The Codex Oxoniensis Barocc. gr. 87
The Codex Oxoniensis Barocc. gr. 87

By Elias Petrou | University of California, Irvine


The codex Oxoniensis Barocc. gr. 87 contains various philosophical treatises, and it was used as a Byzantine teaching textbook in 15th century Constantinople. It comprises 353 paper leaves, bound in quaternia (sets of four paper leaves), and copied by various hands. The main work of the codex is Aristotle's Organon (f. 35r until the end), accompanied by multiple introductory logical treatises such as Michael Psellus' paraphrasis in Aristotle's Categories (f. 3v), Porphyrius' Isagoge with scholia (f. 18r), and Ammonius' Vita of Aristotle (f. 30r). The content, the scholia, and the various schemata on the margins indicate its use as a teaching textbook - e.g., the schema/diagram of f. 122r visualizes part of Aristotle's work Analytica Priora (§ 44a), making it more understandable by the students. Terminus ante quem should be the mid. 15th century. The manuscript's importance lies in the elaborate, colorful image of f. 33v, depicting the scholar Ioannes Argyropoulos teaching at the Xenon of the Kral. The famous scholar is sitting on a luxurious armchair throne, wearing a red gown with gold details on his shoulders and sleeves along with a tall silver headpiece, indicating his position as a teacher. His right hand is holding a short staff surmounted with red ornaments, while his left hand is pointing to an open codex on a solid bookstand that contains writing tools in a niche at its base. Thanks to the high-quality digital reproduction analysis, I identified the copied text in the open book, which was written in three lines. It is the first verse of Aristotle's Categories (§ 1a, lin. 1): "Ὁμώνυμα | λέγεται ὧν | ὄνομα μόνον / Things are said to be named 'equivocally' when." Three Greek inscriptions identify the illustration's location along with the teacher and his students (I. upper margin; II. behind the sitting figure; III. right margin; for the transcriptions, see below). Although the name "Aristotle" was added above the sitting figure's head, it was crossed out by two lines and replaced by the inscription II, renaming the teacher as Argyropoulos. It is unknown whether the two buildings in the background, a tall tower and a lower construction with a peaked roof, depict the Xenon.


The codex Oxoniensis Barocc. gr. 87 is one of the most important pieces of evidence of the intellectual relationship and exchange between Byzantium and Serbia from the 14th century onward. Its connections to the Xenon of the Kral in Constantinople, and the teaching institute there, indicate the strong cultural bond between the two states for almost two centuries.

The Xenon was founded by the Serbian Kral Uros II Milutin (r. 1281–1321), probably after his marriage with Emperor Andronicos II's (r. 1282–1328) six-year-old daughter, the Byzantine princess, Simonis, in Thessalonica in 1299. The complex was located in the north-west part of the city, close to the Aetios' cistern and next to the monastery of St. John Prodromos "en Petra". In addition to its primary function as Xenon (Inn), a hospital was established on its premises, and a scriptorium and binding workshop of manuscripts can be related to the institution. Various scholars and scribes appear to have been active there. The copyists Theodoros Prodromenos, George Chrysokokkes, George Vaiophoros, and Stephanos of Media prepared manuscripts with secular and ecclesiastical content at the scriptorium, while the famous scholar John Chortasmenos restored (rebound) the cod. Vind. Med. gr. 1 at the expense of a monk at the Xenon, namely Nathanael, in 1406.

The existence of a school at the Xenon can be verified only during the last decade of the Byzantine Empire. The letter (Prosfonima) of the scholar Michael Apostoles to Ioannes Argyropoulos, dated after 1444, mentioned Ioannes' imperial appointment as a teacher at the Xenon of the Kral, along with parts of his teaching curriculum. The manuscript of the present case study should be considered as contemporary to Apostoles' letter due to its content, epigrams, and depiction on f. 33v. According to its content (brief introduction to Aristotle's Organon - f. 1r, Part of Aristotle's physical problems - f. 2r, Michael Psellus' paraphrasis in Aristotle's Categories - f. 3v, Porphyrius' Isagoge with scholia - f. 18r), Ammonius' Vita of Aristotle - f. 30r, De iis in omni arte et scientia quaerendis - f. 31r, and Aristotle's Organon - f. 35r), it served as a teaching textbook at the specific school on the subject of philosophy. The epigram on the upper margin of Argyropoulos' depiction identifies some of the students there: "Argyropoulos (is) teaching the physician Antonios Pyropoullos and Marcos Pyropoullos, along with the physician John Panaretos, and Demetrios Angelos, and Aggalona, the son of Moschos, the physician Vranas of the first master at the Xenon of the Kral." The same names were included in a similar epigram, copied on the upper margin of the f. 178v of the cod. Marc. Class. V. 9 strengthening the hypothesis of the existence of a school at the Xenon: "Diagram of John Argyropoulos, the philosopher and teacher, when we were studying next to him at the Xenon of the Kral the science of Galenos, me and sir Antonios Pyropoullos and sir John Panaretos and sir Manuel Pyropoullos, the son of Jacob, and Vranas, the son of the first master, and sir Maroules and sir Manuel and Andronicos Dioscurides, who is called eparchos." After Constantinople's fall, many of these scholars, including Argyropoulos, moved to the West and the Balkans as distinguished academics, scholars, and physicians.

With all the above characteristics in mind, the Barrocianus can be considered a unique case study, not only from historical and cultural standpoints but also from a paleographical perspective. During the Palaeologan era, Byzantine textbooks on various subjects can be identified through their subjects and the various scholia and interlinear glossae. Few cases mention the names of the students and/or the teachers, either through notes or epigrams on various folia. Even fewer cases mention the places in which the teaching and learning were taking place. This case study's manuscript is probably one of the few examples that identifies all three of the above (the teacher, the students, and their school), transforming it into a vital source for understanding scholarship in the Byzantine capital of the 15th century.

Further Reading

Cataldi Palau, Annaclara. "Learning Greek in Fifteenth-century Constantinople." In Studies in Greek Manuscripts (Testi, Studi, Strumenti 1), 219–234. Spoleto: Centro Italiano di studi sull'Alto Medioevo, 2008.

The article focuses on the intellectual activities of scholars at the Xenon of the Kral and the monastery of St. John Prodromos "en Petra".

Coxe, Henry Octavius. Bodleian Library Quarto Catalogues 1: Greek Manuscripts. Oxford: Bodleian Library, 1969.

The work/catalog provides a complete description of the manuscript.

Mondrain, Brigitte. "Jean Argyropoulos professeur à Constantinople et ses auditeurs médecins, d'Andronic Éparque à Démétrios Angelos." In Πολύπλευρος Νους: Miscellanea für Peter Schreiner zu seinem 60. Geburtstag, edited by Cordula Scholtz and Georgios Makris, 223–250. Munich: K.G. Saur, 2000. 

The article focuses on the teaching curriculum of Ioannes Argyropoulos and on two of his students, Andronicos Eparchos and Demetrios Angelos. All three of them are mentioned in the epigrams of f. 33v of the codex.

Petrou, Elias. "Intellectual Relationships between the Byzantine and Serbian Elite in the Palaiologan Era." In Byzantium in Eastern European Visual Culture in the Late Middle Ages, edited by Maria Alessia Rossi and Alice Isabella Sullivan (ser. East Central and Eastern Europe in the Middle Ages, 450-1450, vol. 65), 71–90. Leiden: Brill, 2020.

The article identifies the manuscript as part of Byzantium and Serbia's intellectual relationships in Constantinople of the 15th century.

Spatharakis, Joannis. The Portrait in Byzantine Illuminated Manuscripts. Leiden: Brill, 1976.

On pages 258–259, the author deals with Argyropoulos' depiction as a teacher at the Xenon of the Kral.


Elias Petrou, "The Codex Oxoniensis Barocc. gr. 87," Mapping Eastern Europe, eds. M. A. Rossi and A. I. Sullivan, accessed June 3, 2023,