author: Sonja Ćirić
Vreme, 3 January 1994

translation into English: Vesna Janković

Exactly five hundred years have passed since the first book in the Balkans was printed. This event is still related mainly in presumptions.

The date is reliable. At the end of Oktoechos Makarije wrote that the book was completed on January 4, 1494. According to the new calendar it is January 17. From the data left in the preface it is possible to calculate when he started the whole work: in the spring of the previous year.

Oktoechos for Tone I is the first book printed in the Balkans in the Serbian Cyrillic. It happened in the Crnojević's printing works. The work was managed by hieromonk Makarije, our first printer. The reason because of which these data about the most important printing event with the South Slavs are just listed so briefly and dully is the fact that they are deficient. There are just few which arose no doubt. The reliable proofs about the Crnojević's printing works are reduced mainly to the notes from the beginning and end of Oktoechos.


The preface was written on behalf of Đurđe Crnojević. ‘The God endowed his kingdom with many books but due to our sins the Turks started not only to kill and plunder but also to demolish the churches and destroy book fund. And that is why I “wrote” this Oktoechos' – explains Đurđe Crnojević. In the Afterword Đurdje said “I put together the forms” of the book instead of “wrote” it in one year with eight people. He mentioned also the name of humble Makarije from Montenegro who “did” the work. The same name was used for the Makarije's work in the Preface. He worked by the order of Master Đurđe Crnojević and in time of Zeta Metropolitan Kir Vavila.

Although it was not explicitly written, majority of the historians think these records are proof that the Lord of Zeta Đurđe Crnojević was the founder of the printing works, for they believe that in those days there were no terms related to book printing and that “putting together the forms” denotes precisely that. Their opponents believe that the other used term “wrote” means it was not a printed book but hand written one, prepared by Đurđe Crnojević.

There are also hypotheses that an idea about founding of printing works was Ivan's, Đurđe's father. It is considered that during his two years stay in Venice Ivan Crnojević could not help but be interested in printing as he for sure could see some of 50 workshops wherever he went. There were even attempts to prove that Ivan acquired printing works from Venice after building a house at Obod. But no evidence for such standpoint has been found and because of inscription on Oktoechos it is considered that Đurđe deserved credit for the revolutionary step of establishing the first printing works in the Balkans. What is known for sure concerning Ivan's stay in Venice is that, wishing to strengthen the position of his state, he proposed for Đurđe the daughter of Venice nobleman Marco Antonie Erice — Elisabeth. Ivan did not lived to see the wedding. The bride was on her way towards Cetinje when he died, and Montenegrins remembered the wedding and described it in several national poems.


The dispute concerning the place of event – Obod or Cetinje – has not been resolved as yet. It is not clear whether the printing works operated only in one of these places or first in one and then in other.

It is not written on Oktoechos where it was printed. The illustration of Cetinje Monastery printed in Oktoechos for Tone V indicates that it was done in Cetinje. Montenegro – a reference which in the preface to Oktoechos for Tone V suggests Makarije's origin, refers to Cetinje according to Vasilije Petrović Njegoš (1709-1766). In Psalter printed in Crnojević's printing works it is written that it was completed in 1495 in Cetinje.

There is no material evidence on the printing works in Obod. There are just the stories about letters and printing equipment which could be easily found there even at the end of the 19 th century. It has been heard, among other things that, in the period almost 50 years long, the students of Obod School were finding letters using them for composing words, tied them with the rope, colored and printed them on their books. However, this and similar memories were never confirmed with anything material.

Venice was also mentioned as the place of origin of Oktoechos for Tone I but only occasionally and almost without any support.

The number of printed books was disputed also – four or five. The first view can be proved: there are preserved copies of Oktoechos for Tone I and Oktoechos for Tone V, Psalter and Prayer Book. As to the other opinion, Tetraevangelion should be added to this list as well. Katarina Mano-Zisi, archeographer, advisor in the National Library of Serbia has mentioned that the only proof pointing out that the supporters of such a stand are right is a note in one hand written Tatraevangelion in which the transcriber explained that he had worked pursuant to Makarije's original.

Neither one copy of Tetraevangelion from Crnojević printing works has been preserved. A copy which Makarije printed in Vlaska has been preserved, and possibly the author of the note made on handwritten version used it as his model. In any case it is known that upon completion of Oktoechos for Tone I, Oktoechos for Tone V was completed in the following year. There is no date on Prayer Book but it is supposed that it was the next book and that Psalter was the last one done in 1495.


He is not disputable. However, save for description of Makarije's modesty, a characteristic adequate for a hieromonk, which was stated in the notes of Oktoechos, there were no other facts about his life. There is no trace on time during which he learned his craft or where that happened. A hypothesis that Makarije originated from Skopska Crna Gora, i.e. from Macedonia because in that time the literature was more developed there than in Zeta, was not paid substantial attention.

When the printing works in Cetinje ceased to function, Makarije went to Vlaška. It is not known how and when. It is supposed he went there via Srem in one of the migrations of writers and other prominent people from the Slav countries under Turkish invasion. It is also considered that he initiated printing in the Monastery Trgovište in Vlaška. The next trace about Makarije is Hilandar.

In Afterword to the Psalter Makarije says for himself “I did these books”. This statement may have double meaning: that Makarije managed the printing works and that he himself made letters for printing. The supporters of the latter view consider that the press could have been purchased in Venice, but that Makarije made letters in wood at his home. Supposedly the letters were cut in wood individually but this assumption was quickly discarded. It is considered that they were cast in metal by means of engraved matrixes i.e. as to the same principle invented by Gutenberg. In the whole alphabet all the same letters have same shape which is achieved by casting letters from one matrix. Notable foreign feature of the initials points out that Makarije did not cast the letters himself, especially not in Cetinje.

The books printed by Makarije show that the letters were changed, with their Latin forms being accommodated to Cyrillic. During the work Latin antiqua, based on which the letters were cast proved to be unsuitable for writing Cyrillic text. The most visible change is on letter R. Print and book layout show a master whose knowledge did not leg behind Venice masters. He made layout according to the Serbian manuscripts, accommodating it to the taste prevailing in that time Venice. This fact is a proof for many that Makarije learned his craft in Venice.

“Makarije can be described most closely, as the text editor and organizer of the printing works. For certain some priest must have overseen the work on Oktoechos as it was a book with religious contents. Most probably that was Kir Vavila himself but Makarije himself edited the text. If that was not the case he could not have signed the book”, says Katarina Mano-Zisi.


Starting from the statement that Oktoechos was printed by eight people it is possible to reconstruct their working positions in the printing works. If we suppose that Makarije, as most experienced, cut vignettes, initials and titles in wood, and that he also did the correction of type and managed the printing works it is quite possible that another man assisted him in that. The remaining six were most probably employed as follows: two typesetters; two working at the press – one inked letters and one pressed them down – and both of them inserted the paper; one wetted the paper before being printed and one spread printed sheets to dry. Apart from Makarije only one other name is known – Pahomije. If it would be proved that after decline of Crnojević's printing works they continued working in other places, it could have been said that Cetinje was, in the very sense of the word, the cradle of the Balkan printing.

It has not been determined as yet if the printing works were founded under the auspices of the state or the church. Katarina Mano –Zisi explains that those supporting the idea of state refer to the Crnojevi ć's coat of arms in the flag at the beginning of Oktoechos. However, the fact is that the printing works were first set in the monastery because it was a common case in that time and second, because no remains of some special building were found. Then, between the Crnojević Court and Cetinje Monastery there is a small distance and it was not possible to isolate them physically. The example of Njegoš points out that in Montenegro state and church were close. Due to everything mentioned Katarina Mano-Zisi considers that the printing works were result of cooperation and not of individual endeavors of Crnojević family or Kir Vavila.

Our first printing works lasted only three years. Staniša, Đurđe's young brother exposed to the Sultan Đurđe's relations with Carlo VIII and Venice causing the attack of Sanjak Bey Feriz against Zeta. In 1496 Đurđe left for Venice. There are no traces of what happened to the printing works. It is almost sure that he did not take it with himself for it is not mentioned in his will he wrote to his wife Elisabeth from Milan. He mentioned what of the church items should be returned to the church of St. Maria in Cetinje; he even told her what to do with forks and spoons but there was no word about printing works. And it is still the secret.


Obod Issue


We are grateful to The Archeographic Institute of the National Library of Serbia and Vesna Jovanović who enabled shooting of the original edition of Oktoechos for Tone I, also to Vesna Todorović of The Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts Library for help.

We are grateful to
Swiss Cultural Programme
Serbia and Montenegro

for the support which enabled this translation.