Armenian illuminated manuscripts form a separate tradition, related to other forms of Medieval Armenian art, but also to the Byzantine tradition. The earliest surviving examples date from the Golden Age of Armenian art and literature in the 5th century. Early Armenian Illuminated manuscripts are remarkable for their festive designs to the Armenian culture; they make one feel the power of art and the universality of its language. The greatest Armenian miniaturist, Toros Roslin, lived in the 13th century.
About 31,000 manuscripts still survive after continuous invasions of Armenia throughout the centuries and the more recent Armenian Diaspora where hundreds of thousands of Armenians were displaced or massacred. Illuminated manuscripts mostly recount religious teachings and gospels of the Armenians and were handed down through families. So valuable were these manuscripts it was regarded as a sacrilege to sell or damage them, or to allow the manuscripts to fall into enemy hands. Most of the manuscripts were written and illustrated by monks located in monasteries. Many manuscripts are very elaborate, covered in gilt and brilliant colors. However, there is another type of manuscript which was stripped of unnecessary ornamentation, lacking colored backgrounds and painted with transparent colors, often with less than perfect artistry. Manuscripts were adorned with fantastical creatures and birds, which often formed the initial letters of chapters to attract the eye, while providing a mental break during which the beauty of the illustration could refresh the mind and spirit. These brilliantly illustrated letters were followed by “erkat’agir”, an uncial script also known as iron script, as it originally was carved into stone. Notary script known as “notr’gir” was used for writing the script and colophon and “bologir,” meaning “rounded letters” was often used as a minuscule in writing the rubrics,which are sections written in red ink in order to draw attention. Black lettering was used to write the chapters, symbolizing the pain of original sin, while the white paper space symbolized the innocence of birth. The colophon, also written in red ink, was usually found at the beginning or end of the manuscript and would provide information about the scribe, the patron, the artist, the date, when, where, and for whom the manuscript was created. Often the scribe would add notes about his working conditions or anecdotes of wisdom in the colophon and often was carried into the margins of the manuscript. So important was owning a manuscript, the owner would add his name into the script. If a manuscript had multiple owners, multiple signatures might be found within the script.