Letters of Cyprian


These fragments are all that survive of a book written in North Africa in the late fourth century. They preserve part of a collection of letters written by Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, who was martyred in 258. In common with some other late antique manuscripts, the letters were copied out using a format of four narrow columns of text per page. Biblical quotations were picked out in red ink to attract the eye.

There is good evidence that this manuscript of Cyprian’s letters had reached Anglo-Saxon England by the eighth century. It is tempting to link the importation of this copy with the journey of Abbot Hadrian to Canterbury in 669. Described by Bede as vir natione Afir (‘a man of African birth’), Hadrian could have carried a book such as this from Rome for use in the school that he and Archbishop Theodore (668–690) established in Canterbury to train priests for the new English Church. The uncial script used in this manuscript is a precursor of the lettering used to write the earliest English charters and books.

This book probably survived intact until the 12th century. At that point, these pages were cut out and reused (together with a page from an Old English Martyrology) as flyleaves for a theological manuscript.

Full title:
Cyprian epistles and Old English Martyrology fragments
Late 4th century
Latin / Old English
Usage terms

Public Domain in most countries other than the UK.

Held by
British Library
Add MS 40165 A

Full catalogue details

Related articles

Anglo-Saxon England and Europe

Article by:
Becky Lawton

In Anglo-Saxon England, relations with the Europe thrived, from manuscript production to cross-continental marriages.

Learning and education in Anglo-Saxon England

Article by:
Becky Lawton

What was it like to be a student in early medieval England? We go on a journey from the Anglo-Saxon church to the classroom, and also encounter some riddles on the way.

Related collection items