Greek Manuscripts

Menander's play
Menander's play "Fasma". 4th cent A.D.

Shelmark: ОР РНБ. Греч. 388

Parchment. 1 leaf. Uncial script.
27 incomplete lines have survived.

The fragments of Menander's plays have long been known, but this manuscript was considered lost. It was discovered by Academician V.K. Jernstedt who was specially invited to the Imperial Public Library for  description of Greek manuscripts purchased from Bishop Porphirius (Uspensky) in 1883. V.K. Jernstedt defined the content of fragments and dated the manuscript.

There are near 1000 separate items in the library's collection of Greek manuscripts, making it the largest in the country and one of the largest in the world. It smaller in size that  the collections of Greece, Italy or France, but its value lies in accumulating the well-known landmarks of great historical and cultural importance. Many of them are impressive for their outstanding decoration: beautiful miniature illustrations, ornamented headpieces and initials. The collection of the National Library is also notable for a very significant number of dated Greek manuscripts.

Codex Sinaiticus. Fragment: Old Testament, Genesis: 23.19-24.24. Mid-4th cent.
Codex Sinaiticus. Fragment: Old Testament, Genesis: 23.19-24.24. Mid-4th cent.

Shelmark: ОР РНБ. Греч. 239

Parchment. 1 leaf. Greek uncial script.

The Codex Sinaiticus is  most likely one of the 50 handwritten copies of the Greek Bible that were produced in the mid-4th century by order of the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great for churches created after Christianity had become the state religion in the empire.

The Codex Sinaiticus is the most complete of the oldest New Testament manuscripts, the main source for studying biblical texts. This is the only surviving manuscript written in 4 columns. A fragment came in the Library in 1883 as part of the collection of Bishop Porphyrius (Uspensky).

The oldest part of the collection — is a group of papyri from the second to fourth centuries A.D. from the Tischendorf collection. They were found during the ninteenth century in Lower Egypt, near the ruins of ancient Memphis. Particularly interesting among them are fragments of Menander's plays Fasma and Arbitration dating from the fourth century, the earliest surviving texts of the great Athenian comedy dramatist. Papyrus scroll "books" were kept in special baskets — that is what libraries looked like in the Ancient World. The third-century catalogue of one such library is now in the Manuscripts Department. Among the books it lists is Aristotle's The Polity of Athens. Because the actual text of this work was discovered later than the mention of it in the catalogue, this item has become known as the "prophetic papyrus".

As Late Antiquity was succeeded by the early Christian era, papyrus scrolls gave way to parchment codices. Manuscripts of the early Christian era are written on parchment in uncial letters, the oldest Greek writing style. Among them are fragments of the earliest of the three surviving copies of the ancient Greek Bible known as the Septuagint — the famous Codex Sinaiticus produced in the fourth century. The text in the Codex Sinaiticus is written in four columns per page that was a rare way to arrange it.

Porphyrius Gospel. 835. Constantinople, the Stoudios Monastery.  View the manuscript...
Porphyrius Gospel. 835. Constantinople, the Stoudios Monastery. View the manuscript...

Scribe:  Hegumenos Nicholas the Confessor

Shelfmark: ОР РНБ. Греч. 219

344 fols. Minuscule. Monochrome headpieces and initials (composed of one colour). Scribe's inscription on fol. 344 v.

The landmark is the oldest surviving Greek manuscript with an exact date of creation, and, at the same time, the first dated manuscript written in minuscule, a new Greek script which replaced uncial letters.

The manuscript came in the Library in 1883 as part of the collection of Bishop Porphyrius (Uspensky).

Porphyrius Psalter. 862 (?). Jerusalem. Church of the Holy Resurrection. View the manuscript...
Porphyrius Psalter. 862 (?). Jerusalem. Church of the Holy Resurrection. View the manuscript...

Scribe: Theodore, Deacon of the Jerusalem Church of the Resurrection.

Shelfmark: ОР РНБ. Греч. 216

Parchment. 350 fols. Palestinian uncial script. Multicolour and monochrome  headpieces, tailpieces and initials; multicolour frame (fol. 350). Scribe's inscription on fol. 350.

The manuscript entered the Library in 1883 as part of the collection of Bishop Porphyrius (Uspensky).

Like the Porphyrius Gospel of 835 and the Porphyrius Psalter of 862, these fragments came into the library with the material gathered by Archbishop Porphyrius Uspensky (1804-1855), a palaeographical scholar and passionate collector. This renowned Porphyrius Gospel, created at the Stoudios Monastery in Constantinople, is the oldest surviving Greek manuscript with an exact date of creation, and, at the same time, the first dated manuscript written in minuscule, a new Greek script which replaced uncial letters. No less famous is the Porphyrius Psalter of 862, produced in the Church of the Holy Resurrection in Jerusalem in a special writing style — the Palestinian uncial.

Gospel of Trebizond. Fragments. Constantinople. View the manuscript...
Gospel of Trebizond. Fragments. Constantinople. View the manuscript...

 

Shelfmark: ОР РНБ. Греч. 21

Parchment. 15 fols. Uncial letters, 16 miniatures, ornamented initials.

The Gospel of Trebizond is one of the most famed Greek illuminated manuscripts kept in Russian repositories. For many long years, researchers considered the place of origin of the Gospel of Trebizond to be eastern provinces of the Byzantine Empire. As recent studies show,   the Gospel of Trebizond was created in Constantinople.

Many Greek manuscripts entered the Imperial Public Library by way of the royal palace. In 1858 the Metropolitan of Trebizond in Asia Minor presented Alexander II with a lavishly decorated tenth-century manuscript with 15 magnificent miniatures. Now it is known as the Gospel of Trebizond.

Purple Gospel (Empress Theodora's Codex). 9th cent. View the manuscript...
Purple Gospel (Empress Theodora's Codex). 9th cent. View the manuscript...

13 - 14 cent. (fols. 267, 299) and 17th cent. (fols. 1–11, 91, 128–130, 210, 307, 329, 406). Constantinople, Imperial scriptorium.

Shelfmark: ОР РНБ. Греч. 53

Parchment, purple. Paper (fols. 1–11, 91, 128–130, 210, 307, 329, 406). 410 fols. Minuscule script (text) and small uncial script (comments on the margins). Gold headpieces.

Text is written in gold, marginalia are in silver. Four miniatures were added later: portraits of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark and John —  in the 13th – 14th centuries, Luke — in the 17 century.

The original parchment colour is unknown; now it has become dark purple, almost black. The 17th century binding is made of silver with filigree and rhinestones.

 

In 1829, Nicholas I was given a precious nineth-century purple Gospel which had once belonged to the Christian community of the St. John the Baptist Monastery in Gumushane (Turkey). This volume written in gold and silver on purple parchment and adorned with miniatures was produced in the imperial Byzantine scriptorium. It is also called Empress Theodora's Codex. According to legend, this Gospel was written by the venerable Empress Theodora herself, known as the protector of icon veneration in Byzantium.

Another work from the same source is the Codex Petropolitanus, a sixth-century purple Gospel which Nicholas II bought from the village of Sarmisahly with the assistance of the Russian Archaeological Institute in Constantinople.

Four Gospels. 12th – 13th cent. Constantinople. View the manuscript...
Four Gospels. 12th – 13th cent. Constantinople. View the manuscript...

Shelfmark: ОР РНБ. Греч. 101/1

Parchment. II+158 fols.

Text is written in a minuscule hand.

Canon Tables are placed in ornamental frames. There are 4 full page miniatures, 4 ornamental head-pieces (one of them contains a miniature), 3 ornamental initials, one historiated initial letter. Headings and small initials are painted in crimson ink. The binding of P. Dubrovsky is boards covered with embossed velve

Stone tablets from the Greek colony of Olbia on the northern Black Sea coast. 5th cent.
Stone tablets from the Greek colony of Olbia on the northern Black Sea coast. 5th cent.

Approximately half the library's Greek manuscripts were written in the Byzantine era. They include extremely valuable sources on all aspects of the history and culture of Byzantium, be it book miniatures, palaeography, literature, ecclesiastical music, medicine, astrology, clerical procedures or canon law. The other half of the stocks dates from the time of the fall of the Byzantine Empire and the post-Byzantine period. These still little-studied manuscripts brought to us an interesting layer of late Greek culture, which continues the ancient antique and Christian Byzantine traditions.

Also directly connected with the Ancient World are the stone tablets from the Greek colony of Olbia on the northern Black Sea coast which adorn the library's main staircase. They record the outstanding services which citizens accorded the town and commemorate the erection of statues of gods and emperors. These tablets were donated to the Public Library in 1880 by the widow of Count Alexei Musin-Pushkin in accordance with his will.

View online exhibitions:

Greek Manuscript Gospels of the 6th–13th Centuries

Cultural heritage of Europe in the collections of the National Library of Russia. Cyprus

Cultural heritage of Europe in the collections of the National Library of Russia. Greece

Codex Sinaiticus and the Manuscripts of Mt Sinai in the Collections of the National Library of Russia

You can also see the full-text study in Russian with illustrations of stone tablets from the Greek colony of Olbia which adorn the library's main staircase.