Capituli: Some notes on summaries, chapter divisions and chapter titles in ancient and medieval manuscripts

[Note: I am not a scholar, but an interested layman.  However no proper scholarly treatment of this subject appears to exist.  I have collected these notes from secondary sources as a guide to myself and others.  Contributions of information are most welcome.]   

[This page is a WORK IN PROGRESS -- areas of ignorance in square brackets, and the whole still remains to be digested into a thought-out whole]

[To do: obtain Birt and Friderici etc., to find out about Greek papyri.  Are there numbers in the summary in the Gellius fragment?  Are there numbers in the Greek papyri?  What about the titles of De anima -- ask P. if original.  Or De Spectaculis?  What about divisions in the body of text in the papyri?]

"The whole question of the development of chapter division and of chapter headings in antiquity still awaits investigation." -- R. W. HUNT.0 


Medieval manuscript books contain texts by ancient authors.  These texts are often divided into books, as they were in antiquity.  Examination of Latin Mss reveals, however, that they also contain divisions which are usually called 'chapters'.  Often these are numbered in the text.  Sometimes a few words, often in red, follow the number.  

These are often reprinted in the early editions; for instance Tertullian's De Spectaculis is divided into chapters, but has titles in the only manuscript (Paris lat. 16122, s.IX) for only chapters 6-12.  The 1545 edition, however, based on a different Ms., also has titles for chapters 1-5.  Chapters 13 on have none.

In Greek texts, such as Eusebius Historia Ecclesiastica, Praeparatio Evangelica,  the manuscripts have tables of headings with numbers, and the text is split up in accordance with those numbers.  Sometimes the headings are also present in the text; sometimes not.

A number of questions arise naturally.  Where do these headings come from?  When was the text divided into chapters?  What is the nature of the lists of headings at the front?

To these questions, there seems no definitive answer.  Most scholarly articles, if they mention these divisions and headings at all, dismiss them in passing as medieval additions.  This is simple; but the reader is left to wonder how we know this, and answers are not forthcoming.

On the other hand, in editions of works such as those of Eusebius, there is discussion of whether the chapter headings are authorial or not.  However the question of the divisions, the summaries, is not handled.

This page cannot deal with a subject that the professionals have not addressed.  However the questions are sometimes asked even by laymen, and it is hoped to supply some data with which to think about the subject.

The intention is to locate examples of these meta-textual elements for which we can obtain some solid information.  Likewise examples of physical books from antiquity that survive will also be a guide as to the evolution of the book in this area.

At the moment, this page is mostly a collection of relevant bits of data.  Unfortunately even those who mention chapters are vague about whether titles stand at the front of the book, at the top of the chapter, whether numbered or not, etc.  The data below is thus vague at points also.

The story so far

The limited evidence available to me gives the following picture.

The pieces of text are referred to as chapter headings in English, capitula in Latin or sommaires in French.  However usually capitulum could refer to a section of text (a chapter) as well as to the heading or summary composed for that section of text.

The smallest element of division in an ancient text, as far as an author was concerned, was the book.e  The two 5th century manuscripts of the works of Augustine, are contemporary with the author, and in one case probably written in Hippo in his own scriptorium.  The only division either had, as originally written, was an initial capital letter on the first word at the top of a page or column. (The Verona Ms. had divisions and titles added in the 9th century)  There were no word divisions, and no chapter divisions.  Word division did not become common until the 7th century, and not general until much later.f  

(In Greek texts, paragraph divisions are present in the papyri, indicated by a horizontal stroke or right chevron, and then by a slightly larger initial.  This last is found in the 5th century codex Alexandrinus, and continued throughout the middle ages.  Latin texts seem never to have adopted systematic paragraphing either in papyri or medieval Mss, although some on the Greek system is visible in ancient Latin Mss.) f  

In some cases, authors prefixed summaries to a work, or to each book of a work.  These were not numbered, and the text in them was not inserted at places in the undivided text by the authors.

However, as antiquity came to an end, changes took place.  At some point, these summaries began to be divided into lists of numbered headings, and the text itself divided and assigned a number.   

The practise may well be Greek in origin: Jerome may have encountered it while studying Greek works.  [I have little information about Greek texts.]

Jerome (d. 420) is said to use the term capitulum to refer to numbered chapter headings [no citation supplied], and he uses the phrase index capitulorum to refer to a list of them, which served as a table of contents.  (The phrase capitulatio would replace this later).  In the preface to his commentary on Isaiah, he refers to a composition so concise, 'ut non tam commentarios quam indices capitulorum nos legere credamus,' i.e. 'so that we think we are reading tables of contents rather than a commentary.'

Augustine did not divide his major works into chapters.  The Confessiones is not so divided in any extant early mediaeval Ms., and his other works were divided by others for their own purposes.  Augustine uses capitulum  to mean a section of a biblical text.  Only once does he refer to a numbered chapter of one of his own works, in Contra Adimantum 23 (CSEL 25.182, 8-10): '...sed nos iam et de viro et de uxore et de spadonibus, quantum satis fuit, in tertio capitulo disseruimus,' 'we have already said more than enough about man and wife and [spadones] in the third chapter.'

In the early 6th century, Eugippius was dividing his own works into chapters, composing headers for those chapters, creating a numbered list at the front and placing them also in the body of the text.   These headings and divisions reflected the intent of the author and the natural divisions of the work.

But Eugippius also composed a set of extracts of Augustine's works, in order to give the Saint's thoughts on various topics, and in order to facilitate this he added divisions and headings to manuscripts of those works.  This apparatus, essentially, is a set of markers of material of interest to Eugippius, rather than a set of logical divisions of the whole work.  A numbered list of contents appears at the front -- the indiculus or index capitulorum-- with the numbers appearing in the text.  [I am unclear about when chapter titles appear only at the front and when in the body of the text, but the first examples follow the pattern given].  However other copyists remained conservative.

Cassiodorus (c. 485-c.580) refers to capitula, and also tells us that he composed some for the books of Solomon, because there were none (Institutiones I.5.7).  Isidore of Seville composed a set of capitula for all his works, and by the time of Bede, such things were normal.

Likewise in the Greek East, the text of Eunomius the arch-heretic acquired divisions and headings, which allowed the reader to find the passages referred to by St. Basil in his refutation.  Eunomius' text is only transmitted in company with the refutation.  The only people who wanted the work, wanted it so that they could cross-refer with Basil.  The apparatus, thus, does not give us logical divisions of Eunomius, but rather a markup of parallel passages discussed by St. Basil.

These facts suggest that some time in the 5th century, after the death of Augustine, a practise began of dividing books into chapters.  [It would be interesting indeed to know which is the earliest extant Ms. in which they are found, and which is the first work to contain authorial titles.]  It may be imagined that such divisions were found useful.  We have seen two cases in which divisions were applied to already existing texts.  Likewise it may be imagined that texts which already had summaries at the front could readily be supplied with divisions, and titles for them, by simply dividing the summaries.

In the middle ages, tables of indices were composed by people such as Robert Kilwardby, and these divisions and titles are likewise found in the manuscripts.


I have little information on these.  Most of them do not have word division.  That texts from this period were divided into books by their authors is well established, as seen in the studies by F.G.KENYON and others, where authors themselves refer explicitly to these divisions.

Paragraph divisions can be seen in some of the papyri.

Sample Texts


One would expect the bible to have a considerable influence over the format of other books in late antiquity.   Indexing material was being created in the early 4th century, in the shape of the Eusebian sections, which allowed passages in the gospels to be cross-referred.  [I do not know what these look like, nor whether they were divisions in the Mss.]

Considerable numbers of physical papyrus books have survived.  These include the Chester Beatty and Bodmer papyri.  Likewise the great parchment codices such as codex Sinaiticus and codex Alexandrinus are extant.  [What divisions do these have?]

The modern divisions are not ancient.  The current chapters were devised by Archbishop Stephen Langton  of Canterbury in the 12th century, while the paragraphs (verses) appear for the first time in the 16th century edition of Robert Etienne (Stephanus).    [Check that this paragraph of 'common knowledge' is right and give a proper citation for both statements].

Coptic codices

[I have no information about divisions of the text in the Nag Hammadi, Toura, or Medinet Madu finds].

Pliny the elder

Summaries of content of book comprise book 1.  These must be authorial, since he refers to them in the praefatio.  However this furnishes no evidence of division of text by author, or of assignment of excerpts as chapter titles.  [What is in the mediaeval Mss?]

Origen, De Principiis s

The Latin Mss. contain chapter titles, which grow more numerous as time goes by, and are not a consistent set.  Furthermore they do not really reflect the contents of the work, which actually falls into 15 discourses of set form, each ending with some phrase such as 'That is enough about that subject'.  Photius gives a set of 15 titles, which do more or less reflect the contents, and the fragments of the Greek preserved in the Philocalia share one of these.  However again the titles are not as precise as they would be if Origen had written them, nor do they reflect his stylistic peculiarities.  It is therefore inferred that they are the work of a later editor.

A parallel has been drawn between this work and Clement of Alexandria, Stromateis, and Plotinus, Enneads.  Both again comprise discourses, not chapters, without an overall plan to the work.  Porphyry tells us that Plotinus gave no title at all to his works, so everyone titled them as they pleased (Life of Plotinus, 4).  

Augustine, De Doctrina Christiana

The oldest manuscript of St. Augustine, De Doctrina Christiana, is St. Petersburg Publichnaya Biblioteka Q.v.I.3 (CLA 11.1613).  E.A.LOWE in CLA mentioned with approval the suggestion of William M. Green, 'A Fourth Century Manuscript of Saint Augustine?', in Revue BÃ?nÃ?dictine 69 (1959), p. 191-196: "Written probably in Africa, to judge by the script of one of the two hands, although the other is manifestly trained in the Italian manner.  African origin is supported by W.M.Green's brilliant hypothesis that the volume was produced at Hippo in the author's early episcopacy." Photographs of several folios and more discussion of the date are given in Almut MUTZENBECHER, 'Codex Leningrad Q.v.I.3 (Corbie): Ein Beitrag zu seiner Beschreibung', in Sacris Erudiri 18 (1967-8), p. 406-450. The codex contains four works copied in the order in which Augustine mentions them in the Retractiones.  These are: De diversis quaestionibus ad Simplicianum (f. 1 bis-49); Contra epistulam fundamenti (f.49-86); De agone Christiano (f. 86-106); De doctrina Christiana books 1-2 (f. 106-152).a The two distinct hands run from f.1v-137, and f.137-153.b  

The second oldest Ms. is V: (Verona, Biblioteca Capitolare XXVIII (26), 244ff, uncial, s.V1, North Africa, CLA 4.491). Chapter divisions and titles were added in the 9th century.b

These Mss. present the texts in the original format with which St. Augustine himself must have been familiar; the texts are not divided into paragraphs or numbered chapters and there is no list of chapter headings or an index of contents preceding the text.  In the very earliest Mss., such as these, the liber remains an organic, indivisible entity.  Sentences are not separated by punctuation, apart from an occasional medial point and blank space to mark a pause.  The first letter on the page or at the top of a column could be capitalised, even in the middle of a word.

Augustine, Enchiridion

The four oldest manuscripts of St. Augustine, Enchiridion, are B: Bamberg B.IV.21 (s. VI, South Italy; CLA 8.1031), A: Autun 20 (s. VIII, North-East France; CLA 6.719), P: Paris lat. 2034 (s.VIII-IX, Northeast France; CLA 5.540) and M: Munich Clm 14487 (s. VIII-IX, Corbie).  Each has a different set of chapter divisions.  Each is divided into sections corresponding to the headings.  In number these are 54 (B), 117 (A), 71 (P), and 125 (M).a

Augustine, De Genesi Ad Litteramc

Chapter headings exist for St. Augustine, De Genesi ad litteram.   Cardinal Mai, who discovered the missing headings for book 1 in Ms. E (Rome, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, Sessorianus 13 (2094), f. 216ff, s. VI, Italy), considered that they were not by Augustine, but by a contemporary.  Solignac attributed them recently  instead to a contemporary of the scribe of E .He noted their obscure and curious style, the careless and hasty manner of their composition (just like that of the scribe of E) and that they involve a few misunderstandings of Augustine's text (e.g. book 12, ch. 23).  In his view the divisions and headings reflect not a division of the work, a logical plan carried out in the text, but rather a set of notabilia varia, a series of topics, 'propositions' or 'questions' as we also see in the headings of the De Civitate Dei.  The chapter headings seem to be the notes of a scholar who while studying the work wanted to know Augustine's opinions about Genesis.  He attempted to identify the sources of various statements, added personal comments, and another heading shows concern for punctuating Augustine correctly.  The capitula might better be labelled indicula as indeed is the incipit for the capitula of book 9 in Ms. Z (Paris, BNF lat. 2112, ff.15-165, s.VIII-IX, from Saint-Amand).

The chapter divisions correspond to the headings.  They were not the work of Augustine, and do not antedate the composition of the headings.  The chapters do not divide the work in a logical way, or into relatively equal chunks.  A few are brief, some are quite long, and many begin in the middle of a sentence. One chapter heading was written to call attention to a scriptural passage, and the resulting chapter division completely interrupts St. Augustine's argument.

The headings predate the composition of the Excerpta ex operibus S. Augustini by Eugippius in the early 6th century, since 3 of his 14 headings for excerpts from this work contain phrases from the chapter headings.  [The same argument applies to the headings of De Trinitate  and De civitate dei.]  Further, 10 of the 14 passages chosen correspond exactly to a chapter in EMZLNY.  In fact Eugippius himself seems to have written the headings for De Genesi while he was compiling his excerpta.  The clue is given by the heading for Book 7, ch. 2, which refers to 'argumentum ex nobis collectum quod aliud sit anima, aliud flatus noster'.  Eugippius had already chosen an extract from De anima et eius origine in which Augustine discusses the meanings of the words anima and flatus and spiritus before he read this passage in De genesi.

Eugippius divided his 3 works into chapters and placed a chapter title before each.  Similarities can be seen between those written for Excerpta and those for De Genesi.

In E, the capitula Eugippii precede each book (except the first), and each book is divided into numbered chapters.

Augustine, De Civitate Dei

Henri-IrÃ?nÃ?e Marrou pointed out in 1951 that the printed texts of this work contain chapter headings, or capitula, and a text divided into chapters which correspond to those headings.  The headings are sometimes placed together at the head of the work, as in the editio princeps, but more often immediately precede the chapters to which they refer.  The headings are found only in one of the three oldest mss, C:  (Paris lat. 12214 + Leningrad Q.I.4, s.VI, Italy).  The other two, V: (Verona xxviii (26), s. V1, North Africa) and L: (Lyon 607, s.VI, North Italy), originally had no numbered chapters.  Eugippius used the headings we have.  The text of the mss. with the headings contains characteristic errors which are also found in the text of the excerpts used in the Excerpta.  This tells us either than Eugippius wrote these headings, as an aid to the preparation of the Excerpta, since they are only found in Mss. of the same type as that used for the Excerpta, or that he used an MS of that family which already had them.

Originally V had no chapters or chapter divisions.  Capitula for books 11-14 (ff.1v-6) and chapter divisions (some of which are numbered) were added in the 9th century.b  

An newly discovered letter of Augustine discusses the publication process for the work, and mentions a breviculus to be attached to it.  This seems to be a summary of contents or epitome, which could circulate separately, and not the chapter titles.d

In the 6th century, if not earlier, a recension of the De civitate dei was created in Italy, when Paris lat. 12214 + Leningrad Q.v.I.4, containing books 1-10 was written.  This opens with a list of chapter headings, entitled 'CANON'; numbered chapter divisions corresponding to items in this list are found throughout.  However this was an innovation; another 6th century Italian copy, Lyons 607, is without any chapter divisions or headings, instead having marginal summaries.b  

Augustine, De Trinitate 0

There are some 234 Mss. of this work.  One of the oldest is Ms. Bodleian Laud Misc 126, which belongs to a small group of Mss. written in the 8th century in northern France.  In this Ms., the capitula are set out at the beginning of each book, and repeated at the head of each chapter.  There are 13 for book 1.  The edition of the Maurists has 13 chapters and headings, but not the same ones.  They also appear in Ms. Vatican lat. 5755 (s.XI, Bobbio), and were printed by Cardinal Mai.  They can be seen to be of ancient origin, since they are the same ones used by Eugippius in his Excerpta, who also quotes the chapter number from De Trinitate  based upon them.

In Ms. Siena, Biblioteca Comunale F.v.11 (s. XIII2), there is a set of chapter headings ascribed to Adam Marsh, who died in 1259.  These for book 1 appear at the start of the volume, on f.1, and with a count of 18 chapters.  The same set appear in Ms.Bodley 378 (S.C. 2748, s.XII1), Ms. Bodley Laud Misc. 1402 (s.XII1, York Minster), and Ms. Oxford Merton College 32 (s.XII2).  Clearly these headings are not by Marsh, since the first two Mss. were written before he was born.  HUNT lists 9 other Mss., s.XIII and later, which have this set of capitula.

The two sets differ for books 1-9 of the work; for books 10-15, both sets have the same text and divisions.

Many Mss. of the 13-14th centuries contain neither the ancient headings , nor the ancient divisions.  Instead, they use the much more detailed division into sections devised by Robert Kilwardby.  One Ms., Cambridge, Sidney Sussex 94 (s. XIII2, York Franciscans) has the ancient capitula at the start of each book, but a rather later hand has added the chapter divisions of the longer set, plus the Kilwardby sections.

The early printed editions retained the ancient set; Erasmus in 1528 discarded almost all the headings, but broadly retained the division.  The headings in the Maurist edition and the Patrologia Latina are their own composition.

Eusebius of Caesarea

The summaries in his Historia Ecclesiastica are generally considered authorial, as there is a note at the end of the summary for book 2 which seems to be by the author: "Our book was compiled from those of Clement, Tertullian, Josephus and Philo."

The current consensus is that the summaries for the Praeparatio Evangelica are likewise by the author. 

[I need to add more information on this, and also about the Vita Constantini.]

Eunomius, Apology

The manuscripts of this Greek heretical work contain headings and divisions.  However, these refer to the corresponding passages in St. Basil, Adversus Eunomium.  Since this is a later composition, they can hardly be authorial.  Instead they have been inserted to allow readers to cross-refer.  The divisions were of immediate utility, since the work was only ever copied as a preface to copies of Basil's work, and to illustrate it.

Classical Historians t

In the histories of Herodotus and Thucydides the divisions into books do not appear to be authorial.  

It has been suggested that the divisions are perhaps due to the editors of the Hellenistic era, particularly those of Alexandria, with its standardised rolls of papyrus.   The rolls of a set were linked by subscriptions at the end indicating the name of the author, title of the work, the roll number, and even inital words of the next roll with its number in sequence.  It is suggested that this convention affected how authors wrote in the Hellenistic era.

Leaving to one side Xenophon's Hellenica, a continuation of Thucydides, we learn from Diodorus Siculus (5, 1, 4 and 16, 76, 5) that Ephorus, the author of the first general history, was the first historian to compose his history divided into books, furnishing each with a preface (prooi/mion).  He composed 29, and a 30th completing the work was finished by his son.  This also indicates the first known tendency for historical works to be composed in multiples of 5 or 10 books.  10 rolls formed a neat triangular stack on the shelf (4+3+2+1), and there is an inventory from Delos which mentions a triangular box containing the 10 books of the poet Alcaeus t2.

Polybius divided his Histories into 40 books.  Polybius is the first Greek historian of Rome of whose work a substantial portion has reached us.  Books 1 and 2 form the introduction.  Book 1 begins by praising history, and then (I, 13, 2-5) contains a summary of the introduction which indicates the end of the introduction finishes at the end of the second book.  He repeats at the start of book 2 what he dealt with in book 1, and at the end of book 2 refers back to the summary.  At the start of book 3 he refers again to the summary in book 1, as he does again in book 11, the first of the next decade which might be shelved separately.  In short there is no doubt that Polybius made his own division into books for his own purposes.

In the 1st century BC, Diodorus Siculus and Dionysius of Halicarnassus both wrote histories while living at Rome.  Diodorus wrote in 40 books; Dionysius in 20.  Diodorus gave his work the name of 'Library', as Pliny the Elder tells  us (HN 25).  The arrangement of these two works is identical.  At the start of each book they refer to the preceding one, and indicate what the current one covers.  At the end of each book, in a brief note, they indicate that the book is complete and refer to the next.  Both offer a summary of content at the head of the book, made up of short phrases (1-2 lines, rarely three), often starting with peri\ or w(j.  Some have thought these lists the product of Byzantine editors of the 9th-10th century, however.

Pliny the Elder likewise gives a similar set of summaries in the Natural History book1 indicating the content of the other 36 books, with a list of authorities used for each. Each summary is reproduced in the manuscripts at the head of the relevant volume.  If this latter arrangement is authorial, it becomes much easier to locate material in this mass of reference data.  (Irigoin comments wryly that the modern editors of Pliny are 'fort discrets' on the question of whether the subdivisions in the summary are likewise numbered in the text -- a feeling I know well).

The comparison on the works of Josephus is likewise instructive.  In the Jewish War, composed in Aramaic and translated and edited professionally, the 7 books have no authorial links between them, of the kind found since Ephorus.  But the Antiquities, composed in Greek, has 20 books (the usual grouping in decades), the title is the same as that of Dionysius of Halicarnassus, and at the end of the whole work the author tells us he wrote in 20 books and 60,000 stichoi (the latter being either very rare or unique, for the author himself to give the stichometry).  In short in this work addressed 'to the Greeks', he respected the existing convention.  Likewise each book is preceded by a summary, present in the Greek text and in the Latin translation.  The summaries are even numbered in the Latin translation.

Appian wrote in 24 books, Herodian in 8, while Arrian used 7 for his Anabasis of Alexander, perhaps because Xenophon had done the same with his Anabasis.  Cassius Dio composed in 80 books.  Each is preceded with a summary in which the elements are numbered in the extant Mss.  The summary is followed by an indication of the number of years covered by the book, and the consuls for those years.  Interestingly a Ms. fragment exists from the second half of the 5th century, Vaticanus Graecus 1288.  This contains some folios of the end of book 79 and start of book 80, not otherwise come down to us.  Book 80 is preceded by a summary of numbered items, followed by the number of years and the consuls.  However, '...les numÃ?ros n'ont pas de correspondants dans le texte.'  The numbers have no corresponding presence in the text itself.  This shows that the summaries cannot be Byzantine productions of the 9-10th century.

The first church historians follow the same pattern.  Eusebius' HE (ca. 320) is in 10 books, each preceded by a summary which is numbered, and at the end of each summary the sources are listed.  The summary must be authorial as the text at the end of the summary of book 2: "This book has been composed by us (sunh~ktai h(min) using the works of Clement, Tertullian, Josephus , Philo."  Theodoret in the middle of the 5th century composes in 5 books (half of 10) and in the summaries, the work biblos is replaced by tomos, as in the titles of the books themselves.  In the summaries, from book 2 on, instead of the formula 'here are the contents', the word kephalaia (chapters) is used.

[Some of Irigoin's statements appear to involve unquestioned assumptions, rather than matters of fact.  It is doubtful that Eusebius composed originally in 10 books, for instance, and the existence of a convention of book appearance is what we need to discover.  That the numbers in the summaries are original also requires proof, and that they correspond to explicit divisions in the text made by the author is still not shown.  However, the Vatican fragment of Dio shows that the summaries are prior to the 6th century, and so in general should be presumed authorial, even as we see in Pliny and Eusebius.]

Philology q

Capitula are commonly used in classical texts.  Out of 57 authors whose Mss. of the 11th-12th century were surveyed q1, 14 are signalled with this form of paratext: Apicius, Cato, Dares, Florus, Aulus Gellius, Pomponius Mela, Pliny the Elder, Pliny the Younger, Quintillian, Seneca, Serenus Sammonicus, Solinus, Valerius Maximus and Varro.  The same proportion -- one quarter -- can be found in the 400 volumes of the fathers in the Sources ChrÃ?tiennes collection.

A modern book consists of a series of chapters, each numbered and equipped with a heading.  The headings are also grouped into a list at the front of the volume, known as a table of contents.  The purpose of this arrangement is to allow ready access to material by subject.  Technical works also have indexes.

An ancient book was generally a continuous text.  It could include before the text a number of sets of headings.  These would be numbered, and the numbers appear also in the margins of the body of the text.  This can be seen in the Pandects in Florence (CLA 3, 295, s.VI) where the rubrics of the index titulorum (f. 6-10v) reappear in the appropriate places in the text, preceded (and often followed) by a majuscule R.

These are the features of the ancient book, at least in the West: q2, q3

  1. Portions of text which may be called 'chapters'.
  2. Numbers, indicating the order of these chapters.
  3. Titles for these chapters, which may be called tituli.
  4. Tables of these titles, known in Latin as capitula.

The ancient terminology is unclear, since the same term is used for different things.

Pliny the Elder uses no technical term for his summaries, and aludes only to the contents of the books, "quid singulis contineretur libris huic epistolae subiunxi", "what each single book contains I have added after this letter."

The term caput which was used to designate a passage in a law, edict or discourse, appears in the plural capita in Cicero, Quintillian and Aulus Gellius, where it takes the sense of a summary.   The word capitulum at this date has not this meaning, indicating only a figure or the head of a flower or column.  It acquires a new meaning in the Christian writers: Tertullian uses it 27 times, 3 to indicate a small head like that of a chameleon, and 22 to refer to passages in Scripture.  Once only could he be considered to use it 'this capitulum' to refer to a division in his own work, in De Idololatria 19, 1.   In reality nothing prevents it having the looser meaning of 'passage'.

In Augustine, capitulum is used as a technical term in exegesis, sometimes qualified as capitulum legis/evangelii/Pauli.  Again it indicates a passage of Scripture.  Only once does he use it to refer to a numbered chapter in one of his own works, Contra Adim. 23.  However he does use the word often to refer to the works of heretics, such as Faustus of Milevis.  The capitula here are the 32 'controverses' or propositions, questions or points at issue, specified by the Manichaean bishop.

There is no reference in Augustine to a table of capitula or points, unless the reference to Breviculus mentioned in the letter to Firmus about the City of God is such.  But the term more probably means a revised text, such as the breviculus collationis cum Donatistis which 

The first definite allusion to a table of contents is Jerome, In Isaiam 1, 1.

By the time of Cassiodorus, the use of such paratextual elements was common.  He assembled those which existed already for the Octateuch into a table, and composed others for books of the bible which had none. (Inst. 1, 1, 10; 1, 5, 7)  The terms employed were tituli, and capitula, and these served also to designate portions of text. He refers also to the work of Eugippus in adding headings to the works of Augustine (Inst. 1, 23, 1; 1, 2, 10).

The chapter titles, if they existed, could appear at the head of a whole multi-book work, at the head of each book, at the head of each chapter division in the text (or in the margin).  Aulus Gellius specified the first option [if I understand Petitmengin correctly], but the second is the witness of his medieval manuscripts.  However fragments of initial capitula from the 4th century do exist in the palimpsest Vatican. palat. lat. 24, f. 134v/131 & 133v/132 (s. IV, CLA 1, 74). q4, q5

They could also appear at the end of the work; Columella seems to have been the only one to do this (De re rust. 11, 3, 65).  However the Mss. also contain them at the heads of the books, and in the text.

It was quite common for a table of headings to be inserted between a preface, which might refer to them, and the work.  This has been seen for Pliny the Elder, but other technical works have them: the Compositiones of Scribonius Largus, the Strategems of Frontinus.

The rare Mss. of antiquity that have survived have no chapter titles (apart from the Aulus Gellius fragments).  However they can be found in 10 Latin bibles dating before the 7th century (listed in CLA) and also in some ancient Patristic volumes from the 6th century.   Examining these reveals that the capitula are sometimes not part of the codicological unity of the book, but on a couple of folios bound in the front.  The division is marked in the text also by a number in the margin and by putting the first line of the new division in red. 

In some cases, we can see notes in the margin giving the general sense of each passage, which, later, are grouped and become tables of contents.  Jerome (Ep. 57,2) advocated making such notes.

The texts discussed which attracted capitula are mainly of a technical nature, or rules or florilegia or books of reference.   Literary works in general did not accomodate them, apart from some of the historians, such as Florus and perhaps Cornelius Nepos, and some didactic poems like Serenus Sammonicus or Commodian.  There seems to have been no fixed pattern.   The Pedagogue of Clement of Alexandria is supplied with Kephalaia, while the Stromateis has none and is only divided into chapters in the 18th century.  

The discovery of Greek Papyri has altered opinions.  Summaries have been found in these, which led Theodor Birt to revise his opinion on this subject,q6 and his pupil Robert Friderici to do his thesis on it.q2 

These questions should be asked:

  1. Identifying the capitula:  is there one, or several series for the work?
  2. Dealing with issues of transmission, as numbers tend to be fragile.
  3. What relation is there between the capitula and the headings next to the text in the manuscripts?  If there is a difference, which is the original form?
  4. What is the origin of the capitula? Are they by the author, as is often specified in the preface in late antiquity, or can an editor be identified from his style or interests?
  5. Do the capitula have an existance apart from the book, as an epitome?

Why were capitula created?  There are 3 ancient florilegia.  The editor of the Apophthegms of the Fathers specifies that he has divided his material into chapters to order them, rather than to refer to them, as they would otherwise be confusing.

One ancient text does describe the creation of titles and numbers -- the preface by Marcellus to the Gesta conlationis cum donatistis, which bears the title epistula capitulorum in the only manuscript (Paris BNF lat. 1546, s. IX; but the title is 'normalised' by  modern editors as Marcelli praefatio!)   The manuscript reproduces its antique exemplar with great faithfulness.  The letter and the capitula constitute the first 4 quaternia of the Ms. Marcellus tells us that he started with the stenographic records of the conference, condensed carefully the declarations of each side and the judge's  interventions.  Once he had a list of capitula, he numbered them and added the numbers to the text of the collatio, "so that the reader, guided by the numbers, could arrive easily at the passage sought."  He was obliged to defend his proceeding against charges of wasting his time, which suggests that it was something of a novelty. q7 

In the Middle ages new systems of division and annotation were divised.  That of the bible attributed to Stephen Langton numbered portions of the text, but did not give them new summary titles.


0. R. W. HUNT, 'Chapter headings of Augustine, De Trinitate, ascribed to Adam Marsh', Bodleian Library Record 5 (1954) p.63-8.  Checked.

a. Michael M. GORMAN, The diffusion of the manuscripts of Saint Augustine's "De Doctrina Christiana" in the early Middle Ages, Revue Bénédictine 95 (1985), pp.11-24.  Checked.

b. Michael M. Gorman, The manuscript traditions of St. Augustine's major works, in The Manuscript Traditions of the Works of St. Augustine, Sismel (2001), pp.315-347 .  Checked.

c. Michael M. GORMAN, Chapter Headings for St. Augustine's De Genesi ad litteram, in The Manuscript Traditions of the Works of St. Augustine, Sismel (2001), pp.44-61 .  Checked.

d. C. LAMBOT, Lettre inédite de S. Augustin relative au "De civitate dei", Revue Bénédictine 51 (1939), pp. 109-121.  Checked.

e. F. G. KENYON, Book divisions in Greek and Latin literature, in William Warner Bishop: A tribute, Yale University Press (1941), pp. 63-75.  Checked.

f. Edward. MAUNDE-THOMPSON, An introduction to Greek and Latin Paleography. Oxford (1912).  Checked.  This covers most types of division, but not chapter division.

g. Michael M. GORMAN, Source Marks and Chapter Divisions in Bede's Commentary on Luke. Revue Bénédictine 112 (2002).  This has a section on this subject (Latin texts only) which is essential reading.  However he does not make clear why he supposes that all summaries at the start of a volume must necessarily be divided and numbered, since it seems most unlikely that Pliny the elder did so, and, as he quotes Marrou in saying, the idea of facilitating access to a text by means of various 'helps' like this was foreign to the ancient world.  I have therefore presumed it possible that this division of summaries into chapter headings is the second stage, not the first.

q. Pierre PETITMENGIN, 'Capitula païens et chrétiens', Titres et articulations du texte dans les oeuvres antiques: Actes du Colloque International de Chantilly 13-15 décembre 1994. Ed. J.-C. Fredouille &c.  Paris (1997), pp. 491-507.

q1. Birger Munk OLSEN, L'Étude des auteurs classiques latins aux XIe et XIIe siècles, t. 1-2, Catalogue des manuscrits classiques latins. Paris (1982-5).  Not read. Ref. from PETITMENGIN n.3. 

q2. R. FRIDERICI, De librorum antiquorum capitum divisione atque summariis. Accedit de Catonis de agricultura libro disputatio.  Malpurgi (1911).  Not read.  Ref. from PETITMENGIN, n. 6, 68.  This is a dissertation, and has never been superceded.

q3. D. ALBINO, La divisione in capitoli nelle opera degli Antichi, in Università di Napoli. Annali della Facoltà di lettere e filosofia 10 (1962-63), pp. 219-234. Not read.  Ref. from PETITMENGIN, n. 68.

q4.  Les manuscrits classiques latins de la Bibliothèque Vaticane, t. II, 2. Paris (1982), p. 21.  Not read.  Ref. from PETITMENGIN, n. 39.

q5.  J. FOHLEN, Recherches sur le manuscrit palimpseste Vatican pal. lat. 24. Scrittura e civiltà 3 (1979), p. 204, 207 and 215. Not read.  Ref. from PETITMENGIN, n. 39. 

q6.  Compare e.g. T. BIRT, Das antike Buchwesen in seinem Verhältniss zur Litteratur, Berlin (1882), p. 157-8; with T. BIRT, Kritik und Hermeneutik nebst Abriss des antiken Buchwesens, Munich (1913), p. 11-12.   Not read.  Ref. from PETITMENGIN, n. 67. 

q7.  Text and translation in Sources Chretiennes 195, p. 416-419.

r. Paul MEYVAERT, Bede's Capitula lectionum for the Old and New Testaments, Revue Bénédictine 105 (1995), p. 348-380.  Not read. (Details from GORMAN, The manuscript traditions of the works of St. Augustine, p.ix).

s. Marguerite HARL, Recherches sur le Peri\ a)rxw~n d'Origéne en vue d'une nouvelle édition: la division en chapitres. Studia Patristica 3 / TU 78. Berlin (1961)  pp.57-67.  Checked.

t. Jean IRIGOIN, Titres, sous-titres et sommaires dans les oeuvres des historiens grecs du 1er siècle avant J.-C. au Ve siècle après J.-C.  Titres et articulations du texte dans les oeuvres antiques: Actes du Colloque International de Chantilly 13-15 dècembre 1994. Ed. J.-C. Fredouille &c.  Paris (1997), pp.127-134.  Checked.

t1. M.J.LUZZATO, Itinerari di codici antichi: un' edizione di Tucidide tra il II ed il X secolo, Materiali per l'analisi dei testi classici 30 (1993), pp. 167-203.  Not read.  Ref. from IRIGOIN n.2.

t2. Inscriptions de Délos, 1400, 7 (after 166 BC).  Not read.  Ref. from IRIGOIN n. 5.

Notes from Albino, Divisione (1962-3)

These notes have been written after reading this article, to summarise the raw data presented in it for later review.  

In modern printed editions the surviving works of the Graeco-Latin civilization are published divided into books and in chapters; but the scholar, who wants to restore the original reading and that therefore examines the manuscript tradition, finds that in the codices few works are distributed in chapters, differing among themselves in various ways and very rarely supplied with titles and numeration. The problem is risen therefore whether the ancients used the system of division in chapters and if therefore they cited the literary works in the way we are accustomed to for modern works or whether instead such a method has been introduced only in a more recent age.

The first scholars who addressed themselves to this issue (1) asserted that the distribution in chapters of the literary works was unknown to the ancients, that they would have only known the use of the summaries, and they attributed them to posterior editors, above all to the librari of the Middle Ages. They, in fact, were of the opinion that also the division documented for some works from manuscripts and incunaboli did not have necessarily to be thought derived from the author, since they often turned out to be clearly at odds with the general design of the work or were awkward and approximate as a guide to the contents, and did not carry out the function of indicating the content with sufficient clarity and precision.

Bergk (2) was the first to assert that the ancients added marginal notes, or notes above the line, in order to summarise the argument of a passage, and that summaries for each book precede Polybius.  (Polybius refers explicitly at the end of his history to some summaries which will follow).  [Diodorus, Parthenius, Antoninus Liberalis, Athenaeus are supposed to have done the same as Polybius, but these I have not checked].  Birt (4) rejected this, but the discovery of papyri caused him to reevaluate the matter.

It is unnecessary to suppose that the division into chapters was adopted indifferently for every kind of literature.  Such procedure was only observed with a practical end, or in catalogues, or in anthologies; and not for literary works.

Athenaeus tells us that the catalogue of scholars compiled from Callimachus, the pantadama&, was in various sections with headings indicating the type of literature in which each specialised.  [No ref. given by Albino] 

(1) V. Io. MATTHAEUS GESNER: Scriptores rei rusticae veteres Latini, Biponti, 1787, vol. 1°, pp. 48-53.

(2) Griechische Literaturgeschichte, Berlin 1872, pp. 232-33.

(4) Das antike Buchwesen in seinem Verhältniss zur Litteratur, Berlin, 1882, pp. 157 sgg. et passim.


In the papyri, text divisions are found.  These are done using spaces, or else special symbols -- the diple, koronis (used to mark sub-sections in poetic texts, in conjunction with a paragraphos), and paragraphos marks.  Numbers can appear in the margin against such symbols.

Note that this method of subdivision is also found in Codex M of Pliny, Natural History, (s.end of V-start of VI), where the chapters are divided by spaces, the insertion of a capital letter, or a coronis (8).

The following papyri display these methods of division:

The following papyri display various types of title against text-divisions:

Mutschmann (16) suggests that this activity of indexing is always posterior to composition and was carried out when the need was felt to apply some order to the transmitted material in order to save time and effort for the reader.

(8) Cfr. K. DZIATZKO: Untersuchungen über ausgewählte Kapitel des antiken Buchwesens, Leipzig, 1900, p. 53 & pp. 113-114; PLINII Naturalis Historia ed. SILLING, Gothae 1855 vol. VI, Proleg, pp. 18, 20, 26.

(16) MUTSCHMANN: Inhaltsangabe und Kapitelüberschrift im Antiken Buch, in « Hermes » XLVI (1911), pp. 93-107.

Information from Latin works

Cato, De agri cultura

Cato, De agri cultura, survives in 2 late Mss copied from a lost original: Parisinus 6884 A (s.XII/XIII), Laurentianus 30, 10. (s.XIV).  The Paris Ms contains also Cato, De re rustica and the 3 books of Varro on the same subject.  The latter contains the same works and Vitruvius, De architectura. In both mss, the work is divided into chapters. The work begins with an index in which the contents of each chapter are discussed diffusively; then a preface.  An ancient ms existed in the 15th century in Florence in the library of San Marco (codex Marcianus), which was used by Politian, who made notes from it on a copy of the 1472 printed edition, now in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris.   The codex was also used for the 1541 edition, but is now lost.  These editions also record the chapter titles, and Politian corrected them against the ancient ms, so plainly it too contained them.

The style of Cato is archaic, and full of unusual usages [specified by Albino, such as archaic second declension nominative singular 'Alvos' rather than Alvus, accusative 'Alvom' rather than Alvum] which felt out of use later.  These usages are found in the titles, which are not simply reproducing sections of the text.  Further, in the preface, Cato refers to an argument to which he now proposes to return.  This can only be the mention in the summary of the same matter, as in the preface he has not otherwise dealt with it.  This strongly suggests that the summary/index of chapters is authorial. [Albino deals with this at length]

Other authors

The following writers say that they are using summaries or titles or numbers:

What is in the mss for these:

 From this Albino infers that these authors, because of the needs of their type of composition, drew up summaries of the contents and distributed their works in chapters, while later copyists marked these divisions using the technical symbols, and copied the titles to the relevant places, rubricating them to distinguish them from the body of the text.

(20) PRISCIANI GRAMMATICI CAESARENSIS: Institutionum Grammaticarum libri XVIII, ex recensione M. HERTZII, Lipsiae, 1855, in: Grammatici Latini, ex recensione H. KEILII, Hildesheim 1961, voi. II°, Praef., pp. X sgg.

(21) Mss:

    Libri I-VII
Codex Palimpsestus Palat. Vaticanus 24 sec. VII (?). 
Codex Parisinus 5765 sec. XIII. 
Codex Lugduno-Bat. 21 sec. XII.

    Libri IX-XX 
Codex Reginensis 597 sec. X.
Codex Vossianus Lat. F. 112 sec. X.
Codex Parisinus 8664 sec. XIII. 

Divisions introduced in Late Antiquity

In the 6th century, Abbot Eugippus tells us in his letter to the deacon Pascasius that he divided the life of St. Severinus into chapters and created titles and a summary.  

Likewise he divided the Excerpta operibus Santi Augustini, as he tells us in his letter to Probus. "... A singulis sane capitulis diversae res vel etiam quaestiones atque sententiae de quo opere vel libro sint indicatur ut, si quis ignorât, ubi eas piane possit invenire cognoscat..." (32)

In the Dark Ages, the process continued.  Einhard's Vita Karoli Magni Imperatoris had chapter divisions and titles composed by the Abbot of Reichenau, Walafrid Strabon, published between 840 (d. Einhard) and his own death in 849, as he says in his preface: "Huic opuscolo ego Strabo titulos et incisiones, prout visum est congruum, inserui, ut ad singula facilior quaerenti quod placuerit elucescat accessus."

(32) Ep. a Proba in: MIGNE, P. L., 62, 562.

Divisions introduced by early printers / The 'Prologi' of Pompeius Trogus

In some cases early printed editions contain material not found in the manuscripts or indicated by the author.  An example is the 1543 edition of Justin's Epitome of Pompeius Trogus, where the Prologi are printed.  The text of each book is divided into numbered chapters with titles.  But earlier editions did not divide the text into chapters using the prologi.

The 'prologi' of Pompeius Trogus display stylistic features of the silver age, and Graecisms [detailed by Albino].  This suggests a Greek copyist, and that these summaries are not by Trogus, despite his knowledge of the practise of Hellenistic historians in composing these, or indeed by Justin.  The term 'Prologi' itself is a barbarism.

New Testament Divisions

Albino suggests that the use of the word capitulum/kephalaion by Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Dionysius of Alexandria, indicates divisions [Petitmengin however observes that all of these words may simply mean 'passage' rather than 'chapter'].

The codex Vaticanus B (s.IV) NT is divided into numbered sections.  The letters of Paul, including Hebrews, were treated as a single book for this purpose, but the copyist having changed the order of the letters and moved Hebrews from between Galatian and Ephesians, the numbers still retain the order of the original.  A different division is found in a number of other mss of the period -- A, Codex Alexandrinus (s.V), C, Codex Ephraemi rescriptus (palimpsest s.V), N, Codex Purpureus Petropolitanus (s.VI), R, Codex Nitrensis (s. VI), Z, Codex Dublinensis (s.V-VI).  In every case a title is added to the chapter, indicating the content.

Eusebius of Caesarea in the Letter to Carpianus tells us that Ammonius of Alexandria (ca. 220AD) had created a series of section numbers for the gospels.  Eusebius himself drew up canon tables to show related passages.  In the margins of the mss were numbers, indicating the section number and the canon number.These are present in Sinaiticus.  In other mss the same approach is taken, but not always in the same places.  

Ca. 323-350, Euthalius, a deacon of Alexandria, drew up prologues, tables of citations, and summaries of chapters/sections for the rest of the NT, apart from Revelation, and the work was completed by Evagrius.  Revelation remained a single massive text until the end of the 4th century, when it was divided into 24 sections by Andrew Archbishop of Caesarea (PG. CVI, col. 220).

The modern division into chapters was made by Stephen Langton (d. 1228) and not by Lanfranc (d.1089) as is sometimes said.  We have two pieces of evidence:

  1. In Bodleian MS. 487, written in 1448, we find this precise testimony: "1228: Magister Stephanus de Langueton, archiepiscopus centuariensis obiit qui biblia apud parisium quotavit" (28)
  2. Nicholas Trivet (1258-1328) wrote as follows: "Hic super totam Bibliam postulas fecit et eam per capitula, quibus nunc utuntur moderni, distinxit" (29)

Otto Schmid has collected manuscript testimonies, from which it can be certainly deduced that Langton divided the bible into chapters.(30)  The job was done in 1204-5 when Langton was a professor at the University of Paris, as Martin was able to learn from Ms. 1417 of the Bibliothèque Nationale.(31)  The divisions appear in the 1226 edition of the Vulgate.

The division into verses of the Old Testament was carried out as far back as the Masoretes.  The NT was divided into verses for the first time by the dominican St. Pagnino (1470-1541) in his printed edition of the Latin bible published in Leon in 1528.  That completed by Robert Stephanus for his Greek-Latin NT in Geneva in 1551 is the one we use today.

(28) According to the lexicon of Du Cange, 'quotare' signifies 'to divide into chapters and verses'.

(29) Annales sex Angliae, ed. A. HALL, Oxford, 1719, p. 182.

(30) SCHMID, Ueber verschieden Einteilungen der heiligen Schrift, insbesondere über die Capitel - Einteilung Stephan Langtone im XIII Jahrhunderte, Graz, 1892, pp. 56-106.

(31) PAULIN MARTIN: Introduction à la critique générale de l'Ancien Testament, Paris, 1887-1888, t. II, pp. 461-474.


"Dunque, possiamo concludere che la divisione in capitoli non fu completamente ignota agli antichi, ma fu adoperata solo per opere con un chiaro fine pratico o per scritti miscellanei, di argomento quanto mai vario, per cataloghi e repertori, mentre non è mai adottata dagli scrittori che avessero un'alta coscienza artistica in tutte quelle opere in cui il proposito letterario o l'interesse storico o l'urgenza della fantasia o anche l'indagine psicologica posero in secondo piano le esigenze pratiche e che perciò solo più tardi furono divise in capitoli dai dotti del Medioevo o addirittura da esperti editori-tipografi nel periodo del pieno fervore degli studi e delle ricerche appassionate dei testi classici, l'Umanesimo."

"Therefore, we can conclude that the division in chapters was not completely unknown to the ancients, but was only used for works with a practical purpose or for written miscellanea, for catalogues and repertoria, while it is never adopted by literary writers in all those works in which the literary purpose or the historical interest or the urgency of the fantasy or psychological surveying, to which the practical requirements are placed second, and that therefore only later they were organised in chapters by the scholars of the Middle Ages or even by expert editor-printers in the period of the full flood of the studies and passionate searches for the classical texts, Humanism."  (Diana ALBINO, La divisione in capitoli nelle opere degli Antichi, Annali della facoltà di lettere e filosofia, Napoli, vol. 10 (1962-3) pp. 219-234).]

Constructive feedback is welcomed to Roger Pearse. Corrections and additions are very welcome.  I acknowledge with gratitude the kindness of Dr. Gorman in sending me an article of his which deals with the subject.  However the comments made are my own!

Revised with Albino section, 17th October 2003.

This page has been online since 31st January 2003

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