Fordham University
GO >
 

Home | Ancient History Sourcebook | Medieval SourcebookModern History Sourcebook | Byzantine Studies Page
Other History Sourcebooks: African | East Asian | Global | Indian | IslamicJewishLesbian and Gay | Science | Women's


Byzantine Studies


Byzantine Studies Conference Syllabi Course Outlines Gallery Byzantine Online SourcesArticles Bibliographies Reference Docs Software


IHSP Credits

Byzantine Paleography


This page and the linked pages are not directed at those who are already able to read Byzantine MSS with ease, i.e. Paleographers, a skilled and erudite group of scholars. Rather the goal here is to present basic discussions, images, and a few useful tools to those who are interested in how we come to gain knowledge about the past, and to those just starting out with work on manuscripts.

Note: Many of the files accessible through this page are necessarily image files -- for both images of manuscripts and for Greek transcriptions. The pages will, therefore, not make much sense without an image based web-browser. Since there is, as yet, no universal system of displaying Greek text, I have used image files for Greek transcriptions of manuscripts. These should be readable by all, but at the cost of the files being rather large. Those with only a slow modem will find this page slow going, for which I apologize.

Texts

Letter Forms

Abbreviations, etc.

Links

Worked Examples

This part of the page will grow as more worked examples are added.

  • Worked Example 1 - Chludov Psalter, Moscow State Historical Museum, MS. Add. gr. 120, fol. 23v

Images - The History of Greek Handwriting

The images here illustrate the development of Greek writing. I am working on ways to improved the quality of some of the images. Highly detailed color facsimiles are too large for rapid loading with most modems and so, for the moment, black and white images are available. The main sources are Edward Maunde Thompson, An Introduction to Greek and Latin Paleography, (Oxford: Clarendon, 1912), and Franz Steffens, Proben aus grieschischen Handschriften und Urkunden, (Trier: Schaar und Dathe, 1912) (both now out-of-copyright in the US). With Thompson's images the transcriptions are in the same file as the facsimile; with Steffens images the transcriptions are in separate files. The Steffens images should print out on 600 dpi laser printers at sufficient quality for student practice. I would appreciate feedback on whether this is the case.

  • A Literary Papyrus - Timothy of Milteus, The Persians, 4th cent. BCE. Uncial, (Steffens 1), with transcription.
  • A Papyrus - a Petition, 168 BCE. Uncial with a tendency towards cursive. (Steffens 2; British Mus. Pap. XXIV), with transcription part 1 and transcription part 2.
  • A Literary Papyrus - Commentary on the Theaetetus of Plato, 2nd Century CE. (Berlin Museums, Pap 9782)
    Source: Edward Maunde Thompson, An Introduction to Greek and Latin Paleography, (Oxford: Clarendon, 1912), facsimile 13
    Thompson writes (p. 133) - The writing, it will be seen, is of a good fluent style, by a well-skilled hand, easy in its action. There is a slight tendency to ornamental finishing as might be expected of so ready a penman as the scribe must have been. Comparing it to earlier examples...there is here evident a greater breadth in the formation and a wider spacing of letters...It is this breadth and increased freedom, as compared to the more precise regularity of the older examples, that give the impression of progress; for in the actual structure of the individual letters there is very little variation. Indeed the difficulty, in such an instance as the present one, of judging the age of book-hand papyri is very great; for the number of examples is comparatively limited, and they have to be distributed over so large a space of time that it is only when certain of them can be grouped within not to wide a period and can therefore individually give support to each other in the sequence assigned to them that we can be said to be standing on fairly firm ground. Then the eye acquires a familiarity with the character of the writing and its sublet changes, and the paleographer develops a kind of instinct for the exercise of his judgment and for the conclusions at which he arrives. but when the examples lie far apart in date, then we cannot speak without diffidence and reserve, recognizing that further discoveries may largely modify present opinions.
  • A Literary Papyrus - Homer, Odyssey III:457-491, 1st cent. BCE. Uncial, (Steffens 3: Brit. Mus. Pap. CCLXXI), with transcription part 1 and transcription part 2.
  • A Cursive Papyrus - on the left a Debenture, 145 CE. Cursive, (Steffens 4a: Brit. Mus. Pap. CCVIII) - on the right a Letter 346 CE. Cursive, (Steffens 4b: Brit. Mus. Pap. CCCCIX), with transcription 4a and transcription 4b.
  • An Uncial Manuscript - The Bible, Codex Sinaiticus, late 4th Century CE, (Leipzig, Royal Library, Cod. Frid.Aug)
    [The whole page is not shown, but the top of column 1 begins in Esther 1:15]
    Source: Edward Maunde Thompson, An Introduction to Greek and Latin Paleography, (Oxford: Clarendon, 1912), facsimile 45
    Thompson writes (p. 200) - The text is written in four columns to a page, the open book thus presenting eight columns in sequence, and, as has been suggested, recalling the line of columns in a papyrus roll. Like the Vatican MS (Codex Vaticanus) it is devoid, of enlarged letters; but the initial letter of a line beginning a sentence is usually placed slightly in the margin, as will be seen in the facsimile. The chief characteristic of the letters is squareness, the width being generally equal to the height. The shapes are simple and the horizontal strokes are fine.
  • A Literary Parchment - Dio Cassius, Roman History LXXIX:14.2-16.2, 5th cent. CE. Uncial, (Steffens 5: Vat. grec. 1288, fol. 4r), with transcription part 1 and transcription part 2.
  • A Literary Parchment - Pedanius Dioscorides, About Plants and Seasons, written for Anikia Juliana, 512 CE. Uncial, (Steffens 6: Vienna, Hofbibliothek, Suppl. Greac. Pag. 162), with transcription.
  • A Cursive Papyrus - Debenture, 545 CE. Cursive, (Steffens 7: Brit. Mus. Pap. 1319), with transcription.
  • A Greek Cursive Papyrus - Public Accounts, 700-705 CE, (British Museum, Pap 1012)
    Source: Edward Maunde Thompson, An Introduction to Greek and Latin Paleography, (Oxford: Clarendon, 1912), facsimile 41
    Thompson writes (p. 180) - This document, there can be no doubt, written in the best form of the official hand of the time is of the highest paleographical value. It is also interesting as one of a group of papyri illustrating the continuance of the official use of Greek in Egypt for the better part of a century after the date of the Arab conquest of the country. The minuscule hand is here complete; and this example, being written with such calligraphic effort, demonstrates most clearly the connection between the cursive writing of the papyri and the literary minuscule of the vellum codices.
  • The transition from uncial to minuscule- An example of Uncial and minuscule on the same page - Canon 22 of the Council of Nicea II (787) (top - in minuscule), and the opening Horos (bottom - in uncial), (British Museum, MS Barocci 26, fol. 140b)
    Source: Judith Herrin, The Formation of Christendom, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987), fig. 12
  • Minuscule - example of Codices Vetusissimi - Thucycdides, Peleoponnesian War, 10th Century, (Florence, Laurentian Library, Plut. 1xix)
    Source: Edward Maunde Thompson, An Introduction to Greek and Latin Paleography, (Oxford: Clarendon, 1912), facsimile 57
    Thompson writes (p. 228 [paraphrased]) - This codex commends itself on account of its beautiful execution. The accents and breathings have been touched over by a later hand. Proper names of persons are distinguished by a waved horizontal stroke.
  • A Minuscule Parchment - Plato, Phaedrus, 895 CE. Uncial, (Steffens 8: Bodleian, Clarke MS 39, fol.224), with transcription part 1 and transcription part 2.
    This MS is interesting in itself. It was written for Arethas of Patras (later of Caesarea), one of the most important figures in the history of Byzantine books. It was bought by Dr. E.D. Clarke in 1802 from the monastery of St. John on Patmos.
  • A Late Uncial Parchment - Gospel Book, Luke 17:34-18:8, 949 CE. Uncial, (Steffens 9: Vat. grec. 354, fol. 161), with transcription of the first few lines.
    Uncial script continued to be used for a number of centuries after minuscule was introduced as a formal book hand. One important use was in ecclesiastical MSS, from which it acquired a distinct religious significance. The type of script in this example served as the basis for later Slavonic scripts.
  • A Minuscule Parchment - Psalter, Ps. 98:9-99:5, 967 CE., (Steffens 10: Bib. Ambrosiana. B. 106, parte sup., fol. 166), with transcription of the central Psalm portion.
  • A Minuscule Parchment - two leaves of a Gospel Book, Matt:5-4-17 (the Beatitudes); John 1:1-14, 1022 CE., (Steffens 11: Bib. Ambrosiana. B. 56, parte sup., fol. 28v and fol. 150).
    There is no transcription of theses texts, which are, however, among the best known of all Biblical passages.
  • Minuscule - example of Codices Vetusti - Canons, 1042 CE, (Bodleian Library, Barocci MS 196)
    Source: Edward Maunde Thompson, An Introduction to Greek and Latin Paleography, (Oxford: Clarendon, 1912), facsimile 65
    Thompson writes (p. 235) - We have an instance of …the ordinary type of book hand of the middle of the eleventh century. It comes from a volume of ecclesiastical canons in the Bodleian library. In this hand the conventional Greek minuscule book-hand may be said to have broken with the upright close set style of the tenth century. There is a tendency to slope the writing, perhaps indicative of more haste; and the letters are more spaced than in earlier centuries. The growing habit too, of introducing enlarged and letters and uncial forms among the minuscules is manifest and (a small but not insignificant detail), the circumflex is enlarged. At the same time the lettering itself is still well-formed and exact.
  • A Minuscule Parchment - Private Document, 1053 CE. Minuscule with a tendency towards cursive. (Steffens 12: Badia della SS. Trinita di Cava de'Tirreni Parchment grec. 6), with transcription.
  • A Minuscule Parchment - Josephus Flavius, Menaeum, On the Maccabees, 1073 CE. (Steffens 13: Bib. Ambrosiana. C. 186, parte inf., fol. 95v), with transcription.
  • A Minuscule Parchment - Basil the Great, Homilies on the Hexaemeron, VI-VII, 1073 CE. (Steffens 14: Naples. Bib. Nazionale. II. Aa. 18, fol., 63v), with transcription.
  • A Minuscule on Paper - Theophylakt, Commentary on the Four Gospels, On Mark, 1255 CE. (Steffens 15: Paris. Bib. Nationale, MS grec. 194a, fol. 277), with transcription part 1 and transcription part 2.
    See Migne, PG, 123 col. 492.
  • A Minuscule Parchment - Private Document, 1257 CE. Minuscule, but strongly cursive, (Steffens 16: Badia della SS. Trinita di Cava de'Tirreni Parchment grec. 93), with transcription part 1 and transcription part 2.
  • A Minuscule on Paper - Aristides, In Puteum Aesculapii, In Serapim, 1317 CE. (Steffens 17: Bib. Ambrosiana. II. 52, parte sup., fol. 158), with transcription part 1 and transcription part 2.
  • Minuscule - example of Codices Recentiores - St. Athanasius, 1321, (British Museum, Harley MS5579)
    Source: Edward Maunde Thompson, An Introduction to Greek and Lation Paleography, (Oxford: Clarendon, 1912), facsimile 76
    Thompson writes (p. 255) - This specimen is...…decidedly cursive and is much abbreviated. It is take from a MS of the treatises of St. Athanasius in the British Museum. The writing has no claim to beauty, but it is quite legible; and, as a working copy, the MS. holds a respectable place. The fact that it is written on paper accounts for a slight thickening or blottiness of the letters; and the exaggeration in the accents and in the signs of abbreviation lend it an air of untidiness to the text. But the actual structure of the lettering is fairly neat.
  • A Minuscule on Paper - Thucydides, History , IV.V, 1344 CE. (Steffens 18: Bib. Ambrosiana. II. A.4, parte inf., fol. 56), with transcription.
  • A Minuscule on Paper - Plutarch, Parralel Lives , Sulla/Agesilaus, 1362 CE. (Steffens 19: Bib. Ambrosiana. D. 538, parte inf., fol. 253), (no transcription)
  • A Minuscule on Paper - Xenophon, Anabasis , Bks. II-III, 1374 CE. (Steffens 20: Bib. Ambrosiana. II. 78, parte inf., fol. 39), with transcription part 1 and transcription part 2.
  • A Minuscule on Paper - Plutarch, Moralia, De esu carnium. De fato., 1402 CE. (Steffens 21: Bib. Vat. Urbinas grec. 1000, fol. 178), with transcription.
  • A Minuscule on Paper - Plutarch, Parallel Lives, Theseus, 1416 CE. (Steffens 22: Bib. Vat. Urbinas grec. 96, fol. 1), with transcription part 1 and transcription part 2.
  • A Minuscule on Paper - Herodatus, Histories , Bk. IV, 1440 CE. (Steffens 23: Naples, Bib. Nazionale, III. B.1, fol 204), with transcription.
  • A Minuscule on Paper - Aristotle, Politics , Bk. IV, 1493 CE. (Steffens 24: Naples, Bib. Nazionale, III. E2. Fol 157r and 158?), with transcription.
  • A Minuscule on Paper - Aristotle, Politics , Bk. IV, 1493 CE. (Steffens 24: Naples, Bib. Nazionale, III. E2. Fol 157r and 158?), with transcription.
  • Two minuscule MSS of the same text: John Kaminiates, De Expugnatione Thessalonicae. Cod. Vatic. Gr. 172, fol. 1 of circa 1439 and Cod. Athous Laurae L 55, fol. 147 of 1511. See the discussion of the Manuscript Editing Process which refers to these facsimiles.
  • An Illustrated Minuscule - Gregory Nazianzus, Orations, with a miniature of Gregory, by the hand of Xiphilinus, monk. (Laurentianus Viii,24 - fol. 3v and 4r: 198mm x 145mm)
    Source: Lefort, Louis Theophile and J. Cochez, Palaeographische album van gedagteekende Grieksche minuskel handschriften uit de IXe en Xe eeuw = Album palaeographicum; codicum Graecorum minusculis litteris saec. IX et X certo tempore scriptorum, (Leuven: Philologische studien, 1932). p. 93.
  • An Illustrated Minuscule - Chludov Psalter, Psalm 25 (26), with a miniature of Patriarch Nikephoros, (Moscow State Historical Museums, MS. Add, gr. 120, fol. 23v)
    Source: Judith Herrin, The Formation of Christendom, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987), fig. 16
    The text is used as a worked example above.

Sources Note: The texts and images on this web site were written by me, or taken, with acknowledgment, from material now in the public domain in the United States (Copyright Law in other countries varies). In a few cases, also acknowledged, small parts of more recent works were used were used under fair use provisions. In addition, although not used explicitly, many facts and references were checked with the splendid Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium.


The author and maintainer of this site is Paul Halsall [a picture!] . He can be contacted by email at halsall@fordham.edu

Please do not hesitate to mail comments or suggestions.