This database originated from the observation that the edited collections of named Byzantine poets were not the only poetic products that Byzantium left us. Dispersed among manuscripts, there are many smaller and greater poems that are not really part of the main text, and do not belong to a standard scenario of textual transmission and edition. Rather than "texts", they are "paratexts". But they are Byzantine poems nonetheless. By their nature, they were difficult to retrieve, and it was impossible to get any overview on their features.

What our database intends to do, is three things:

  • Editing texts:
    By providing both reliable transcriptions of epigrams based on controlled autopsy of manuscripts and readable texts informed by philological judgement, we want to make available an extensive digital corpus of book epigrams to the scholarly community.
  • Providing an interrelated, structured, searchable corpus:
    By bringing these epigrams together, grouping them, and tagging them, we want to offer users the possibility to gain an overview of this material, through several search parameters. In our new version, we provide more opportunities to visually compare similar poems and parts of poems.
  • Pointing to existing sources and material:
    By assembling references to scholarship, and, not in the least, links to digitized manuscripts, we want to help users to delve deeper into this material.

On this Help Page, you can read what our subject is, and how we intend to achieve our goals.

What are book epigrams?

1. Orientation

Byzantine manuscripts have been one of the most important bridges through which the inheritance of Classical Antiquity has enriched our modern culture. But they are more than that: in Byzantine culture, books were mediums for religious reverence, imperial patronage, teaching, liturgical practice, and day-to-day knowledge and edification. Many of these historical and cultural aspects were crystallized in poems that we find next, above, or under the main text of the book. In these poems, the contemporary world of scribe, patron, and first readers comes to life. These marginal poems are now known as "book epigrams", a genre that all too long remained in the margins of our attention as well.  Approximately one out of ten Byzantine manuscripts (which run in the tens of thousands) contain book epigrams.

2. Definition(s)

The term "book epigram" itself is a recent coinage, but the genre has been known from the time Byzantine manuscripts were first investigated. Athanasios Kominis defined our poems as “epigrams in books and on books” (p. 38), and this sums up well their most important feature. They are found in books, but at the same time they have these very books as their subject. In this respect, they can be compared to inscriptions on tombs, religious objects or buildings: they comment on the very object that displays them.

Marc Lauxtermann devoted an entire chapter of his book on Byzantine poetry to what he called "book epigrams", thereby introducing that term into Byzantine scholarship. He remarked that they are “verses that are intimately related to the production of literary texts and manuscripts” (p. 197). 

Book epigrams can alternatively be defined as "metrical paratexts". Being true para-texts (in the definition of Genette), they stand next to "main texts", helping the reader in his or her orientation as to what this main text means, and/or how the medium of the text (the book) came into being. 

We may try to compress these definitions into two essential points; all book epigrams are one of both, and frequently both :

  • book epigrams are dependent on a main text, by explaining or commenting on the origin, purpose, merit, structure, etc. of that main text and/or its original author;
  • book epigrams express the material realization of that main text: rather than being part of the content of the book, they stand at the contemporary level of the production of the specific and unique manuscript, thus at the level of its patron, scribe, and first (or slightly later) users.

Simply put, book epigrams are poems in which the book is both subject and object.

Frequently, the visual appearance of book epigrams (distinctive script, colour, decorative border, etc.) helps to make clear to the reader that these texts stand on another level.

As a result, when a manuscript anthologizes epigrams meant to be inscribed on other objects, these cannot be considered as book epigrams proper. Of course, there is a grey zone of isolated poems (e.g. prayers, summaries, short didactic treatises...) that are not strictly book-related and therefore do not meet a strict definition of "book epigrams". Our database nevertheless attempts to be inclusive, and contains also those isolated poems.

3. Classification

The following classification has been adopted in our Database, based on the main actors that play a role in the communicative situation typical for book epigrams (see also Bernard and Demoen). This classification is very fluid: one epigram can often be connected to more than one of these categories.


These epigrams concern the practices of writing and copying: the scribe announces that he has completed this book, in this or that monastery, at this or that date; he adds that he is glad that the work is finished and attributes all glory to God, or thanks Him in a prayer. This category of poems is often the most formulaic. They are also called "poetic colophons", or "metrical subscriptions".


These epigrams give information about the identity and motivations of the patron, who has "produced" this book, i.e. commissioned it and paid for it. As a rule, religious devotion, and / or the wish to repent for sins, are mentioned as the principal motives behind this patronage. These epigrams are perfectly comparable to similar inscriptions on objects or buildings. They are often new texts specially conceived for a particular manuscript. They are also called "dedicatory epigrams”.


Many book epigrams address the reader of the book. They prescribe certain reading attitudes or anticipate an expected response from the reader. Often, they emphasize the edifying qualities of the main text, recommending it for the spiritual well-being of the reader. By doing so, they offer us precious information about ideas and discourses on reading.


Many epigrams praise the author of the main text, and / or the merits of that text itself. The author is often an Evangelist or a Church Father, so that praise for the author often amounts to religious celebration. Single author-related epigrams or cycles of author-related epigrams are often traditional paratexts that are transmitted along with the main texts (e.g. the Psalms, the Gospels, theological treatises). These epigrams are also called "laudatory" - although there are some that criticize (mostly pagan or heterodox) authors as well.


These epigrams structure the main text and provide visual and textual signposts throughout the manuscript. Many manuscripts include short poems functioning as titles or as headings of table of contents, epigrams announcing the end of a work, short summaries, etc. They are extremely common, often formulaic, and in many cases, especially in the case of single verses, scribes may not have been aware that they were actually copying verses.


Some epigrams are so closely related to images in manuscripts that we created also this category. Many of these epigrams are also to be found in Rhoby 2018.

4. Authorship and tradition

Some book epigrams seem to be attached so often to one main text as to become part of its tradition. Other epigrams are produced for one specific book. Martin Walraff and Patrick Andrist make therefore the distinction between traditional and non-traditional paratexts. Moreover, paratexts can be manufacturers’ and post-manufacturers’, depending on their insertion in the manuscript at the time of production or at a later stage.

For the most part, it is a futile undertaking to try to retrieve the names of the "authors" of book epigrams. A scribe often borrows formulaic expressions from earlier models, sometimes only changing the name. The few book epigrams that are known as the work of a Byzantine poet, however, prove to be very interesting and tell us more about the circulation of "mainstream" poetry.

5. Further reading

Methodologies and practices

1. Scope


Our chronological scope falls between the date of the first manuscripts containing book epigrams and the end of the fifteenth century.


We only include metrical paratexts. In cases of doubt (one-line epigrams can often be metrical by mere coincidence) we have chosen to be inclusive.

2. Occurrences and Types

We have made a basic distinction between two kinds of textual material, corresponding to two different sets of text records in the database.


Occurrences reproduce the text of individual epigrams as faithfully as possible, i.e. as it is found in the manuscripts. Hence, the text is given with all the particular idiosyncrasies of the manuscript in terms of orthography, punctuation etc. Ideally, the text of the occurrences is based on consultation of (reproductions of) manuscripts. In some cases, however, we are still relying on manuscript catalogues or other related publications. These do not always apply rigorous standards and very often normalise the manuscript text. The text source on which we rely (wether our own autopsy or secondary publication) is clearly indicated for each occurrence.


Each of these Occurrences is linked to one or more overarching texts, called Types. These Types provide a normalized, or critically established text that corresponds to one Occurrence, or groups several Occurrences together that have an identical or similar text. This enables the user to browse through similar Occurrences and also makes it easier to obtain an overview of the text corpus.

When a critical text is available, we adopt it as the text source of our Type. Otherwise, we offer a normalised text of a representative Occurrence and refer to a list of related Occurrences for the peculiarities of the epigram transmission in each manuscript. Type records also include interpretive data, such as translation, identification of the poet and of the subject, comments, etc.

3. Relationships between texts

Book epigrams arguably belong to those texts that have a fluid text transmission. Depending on the needs, habits, and attitudes of the specific scribe or manuscript, they can be freely adapted, truncated, combined with each other, or reshuffled.

To enable the user to visualize these complex relationships, the new version of the database intends to make full use of its digital potential. In order to facilitate comparison between several similar occurrences, occurrence verses are gathered in Verse Variants records, where parallels and deviations of single verses are clearly shown next to each other. Please note that this grouping is still work-in-progress.

4. Sources for our texts 

When we have access to the full text of the epigrams, we indicate in the Occurrence and Type records that the text status is “completely known”. However, many catalogues do not reproduce the text of an occurrence in the specific manuscript, but take over the text of another standard work that prints the epigram, but based on another manuscript. In these cases the text status of the occurrence is still set as “completely known”, but we are not sure about its exact textual appearance.

When the catalogue or the secondary publication we adopt as text source only give a partial text, the text status of the Occurrence is “partially unknown”.
When we do not have any clue about the exact text of the occurrence (for example, just a mention ‘epigramma in S. Gregorium’) the abbreviation ‘NA’ appears instead of the incipit and the text status of the Occurrence is “completely unknown”. We give nevertheless links to known types, when applicable, so that the user can at least get an idea of the epigram.

If the field "text source" indicates "DBBE", this means thatour team had access to (reproductions of) manuscripts and has established the text. Transcriptions have been made as faithfully as possible, according to the standards of so-called diplomatic editions. We keep on adding texts based on our own consultation of further manuscripts.

5. Contextual information

Since our database intends to give as much contextual information as is possible, users will also find paleographical descriptions of manuscripts, attributions of scribes to manuscripts, and datings of manuscripts. However, all this is done based on the scholarship available to us, and is not (or only rarely) the result of our own investigations. We focus on the paratexts themselves and any information on manuscripts is given simply in order to better understand the material context of these paratexts.

The Pinakes database of the IRHT in Paris is the digital point of departure for this kind of information. As a member of the Diktyon network, we happily provide links to Pinakes in all of our manuscript records.

How to cite DBBE?

1. The database

The full bibliographic description of our database as a whole is: Database of Byzantine Book Epigrams, (last consulted on xx-xx-20xx).

The standard abbreviation is: DBBE.

2. Occurrences and Types

All Occurrences and Types have been assigned a unique DBBE identifier. Please include in your communication this identifier as well as the exact date on which you consulted an Occurrence or Type. Whether or not you include the permalink as well is up to you. 

For example:

  • DBBE Occurrence 20712 (consulted 20/06/2019)
  • DBBE Occurrence 20712 (, consulted 20/06/2019)
  • DBBE Type 6415 (consulted 20/06/2019)
  • DBBE Type 6415 (, consulted 20/06/2019)

When we relaunched DBBE in Spring 2019, we had no other option but to assign new identifiers to existing Occurrences and Types. Unfortunate as this may be, permalinks cited in earlier publications will not cease working. In fact, your browser will automatically redirect you to the correct detail page upon entering any old permalink.

For example:

  • the identifier "20712" is to be found at the very top of the Occurrence detail page
  • the old identifier "occ/4406" is to be found right after the new one
  • the permalink is provided at the very end of the Occurrence detail page
  • this same permalink is to be found in the address bar of your browser
  • upon entering the old permalink ( you will be automatically redirected to the new detail page.

3. Manuscripts and Persons

Unlike Occurrences and Types, these categories are not our core business but you might want to refer to them when speaking about the book epigrams a manuscript contains or the epigrams one scribe has written. If so, please include in your communication the DBBE identifier provided on top of each detail page as well as the exact date on which you consulted this page. Whether or not you include the permalink as well is up to you.

How to help DBBE?

Four ways to help DBBE: 

1. Give feedback on existing records. 

Did you spot a typo? Or a missing reference? Perhaps you know of a manuscript that was recently put online? The easiest way to give feedback on existing DBBE records is by clicking on the “Give feedback” button at the bottom of every detail page. Simply leave your email address and your message will be automatically sent to Someone from our team will get back to you as soon as possible. If we decide to incorporate your feedback, we will explicitly thank you for it on the relevant page(s). 

2. Draw our attention to new Occurrences. 

Did you find a book epigram that should be added to DBBE? How exciting! Well done! Fill out this online form and we will contact you as soon as possible. If we decide to include your epigram, we will explicitly thank you for pointing out its existence and all other information you shared with us. 

3. Tell us what you use DBBE for. 

Did you use DBBE in preparation of a publication? An edition? A conference paper perhaps? Did you refer to DBBE in your class? Or use it for inspiration while drawing up a project proposal? Contact us on and let us know! Yes, we are curious noses but it is also important for us to measure our impact on academia (and beyond). 

4. Tell the world what you like about DBBE. And tell us what you don’t! 

Spread the love! Share with your colleagues and friends what you really like about our database or the project in general. But do drop us a line when something is bothering you, either by sending an email to or through Facebook Messenger. We won’t bite!