Arabic medieval block printing: a lost art

Since 1894, several Arabic block printed charms were known by various researchers. Arabic Verses by two Arab poets, Abu Dulaf Al Khazraji أبو دلف الخزرجي, from the 10th century and Safeyudin al-Hilli صفي الدين الحلي from the 14th century suggest that that the term they used, tarsh, is for the print block technology.

The charms or amulets are similar to modern day hijabs حجاب written for superstitious gullible people by greedy quacks pretending to be holy men. 

A paper by Richard Bulliet details this tarsh, and even mentions that the Umayyad Caliph of Spain, Abdul Rahman Al-Nasir had a vizier who had the official documents "printed" طبع for distribution.

There is even similarity between the charms term tarsh, and the Italian tarocchi / tarocco, the modern day Tarot cards.

This technology has vanished completely before the advent of the modern printing press in the 18th century, and seems to have never been widespread in the first place.


  • Bulliet, Richard W. "Medieval Arabic tarsh: A forgotten chapter in the history of printing "Journal of the American Oriental Society 107, No. 3 (July-Sept. 1987) pp. 427-38. Full article (PDF) with images.

  • Richard W. Bulliet bio at the Middle East Institute, Columbia University.



Interesting. I think it only

Interesting. I think it only proves how the business of quackery really traces back to the ancient times. I never believed in those charms. I think they are the biggest scam in the world today. Gemstones, tarots, feng shui, and the list goes on and on.