Rene Zandbergen today very kindly passed me a link to a curious-looking document in the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana that goes by the name of MSS P.I.O.6.

PIO6’s Greek writing is apparently interleaved with lines of a text neither I nor Rene recognize (though his suggestion that it might be some kind of Renaissance Morse code is exactly as light-hearted as it sounds), though it does resemble the stroke-like nature of Greek tachygraphy.

But… you then notice that after the sensible-looking first paragraph, the lines of (apparently) Greek letters look malformed and odd. And then you start wondering what kind of thing we are looking at that runs for 500-odd pages of this stuff.

Is there any literature on this weird and wonderful object at all? Is there even a BAV catalogue entry on it? As Klaus likes to do with enciphered postcards, I throw this one open to you all. What do you make of it?

28 thoughts on “The rather strange-looking BAV MSS P.I.O.6…

  1. VViews said it’s Byzantine chant notation:

    Several researchers have at some point considered that the VM might encode music of some sorts, so this document might be worthy of further investigation.

  2. SirHubert on October 19, 2017 at 10:30 pm said:

    It’s music. Byzantine chant.

  3. Mark Knowles on October 19, 2017 at 11:45 pm said:

    Nick: Not that I know anything about this document at all, but it looks to me on the bare face of it like some kind of musical notation. This could be for a sung text telling the reader the time to spend on a given note; though probably not the note itself and so some monotone form of singing like psalms.

    Anyway this is the most wild of wild guesses.

  4. Charlotte Auer on October 19, 2017 at 11:53 pm said:

    As far as I can see the BAV MSS P.I.O.6 is a ‘graduale’ and contains gregorian chorals in different notations, i.e. greek and ‘neuma’ in lines. These neuma in their many variations are really strange looking and only experts in ancient church music can translate them.

    Altough I’m not so very familiar with medieval chorals I would always recognize a graduale if I have one before me. I’m sure this is one and, more specific, from the 13th century.

    Unfortunately the bibliographical information at BAV is often very poor or not existent at all. In this case a specialist in medieval music could help you further.

  5. A quick look suggests that it is Greek religious chant and that the strange symbols are musical indicators like neums or cantillation marks. Where coherent Greek can be made out there is a lot of tw thew agiw and allelui a a a a. Also f 34r stixoi phwnikoi, f 72v psallon en tw orthrw, f 257v cherubim.

  6. J.K. Petersen on October 20, 2017 at 2:06 am said:

    Musical notation, but not in the western sense.

    I’ve looked at a lot of ancient and medieval missals (and staffless notation systems inserted into other kinds of manuscripts) and there were many different system, some in which relative pitch was described (tones were illustrated in relation to what came before) rather than using a staff to set out a specific “geography” for the notes… which is actually very interesting in relation to the Voynich manuscript when you consider that Torsten Timm, for example, has suggested an “autocopying” concept for the VMS text in which what follows is related to what precedes it.

  7. Hello Nick,
    As I mentioned to ReneZ on the forum, this is Byzantine musical notation.
    For just one other example of this, see MS 1897 on the Schoyen Collection site.

  8. Perhaps the person who drew it to Rene’s attention knows more?

  9. In any case, Google turns up plenty to nourish the interest of an active researcher. Search ‘Byzantine+musical+notation’ 🙂

  10. Mark Knowles on October 20, 2017 at 10:59 am said:

    Mark: Good guess!

  11. john sanders on October 20, 2017 at 1:18 pm said:

    White rose of Athens, Nana Mouskouri, from Zorba the Greek 1961; No doubt about it.

  12. bdid1dr on October 20, 2017 at 2:22 pm said:

    @ Nick: To me, it appears to be upside-down and backwards, regardless of the language. It kinda makes sense, if it once was being read aloud from a podium.

  13. Charlotte Auer on October 20, 2017 at 4:02 pm said:


    just a quick reply to your “Perhaps the person who drew it to Rene’s attention knows more?”

    Why do you assume in your usual sneaky way that another person drew it to Rene’s attention? Just to demean him and to suggest that he could never find an interesting Ms by himself? This is so poor…

    Btw: why don’t you know not more by yourself? Ah yes, it’s not about imagery, but in the frame of a general sound knowledge of medieval Mss.

  14. Josef Zlatoděj Prof. on October 20, 2017 at 7:38 pm said:

    Nick. Of course, it’s written in a code.
    This is written in the text. ( MSS P.I.O.6 ).
    This is a very simple code.

  15. Thomas on October 20, 2017 at 8:00 pm said:

    According to the BL catalogue entry the author of Harley Ms 5544 is Manuel Chrysaphes Lampadarios. In the 3rd line of the first image of MS PIO6 it also reads “Lampadarios”. Can anyone read the whole Greek text?

  16. Josef Zlatoděj Prof. on November 6, 2017 at 9:24 pm said:

    Zandbergen. You are interested in what is written in the text ?
    Are you interested in the key ? ( MSS P.I.O.6).

  17. I had looked at this Byzantine notation as a potential idea for the VM. I wasn’t really able to find a connection though. The interesting thing about the notation is that it encodes pitch in a relative way. So there is no “C” note for example, but rather, the neumes encode the relative step from the prior note.

    This link had me excited for a while:

    .. it comes from this page here:

    … if you start looking into this musical notation you quickly realize it’s a huge, confusing field that is extremely complex. But what a treat if the VM was a book of chants!

    Alas, I don’t think so. I wrote some software ready to test ideas out, but I Just couldn’t find a cohesive idea to even test, where VM words might connect to Byzantine notation. If anyone does, let me know and I can try things out for you.

    Best, Simon.

  18. I took a quick look. Important seems only the text which was pushed in red. And that reminds me of the Ethiopian Bible. The scripts seem to be the same.

    only in german

  19. Josef Zlatoděj Prof. on November 15, 2017 at 7:31 pm said:

    Peter, has a fantastic fantasy. 🙂

    The text first part of the manuscript is written.
    Red text : the text is written in Czech and letters are numbers.
    On the other hand, it is written : picture, there is an aple drawn on it, a wasp sitting on it. Next to it is a flower and a leaf.

    Key – PIO6. ( P = 6). ( P = U,V,W,X). ( 8 = 6). ( 6 = 8 ).

  20. Apart from the fact that each cryptogram has the same key for you, and anyway everything is Czech and was written by Jews, I am not even surprised.
    You would not even recognize a cryptogram. 🙂 Because this book has none.
    But bets have already been made that you drive up with the same nonsense. And I’m not surprised that you can not take you seriously anymore.

  21. Tags:
    Origin: 1650+
    Anastasima, 8 notes singing, origin ca. 8-9 century.
    Ortodox, Byzant.
    Important, cross page 144.

    No cryptogram

  22. By the way.
    The Ethiopian kingdom was one of the first countries where the Christian faith around the year 400 made the state religion.

  23. Josef Zlatoděj Prof. on November 16, 2017 at 12:35 pm said:

    Ethiopan ? :-). 🙂 Cha cha cha.
    Peter. You will never find out what the manuscript is. You do not know anything, And that’s very bad. And besides you do not even care about me.

  24. Yes, yes … learn and marvel.
    Maybe I do not know anything, but it’s still more than you. 🙂

  25. Josef Zlatoděj Prof. on November 16, 2017 at 5:13 pm said:



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Post navigation