Medieval Slavic Manuscripts and Culture

Category: Inscriptions

Digitized Manuscript: Codex Alexandrinus, v.4, British Library


A scanned color version of Royal MS 1 D VIII, volume 4 – the New Testament – of Codex Alexandrinus, a 5th-century Greek Bible in four volumes, is available in the “Digitised Manuscripts” section of the British Library’s website.

The various owners’ inscriptions described on the webpage detail the fascinating journey of this codex from Constantinople to England through the hands of Athanasius III, Patriarch of Alexandria, to James I, King of England, Scotland and Ireland.

Information Source:
Paleografia Greca. The blog of Pyle. Entry: Monday, December 17, 2012.

South Slavic Fragment NB SPbGU E III 141


In the collection of the research library of St. Petersburg State University there is a parchment fragment from the Gospels dated to the 14th century. A. A. Savel’ev, the SPbSU local cataloger, describes the manuscript:


Tetraevangelie, fragment. 14th cent., 4 (26 x 19), 4 ff., uncial


Text in two columns, initials and notes in cinnabar.

Contains a fragment from the Gospel according to Matthew: 5:25-6:23. Bulgarian recension (?).

Without binding.

On f. 1 is an owner’s inscription dated 1858 “бысть в руце агаряна и избависе”; on f. 2 in the same hand is an inscription that indicates the Gospel belonged to Holy Trinity Monastery.

Literature: “Предварительный список славяно-русских рукописей ХI-XIV вв., хранящихся в СССР.” Археографический ежегодник за 1965 г. Москва, 1966.  177-272, № 1025.



Colophon: Monk Iov, fl. 1360-1390


In 1990 Lucija Cernić published her article on the “circle” of a scribe Iov (Їωвь) who worked on manuscripts over a thirty-year period in the 14th century: “Круг писара Јова,” Arheografski prilozi 12 (1990): 129-180. Famous for her ability to recognize scribal hands, Cernić listed twenty different manuscripts that had been written solely or partially by Iov – eight of which were attributed to Iov as a result of her research. Ten of the manuscripts remain in the collection of Hilandar Monastery on Mount Athos; others are found in the collections of St. Catherine’s Monastery on Mt. Sinai, the Vatican, Dečani Monastery, Krk Monastery, and in Sofia, Novosibirsk, and Vienna.

The images below are of the scribal colophon in HM.SMS.392, a miscellany of homilies (“Zlatoust”) for the Lenten cycle, circa 1385, which forms a set with HM.SMS.388 and HM.SMS.389, two volumes of a “Zlatoust” miscellany for the Festal cycle of services, which are also attributed to Iov and circa 1385.

Image of leaf 521 verso of Hilandar Monastery Slavic manuscript no. 392

HM.SMS.392, f. 521v
Circa 1385

Image of leaf 521 recto of Hilandar Monastery Slavic Manuscript no. 392, the colophon of the scribe Iov

HM.SMS.392, f. 521r
Circa 1385













Iov mentions that when he began writing this book, Grigorii was hegumen, but when he ended the book, the head of the monastery was Hieromonk Iosif (last two lines on f. 521r). Iov’s name appears on the first line of f. 521v: Писавшааго сию книгоу, таха їωва монаха….


Image source: HM.SMS.392, f. 521r-v – from microfilm in the HRL.


Marginalia: Seven Stages of Intoxication


Different types of inscriptions are found in medieval manuscripts – Slavic and otherwise. The scribal colophon (the who-what-where-when and sometimes why or for whom) is usually located at the end of the manuscript in the hand of a scribe who copied the main text. It is often somehow set apart from the main text – perhaps physically on a separate page or written in smaller letters. It may be written in the scribe’s colloquial language, which also serves to distinguish it from the text. In the margins of manuscripts one may find glosses, corrections, rubrics, pen testings, communicative inscriptions (i.e., meaningful statements unrelated to the main text), penmanship exercises, and cryptograms.

Slavic manuscript No. 34 of St. Catherine’s Monastery, Mt. Sinai, is a 13th-century collection of patristic homilies, sayings, and lives of the holy fathers. There are pen testings, for example, on the inside back cover, and a Greek inscription on folia 42v-43r. On f. 36v is a later (communicative) inscription that describes the seven stages of intoxication:


black and white mage of the inscription in the margin on folio 36 verso of Sinai Slavic manuscript number 36


Translation: “Digion says: When a man sits down at a feast, he drinks a cup to health, and a second to merriment, and a third to repletion, and fourth to madness, and a fifth to a demonic state, and a sixth to a bitter death, and a seventh to eternal torture that will not end.”

Image source: Sinai.34, f. 36v – from microfilm in the HRL.