44r, detail


The Codex Gigas was almost all written in a late Carolingian minuscule whose general aspect and details looks conservative for the early thirteenth century. f and long s may descend below the base line, the back of the a is diagonal and the lower bowl of the g is open, and these are all very old fashioned features. ę, e caudata (for ae) occurs, and this is also old fashioned for the early thirteenth century, for it passed out of use during the second half of the twelfth. Distinctive letters are the wide and sprawling ampersand, and the –rum sign following o. The general aspect of the hand does not appear to be particularly Germanic, as might be expected in a manuscript written in Bohemia, although the scribe did use a distinctive southern German form of z (Schneider 1987, p. 15).

Capital letters were usually drawn (rather than written) and usually touched with yellow throughout. Word separation is advanced and punctuation is by point throughout (final and medial). Mistakes were corrected by erasing and rewriting. One remarkable feature is the use of non-alphabetic signs (two common ones are rather like the figures 2 and 7) at the end of the subdivisions of the texts, and although this is a practice known in late Antique manuscripts (Bischoff 1986, p. 228) it subsequently appears to be very rare and its use in the Codex Gigas is peculiar.

There are a few exceptions to the use of Carolingian minuscule. There are Hebrew and Greek alphabets (and a ‘Latin’ one) on f. 1v, and the Confessional text and Exorcisms on coloured panels (ff. 286v-288v and 290v-291) were written in pen-drawn capital letters. The entries for the Calendar were also written in pen-drawn capital letters (ff. 305v-311r), and so was the list of Easter feasts (f. 311v). A curious common feature of the Confessional text and Exorcisms, and the list of Easter feasts is the use of the letters M and N made with only vertical and horizontal strokes. (However, these forms also occasionally appear in the Calendar, especially on the page for April, f. 307r).


There is no doubt that virtually the whole manuscript (text and corrections) was the work of one scribe. Similarities in the letterforms (minuscule and majuscule) in the text and display matter (pen-drawn capital letters used for the incipits, explicits and initials) and similarities in the pigments used for the different elements in the decoration, point to the virtual certainty that the scribe was also responsible for decorating the manuscript, including the elaborately decorated initials and the two full page illustrations of the Heavenly City and the portrait of the Devil. The versatility of the scribe extends to musical notation, for a short piece in the Chronicle of Cosmas of Prague is notated with neumes (f. 301r), and there are also neumed introits at the foot of each of the Calendar pages (ff. 305v-311r).

The hand of the scribe is a little variable and irregular, but the scribe was clearly well trained and competent. The irregularities in the hand are due much more to the powerful personality of the scribe, for his hand is individual and distinctive. (It ought to be easy to recognise should ever it be discovered in another manuscript.) The scribe imposed his personality onto the pages of the Codex Gigas in a way that more skilled and regular scribes could never do.

One remarkable feature of the writing is the differences in the height of the minims in different texts. It is noticeable that the height of the minims (and thus the size of the letters) is slightly larger in the Bible (Old and New Testaments), the two Josephus works and the Chronicle of Cosmas of Prague than it is in the work of Isidore and the collection of medical texts.

There are a few medieval additions to the manuscript. On the recto of the first leaf is an important inscription concerning the purchase of the Codex Gigas in 1295, partially obscured by the use of reagent (f. 1v), and this was probably written in or soon after 1295. A prayer to the Virgin was added at the foot of f. 273r in the mid thirteenth century, and the scribe responsible for this also added a petition in the lower margin of f. 286r. Some verses in the outer margin of f. 276r and a note in the foot margin of one of the Calendar pages (f. 305v) are of the same date, and these are probably the work of the same scribe.



neumes 307r

Neumes 307r






additions, 305v

Additions, 305v

Time of Production

A medieval scribe could write about 100 lines per day. (Some could write more and many probably wrote less.) As the status of the scribe is unknown, the number of hours that he might have worked per day is unknown. However, if the scribe wrote about one column per day this would have meant about five years work. As the scribe probably did his own ruling as well as decorate the whole manuscript, this extends the time spent working on the manuscript to something between ten and twenty years at a minimum. It could have taken much longer, and it is probably reasonable to presume that the Codex Gigas was the work of a lifetime.

At present the order in which the texts in the manuscript were written and decorated is unknown. However, the two texts by Josephus begin in a quire (xv) that also contains the end of the Old Testament, and this suggests that the Old Testament was made before the Josephus. Together, the Old Testament and the Josephus works occupy 200 leaves, or two thirds of the Codex Gigas.