Filters – history, codicology, palaeography

I think it’s clear that more is written on this flower (see header) than three letters reading ‘r.o.t’. Don’t you?


I’ve seen nothing published about these other inscriptions and if you know of any efforts made to interpret them, I’d be glad to hear.


By default, micrography so fine is presumed Jewish and, often, Karaite.


Here’s an example


(detail) Brit.Lib. MS Add 21160


Given the dating of the Voynich manuscript’s parchment, and by reference to the history of Europe between the eleventh century and the sixteenth, we can limit further the imagery’s probable origin because the kings of Europe were driving out their Jewish subjects from one region and then another.


  • In 1012 AD, Henry II ordered his Jewish subjects to leave Mainz.
  • In 1159 (and in 1348), Germany expelled more Jewish communities;
  • Expulsion from Gascony in 1287 was the way the king avoided honouring his debts; Jews were driven from the rest of England in 1294.
  • The Jews were ordered to leave France in 1306, and the Crimea in 1350.
  • Hungary followed the trend in 1349-50.
  • So by 1415,  the regions of Europe where Jews could still have relative safety had reduced to just five: peninsula Italy and the Adriatic; Poland; Holland; Austria and Moravia-Bohemia.
  • They were driven from Austria in 1421.


We can probably exclude even Austria as place for the manuscript’s manufacture since by 1415-21, it was using parchment perfectly equalised as the Voynich vellum is not (something obscured by the strong ‘bleaching’ effect of the present Beinecke scans).

Membranes of the same quality – as far as we can judge from manuscripts still in Tepla – were also being used in Bohemia by 1415.


So to argue the inscriptions on fol.9v  made in 1415 by a German Jew in Germany is denied by the historical context unless you want to be very specific*.


                       *specific…:  in some few cities, a very small Jewish community was to be found as  late as the  1440s.  See previous post’s end-note ‘Coburg’.


For Moravia and Bohemia the situation is more complex, and the passage from Baresch’s letter to Kircher (1635) makes it worth going into detail:


A great change occurred in the fifteenth century, due partly to the general hostility then manifested toward the Jews in the cities, and partly to local conditions, as the country was the prey of warring factions owing to the Hussite movement, and the Jews were accused of favoring the rebels. The first expulsion occurred in Iglau in 1426; and it was probably due to the influence of the Franciscan friar John of Capistrano on the young king Ladislaus Posthumus (1440-57) that the Jews were later expelled from Brünn, Znaim, Olmütz, and Neustadt (“Luaḥ,” ed. by Epstein, Brünn [1887, or 5648]; Willibald Müller, pp. 12-17). The king gave them only four months’ time to find another home.


In his letter,  using the terms of hypothesis, Baresch speaks of..


… herbae peregrinae, in Volumine depictae, notitiam hominum in partibus Germaniae subterfugientes..


But in any case, doubt must arise as to whether any letters inscribed on folio 9v were intended to spell out a German word, let alone  ”r.o.t’.


One might speculate that, in anticipation of an explusion, some Jewish trader, chemist or physician arranged a copy to be made of  his book for the benefit of friends or apprentices. It is also possible he might then take refuge in Bohemia, where Jews were persecuted by the populace but never ordered to leave.


On the whole, though, given the finish for this parchment, we probably do better to turn (as the makers of the North French Miscellany did) towards the Italian peninsula and Adriatic.  Together with  Sicily, Spain and Portugal they offered the surest refuge in Europe – until 1492.


  • Information about Moravia and Bohemia from the Jewish Encyclopaedia: ‘Moravia’.


Note (January 4th., 2018) – since this was written, the earlier ideas about the less tiny letters’ spelling ‘r.o.t’ have been modified, corrected, or at least issued in a more nuanced edition.


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