Brief description of the project

The aim of the project is to present a digital edition of the Excerpta Constantiniana (Excerpta further on), a Byzantine encyclopaedia written in Ancient Greek in Constantinople in the 10th century (edited by de Boor 1903; de Boor 1905; Büttner-Wobst 1906; Boissevain 1906; and Roos 1910).

The underlying research project belongs to the field of Classical and Byzantine Philology and is devoted to the edition of an important historiographical source. The goal of this project is interdisciplinary: it aims to define the role of the editor and the concept of the presentation of a historical source in the digital environment.

The Excerpta was planned as a large-scale encyclopaedia in multiple volumes. It consists of several thousand separate extracts (excerpts) that were taken from about three dozens of Ancient Greek and Byzantine historiographical works. The extant parts of the Excerpta contain about 560 000 words (it is believed that almost tenfold is lost). We possess two original manuscripts of the Excerpta (each of the two for a different volume of Excerpta ) that distinguish themselves through a remarkable mise-en-page: for the purpose of navigation in the content several hundred notes and pictograms have been placed on the margins of the manuscript (see image 2).

The digital edition of the whole work is in the preparatory phase; a section from the Excerpta have been edited exemplary, to be more precise, 24 pages (about 9 000 words) from the original manuscript Vaticanus graecus 73. The manuscript itself is a palimpsest. The text of the Excerpta has been washed off in the 14th century and overwritten, leading to a limited legibility of the original text (see image 1). Standard solution in such a case would be to publish the facsimile of the manuscript and to prepare a historical-critical edition of the text. However, the publication of such a damaged text proved itself to be of little value for the reader not versatile in deciphering palimpsests. Moreover, the traditional layout of a historical-critical edition is not suitable for displaying the Excerpta. The biggest challenge here is a faithful reproduction of the notes and pictograms on the margins that are important for the understanding of the text.

The mise-en-page of the Excerpta was pivotal for the development of the concept of this digital edition. A pluralistic approach to the text was taken as a basis. The goal was to ensure the presentation of the text in multiple views (displaying perspectives), most important of which were the document-focused and the text-focused perspectives (cf. Pierazzo and Stroke 2011; Rehbein and Gabler 2013; Muñoz and Viglianti 2015). In doing so three main views were chosen: (i) a digital reconstruction of the manuscript (topographical view), (ii) a diplomatic transcription (document-focused view), and (iii) a normalized, historical-critical version of the text (text-focused view).

  1. Topographical view: The topographical view includes the digital reproduction of the original as a two-dimensional, detailed representation of the surface. In other words, it means that the earlier text of the manuscript, significantly enlarged, has been digitally replenished with stylus on the touchscreen (see image 1 and image 2). To my knowledge this method has not been used in the reconstruction of the palimpsests before and therefore represents a novel way of displaying original texts. Its uniqueness lies in the combination of human expertise and the current technical possibilities.
  2. Document-focused view: In this view, the text is reproduced as true to the original as possible. The design of the original is visualized, especially the layout of the text and the navigation elements in it (see images 2 and image 3). Wherever possible, the original orthography is reproduced. Nevertheless it is also possible to switch to the normalized orthography within the same view. The reader can therefore choose between modern and medieval punctuation, between the spelling containing original abbreviations, or expanded text, etc.
  3. Text-focused view (see image 4): This view has the layout of a modern edition, the orthography is largely normalized. An option is provided to highlight different types of content, such as quotations, places, personal names, peoples, etc.

Technically the concept of the edition is implemented as follows. The topographical view is produced as images. The transcription of the original text for the document- and text-focused views is made according to the TEI/XML standards. The web presentation is created on the basis of XSLT. The transformation of separate blocks of tags is modeled for each view individually. The final presentation is styled with Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). It is planned to publish the edition online by mid-2016.



Image 1: The process of the graphical reconstruction of the palimpsest


Image 2: A screenshot of the topographical view


Image 3: A screenshot of the document-focused view


Image 4: A screenshot of the text-focused view


  • Boissevain, Ursul Philipp. 1906. Excerpta historica iussu Constantini Porphyrogeniti confecta. Vol. 4: Excerpta de sententiis. Berlin.
  • Büttner-Wobst, Theodor. 1906a. Excerpta historica iussu Constantini Porphyrogeniti confecta. Vol. 2, part 1: Excerpta de virtutibus et vitiis. Berlin.
  • De Boor, Carl Gotthard. 1903. Excerpta historica iussu Constantini Porphyrogeniti confecta. 2 vols.: Excerpta de legationibus. Berlin.
  • –––. 1905. Excerpta historica iussu Constantini Porphyrogeniti confecta. Vol. 3: Excerpta de insidiis. Berlin.
  • Muñoz, Trevor and Raffaele Viglianti. 2015. Texts and Documents: New Challenges for TEI Interchange and Lessons from the Shelley-Godwin Archive. Journal of the Text Encoding Initiative [Online], Issue 8 - PREVIEW | 2014-2015. URL:
  • Pierazzo, Elena and Peter A. Stokes. 2011. Putting the Text back into Context: A Codicological Approach to Manuscript Transcription. In: Kodikologie und Paläographie im digitalen Zeitalter 2 - Codicology and Palaeography in the Digital Age 2. Schriften des Instituts für Dokumentologie und Editorik, 3. Books on Demand (BoD), Norderstedt, 2011, 397-429.
  • Rehbein, Malte and Hans Walter Gabler. 2013. On Reading Environments for Genetic Editions. Scholarly and Research Communication 4 (3). URL:
  • Roos, Antoon G. 1910. Excerpta historica iussu Constantini Porphyrogeniti confecta. Vol. 2, part 2: Excerpta de virtutibus et vitiis. Berlin.