Byzantine Music Notation in the Greek Liturgical Palimpsest Rahlfs 1163

Margherita Matera
July 3, 2023

Codex Barb. gr. 332, from now on Ra 1163, is a small-sized manuscript from southern Italy measuring 185 × 125 mm. It contains 170 parchment leaves, all palimpsests and originating from, at least, four different codicological units from various historical periods.[1]


©Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Codex Barber. gr. 332, ff. 13v–14r (RGB), scriptura superior

According to a recent autopsy I conducted between April 17-21, 2023, it has been discovered that the codex recentior is composed of 22 quires, mostly quaternions.[2] The codex recentior is defective at the beginning and starts with a fragment of the life of Saint Nicholas of Myra [3] (ff. 1r–7v). This text is followed by homilies by St. John Chrysostom and other hagiographic writings (ff. 8r–166v).[4] The last four leaves (167–170) contain Ps 101:1–103:11. 

Palaeographic description

The largest recentior unit (ff. 1r–163v), dated between the end of the 12th and the 13th centuries, is written in the so-called Minuscola barocca Salentina of which some of the typical paleographic elements characterizing this script can be recognized.[5] Each folio contains 22 lines of text with an interlinear space ranging from 0.5 mm (i.e., ff. 8r, 154v) to 1cm. The ruling of the scriptura inferior was reused to host the textus rescriptus; It is still clearly visible in some leaves (i.e., ff. 79r, 83r-84r). The ink is greyish, and there are no rubrications. The only ornamentation existing in the manuscript are a monochromatic headband on f.8r and some simply decorated initial letters. Marginal notes are present, some of them are written in Latin.

At least three different scribes worked on the realization of this recentior unit:

- Scribe A, ff. 1r–7v, 12th–13th centuries.

- Scribe B, ff. 8r–154v, ln. 16, 13th century.

- Scribe C, ff. 154v, ln.17–163v, 13th century (cursive hand).

Originally, ff. 164r–166v must have been written by the same scribe who wrote ff. 154v (ln.17) –163v (Scribe C). The writing on these leaves has been erased due to water damage that occurred recently,[6] then, they were retraced by a more recent cursive hand dated to the 14th century (Scribe D). On f. 164r, there are no visible traces of writing but a note in Latin characters with the date 1327 can be found in the lower margin: anno d(omi)ni MCCCXXVII X jiulii X ind(ictionis) […].[7] We can therefore assume that these deteriorated pages may have been rescripted in that year, perhaps by the same hand that wrote down the Latin note. Ff. 167–170 were written by another hand (scribe E) in the so-called Scrittura di Reggio. These parchment folios were taken from an older manuscript, likely from the 12th century, and were used as flyleaves of the codex recentior. This explains their poor state of preservation and their excessive trimming. 

State of preservation

The leaves of Ra 1163 are not in good condition as they have water stains, mold damage, and missing external margins (ff. 165-166). Additionally, there is a missing leaf between pages 156 and 157. The parchment used to create the codex antiquior was of low quality, with irregularly shaped folios (ff. 12, 60, 122, 140, 152) and holes caused by stretching during the preparation of the writing support (ff. 5, 17, 19, 39, 70, 76). Although we can deduce its Italo-Greek provenance based on paleographic evidence, the history of the palimpsest, whether in ancient or modern times, remains largely unknown. Furthermore, there is limited bibliographic information accessible on the subject.[8]

Codex antiquior

The history and origin of the parchments used to create Ra 1163 are difficult to trace. With the help of UV images from the Vatican Library website and a recent autopsy, I was able to identify four distinct antiquiores codicological and textual units. These units can be further divided as follows:[9]

Unit A: ff. 1–90, 93–166.

Unit B: ff. 92–93

Unit C: ff 167, 170

Unit D: ff. 168–169

Unit A

It is the largest one (163 ff.) and the best preserved. Its scriptura inferior contains a liturgical text with musical notation. [10] In some folios, the neumes are visible even to the “naked eye”. In this unit, the scriptura inferior is perpendicular to the superior.


©Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Codex Barber. gr. 332, ff. 1v–2r (RGB), traces of the neumes visible under the scriptura superior


The leaves of the codex antiquior were originally larger, measuring about 300 × 200 mm. To create the codex recentior, the original bifolia were cut at their seam and each folio was folded in two to form a new bifolium. As a result, the scriptura inferior now runs parallel to the superior. [11]



The liturgical-musical text is written full page (on 19 lines) in a minuscule similar to the so-called Perlschrift and dated between the 11th and 12th centuries.

The mise en page is spacious with generous margins and wide interlinear space (1 cm). This layout is also common to other Byzantine liturgical-musical manuscripts.[12]


 ©Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Codex Barber. gr. 332, ff. 1v–2r (UV)


The reused parchments hand down to us a Sticherarion with musical notation. It is a collection of monostrophic and short hymns (stichera) to be sung during the liturgical year, on the occasion of the daily evening (Hesperinos) and morning (Orthros) services.[13]

Ra 1163 presents a Paleo-Byzantine notation[14] of the “relatively and fully developed Coislin” / “Coislin VI-Floros” type.[15] This definition refers to a specific type of musical writing that takes its name from Codex Coisl. 220, one of the most precious liturgical musical manuscripts, dated to the 11th century.[16]

Although good-quality UV images are available online, the study of the lower text of Ra 1163 takes time. As we have already seen, to create the codex recentior, the original shape of the codex antiquior’s leaves has been modified: from a large folio a new smaller bifolium has been obtained. Once the new folios were created, they were assembled in disarray in the new manuscript; because of this, the original order of their content was irremediably disturbed. 

Therefore, if today we wanted to read the textus primitivus in the correct order, and without interruption, we would have to tidy up (virtually) every single leaf. This is a time-consuming operation but needs to be done. As an example, I offer here a sample of reconstruction.

The current folios 2 and 5 (originally a single leaf folded in two to create a new bifolium) contain some troparia to sing on Christmas Eve.  

According to their decipherment, they should be read in the following sequence:

 ff. 2 r-5 v, 2v-5r.


Here is their content, reconstructed based on the Sticherarion Vindobon.  theol. gr.  136, [17] to which, lacking a critical edition of the text of the Sticheraria,  we refer for convenience.[18]

Ra 1163, f. 2r: Codex Vindobon. theol. gr. 136  ff. 74v, 10 – 75r, 6.

Ra 1163, f. 5v: Codex Vindobon. theol. gr. 136  f. 75r, 8 – 75v, 2.

Ra 1163, f. 2v: Codex Vindobon. theol. gr. 136  f.75v, 2 -14.

Ra 1163, f. 5r: Codex Vindobon. theol. gr. 136  ff. 75v, 16 -76r, 13.

These hymns are still sung in the Orthodox Church for the holy festivities. Below is an example of the hymn “Σπήλαιον εὐτρεπίζου”, with which f. 2v begins, sung during the celebration of Christmas Eve.



Codex Barber. gr. 332, f. 2r, Scriptura inferior – Processed UV Image by Margherita Matera 

Unit B

Folios 91–92 contain other liturgical texts without musical notation.

Here the scriptura inferior, a minuscule dated perhaps to the 11th century, is parallel to the superior. Making a first and rapid decipherment, I found on f. 92r part of the IX of the January Canon, composed by Andrew of Crete.[19] This unit is equally interesting and should be analyzed more carefully.

Unit C

Folios 167 and 170 came from an original bifolium still united. Here, the scriptura inferior, perpendicular to the superior, is hardly visible because mold has damaged the parchment.

These two folios hand down a fragment of Saint John Chrysostom homilies in Matthaeum (CPG 442 43).[20]

The text, arranged in two columns, is written in a light, almost orange, ink. The script is minuscule and recalls a bouletée. Unfortunately, the state of preservation of these parchment leaves does not allow us to date it with certainty. The 11th century is proposed but with some reservations about it. 

Unit D

Folios 168–169 form an original bifolium. Like the previous folios, these leaves are also in a deplorable state of preservation. The Mold has heavily attacked the writing support in several places, making it difficult to read both the scriptura superior and significantly the inferior.

I recently deciphered f. 169r during the autopsy examination carried out in the Vatican Library from 17 to 21/04/2023; it contains a fragment of the Parva Catechesis by Theodore the Studite. The scriptura inferior, which runs parallel to the superior, is an ancient minuscule, probably from the 10th century. But, as for the previous folios, the impossibility of analyzing it paleographically in detail makes it difficult to propose a precise dating.[21] 


I would like to warmly thank Professor Santo Lucà for his availability and his ready assistance and invaluable advice provided during our email correspondences. His guidance was particularly beneficial during the manuscript autopsy conducted at the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, which allowed us to study the Codex Barb gr. 332 collaboratively.
My profound gratitude is extended to Professor Donatella Bucca for her indispensable help and her suggestions about the liturgical-musical text (Sticherarion) preserved in the scriptura inferior of the Barb. gr. 332. Their expansive knowledge and expertise on the subject have been a fundamental help to me.

[1] The manuscript has a contemporary binding and underwent a restoration process on February 13th, 1989. A modern Latin note, describing its contents, can be found on the third paper flyleaf. The front cover still displays two ancient shelfmarks: III.51 e 48.

[2] Traces of the indication of the quires are still visible in the lower outer margin of ff. 120r, 127v, 128r, 135v; 136r, 143v and f. 144r. The numbering of the remaining quires has been lost since the “modern” manuscript has been heavily trimmed.

[3] Defective: Nicolaus ep. Myrensis (S.), Acta seu praxis de stratelatis (BGH 1349z-1350e). Incipit: Τίνος χάριν ἐάσατε αὐτοὺς μέχρις τοῦ παρόντος ζῆν καὶ μὴ εὐθὺς συσχεθέντας ἀναιρεθῆναι.

[5] The attribution of this script to Salento is by Prof. Santo Lucà who I thank again for his help. About this style see, as an example: Arnesano, D., La minuscola “barocca”: scritture e libri in Terra d’Otranto nei secoli XIII e XIV, Galatina 2008; Jacob,  A., “Les écritures de Terre d’Otrante”, in La paléographie grecque et byzantine, Paris, 1977 (Colloques internationaux du CNRS, 559), Paris, 1977, pp. 269-281; Lucà, S., “Scritture e libri in Terra d’Otranto fra XI e XII secolo”, in Bizantini, Longobardi e Arabi in Puglia nell’alto medioevo. Atti del XX Congresso internazionale di studi sull’alto medioevo (Savelletri di Fasano, 3-6 novembre 2011), Spoleto 2012 (Atti Congressi, 20), pp. 487-548 (with XX plates); Parenti, S., “Tipologie dei libri liturgici nel Salento”, in Rudiae. Ricerche sul mondo classico, 3 (2017), pp. 43-150.

[6] On folios 164r and 166v, the scriptura inferior and the superior are no longer visible.

[7] This folio has been trimmed and reading the entire note is no longer possible.

[8] Ricci, S., “Liste sommaire des manuscrits grecs de la Bibliotheca Barberina”, in Revue des bibliothèques  17 (1907), pp. 81-125: 106; Rahlfs, A., Verzeichnis der griechischen Handschriften des Alten Testaments (Mitteilungen des Septuaginta-Unternehmens der königlichen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften zu Göttingen 2), Berlin 1914, p. 237; Lucà, S., “La fine inedita del commento di Nilo d’Ancira al Cantico dei Cantici”, in Augustinianum 22, (1982), pp. 365-403: 365 n. 4; Mossay, J., Repertorium Nazianzenum.  Orationes. Textus Graecus, 5 Codices Civitatis Vaticanae, Munich, Vienna, Zurich 1996 (Studies in the History and Culture of Antiquity, N.F., 2. Row. Forschungen zu Gregor von Nazianz 12, Paderborn), pp. 142–143.

[9] For convenience, to each antiquior codicological unit is assigned a letter of the Latin alphabet.

[10] For the Byzantine musical notation, and Byzantine music in general, see all the volumes of the Monumenta Musicae Byzantine (MMB) of the Danish Academy. Some of them can be consulted online on the MMB webpage:

For further bibliography see, as an example, the following publications: Alexandru, Μ., “The Palaeography of Byzantine Music: A brief introduction with some preliminary remarks on Musical Palimpsests”, in Escobar, A. (ed.), El palimpsesto grecolatino como fenómeno librario y textual, Zaragoza 2006, pp. 113-130; idem: Παλαιογραφία Βυζαντινής Μουσικής, Athens 2017; Bucca, D., “Catalogo dei manoscritti musicali greci del SS.  Salvatore di Messina”, in Atsalos, B. (ed.), Actes du VIe Colloque International de Paléographie Grecque (Drama, 21-27 septembre 2003), Athens 2008, pp. 799-808; idem: Catalogo dei manoscritti musicali greci del SS. Salvatore di Messina (Biblioteca Regionale Universitaria di Messina), Roma 2011 (Comitato Nazionale per le Celebrazioni del Millenario); idem: “Scrittura, notazione, mise en page nei manoscritti musicali bizantini (sec. X-XII)”, in Cronier, M./ Mondrain, B.  (eds.), Le livre manuscrit grec: Écritures, matériaux, histoire. Actes du IXe Colloque international de Paléographie grecque, Paris, 10-15 septembre 2018, Paris 2020 (Travaux et Mémoires, 24/1), pp. 151-180;  Doneda, A., “I manoscritti liturgico-musicali bizantini: tipologie e organizzazione”, in Escobar, A. (ed.), El palimpsesto grecolatino como fenómeno librario y textual, Zaragoza 2006, pp. 83-111; Floros, C., Universale Neumenkunde, Band 1 bis 3, Kassel 1970; idem: Introduction to Early Medieval Notation, enlarged second edition revised, translated, and with an illustrated chapter on cheironony, Warren (Michigan) 2005 (Detroit monographs in musicology / Studies in music 45);  idem: The Origins of Western Notation: Revised and Translated by Neil Moran.  With a Report on «The Reception of the Universale Neumenkunde, 1970–2010», New York 2011 []; Höeg, C., “La théorie de la musique byzantine”, in Revue des Études Grecques 35 (1922), pp. 321-334;  Raasted J., The Hagiopolites.  A Byzantine Treatise on Musical Theory.  Preliminary edition, Copenhagen 1983 (Université de Copenhague.  Cahiers  de  lInstitut  du  Moyen-Age  Grec  et Latin,  45) [ ];  Strunk, W.O., “The Tonal System of Byzantine Music”, in The Musical Quarterly 28/2 (1942), pp. 190-204;  idem: Essays on Music in the Byzantine World. Collected Essays of Oliver Strunk, Bd. 2. New York, NY (1977); Takis, S.J., Beginning to Learn the Byzantine Musical System Using Western Notation and Theory, MI: New Byzantium Publications, 2010 (; Tillyard, H.J.W., “Byzantine Neumes: The Coislin Notation”, in Byzantinische Zeitschrift 37 (2), pp. 345–358; Wellesz, E., A history of Byzantine music and hymnography, Oxford 1961 [2nd repr.]

See also the following links:;;

[11]A similar procedure is described by Crisci, E., I palinsesti di Grottaferrata. Studio codicologico e paleografico, Napoli 1990 (Pubblicazioni dell’Università di Cassino. Sezione di studi filologici, letterari, storici, artistici e geografici, 2), Vol. I, p. 267. Interesting for the study of Ra 1163 is also: Arnesano, D., “Libri inutiles in terra d’Otranto. Modalità di piegatura dei bifogli nella realizzazione del Laur.  87.21”, in Lucà, S. (ed.), Libri palinsesti greci: conservazione, restauro digitale, studio. Atti del Convegno Internazionale, Roma 2008 (Comitato Nazionale per le Celebrazioni del Millenario), pp. 191-200.

[12] Cf. Bucca, “Scrittura, notazione, mise en page, pp.  158, 178 and n. 57. 

[13] Cf. Doneda, “I manoscritti liturgico-musicali bizantini", pp. 94-98; Bucca,Scrittura, notazione, mise en page”, pp. 154-155.

[14] La più antica forma di notazione musicale melodica”, Bucca, “Scrittura, notazione, mise en page”, p. 155.

[15] We thank Prof. Donatella Bucca for her help and valuable suggestions about the musical semiography of Barb. Gr.  332. Cf.  Stunk, O., Specimina notationum antiquiorum. Pars Principalis et Pars Suppletoria, Copenhagen 1966 [MMB, Facsimilés 7], Pars Suppletoria p. 30; Floros, Universal Neumenkunde, I, pp. 311-326; Doneda, “The Byzantine liturgical-musical manuscripts”, p. 91 and note nr. 23.

[16] Diktyon: 49361. Cf. Doneda, “I manoscritti liturgico-musicali bizantini”, pp.  90-93; Bucca, “Scrittura, notazione, mise en page”, pp. 155-158.

[17] Diktyon: 71803. Facsimile: Sticherarium Antiquum Vindobonense (Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, cod. theol. gr. 136, 12th c.), 2 Vols., edited by Gerda Wolfram, Vienna 1987 (Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften) [MMB 10], available online:

[18] Cf. Bucca, “Scrittura, notazione, mise en page”, p. 155 n.10. 

[19] Proiou, A./Schirò, G., Analecta hymnica graeca e codicibus eruta Italiae inferioris, vol. 5, Roma 1971, pp. 253- 254. Decipherment by Margherita Matera.

[20] f. 170v, second column, Iohannes Chrysostomus, in Matthaeum homilia 43 (PG 57, c. 457; CPG 442 43). Decipherment by Margherita Matera. 

[21] On this recent decipherment, the author of this post is preparing a note.