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The Manuscript Editing Process

When only one MS of a text survives, "editing" the text for publication is fairly straightforward. But where multiple MSS survive the various versions of the text must be compared and related to each other. The goal is to get as close as possible to the original author's text. A number of early editions of many texts were made from only one MS, or from a defective version. A modern editor must also take earlier editions into account, especially if the MS basis for the earlier edition has since been lost.

The example used here to illustrate the process is the 1973 edition by Gertrud Böhlig of John Kaminiates' De Expugnatione Thessalonicae. [John Kaminiates' De Expugnatione Thessalonicae, ed. Gertrud Böhlig, Corpus Fontium Historiae Byzantinae IV, (Berlin: Walter De Gruyter, 1973)]

I The Manuscripts

The first task of an editor is to locate and read (often on microfilm) the surviving MSS. In this case there is some question about the authenticity of the text, but the author proposes himself as writing in the tenth century. All the MSS are fifteenth century or later. For the editor the goal is not, however, to discuss the text, but to present what is available.

In this case, there are four surviving MSS:-

  • V = Vaticanus gr. 172, fol. 1-90v, written circa 1439
  • B = Barberinianus gr. 241, fol. 31r-106v, written sometime in the 16th century
  • L = Athous ex Laura L 55, fol. 147r-205v, written in 1511
  • P = Parisinus gr. 1031, fol 15r-62v, written sometime in the 16th century

MSS V, B, and L contain the whole text, MS P, only the first part

II The Editions

The text was edited three times before:-

  • by Leo Allatius in 1653, based on Vat gr. 172, with a Latin translation.
  • by Francis Combefis in 1685 in the Paris Corpus of Greek historiographical texts. Combefis knew of Allatius edition, but also used the MS Barberini gr 241. This text was reissued in Venice in 1729. A Latin translation was attached, which was also used in the Bonn Corpus edition, and the version given in Migne, PG 109.
  • by Immanual Bekker in 1838 the Bonn Corpus of Greek historiographical texts.

Böhlig's task was to used all the surviving MSS to establish a new critical edition.

III The Stemma

The first task was to establish a stemma, or family tree of the MSS. By comparison of texts, Böhlig's proposal (p. xxviii) was:-

B,V,L, and P refer to the existing MS. The Greek signs refer to presumed earlier versions. As can be seen, Böhlig thinks her MSS are all three removes from the original.

The earlier MSS are lost, and what remains are the MSS marked as B, V, L and P.

IV The Text

Based on surviving MSS, Böhlig, keeping all common elements, and noting variants in notes, then establishes a final text. The result is a page which presents as clearly as possible both the text and information about the content of the text as well as about the text's transmission. This means, in effect:-

  • The text itself, with all ligatures, abbreviations, etc. written out and accents added where needed (this is less an issue with minuscule MSS than uncial ones in which accentation was sometimes omitted). Corrections of scribal errors are also made. The editor may also divide texts into "chapters" and add line numbers. Since Böhlig was not the first editor, she includes a reference to equivalent pagination in the previous standard edition, that of the Bonn Corpus.
  • Informational footnotes -- explaining words, dates, locations, etc.
  • Quotation and citation footnotes -- Greek writers did not always identify the sources they were quoting and this is a task taken on by modern editors.
  • Editing footnotes --giving variant readings in MSS and, in this case, previous editions.


Here, to show what Böhlig was working with, are facsimiles of two of the manuscripts - the Vaticanus and the Lavriote versions.


Cod. Vatic. Gr. 172, fol. 1 [1439]
Cod. Athous Laurae L 55, fol. 147 [1511]
Click on the images to load full size versions

With such manuscripts as a basis, Böhlig produces the next image as her first page. A text that is much more useful for scholars studying the text to work with.

The author and maintainer of this site is Paul Halsall [a picture!] . He can be contacted by email at

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