Hasan Colak

Turkish Cultural Foundation Fellow (2010-2011)
Ph.D. Candidate, Ottoman Studies, University of Birmingham, UK

Although it is known that the adoption of the printing press by the Ottoman state was an 18th-century phenomenon partly due to the opposition led by large and well-established Ottoman scribal bureaucracy, it is often neglected that Ottoman non-Muslims had the printing technology long before the 18th century. This short article promises nothing more than drawing some attention to this highly interesting field by focusing on two periods of printing activity by prominent Greek Orthodox Patriarchs, which may also reflect the way Ottoman central authority perceived the Greek Orthodox hierarchy in these two distinct periods.

The first period in question is closely associated with the introduction of the printing technology among the Greek Orthodox community in the Ottoman Empire. In 1627, a Greek Orthodox monk from Cephalonia, called Nikolas Metaxa brought with him from England a fount of Greek types, and a printing press to Cyril Loukaris, former Patriarch of Alexandria (1601-1620) and the then Patriarch of Constantinople. Often referred to as the Protestant or Calvinist Patriarch, Cyril Loukaris was a native of Crete, then a Venetian dominion, and received his education in Italy, and developed a highly anti-Catholic stance, which eventually brought him into close contact with Protestantism because of the latter’s struggle with Catholicism. By that time, the English and Dutch ambassadors were trying to infiltrate among the affairs of the Ottoman Christians by struggling to patronize the hierarchs. By the time he was brought the printing press, Cyril had already finished his famous Confession, and this was one of the first books to be published in this press alongside On the Primacy of the Pope by Meletios Pigas, former Patriarch of Alexandria (1590-1601). (Figure 1)

After receiving the necessary permission from the Grand Vizier, Cyril’s Confession of Faith was to be printed in Istanbul. However, the Catholic party in Istanbul, which was particularly strong and influential in the Ottoman court at that time, managed to have the printing press confiscated on account of false allegations. Scholars working on the Confession, which was published both in Latin (1630) and Greek (1633) in Geneva, agree on Cyril’s Protestant attitude. Cyril’s Confession was condemned by the following Greek Orthodox Patriarchs, and the first introduction of the printing press among the Greek Orthodox community in the Ottoman Empire passed into history with this bitter event.

The second period of printing activity is from a much more stable era, namely the 18th century. By that time, the position of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchates was completely different from what it was before a century. The Greek Orthodox lay elites, known as the Phanariots with reference to the Phanar/Fener quarter of Istanbul, had become important partners for Ottoman central administration, with whom the latter had begun to co-operate more comprehensively in economic and administrative affairs from the beginning of the 18th century onwards. Soon, they were appointed by the Ottoman administration as princes of the semi-autonomous trans-Danubian principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia and these principalities became an important centre for the Greek Orthodox learning especially with the introduction of printing technology. Jerusalemite Patriarch Chrysanthos Notaras (1707-1730), like many of the Greek Orthodox hierarchs of the time, pursued some of his studies there. (Figure 2)

From a young age on, he began to study astronomical subjects and in 1716 wrote what one may call the first modern book of astronomy in Greek, entitled Introduction to Geographics and Sphericals and printed in Paris (Figure 3).


He is also known to have exchanged letters with Yanyalı Esad Efendi, müderris in the medrese of Eyüp, and later the kadı of Galata and discussed with him various aspects of astronomy. Another very important contribution of Chrysanthos was to have a very important work of history published in Ottoman Bucharest. The work in question was written by his predecessor Dositheos, under whose presidency was held the Synod of Jerusalem condemning the teachings of above-mentioned Cyril Loukaris. (Figure 4)

This 1247-page-long work is entitled On the Patriarchate of Jerusalem. It provides a very large outline of the history of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem and is regarded as one of the chief studies for those working on the Eastern Patriarchates. (Figure 5).  

What do these two different episodes about the printing culture can tell us about the way the Ottoman administration perceived the Greek Orthodox Patriarchates apart from the presence of the printing culture among the non-Muslim subjects of the Ottoman sultan before its adoption by the state itself in 1727? In the first instance, the Patriarch Cyril Loukaris was in close co-operation with foreign ambassadors who were trying to win them to their Protestant cause by sponsoring the Patriarchs. Cyril’s confession was also foreign to the Ottomans and was easy for the Catholic party to distort, thus allowing them to have Cyril’s printing press confiscated and eventually to have Cyril executed. In the second one, the attempts of the foreign ambassadors to patronize the Patriarchs was long gone. The major supporters behind the Patriarchs were now the Phanariot elites who were empowered by the Ottoman administration with various new tasks including the government of the principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia. Chrysanthos was one of those patriarchs and pursued his various studies in Moldavia and Wallachia, publishing a historical work of utmost importance written by his predecessor among other works.

Post this article to Facebook