Religion

Christianity was the state religion of Byzantium, and the central role it played in all aspects of Byzantine life is made clear from the many religious manuscripts that survive today.

A detail from the Bristol Psalter, featuring an illustration of King David and his musicians.

The Old Testament in Greek

Article by:
Peter Toth

Translated into Greek in Hellenistic Egypt, the Greek Old Testament was copied widely in Byzantium. Peter Toth surveys the history of this important text.

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A detail from the Golden Canon Tables, featuring a small portrait of a haloed man and arches and columns filled with brightly coloured abstract ornamentation.

Illuminated Gospel-books

Article by:
Kathleen Maxwell

Kathleen Maxwell describes some of the remarkable illuminated copies of the Gospels to be found in the British Library’s collections.

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A detail of an illuminated headpiece from a copy of The Divine Liturgies made in 1600.

Greek liturgical manuscripts

Article by:
Peter Toth

In addition to the many surviving copies of Greek biblical texts, a wide range of manuscripts dealing with church services survive from the Byzantine era. Here, Peter Toth gives a brief overview of this material.

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A detail from a 12th-century homiliary, featuring a headpiece in red ink.

The Greek Church Fathers

Article by:
Peter Toth

A wide range of manuscripts contain the writings of early Christian theologians. Here, Peter Toth offers some guidance to this often complicated body of material.

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A page from Codex Sinaiticus, featuring the text of the New Testament in Ancient Greek, arranged in four columns.

The earliest Greek bibles

Article by:
David Parker

Biblical manuscripts and papyri surviving from antiquity provide us with invaluable information about the text of the Bible and about the earliest Christians. Here, David Parker surveys three of the most important ancient Greek bibles in the British Library’s collections.

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A detail from a Kalophonic Sticherarion, featuring chants with musical notation.

Byzantine music and musical manuscripts

Article by:
Nicolas Bell

Music has played a central role in Greek Orthodox services for centuries. Nicolas Bell describes the manuscript evidence for this music in the Byzantine and post-Byzantine eras.

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A detail from the Harley Greek Gospels, featuring a marginal illustration of a hare.

Book illumination in the Eastern Mediterranean

Article by:
Elisabeth Yota

In this article, Elisabeth Yota surveys some of the evidence for the production of illuminated manuscripts outside of the imperial capital of Constantinople.

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A detail from the Bristol Psalter, featuring a marginal illustration of the Blessed Man alongside a personification of Night.

Illuminating the Psalms in Byzantium

Article by:
Kalliroe Linardou

Byzantine book illumination was at its most ambitious and innovative in the decorated psalters produced between the 9th and 11th centuries. Here, Kalliroe Linardou explains the two main types of illuminated psalters and describes some of their key features.

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Further themes

Art

Learn more about Byzantine art from the illuminations and decorations found on Greek manuscripts.

Papyri

Explore what Greek papyri reveal about the lives, troubles, and joys of people who lived over a thousand years ago.

Religion

Discover more about what our rich collection of surviving religious manuscripts tells us about Byzantine life.

Scholarship

Explore the intellectual traditions of the Graeco-Roman world that continued throughout the Byzantine era and into the Early Modern world.

The Greek World

Explore the influence of the Greek world on Western Europe and the Middle East.

The makers of Greek manuscripts

Learn more about book production in antiquity. What was more popular: parchment or paper?