Folio 93 verso of British Library MS Cotton Vespasian A 1, known as 'The Vespasian Psalter'.

A Psalter is a book of the Psalms, used in the services of the Church. The Vespasian Psalter was written in Canterbury in the second quarter of the 8th century, in the elegant artistic form of Roman Uncials often known as Artificial Uncial, typical of the English development of this script.

Vespasian Psalter

The elaborate initials at the top are decorated with a interlace and a bird figure. They form the first word of the Psalm, and act in practice as a kind of title.

There is, however, another title in red at the top. This is called a rubric, from Latin ruber, meaning 'red'. In which script is it written?

The small spiky interlinear writing is a gloss, written into the manuscript in the first half of the 9th century. It is in Mercian Old English, one of the few evidences we have for what that dialect might have sounded like. You will learn to read this script in a couple of weeks.


  1. Transcribe the text, using ‘capital’ letters;
    Look at a close-up version of the text, in sections.
  1. How many abbreviations can you see, how are they indicated, and what do they stand for?
    If you do not know, make a note of them nonetheless.
  1. Copy out a line, using pen and ink.
    What do you notice about the mechanics of writing?
  1. How does this script differ from Roman Uncial?
    Look at
  • .......... Individual letter forms.
    Explain the nature of the differences: is it essentially the same as Roman Uncial?
  1. Describe the layout.
    ..........How does it suit its function as a service book?
    ..........What information does the page give you besides the words of the Psalm?
    ..........Which Psalm is it? How do you know?
  1. Identify the scripts used for rubrics and capital letters.
    What is the function of the capital letters in the left margin?
  1. Is there any punctuation?
  1. Are there any gaps between the words yet?

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