). Genoa: Petrus Paulus Porro.

This edition of the Book of Psalms was the first polyglot printing of any part of the Bible. Polyglots allowed scholars to compare the various versions of the scriptures by arranging them in parallel columns, and developed from the traditions of Jewish scholars.
In this volume, the text is in seven columns: Hebrew, a Latin translation of the Hebrew, the Latin Vulgate (the Official Latin translation of the Bible in the 16th century), the Greek, Arabic, Aramaic, and a Latin translation of the Aramaic.



Arjan van Dijk, “Early Printed Qurʾans: The Dissemination of the Qurʾan in the West,” Journal of Qurʾanic Studies 7, no. 2 (2005): 136.

3. [القرآن العربي]

Paganino and Alessandro Paganini. (1537-38). Venice.

In the Ottoman Empire, the printing of books, mainly Holy ones was forbidden for a long time, the printing of scripture was even considered a capital crime. Printing with movable types became a common practice in the nineteenth century in the Islamic word.  As a result, the first printed Qurʾan in Arabic is printed in Venice by Paganino and Alessandro Paganini in 1537/1538. The Dutch Orientalist Thomas Erpenius mentions an Alcoranus Arabice printed circa 1530 in Venice, but notes that ‘exemplaria omnia cremata sunt’. [All models are cremated]: no one had seen any copy of this publication and the Catholic Church was accused of burning the complete run. This rumor and mystery remained until a copy was discovered 1987 in a Monastery in Venice. It was discovered that the Paganini’s, father and son intended to export the printed version of the Qur’an to the Ottoman Empire. However, heap of errors corrupted the meaning of the Holy text [6] Some scholars highlight a confusion in the usage of dal and dad for instance.


Picture credits and ownership BULAC Collection: RES-8-38

4. Linguarum duodecim characteribus differentium alphabetum, introductio, ac legendi modus longè facilimus: Linguarum nomina sequens proximè pagella offeret

Postel G. (1538). Paris: Lescuyer et Vidoue.

Guillaume Postel, who came from a poor family, had a gift for languages. As an adult, he travelled to Constantinople and returned with manuscripts of the Qurʾan, and various Kabbalistic and scientific texts [7] Thereafter, Postel published the Linguarum duodecim characteribis differentium alphabetum, on a collection of twelve “oriental” alphabets carved in wood. The Arabic alphabet was reproduced in moving characters for his Grammatica arabica (1539–1543), which is available at AUB libraries and the Bibilothèque Universitaire des Langues et Civilisations (BULAC) in Paris.