Qantara Qantara

The “Byzantine du Louvre” collection

  • Title/name : The “Byzantine du Louvre” collection
  • Author : Philippe Labbé (1607–1667), Charles Du Cange (1610–1688) and other Hellenists and religious scholars
  • Production place : Paris, France
  • Date / period : Seventeenth century  
  • Materials and techniques : Printed books
  • Conservation town : Paris
  • Conservation place : Musée du Louvre

The French played a fundamental role in the emergence of Byzantine studies in the seventeenth century. An immediate political interest was at the root of this initiative. While Louis XIV was laying plans for the conquest of the Ottoman Empire, scholars scoured history for elements that would allow the French to make a claim for the throne of Constantinople. They found them in the family tie linking the Valois kings, from whom the Bourbons descended, and the Latin emperors of Constantinople, putting it forward as a basis for the imperial pretentions of the Sun King over both East and West. Scholarship was called upon to explain the history of the Byzantine Empire so as to have the king of France’s right to the imperial title recognised at the expense of Ottoman sultans and the Hapsburgs, who still held the title of Holy Roman Emperor. These political factors led to the rediscovery of Byzantium.

The first action of this undertaking was the publication of texts, notably from narrative sources, by the historians and chroniclers of the fourth and fifth centuries. They were prestigious publications, subsidised by Louis XIV, and brought out by the Imprimerie royale set up in the Louvre palace. The first large collection of sources relating to the history of the Byzantine Empire is the collection known as the “Byzantine du Louvre” collection. This vast publishing programme, published by the Jesuit Philippe Labbé (1607–1667) under the title De byzantinae historiae scriptoribus ad omnes per orbem eruditor protreptikon in 1648, comprised a list of thirty-two volumes, the first twenty-six of which were authenticated. Hellenists and religious scholars were given the task of collecting the most famous texts by Byzantine historians. They prepared a bilingual edition, in Greek and Latin, along with commentaries, and published it in large, luxuriously printed in-folio volumes. The programme was supplemented by the scholarly works of Charles Du Cange (1610–1688): Historia Byzantina, published in 1680, and the Glossarium of 1688, a dictionary still used to this day. The last volumes of the “Byzantine du Louvre” collection appeared in the early eighteenth century, with the publication of Nicephorus Gregoras by Jean Boivin in 1702. During the reign of Louis XV, the government stopped giving its support to scholarly historical publications.

The fascination of scholars with Byzantium that began in the 1640s reflected the monarchy’s interest in the imperial idea. The publications of the “Byzantine du Louvre” collection were instruments in the service of the king’s glory; they also helped establish the pre-eminence of French scholarship. Charles Du Cange began his career as a Byzantinist in 1658 with the publication of Geoffroi de Villehardouin’s account of the conquest of Constantinople. Added to the “Byzantine du Louvre” collection, this chronicle was directly linked to Louis XIV’s imperial project. In Histoire de l’empire de Constantinople sous les empereurs françois, printed by the Imprimerie royale and dedicated to à Louis XIV, Du Cange encouraged the young monarch to try to conquer Constantinople once again.

The first French Byzantinists were the servants of royalty. However, their work has survived the ideology that used them and constitutes the foundation of modern research on the Byzantine world.


Auzepy, M-F., J.-P. Grelois, Byzance retrouvée. Erudits et voyageurs français (XVIe-XVIIIe siècle), Paris, 2001, Publications de la Sorbonne.

Spieser, J.-M. “Ducange and Byzantium” in, Through the Looking-Glass: Byzantium through British Eyes, Aldershot, 2000, Ashgate.


Pertusi, A. Storiografia Umanistica e Mondo Bizantino. Palermo, 1967, Lavagnini Bruno.

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