Purple parchment

Purple parchment, purple vellum or codex purpureus refers to manuscripts written on parchment dyed purple. The lettering may be in gold or silver. Later the practice was revived for some especially grand illuminated manuscripts produced for the emperors in Carolingian art and Ottonian art, in Anglo-Saxon England and elsewhere. Some just use purple parchment for sections of the work; the 8th-century Anglo-Saxon Stockholm Codex Aureus alternates dyed and un-dyed pages.

Page from the Rossano Gospels
A page of the 6th-century Codex Argenteus, in silver and gold ink on purple

It was at one point supposedly restricted for the use of Roman or Byzantine emperors, although in a letter of Saint Jerome of 384, he "writes scornfully of the wealthy Christian women whose books are written in gold on purple vellum, and clothed with gems".[1]


The Purple Uncials or the Purple Codices is a well-known group of these manuscripts, all 6th-century New Testament Greek manuscripts:

Two other purple New Testament Greek manuscripts are minuscules:

There is a 9th-century lectionary:

Another six New Testament purple manuscripts are in Latin (a, b, e, f, i, j)[clarification needed]. Besides some scattered fragments, they are held mainly in: Brescia, Naples, Sarezzano, Trent and Vienna. Three of these use Vetus Latina texts:

There is also one Gothic purple codex – the Codex Argenteus (illuminated).

There is a purple manuscript of part of the Septuagint:

Other illuminated manuscripts include the Godescalc Evangelistary of 781–3, the Vienna Coronation Gospels (early 9th century) and a few pages of the 9th-century La Cava Bible from the Kingdom of Asturias. Anglo-Saxon examples include a lost 7th-century Gospels commissioned by Saint Wilfrid.

See also

Media related to Purple parchments at Wikimedia Commons


  1. Needham, 21


  • Needham, Paul (1979). Twelve Centuries of Bookbindings 400–1600. Pierpont Morgan Library/Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-192-11580-5.