Complutensian Polyglot Bible


The Complutensian Polyglot Bible is the first multilingual printed edition of the entire Bible. The project to produce the Bible was conceived, led, and financed by Cardinal Francisco Jiménez de Cisneros (circa 1436−1517), who early in the 16th century spearheaded the revitalization of the old University of Alcalá de Henares (founded in 1293) with the establishment of a new university, the Universidad Complutense, in 1508. (Complutense refers to Complutum, the ancient Roman settlement at the site of Alcalá de Henares). With the aid of important figures, such as Antonio de Nebrija, Cardinal Cisneros instituted a new curriculum with a more modern pedagogical orientation. Production of the Complutensian Polyglot Bible was a part of the cardinal’s effort to revive learning and encourage the study of the Holy Scriptures. The book represents the height of Spanish typographic achievement in the 16th century. Although precise information regarding who produced which section is lacking, it is known that around 1503, Cardinal Cisneros, who was surrounded by experts and scholars specializing in a wide array of languages, took on the great task of producing the work. It was a difficult and arduous process that required more than ten years. The printing was done by Arnaldo Guillén de Brocar, a Frenchman who had worked in Pamplona and who opened his main press in Alcalá in 1510. In order to print the book, Brocar had to create new and highly perfected characters for Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. His Greek characters are considered the most beautiful ever carved. The printing was done between 1514 and 1517, but it was not until 1520—after receiving authorization from Rome—that the book was distributed. The Bible consists of separately-bound volumes adding up to 1,500 pages; 600 copies were printed on paper, and six on vellum. Volume one contains the text of the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible. The upper three-quarters of the pages are divided in three columns that contain the Greek text in the left column; the text of the Latin Vulgate in the middle column; and the Hebrew text in the right column. The lower section of the page is divided into two columns: the left contains the Aramaic translation of the Pentateuch known as the Targum Onkelos, the right the Latin translation of this text. Each page includes an epigraph and apostilles on the right margin. Volumes two and three contain the remainder of the Old Testament, in Greek, Latin, and Hebrew. Volume four contains the New Testament, in Greek and Latin. The last part of volume four and volume five consist of a Hebrew and Aramaic dictionary, a Hebrew grammar, and a Greek dictionary.

Date Created

Subject Date

Publication Information

Arnao Guillén de Brocar, Alcalá de Henares

Title in Original Language

Vetus testamentū multiplici lingua nūc primo impressum, Et imprimis Pentateuchus Hebraico Greco atq[ue] Chaldaico idiomate

Type of Item

Physical Description

6 volumes


  • The colophon (in Latin) at the end of the last volume reads: "Here ends the Hebrew grammar newly printed in the very famous Complutense University with art and zeal by the very honorable man Arnold William of Brocario, master of the printing art, on the last day of May of the year of Our Lord 1565, commissioned and funded by the very reverend Father and Lord in Christ Francisco Jiménez de Cisneros, Cardinal of Spain, Archbishop of Toledo, Archchancellor of the primates of Spain and of the realms of Castile. Second part of the Old Testament in Hebrew and Greek language, each provided with its Latin translation, now printed for the first time. Third part of the Old Testament in Hebrew and Greek language, each provided with its Latin translation, now printed for the first time. Fourth part of the Old Testament in Hebrew and Greek language, each provided with its Latin translation, now printed for the first time. Greek and Latin New Testament newly printed in the Complutense Academy; Hebrew and Aramaic dictionary for the whole Old Testament with other treatises as they are contained in the introduction below, newly printed in the Complutense Academy."


  1. University and Historic Precinct of Alcalá de Henares.

Last updated: March 24, 2015